The Best Things I Ate in LA

by Peter Candia
the best things I ate in LA

I recently went to Los Angeles for the first time and, as I tend to do when visiting a new city, I ate my weight in good eats. Traveling to LA, I made it my mission to try a varied display of the city’s culinary offerings. From chicken tinga tacos and fatty tuna hand rolls to rigatoni amatriciana and chutney-topped pizzas, these are the best things I ate in LA. 

Assorted Skewers – Dan Sung Sa

dan sung sa

Pictured: Chicken, rice cake and baby back rib skewers | Dan Sung Sa

Dan Sung Sa is a culinary experience that the East Coast is sorely missing. Fans flock to this late-night, no-frills joint in the heart of LA’s Koreatown for the cheap, charcoal-grilled skewers and Korean small plates. Open into the wee hours of the night, it’s become a popular destination to head to after a night of drinking, but it’s also a great spot to do your drinking. You can expect to wait an hour or so for a table—drinking paper bag beers and mingling with regulars in the parking lot while you do. Walking inside, the dimly lit bar transports you to the streets of Seoul, with Korean graffiti on the walls and ice-cold mugs of beer flying to tables. When I finally had the chance to eat, I enjoyed an assortment of grilled skewers such as pork belly, short rib, pork rib, rice cake, pineapple and more. The best part? They range in price from $1.50 to $2.50 each—talk about a steal. 

Iberico Pork Chop – Bar Chelou

Bar Chelou

Grilled Iberico pork chop | Bar Chelou

Up in Pasadena, Bar Chelou is serving what they call “weird kinda-French bistro” food alongside superb cocktails and wine. I think this Iberico pork chop fits that description nicely. Grilled over wood, a smoky aura permeates the rose-hued pork, seasoning the meat from wall to wall. Atop it, a salad of shredded cabbage, fennel and furikake—which was aromatic and expertly juxtaposed with the fatty meat. And I didn’t dare waste the rib bone, instead picking it up and gnawing every bit of meat off it. When a pork chop is done correctly, it runs laps around a steak. Hot take? No, it’s the correct one. Bar Chelou’s Iberico pork chop exemplifies this with ease. 

Green Chutney Pizza – Pijja Palace

Pijja Palace

Bar pie slathered with green chili chutney | Pijja Palace

Indian sports bar? What’s not to like? Pijja Palace is all the rage in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood and I can totally see why. The menu is laden with sports bar classics, such as wings, sliders and pizzas—-each one with a flair of Indian flavors—and a varied cocktail list that sees the likes of chai-infused whiskey sours and tandoori-Aperol-spiked Miller High Life. Each bite was increasingly mind-blowing, from the aloo tiki hash sliders to the malai rigatoni, but I’d be remiss as an NJ food writer not to highlight the pizza. Pijja Palace takes clear inspiration from NJ bar pies in their thin and crisp pizzas, which come cleverly topped with winning combos like chicken tikka and tandoori onions, but it was the green chutney pie that I had to have. A simple, almost Star Tavern-esque bar pie is painted with bright green chili chutney right as it leaves the oven. The spicy and slightly cooling relish is the perfect (yes, perfect) way to finish a bar pie. It’s something I will be dreaming about for some time. My only regret is not freezing one and sending it home. 

Rigatoni Amatriciana – Mother Wolf 

Mother Wolf Hollywood

Rigatoni Amatriciana | Mother Wolf

Months before I planned any restaurants for my LA trip, I knew for certain that Mother Wolf had to be one of my stops. I have been quietly obsessing over Chef Evan Funke’s ode to Rome in Hollywood since it opened its doors a few years ago. Being a Roman food fanatic, I had to have it. Of course, I went with the rigatoni amatriciana—a guanciale-enriched tomato sauce that is seasoned heavily with black pepper and Pecorino. It’s my favorite dish ever for good reason: it’s downright addicting. So, I can be a harsh critic when it comes to the classic, and I always order it when I find it on a menu. As expected, Mother Wolf’s version—which is incredibly simple—was a total knockout. Chewy rigatoni comes bathed in the bright red sauce, which hides morsels of crisp-braised guanciale underneath. It doesn’t look like much, but this is the epitome of big flavor. A masterclass in technique. The greatest thing Funke could have done with this dish is absolutely nothing extra at all. And that’s exactly what he did. 

Matzo Ball Soup – Birdie G’s 

birdie g's

A tender matzo ball bathes in rich chicken broth | Birdie G’s

I went to Birdie G’s in Santa Monica for a nightcap after I already had a full meal (see rigatoni amatriciana above), but I couldn’t pass up a few more bites of food. And what do you order when it’s getting late and you’re at a restaurant where the chef proudly calls his style “the product of an Eastern-European Jew who grew up in the Midwest and the Deep South and then settled in Southern California”? Well, the matzo ball soup, of course. Soup and cocktails—it’s the new thing. A large, tender matzo ball comes solo in a bowl before a server pours hot miso and dill-infused chicken broth on top. Chicken fat glistens on top of the soup and perfectly al-dente pieces of carrot and celery sink to the bottom. It was, hands down, the best matzo ball soup I’ve had, passing up many of the NJ and NY Jewish delis that I have tried. Along with my rum daiquiri, I’m not sure how I’ll cope without the cocktail/matzo combo in my life as a mainstay. 

