LA Food Guide

When we began planning our trip to LA, there were the classic tourist attractions – Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica pier – that made the list.  Cameron had a selection of world famous jiu-jitsu gyms he wanted to visit and I wanted to eat.  I follow a myriad of LA-based bloggers and LA is an unequivocal mecca of delectable and experimental foods.  In short order, it’s a foodie heaven and I took the task of planning our LA meals very seriously.  I read blogs, Yelp, and NYT reviews.  I checked Instagram and referenced my own list of intriguing places I had seen in various mediums over the last year.  Between the hole-in-the-wall taco place to the Venice Beach hotspot that we made reservations for six weeks ahead of time, our spectrum was wide and fulfilling.  Some places we went I would highly recommend to friends and family, others were a bit of a letdown.  While I know we didn’t even scratch the surface of what the LA food scene has to offer, I’m here to rate all the places we did make it to in case you have plans to visit the city of angels.  Enjoy!  
 
Holy Guacamole (Santa Monica):  We served Mexican at our wedding so I think it’s safe to say we are major fans of the cuisine.  If it’s from a cheap, hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint, even better.  Holy Guacamole exceeded all of our expectations and I think it’s safe to say it was a favorite meal of the trip for both of us.  For under $15 we got chips, a salsa sampler, guac, a few tacos, and a couple of burritos that were all truly exceptional.  Careful not to miss it though!  We walked right by twice, even though we knew what we were looking for, as there is absolutely no outside signage.  Trust me, it’s well worth the hurt.  5/5 stars 
 
Philz Coffee (Santa Monica, Venice, Downtown):  The mint mojito iced coffee from Philz was something of a legend on Instagram and as I am a lover of all things mint and all things Instagram it was a natural destination.  The mint mojito creation was unique and delicious, although it was a bit too sweet for my tastes.  Cameron got a pour over that was well done so they have more than the iced coffee for those in your party who may be interested.  The shop was packed so there wasn’t much room to hang and enjoy the coffees so we opted to take them and walk instead.  It was a unique treat if you are near a Philz (the have three LA locations) but I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s worth going out of your way.  3/5 stars 
 
Greenleaf (Vence):  We dropped into Greenleaf for a snack after walking the beach and it was a great accidental find!  We split a simple Cesar salad with butternut squash risotto but it was delicious and the fresh pressed juices were amazing.  With light and healthy options abound, the decor was Instagram-worthy and the courtyard patio in the back was a wonderfully peaceful place to escape the bustle of Abbott Kinney for a few moments.  (Plus, it’s right around the corner from the legendary Venice wall of love!). 4/5 stars 
 
Gjelina (Venice):  I made reservations six weeks in advance for dinner our first night in LA because I simply could not wait to experience Gjelina.  I have their cookbook and it’s go-to for me when I’m seeking fresh inspiration in cooking vegetable side dishes for our meals.  Additionally, it was highly recommended by nearly every blog I came across.  Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I wasn’t thrilled by the quality of the food nor by the dark decor.  The food combinations appeared to be different for the sake of being newsworthy rather than being unique flavors that truly went together.  I’m not one to flinch at an expensive meal if it’s truly delicious, but I felt like Gjelina was overpriced and underwhelming.  1/5 stars
 
Moon Juice (Venice):  As a lover of Moon Juice supplements, I knew I wanted to visit a Moon Juice shop while we were in LA as there are only three locations in the world (all based in LA).  I’m not going to rate this one because they were out of the Golden Milk I wanted to try but the shop was on a cute street and it would make a great place to pop in for a mid-morning pick me up if you’re in the area.  Just learn from our mistakes and get there before noon to ensure your selection is available because they sell out quickly.  
 
Jeni’s Ice Cream (Venice):  I’m an ice cream fan.  I wish I wasn’t but it’s one of my favorite treats on earth (speaking of what we served at our wedding…ha!).  So it made sense that when planning a foodie trip to LA, I’d be researching the best ice cream shops in town.  The general consensus seemed to be Jeni’s and Salt & Straw were the best one could hope for.  As Salt & Straw began in Portland we’ve enjoyed their ice cream many times over (yes, LA, despite what you seem to think you did not invent Salt & Straw :P) so Jeni’s was the winner!  It did not disappoint.  Rich creamy ice cream and walking the fairy-light lit streets with the warm beach breeze was perfect. 4/5 stars (P.S. If you are in LA and aren’t a Portland’er Salt & Straw is also worth the stop.)
 
