Indulgers, straight from the airport, head to a nearby In-N-Out Burger, a chain of fast food restaurants founded in 1948. This is not just a typical global burger chain. Never having stretched beyond the US borders, the quality has been retained with the use of fresh, unprocessed meat from California and Texas, cut by in-house butchers and made to order, including the real potato fries. The ‘Animal Style’ burger is the local favourite, while the carb-conscious, should go for the ‘Protein Style’ served in a lettuce instead of a starchy bun.
If you are in the mood for something more gastronomic and fresh, then stay at the gorgeous Bel Air Hotel and dine in. Wolfgang Puck’s newest LA restaurant lures with an outdoor heated patio and an elegant restaurant inside. As the flames of the heaters warm the cool desert evenings in the valley between the hilly Bel Air, the romantic soul in you will be awakened. Sustainable and locally grown produce in California meets Europe-themed dishes that are presented with an elegant flair. The Austria-born Puck was the pioneer of modern Californian cuisine some 30 years ago, when he blended the abundant local ingredients with other world cuisines, mainly Asian. You can try his traditional Austrian breaded schnitzel after a raw fish carpaccio. Spago in Beverly Hills was the chef’s first high-end success and still, after its recent revamp, remains popular. Here, ask for the Smoked Salmon Pizza, now off the menu, but they will bake it. Its wine list is hard to beat in town, but his newer venture at Bel Air is more consistent in pleasing your palate.
Bel Air is a legendary hotel with guaranteed privacy and unparalleled luxury, and was often a film or a photo-shoot set. Marilyn Monroe was photographed in its lavish rooms, and the Grace Kelly suite is where the actress stayed after winning the Oscar. Weddings along the swan lake, transforming therapies at the La Prairie spa and some newly refurbished spacious rooms featuring their own outdoor fireplace and a jacuzzi, create an oasis for any social occasion or jet-lag recovery. The classy bar has live piano music and is frequented by an entertaining local power crowd. It’s ambience and service are far better than all of the hyper-touristy spots in Hollywood.
The “City of Angels” is strongly influenced by its multi-ethnic neigbourhoods. Foodies can reach anywhere for a casual Cal-Mex taco, splurge on a Korean bbq in the Korea Town or explore the new California cuisine blending it all together at one of the celebrity chefs bistros, restaurants and pop-ups. The upbeat and trendy food trucks move around town so checking their current location online is worth if you have a specific craving near your location. The ethnic casual eateries like the Mexican near Downtown or Persian around West LA are fun for a divesre experience.
LA is a haven for Japanese food lovers. From trendy modern sushi bars such as Koi and Katsuya, through unpretentious and more basic Sugarfish, Wa Sushi and its godfather Matsuhisa, to the ultra-lux and priciest omakase indulgence at Urasawa – the choice is abundant. Hiro Urasawa is often thought to be the best Japanese chef in America and his mastery is demonstrated in perfectly crafted courses served for a small group of lucky diners, who are not afraid to splurge on delicious food.
Yet, if your time is limited there is one must-visit — Nobu’s first restaurant that started the global craze of chic and trendy Japanese dining. The casual Matsuhisa rightfully deserves its fame. The food is superb. In West LA along the Sawtelle Boulevard, Little Tokyo trasports you far East. Kiriko’s master sushi chef and owner Ken Namba creates excellent omakase with a much better value than the Beverly Hills’ Urasawa. Come in the evening and you will not believe you are still in LA. Almost everyone speaks Japanese and the local specialist grocery stores carry everything from sencha, seaweed, Teriyaki and Yakitori sauces to dozens types of noodles. Shop here like a Tokyote.
A wave of Italian chefs have also made their mark on the LA’s shores. Superb freshly-made pasta can be enjoyed at the always busy Il Pastaio. When celebrity chef Mario Batali is not entertaining America on TV, he creates hearty meals at Osteria Mozza (6602 Melrose Avenue) or throws a pizza dough high up to the ceiling at his popular Pizzeria Mozza (641 N. Highlands Avenue). The most discreet and adored by celebrities is family managed Giorgio Baldi. Giorgio’s son Edoardo, runs his own restaurant e.baldi in Beverly Hills. Schooled in perfect pasta making, a must try here are the signature splendid Sweet-corn Agnolotti in a white truffle sauce. Sharon Stone is reportedly a regular.
Vosges Haute Chocolate (311 N. Beverly Drive) brings fancy chocolate from Chicago. Daring flavours such as Hickory Smoked Uncured Bacon chocolate or Green Ginger, Wasabi and Black Sesame chocolate are just a warm-up. Seasonal surprises, some would requiring an ID in America before a purchase.
Not tasting one of the 21 varieties of irresistibly fresh handmade brownies by the Beverly Hills Brownie Company (315 North Beverly Drive) would count as a sin for the sweets lovers. Try Cookies and Cream, Poppy seed, Salted caramel or one of the signature creations such as the Simply Classic or Red Velvet.
In the trendy Venice eat at Gjelina. Unless you pop by for lunch, book days or weeks in advance for dinner as this casual and trendy rustic new American eatery is popular. The small plates and super thin crust pizza from a woodburning oven with original toppings are unforgettable. You will not taste the same food anywhere else! Ideally sit in an outdoor inner patio with a fireplace, from where you can peek into the kitchen and feel like you are having a gourmet picnic. There are now many start-ups on Abbot Kinney, the street that can be officially christened as “the place where new ideas flow”, so it is worth checking out including the artisan driven shops.
A takeaway from a neighbouring counter at Gjelina is possible and irresistible! The building is inconspicuous and easy to miss, but the hair-raising aromas of a freshly baked pizza and pastries will guide you through your nose in.
If your booking at Gjelina is unsuccessful, then move to nearby Santa Monica for an authentic Californian seafood and a superb pizza at Ivy at the Shore. Their Crab Cakes are luscious, the oven-baked Lobster Pizza generous and the salads X-large.
As you drive through the expansive city to your indulgent destination, do not forget that drinking alcohol while driving is not tolerated, and keeping this in mind saves you troubles. Just check the tabloids for the infamous of celebrities that got into a jail for that!
Take your ID to any place that serves alcoholic beverages since you might be asked to prove that you are older than 21. America is not Europe after all. Otherwise, enjoy the pleasures of the City of Angels.