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Now reading What’s the Most LA Restaurant?

What’s the Most LA Restaurant?

We asked writers, artists, actors, and skateboarders for their picks.

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This comes from our Los Angeles issue, on newsstands now. For more stories like this, subscribe to the magazine

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost exactly one year. It’s been a time that has reaffirmed some Californian stereotypes (rampant passive-aggressiveness, horrible driving, way too many coyotes) that, as a born-and-bred East Coaster, I’ve long held. But that stuff has been vastly outweighed by the good. The expansiveness and surreality of LA really blow my mind, as do the unforgiving clarity of the daylight and the weirdly sensuous air once the sun goes down. It’s like living in a David Lynch movie, but it’s also like living in a John Cassavetes movie; it’s like living in a Captain Beefheart song, but it’s also like living in an X song.

And then there are the mountains that I can see outside my windows, and the lushness of the greenery where I live, in Mount Washington, and the orange and Key lime trees in my yard, and the med weed. I’m a very happy former New Yorker.

The food here is a trip, too. The sheer diversity is one thing, sure, but also—and this is due to the aforementioned expanse—I get even more of a sense here than I did in the cities back east of elusive restaurants at all points of the compass, just waiting to be found. In LA, it’s like you never know which ugly-ass strip mall could hold the greatest fill-in-the-blank you’ve ever tasted.

I recently asked a few of my long-term Angeleno friends—as well as some other people I simply admire—to tell me the restaurants that they believe especially exemplify this weird and warm place.

ED RUSCHA

Ed Ruscha has been living and making work in LA since 1956. If there is a cooler man alive, I challenge you to show him to me.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you? 

The Musso & Frank Grill, a restaurant I’ve been patronizing for fifty-some years.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it? 

Beyond its elite fraternity of mostly Hispanic waiters, it’s the history of the place that is special.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

I would order abalone, which they stopped serving twenty-five years ago. So today, I’d get the sand dabs.

The Musso & Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA


JOHN PHAM

John Pham is an Ignatz Award–nominated comics artist responsible for titles such as Epoxy and Scuzzi.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you?

Chinese Friends, on Broadway in Chinatown.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it?

My family’s been going there pretty much since we settled in LA, in the late seventies. It’s really good, kinda divey. There’s an adjacent parking structure that overlooks the old train yard near Spring Street (it’s a park now) with a nice elevated view. I remember going back to our car after dinner as a kid and being really fascinated and scared, because the place where the tracks were looked so desolate, almost completely black. I imagined this void must’ve been where the city limits were.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

The moo shu pork, sizzling rice soup, kung pao shrimp, and beef with broccoli.

Chinese Friends Restaurant
984 North Broadway
Los Angeles, CA


SAMMY HARKHAM

Sammy Harkham is a comics artist whose most well-known recurring title is Crickets. He is also the editor of the comics anthology Kramers Ergot, and a co-founder of the bookstore Family and the repertory movie theater Cinefamily.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you?

God, there’s a bunch. The Musso & Frank Grill, the counter diner under the Beverly Hills Hotel (the Foundation Coffee Room), the taco truck in the parking lot of Hollywood Star Lanes (RIP), the Pacific Dining Car. But my personal favorite is the Apple Pan. 

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it?

A parking lot for six cars, a tiny well-kept path of tight hedges, loud swinging doors, a horseshoe counter, and a window into the pie room. No praise of the past on the bare, smoke-stained walls, no neo-retro signage or bullshit 1950s photographs printed from too-small JPEGs pulled from a Google search for “1950s restaurant.” No Buddy Holly playing; in fact, no music at all. It’s just an old room, and therefore it has a real sense of time and place. You can feel the ghosts of Los Angeles. Some of the guys working there have been there for decades—strange SoCal amalgamations like Butch, who sounds like a surfer bro but looks like an old RKO movie boxer. The Apple Pan’s customers comprise a wide, weird spectrum of the city’s residents. It’s a good spot to sit and stare. And it’s comfortable in an unself-
conscious way that can be hard to find here. It’s a good place for a late-night cup of coffee or sandwich alone. 

