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The serene dining room at Kato. Photo courtesy Kato

GuidesLos Angeles

The L.A. Insiders’ Guide to Restaurant Industry Haunts

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Anyone who loves eating out is perpetually in the market for new restaurant recommendations. We at Resy pride ourselves in doling them out. But know who’s even more obsessed? The folks who work in the industry. The chefs, general managers, beverage directors, servers, pastry chefs, and barbacks that staff Los Angeles restaurants know more than a thing or two about what makes a great dish, where you can find excellent service, and who makes a killer martini. On their nights off, they can often be found eating at friends’ restaurants, hanging at their neighborhood go-to, or hunting the best burrito and the ultimate sake collection.

For our debut Industry Guide, we tapped a handful of savvy restaurant  pros for the spots that they frequent most on their days off. Don’t be surprised if you catch them at the next barstool over (especially if it’s a Monday).

Zarah Khan, chef at Rustic Canyon

  1. Pine & Crane. “They recently opened a location in DTLA and there’s a mushroom and daikon dish that I crave. Their food is always great and I appreciate the many veg options.”
  2. Anajak Thai for Taco Tuesday. “The tostadas are fire, but the real star in my opinion is the mango sticky rice. [Chef-owner] Justin’s mom makes it and it’s just dreamy. Order one for each person at the table, because you won’t want to share!”
  3. Ototo. “I love to walk there from my house for a snack and a glass of sake with a friend. The atmosphere is cozy and welcoming. I’ve never had a bad bite—it’s the perfect neighborhood spot.” 

Avish Naran, owner at Pijja Palace

  1. The Original Thai BBQ. “A place I’ve been going to since I was a kid, for one specific dish: the Kai Yang BBQ Chicken Dinner. There are a couple of [locations] lurking around, and their sweet bbq sauce is both addictive and delicious. I always get extra and I throw that shit on everything—the Thai grilled chicken, the egg fried rice, and the two shrimps that they give with each meal. The two shrimps represent two halves of a heart, to show the love that went into the dish (don’t look this up).” 
  2. “Carnes Asada Pancho Lopez is an experience. I hate the word authentic because I believe it’s misused today. So I’m just going to say that everything here feels right. I love all the brothy carne en sugo and birria dishes, I love the spread of tortillas, the pico [de gallo] and salsas on every table. I love the queso fundido. It’s such a joy to walk into a place separate from interior designers, tweezers, and maybe even intention, and be like, ‘damn this place is perfect.’ Even that clay plateware is sick.”
  3. “Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock is goated. I love a red sauce joint. They do all the Italian American bits how I like them. I’m not sure Pijja Palace would exist if restaurants like this didn’t come first. I love the whole Rocky Balboa vibe. Sometimes you just want a sound plate of spaghetti and meatballs with a Peroni and this is the place for that. Additionally, they make great pizza here.  I don’t care what you get, just get extra garlic on it. I love the weird science of the way they cut slices. The [pizzas] hold up great on the way home, although the aroma is torture, and you’re going to want to rip into the box halfway through your drive.” 

David Rosoff, partner and wine director at Bar Moruno, Causita, and Rápido

  1. Musso & Frank Grill or Taylor’s Steak House. “Classic comfort. Expectations are always exceeded. Happy place(s).”
  2. Ototo. “Singular experience. Unparalleled sake exploration and the food is so much better than you have a reasonable right to expect in a sake pub.”
  3. Marouch. “Food made and served with obvious love. The freshness and flavors are stunning.” 

Josh Ulmer, pastry chef at Damian

  1. Clark Street Diner. “This is my number one breakfast spot and is normally the first place I go when I wake up on my day off. I love the hash browns.”
  2. ABC Seafood. “My go-to Chinese takeout. I love the dim sum. I typically over-order and eat the leftovers for days.”
The bakery at Gjelina is a perennial favorite. Photo courtesy Gjelina
The bakery at Gjelina is a perennial favorite. Photo courtesy Gjelina

