A Semi-Definitive Ranking of L.A.’s 6 Hottest Restaurant Rows
One of the great things about L.A.’s restaurant scene is how quickly it dispels myths. So while non-locals might insist that nobody walks in L.A. or that its scenesters only eat kale, Angelenos are busy strolling and feasting around pleasant neighborhoods that keep getting more tantalizing every week.
So, we've ranked L.A.’s top restaurant rows—that is, those pockets of destination dining and neighborhood restaurants centered around a lively main drag.
One small note: As much as we’ve loved the Japanese dishes and noodles on Sawtelle Boulevard and the tacos in Boyle Heights and the Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley and the many late nights we’ve spent eating in Koreatown, this list focuses on streets that offer a wildly diverse variety of options.
Who’s ready for a delicious and surprising stroll?
1. Figueroa Street, Highland Park
Otoño, where Montaño (who previously ran the kitchen at Pasadena’s beloved Ración) serves traditional seafood paellas as well as a negra version with dashi, wild scallops, chorizo, and lemon cream, is a splendid Spanish restaurant that plays the classics but also takes them to surprising and wonderful places. You can come for classic tapas like pan con tomate and croquetas de jamón. Or you can try Montaño’s potato churros, which are her playful take on patatas bravas. The bacalao tonkotsu is a Cali-Spanish-Asian masterpiece with grilled local black cod in a jamón Ibérico broth that takes two days to prepare. The delightful smoked Marin Sun Farms chicken thighs with shishitos and green peppercorn mayonesa is another big winner.
Hippo is where Molina (who won a James Beard Award for his work at Osteria Mozza) serves delicate crudos and exhilarating housemade pastas, including some made with hearty sauces like a meaty, fatty, stupendous oxtail ragu. Hippo is nestled behind Triple Beam Pizza, a Roman-style pizza spot that's been a huge hit since Molina and Nancy Silverton opened in February.
Also new to this restaurant row is Mason’s Dumpling Shop, a top-notch casual Chinese spot from the group behind Monrovia’s Luscious Dumplings. Our favorites at Mason’s include the pan-fried pork dumplings, the crab-and-pork soup dumplings, and the stewed beef over rice. Want more newcomers? There’s an outpost of HomeState, a Tex-Mex sensation that has your queso and breakfast burrito cravings sorted. There’s an outpost of Blind Barber, a speakeasy-style bar that’s hidden behind a barbershop and serves eleven kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches. There’s Checker Hall, a fabulous place for cocktails and Mediterranean food. Checker Hall is attached to Lodge Room, a music/performance venue that’s booked everyone from indie-rock bands to Dave Chappelle. The newly restored Highland Park Bowl, a popular hangout for pizza, bowling, and live music, is another example of how this neighborhood blends food and entertainment. Beyond the newcomers, this part of Highland Park also boasts many Mexican spots like Metro Balderas. Old-school Delicias Bakery makes classic Mexican pastries and also vegan pan dulce.
All this, plus popular California bistro Cafe Birdie, hidden cocktail den Good Housekeeping, hidden sandwich shop Tinfoil, vegan/vegetarian destination Kitchen Mouse, and an outpost of cult-favorite bakery Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (known for its sweet pastries but also its history of making crazy things like “sushi” croissants with smoked salmon, nori, ginger, and wasabi) that’s just off Figueroa is part of an easily strollable area. So this restaurant row wins for both new hotness and walkability.
We were bummed this week when we saw the Los Angeles Times report that chef Diep Tran’s pioneering Good Girl Dinette, just off Figueroa and on the same block as Checker Hall, will be closing this October after nine years in Highland Park. An outpost of Burgerlords is taking over that space. This is a neighborhood where so much is changing.
2. Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks
One word: Ludooooo! Ludo Lefebvre’s Sherman OaksPetit Trois, with its pastries and glorious eggs meurette for breakfast and its over-the-top Big Mec double cheeseburger and elegant trout almondine for lunch and dinner, is one of L.A.’s most significant restaurant openings of 2018. But while Ludo is the most notable new player on this stretch of Ventura Boulevard, he’s not doing it alone.
Across the street from Petit Trois is the new Bluebird Brasserie, a transporting Belgian brewpub operated by beer heavyweight Tony Yanow’s Artisanal Brewers Collective. Bluebird features its own Belgian-style beers and a menu with lovely versions of moules frites including traditional (garlic, shallot, and white wine) and curry (chiles, cilantro, and coconut cream). Bluebird also makes a point of serving tasty vegan dishes, including an Impossible merguez cassoulet and an Impossible cheeseburger. We recommend starting with meatballs (beef or Impossible), covered in comforting tomato sauce and accompanied by a nice piece of garlic bread. We recommend ending with a Belgian waffle (a vegan option of this is also available), which is topped with Van Leeuwen ice cream. This place is very focused and very correct.
Next to Bluebird is The Joint, a new sustainable seafood market/café/coffee bar from Liwei Liao (who previously founded The Boba Truck). All-day breakfast at The Joint means lump crab avocado toast and brioche with uni eggs and uni jam. (The latter dish is known as Uni is My Jam.) For lunch and dinner, there might be specials like box crab rolls, or you can choose a fish and have it nicely pan-seared in salt-and-pepper garlic butter and served with sides like green beans and an excellent fried rice.
