Los Angeles is filled with good food. Really it is. But sadly LA is also filled with restaurants that serve mediocre food and try to overcompensate with nostalgia, or a “cool” atmosphere. (Hint, if there’s reclaimed wood, be very wary.)
Luckily, there are classic restaurants that tourists rarely visit, that have affordable prices, and that are rich with local history. These aren’t “fancy” restaurants, or places that have gone overboard on atmosphere. But they serve good food and offer a chance at immersion into authentic LA.
1. Du Par’s
Have you ever gone camping and made buttermilk pancakes? That’s what Du Par’s breakfast tastes like. This restaurant first opened in 1938 at the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. The market has evolved considerably in recent years, but Du Par’s remains a delicious and unpretentious (and, to be frank, grungy) 24-hour diner. In addition to the pancakes, the glazed donut is among the best I’ve ever had.
Du Par’s has several locations, but you really ought to go to the original spot on the corner of the 3rd and Fairfax.
Canter’s — which first opened in 1931 and moved to its current location in 1953 — is just a few blocks north of Du Pars on Fairfax in the heart of a traditionally Jewish (and now fast-gentrifying) neighborhood. It’s also a 24-hour restaurant, but specializes in things like deli sandwiches and baked goods (there’s a bakery in the front). I tried matzo ball soup for the first time at Canter’s.
The owner of Canter’s is a friend of Gun’s n Roses, so the walls are decorated with news clippings and other band-related items. Much of the restaurant also retains its jet-age interior decor.
Langer’s is famous for serving LA’s best pastrami sandwich — which is #19 on the menu. The restaurant opened in 1947 and still uses a “re-baking” technique for rye bread that was developed when the founder first came to Southern California.
This restaurant is also located in the Westlake neighborhood, which traditionally had a significant Jewish population. Today, the community has a large Latino population and one of the most vibrant street scenes in the city. If you go, wander around the surrounding streets to take in the sights and smells.
4. Fiddler’s Bistro
Unlike the other restaurants on this list, Fiddler’s Bistro is not a “historic” LA restaurant in the sense of being famously old, though I’m told it has been around for quite a while. In any case, this is kind of the platonic ideal of a neighborhood restaurant: great food, decent prices, and an ambiance that is clean and contemporary but completely unpretentious. I’d feel comfortable taking my coolest friend here, or my grandma. The fact that it’s centrally located near the La Brea Tar Pits, the LACMA, Hollywood, and more is icing on the cake.
I’ve never had anything bad at Fiddler’s Bistro, but the Lamb burger is particularly delicious.
— Jim Dalrymple II