Amid Los Angeles’ hectic eats scene, Neil Perry finds a happy medium between fine dining and food trucks.
Los Angeles has always been a great city for food and it’s constantly changing. Traditionally, it’s covered two extremes well (high-end restaurants and street food) but lately I’ve noticed the middle ground – casual eateries – really take hold. This style of dining has a lot going for it: quality ingredients, fast service and reasonable prices. It’s about grabbing a flavoursome meal when you’re hungry without committing to a formal setting.
A good starting point is to spend a day grazing the offerings at Grand Central Market. This Downtown marketplace has everything from fresh produce to Chinese cuisine and Eggslut – which uses ethical eggs – plus topnotch coffee.
Lemonade has outlets along the Californian coast; I visited Santa Monica. It’s predominantly a cafeteria-style takeaway with some seating and a seasonal menu that includes salads, sandwiches and hot dishes such as chicken pot pie and roasted vegies. The most delicious items are the fresh, vibrant salads and you can’t leave without having a lemonade – they do half-a-dozen flavours, which might include Cucumber Mint.
Jinya Ramen Express, at the Hollywood & Highland complex, could well be the best-value dining in town. It’s a build-your-own-ramen joint where you choose the noodles, broth, toppings (vegetables, proteins, garnishes) and sauce. I’m a big fan of the tonkotsu spicy miso broth with thin noodles and I usually opt for classic toppings – pork, pickled ginger and an egg.
The Hopdoddy Burger Bar chain is all about responsible sourcing, which I love. The buns are baked on site and the patties are made on the premises in their butcher’s section, while the bar has plenty of craft beer and wines by the glass. My pick of the burgers? El Diablo, which is chock-a-block with habaneros so it has a real kick. If you love burgers as much as I do, it’s a satisfying meal, especially with a cold beer to take the edge off the chilli and complement the flavours.
Sapp Coffee Shop is another favourite. It reminds me of Boon Cafe in Sydney with its seriously tasty Thai food that has just the right degree of heat. Sapp, in a small strip mall on Hollywood Boulevard, isn’t big on décor but it’s super-authentic and excellent value. The boat noodle soup alone is worth going for but I’d recommend the jade noodles, spicy som tom and curry chicken, too.
Sure, I love nothing more than sitting in a fine-dining restaurant in full swing, watching the staff moving in synergy and working incredibly hard to make it all look effortless. But then I’d be missing out on LA’s incredible collection of food trucks serving great, ridiculously cheap meals – some of those $1 tacos will blow you away! And they’ve been especially fortunate to have Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold championing their cause.
But it doesn’t always have to be a choice between table service and tacos – and nor should it be. Good food made from ethically sourced produce needs to be available to everyone, every day. Thankfully, LA’s middle-of-the-road dining scene offers quick casual options that won’t break the bank. And, I promise you, the food is delicious. ￼
Main image: Eggslut
SEE ALSO: Neil Perry’s Kitchen Rules