How to Dine Like a Star in L.A.
Nyesha Arrington shares her hometown favoritesLeah Koenig
July 19, 2019
Nyesha Arrington is a chef in search of great texture. Over the course of our recent conversation about her ideal places to eat in Los Angeles, that word came up again and again as a touchstone of what makes a restaurant—be it Korean barbecue, American-style tacos, or old school Italian sandwiches—truly great.
It should come as no surprise that she also seeks out texture in the rest of her life. The Top Chef and Chef Hunter alum recently traded life fronting her own brick-and-mortar restaurants (Native, Leona) for a more freewheeling approach to chef life. Recent and upcoming projects include shooting a food documentary in Belize, a collaborative dinner in New Zealand, and a chefs’ tour of Israel. She is traveling so much that she recently had a layover in her home city in between a cooking expedition in Utah and a three-night dinner pop-up in Hong Kong. “That was a first for me!” she said. When life brings her home to Los Angeles, she recharges and reconnects by hitting up her favorite spots, which she shares with us below.
If we are talking favorite restaurants, Cassia is definitely on the list. I love the way the space looks, with these massive ceilings and an open fire element. I went on a date there recently and we both suggested the same place! The menu is so perfect—not at all watered down. I love the chickpea curry, the spicy wontons with rock shrimp and ginger, and the fried rice. It is a charcuterie fried rice so it has sausage in it and these little tiny salted fish. It is super aromatic and the texture is impeccable.
Another great place is Dear John’s, which recently opened in Culver City. There is a very retro Sinatra vibe inside so you feel like you are stepping back in time when you go there. And their chicken parm is delicious—really moist with flavorful marinara. The breading is texturally so satisfying—super crisp and Panko-y.
I have been going to Park’s BBQ, which is a Korean barbecue [spot], for a really long time. It is a no-frills, super classic kind of place, but it is such an important part of the Los Angeles dining scene. It is open late so a lot of chefs go there after service, and [you] can get a bomb meal. When you look at the wall of chefs who have dined there, it reads like a who’s who, or a timeline of the era. The meat is impeccable and their kimchi is just great.
I have also been going to Bay Cities forever. I always get the godmother sandwich which is stuffed with cold cuts and provolone and spicy peppers. It’s delicious. The restaurant and the neighborhood it’s in are very close to my heart. When I’m home I like to put my dog in the basket of my bike and head over. I have some big memories from there.
For tacos, I love Tito’s Tacos. They are very non-traditional, very much American-style tacos. But the craveability of the shells is huge. They are the most crunchy, perfectly cooked things. I always get ground beef topped with shredded cheddar cheese and iceberg lettuce. They taste like your mom made them, but also like they are the best taco ever.
For coffee, I love Hilltop. Honestly I am going to sound so Californian, but the avocado toast is so bomb. And their beverage program is really creative. They make these summery sparkling coolers made of seltzer and fresh fruit juices. They are super refreshing and thoughtfully made.
Nyesha Arrington’s Los Angeles Dining Guide
Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery (Italian)
1517 Lincoln Blvd; 310-395-8279
1314 7th St; 310-393-6699
Dear John’s (Italian, Retro American)
11208 Culver Blvd; 310-881-9288
Hilltop Coffee and Kitchen (Cafe)
4427 W. Slauson
Park’s BBQ (Korean)
955 S. Vermont Ave; 213-380-1717
Tito’s Tacos (Mexican)
11222 Washington Pl; 310-391-5780
Leah Koenig is a food writer, author of several cookbooks including Modern Jewish Cooking (Chronicle Books), and cooking instructor living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram at @leah.koenig.