In a city where nobody walks, here's a street that imminently walkable. While our low stucco architecture bears no resemblance to the brownstones of New York City, Third Street -- between La Cienega and Fairfax -- has become a Manhattan-esque mish-mash of bars, restaurants, cafes, dry cleaners, boutiques, and exercise studios.
This one-mile stretch has places for people who want to be seen (weekend brunch at Toast) and for people who want to hide (St. Nicks on a Tuesday); for families pushing strollers (Magnolia Bakery on Sunday morning) and girls dressed in their Vegas best (The Churchill on Saturday night). The street has had a lot of turnover the past year, and more to come, but here are some of the current best bets on the block.
Street parking can be hard to find unless you happen to live in the neighborhood, but there's valet up and down the street, and parking structures at either end: in the Beverly Center and The Farmers Market/Grove. Want to make it a real New York night? Take a cab, and create your own pub-and-grub crawl.
At least once a week you'll pass cop cars parked outside of Plancha. Don't worry about slowing down: the officers are always inside, ordering tacos. Here you'll find Mexican street food that's both cheap (half the menu is under five bucks) and delicious, with something for everybody. Need to fit in your size 2 dress? Get the grilled tilapia tacos on lettuce wraps. Need some carbs to even out your alcohol consumption? Do the poblano quesadilla, the con todo burrito (meat, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa) or the potato taquitos. One of the best bets is the Tiger Taco: spicy garlic shrimp with melted jack cheese, onions and cilantro. The shrimp are large, cooked just to opaque, and are about 5 steps above the quality you'd expect in a taco joint. Those cops are onto something. 8250 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-951-9911.
9. Robata Jinya
When you're craving home-style, non-sushi Japanese, this is the place to go to go. (NB: If you're a sushi purist, head elsewhere.) Order the homemade tofu -- soymilk literally curdled before your eyes, topped with dashi and green onions. Split a hakata tonkatsu ramen: a big steaming salty bowl of comfort and noodle and pork (tip: add the "optional" egg). In Japanese, robata means "charcoal grill", and here they specialize in small skewers of grilled meat and vegetables including a delicious soy-braised pork belly and chicken meatballs. The soaring space is beautiful and with the sake barrels and Japanese grill master and truly zen food presentations, you might just feel transported. 8050 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-653-8877
In Los Angeles, you won't have much luck finding truly awesome New York style pizza or Chicago deep-dish -- but this town has managed to churn out Italian-style pies at a rate rivaling Rome's. Olio is no exception: the entire (teeny) restaurant encircles a wood-burning oven from which the friendly staff pull blistery crust and melty mozzarella; grilled steak and Brussels sprouts. The pizza's crust has a great chew to it and has just enough burny parts to satisfy your carbon craving, and there are over a dozen options including a truly spicy sausage and pepper version and a fancy margarita made with burrata and arugula. There's a patio, free parking, and they care as much about their coffee and desserts (including an oven-baked apple crisp and chocolate chip cookies) as they do their pizza. 8075 W 3rd St. #100, Los Angeles; 323-930-9490.
7. El Carmen
By nearly all measures, El Carmen is a tequila bar that happens to serve food. The tables are bar-sized; the lighting is dim-to-dark; and the menu, a thick little booklet of 16 pages, only dedicates two of those to food (the rest is the tequila list). But the guacamole is top notch, the tamales are rich and creamy, the tacos (particularly the pork) more than serviceable, and the happy hour here (Monday thru Friday, 5-7 p.m.) can't be beat. Eleven bucks will get you a
superstrong freshly squeezed margarita and a platter of tacos with rice and beans. Plus, this place is just cool. There are Mexican wrestling masks on the ceiling and Mexican wrestler portraits on the walls and you have to walk through a velvet bordello curtain to get in. 8138 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-852-1552.
