The day of my flight home, I saw on Twitter that the chefs behind some of my favourite LA meals were about to open a new spot. Their 'French-Mexican brunch restaurant' would launch the next day, by which time I would be back beneath London's unruly sky, boiling my limescaley kettle. Devastated, I WhatsApped a friend to explain what had befallen me. "Laura. You've eaten a lot of delicious things", she said.
But this is how good the food 'scene' is in LA is right now – you just do not want to miss out. The new things are truly new; the ideas unlike all of the ideas that came before them. Two words: baklava croissant! Two more: cauliflower nachos! There's no formula – no exposed brick, no cocktails in jars.
There is this delicious, sunny freedom that's impossible not to love. LA isn't New York or San Francisco, because it doesn't want to be. It lacks the dollar pizza slices and Michelin stars of NYC and the fine wines and fancy patisseries of San Francisco. What it does have is brunch beneath palm trees, all-American hamburgers, a long and fruitful relationship with Mexican food, California rolls, green juices, ripe avocados, and smart people working hard in schvitzing kitchens. Here's my guide to not missing out.
Jon, Vinny & Ludo
The chefs who stole my heart are Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. Their aforementioned French-Mexican brunch restaurant spot is called Trois Familia. They own it with their buddy Ludo Lefebvre, with whom they also run Trois Mec (troismec.com), the hottest ticket in town. In a literal sense, because you do actually have to buy a ticket in advance to get a crack at their tasting menu, and good luck doing that.
The Ham & Yeezy pizza (ham, vodka sauce, smoked mozzarella, pickled chillies) is named after their number two fan, Kanye West
Meanwhile, Jon and Vinny alone make the sweetest, prettiest, most dazzling pizza I've ever eaten at Jon & Vinny's (jonandvinnys.com), their LA riff on an old-school 'red-sauce' Italian. The Ham & Yeezy pizza (ham, vodka sauce, smoked mozzarella, pickled chillies) is named after their number two fan, Kanye West. I can also vouch for the bruschetta with ricotta and orange blossom honey, the braised lamb ravioli and the creamy, cheesy, life-affirming bowls of polenta. Nearby, at Son of a Gun (sonofagunrestaurant.com), Jon and Vinny turn their attention to seafood; their shrimp toast sandwich with sriracha mayo verifies their combined genius. I hope they know that I really love them.
Sqirl's sorrel pesto rice bowl might be the city's most Instagrammed thing. The café itself – in coolest Silverlake – is tiny, with a marble breakfast bar, wooden stools and a little patio (sqirlla.com).
Unless you get there with the fitness crew (before 7am), you'll have to queue. The 'toast' is actually a door stop of brioche slathered obscenely with fresh ricotta and homemade jam, but – honestly – the wholesome savoury stuff is just as delicious. Get one of each genre to feel little Sqirl's full force.
In for a penny, in for a kelp noodle; jog on to one of three branches of Café Gratitude (cafegratitude.com) for organic, plant-based plates with names like 'gracious', 'pure' and 'present'. In actual food terms, that means raw wraps, black bean burgers and veg-shrouded pizzas. The spaces are white and bright "celebrations of our aliveness" – a sentiment that's pretty much about as LA as it gets.
The general standard of taco in LA is so high that laymen may not even recognise the specimens before them. Ricky's (@rickysfishtacos), a truck parked at the top of Silverlake, is run by Ricky Piña, lord of the Baja-style fish taco. His babies contain flaky chunks of battered fish, handfuls of shredded cabbage, and good salsa; his regulars reach for the mustard mayo, too, which is kept in a fridge on the side of the truck. A little way south of downtown, Mariscos Jalisco (@mariscosjalisco) – a seafood truck where they pile vibrant ceviche on top of tostadas – is worth a detour.
On the meatier side of the spectrum, Guisados (guisados.co) specialises in braises. Its handmade tortillas are only little, so pick and mix between steak picado, chorizo, shredded pork, mole poblano and more. Lastly, Petty Cash (pettycashtaqueria.com) is a taqueria gone glam, with murals on the walls, mezcal, high ceilings, martinis and oysters. The tempura squash tacos and cauliflower nachos are outrageously good.
Behind Venice Beach, you'll find some of the freshest brunches on earth. Gjusta, in particular, is magic: the deli-style space is long – longer than you're imagining – and full of sun, with wooden floors, and cabinets lining the left hand side. In the first cabinet, there are those baklava croissants, plus pies and cookies; in the second, cheese; then it's meats (pastrami, brisket, turkey) and smoked fish (salmon, anchovy, mackerel); followed by beautiful, bright, generous pizzas. And after all of that, there's still a full breakfast menu to order from, which includes the Risky Biscuit – a sandwich of sausage, fried egg, cheese and harissa. Sound like a sort of paradise? I'll say it again: Gjusta is magic (gjusta.com).
Travel down Abbot Kinney Boulevard (the street on which everything cool in Venice occurs) to West Indies-influenced Sunnyspot (sunnyspotvenice.com). The brunch menu is a riot of bright, lively flavour, from the jerk chicken cob salad with avocado, jalapeno vinaigrette and pickled onions to the coconut flan. There's bottomless rum punch, too.
At Apple Pan, you sit at a horseshoe-shaped counter on red pleather bar stools, eating burgers
At Apple Pan (10801 W Pico), a diner in West LA, I met a couple who have been eating there for 64 years. It's one of the city's oldest continually operating restaurants, and it's just the realest deal – the sign outside says "quality forever".
Indoors, you sit at a horseshoe-shaped counter on red pleather bar stools, and within that horseshoe, one man in a white hat moves between you and the grill to pick you up one of three burgers. My choice, the Steakburger, comes with a cinnamon-laced relish, and is packed in greaseproof paper in a way that is both perfectly tidy and full-to-bursting. For pudding, there's banana pie, piled high and cosseted with whipped cream. But my seasoned friends preferred the pecan.
What to do and where to stay
Visit West Hollywood (visitwesthollywood.com) and Discover Los Angeles (discoverlosangeles.com) Both offer city tours, with made-to-order itineraries, hotel and restaurant bookings and more. America As You Like It (americaasyoulikeit.com) offers flights and bespoke tours across the USA and Canada. Double rooms at The Line Hotel start from £150/$209 (room-only). The Line Hotel, 3515 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010. 213 381 7411; thelinehotel.com
The patch around where Wilshire meets Western is one of LA's biggest assets. Food-wise, Koreatown can be overwhelming, because it's full of restaurants that specialise in single dishes. So, at Mapo Galbi (3090 W Olympic) you can get great dak galbi (a kind of stir-fried chicken), while Genwa Korean BBQ (genwakoreanbbq.com) is all about the barbequed beef, and Buil Samgye Tang (4204 W 3rd) churns out restorative ginseng soups. You could get really deep into this stuff if you've got the time, in which case you'll want to read everything Jonathan Gold has ever written in the LA Times.
If you want a one-stop Korean dream dinner, Pot is your place (eatatpot.com). It's a restaurant inside the chic, new-ish Line Hotel, overseen by Roy Choi, one of the pioneers of the food-truck movement. He launched his Korean taco truck, Kogi BBQ, in 2008 and now has his hands in all sorts of pies (he part-owns Sunnyspot, too), but the trucks are still worth hunting down (kogibbq.com). At Pot – dark, glamorous, sizzling Pot – you can fill your table (and self) with kimchi fried rice, spicy chicken wings, a giant pot of spicy veggies and sparkling wine.
Now, is that living, or what? ■