The best restaurants keep diners coming back because they capture the pulse of a place and time. And though the cultural and culinary landscape of Los Angeles is always changing, fickle Angelenos know loyalty when it comes to the city’s great restaurants. From institutions like Randy’s Donuts and Canter’s to more recent — though equally impactful — newcomers like Gjusta and Malibu Farm, these are the ten restaurants serving up the flavors of L.A. past, present and future.
Few places are more old-school L.A. — and have a higher reputation to live up to — than Cassell’s. Al Cassell opened the venerated burger stand in 1948, and quickly gained a cult following for his straightforward burgers (lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, homemade Thousand Island), homemade mayonnaise and spicy potato salad and refusal to serve french fries. Though Cassell’s closed following Al’s death in 2010, chef Christian Page has since revived the beloved spot in L.A.’s equally historic Hotel Normandie.
“If anyone is the chef here, it’s the spirit of Al Cassell,” Chef Page tells us. “We’re just doing our best to do things the way he used to do.” There are fries on the menu now (really good ones, at that), but Page still uses Al’s original burger recipes and crossfire broiler. Whether you’re a transplant or native, to eat at Cassell’s is to experience a slice of L.A. history.
2. Canter’s Deli
Very little has changed at one of California’s oldest delis since Canter’s opened in Boyle Heights in 1931 (and before that, Jersey City, NJ). Though it relocated to Fairfax in the 1950s, the New York-style Jewish deli is still operated by the Canter family, and still known for its towering sandwiches and “been-there-forever” servers. Open 24 hours, it’s also the only place in L.A. where you can get fresh pastrami — always on rye — challah and rugelach at any hour of the day (plus a drink from their cocktail lounge next door). Our go-to? The Brooklyn Avenue: a pastrami sandwich topped with coleslaw that’s been on the menu since the Boyle Heights days. Pickle on the side and a loaf of challah to go.
(Photo via Canter’s Deli)
It’s impossible to discuss pizza in L.A., or in the country for that matter, without mentioning Mozza in the same breath. The key to Mozza’s pizza — the gold standard for pizza in this city — is the crust. Somehow, chef Nancy Silverton manages to coax her dough into the perfect balance of chewy and charred and sweet and sour, and then tops it off with a couple dozen variations of seasonal toppings. There are other standout dishes on the menu, including a bruschetta and daily specials, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t get the pizza.
Trust is the name of the game at Sugarfish, where you choose between three omakase (“I’ll leave it up to you” tastings). You won’t find chef Kazunori Nozawa serving California rolls or teriyaki, but with 45 years of experience, chef knows best — and in a town known for show business, he’s refreshingly humble about it, too. Sushi here is just as understated as its maker. There are no overpowering sauces or sushi bar theatrics; the fresh fish, crisp seaweed and warm, melt-in-your-mouth rice do all the talking.
(Photo by @lindseyeatsla)
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Is it a deli, bakery, cafe or food hall? European, Middle Eastern or American cuisine? Gjusta can’t quite make up its mind, but we’re completely fine with that if it means more occasions to visit. The biggest problem here is deciding what you’re in the mood for, whether it’s a yolk-soaked bialy breakfast sandwich, a fresh salad or a juicy porchetta melt — on crusty bread to soak up the drippings, of course! Chef-owner Travis Lett is also behind L.A. favorites Gjelina and MTN, but Gjusta is our favorite for its choose-your-own-adventure vibe and no-fuss fare. There’s almost always a wait, so grab your sandwich/baguette/pastry/drink to go and enjoy it on the beach instead.
(Photo by @foodreuels)
6. Randy’s Donuts
Randy’s Donuts is the Hollywood sign of L.A. restaurants — chances are you’ve spotted the towering donut that graces its Inglewood rooftop in movies and shows like Iron Man II, Entourage, Arrested Development and more. The iconic 1950’s drive-through evokes simpler times, any problems could be momentarily forgotten with a freshly glazed donut. We think that’s still the case at Randy’s, which has used the same cooking method for over half a century.
“We do everything by hand,” says owner Mark Kelegian. “No two donuts are exactly alike.”
Neighborhood: Inglewood/Westchester Adjacent
7. Prime Pizza
There may be a bit of a cross-country rivalry between L.A. and New York, but we can at least agree on pizza. Inspired by New York masters like Di Fara and Patsy’s, Prime Pizza has carved out a reputation for giant thin-crust, NY-style slices in Fairfax. Chef-owners Jason Bernstein, Zak Fishman and James Starr ferment their dough for 48 hours before stretching it by hand and topping it with California tomatoes and Wisconsin mozzarella. At just a few dollars a slice, this is the place you find the neighborhood guys, the 1am crowd on a Saturday or a group of kids after their soccer game. We also can’t overlook the superb garlic knots.
Neighborhood: Downtown Los Angeles
8. Cafe Gratitude
There aren’t many cities where it’s easier (and more exciting) to be vegan than L.A., thanks in no small part to Cafe Gratitude. Known for its welcoming atmosphere as much as its food, the small chain of organic, plant-based restaurants got its unlikely start in San Francisco in 2004. Current owner Cary Mosier’s parents had created a board game and decided to open a cafe for anyone to come drink coffee and play it with them. Now diners flock to Cafe Gratitude’s brightly colored locations for food that’s good for both the body and soul.
“At the end of the day, it all boils down to serving love,” Mosier says. “I’m trying to give people something they didn’t know they wanted. So they are coming for a salad and they leave with the experience that they love their mom and they want to call her and tell her how grateful they are. It’s a completely different intention for a restaurant.”
9. Malibu Farm
The only restaurant in L.A. with a better view than Malibu Farm Restaurant at the start of Malibu Pier is its more casual sister, Malibu Farm Cafe, overlooking the ocean at the other end. Luckily, you’ll find chef-owner Helene Henderson’s farmer’s market-inspired food at both. Henderson sources ingredients from a number of local farms, including her own backyard. The food is prepared so simply that you’re on the lookout for a catch. There is none.
“There are no secret ingredients,” Henderson says. “Many have picked produce at my home and cooked the very same recipes we use at the cafe.”
Neighborhood: Malibu Pier
10. Wexler’s Deli
Forgive us for putting another deli on the list, but we’d argue L.A. rivals New York as the country’s deli capital. Chef Micah Wexler’s Grand Central Market spot (other locations in Santa Monica and Century City) stands out for its fresh, modern take on the traditional deli. Wexler grew up eating at delis — “you just feel good at the deli,” he says — and pays tribute to old-school methods.
“Curing, brining, smoking, pickling are things that take patience and a trained hand,” Wexler says. He makes his pastrami on site, smoking and steaming it to tender perfection before hand slicing thick slabs on homemade rye. Don’t forget a Brooklyn-style chocolate egg cream for dessert.
Neighborhood: Santa Monica, Century City & Grand Central Market
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