I’m no stranger to adventure. Whether it be in the kitchen or in life, I look at each bend in the road as a new and wonderful opportunity. It’s been on my heart to go to culinary school for some time. I know, you’re shocked. So I’m packing up my spice collection, and the rest of my home, and heading to New York City to attend the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). An entirely new food scene… I can’t wait!
But before I sink my teeth into Manhattan, I’m doing a farewell tour of my favorite restaurants, cafes and bars in Los Angeles. It was difficult to narrow it down after three years in this city, but here’s a list of the places and plates I’ll miss the most.
The Alcove: One of my Angeleno friends took me to the Alcove several years before I moved to the city. I loved the garden party seating outside the charming cottage cafe. The storybook feel of the place has kept me coming back. Their menu isn’t extravagant -classic sandwiches, soups and salads- but it never disappoints. The cakes are sure to catch your eye, and I highly recommend the Lemon Coconut. They’ll cut you a generous slice that could easily be shared with a friend.
The Anchor: I’m sure the East Coast has plenty of lobster rolls to brag about, but this Venice restaurant has my favorite on the West Coast. Their signature Lobster Roll with shaved black truffles is just rich and buttery enough. You can find it on the menu year round along with other great seafood and seasonal dishes. Take advantage of their check-in offer on Yelp for 10% off your bill. They also have a decent brunch with bottomless mimosas.
Augustine: Classy yet unpretentious, that’s Augustine. They specialize in rare vintage wines but don’t turn their noses up at you if you’re not an oenophile. Our first time in, the bartender took the time to go over the wine list and made some great recommendations: an Oregon Pinot for me and a bold “barnyard” blend for my boyfriend. Pair your glass with one of their cheese and charcuterie boards and make sure Angel’s Black Truffle Salami makes it on there. Still hungry? Settle into one of their cozy booths and order a full dinner. With menu items like Kale Salad with caramelized brussels and Diver Scallops with polenta and roasted corn, you might be there all night. Just make sure to Uber it home after all the wine.
Ashland Hill: LA is known for it’s burger scene, and my favorite patty and bun is served up at this Santa Monica spot. Order it medium rare with a side of parmesan fries and stop by the bar for one of the 20-something SoCal suds on tap. Enjoy it on the outdoor patio with twinkling lights overhead and you’ll feel sooo California.
Belcampo: You know those “Happy Cows Come from California” commercials? Well, that’s the life I imagine for all the animals before they end up on your plate at Belcampo. This restaurant and butcher shop prides themselves on offering delicious, organic, humane meat, and you sure can taste the difference. My boyfriend’s friend, Maiki Le, is the head chef at their Santa Monica location. She prepared a tasting menu for us soon after they opened this year, and sold me on The Sweet Chili Wings. A must try on the Westside.
Esquela Taqueria: Esquela serves up nearly a dozen tacos a la carte, including the classic Carne Asada, alongside Langostino, Branzino, and my favorite, the Pork Ribs tacos with cabbage slaw and sweet chili sauce. I’m always thankful for the bottomless basket of homemade tortilla chips and delicious salsa and guacamole. Also love that they’ll crack open a fresh coconut for you that you can sip on through a straw. Save room for their hot Churros with chocolate dipping sauce for dessert.
Huckleberry: Two words: Zoe Nathan (Rustic Canyon, Milo & Olive, Sweet Rose Creamery, Cassia, Esters). This chef and restaurant owner has got the sweet and salty thing down. She does breakfast right by using fresh seasonal ingredients to make a variety of delicious egg dishes and pastries. The happy little bakery and cafe always puts a smile on my face. Pick up the Huckleberry cookbook while you’re there. Trust me, you’ll want to do this at home. Did I mention Zoe Nathan went to ICE? It’s a sign I know.
ICDC: My first ICDC experience wasn’t the best… hello fly in my donut. Still, that didn’t deter me from coming back. That in itself is a testament to how tasty their donuts are. My favorite is their Buttermilk Brown Butter Donut topped with a scoop of Vanilla ice cream. Let me assure you that ICDC has since put in place a closed-door policy to keep their prep area bug-free.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams: There’s great ice cream and then there’s Jeni’s. Smooth texture, vivid flavors and farm-fresh ingredients add up to the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. I discovered Jeni’s at the Eastside Food Festival this year, where I broke my strict “one-sample limit” at their ice cream cart. The scoops stand alone, but their Gooey Butter Sundae will elevate you to a cloud of desserty-delight. It’s Brown Butter Almond Brittle ice cream topped with Salty Caramel Sauce and Honey Butterscotch Sauce, finished off with freshly whipped cream, an Amarena cherry, and a Convo Cookie (essentially a waffle cone folded like a fortune cookie with a sweet little note inside).
M Street Kitchen: A block from the beach, I usually grab a bite on the patio and leave with a cookie or two from the bakery. My picks are the Toffee and Peanut Butter, but they’re famous for their Chocolate Chip Banana Cookie. The restaurant serves American fare that will satisfy for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with brunch on the weekends. You’ll see locals at this neighborhood spot riding in on their beach cruisers or walking up with their dogs. But really, it’s all about those cookies.
Son of a Gun: With a handful of successful LA restaurants under their belt, it seems Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (Trois Mec, Animal, Jon & Vinny’s, Trois Familia) can do no wrong. I adore the hip nautical theme and picnic table community seating at Son of a Gun. You’ll find modern seafood on their menu with smaller plates meant to share: Shrimp Toast Sandwiches with herbs and Sriracha mayo, Grilled Octopus Salad, Blackened Rock Cod with tomatillo salsa. I had a Pho dish there once that was phenomenal, and I’ve been waiting for it to come back ever since.
Terroni: Enjoy the homemade pizza and pasta cooked al dente at this bustling little Fairfax neighborhood spot. Terroni offers classic Italian dishes passed down from grandma and grandpa. My favorite is a sausage ragu pasta with shaved black truffles.