“When it’s done properly, taco should be a verb.”
Think Los Angeles food and tacos inevitably comes to mind. Now, I love a good taco (special shout out to Tacos Tumbras a Tomas in Grand Central Market downtown, not to mention the Kogi Truck). I think most everything tastes better when wrapped in a tortilla. But there are so many other amazing cuisines in LA that leave you wanting more.
So, because people always ask me for food recommendations when they are coming to town, and given that spring break is just around the corner, I have come up with a round up of my favorite L.A. food spots by category. Enjoy, because I actually made myself hungry putting this together.
Breakfast: The Waffle, Hollywood
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And when you are having a Red Velvet Waffle with decadent cream cheese frosting and syrup from The Waffle, I fully understand that sentiment.
I first learned about this place from the Food Network TV show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” as it was Susan Feniger’s breakfast pick (whose Border Grill I will also feature, below). Everyone that I have recommended taste the red velvet waffle has swooned. And who wouldn’t, with a huge dollop of cream cheese frosting on top of a rich, decadent, red velvet waffle. I literally do not eat anything else for the rest of the day when I go to The Waffle. I’ve tasted other items, but nothing surpasses the red velvet waffle. And the above photo… is just a HALF order. Yum!
Cuban: Versailles, Various Locations
I had been craving Cuban food when I finally discovered Versailles. They have several locations in LA, including La Cienega (near the 10 freeway), and Encino.
I love garlic. And Versailles’ Garlic Chicken is renowned. Add onions, moros y cristianos (black beans and white rice cooked together), and plantains, and you have a Cuban masterpiece.
It is so much food, you will feel like you are eating forever. The first time I went, I was eating for half an hour and barely made a dent in the dish. It was to the point I was actually physically tired of eating. Needless to say, I had enough leftovers for two days. All for $12.99. And the Lechon Asado (Cuban roasted pork) wasn’t half bad either!
Best Sunset: Moonshadows, Malibu
Dinner on the Pacific. Literally, on the Pacific. That’s what you get at Moonshadows. When you visit there is a cute outdoor patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but the real key is to request seating in the back room, which is all windows. That’s where you get the most spectacular view of the sun setting over the horizon. It is breathtaking.
As to food, I love the seafood pasta, along with the calamari and Dungeness crab cakes. But my new fave is the Sweet Maine Lobster Caesar Salad, with lobster and applewood smoked bacon. Delightful.
Oh yeah, and that sunset. Wow.
Crab: Crustacean, Beverly Hills
There is not much better in this world than the crab and garlic noodles at Crustacean in Beverly Hills. Period.
This restaurant was also featured on ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate” but I have known about it for years. So here’s the skinny: The An Family owns the restaurant. The food—seafood with a Vietnamese flair—is so coveted that they prepare the crab (both cracked (below) and out of the shell (above)) and the garlic noodles in a secret kitchen inside the regular kitchen where only members of the An Family are allowed access.
What comes out is magical. The crab, peppered and drowned in herbs and spices perfectly pairs with the renowned garlic noodles, which feature more of a sweet garlic than a tart or bitter garlic. Pair that with the Beverly cocktail and I am a happy camper. The restaurant is always crowded, so make reservations. And across the street there is…
Best Cupcakes: Sprinkles, Various Locations
Right across the street from Crustacean is the original location of Sprinkles Cupcakes in Beverly Hills. So we usually grab a cupcake before the meal to enjoy for dessert upon returning home.
Sprinkles were created by Candace Nelson, judge on Cupcake Wars, and was the world’s first cupcake bakery. Nelson spawned a movement, as now thousands of cupcake bakeries have popped up nationwide.
But Sprinkles’ claim to fame is the red velvet cupcake. There are other awesome flavors, rotated on a daily basis, but red velvet is the queen. Now, the bakery has expanded to Sprinkles’ ice cream, and has over a dozen locations, spanning from California to Texas to New York City. And if the line is too long, just get your delectable dessert at the Cupcake ATM.
Brunch: Border Grill, Downtown LA
I originally had two brunch picks. One was Mo’s in Burbank, which had the most unique crème brulee French toast. But alas, Mo’s has closed. On to the next one.
Border Grill is a Susan Feniger restaurant featuring several locations and a truck. Lunch is good, but the brunch is my all time favorite. For around $30, you get unlimited small plates, like the Peruvian Shrimp and Grits or the Smoked Bacon Breakfast Quesadilla (both shown above). I don’t even like grits, but THESE shrimp and grits are everything. I had multiple orders. I have enjoyed this brunch in both LA and Vegas, and both times the party left in a food-induced coma (read: we had a fat kid moment). The food is rich and flavorful, and with dessert items like Churro Tots, we were in brunch heaven.
And the mimosas… Yes mimosas, plural. There are so many different flavors, you have to sample multiple options. Traditional, cucumber-jalepeno, guava, blackberry, blood orange, passion fruit…you get the point. And they are bottomless.
Lobster: Cousin’s Maine Lobster, Various Locations
When you get the Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank to invest in turning your food truck into to a physical storefront—in Old Town Pasadena, no less—you know you have a winner on your hands. And that winner is Cousin’s Maine Lobster.
Though the storefront restaurant has since closed (which hurts my soul since I loved the Lobster Mac-N-Cheese, shown above), the truck still trolls the street of LA offering delicious lobster rolls, lobster tacos and lobster ice cream. And the trucks are nationwide, already in LA, Houston, Phoenix and Orlando, and coming to Napa Vegas, Atlanta, and Dallas.
Orange County Honorable Mention: Z Tejas
Though technically not LA, I had to mention Z Tejas. I first discovered this gem in the streets of Scottsdale, Arizona, and I have loved it ever since. And the closest location to LA is in Costa Mesa at the South Coast Plaza Mall.
Their happy hour is fantastic, featuring $5 signature margaritas and great discounts on food. The cast-iron-skillet cornbread is the stuff of legends, with people coming from far and wide to enjoy a slice. But my all time favorite item is the Tejas Trio of guacamole, salsa and the most amazing queso dip in the world. Most of the time I don’t even order an entrée.
But I do save room for the Ancho Fudge Pie. It is fudge with ancho chilis and served with whipped cream on top. The chilis accentuate the chocolate, making the flavors pop even more. So, to recap: drinks, Trio, dessert. Sounds like a perfect meal to me.