Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Los Angeles Restaurants

L.A. Food Crazy is going on indefinite hiatus. After five years, I've already written up most of the restaurants I love, and my wife Sa has become such an excellent cook that we don't go out as much anymore. So my job here is, for the time being at least, done.

If you're looking for another well-written, informative blog to follow, you might check out There my friend Don Miguel de Los Angeles no McDonalds (pictured here with sidekick Maria Sanchez) will be holding forth about, yes, burritos, but also whatever else strikes his foodie fancy.

For a final post, I thought I'd leave you with a roundup of my top ten favorite restaurants in the City of Los Angeles, most of which I've already reviewed here.

Note that these aren't necessarily the best restaurants in their category. In fact, most aren't. It would be easy enough to create a list of "bests" that included places like Red Medicine, Providence, Animal, Angelini, and the like. But those aren't my favorite restaurants. They're all too expensive for me to indulge in any of them more than a few times a year. They tend to be cramped. Many of them are noisy. Staff can be haughty or downright rude.

My favorite restaurants, on the other hand, tend to be comfortable (red Naugahyde booths and birdbath martinis preferred), have some history and legend to them, and an affable if slightly nutty staff. The kind of place where you become a regular, and they actually notice. And many of my favorite restaurants aren't restaurants at all, but lunch counters, pop up stands and trucks. No trucks made the final list, though Lobsta Truck would certainly be an honorable mention.

So here they are, in no particular order:

El Cielito Lindo
23 Olvera St. E
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-4391

El Cielito Lindo invented what we know as the taquito, with its unique green avocado sauce that isn't quite guacamole but isn't quite salsa verde. I often make trips to Olvera Street just for taquitos, and although there are better ones than Cielito Lindo's to be had (try Juanita's or Rodolfo's), I always get a couple from the originator of the dish just to pay respects. There's something comforting and iconically Angeleno about Cielito Lindo's spot at the bottom of the street, anchoring Olvera Street, Cesar Chavez Blvd.,  and Alameda Street all at once. And knowing the legend that Orson Welles once ate 44 taquitos at a sitting always makes me feel better about my own gluttonous scarfage.

Taylor's Steakhouse
3361 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 382-8449
Google Map

Some will say there are better steaks in L.A., but Mastro's, my other favorite, is in Beverly Hills and costs a small fortune; Dan Tana's is West Hollywood and I've had disappointing steaks there. Musso and Frank has never impressed. Haven't been to Cut yet, cuz it's too expensive. No, when I go out for steak (unless I just sold a novel or something) it's Taylor's. Classic, slightly funky steakhouse ambience; red booths; waitresses who call you "hon;" signed pictures of John McKay (if you don't know he is, you don't know L.A.!) on the wall. Wedge salads with bleu cheese or Thousand Island; the best baked potatoes around; and big, delicious, impeccably prepared steaks, including their famous "Culotte" cut. And for steak, the prices are utterly reasonable: (steaks $19.00-30.00 with all the trimmings). Small but decent wine list, too.

Original Tommy's2575 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 389-1682
Yelp It

The cheeseburger is (arguably) a SoCal invention, and Tommy's is the apotheosis of the chili-cheeseburger genre. On your way back from downtown and a little hungry after a long show? You have to at least MENTION the possibility of stopping at Tommy's on the way home. Someone in the group will inevitably say, "Ugh, I can't eat a grease bomb at this hour," but every once in awhile you'll get lucky. Or you'll have to slip out on your own once a year or so for a quick lunch there. You might need a nap that afternoon, but it's worth it. God I love dem burgers. For some reason, none of the spin-off shops, even those with the true Original Tommy's "hut" that signifies the genuine article, aren't as good; you gotta go to 1st and Rampart.

Noshi Sushi
4430 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 469-3458
Open 7 days til 9 pm
Google Local Info

Katsu-ya's great, and I loved Ike until he retired, and I love Shintaro, the nearest sushi to my house. And someday I hope to become a billionaire and be able to afford dinner for two at Urasawa. But if I want to go out and eat a big platter of raw fish without breaking the bank, it's to Noshi we go. Fair prices, fresh fish, big portions...and it's the only sushi bar I know of with—you guessed it—red pleather booths.

8351 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Neighborhood: West Hollywood
(323) 654-8300
Yelp Info

If I'm JUST going out for a chili dog, you might think Pink's, but the line is absurd. (One of the many reasons I love the L.A. County Fair is because I can get a Pink's dog there with no wait.) And if I'm JUST going for a chili cheeseburger, it's Original Tommy's But if I don't feel like the long haul to First and Rampart, or I'm not sure what I want, or I want one of each...Carney's on Sunset Strip is the burger and dog joint for me. I love the kitsch of the train car and the people watching on the Strip. They make great burgers, great fries. And you know what? I think their basic chili cheese dog is better than Pink's, full stop.

