In the almost five years that I’ve lived in L.A., I’ve eaten at some pretty amazing places – many of which also have great ambience and stellar wine lists. They’re not all in the heart of L.A., but spread out across the greater Los Angeles area. Check out some of my current favorites (not ranked in any particular order):
Tar & Roses – Santa Monica
This moodily-lit Santa Monica establishment is one of the few places where everything I’ve ordered was divine. The wine and beer selection gives you a lot of great options (they even pour half glasses if you can’t decide) and the menu is not so huge that you’re overwhelmed. At the top of their menu, you can see what type of wood they’re burning that day. I recently brought my mom here for a birthday dinner and we ordered two glasses of refreshing Albariño before splitting some amazing bites; oak was burning that particular evening. The wood roasted baby carrots with cermula crème fraîche (delicious curry flavor), charred gem lettuce with blue cheese and dates, and lamb chops with moroccan spiced farro and eggplant are all dishes I would order again. For dessert, we ate what dreams are made of: warm strawberry ricotta crostada with honeycomb ice cream.
Osteria Mozza – Los Angeles
Osteria Mozza is a semi-formal Italian restaurant on the trendy Melrose Ave that offers up memorable bites and a fabulous wine list for wine enthusiasts (It was on Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence 2016”). Their 1,150-selection list pays homage to Piedmont and Tuscany in particular, and wines comes in 250 ml carafes. Because of the larger-sized pours, I like sharing two different varietals with my date; if you’re confused by Italian wines, tell your server which varietals you like and they’ll be able to point you to a wine that is most similar. Some of the best bites include the garlic bread, grilled octopus, ricotta and egg raviolo with sage and brown butter sauce, and the orecchiette with sausage and Swiss chard. This is an ideal spot for a special meal with family or your significant other.
Barrel & Ashes – Studio City
If you want good BBQ and sweet tea the way sweet tea is supposed to be made, Barrel & Ashes is the place. I like to order the brisket and the roasted corn side with chili crema, cotija cheese, and cilantro. Also, the hoe cake is a must; it’s sort of like a cornbread pancake that’s been doused in honey butter. In regards to sweet tea, they can make a California version, which is substantially less sweet, but traditionally it’s supposed to be pretty sweet.
Gjelina – Venice
Gjelina is a rustic, cozy spot on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice that is perfect for brunch. I love the Moroccan Baked Eggs (right), which come in a cast iron skillet and are dressed in lamb sauce and cilantro yogurt; it’s such a warm and flavorful dish that is especially perfect for fall and the coming winter months. Other popular plates include their lemon buckwheat ricotta pancakes with crème fraîche and blueberries, the duck confit hash, and the gruyere, caramelized onion, and arugula pizza. Gjelina even has a cookbook so you can recreate some of your favorite dishes! It’s on the perfect street for boutique shopping after breakfast. Reservations for brunch are highly-recommended, as this place can get extremely busy on weekends. You can always opt for a late weekday breakfast if you can’t get a table; many items will still be on the regular menu.
Sugarfish by Sushi Nowaza
If you’re into sushi, Sugarfish is a great spot to check out. Their menu offers a la carte sashimi, sushi, and rolls, but most people (including me) tend to go the omasake route and order the “Trust Me,” which includes a little bit of everything from their menu. The best part is that they slightly warm all of their rice. And obviously, the quality of their fish is superb! Sugarfish is very accessible for Angelenos. There are eleven locations in the city, so you can eat all the tuna and unagi that you desire! And it’s not fancy by any means, so no need to fuss over fitting in with the cool sushi vibe.
République – Los Angeles
République is an gorgeous restaurant that has lived many lives. It was built in 1928 by Charlie Chaplin and designed by architect Roy Sheldon Price. It was initially intended to be a multi-use space with shops on the ground floor and office space upstairs surrounding the courtyard. It first became a restaurant in 1989 (La Brea Bakery) and years later has become République’s domain. I love that some of the architectural layers have been stripped away, exposing original brick, tile and ironwork for an charming, open feel. Their weekend brunch here is amazing! The ricotta toast with black mission figs, hazelnuts, and honey is divine, as is the regular breakfast which includes eggs, bacon, fingerling potatoes, and a warm baguette with butter and jam. I have yet to come here for dinner, which I’ve heard is even better and boasts a great wine list.
Joan’s On Third – Studio City and L.A.