Less than half a mile away is the new Wood & Water, a modern American restaurant from son/father team Karim and Moez Megji. This is a crowd-pleasing neighborhood spot that feels like Sherman Oaks’ version of Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Wood & Water’s range of raw-bar selections, salads, meat, and fish means there’s something for everyone. Menu highlights include luscious garlic-scampi baked oysters, duck egg rolls, and hearty, comforting entrées like gumbo and a deconstructed short rib Wellington.
Another serious Ventura Boulevard newcomer is Sushi Note, an omakase spot/wine bar that’s across the street from (and brought to you by some of the people behind) the deeply pleasing wine bar Augustine. Add all this to established Ventura Boulevard spots like Boneyard Bistro (from chef Aaron Robins, who added to his Sherman Oaks restaurant portfolio by opening SoCa last year) and opened-in-1956 Casa Vega, and you’ve got a stretch perfect for restaurant-hopping. Bonus: Ted Hopson’s The Bellwether, a neighborhood restaurant any neighborhood would be lucky to have, is technically in Studio City but on the edge of Sherman Oaks’ restaurant row.
3. Fairfax Avenue, Fairfax
The Mahendro family’s new outpost of Badmaash serves righteous modern Indian food like spiced lamb burgers and chicken tikka poutine. And it’s on a totally stacked block that’s co-headlined by 2009 Food & Wine Best New Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s pioneeringAnimal, one of the most important restaurants in L.A. food history. Shook and Dotolo, of course, also operate Italian-American all-day spot Jon & Vinny’s on the same block. This block is also home to Canter’s Deli, Paramount Coffee Project, standout slice joint Prime Pizza, the burgers at The Golden State, Nicole Rucker’s exemplary donuts at Cofax, the fried chicken at Nas’ Sweet Chick, and the exclusive lounge/restaurant No Name (where Nas has been on some wild nights).
That insane block alone would be enough to justify Fairfax’s power ranking, but it’s also relevant to note that Burritos La Palma has been popping up at Plan Checkon the next block of Fairfax. Plan Check, of course, is also known for some of the best burgers and fried chicken in L.A. One block down from Plan Check is Chao Krung, a Thai-food institution that sisters Katy Noochla-or and Amanda Kuntee have taken over from their parents. The sisters used to attend Fairfax High School while working afternoons at the restaurant.
4. Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake
This choice loses some points for walkability: We’re not really recommending that you stroll from Charles Olalia’s Ma’am Sir (one of L.A.’s most notable openings of 2018) to Freedman’s (which 2018 Food & Wine Best New Chef Liz Johnson recently departed) more than a mile away. But here’s what we will say: The uncompromising larbs and curries at 2016 Food & Wine Best New Chef Kris Yembamroong’s Night + Market Song are located in between the sizzling pork sweetbreads sisig and lumpia with uni at Ma’am Sir and the whitefish cigars and the large-format glazed brisket with smoked bone marrow at Freedman’s.
And there’s definitely some exploring you can do around here, given that the following restaurants are also between Ma’am Sir and Freedman’s: Forage, Pine & Crane, Fat Dragon, El Cochinito, Trois Familia, Cliff’s Edge, Mh Zh, Kettle Black, Sawyer, Daw Yee Myanmar Corner, Same Same, Wood, and Gobi Mongolian BBQ House, among others. We’ve also had some pleasant meals on the patio of The Goods Mart, a calibrated-for-2018 convenience store that sells Kelvin organic slushies, Fat Dragon spicy noodles, and birria burritos from Burritos La Palma.
5. Brand Boulevard, Glendale
Yes, we know that we called this L.A.’s best restaurant row in January. But a lot of things have happened since then, and these things include Otoño, Hippo, Petit Trois, Badmaash, and Ma’am Sir. Plus, Brand Boulevard might be going through some growing pains: Mainland Poke has closed here, and brand-name restaurants like The Tsujitaand Eggslut are less busy than you might think.
But soup-dumpling king Din Tai Fung (a big draw at mega-developer Caruso’s Americana at Brand shopping/dining center) and incomparable Cuban bakery Porto’s continue to crush it on Brand, and we don’t mind the idea of eating The Tsujita’s best-in-L.A. tsukemen or an Eggslut sandwich without enduring a long wait. Other reasons to hit Brand include Bourbon Steak, Lao Sze Chuan, Bacardi GDL, Carousel, Raffi’s Place, and Rinjani. The diversity here, from top-tier Middle Eastern food to grand Asian fare, is impressive. (Note: Some of these restaurants are just off Brand but very much part of this pleasantly strollable restaurant row.)
This part of Brand is also the rarest of unicorns: a place where you can walk from Shake Shack to In-N-Out. Other quick-service options include King Taco (just off Brand), The Halal Guys, and Taiwanese bakery 85°C.
6. Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice
Travis Lett opened Gjelina in 2008. Casey Lane opened The Tasting Kitchen in 2009. Both spots are still L.A. powerhouses with great food, but it’s Evan Funke’s Felix, with its stunning handmade pastas, that’s the hardest reservation on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and possibly the entire city. Felix was one of L.A.’s most-buzzed-about openings of 2017 and hasn’t lost any of its buzz in 2018.
Other reasons to visit Abbot Kinney include Lett’s izakaya MTN, which opened last year, and outposts of Portland sweets sensations Blue Star Donutsand Salt & Straw. And, of course, Abbot Kinney has been an important stop for Roy Choi’s seminal Kogi truck, which often parks outside The Brig. Come on First Fridays and you’ll see food trucks for blocks.