Ricky's Fish Tacos 
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 9002
Yelp Info

When I wrote the first draft of this post, this spot was held by Henry's Tacos (may it rest in peace) but they closed their doors amid much media outcry on January 15.  It's probably just as well; as iconic and nostalgic as Henry's crispy ground beef burritos and tacos were, Ricky's is probably, actually, better. Because it's AWESOME. If you're a fan of Baja style—as in, deep fried, mofo!—fish tacos, these are BY FAR the best you'll find north or Rosarito Beach or Ensenada. There are only two things on the menu: shrimp tacos and fish tacos. On Sundays, sometimes lobster tacos. A cooler full of drinks. A bucket of horchata. some shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and three salsas. The fish is battered and deep fried before your eyes, and it comes out perfectly: hot, not too greasy, perfectly seasoned. Ricky uses swai, a mild fish popular in southeast Asia; a perfect choice for the dish, it has flavor that complements the rich batter without overpowering it (as cod can) or getting lost in it. The only caveat with Ricky's is that it can be difficult to find. It's just a pop-up stand: a couple of portable tables under a couple of Easy-ups, three small tables and a dozen chairs. I guarantee you'll drive right past it at least once. It's located in the tiny parking lot of a tiny office building a half block off of Sunset Blvd, across from the loading dock for Von's. There's no sign. Hours are variable, although he's usually there Thursday-Sunday, weather permitting. You should check his Twitter feed to make sure he's there on any given day.

2056 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 662-1214
Mon - Sat. 9-6
Cash Only

Click here for Google Info & Map

Yuca's invented the use of whole beans in burritos, so that alone gets them a prize. Plus how many L.A. taco stands do you know that have received a James Beard award? Go to the stand, on Hillhurst, not the restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. It's just better somehow. Get the Cochinita Pibil. They're also doing a good business in cheeseburgers these days; some blogger raved about them, and now they've been "discovered." As yet undiscovered, but just as good, is their chili cheese dog.

TAIX French Restaurant
1911 Sunset Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Info on Yelp

Back's just the kind of restaurant I love. Sprawling, comfy, with a great bar that pours big drinks, big plates of quite reasonably authentic country French cuisine, and an extensive selection of fairly priced French wines, for great prices. Almost everything here is good. I especially love the Thursday special of lapin (rabbit) in a mustard-shallot sauce, the oxtail, the duck a l'orange, the pork chop, the ratatouille, the seafood pasta, the macaroni au gratin... really, just about everything. The goofy chatty waiters not the least. And there are booths. Not red pleather, but booths nevertheless.

El Coyote Cafe
7312 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90036
Google Local Info

It's where we go when we don't know where to go: the classic iteration of 20th Century California style Mexican food: Gringo Mex, as some call it. I've posted here about it enough in the past that I don't need to go into detail. But I will say that they've been upgrading and simplifying their menu, so if you haven't been in awhile you should check it out. Welcome new additions are shrimp burritos and tacos, fish tacos, chicken and steak "street" tacos with excellent new salsas, and a tasty tortilla soup in place of the old vegetable soup. "Spaghetti" is no longer on the menu, but you can still get your old school tostada (now labeled "eclectic") with industrial grade beets, green beans and garbanzos if you want; you can also get the tastier new Tostada Fresca. Also try their fantastic new chicken tortilla soup.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd # 108,
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: (213) 380-1113
Open 7 days 9:30 am - 10:30 pm.
MC Visa, no Amex.
Beer, sake, and soju.
Click here for Google Map.

I didn't have Beverly Soon in my original list, or any Korean food. My wife was appalled, and she's right. Tough call, this category; Seoul Garden is wonderful, so is Toad House. But Beverly Soon was my first Korean foodie kiss, so sentiment wins the day. Aside from the delicious, deadly-spicy (when ordered that way) tofu stew, their grilled meats are just awesome. Get the combo of stew with Tender bulgogi, delicious kalbi ribs, or the sizzling whole squid in chili sauce snipped up into ringlets by your waitress with kitchen scissors; add decent banchan and copious amounts of soju, and it's no wonder the out of towners want to come back.

Del Taco

Okay, I'm making it 11, because it wouldn't be a Los Angeles list without at least one drive thru fast food chain, and for me it has to be Del Taco. (Sorry, In 'n' Out; the bible verses on the cups are a deal-breaker.) Ever since our beloved Hollywood/Santa Monica Del Taco location shut down, I've been craving it with an unholy craving, and can't drive past one without swerving in. What's good here? Quesadillas, fish tacos, shrimp burritos, and one of my all time, I-could-live-on-these faves, the 99¢ half-pound bean and cheese burrito with green sauce. Warm, beany, squishy, tangy, comforting goodness.

There are so many places I haven't mentioned. No Italian on the list. No Chinese (most of the truly great Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley. Try Lu Gi, Harbour Seafood, Chung King, and 101 Noodle Express; Chinatown restaurants pale in comparison).  But you can always explore this blog further for my recommendations.

If you like my wrting, and you like food, you should really check out my mouthwatering new e-novel, at

That's all folks. Bon appetit and thanks for reading.