Joan’s is an ideal spot to pick up items for a picnic or beach day, as it is a restaurant/marketplace/coffeeshop. Just you wait, you’ll want everything you see! I’m all about the sandwiches here and these are the best: Joan’s meatloaf sandwich, Grandma’s sandwich, and the short rib sandwich. Their chocolate chip cookie is a must; it’s like a gourmet version of the classic Nestle Toll House cookie but bigger (the picture doesn’t do it justice). Also, make sure to pick up a mini bottle of Whispering Angel rosé for your picnic! Joan’s is located on Third Street in Los Angeles, but also on Ventura Place in Studio City so valley folk can get a taste of the goodness, too.
Yang Chow – Chinatown
Looks can be deceiving with this hidden gem. Located in the heart of L.A.’s Chinatown, Yang Chow offers to-die-for Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine in a casual setting that you may miss when driving by. They’re known for their slippery shrimp, but I also love their General Chicken and many of their vegetable dishes. There tends to be a line on weekends so plan ahead and consider valet since Chinatown can be a hard or sometimes sketchy place to find metered parking; the valet is down the alley adjacent to the restaurant. The service has been great each time I’ve been here; the servers are so kind, attentive, and happy to offer menu suggestions. The plates are actually quite large, so you’ll most likely end up with leftovers (hurray!). They have valley and Pasadena locations; however, I like coming to Chinatown because I can pick up canisters of green tea and other goodies at the surrounding shops.
The Rusty Monk – Whittier
My alma mater is in L.A. county, but is close to the O.C. border so it feels far away now that I’ve moved closer to the city. Visiting my college town is always nostalgic even though I just graduated back in May, and this gastropub brings back some fun memories. I could go on and on about how much I love the 19th century/Belgian luxury-inspired decor – the rustic brick wall, the taxidermy adorning the walls, and the antler light fixture. Much of the food goes hand-in-hand with the Belgian gastropub vibe, but it’s a very approachable menu. I like the soft Bavarian pretzel with mustard as a starter; you can pay a few dollars extra and get a side of beer cheese, which is heavenly. For entrees, I like the lamb burger with mint aioli and the brie and apple grilled cheese with tomato bisque. They have a great beer and wine menu. I like to finish the meal with glass of Tawny Port.
Summer Canteen – Toluca Lake
Since visiting Thailand and falling in love with the food a few years ago, I had been looking for a great Thai restaurant in my neighborhood. I found the place in an easily missable location – in a sort of strip mall next to a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Summer Canteen is my go-to for pad thai and panang curry with slow-cooked beef and rice. The food is reasonably priced, the modern, casual vibe of this place makes for a nice dining experience, and the servers are very friendly.
Known for their organic coffees and teas, this cafe is always busy and is great for celeb sightings and people-watching in general. I always order one of their salads – either the Urth or Greek – and something from their dessert case; I’m partial to their coconut royale cake. Most every coffee or tea I’ve ordered has been delicious; I love their Italian Cappuccino and Spanish latté. Although I’m not a huge boba fan, my friends really enjoy Urth’s boba drinks; they have green tea, earl grey, moroccan mint, thai red tea…the list goes on. The best part? They have six locations from Beverly Hills to Pasadena and one expected to open in Orange. There’s usually a bit of a line and it can be a wait to find an open table, but who knows? You may be standing next to Kendall and Kylie.
Thai Table – Whittier
Thai Table was my go-to Thai restaurant in college. I brought so many friends and family here and became one of those customers where they recognized me by phone number and knew my takeout order. This last year, Thai Table revamped the interior of their restaurant, making it a chic and modern place to grab some spring rolls and a glass of wine. I cannot say enough great things about the service here; the staff is so kind and accommodating. My vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free friends also love that there are so many options that cater to their specific dietary needs. There are so many great dishes, but I usually stick to the pineapple fried rice, chicken pad thai, and Tom Kha soup. And of course, thai iced tea! My occasional trips out to Whittier always involve picking up some Thai Table.
Olive & Thyme – Toluca Lake
This is one of favorite places to bring friends and visiting family for a brunch date. I not only love the food, but I also adore the straight-off-my-dream-kitchen-Pinterest-board decor. If you follow my blog regularly, you know how obsessed I am because I dedicated a whole blog post to this place here. My favorites include the chopped salad, avocado and burrata toast with a sprinkle of sea salt, and their French toast with seasonal fruit and whipped mascarpone.