Double Double Animal Style w/ Chopped Chili – In-N-Out Burger

In-n-out burger

It’s a fast food burger! | In-N-Out Burger

I wanted to hate it. I really did. However, I won’t lie to you, I totally get why Californians obsess over In-N-Out Burger. Is it the end-all as far as burgers go? Absolutely not, but haters are failing to see it for what it is: it’s a fast food burger! Nothing more than that. Thus, it should be treated as such. If you’re comparing it to Shake Shack or Five Guys, you’ve already lost the plot. For the price point and style, In-N-Out is more accurately compared to a Wendy’s or McDonald’s and when looked at that way, it’s a clear winner. The animal-style burger comes with mustard-grilled patties, extra burger sauce, grilled onions, crisp lettuce, tomato and a perfectly toasted, squishy bun. I absolutely loved it and the price cannot be beat (a double double costs just under $5). So, my plea to East Coasters who are dying to hate on In-N-Out Burger is this: it’s a fast food burger. Act accordingly. 

(The fries DO suck)

The #3 Sopressata Sandwich – Larchmont Wine, Spirits & Cheese

Larchmont Village Wine and Cheese

A correct and proper sandwich | Larchmont Village Wine and Cheese

I didn’t go to LA with a plan to have an Italian-style sandwich—New Jersey has plenty of those—but, my good friend and fellow NJ native (LA transplant now) insisted I try the raved-about sandwiches at Larchmont Village Wine and Cheese. So, I did. Let’s start with the bread: it’s crusty, chewy and the perfect baguette to house salty cured meat and cheese. Slices of manchego come shingled alongside salty sopressata—AKA the king of Italian salumi if you ask me. A smear of sun-dried tomato mayo, mixed greens and a punch of vinegar is all the sandwich needed to achieve perfection. I know I’m gonna hear something about the skimpy filling, but to be honest, many NJ delis can learn a thing or two from Larchmont Wines—less of a quality meat is better than mounds of crappy meat. Plain and simple. NJ’s best sandwich spots already understand this simple concept. The side container of cornichons and cured black olives were a great touch, too. 

Chicken Tinga Taco – Guisado’s 

Guisado's LA

Chicken tinga | Guisado’s

Tacos are not hard to come by in LA. Even the “worst” tacos of my trip far outweighed most of the options here in New Jersey. However, this chicken tinga taco from Guisado’s particularly stood out. Spicy, chili-braised chicken is wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla—right from the plancha. A slice of ripe avocado is all that tops it. This was a perfect taco. The creamy avocado helps to cut the spice of the tinga—which teeters the line of being “too much” without ever crossing it. The tortilla, with its delicate chew, tastes of actual corn. No crema or salsa needed—this is perfection already. Within one bite, it instantly became one of my favorite tacos ever. I actually had six others at Guisado’s (all excellent in their own right) before the worker convinced me to get the tinga for my final bite. Talk about an unforgettable taco experience. 

Salame Pizza – Pizzeria Mozza

Pizzeria Mozza LA

Salame pizza on Mozza’s signature crust | Pizzeria Mozza

At Pizzeria Mozza, stellar combos—from classic Margherita to speck and pineapple—top what is a truly unique pizza dough. For celebrity chef and owner Nancy Silverton, the dough is the draw. This makes sense considering Silverton made her name as a bread baker. I arrived with high expectations being that multiple chef friends have told me it’s the best pizza they’ve ever had. Thankfully, the recommendation did not disappoint. I opted for the salame pie, which came donned with finocchiona and fresno chilis—a fool-proof combo in my eyes. But, it was the crust that wowed me. A crackly shell—charred in areas and laden with microbubbles—houses a tender, structured interior. It was unlike any pizza I’ve had before and its thanks to Silverton’s novel approach, which tackles pizza from a bread baker’s perspective. 

Two Crispy Tacos – All Day Baby

All Day Baby

Two hard shell tacos | All Day Baby

Let’s get one thing straight: crispy tacos are pure nostalgia. Maybe it’s because when I grew up, “tacos” meant we were having Ortega-seasoned ground beef, pre-cut lettuce, shredded cheese and Daisy sour cream in a hard shell. Of course, All Day Baby’s smoked brisket and pickle taco—available for happy hour—is a far cry from my childhood taco nights, but the memories were still there. Smokey and tender brisket fills the tortilla with a full house-made pickle spear at the bottom to bathe in the juice. Shredded cheddar cheese—not melted—topped it, which was housed in a crisp, blue shell made with grains from Tehachapi Grain Project. It was a total baller move and was not at all what I expected to find when walking into the Silver Lake eatery, but I quickly figured out that not only are the options at All Day Baby endless—but they’re all good. 

Otoro Hand Roll – KazuNori


Otoro hand roll | KazuNori

KazuNori is a small chain owned by sushi giant Sugarfish, with locations in New York and LA—although this was admittedly the first I ever heard about it. To get straight to the point, I’m not sure you will find a better bang for your buck in the world of sushi. KazuNori does one thing: hand rolls, and they are excellent. For just $19, you can get a four-roll tasting, including salmon, crab, hamachi and, my favorite, otoro—the fatty meat on the tuna belly. You sit huddled around a sushi counter as chefs prepare your rolls directly in front of you. The rice—still warm and expertly seasoned—is almost as good as the fish itself. I’m serious, I haven’t had fish that was simultaneously this well-priced and high-quality. Now that I know it exists, I see a trip to the NYC location in the very near future. 

About the Author/s

All posts

Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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1 comment

Joel R Gardner March 20, 2024 - 1:51 pm

You missed Langer’s! The best pastrami sandwiches in the country. And Persian food! Something we lack completely here. My favorite (thanks to my sister who lived in L.A. nearly her whole life) is Shamshiri on Westwood Boulevard, though any of the places in what’s called Little Tehran would give you tastes you didn’t know existed. Next time . . .


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