From Santa Monica to San Gabriel, Pasadena to Palos Verdes, Los Angeles is in the midst of a restaurant renaissance. With little more than a reservation and some cashola, you can sample everything from high-flying gourmet extravaganzas (priced to match) to ethnic feasts.
Yet not everyone has the money, time or – let's be real – stomach capacity to feast every day (maybe that's what all those gyms are for?). Fortunately, Los Angeles has a bevy of affordable local restaurant chains that have reached cult-likes status among its residents.
Here's a list of some of the classics, and a few newer spots making a splash.
It's not a trip to LA until you visit In-N-Out Burger. Everyone from big-name celebrities to well-known politicians have dined at the popular burger spot. © Juan Camilo Bernal/Getty Images
Sure, you'll find those (inter)national burger chains all over LA, but many locals and visitors alike consider In-N-Out the pinnacle of fast food burgerdom. California's burger chain of record was founded in 1948 in the San Gabriel Valley in eastern LA County, and it remains famous for using only fresh-ground beef (not frozen), hand cutting their French fries and using – get this – actual ice cream in shakes. Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, a secret spread (kind of like Thousand Island dressing) and your choice of raw or sautéed onion, on a bun that's so spongy you want to just pinch its doughy little cheeks.
True In-N-Out fans love the "not so secret menu" on the website but not restaurant signage: burgers with double, triple or quadruple meat, "protein style" (the bun is replaced with lettuce leaves) or "animal style" (the patty is cooked in mustard). Ask for them specially.
And the t-shirts are awesome.
7009 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood
922 Gayley Ave, Westwood (near UCLA)
9149 S Sepulveda Blvd (near Los Angeles International Airport)
At first glance, Lemonade looks like a zhuzhed-up version of your high school cafeteria. But did your school cafeteria serve Tuscan kale salad, red miso beef short ribs and truffle mac 'n' cheese? We think not.
This imaginative, local-market cafe offers a lineup of tasty salads, sandwiches and a bevy of stockpots bubbling with a changing selection of stews. Take your tray, slide on down the counter, and chow down at cheerily mid-century modern tables and chairs.
Desserts are primo, and – surprise! – there are six kinds of lemonade with flavors like blueberry mint or watermelon and rosemary.
1661 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, 310-452-6200
Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S Grand Ave, Downtown, 213-628-0200
Experience a true slice of this sizzling hot Korean cuisine using traditional stone pots. © Spencer Weiner/ Getty Images
BCD Tofu House
As Korean dishes go, soon tofu (tofu stew served sizzling hot in a stone pot) may be less well known than barbecue, but it warms both the heart and soul like little else can. At this LA-born and bred chain, get your tofu with enhancements from meat to seafood or a vegetarian version. Our favorite meals here are set of soon tofu paired with other Korean standards like bulgogi (sliced ribeye), bibimbap (meat and vegetables with rice) and grilled mackerel.
Choose your level of spice, and do yourself a favor: let the tofu cool before you dig in. Those stone pots get hot!
3575 Wilshire Blvd, Koreatown
869 S. Western Ave #2, Koreatown
9520 Garden Grove Blvd, Little Saigon (Garden Grove in Orange County)
A sandwich and salad chain with a difference: artisanal meats, fresh, California-grown greens, and a fun, country-in-the-city vibe. Classic favorites include the "not so fried" chicken sandwich, steak BLT on a pretzel bun, Peruvian steak sandwich and kurobuta pork banh mi sandwiches. Or look for creative salads like Save Drake's Farm (chicken, goat cheese, beets, apples, dried cranberries, roasted almonds and red onions). A wide selection of seasonal sandwiches might include Korean, Mexican and hipster (avocado toast).
While vegan and gluten free dishes are often an afterthought elsewhere, at Mendocino Farms, they're served front-and-center.
3rd & Fairfax (across from Original Farmers Market): 175 S. Fairfax Ave, 323-934-4261
Santa Monica: 631 Wilshire Blvd, 310-395-5273
Fig@7th (Downtown Los Angeles): 735 S. Figueroa St, 213-430-9040
Chef Kazunori Nozawa and his chain of Sugarfish restaurants provide quality sushi at affordable prices. © Mark Sullivan/WireImage
"Trust me" is the motto of the omakase (chef's choice) courses at this local chain. It's the brainchild of master legend Chef Kazunori Nozawa, whose Sushi Nozawa on the San Fernando Valley's famed Sushi Row was the stuff of expensive, my-way-or-the-highway sushi. Sugarfish, by contrast, brings that elevated quality to the masses at relative bargain prices. Its proprietary recipe for sushi rice is perfect for the omakase menus, or you can order off the regular menu. Just about everyone orders the blue crab roll.
600 W 7th St, Downtown, 213-627-3000
6115 W Sunset Bl, Hollywood, 323-320-4800
1345 2nd St, Santa Monica, 310-393-3338
This chain, which originated in neighboring Orange County, does quick and tasty pies in mere minutes for under $10. While you could opt to order from the menu, Pizza Press prefers customers to "publish" (their lingo) your own pizzas. Cheerful servers top your dough with your choice of sauces and dozens of varieties of meats and veggies at no additional charge. Your pizza whizzes through the oven in about 5 minutes before it's finished off with sauces from fresh herbs to balsamic glaze or Argentine-inspired chimichurri sauce. We calculated 184,800 possible flavor combinations, but hey, who's counting? Rounding out the experience: a smart and hearty selection of craft beers on tap.
7100 Santa Monica Bl, West Hollywood, 323-498-5287
5077 Lankershim Bl, North Hollywood, 818-308-6353
1655 E Colorado Bl, Pasadena, 626-818-7335
Zankou Chicken is so good that rockstars have written songs about it. © Irfan Khan/Getty Images
This Armenian-Mediterranean chicken joint was founded in Lebanon in the 1960s, but once it opened in Hollywood in 1983, the crispy-skinned rotisserie chicken developed a huge following from everyone from working folks to celebs. Rock singer Beck sang about it (in his song "Debra" from the 1999 Midnite Ventures album), and it was the model for the chicken place on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The fast-casual menu also includes kebabs, wraps and a bunch of vegan side dishes – hummus, mutabbal (eggplant dip), tabbouleh, falafel, pickles and more – all prepared fresh daily. Whatever you do, do not miss the garlic sauce; made from a secret recipe involving raw cloves, it's both overpowering and addictive.
Burbank: 1001 N San Fernando Bl, 818- 238-0414
Pasadena: 1296 E Colorado Bl, 626-405-1502
West Hollywood: 7851 W Sunset Bl, 323- 882-6365
West LA: 1716 S Sepulveda Bl, 310- 444-0550
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