The top 10 LA food institutions you should visit

by Gavin Meichelbock

Los Angeles is home to a rich variety of historical restaurants that date back as early as the 1920s. These restaurants introduced or, in some cases, even invented new cuisines that have since become a part of the city’s food identity. While these establishments are icons and favorites among LA locals, most are widely unknown to UCLA’s vast student body from all over California and the world.

For students looking to take a delicious bite into LA’s culinary past, here are the top 10 LA institutions you must visit.

El Cholo

LA’s very first Mexican restaurant is still going strong after 101 years. Established in 1923, El Cholo introduced many Angelenos not just to Mexican food, but to spicy food. Their menu is a guide to how palettes have become more adventurous over the decades by displaying the year each dish was added to the menu. Sonora Style Enchilada, Joe’s Traditional Albondigas and Green Corn Tamales all date back to the restaurant’s founding. El Cholo continues to keep its menu updated with new additions such as mahi-mahi Fish Tacos being added in 2001 and Mole Chicken Enchiladas only recently added in honor of their centenary. Their deep roots in LA’s edible history as well as their ever-adapting menu is why El Cholo is worth a visit.

Original Location: 1121 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90006
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Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery

This grocer is more than a sandwich shop, it’s a slice of Santa Monica’s history. Bay Cities has specialized in homemade, authentic Italian specialties since 1925. On their wide menu of various pastas, traditional deli salads and Italian desserts, they are most famous for their “Godmother” sandwich. The sandwich has premium Boar’s Head salami, prosciutto, mortadella, capicola, ham and provolone cheese on an in-house baked Italian sub roll. After serving up quality sandwiches for almost 100 years, it is no wonder Bay Cities has made a name for itself as one of the best sandwiches in LA.

P.S. Take any deli sandwich on the menu to the next level by ordering it with “the works.” You’ll thank me later.

1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401
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Langer’s Deli

From a menu with hundreds of delectable options, the #19 is still the most famous item at Langer’s Deli. Since 1947, the #19 from Langer’s has been widely considered to be one of the best and most famous bites of pastrami in the city. Starting with their patented “re-baked” rye bread that gives the sandwich an extra crunch factor, cold coleslaw, melted Swiss cheese and tangy Russian dressing are layered on top of thick-cut pastrami. Having served over 8 million pounds of pastrami since its founding, it is needless to say that Langer’s Deli knows how to make a good sandwich.

704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, CA 90057
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The Apple Pan

Although the “HickoryBurger” gave The Apple Pan its claim to fame back in 1947, its menu shines in unexpected places. This old-fashioned U-shaped diner serves up what is one of the, if not the, best tuna melts in LA, according to online food reviewer @HowKevEats. Another stand out is The Apple Pan’s selection of pies. But, the best option isn’t the apple pie — the banana cream pie is as good as any diner-style pie gets. The thin flakey crust is layered with whole sliced bananas and silky smooth banana filling, all topped with a heaping helping of whipped cream. Given its proximity to UCLA’s campus, The Apple Pan should be on every Bruin’s list.

10801 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
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The Hat

While it may not look like much, The Hat has got it where it counts. Since 1951, The Hat has been known for its world-famous pastrami, the invention of the pastrami burger and huge portions. Mounds of rich pastrami are stuffed into a soft roll, heavily dipped in horseradish and mustard from to-go packets and enjoyed on cardboard plates. A near-endless supply of onion rings is piled high in a brown paper bag. Chili and gravy find their way onto the restaurant’s sandwiches, burgers and “wet fries” as a necessary gratuity of napkins make their way to the table. While she isn’t pretty, The Hat is definitely worth the experience.

Multiple Locations around LA

Main Location: 1 Valley Blvd., Alhambra, CA 91801
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Carney’s provides customers with one of the most fun and unique eating environments in LA. Although it was only (relatively) recently established in 1975, Carney’s has made a name for itself. Not only do diners eat in a refurbished Union Pacific Railroad car, but Carney’s serves up what is considered to be some of the best American fare in the city. Hot dogs are made split style and can be served in New York, Chicago or Carney’s style. Burgers are notoriously topped with chili, cheese, bacon and even hot dogs. And while you are there, don’t forget to try their “Train Wreck Fries” to see how “Animal Style” fries are meant to be done. The restaurant that brought a whole new meaning to “Meals on Wheels” is truly an LA institution worth students’ attention.

8351 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069
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Philippe The Original

Philippe’s is not only the original, but the best French-dipped sandwich in LA. Dating back to 1908, Philippe’s is cited as the creator of the French-dipped sandwich. This legendary item is still made right in front of the customer by one of the counter’s ten Carvers. The French dip is traditionally served on a freshly baked French roll, stuffed with roast beef and dipped generously in the beef’s natural gravy. No sandwich from Philippe’s would be complete without their hot mustard sauce, a side of potato or macaroni salad and a slice of one of their seasonal baked pies. Take a trip to this beef-flavored time machine and visit Philippe The Original.

1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA 90012
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Cassell’s Hamburgers

Koreatown is home to one of the best burger counters in LA. Take a step back in time and enter this classic diner that dates back to 1948. Although Cassell’s features a wide variety of diner classics from the American breakfast to the Cobb salad, it has become famous for its patty melt. This burger is regarded as one of the best patty melts ever by Eater LA and is featured on the YouTube channel “First We Feast” as part of their quest to find the ultimate patty melt. Toasted rye bread, gooey Swiss cheese and perfectly grilled onions all come together to create one of the most iconic bites in the city. Although parking is hard to find, Cassell’s Hamburgers is worth the hassle.

3600 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90020
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Tito’s Tacos

Head over to Culver City for an “all kills, no thrills” taco experience. While the menu includes Mexican food staples such as the bean and cheese burritos, tostadas and enchiladas, they are famous for their classic Tito’s Taco with cheese. Shredded beef is topped with iceberg lettuce and their iconic cold cheddar cheese, all served in a freshly made crunchy shell. Tito’s is one of the few mom-and-pop shops still dishing out their own “gringo” shells, even after being open since 1959. For those who want not just Taco Bell on steroids but an authentic Los Angeles experience, Tito’s Tacos is the place to be.

11222 Washington Pl., Culver City, CA 90230
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Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers

The YouTube channel “First We Feast” calls it “LA’s secret handshake.” Swedish magazine “Chic” says it’s LA’s quintessential fast food.

People on the streets simply call it the best chili cheeseburger and fries you will ever have. Founded in 1946, Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers quickly found their way into the hearts of countless Angelinos. The simple but high-quality burgers, hot dogs, fries, tamales, breakfast burritos and sandwiches are vessels that allow customers to enjoy Tommy’s world-famous chili. Even though many copycats have tried to capitalize on their success, true SoCal residents know there is only one Tommy’s.

2575 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057
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It matters not what food you are craving, LA has a bite and a piece of history to go along with it. Next time you are eating off campus, check out one of these iconic LA Institutions.

Featured Image: El Cholo Spanish Cafe in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr

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