"We're coming to visit you." It's those five short words that few 20- or 30-something-year-olds are dying to hear from their parents. And yet, the arrival of summer always seems to bring with it a wave of relatives to entertain. With everything from beaches and beautiful weather to movie stars and shopping, Los Angeles has something for every brand of tourist. But what about the food? Where can you take guests that will give them a taste of old Hollywood glamour (and prove to your mother that you have a handle on your life)? Forge onward for our top picks!
Fusion is the name of the game at Josef Centeno's acclaimed gastropub in the Old Bank, where internationally-inflected tapas range from fried squash blossoms to a Caesar salad of Brussels sprouts. But the most popular items are without doubt the bäcos: flatbread sandwiches that may contain an oxtail patty with cheesy hashbrowns or a "beef tongue schnitzel" that tastes unmistakably Mediterranean. If you'd prefer to eat your flatbread like a pizza, try a coca, which is cooked on a warm hearth until the paper-thin base is delectably crispy. You may not know precisely what you're ordering when you opt for toppings like merguez ragù or taleggio, but you can rest assured that it will be delicious.
If you're looking for the city's best pasta, you'll find it in this converted warehouse in the Arts District. Between a quadretti that contrasts sweet carrots with savory mushrooms and the cavatelli's rich pairing of pork sausage and black truffles, each of Bestia's housemade pastas is an artful exercise in balance and flavor (albeit of the decadent variety). Chef Ori Menashe also has an extensive charcuterie program; over sixty meats, cured in-house, circulate through the menu, which is rounded out with some excellent pizza and an array of inventive antipasti. If you're a fan of bone marrow, the version here (served with tender spinach-flavored gnocchi) is a must-order.
Dressed as a sandwich shop by day, Fickle serves up the essence of Angeleno cuisine by night: small plates that marry Southeast Asian flavors with locally-sourced ingredients. The menu changes frequently according to farmers market offerings and the chef's imaginative whims—recently, for instance, in the form of a ginger and soy flat iron steak with gochujang fried rice. Pork belly is enhanced with a molasses marinade, the sweetness striking an easy balance with the meat's natural umami. And the fries! The fries here are actually crisp-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside breaded avocados, though if you're looking for potatoes, you'll be pleased with the whole roasted yukon golds served with tapatio aioli. Part of the Fickle experience is that it's located smack dab in the middle of Little Tokyo; I highly recommend walking off your meal with an evening stroll through the vibrant 'hood.
Musso & Frank Grill
You'll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant with as rich a history as that of Musso & Frank Grill. The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso's was a regular spot for A-listers like Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, as well as literary masters like F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. Not much has changed since the good ol' days—the décor still exudes old Hollywood, the waiters may be the same ones who served your grandfather, and the original grill from 1919 is still in use. It may run on the touristy side, but if your out-of-towners are game, you won't be disappointed by the menu, which boasts classics like an intensely savory grenadine of beef, a fettucini alfredo (that still follows the original recipe), and a Welsh rarebit that makes you wonder why the dish isn't more widely available. Is there a more time-transcendent Hollywood experience than feasting on a plate of flannel cakes in the Charlie Chaplin booth? I suspect not.
Part of what makes Los Angeles dining unique is the prevalence of top-notch restaurants located in dingy strip malls. So it's no surprise that some of the best French cuisine in the city would come from Papilles, a small bistro tucked away underneath the 101 alongside a laundromat and a doughnut shop. The menu changes daily, with only a couple of options for each course, but you can be sure that the market vegetable salad will be more colorful than a plate of skittles and the béarnaise sauce will elicit its requisite oohs and ahs without overpowering the New York strip it accompanies. If there's a must-order dish it would be the pot de crème; whether it's a butterscotch of banana version of the dessert, chef Tim Carey gives it an unparalleled depth and richness. Reservations aren't necessary and the daily menu is available on the restaurant's website.
There are actually three restaurants within Nancy Silverton's Mozza complex: Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, and Chi Spacca. Which one you attend depends on whether you feel like the pizza, pasta, or butchery aspects of Italian cuisine, respectively. Pizzeria Mozza puts out the definitively strongest Neapolitan crust in Los Angeles and what Seroius Eats' own Ed Levine has called some of "the greatest pizza in the world." The Osteria is known for its wide array of pastas from classic cacio e pepe to squid ink chitarra freddi with dungeness crab, uni, and jalapeno, but its extensive selection of mozzarellas is underappreciated and worth ordering from. At Chi Spacca, the tomahawk pork chop and bistecca fiorentina have earned devoted followings—weighing in at 42 oz. each, both are deliciously juicy and tender with a satisfying char from the wood-burning grill. At the end of the day, it's hard to go wrong with the Mozza venue of your choosing.
Like tacos? You've come to the right city. It may feel like there's a taco truck on every street corner, serving up classic meats like carne asada and al pastor, or more unique fillings like uni and lamb tongue. At Guisados, the tacos are inspired by various Mexican stewed meats like cochinita pibil, a Yucatan-style pork shoulder cooked in a sweet sauce of orange juice and achiote chiles. If you've never tried mole or don't consider yourself a fan, the version here is nutty, deep, and worth a try. Vegetarians and pescatarians can dine at Guisados too, and there's even a vegan taco if you ask for it. Not sure what to order? Try the sampler plate: six tacos of your choosing for $7, served on warm corn tortillas made fresh throughout the day at the tortilleria next door.
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle
There's plenty of ramen in Los Angeles, and if you ask five people for their favorite spot, you'll likely get five different answers. One top contender on everybody's list, though, is Tsujita, a small ramen bar in the middle of West LA's Little Osaka. And while the traditional ramen here is exceptional, Tsujita is particularly renowned for its tsukemen: curly noodles meant for dipping in a sweetened tonkotsu broth. If the soup were any thicker, you'd need a spoon to scoop with, but the noodles manage to soak up the rich, liquified pork impressively well. It's the perfect lunch for any ramen lover, with tempting proximity to Santa Monica (and its beaches) for your guests.
Kogi BBQ Truck
Kogi is to Los Angeles what The Halal Guys are to New York: a street food mecca inextricably tied to its city and beloved by denizens of every walk of life. Kogi singlehandedly began the Korean fusion trend that has taken LA by storm and launched Roy Choi's food empire. Between calamari tacos, short rib burritos, and blackjack quesadillas, Kogi has nailed the soul-satisfying combinations of tangy and sweet, crispy and tender offerings that are just as delicious on a midweek lunch break as they are after a late night out on the town. To partake of Kogi is to experience Los Angeles culture; don't let your visitors leave without a bite!
For the High-Baller With Something to Prove
Let's admit it: we all want to impress our parents and show them that we can handle ourselves. What better way to prove that we're getting along fine without them than by treating them to the city's finest dining? Enter Providence, a tasting menu-only restaurant featuring the finest seafood in southern California. Impeccably prepared uni and spot prawns are paired with bold Asian flavors and plated with delicate French technique. The lobster will be soft and sweet, and your amuse bouches will arrive in the form of "chips and dip:" salmon skin crisps and smoked trout whipped with crème fraîche. Creativity is unhindered in Michael Cimarusti's kitchen, which taps into molecular gastronomy and gourmet reimaginations of classic street foods. If there's a surefire way to impress your out-of-town guests, Providence is it; just come prepared to spend the big bucks.
But Wait! There's More
Being the large and diverse city that it is, Los Angeles has much more to offer than the recommendations listed above. If you're in the mood for a certain type of ethnic food, there's more than likely an entire neighborhood devoted to it. Where do you take your family when they visit Los Angeles?