When it comes to comfort food, Los Angeles takes the cake – and the tamale, fried chicken, pancake and pizza, too. All those homestyle delights are easy to find all across Southern California, for the city is packed with places designed to make diners feel at home, without the bother of actually doing all the cooking themselves. Choosing the top ten isn't an easy task, but with old favorites like El Cholo, which opened in 1923; The Original Pantry Cafe, opened in 1924; Dinah's Family Restaurant, opened in 1959; and Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, 1975, some choices are easy. There's a reason these landmark places are still open after all those years: their food keeps people coming back for more! But the city's classic places do have some competition, especially from relative newcomers like Baby Blues BBQ and Masa of Echo Park (both in business since 2004), M Grill (since 2003) and JR's Barbecue (since 1998), as well as from Carvery Kitchen, the newest kid on the block, which opened in August 2014. The one thing all these top choices have in common is their dedication to making the kind of food you wish your mother had made, with an attention to detail and a focus on taste and quality that sets them apart from all the rest.
Baby Blues BBQ
This classic BBQ joint began as a tiny outpost on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice; now with four locations and a brisk catering business, it's a success story for BBQ masters/owners Rick McCarthy and Danny Fischer. You'll find all their top-notch offerings in either the Venice or West Hollywood outposts: Brisket, Tri Tip, Pulled Pork, Chicken and three kinds of ribs – Baby Back, Memphis Style and Texas Style. There's a whole "Family Style" section to the menu, taking all the guesswork out of ordering for newbies. Just bring all your friends and family along and order The Extravaganza (for $360), which feeds 15 to 20 people, and you'll get to try just about all the fantastic dishes that Baby Blues BBQ has to offer. (323-656-1277)
Honey's Kettle Fried Chicken Restaurant and Bakery
Honey's Kettle in Culver City is Mecca for fried chicken lovers, so much so that people come from miles away to get a taste. Their secret is twofold. First, Honey's uses only humanely raised, hormone-and-antibiotic-free chickens, and second, they hand dip them in a secret-recipe batter and fry them in peanut oil. The result is a crunchy, non-greasy piece of fried chicken that melts in your mouth. They pair it with biscuits made in house and sides like hand-mashed potatoes, fresh corn on the cob and sauteed green beans. Dessert is also made right there, with a choice of sweet potato, apple, pecan or blackberry pie on the menu. Take out is available, and Honey's is happy to cater for family parties, too. (310-202-5453)
The family-run Mexican restaurants known as El Cholo began in 1923, with a small place near the Memorial Coliseum (which opened that same year). Now there are six of them scattered across Southern California, all offering up the classics that have made El Cholo such a resounding success. You'll notice the dates on the menu that mark when a dish was first served: the seasonal (and unexpectedly sweet) Green Corn Tamales have always been on the menu and not to be missed. Carmen's Original Nachos (from 1959) set the standard for that dish and we adore the Plato de Carnitas (1989), lush roasted pork paired with a tangy avocado relish. El Cholo is famous for their top-shelf margaritas, too, and proudly lay claim to being the first restaurant to use premium ingredients in their drinks. (213-746-7750)
JR's Barbecue is a little place on South La Cienega, right where Fairfax dead ends. But don't be fooled by its size, for JR's (which stands for Jeanie Jackson and her son Robert Johnson, who together are the chef-owners) may be small, but it is mighty. Since 1998, they've been smoking pork and beef ribs, pork shoulder, brisket, chicken and more, all in the classic dry-rub Memphis style over mesquite, white oak and pecan woods. The result is incredible, full of juicy flavor and a fair amount of heat. They even warn you about their secret recipe barbecue sauces – the hot is HOT. And there's more, with comfort-food sides like mac and cheese, coleslaw, collard greens and cornbread. Save room for Jeanie's decadent desserts, too. Her cobbler is a work of art and the 7UP Cake has to be tasted to be understood. (310-837-6838)
Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe
Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe doesn't exactly sound like a pizza place, but it is their Chicago Deep Dish that has made them famous throughout Los Angeles. This family-run restaurant bakes the pizza dough fresh every day, uses locally sourced ingredients for their homemade sauces and imports special elements straight from Chicago (including Scala's Authentic Hot Giardiniera, those spicy pickled vegetables that go so well with the pizza). The pies have a cornmeal crust and are made to order, with any topping you desire; that means your pizza takes 40 minutes to make, so settle in and get comfortable with a nice glass of Masa's House Chianti. There are plenty of other choices on the menu, too, from burgers and panini to pastas, salads and even meatloaf. But trust us, the deep-dish pizza is the bomb. (213-989-1558)
Dinah's Family Restaurant
Ever since 1959, Dinah's Family Restaurant has made the corner of Sepulveda and Centinela in Westchester a culinary landmark. Still family owned after all those years, the diner-style eatery is often so packed (especially on Sundays) that getting a parking space can be a challenge. That's because of their famous fried chicken, for starters. It's made with their secret "original recipe" and can be carried out in a box, tub or barrel. Eat in and you'll also find BBQ beef ribs, pork ribs and chicken, as well as a complete homestyle menu of meatloaf, pork chops, chicken fried steak and more. Make sure to have a piece of homemade pie for dessert, too. Open every day for breakfast as well, Dinah's is also known for their oven pancakes (apple, banana walnut, etc.), waffles and other morning comfort food. (310-645-0456)
At M Grill on Wilshire near Western Avenue in Koreatown, climb up the stairs to the second floor and you'll discover one of the best Brazilian Churrascarias in town. Enter the cavernous room with a warm golden glow and be ready to do some serious eating. Pay a set per-person price ($30 at lunch, $50 for dinner) and you'll get all the lusciously char-grilled meats you can possibly consume (think filet mignon, ribeye, ribs, chicken, lamb, sausages), brought to the table on skewers and sliced right onto your plate. There's also a massive salad bar, in case all those mounds of meat aren't enough to fill you up. Whatever you choose, add authentic Caipirinha cocktails to your order and finish your M Grill experience with a sweet-tart toast to the good life. (213-389-2770)
This new kid on the block in Santa Monica (near the Santa Monica Airport on Ocean Park Boulevard) opened in August 2014 and is already a force to be reckoned with in the neighborhood. Outside tables and a few booths inside are all that make up this little gem, where "Roasted and Toasted" is their motto. Chef/owner Roman Shishalovsky slow roasts an assortment of meats – roast beef, pork, brisket, pastrami, chicken, turkey – then toasts a house-made artisan roll and serves each one up with a special dipping sauce created to pair perfectly with the meat. Think peppercorn au jus, roasted tomato or lemon-caper sauce: all are drool worthy, as are the extraordinarily flavorful meats. Also on the tasty menu are wraps, large salads and hearty soups. (310-450-0880, 310-450-0881)
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles Inglewood
From the original Roscoe's in Hollywood to any of the six other locations (Inglewood, Long Beach, Pasadena, Anaheim, West L.A. and South L.A.), you'll find the same rib-sticking soul food made famous by Herb Hudson. Naturally, the main menu item is fried chicken and waffles, served in a number of variations (smothered in gravy and onions, for example). But there's plenty of other down-home dinners, too, from giblets and rice to chicken chili, scrambled eggs or omelettes. And don't forget the sides! Add grits, greens an extra biscuit or two, cornbread and even chicken livers to your meal for the full experience. Save room for the sweet potato pie for dessert, too. (310-981-4141)
The Original Pantry Cafe
The Original Pantry Cafe has been open 24 hours a day in the same downtown Los Angeles spot since 1924, which proves that if you make delicious homestyle chow, people will keep coming back for more. Breakfast is always on the menu, but burgers, T-bones, chops and even country fried steak and Southern fried chicken are only served for lunch and dinner. No matter what you have as a main meal, be sure to try the Pantry's famous desserts. They serve up peach cobbler, apple pie, custard pudding and cheese cake that all really do taste just like Grandma used to make. Note that the Original Pantry Cafe is cash only, so don't be caught short when the urge for their fluffy pancakes strikes in the middle of the night. (213-972-9279)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
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