Asia Stewart-Howell, general manager at Alta Adams

  1. Dan Sung Sa. “Loud, busy, and low-lit, this late-night K-Town gem is the perfect spot to swing by after a shift or a night out. The decor alone is worth a visit! My server described the theme as ‘Some kind of Korean War-era bunker,’ which feels right. Graffiti covers every inch of the walls, and the staff wears different variations of camouflage and old-school military uniforms. Food is served in metal tins and you can order teapots full of soju for the table while ‘90’s K-pop blares in the background. The menu is an extensive listing of a la carte tapas specializing in grilled skewers intended to be shared family style. An open kitchen and charcoal grill are at the center of the restaurant, with smoke filling the surrounding seating areas. Service is casual but attentive, the food comes out fast, they have valet, and the bill is always surprisingly low.”
  2. Etta. “Centrally located in Culver City and attached to The Shay Hotel, Etta is a no-brainer for good food and drinks. They have different food and cocktail menus for lunch, dinner, and brunch so it’s fun to go and experience the different offerings. Their outdoor patio is breezy and open, perfect for grabbing lunch or brunch with friends. The dinner menu is more extensive and great for a birthday dinner or date night. Service is amazing. Drinks are handcrafted and interesting.”
  3. The Normandie Club. “Late-night cocktail bar/lounge with well-made drinks in an intimate and laidback setting. The front room is more of a sophisticated lounge decorated with dark wooden tables and leather tufted booths. There’s a narrow smoking patio that runs the length of the bar, accented with string lights and extra seating, which is a popular hangout spot until the back opens up.  At 9 p.m. on the weekends, the back room opens, which is more of a club, complete with a small dance floor and disco ball.  Strong drinks, a mixed crowd, and the option to talk over drinks with friends in the front room or dance in the back make this cozy bar the perfect choice for whatever kind of night you’re looking for.”

Jasmine Ramirez, chef at Homage Brewing

  1. “When I’m not working in the kitchen, I usually spend my first morning off hanging at Cafe Tropical. Going over the week and setting up for the next week of service with an espresso, an orange juice, and pastelitos! It’s the perfect spot to get some work done and talk chisme with my Prima (cousin). This spot is cozy, smells of fresh baked goods all day and the music always sets the right vibe.”
  2. “Bavel will always have my heart! First off, they’re open Mondays for dinner — thank you!  And they have an open kitchen! I love a restaurant with an open kitchen— it’s like dinner and a show and it’s inspiring to see. And the team there are some of the best folks in the industry: passionate, knowledgeable, talented and always making sure you’re taken care of.” 
  3. Mariscos Jaliscos in my neighborhood is perfect for a mid-day bite after a lazy morning. [I order] tacos dorados covered in salsa roja, sit on a concrete bench, and catch up with a friend.”
  4. “La Azteca Tortilleria because I’m a monster for burritos! And here their tortillas are fresh. You can watch their team press the masa harina, throw them on the comal and wrap your burrito — very dreamy! Buying the tortillas to take home is a must.”

Justin Pichetrungsi, chef and owner at Anajak Thai

  1. “My favorite bar director now is Garrett Sprague, he runs the beautiful and expansive bars for Saffy’s, Bestia, and Bavel. He is a beast. I love the cherry limeade drink at Saffy’s now. I also love the baristas at Saffy’s coffee shop, Malvina and Karla [for their] attention to detail and great personalities. Purists should try the iced Americano. For those with a sweeter palate, the iced latte with wintermelon sugar is perfection.”
  2. “My favorite sommelier is Andrey Tolmachyov at Bicyclette. He used to work with us [at Anajak] and I love his personality on the floor. He either will take you for a ride around the world or get you to focus on the geeky or classical moments in winemaking today.”
  3. “Man, have you been to Gjelina lately? It’s still killer. Legendary, contemporary, and still as great as ever. Benny Bohm is the GM with a great soul and a passion for all the right things. Restaurant people will kind of fall in love with him immediately.” 
  4. “My favorite sushi chef is Anthony Ng, formerly a sous at Kaneyoshi in Little Tokyo, that transformative Ginza-esque omakase bar. Now he is the sushi chef at Sawa, an intimate 17-course omakase with a wild drink pairing featuring highballs and Tokyo-inspired drinks. It’s so cool.”
  5. “My favorite owner is Jun Isogai at Kinjiro, the high-end izakaya in Little Tokyo. He’s also the only server. His menu is a list of great dishes like stewed snapper head, and grilled thick-cut beef tongue. But don’t walk in, you will be rejected. He’s done it to me, and I’m like a brother to him. Please email for a reservation.” 
  6. “My favorite chef now is Maynard Lera at Kuya Lord. Everything is a banger, especially the grilled new caledonia prawns and the pork tocino.” 
Good vibes only at Bar Moruno. Photo courtesy Bar Moruno
Good vibes only at Bar Moruno. Photo courtesy Bar Moruno

Devon D’Arcangelo, wine director at Grandmaster Recorders

  1. Republique. “Everything about it is charming and delicious. The building itself is roughly 100 years old and has managed to hold on to its charm with open kitchens and a bakery counter that is to die for. The wine selections are nothing short of transcendent, truly a Francophile’s dream in terms of curation, age, and rarity.”
  2. Bestia. “First, let’s talk about the food. What dish isn’t an absolute 10? The answer, none. Everything is so good and so craveable. The wine list is fun, constantly changing, and diverse. The vibe is energetic and a perfect reminder of what the polar opposite of that Beverly Hills day vibe can be; this is loud, edgy, and very Downtown L.A.”
  3. Kato. “The cocktail program at Kato is a revelation. Austin Hennely is a genius, and his nonalcoholic offerings are just as inspired as the boozy ones. The food is meticulous. The vibe is every minimalist’s dream. The wine list is massive, a curation that Ryan Bailey has been working at for years with a countless number of true finds buried in there.” 

