- Every June for the past decade, I’ve flown from my home — New York City — to Los Angeles.
- Though Los Angeles is lovely to visit for fun, I visit every year around the same time to cover the annual video game conference E3.
- Across the last 10 years, I’ve grown to appreciate the incredible food that Los Angeles has to offer. These are my four favorite spots.
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For years, the only part of Los Angeles I saw was the trip from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to whatever hotel I was staying in.
The plan was always the same: To cover E3 2019, the big annual video game trade show, held downtown.
Across the next week, I’d mostly experience a small section of blocks in downtown Los Angeles that were close to the Staples Center, where the Lakers play and the Los Angeles Convention Center resides. That last bit is important because that’s where E3 is held.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten smarter about my annual trip west. I stay in an AirBnb instead of an overpriced hotel, for instance, and I schedule travel time between appointments at the show.
But there’s one thing I’ve always made sure to do, as long as I’ve been going to E3 annually: Eat well. These are the four places I look forward to eating at all year:
1. Sqirl, in Silver Lake.
What you see above may look pedestrian — scrambled eggs, some country ham, a bit of hot sauce, a side salad, and some rye toast.
What it is in reality is the most absurdly delicious, perfect version of those things. That’s what Sqirl does: Perfected classics.
This dish is known as “Rugbrød Toast,” and the menu describes it as, “Triple-egg soft scramble, house ham, Rugbrød, lacto-fermented hot sauce, Shu greens.”
So, uh, what’s “Rugbrød”? That’s just how you say “rye bread” in Danish, because this is a particularly Danish variety of rye bread. It’s been buttered liberally, and grilled until the outside is crisp and the inside is warmed through.
The eggs are, as advertised, soft and right on the edge of being too soft. The house ham is, also as advertised, made in house. And the hot sauce is absurdly delicious. It’s got a beautifully subtle spank of tang from fermentation, and a slightly sharper spike of spice kick.
I could just eat at Sqirl for every meal while in Los Angeles. It is tremendously heartwarming food.
The interior of Sqirl is minimalist and airy. It looks like a large breakfast and lunch spot, because that’s exactly what it is.
Sqirl opens early, and you could conceivably walk in and sit down to eat immediately. But if you come at peak hours, like I did, expect there to be a short wait.
If you don’t want to wait for one of the outdoor seats, there are a handful off spots inside. All of the seating is casual.
2. Fernando’s Taco Inn
I look forward to eating at Fernando’s Taco Inn all year.
The small breakfast and lunch spot is just one block from the Los Angeles Convention Center, yet it’s never overrun by E3 attendees. As the name suggests, Fernando’s specializes in casual Mexican fare: tacos, tamales, chalupas, and burritos.
They make their own salsas, and the prices are great, but in truth it’s the carnitas that brings me back every time: Succulent, delicious roast pork nestled into a burrito alongside rice, beans, a bit of onions and cilantro.
The tortilla is soft and flavorful, and — most importantly of all — the burrito is about medium in size. This is far from the rice-filled monstrosity Chipotle is pushing.
Here is the supremely plain-looking lunch I look forward to eating literally all year. I ate at Fernando’s four times in five days this year.
Take note: The burrito isn’t overflowing and unmanageable. It’s a filling lunch, but not a gut-buster.
Though the carnitas is my personal favorite, Fernando’s makes lots of delicious stuff. And the prices are great, so it’s not too hard to try a few different things.
3. Soot Bull Jeep
Korean barbecue? Oh yes.
You need a group for Soot Bull Jeep, in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, but that group is going to be incredibly happy they joined you.
The first thing you notice when entering Soot Bull Jeep is that there’s an overwhelming amount of smoke inside. The Korean barbecue restaurant has coals burning at every table waiting to perfectly sear a wide selection of meats and seafood.
When those meats arrive at the table, uncooked and ready for action, they’ll arrive with a gorgeous array of “banchan” — a variety of small plates with fermented delights, from kimchi to pickled daikon. This is nothing new if you’ve ever experienced Korean barbecue before, but Soot Bull Jeep does these sides especially well.
It would be easy to completely miss Soot Bull Jeep while walking by — make sure you don’t! It’s an excellent experience.
And yes, of course, we got the short rib. You have to get the short rib.
4. And finally, Night + Market Song.
Of all the places I love to eat at in Los Angeles, Night + Market is the most “fancy.” It’s a natural wine bar first, amazing Thai restaurant second.
The place has a party vibe, no doubt.
But the real star of the show is the food: Spicy, sour, crunchy, soft.
This is the “nam khao tod” — which the restaurant translates to “crispy rice salad.” I’ve never not ordered it because I like it so much. It’s Thai food at its most bombastic — a vibrant combination of textures and flavors that all magically coalesce into something entirely unique.
The menu smartly reminds diners in bold letters, “Don’t forget to order sticky rice!” This isn’t just an upsell — the sticky rice helps to offset the fiery punch of Thai larbs.
There was a special the day I was there — a tempura-battered octopus with homemade Sriracha sauce. The Thai basil on top was also deep fried, thus the wilted look.
Here’s a closer look before I dug in — this was like the Los Angeles-Thai version of fried calamari, albeit with octopus and Sriracha instead of squid and marinara.
Night + Market is like no other Thai restaurant you’ve experienced in America.
Okay, okay — it’s possible you’ve eaten at Uncle Boon’s or Ugly Baby in New York City, or you’ve experienced the Pok Pok empire of Portland. Maybe you’re an expert on killer food in Jackson Heights! You are the exception.
There are a small handful of other restaurants in the United States that approximate the level of quality that Night + Market brings to Thai cooking, but they are few in number, and only in a handful of places.
All of which is to say one thing: Night + Market is a special spot with some of the most delicious Thai food on this side of the Pacific. If you’re in Los Angeles, it’s one not to miss (and that includes the other locations from the same chef).