There are a ton of coffee shops, bakeries and cafes in this area. And among those, Simple Things tends to be the least populated -- there's rarely a wait for a table. I suspect the "Pie Shop" in the name tricks people into thinking it's simply a pie shop (funny how that works). But there is simple, fresh, well-priced food being churned out of this bright storefront. The Veggie Benedict is the perfect sweet-savory balance in the morning, and any sandwich melt and a bowl of soup will do for lunch or dinner. Their Cobb Salad is also a step above the norm -- the eggs are soft-boiled, and the yolky goodness makes you appreciate the simple things that make one place better than another. 8310 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-592-3390.
If you've never been before, the experience can be confusing at best, and daunting at worst. Do you stand in the line by the prepared foods counter? The line by the tiered cake trays groaning with pastry? Or the line in the middle, by the kitchen? Do you order by pointing, or order off the menu? Do yourself a favor and breathe. Everyone who works at this long-standing institution is smiling and accommodating, no matter how crazed the crowds are, so step right up, order a morning bun, a short rib melt or a lobster roll, and find a seat. They'll find you, don't worry. And you'll love what they put in front of you -- even if it ain't cheap. 8350 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-655-2285.
The Churchill is many things to many people. Early evening happy hour is good-natured and neighborhood-y, and this place does a brisk (mimosa-fueled) brunch business on weekends. Saturday nights have become quite a scene, with the restaurant morphing into a DJ-fueled bar while a smattering of smokers gather on the sidewalk. But after a menu and kitchen reboot last fall, there's really excellent cooking and cocktailing happening here. Chef Bruce Kalman is making his own pasta (including killer spicy spaghetti) and charcuterie (using duck, lamb and pork); the Brussels sprouts are addictive; and there are Manhattans on tap. They've just added a walk-up juice bar/vegan sandwich shop -- an outpost of Clover Juice -- so if short rib hash feels a little heavy, you have a more virtuous option. Plus there's an outdoor patio with a fireplace. 8384 West 3rd St., Los Angeles; (323) 655-8384.
Little Next Door fills so many needs: the perfect date place, a charming endroit for a dinner with the girls, and the site of a damn fine happy hour (beer and glasses of wine are half off from 4-7 p.m.). With the rattan chairs on the patio and the zinc bar and high ceilings inside, this gem of a restaurant transports diners to Paris in that casual chic (very French) way of a place that's not trying too hard. The onion soup , moules frites and salade Niçoise are excellent renditions of old standbys, and the Moroccan spiced lamb shank is an interesting nod to the monde francophone. A half-priced glass of rosé, a salade composée, a macaron to finish. Perfect. 8142 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-951-1010.
2. Son of a Gun
This seafood-y Dotolo-Shook outpost is also home to the best fried chicken sandwich this side of the Continental Divide. An excellent cocktail list and a focus on small plates make this a great place to catch up with friends, and it's number one for celebrity sightings on the street, if you're into that kind of thing. Get the lobster roll (though be advised it's about two bites' worth), split the fried chicken sandwich, eat your greens (even though these guys get lauded for their meat-handling, they are excellent with vegetables), and let your waiter guide you through the rest. They could rest on their laurels and still serve a full house -- but they don't. 8370 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-782-9033.
Gusto manages to walk a fine line: it's cozy and homey yet still hip. It's a neighborhood joint but still special enough for a nice night out. It serves familiar food but chef Vic Casanova pushes the edges, just a bit. Among the appetizers, the braised octopus (polipo) is a must-order: teeny baby octopi that are almost too adorable to eat, tenderly cooked with cannellini beans and harissa. The polpette (pork shoulder meatballs) are ridiculously moist and rich and large enough to share. Pastas are homemade and cooked just to al dente, and pan-seared branzino is served under a pitch-perfect medley of salty olives, sweet artichokes, and bright basil. It's easy to overdo it on the savory stuff here -- but save room for coconut gelato pie at the end of the meal. 8432 W 3rd St., Los Angeles; 323-782-1778.
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