Dustin Donghyuk Lee, president of In Hospitality (Hanchic, Kinn, Mil Bakery, and Chimmelier)

  1. Dan Sung Sa. “Located in the heart of KTown in a strip mall. When you enter it feels like you’re in a 1980s Korean street food vibe with soju and skewers. You can’t go wrong at this place.”
  2. Torigoya. “Serves the best yakitori in Little Tokyo. Humble ingredients and great execution.”
  3. Toad House. “Also in Koreatown, specializing in samgyupsal (pork belly). This is an OG spot that not many people know about. The owner’s kimchi is out of this world, especially the scallion kimchi. And of course, their pork belly cooked in Korean traditional cast iron with a kettle lid [is fantastic].”

Gary Ly, chef at Cobi’s

  1. Tsujita Annex on Sawtelle. “There are a lot of ramen places in L.A. but this is by far my favorite. They’re known for their tsukemen (dipping ramen). The broth is so complex and so deep, with notes of fish, vinegar, spice, and bits of pork fatback. It’s what I crave when I want a bowl of ramen.” 
  2. Found Oyster. “Great seafood, really simple and delicious. You must order the bread and butter with the addition of smoked trout roe and white anchovies. Great natural wine selection also.” 
  3. Brodard Bistro. “Brodard is a must when I’m in Orange County. They’re known for their nem noung spring rolls. I always stop in to eat, then get a few orders of spring rolls to go for later.”

Med Abrous, partner at Call Mom Hospitality (Genghis Cohen, The Spare Room, upcoming La Dolce Vita)

  1. Lolo Wine Bar. “They have a bomb rotating wine list and a simple, yet delicious Italian menu. Their service is warm and on point, and I love sitting outside in the garden area, which feels like a little oasis off of Sunset Boulevard. Good vibes all around.”
  2. Jinpachi. “In a city with ample amazing sushi restaurants, my secret go-to is Jinpachi on Santa Monica Blvd. Score a seat at the bar or a table upstairs and go all in on their immaculately-prepared sushi. The halibut carpaccio and the oysters are insane.”

Marc Rose, partner at Call Mom Hospitality

  1. Bar Moruno. “I’m lucky to live a few blocks away and ever since they opened it’s been a spot I keep coming back to for a meeting over drinks and snacks, a night out with my wife, or a solo dinner and martini all by my lonesome—and always at the bar. They have an impressive list of sherries and vermouths, but I really go for their house martinis, like the Veni, Vidi, Vichy which is perfect with their small plates.” 
  2. Fountain Coffee Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “There’s nothing better than a counter-service breakfast for omelets and fresh squeezed OJ made right in front of you. I love their silver dollar pancakes and accompanying mini bottles of maple syrup with labels, which proudly state that this was made ‘expressly for The Beverly Hills Hotel.’ I’m a sucker for good branding, and this is such a memorable touch.”

Heather Tierney, owner at Butcher’s Daughter

  1. Dudley Market. “When I want to stay local, I love the unpretentious vibe at this small corner restaurant, situated just off the Venice boardwalk—super dim lighting, DJs spinning vinyl, and the staff knows their wines. And the sustainable seafood is spot on! It reminds me of a spot that you’d find in NYC. Great date spot or for catching up with friends and drinking way too much wine.”
  2. Winston House. “My favorite spot for a local double date. I like to book one of the booths and have dinner before catching the New Orleans-style jazz show. My favorite dishes are the hijiki carrots and the spicy noodles, which are served with chopsticks in a Chinese takeaway carton so you can carry it on the dance floor if you order it late-night (which I’ve definitely done).”
  3. Oriel. “When I’m on the east side, I love this French bistro, tucked underneath the Chinatown metro station. I love how the location feels out of place, but once inside you’re transported straight to Paris. My favorite thing is to dine solo at the bar and order all my favorite dishes—the French onion soup is out of this world. Everything is a hit and the prices are so affordable.”

 

Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.