- Isabella Mandich
Co-founder Isabella's LA Local Gems
Updated: Jan 13
LocalMeal was born out of the simple idea that the day-to-day places locals frequent are usually the ones most worth it. Besides their great price-quality ratios, they often have an intangible quality that keeps locals coming back again and again. But often, these places can be tough to find on popular platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Instagram. We call these spots the “hidden gems”.
Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, I have witnessed this phenomenon first-hand. My weekly go-to’s would not be first on your list if you’re a visitor. And even if you are a local, you may have not stumbled upon them yet since these spots are driven by word of mouth, mostly relying on trusted regulars for traffic.
I generally crave places which serve fresh, comforting food and which also facilitate light-hearted social experiences with friends and family. As co-founder of LocalMeal, I’m sharing some of my own LA local gems with the hope that when you visit and want to experience the city as a true local, this article will come in handy. Let’s dive in.
1. Cholada (Malibu)
Occasion: Casual lunch/dinner
Price Point: $20-25/person
If you were to drive along the PCH up the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu, chances are that you’d pass the small, slightly worn-out, light blue shack without even thinking of stopping by. But this beachy Malibu hut is home to delicious Thai food, and the atmosphere provides the perfect cozy pit-stop during your scenic coastal drive.
My favorite dish is the sea bass panang curry. My other go-tos are the gai koa, chicken satay, any of the signature soups, and mango-sticky rice (to top it all off).
2. Estate Coffee (Pacific Palisades)
Type: Coffee shop
Occasion: Quick coffee and breakfast
Price Point: $5-15/person
During the pandemic, my twin sister Sofia and I would walk to Estate every single morning. We would grab a coffee and pastry for pick-up, and continue our scenic walk down to the “bluffs” (a wonderful ocean view if you continue walking down the street Estate is located on - a must if you do end up going). The staff is wonderful and as self-proclaimed coffee experts, we approve.
My go-to’s are their iced oat vanilla latte, Estate scramble and ham and cheese croissant.
3. Bardonna (Santa Monica)
Type: Healthy cafe
Occasion: Social coffee/brunch
Price Point: $10-20/person
Anyone who knows me well knows that brunch is what makes me happiest in this world. It’s an opportunity for a much-needed life debrief with your close friends while picking at whatever food group you want! Eggs, avocado toast, hash browns, fruit, pancakes, sandwiches, banana bread - you name it. Bardonna has ample outdoor seating space off of Montana Avenue (a pretty tree-lined street featuring a wonderful mix of unique shops and cafes), perfect to enjoy the sunny LA weather.
Bardonna has the best hash browns I’ve had in LA and even as a non-vegan, I adore their vegan breakfast burrito (my suggestion is to order it without vegan cheese).
4. Courtyard Kitchen (Santa Monica)
Occasion: Breakfast, lunch, dinner
Price Point: $25-40/person
Courtyard Kitchen makes great use of the warm LA weather by serving their food in a warmly decorated courtyard as opposed to a stuffy indoor space. Courtyard Kitchen is just as good whether it’s to celebrate an occasion or for a casual meal out with friends.
Their flatbreads are delicious starters to share and I’m a personal fan of their mussels and kale-pesto fettuccini.
5. Angelini (Pacific Palisades)
Occasion: Special occasion
Price Point: $30-60/person
If you’re looking for a nicer place for an occasion, Angelini brings the quality and atmosphere you’re looking for without outrageous prices. Many of the pasta dishes range around $25, although the prices of meat and fish dishes do extend beyond that. My point is, you can have a first-class meal like this one without going to Beverly Hills which is often overpriced and packed with tourists.
My go-to is the simple Penne Rosa dish, although if you’re willing to spend a bit more, the branzino is also beautifully prepared.
6. Mauro Cafe (West Hollywood)
Occasion: Classy but laid-back lunch/dinner
Price Point: $25-40/person
I wouldn’t necessarily call this one a “hidden gem” from the perspective of locals, at least. In fact, Mauro’s has been enjoyed by many of Hollywood’s biggest names since 1992. What’s special about it is that despite this fact, it has managed to maintain a neighborhood, European-like atmosphere which many LA restaurants have lost. If you’re a pasta lover, you won’t be disappointed by the authentic Italian cooking.
My go-to is the signature Fred’s Pasta with pink sauce, chicken and peas – a combo you will never forget.
Of course, these aren’t the only 6 places I go to when I’m back home. But they cover a range of occasions you may be looking for from brunch to dinner, and from casual to elevated. Based on my 18 years of experience living in LA, you can trust that these spots have delivered consistently high-quality meals without losing their local charm – they’re the types of spots you will be able to find on the LocalMeal app when it’s released in a few months’ time.
If you want to keep hearing about more of our local favorites outside of London (between us three co-founders we can cover you for LA, Istanbul and Vienna), drop a like or leave a comment down below!