A New Bruin’s Guide to Exploring LA Through Food

Hi y’all!! My name is Alek and I’m a 4th-year student studying Geography and Environmental Studies. Being born and raised right here in Los Angeles, I hope I can give you the inside scoop of how to take on this city like a true Angelino! As a new Bruin, you’ll have the incredible opportunity to explore this amazing city throughout your college career.

My favorite way to experience a city for the first time is through food, and Los Angeles is no different. LA is made up of a diverse fabric of people (according to US Census Data, over 185 languages are spoken in the city) so I encourage all of you New Bruins to eat your way through this city to experience this incredible diversity firsthand.

So where to begin on a food tour of LA? I did say I was a geography major… let’s orient ourselves on the map.

UCLA is located in the heart of Westwood, a neighborhood within an area of Los Angeles generally called the West Side. When on campus, there are some good landmarks to orient yourself in the city. The Hills are to the North, the Airport to the South, the ocean to the West, and Downtown to the East. You can see all four from the 7th floor of Rieber Hall.

We begin our food tour just South of campus at an old school lunch counter and burger stand called The Apple Pan. Not much has changed since its founding in 1947. You walk up to a busy lunch counter, squeeze your way into a pair of swivel diner seats, and enjoy old school service. My go-to order is a hickory burger with fries and a cream soda, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The fries and food come out lighting fast, so you’ll be in and out quicker than they refill your paper water cup. Finish your meal with a slice of apple pie and a scoop of Danish vanilla Ice Cream!

You may already be stuffed, but this tour is a multiday affair. Our second stop is another favorite for Bruins: Sawtelle Japantown, only a quick hop from UCLA. Home to many fantastic Japanese restaurants, my usual go-to is Killer Noodle. The name says it all, their Ramen is deadly hot. Killer Noodle dishes can be ordered on two scales of burn, hotness, and numbness, both from levels 0 to 6. Their middle of the road 3 is a gnarly burn, and only those brave enough ever go past a 5. My order is the Tokyo-style ramen, with a big glass of yogurt drink.

Moving even further West, we’re now in Venice. You may know the Venice Boardwalk and Muscle Beach from numerous TV shows and movies about LA. Right off the sand in the heart of Venice is my favorite coffee shop, Menotti’s. Offering hip coffee drinks of all sorts, with vinyl records playing in the background, I usually order a cortado. If you’re feeling adventurous, find the picture of Menotti himself on the wall or ask a barista for their specials of the day.

Now that you’ve had a glimpse of the sunny beaches of LA, we’re going to take you further East to Hollywood. Just off of the Walk of Fame and away from the glitz and glamour of the Dolby Theater sits Thai Town, the only officially recognized Thai town in the US and home to some of the best Thai restaurants outside of Bangkok. My favorite is Jitlada Thai, a dig frequented by The Simpson’s creator Matt Groening. Just off of Sunset Boulevard, this family-owned establishment serves Southern Thai known for its robust seasoning and seafood dishes. My order is Coco Curry beef, a fiery stew with Thai eggplant and tender beef, followed Coco Mango Salad to cool off a bit, and Spicy Basil Eggplant to round it out. While almost everything on the menu will make you sweat, these amazing dishes will keep you coming back.

Our last stop on your first food tour of LA is Grand Central Market, a bustling marketplace in the heart of Downtown. Grand Central Market has been in continuous operation since 1917, making it two years older than UCLA. Recently refurbished, the market hosts everything from produce vendors to some of LA’s hottest eateries. I always head to Tacos Tumbras a Tomas to get two carnitas tacos with all the fixings, they pile them high with some of the juiciest pork I’ve ever had. After stuffing yourself with tacos, head over to a relatively new addition to the market, McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream, for a scoop of creamy goodness. You also can’t miss Sarita’s Pupuseria, the Salvadoran pupusa stand featured in the movie “La La Land.” After eating, you are only steps away from Angels Flight, one of the shortest operational railways in the world. Ride it up to the top of Bunker Hill and check out LA landmarks like MoMA and the Disney Concert Hall.

Grand Central Market in 2019

That was a whirlwind tour around the city through some of my favorite culinary institutions, but it is just a tiny glimpse of what LA has to offer. As a new Bruin and a new Angelino, you’ll have this incredible backdrop of a city to explore. I am still discovering this city through food, so I can’t wait to see you around town exploring the incredible culinary world of Los Angeles!