Of course every definitive restaurant list about Southern California has In-N-Out Burger. Hard pass. Not saying we don’t grab a Double Double burger and a Strawberry Shake when visiting but it’s not even in our “You need to visit” list. These are going to be places some may know but for some reason don’t visit. They are also not in any particular order.
The Hat (multiple locations)– Now it has 11 locations all over Southern California but it all started in the San Gabriel Valley. I remember eating here as a kid and nothing has changed in what they serve and it’s quality for fast food. I’ve heard they have a Steak Sandwich that is really good but I have zero time or calories to spend on a steak sandwich when at The Hat. For me, it’s all about the Pastrami dip that has perfectly sliced Pastrami and a perfect bun. Pickles and Mustard round out what in my opinion is Southern California’s perfect fast food offering. I always split the sandwich (since I am not trying to bulk up) because there is an equal that makes this place soar way past In-N-Out on any list in my opinion. If you like hot dog bun chili that we have around here, then you are going to love the Chili cheese fries. Don’t be a rookie though. Don’t just stop there. Get the Pastrami on them. The chili cheeses fries with pastrami is a serving bigger than a Los Angeles Yellow Pages. Eat here and only here in a day and you’ll be good most of the day with only a need for snack later. Menu Here
Tam O’Shanter (Los Feliz, Los Angeles)- Full disclosure. I’ve only been here during Christmas time dinner service before this trip. So we ate here twice both dinner and for lunch. We are also HUGE Walt Disney fans and love Disney History. The fact you can sit at the table where Walt Disney and his imagineers sat (and allegedly the markings on the table are from them) is pretty cool. It’s also where Don Draper from Mad Men and the boys from The Office had Dwight’s Bachelor party in the Series finale. So, this place is packed with Hollywood History and visually from the logo to the decor is a classic restaurant to visit. Then you add the food. So first, during Dinner (menu here) we have tried the Prime Rib (which they are famous for), Fish and Chips, Tam Burger and their sides. I am not a big fan of Prime Rib in general so I prefer the Tam Burger and load up on the sides. Their French Onion Soup, Sweet Corn Fritters and Creamed Spinach Yorkshire Pudding is a must. Obviously we had the Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert and it’s fine. I probably would pass on dinner any other time of the year but Christmas because of how well they do lunch. During Christmas they have Strolling Victorian Carolers who come by your table (Mash here to see) and sing Christmas songs both classic and pop, we opted for Wham! These are the Carolers that have been featured on Modern Family. Every other time of the year Lunch can’t be beat and is preferred over dinner service simply because of the Ale & Sandwich Bar (menu here). It may look basic, pictures below, but the roasted pork with mash potatoes & gravy with sweet corn is spot on. Not to mention the daughter loved the classic fudge sundae offered. So, you want to dine here if you can. If it’s Christmas, book during dinner. If not, swing by for a lunch if you are visiting one of the nearby studio tours or Universal. We actually ate here after visiting the Rose Parade decorations so it was a day of old Southern California classics.
