5 tips for eating and drinking in LA like a local

21 December 2018

The size and scale of Los Angeles can be daunting – and it's twice as frustrating when you're hungry and just want something good to eat. Avoid the overpriced tourist traps and same-y fast food joints, and eat as the locals do with the help of these tasty tips.

Look beyond the taco stand

Located just a few hundred kilometres from the Mexican border, and with almost half its population identifying as Hispanic, it's little surprise that Los Angeles is America's best city for Mexican food. But don't be fooled into thinking you'll get a real taste of Mexico at the nearest taco stand – it'd be like ordering burgers or fried chicken and thinking you'd tasted all that American cooking had to offer. For a deeper dive into the authentic flavours of Mexico, book a table at Guelaguetza (pronounced “gela-getza”) on the outskirts of Koreatown. Founded 24 years ago by the Lopez family, this is the place to eat housemade chorizo, chicken with spicy, unctuous mole sauce, and crunchy and surprisingly moreish chapulines, tiny grasshoppers stir-fried with salt and pepper.
 

Guelaguetza, Los Angeles. Photo: Catherine McGregor

Eat at a celebrity hangout without bankrupting yourself

Fair warning: there's no guarantee you'll spot a star during your LA stay, but there are plenty of ways to up your chances. It's no surprise that most of them come with a hefty price tag though: you'll want to save your pocket money for a meal at the terrace restaurant at the Chateau Marmont hotel, the patio outside the Ivy restaurant in West Hollywood or at quirky bar-restaurant The Nice Guy – all firm celebrity favourites. If you're on a budget, try one of the city's farmer markets instead: good bets for star spotting include Studio City Farmers Market, near the movie studios; Brentwood Farmers Market, located in one of LA's most desirable neighbourhoods; and the Original Farmers Market, a warren of affordable outdoor restaurants and produce stalls at The Grove, the popular open-air shopping mall.

The historic Farmers Market at The Grove, Los Angeles. Photo: Getty

Know where to get great coffee

You might be forgiven for assuming from all those paparazzi photos of young starlets sucking down enormous iced lattes that good coffee is practically unheard of in Los Angeles. But nothing could be further from the truth – there's great coffee, and amazingly stylish places to drink it, all over the city. In downtown, try Paramount Coffee Project and Roo Coffee (both Aussie-run), or the lobby espresso bar at the achingly cool Ace Hotel; in the nearby Arts District, check out Stumptown and Blue Bottle Coffee. If you're in Silver Lake, the patio outside Intelligensia Coffee is one of the prettiest spots on the East Side, while out west Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica and Groundwork in Venice are among the best places to get caffeinated by the sea.

Intelligensia, Silver Lake. Photo: flickr.com/spot us

Discover cocktail culture

While the glamorous glory days of Hollywood nightlife might be over, Los Angeles' cocktail scene is still in a league of its own. The Sunset Boulevard pub where the Moscow Mule (a mix of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice) was invented in 1941 is long gone, but you can still drink the classic cocktail – served properly in a copper mug – at bars across town. For a good one, try Barkowski, the 60s-themed bar dedicated to cult writer Charles Bukowski, located near the beach in Santa Monica. Looking for something a bit more cutting edge? Check out the Walker Inn, a hidden bar under the historic Normandie Hotel, where the astonishingly creative offerings include an ever-changing 'tasting menu' of cocktails and snacks, like “Apple Picking", made with brown butter apple brandy, sweet sherry and salted caramel, and served with a mini doughnut on the side. Other great places to for craft cocktails include The Varnish and Seven Grand, both in the thriving downtown district.

A proper Moscow Mule – served properly in a copper mug. Photo: flickr.com/Nan Palmero

Go beyond 'modern American'

Sure, Los Angeles boasts some of the best European-style cooking in the country – with all California's incredible fresh produce to work with, how could it not? But if you don't explore the city's ethnic dining scene, you're missing out. Head to Little Armenia or the Armenian enclave in Glendale for kebabs, stuffed grape leaves and hummus; to Little Tokyo in downtown for slurp-worthy ramen and sushi train restaurants galore; and to the Jewish delis of Pico-Robertson for bagels and pastrami sandwiches. For a dinner of barbecue and mandu dumplings, set a course for the increasingly fashionable Koreatown district – then stick around for a drink at neighbourhood bar Dan Sung Sa, a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain and home to some of the greatest fried chicken in America (on second thoughts, consider skipping dinner and heading straight here).

Chinatown, Los Angeles. Photo: L.A. Tourism