As much as I love trying new restaurants, and as much as I hate getting stuck in a rut of any kind, there are some tried and true restaurants in Los Angeles that I can always count on to satisfy my cravings. These are the restaurants I find myself returning to again and again for quick, affordable, and downright delicious eats.
WARNING: This post will make you drool, and that’s perfectly okay.
When I Crave: Cuban
I Go To: El Rincon Criollo
And I Order: Lechon Asado or Arroz con Pollo (with yellow rice)
I’m going to start this roundup off with a restaurant that serves my absolute favorite cuisine – Cuban. There’s something so comforting about a plate of black beans, perfectly cooked rice, and some sweet and savory plantains. Add to that the lechon asado (roasted pork) or the arroz con pollo from El Rincon Criollo, and you have a winner.
For lack of a better description, El Rincon Criollo is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that packs a big punch. You can dine in while chair dancing to the salsa rhythms in between sips of one of their delicious blended juices, or you can carry out as Jave and I often do. Either way, prepare to fall in love with the food here.Contact 4361 Sepulveda Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230 310.391.4478
When I Crave: Burmese/Indian
I Go To: Jasmine Market
And I Order: Chicken Biryani & Noodle Salad
A block or so down the street from El Rincon Criollo you’ll find Jasmine Market. Ok, so there’s actually another Indian restaurant that I prefer over this one (Akbar’s Cuisine of India), but when I need a quick, filling, cheap, and delicious Indian meal, Jasmine wins out. Plus, as opposed to Akbar’s which is purely Indian, Jasmine Market is a hodgepodge of Burmese and Indian cuisines (this is one of the things I love about L.A. – diverse food options).
If you’re a Muslim, you’ll be happy to know that Jasmine is a halal restaurant. And as its name implies, Jasmine is also a market where you can find a small selection of Southeast Asian products. But it seems that most people go to Jasmine Market for its restaurant, and you can dine inside of the market or sit out front at one of the picnic tables.
While the food at Jasmine Market is delicious, what I love most are the prices. Jave and I recently ordered carryout. I ordered the chicken biryani while Jave ordered curry chicken, and we split a noodle salad. There was so much food – easily enough to last us two days – and we only paid $20 for everything including some candied tamarind that Jave got!Contact 4135 ½ Sepulveda Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230 310.313.3767
When I Crave: Southern/Soul
I Go To: Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen
And I Order: Fried (or baked) Chicken with Yams, Greens, & Black Eyed Peas
I miss my grandmother. Although she was from Arkansas, anytime I’d visit my dad’s childhood home which was in Florida, I’d always call and request some of her down home cookin’. And she’d always do her best to make sure to fulfill my requests. She was the best Southern cook ever. Period. She never used recipes; she just cooked from memory with her heart and soul.
It’s really, really hard to find good Southern cooking that matches hers. But Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen is the closest thing to my grandmother’s food. It’s that kind of soul food that puts you straight to sleep after you eat it. Here in L.A., I’ve seen and tried a fair share of “contemporary soul food” restaurants or healthy soul food restaurants. Here’s the thing: soul food is not meant to be contemporary or healthy – okay? It’s supposed to taste and feel like your Southern grandmother’s food. After you eat a plate of good soul food, you should feel heavy and sleepy. That’s when you know it’s hit the spot.
Soul Food Kitchen consistently hits the spot whenever Jave and I need a dose of Southern comfort. Most people, my dad included, love this restaurant. When you go, you’ll usually find a line of people waiting to be served cafeteria-style. While most take their food home, there are tables so you can dine in.
You’ll be served A LOT of food – enough for two meals if you order from the lunch menu (about $9), and enough for three meals when you order from their dinner menu (about $13). So if you eat everything on your plate in one sitting, something’s seriously wrong with you.Contact 202 E. Manchester Blvd. Inglewood, CA 90301 310.671.3345
When I Crave: A Cheeseburger
I Go To: In-N-Out
And I Order: #2, no onions (with an unsweetened tea)
I have a confession to make. There have been times when I’ve driven past In-N-Out, and without even being hungry, I’ve made a U-turn after catching a whiff of their burgers on the grill. It’s shameful, I know.
In-N-Out is one of those quintessential California burger joints that you just have to try whenever you’re in town. It’s actually one of the few fast food restaurants I’ll eat at because the food is always fresh, the service is always extremely efficient, and their burger combos are extremely affordable.