il Pastaio (Beverly Hills)- Gotta give a shout out on how we decided on this place. The Travel Muse Youtube Channel talked about il Pastaio as one of her favorite Italian places during her birthday video “Perfect Sunday” so we had to try. We put it to the test and it came through with flying colors (Italian flag colors of course). This was our Christmas Eve Lunch! First off, the service here is top notch and boy are those waiters Italian. Each waiter appears to be Italian (accent) and their service is reason enough to dine here and book a trip to the home country. We started with the charcuterie plate (Parma Prosciutto Served with Gorgonzola Cheese, Walnuts, Crouton and Fresh Pears Add Burrata). The Burrata was well worth the upgrade. The daughter got meatballs and spaghetti and they were like no other she has had in her short life. We didn’t mention it earlier but il Pastaio means “Pasta Maker” and it’s obvious by the quality they deserve the name. The Fettuccine Bolognese in meat sauce may have been the meal winner and it was ordered by my wife. Mine was a holiday offering (Sorry misplaced the name) with peppers and seafood. It was wonderful but I am not a huge seafood fan. I decided to get it because we were so close to the coast and Kentucky is so land locked. So, if you love seafood and a kick of spice you’ll love this. I really did like it though and I usually am not a big seafood eater. The Tiramisu, oh man, is the show stopper. I don’t care if another dessert is calling you. Order a cup of coffee and get this tiramisu. It’s by far the best I ever had. Our meal was not very expensive (compared to other places we ate in the area). It was affordable considering we didn’t have wine/alcohol nor did we get the white truffles on anything. Many people were raving about the truffles but they just aren’t my thing. If they are your thing, prepare to pay for the experience going in and enjoy them. This is a place that should be on your list and be warned a reservation is probably necessary. It gets packed. Side Note: Yes, celebrities eat here if that is your thing. It wasn’t ours. We loved how many people brought their tiny dogs though.
Cielito Lindo (Olvera Street)– OK, not everything has to be Beverly Hills to be great. In fact most places in LA are low key, simple, inexpensive and wonderful. Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhood is Olvera Street and it’s a real joy to visit. Nearby is China town (not as good as SF from what I am told) but really the Olvera Street area is unique because it is the Mexican-American roots of the City of Angels. Lots of vendors that the kids will love and you’re going to love the street vendor shopping. It’s sorta like going to a flea market here but with a California and Mexican tint to it. Most people enter from the parking lot across the street near the statue. If you do enter there on the very opposite end of that entrance point sits the great Cielito Lindo. Known for the Taquitos in Avocado Sauce this place has been here since 1934. The menu is here and there is a small area to sit and eat. Cielito Lindo was featured recently as Gustavo Arellano (Writer of Taco USA) & Anthony Bourdain dined on the tasty taquitos in Bourdain’s Parts Unknown Ode to LA’s hispanic community. Olvera street is very familiar to me so I feel safe but be warned that the LA homeless people are in this area and most will leave you alone. We suggest going around 11am that way you feel safe your first time visiting.
Monsieur Marcel (LA Farmers Market)- LA Farmers Market for Brunch is a no Brainer because of all the options. For us it’s where we opt for Monsieur Marcel (Menu). We did it twice at this location (Santa Monica and LAX now have them but we can’t really speak on those spots). In fact it was the first place we visited when we landed at LAX. Yes, they have wine but what makes this place great is if you love CHEESE! Their Cheese and Meat plate is a fantastic offering. The amount of cheeses available are staggering and the quality is the only thing that is more impressive than the different options available. Even the regular butter was spectacular for the Tartine (with the jam it makes a great dessert). I had the French Croque Monsieur (sourdough bread, jambon de Paris, french emmenthal, mornay sauce) and it was divine. My wife had the Quiche Lorraine with spinach and it was equally as tasty as my Croque Monsieur. The daughter went with Tartine and bacon (this is legit thick cut hickory smoked bacon). We’ve also had their wonderful French onion soup here as well. Well worth the trip but give yourself time to walk around the Farmers Market and the adjacent shopping area known as The Grove. Non-local but daughter friendly “American Girl” is located in The Grove. If staying in the area at a VRBO or rental house shop here for groceries after dining.
Seaside Donut Bakery (Newport Beach) & Donut Hut (Burbank) BONUS PICK– OK, so if you need a bit of fried bread goodness we’ll give you our two go-to spots for donuts. Now, let me get this out of the way. Only Donut Hut gets close to GADS in Bowling Green’s quality. Gads is a more solid and filling donut place so we prefer them but Donut hut is more fluffy and they are the better of the two we are featuring here. Seaside has a great apple fritter and the fact they face the ocean makes it worth a visit. Enjoy the photo gallery of donuts below! So, if you need ambiance, Seaside. If you want taste first and foremost, Donut Hut.