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

I think the identity of Los Angeles for a long time was as the end of the West, a place made up of everywhere else jammed into one spot, and the menu is a nod to that. That said, the menu is also tiny. Japanese-master-chef tiny. You can get a burger, and you can get a burger with hickory sauce. A cheese sandwich and a ham sandwich are on there, too, but only for, like, late-night nibbling, I suspect. Fries. That’s one-half of the menu. The other lists pies. That’s all. So it’s obvious what I’d order right now: a Coke, a burger, a slice of banana-cream pie. They pour the Coke into a paper funnel held by a wide-mouthed silver container. For some reason this makes it taste better. The burger is, hands down, the best fucking burger in the world. This isn’t a conversation. Usually without hickory sauce or cheese, as it’s not needed. They put, like, half a head of lettuce on this thing, along with pickles—and that’s enough. The pie is an indulgence, but fuck it. Their apple pie is amazing, but right now I’d order the banana-cream since no one else does a good banana-cream pie in LA—except the Apple Pan, where it is excellent. They serve everything on thick paper trays except the pie and coffee, which are delivered on green-rimmed porcelain. It’s perfect. 

The Apple Pan
10801 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA


JAIME HERNANDEZ

Jamie Hernandez is a comics artist who, along with his brothers Gilbert and Mario, invented the seminal series Love and Rockets, which has been published since 1981.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you?

Puebla Tacos #3, on the Pasadena-Altadena border.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it?

Mexican food. Burritos you eat with your hands. Started as a cart a long time ago.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

Vegetarian burrito with green salsa on the side. Think I’ll walk over there right now.

Puebla Tacos #3
2057 North Lake Avenue
Pasadena, CA


LESLEY ARFIN

Lesley Arfin has been a writer on TV series such as Girls and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and is the co-creator of the Netflix series Love.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you? 

The Ivy? I’ve never been there. Or maybe this place Ketchup, which is now shut down, but Ashton Kutcher owned it or something, and it’s really funny (and so LA) that of course Ashton Kutcher owned a restaurant, and it was called Ketchup?!?!

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it?
It’s very Entourage. 

If you could eat there right now, what would you order? 

I mean, definitely the filet mignon, hands down. They had a beautiful filet. But first I’d start by ordering some duck tacos for the table and, if I’m totally honest, I’m thinking we’re gonna be at least eight deep so as a bonus ’tizer I’d order the lamb meatballs; they did them up with a little Greek yogurt and harissa, which might sound weird to the unsophisticated palate, but trust me, it was fucking awesome. Obviously there’d be a couple bottles of prosecco, you know, for the table.

Ketchup (closed)
8590 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA


RACHEL KUSHNER

Rachel Kushner is a National Book Award finalist and the author of novels such as The Flamethrowers and Telex From Cuba.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you? 

Taix. Which, by the way, is pronounced like tex, for those who might not know. It’s the family name of the man who founded it.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it? 

I’ve been going there at least once a week since I moved to Los Angeles thirteen years ago and, before that, when visiting as well. It’s not especially Los Angeles-y. In fact, from the entryway, bar, and banquet rooms, it seems more like a special-occasion establishment you might find in Fargo, North Dakota. Or Peoria, Illinois. Then again, the dining room is like Havana, old style and grand. The bar at happy hour is sometimes filled with lawyers from the criminal court downtown, and perhaps that makes it seem Los Angeles. It’s a calming, friendly place with excellent low lighting, and I am always happy there. Except once, last year, at the bar, they had a Dodgers game on during the NBA play-offs, and that was unacceptable, but eventually they changed the channel when asked.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

Same thing I always get: the “Californian” Niçoise. And I would be sitting in Bernard’s section, because he’s my son’s favorite waiter.

Taix French Country Cuisine
1911 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA


EVE BABITZ

Eve Babitz is the author of such influential LA books as 1974’s Eve’s Hollywood and 1982’s L.A. Woman. She’s also the naked lady playing chess against Marcel Duchamp in that famous photo from 1963.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you?

The Musso & Frank Grill, definitely and always.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it?
You can still see Jean Harlow and hear her ordering a martini and creamed spinach, the best in the world anywhere. The walls and banquettes are filled with old Hollywood glamour. It is LA at its absolute best.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order? 