When I was very young, before I moved to Panama and before I lived in L.A. proper, I used to live in Diamond Bar which is an inland suburb of L.A. At that time, there weren’t any In-N-Out locations that I knew of in L.A., so whenever we’d have long stints visiting my grandparents in the city, it was always a special treat to stop at In-N-Out once back in Diamond Bar. Sadly, there are now In-N-Out locations all over SoCal, Northern California, and even Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. I hope it stops there. I know it’s silly, but I wish that In-N-Out could’ve remained exclusive to L.A.; but the word is out, and other people want our burgers. Fine.TIP: Unless you plan on eating in the restaurant or in your car, when ordering your food to go, I suggest requesting it in a box with a lid to seal in the heat and to keep your food neat and organized until you’re ready to eat it. Just my two cents! Contact (closest to LAX) 9149 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90045 1.800.786.1000
When I Crave: Soup
I Go To: The Soup Bar
And I Order: A “Better”-sized Turkey chili (topped with cheese) or Chicken Tortilla Soup
I’m a regular at The Soup Bar, and by regular, I mean that I eat here at least every other week. It’s my go to lunch spot. And while I usually try to take my lunch to work, I’ve been known to go to The Soup Bar even twice in one week. And I ALWAYS order turkey chili. I may ask to sample other soups, but when it comes down to it, I end up ordering the turkey chili, unless chicken tortilla soup is on the menu for the week. But the turkey chili is always on the menu and it’s hands down the most delicious chili I’ve ever tasted. It’s so well-seasoned, full of chunky stewed tomatoes and beans, and it’s perfect with a buttery slab of sourdough. It’s really the perfect lunch. And sometimes, if I’m really hungry, I’ll order a side Caesar salad to go with it. Mmmm…Contact 310 E. Grand Ave. El Segundo, CA 90245 855.768.7227 UPDATE: The Soup Bar has recently closed for business and I’m seriously devastated. Devastated, I say!
When I Crave: A Salad
I Go To: California Fish Grill
And I Order: Blackened Salmon Salad
I love a good salad. Jave used to make some really good chicken salads for my lunch, and I really need to get him to rekindle that habit. In the meantime, I’ve discovered the blackened salmon salad from the California Fish Grill. The fish has such good flavor and it’s perfectly cooked. Served on a bed of mixed greens with candied walnuts, cranberries, crumbled blue cheese, and savory vinaigrette, and there you have it – a bite of heaven in your mouth. I think I could eat this salad everyday for the rest of my life and be happy. But it costs about $11 which makes it an occasional lunch treat.
TIPS: 1) If you’re going around lunchtime during a weekday and you don’t want to dine in, call in your order ahead of time for pickup as this restaurant stays busy at lunch! 2) Make sure you request sufficient cranberries and candied walnuts – sometimes the cooks can be a bit stingy!Contact 730 Allied Way, Ste. H El Segundo, CA 90245 310.322.1200
When I Crave: Brazilian
I Go To: Pampas Grill
And I Order: A bit of everything
I have to credit my mom for introducing Jave and I to this restaurant that I’d been meaning to try for the longest time but never visited until she recommended that we treat her to a meal there for Mother’s Day.
This restaurant is in the style of a comida kilo – restaurants where the price is based on the weight of your plate. These types of restaurants are popular in Brazil. So choose what you load onto your plate wisely since it all adds up. I usually try a bit of everything from the salad bar which includes a variety of salads, fruit, feijoada (a traditional Brazilian beef stew), buttery bread balls, and various other dishes.
Once you make your way down the salad bar line, you’ll reach the churrasco part of the restaurant where you’ll find a variety of delicious grilled meats. My favorites: the Portuguese sausage and the garlic chicken. Oh, my God! The meats here really make the meal, so make sure that you leave enough room on your plate for the meats.
My strategy when filling my plate at this restaurant: get two sausages, two pieces of garlic chicken, and enough from the salad bar section so that I have enough food for two meals. The food here can get pricey (we usually spend about $20/person), so go easy. Oh, and be sure to order a Guaraná, a popular Brazilian soft drink that I fell in love with while in Brazil, to wash it all down.Contact 3857 Overland Ave. Culver City, CA 90232 310.836.0080
When I Crave: Brunch
I Go To: Gjelina
And I Order: Moroccan Baked Eggs
So Gjelina recently made it onto my go to list for brunch spots (as recent as last week) as my friend and I ate brunch here the Sunday before last. And since then, I haven’t been able to get the Moroccan Baked Eggs out of my head. Look at them!
These slightly runny eggs are served with Merguez, fresh chili peppers, cilantro, and spiced yogurt. And of course there’s a piece of charred bread to sop it all up. My friend ordered the Duck Confit Potato Hash with runny duck eggs and grainy mustard. So good! Next time around, I’m ordering what she got although the Moroccan Baked Eggs are really, really good too. Each of our meals cost $15.
Gjelina is located on Abbot Kinney, a popular street in Venice, so on weekends, this place gets crazy busy (and parking can be difficult). Unless you don’t mind communal dining, expect to wait about 20 minutes or so for a table. But there are lots of cute boutiques nearby where you can window shop while you wait.
I’m so glad that we tried Gjelina because it’s one that I’ve definitely added to my go to rotation.Contact 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, CA 90291 310.450.1429
When I Crave: Fro-yo (frozen yogurt)
I Go To: Pinkberry
And I Order: A medium-sized original flavored yogurt topped with mangoes, granola, & strawberries (and sometimes blackberries)
So Pinkberry isn’t exclusive to L.A. or California for that matter – they can be found across the nation and around the world. But still, Pinkberry is my go to place for a refreshing cup of frozen yogurt, so it had to go on this list. The thing I love about Pinkberry is that I never feel guilty eating it. It’s like Greek yogurt (sort of) that I always top with fruit. And anything topped with fruit is healthy – right?Click here for locations.