Go get em Tiger (Larchmont):  I’ve read about their famous macadamia nut lattes for years and loved the unique element the milk lent to the coffee at home so go get em tiger was a natural stop for our morning coffee.  The macadamia nut milk flavor was a beautiful undertone to the bitter espresso shot but it wasn’t anything to text home about.  If you happen to be wandering Larchmont Blvd (an absolutely adorable shopping street!!) I’d recommend a stop; however, again not worth going out of your way to experience.  3/5 stars
 
Joan’s On Third (West Hollywood):  The meals at Joan’s on Third are served deli style (order at the counter, get a number) and the place was absolutely packed when we arrived for lunch.  The reason for the popularity was immediately apparent when we tasted our food.  It was absolutely delicious; you could taste the freshness and flavor in each and every bite.  Joan’s specializes in chopped salads and sandwiches and open shelf refrigerators line the walls with every kind of drink you could imagine plus the decor was perfect.  5/5 stars
 
The Hudson (West Hollywood):  Ah, The Hudson.  This was my favorite “experience” of the trip.  The healthy pub fare food was amazing, happy hour prices were great, and the decor was cozy to the point I felt like a local at my favorite neighborhood spot; nestled in our booth, overlooking the people walking by on Melrose below.  Did I mention they have a photo booth and there are two trees growing in the middle of the restaurant!?  If I could go back to any restaurant we frequented in LA, this would be the one.  5/5 stars
 
The Original Frozen Banana Stand (Balboa Island):  A classic stop when cruising the beach towns south of LA.  I’d recommend fighting the crowds if you’ve got kiddos with you as there’s also a small amusement park on the island and the novelty of a candy covered frozen banana is something the kid in me still loved, but otherwise, you can freeze a banana at home 😉 2/5 stars 
 
El Sombrero #1 Mexican (Manhattan Beach): After road tripping up the coast all morning, we were planning to stop at a highly rated fish taco stand in Newport Beach but the crowds were so stifling around the whole Newport Beach area we opted not to stop and instead head north to Manhannatan Beach.  We stopped in at this small Mexican restaurant just off of Manhattan Beach Blvd.  The food was nothing terribly special – fresh and delicious but standard, quality Mexican – but the service was excellent.  The warm and attentive staff earned them an extra star.  4/5 stars 
 
Jones (West Hollywood):  A dark, Italian bar Jones was one of those places where you just feel cool being there.  I can imagine Frank Sinatra sitting at the bar in the 20’s and Hollywood starlets nestled in a corner booth.  We didn’t have reservations so we sat at the bar and watched as the bartender recommended intricate drinks to new customers and had the regular’s drinks ready for them the minute they stepped in the door.  We got some incredible pizza and thoroughly enjoyed just hanging out here.  5/5 stars
 
Milk (West Hollywood):  Milk is famous for its customizable ice cream sandwiches.  The concept is simple:  you pick a cookie, you pick ice cream, you receive an ice cream sandwich yet the place was so popular when we went after the Laugh Factory show at 11:00 pm that the line was well out the door.  It was a balmy LA night so we decided to wait and split a red velvet sandwich.  It was “fine” for lack of a more inventive description but I wouldn’t recommend it to family or friends, especially considering the wait time.  2/5 stars 
 
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (Highland Park):  I’ve mentioned Mr. Holmes Bakehouse infamous cruffins before on the blog, but I maintain that this was a great stop for a snack and coffee if you are in the area.  Plus, the highly Instagram-able sign is nearly worth a stop in and of itself!  4/5 stars 
 
Sqirl (Silver Lake):  The line winds around the block to enjoy the bunch “food you want to eat” – legend has it that avocado toast was invented here.  This was another restaurant that I was very excited about as I have the cookbook and love the unique creations that are Squirl’s claim to fame.  The line was long (45 minutes at noon on a Tuesday for brunch) but the food did not disappoint.  It was fresh, beautiful, inventive, and hands down delicious.  Highly recommended.  4/5 stars
 
The Ace Rooftop Bar (Downtown):  Nestled atop the legendary Ace Hotel, the Ace Rooftop Bar serves as a beautiful, peaceful sanctuary above the dirty streets of downtown Los Angeles with delightful decor.  We stopped in midday to enjoy the breathtakingly expansive views of the city and savor the sunshine but with all the lights strung about the open air patio, I bet this would be magical in the evening as well.  They only serve drinks so don’t expect any snacks.  4/5 stars
 
Pine & Crane (Silver Lake):  While shopping in Silver Lake we wandered by Pine & Crane and I instantly recognized the decor through the window from numerous Instagram shots of the beautiful cafe.  We were both hungry and decided to give it a try.  Best decision.  The food was delicious – a creative twist on Taiwanese-Chinese without being too different.  The portions were huge and we were both very impressed by how flavorful and fresh the meals were.  5/5 stars 
 
SunLife Organics (Manhattan Beach):  For our final morning, we returned to Manhattan Beach as we loved the small town vibe it radiated.  It was also a bit of a haven for healthy choices and after the meals we’d eaten throughout the week we needed something light before we caught our flight back to Seattle.  The acai bowls here were exceptional – I think the only one better I’ve ever had was from a beachside stand in Maui so it’s safe to say they were impressive.  Don’t forget to try the TIU girl secret order – a Special K (iced coffee with a scoop of almond milk ice cream).  It sounds indulgent and I wasn’t too sure but it’s worth all the TUI buzz!  SunLife Organics is situated along a courtyard, town square so there were lots of places to enjoy your treasures.  5/5 stars 
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