The best secret restaurants in Los Angeles
Los Angeles has plenty of average restaurants, burger chains and places where you can pick up a watery burrito. But locals know it also has some of the most innovative and downright tasty food in America. Scratch away the glitzy surface and eat your way around LA’s hippest neighbourhoods with our guide to the best secret restaurants in Los Angeles.
On the surface West Hollywood is classic LA, with palm trees, stars and endless hummers delivering the well-heeled to pricey restaurants. But it has an edgier charm too, with dimly lit bars and eateries elevating substance over style.
For a romantic meal, The Little Door is a Parisian-style brasserie with Mediterranean food, pastries and a great wine list.
Gracias Madre‘s menu is entirely vegan. Not that it matters, because the authentic Mexican dishes, like grilled street corn with chipotle aioli and black bean burger, burst with flavour.
Angelenos in the know (and the occasional Hollywood celeb) get their fix from unassuming Sushi Park (Sushi Park, 8539 Sunset Boulevard), located on the second floor of a nondescript plaza – touted as the best place for omakase (chef’s choice) Japanese sushi.
One of LA’s most walkable areas, Downtown has small, dark dive bars and colourful street murals in the shadows of big, shiny skyscrapers. You’ll find tasty morsels in unlikely places, such as The Varnish, a speakeasy-style bar. Located behind an unmarked door in Cole’s, try a French dip sandwich (gravy on the side) – said to have been invented here.
In the shadow of St Vibiana’s Cathedral, Redbird has a huge hexagonal bar with tan leather stools. Order the fresh trout, which is only available at lunchtime.
Chu’s Kitchen might seem like any old Chinese restaurant, with trays to take away. But sit down with a menu and you’ll get fantastically fresh food made to order. For locals, this is one of the best secret restaurants in Los Angeles.
In the neighbouring Arts District, The Pie Hole makes everything daily, by hand. It serves savoury and sweet pies from breakfast until late, with other locations in Hollywood, Pasadena and Orange County. Try the Mexican chocolate, a thick wedge of ganache and crumbly pastry. Also in the Arts District, head to The Bread Lounge bakery for snacks, sandwiches, and a pretty dining space in the back.
Karaoke, a vibrant bar scene and delicately spiced food have been drawing people to ‘K-Town’ for the past few years, and it’s now tipped as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in LA.
The opening of The Line Hotel earlier this year sealed the deal. Dine in a greenhouse at Commissary, the hotel’s rooftop greenhouse and restaurant, where chefs serve up plant-based dishes such as shrimp gazpacho and grilled lettuce with peach, bacon and avocado. Set by a shimmering pool, this is without doubt one of the coolest secret restaurants in Los Angeles.
Koreatown is famed for its seafood restaurants, and Soban (4001 W Olympic Blvd) is one of the best. Slurp down a spiced noodle bowl, or try the bibimbap – warm white rice topped with traditional condiments and marinated fish.
Escala was opened by Bogota native Chino Lee to bring the flavours of Colombia to Chapman Plaza. The street-side space features a lowrider bicycle above the door, communal wooden tables and a Gramophone chandelier. Empanadas are deep-fried, with their crisp shells cradling juicy ground meat. Other dishes are designed for sharing; including a fried striped bass spooned with tropical salad.
There must be more beanie hats and young men with beards per square metre here than anywhere else in LA. With thrift stores, galleries and old cinemas with fading neon signs, NoHo is a dream for arty types. For the rest of us, it’s a lively, chilled-out nightspot, with some of the most unusual restaurants around.
Take Old Gyumri, in nearby Glendale. On the outside, it’s just another trendy reclaimed warehouse space. Inside, it’s a medieval Armenian hill fort. The food is more regular, but still good – kebobs, baby back ribs, red trout and zesty salads.
American breakfasts are hard to beat, and Bea Bea’s (Lakeside Shopping Center, 353 N Pass Ave, Burbank) is a locals’ favourite. No matter what time of year or day, you will queue. Worth it for the light-as-air pumpkin pancakes, sweet golden waffles and salty, perfectly crisp crab cakes.
Cold Stone Creamery has shops all over LA serving teeth-tinglingly good ice cream, with flavours including strawberry blonde, cookie minster and apple pie. If none of those tickle your tongue, invent your own flavour and watch as it’s created on a frozen granite stone.
Roller skaters in teeny-tiny hot pants whizz by doo-wop style singers and antique hippies, while surfers pad around barefoot, their sun-frazzled hair hanging loose. It’s a wonder they all look so fit with the abundance of amazing restaurants in this chilled-out beachfront area.
Clutch (Clutch, 427 Lincoln Boulevard) draws big queues for its Northern Mexican smoked duck and barbacoa (meat slow roasted and then grilled for a barbecue flavour), while Hatchet Hall is great for meat-heavy southern dishes, served in a stylish spot decorated like an old hunting lodge.
Gravlax combines Swedish and Turkish cuisine. Vibrant and vividly coloured dishes like tabbouleh and mustard herring sound weird, but it works.
Describing itself as the first and only French/Moroccan/American cafe restaurant, Cafe Chez Marie in Santa Monica is housed in a Normandy-style cottage. The interior has low beams, tiny wooden tables and vintage posters, with a cute, hedge-trimmed patio. The eclectic menu includes eggs every which way, crepes, Moroccan meatballs and club sandwiches. Eclectic but wonderfully delicious.
Written by Ella Buchan