They may opt for different coffee, Mexican and cocktails in the city but our experts share a passion for health food and high-rise dining.
The chef: Curtis Stone, Australian-born chef and owner of renowned LA restaurants Maude and Gwen.
The critic: Garrett Snyder, Food editor at Los Angeles Magazine and co-author of the cookbook Night + Market.
Is there a restaurant that nails the LA vibe?
CS When I have friends in town, I take them to Sushi Park (8539 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood; +1 310 652 0523). It’s in a strip mall, which is a very LA thing, and has a sign outside that says, “No trendy sushi. No California roll”. The sushi is wonderful and there’s a decent chance you’ll be sitting next to anyone from Scarlett Johansson to Sean Penn, kicking it in baseball caps and T-shirts.
GS One of the things people want to see when they come to LA is Old Hollywood. The Musso & Frank Grill opened on Hollywood Boulevard in 1919 and has a classic wood and dark-red leather dining room. You go for a Martini, lobster thermidor or jellied consommé. William Faulkner and Humphrey Bogart used to get plastered there.
What’s the city’s best fine-diner?
CS Providence on Melrose Avenue. It’s seafood, which is interesting for fine dining. Chef Michael Cimarusti has a handle on what’s great at the farmers’ market – it’s all about getting the right ingredients.
GS A shoebox-sized place in Santa Monica called Dialogue. It’s above a food court – you go up an escalator and through a clandestine door at the back. It’s an example of how an avant-garde chef – Dave Beran, formerly of Alinea in Chicago – comes to LA and sees the amazing produce and different cultures and has fun with it all.
Who’s doing an exciting take on Mexican cuisine?
CS Guelaguetza in Koreatown does incredible mole sauces on giant tortillas. A good mole has a tonne of ingredients and layers of flavour – the obvious stuff like garlic and spices but sometimes chocolate and coffee, too. The way they do it is unique and fabulous.
GS There’s a place just south of LA in Orange County called Taco María. They do tacos for lunch but at night there’s a dégustation menu of beautiful reimagined Mexican food seen through a progressive California lens. The chef, Carlos Salgado, makes the tortillas and his moles and salsas are complex and presented in an unpretentious way. The food is so soulful.
Where do you get your caffeine fix?
CS We import Aussie coffee from St. Ali in Melbourne for our restaurants, Maude and Gwen. We did a blind tasting for our sommeliers and baristas using predominantly American roasters but because I like it I threw the St. Ali one in and it came out on top. We don’t put a bunch of nonsense in it like those caramel latte espresso concoctions. It’s just fresh beans roasted really well and that’s it.
GS I go to Go Get Em Tiger, one of the first places to push the idea of batch brews, in Larchmont Village. They’ve started roasting their own Ethiopian and Kenyan beans, which I like.
What’s your pick for breakfast?
CS I’ve got two kids and I take them to a place called The Griddle Cafe in Hollywood, where they make these ridiculously oversized pancakes. The kids love them. They also make excellent French toast served with salted butter. There’s always a line down the street.
GS I love a place called Nick’s Cafe in Chinatown. It’s kind of a cop hangout and I usually go there to get a ham steak and eggs. As much as I often wake up craving pho or tacos, there’s something very comforting about being in front of a short- order grill and watching a chef bark out orders.
Who’s putting a fresh spin on health food?
CS There’s a tiny place called Sqirl in Silver Lake that’s doing interesting things with wild rice and grains like farro. LA is surrounded by microclimates where you can grow anything so they use beautiful fruit and vegies and do a good job with them.
GS I live right near Sqirl and I’m far from the first person to shower this place with praise. They take something you’re craving on a visceral level and make it light and bright. Last time I was there I had the Big Tot – a giant latke made with potato and chickpea flour served with a gorgeous smoked almond cream cheese schmear, preserved lemon and vegetables.
Where would you recommend for great Chinese?
CS I love Chinatown and I go all the time [to the one] in Melbourne but not in LA because we’re on the west side and it’s downtown. Instead, we go to Din Tai Fung in Century City for Shanghai-style dumplings.
GS There’s a place called Jade Wok that I always went to when I lived in Chinatown. In many ways it’s an unremarkable mom-and-pop restaurant but their house special is this raft of tofu covered in black bean and ground pork sauce. I eat it at least once a week – I think about it all the time.
What about the best spot for a late-night cocktail?
CS El Carmen in Beverly Grove is a hole- in-the-wall with depictions of Mexican wrestlers on the walls – they make great Margaritas. I’m more of a beer or wine kind of guy but I do like a good fancy cocktail.
GS The Normandie Club in Koreatown. It’s a stripped-down version of a craft cocktail bar and most things on the menu are riffs on the classics. It’s the ideal location to start or end your night, surrounded by karaoke bars, soup parlours and nightclubs.
And the ultimate LA food truck?
CS Chef Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ truck. He does Korean-style marinated meats served in tacos. It’s one of those fusion things that doesn’t sound too good until you eat it and it’s brilliant. Korean spices are a bit sweet and it works so well.
GS The one I stop at a lot on my way home from the office is called Tacos Tamix. It specialises in al pastor, a shepherd-style Mexican dish made from a large vertical skewer of marinated pork, almost like you’d see at a yiros shop. It’s shaved off with this long, foreboding knife onto the tortilla and served with pineapple on top.
Where would you head for great eats plus a knockout view?
CS You know the stereotype that a restaurant on the 71st floor of a building is likely to just be a tourist trap? Downtown’s 71 Above is one of the exceptions. You can see almost all the way to the water and it has refined, delicious food.
GS 71 Above is on par with the more ambitious destination spots in the city. You think, “It’s the place you go for the great view but not great food” but the [recently departed] chef Vartan Abgaryan really knows how to work with oysters and uni and truffles. I’ve been blown away by how he makes a lot happen with a few ingredients.
Is there a fantastic restaurant no-one knows about?
CS José Andrés is a marvellous chef and has this intimate dining room, Somni, inside his restaurant, The Bazaar, at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. You need to buy tickets and they only go on sale once a month. It’s a tiny room and only offers a tasting menu – it’s incredible.
GS One of my favourite things is yakitori and in the South Bay area there’s a decent- sized Japanese population. You usually have to call ahead at Torihei because it’s often booked up by locals. It serves some of the best yakitori I’ve eaten outside of Japan. They make superbly grilled chicken wings and thighs or whatever else you want in the hazy, smoke-filled dining room. It’s transporting in the way the best restaurants in LA are – it takes you to another world.