The South Bay’s Ethnic Eats
A local’s guide to the best in global cuisine … sans airfare.
- Written byBonnie Graves
Traffic, traffic, traffic. It’s the other woman, the problem, the obstacle to so much greatness in this city. From that friend you’d love to meet for tea (in Pomona!) to that promising business prospect (in Palos Verdes!) to your long-lost college roommate (in the Palisades!), drive time diminishes our personal relationships. It also limits our ability to take advantage of what is LA’s greatest offering … and no, it’s not movies.
Some may consider New York to be our country’s biggest melting pot, but as someone who’s done hard time on both coasts, I vote for Los Angeles when it comes to ethnic eats. Our incredible diversity of cuisine is epitomized by the swirling Babel chaos at LAX’s Tom Bradley terminal. It’s reflected in unexpected integrations like Kogi taco trucks and uni ice cream intermezzos. With so much culinary opportunity, get out of your comfort zone this spring and dine a little differently.
This tiny outpost of deliciousness has been nourishing hungry surfers and broke USC grads for more than two decades. El Tarasco is primarily a place to grab a bite at the counter (there’s no table service) or to order some take-out. While you might expect Baja-style fish tacos to be the star so near the beach, it’s really the burritos and perhaps their gargantuan size that has won legions of fans. With additional locations in Redondo and in El Segundo, El Tarasco is a mainstay in the South Bay for yummy Mexican and Tex-Mex that won’t break the bank.
316 Rosecrans Avenue
in Manhattan Beach
As one online enthusiast raved, the food court at the Mitsuwa Marketplace is “like Disneyland for people who love Japanese food.” Touted as the largest Japanese grocery store in the U.S., the sheer breadth of the culinary offerings at Mitsuwa can be overwhelming. From amazing sushi at Daikichi (at killer prices) to the nabeyaki udon at Miaybi Tei to yummy mochi and a blizzard of pretty Japanese pastries, the food court offers an authentic slice of cuisine and culture. Check out the bookstore and the straight-from-Tokyo vending machines dispensing tiny Domo-kuns, too. Come hungry and bring cash! Most outlets in the food court do not accept credit cards.
21515 South Western Avenue in Torrance
A rave review from Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and a spot on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate program have put this humble Lawndale restaurant on the culinary map—and with good reason. It’s outstanding. Opened in 1998 by Chef Hasan Zaidi, Al-Noor primarily features the fiery curries and meat-based cuisines of Pakistan with nods to the southern, more vegetable-driven food of India. Start with Zaidi’s addictive garlic naan, dipped into creamy raita, before wading into spicy-town; as the menu warns, be sure to let your server know just how hot you like your curry. Adventurous diners might try the paya (goat hoof simmered in spicy sauce), while more timid folks will surely be happy with Zaidi’s classic chicken tikka masala.
15112 Inglewood Avenue in Lawndale
While Los Angeles offers a huge variety of Asian eats, it’s perhaps in our Korean food that we are most blessed. K-Town, we love thee, but what’s a BBQ enthusiast jonesing for some kimchee, kalbi and bulgogi to do if you don’t feel like heading north? Head east instead on Redondo Beach Boulevard and stop at Jang Soo for an all-you-can-eat splurge that lives up to its billing. Like many Korean restaurants, it’s light on ambience and service, but the sheer volume of the feast (often just $17.99 per person) more than makes up for these oversights. Not sure how to BBQ your own proteins? Ask for help and ask for more ban chan or side dishes too. Wear elastic waist pants—Jang Soo proves that AYCE deserves to be a four-letter word in its own right.
1404 W Redondo Beach Boulevard
in Gardena, 310-327-9292
OK, so French cuisine isn’t exactly ethnic in the way that we tend to define the term, yet this little hidden treasure in Palos Verdes is worth seeking out. It’s been around forever, yet many South Bay residents have somehow missed it. La Rive Gauche is like a tiny time capsule of Frenchiness, with dated décor and a menu that are both charmingly unchanged since its opening in 1976. Do you like classic garlicky escargot or pine for duck a l’orange? Looking for Coquilles St. Jacques done Julia Child style or fancy an old-school soufflé ordered with your apps so as to arrive at dessert? With the buzz surrounding Midnight in Paris, everything Left Bank is suddenly so very au courant. Note: Consider bringing your own bottle of wine and eating the corkage fee along with your meal—the list is vastly overpriced.
La Rive Gauche
320 Tejon Place in Palos Verdes Estates
Living here in the South Bay, we often forget beach life exists outside our own strip of paradise.