Road Trip: 10 Insider Restaurants in Los Angeles

Published in Gourmet Live 03.07.12
As part of our monthly collaboration with BlogHer, we’re California-bound for locals’ favorite eats in the City of Angels

Aroma Coffee & Tea (Studio City)

Aroma Coffee & Tea is a bakery and bistro wrapped around a tiny independent bookstore on a street with a small-town vibe. Place your food order at a bakery case filled with mouthwatering cakes, find a table, and settle into the laid-back atmosphere while awaiting your made-to-order salads and sandwiches. You can eat in the bookstore or outdoors on a garden patio with an eclectic boho style. Aroma Coffee & Tea is always filled with movie-industry types, but this isn’t a paparazzi hangout; it’s a quiet spot to sip a cappuccino and share a huge slice of red velvet cake with a friend.

BOA (Santa Monica)

My favorite L.A. restaurant of all time is BOA in Santa Monica. I can’t even pick what I like best about it—the warm bread, the great wine, the amazing steaks, the mac and cheese, the candlelit ambience, or the fact that the people who work there are so darn nice. This is an example of a restaurant that could have really rested on its laurels once celebrities discovered it, but instead BOA goes the extra mile to make everyone’s dining experience exceptional. For birthdays, celebrations, or just a nice night out, I recommend BOA every time I can, and to anyone who will listen.

Cleo (Hollywood)

Whether it’s girls’ night out or a dinner date with my husband, my go-to restaurant is Cleo at the Redbury hotel. Mediterranean food comes small-plate style in rustic bowls, which is ideal for people like me who want to taste a little bit of everything! It’s a great place to go with a group to enjoy the energetic, hip atmosphere and signature cocktails, like the Mediterranean Margarita with house-made fig almond syrup and freshly squeezed lime. The menu is extensive, and servers are excellent at highlighting must-try items. My personal favorites are the wood-fired Brussels sprout hearts; grilled daurade; and the merguez flatbread with caramelized onions, peppers, and smoked mozzarella.

Cliff’s Edge Café (Silver Lake)

Cliff’s Edge has one of the best outdoor dining areas in all of L.A. The spacious yet intimate patio, lit almost exclusively by strung bulbs, makes you feel as if you have been transported to a locals-only spot in Provence. In previous years, the food didn’t quite live up to the magical surroundings, but the recent arrival of the 2010 James Beard Rising Star Chef nominee Benjamin Bailly changed all of that. Standout starters from this Robuchon protégé include chickpea fritters with rosemary and lemon aïoli, smoked-trout rillettes, and Brussels sprouts with anchovy, capers, and Parmesan. For your main dish, don’t miss the sublime skate wing with brown butter, pine nuts, and capers.

The Grilled Cheese Truck (Around the L.A. Area)

If the words gooey, melty, and cheesy make your heart skip a beat, then the Grilled Cheese Truck just might be your golden-fried wish, granted! With regular stops all over L.A., this mobile eatery serves up classic grilled cheese sandwiches alongside delights like Cheesy Mac and Rib (macaroni and cheese, barbecue pork, and a generous slather of caramelized onions), a creamy, dreamy Brie Melt on cranberry-walnut bread, and ridiculously sinful dessert melts like a combo of Nutella, peanut butter, and marshmallows. Check the Web site for locations, and arrive early—this truck can draw a long line. And bring a bib, as excessive drooling is inevitable.

Katsu-Ya (Studio City)

Sushi and Los Angeles go hand in hand, and Katsu-Ya Studio City is my pick for the freshest and most delicious Japanese food in town. It’s not much for ambience (the restaurant is in a mini-mall flanked by a pet store and Domino’s Pizza), but once you dine here, your taste buds will never be the same. Savor the rock shrimp tempura (oh so light and tender), crispy rice with spicy tuna, baked crab rolls, and seared spicy albacore with crispy onions. Katsu-Ya has other locations throughout the city, but this one is the original, and still the best.

LA Vegan Thai (West L.A.)

Say the word vegan and you’re immediately met with a furrowed brow. But what could be better than nuanced curries, crispy-fried dumplings, or a bowl of hot noodles swimming in flavorful ginger sauce? LA Vegan Thai is so good, even my fiancé—a born-and-bred Texan—will put down the bacon cheeseburger and step toward the tom kah kai, a slightly spicy coconut milk soup with galanga and lime. Dining-in is great in this small and efficient dining room, but if you live in the area, takeout is even better, as it fills your home with the scents of Thailand.

Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse (Downtown L.A.)

The meal so good I’d have it as my last? Without a doubt, it would have to be at Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse. Start with a Caesar salad prepared tableside (opt for a kick of Tabasco), and then move on to the real reason to dine at this impeccable steakhouse: a cut of certified prime Black Angus. I am partial to the petit filet mignon (I’m not dying yet, so I have to be a little calorie-conscious), but any cut from the restaurant’s on-site aging room will do nicely. Don’t forget the signature sauces, such as the béarnaise, which is so savory that I’d suck it down with my last breath.

The Roof Garden at the Peninsula Hotel (Beverly Hills)

“The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there”: That’s how Holly Golightly—immortalized by Audrey Hepburn—famously described Tiffany’s, but she could very well have been speaking about the Peninsula Hotel’s Roof Garden. Crowning the regal Beverly Hills hotel, the Roof Garden features a surprisingly unpretentious menu starring local organic produce in a setting that’s a perfect escape from the buzz of L.A. Relax in the lounge area around the fire pit as you enjoy dishes such as dungeness crab salad with grilled watermelon and honey-lavender Fresno chile vinaigrette.

Yen Sushi and Sake Bar (Studio City)

L.A. is known for amazing sushi restaurants, and my husband and I have sampled just about every one of them. But none seems to compare to Yen Sushi and Sake Bar on Ventura Boulevard. It’s a tiny place, and nothing fancy, but it has a wonderful atmosphere, outstanding service, and incredibly fresh sushi—the best in the San Fernando Valley. We’ve been eating at Yen for more than eight years and have never been disappointed. Our favorite bites include the seared albacore sashimi with crisp onion, spicy tuna on crispy rice, garden salad, and for dessert, a creamy mousse treat with chocolate-covered coffee beans.

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