The sand dabs. Always, always the sand dabs.

The Musso & Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA


TINO RAZO

Tino Razo is a skateboarder and photographer whose book of swimming-pool-skating pictures, Party in the Back, is out soon from Boo-Hooray and Anthology Editions.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you?

After living here for five years now, there are so many places I could say that I love for one reason or another, or that are just what I picture to be extremely LA-y. But I’m going to have to go with Del Taco on this one.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it?

This comes from not being from here or ever really knowing LA at all prior to living here. After being in NYC for what seemed to be a lifetime, I became somewhat of a foodie. Out there, the best food is usually just steps outside your door, or a few blocks away at the most, and within your grasp at any given hour.

Once I moved to LA, I noticed pretty quickly that after getting home from work and relaxing for a minute, then walking my dog, almost every place to eat out is closed or stopped seating people by ten p.m. So the fact that Del Taco is available to punch into my stomach when I actually have time to eat at night is what makes it especially Los Angeles-y to me.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order? 

Well, it’s 12:58 a.m. as I write this, and thinking about what I wanted to write while walking my dog earlier made me have a craving for it. I just went there and got a half-pound bean-and-cheese burrito with small fries and a small Sprite. It came out to be five bucks.

Del Taco
4376 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA


KEVIN “SPANKY” LONG

Kevin “Spanky” Long is a professional skateboarder, an artist, and a master of the Etch A Sketch.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you? 

Whoa. Most Los Angeles? First thing that comes to mind is Café Gratitude, on Larchmont.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it? 

I love LA and have lived here my whole life. However, when I think of something being “Los Angeles-y,” I immediately think of the hilarious future-hippy ding-dongs putting on floppy fedoras and ordering raw vegan kelp and mung-bean dishes with affirmation titles on their way home from hot yoga. But also, these are my people and I love yoga and healthy food. So there.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

I would order the I Am Honest tempeh Reuben and the I Am Complete green juice. And I would enjoy the hell out of it.

Café Gratitude
639 North Larchmont Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA



JERRY HSU

Jerry Hsu is a professional skateboarder and a photographer who has exhibited his work around the globe.

What’s the most “Los Angeles” restaurant to you? 

The most “LA” place I go to eat is definitely Erewhon, near Hollywood. I live a few blocks away, so I’m there all the time.

What is especially Los Angeles-y about it? 

The whole “mission” of the market and its customers. It’s been around since the sixties, when all that California health-food stuff started happening, and now it’s this well-branded, better-than–Whole Foods, non-GMO health paradise. It’s where celebrities, models, personal trainers, and onlookers hang out and spend one hundred fifty dollars on smoothies and paleo granola. It’s like the culmination of everything people hate about LA (there’s even lots of traffic in there), but it’s also the best. This place rules.

If you could eat there right now, what would you order?

Something with bee pollen, turmeric, and rosewater. Nothing under seventy-five dollars.

Erewhon
7660 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA


The Musso & Frank Grill, Pacific Dining Car, and Dan Tana’s comprise my personal Holy Trinity of Los Angeles ancient dining zones. And let me stress the word personal, because it has come to my attention since moving here that there is a plenitude of cool-grandfather restaurants in LA, and everybody’s second and third faves are different. But Musso & Frank is always number one. It is an indisputable truth that this ninety-seven-year-old institution is the titan forever and ever, amen.

It’s got the dark-wood paneling and deep-red booths—the Jungian archetypal decor of bygone fine dining experiences. It’s got the storied list of regular alumni, from pulpists like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (and, later, their bastard boy Charles Bukowski) to your standard demigods like Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, and Steve McQueen. But more than anything, it gives me this pleasurable cognitive dissonance I really love, which comes from my being simultaneously a cheeseball tourist and a pilgrim who has found a rare place of total sensory comfort. It’s almost a form of live-action role-playing to eat at Musso & Frank—who you are will be up to you. Most will choose Humphrey Bogart or something, but I prefer to be a quietly desperate middle manager from a prominent Wall Street investment bank on a disappointing business trip to LA in 1970.