Here are 15 places to take the kids – or take a date – where you don’t have to dress up. They are CA’s, America’s best casual restaurants.
Emily Holland , Patch Staff
California has great restaurants galore – but a lot of them come at a hefty price. What about the places that are casual and cheap, but still serve fantastic food? On a list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America for 2018 by The Daily Meal, a whopping 15 restaurants from California are among the nation’s best casual dining.
The Daily Meal says that, since its 2011 founding, its set out to compile a comprehensive ranking of the 101 Best Restaurants in America . “However, we’ve been hit with a dilemma: Does a restaurant like, say, the venerable Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, Connecticut, as stellar as it is for what it does, really belong in the same ranking as a place like Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park , with its three Michelin stars?”
“That’s why four years ago we decided to separate out the casual from the fancy with an initial ranking of 50 casual restaurants, expanded to 101 in 2015,” the website says. “From hot dog shacks to taco joints, from neighborhood hangouts to legendary barbecue spots, these are amazing restaurants where price is no barrier to entry and you’ll feel right at home in jeans.
The Daily Meal’s criteria:
- “Can two people fill themselves up and get out for less than $50, excluding tip and alcohol?”
- Is there “an overall comfortable and relaxed ambiance”
- Does it have “a ‘destination’ status (that is, is the place worth traveling for?), and a proven reputation and longevity?”
The Daily Meal compiled a list of America’s best purveyors of pizza , burgers , hot dogs , tacos , and more, ending up with more than 500 restaurants that the website believes represent a vast cross-section of America and the casual restaurants that make them great.
“From there we assembled a survey, and sent it out to a panel of hundreds of America’s leading culinary authorities. We asked them to vote for their favorites, but only ones that they’d dined at within the past two years.”
The 15 restaurants in California that made the list of best casual restaurants are:
- La Taquería, San Francisco (#11)
- “When it comes to leaders of a culinary genre, there are few restaurants in America with greater gravitas for their respective focus than San Francisco 's La Taqueria has for tacos and burritos. That gives it, and its tacos (carnitas among them, quite arguably the best), quite a heavy reputation to live up to. La Taqueria, just one of the Mission's many casual Mexican joints, does Mexican the way it should be done: fresh. As if the amazing rice-free burritos weren't enough (you'd never notice its absence), there are the tacos. To prepare the carnitas, chef/owner Miguel Jara slow-cooks chunks of pork shoulder in cauldrons of bubbling lard until tender, then roasts it until it's crispy. When it’s tucked into a double layer of corn tortillas (or a fresh flour tortilla) and topped with your choice of pinto beans, onions, pico de gallo, cheese, crema, or guacamole (or none of the above), there's no better taco, or burrito, in America.”
- Philippe the Original, Los Angeles (#12)
- “Countless restaurants serve French dip sandwiches, but the definitive version can still be found at the restaurant where it was invented: Los Angeles' Philippe the Original . Because it's been around for 105 years, the exact origins of the sandwich are disputed. (The most commonly held belief is that it was created as a way to soften up day-old bread, but nobody knows where the "French" part came from.) However, the process behind this masterpiece is no mystery: Bottom round is seasoned with salt, pepper, and mashed garlic, slow-roasted with a mirepoix until medium-rare, and sliced and placed onto a fresh French roll from a local bakery that's been dunked into jus made with homemade stock and the intensely flavored pan drippings.”
- Pink’s, Los Angeles (#14)
- “Is there anything about Pink's that hasn't been said? It's hard to imagine. Even detractors define themselves by this famous casual spot. But you won't find many naysayers — just check out the line at this family-owned hot dog stand that has been around since 1939. At our last count, owner Richard Pink said he sold 35 varieties of hot dogs and toppings and moves on average about 2,000 hot dogs a day. Credit much of Pink's success to its chili, which once led then-New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl to go dumpster-diving to figure out the recipe (true story). And while he wouldn't divulge its ingredients, Pink did offer one hint in an interview with The Daily Meal : “It needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers.””
- Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles (#20)
- “Renowned baker and chef Nancy Silverton runs Osteria Mozza , a Los Angeles hot spot where the famous clientele pales in comparison to the innovative, creative fare. The pizzeria, which is attached to the main Osteria Mozza, offers a variety of Italian specialties from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan-style pizzas steal the show. Their list of 21 pies ranges from $12 for a simple flatbread of olive oil, garlic, mozzarella, and fontina to $25 for a more unique pie with squash blossoms, tomato, and burrata cheese — a delicious and simple pizza that transports through the quality and nuance of its ingredients. It's no surprise that they've taken a stab at duplicating the success of this model pizzeria, opening locations in Newport Beach and Singapore .”
- Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Los Angeles (#33)
- ” Roscoe's does two things, and they do them very, very well: chicken and waffles . Founded in 1975 by Harlem native Herb Hudson and now with seven locations throughout the Los Angeles area, Roscoe's helped to popularize a culinary combination that many consider strange until they try it. The wide and flat waffles pair perfectly with syrup-drenched fried chicken , which is fried according to a secret recipe until it's light and crispy. Often imitated, never duplicated, Roscoe's is the true original and a Los Angeles institution.”
- Gott’s, St. Helena (#39)
- “Back in 2011, Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, a popular California hamburger mini-chain, renamed its four locations (Napa, St. Helena, Palo Alto, and San Francisco’s Ferry Building) because its owners, brothers Joel and Duncan Gott, didn’t own rights to the original name and couldn't persuade its owners to let them trademark it. It may have been jarring to see the name change and the neon-lit red G, but what didn't change when they adopted the family name Gott’s Roadside was the storied third-of-a-pound grilled Niman Ranch burgers.”
- Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco (#40)
- “It's one thing to be considered an expert on how to make Neapolitan pizza — and with too many awards to count (eight-time world champion pizza acrobat, first-place world champion pizza maker, first-place Roman pizza world championships of pizza makers) Tony Gemignani is definitely considered that. It's another thing to also proudly offer, and be commended for being a master of, any and all pizza styles. But that's what goes on at Tony's Pizza Napoletana .”
- La Azteca Tortilleria, Los Angeles (#41)
- “Raved about by famished travelers and locals alike, the chile relleno burrito at La Azteca Tortilleria is a thing of beauty and a destination unto itself. They offer other options like carnitas and carne asada, but the cheese-stuffed, perfectly fried chile relleno that makes up the bulk of this burrito is what sets it apart, elevating the humble poblano to heights of Tex-Mex greatness (while you're at it, you might as well have them add some carne asada to it as well). It's everything you look for in Tex-Mex cuisine all in one perfect bite.”
- Langer’s Deli, Los Angeles (#45)
- “Opened by Russian immigrants who relocated from New York to Los Angeles, Langer's is a deli steeped in tradition. The deli is best known for its No. 19 sandwich, made with hot pastrami, coleslaw, a slice of Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on hot rye bread. The deli also serves a soul-satisfying chicken-in-the-pot, loaded with matzo balls, chicken, noodles, and vegetables; the house-made pastrami is also steamed until it's falling apart and then sliced by hand.”
- Loteria Grill, Los Angeles (#47)
- “With three locations around Los Angeles , Loteria Grill is a bit of an LA institution, and the one in Hollywood holds the reputation as the best of the lot. Many repeat customers will encourage you to order the taco platter, but if we had to pick just one variety, we'd go with the carne deshebrada: braised shredded beef, cilantro, guacamole, onions, and salsa roja.”
- Canter’s Deli, Los Angeles (#49)
- “After its humble beginnings on the East Coast in Jersey City, this 24-hour Jewish deli has been a Los Angeles staple since 1931. Its bakery is the heart and soul of the operation, where it pumps out items like bagels, rye bread, pumpernickel, and challah several times daily. All of its signature sandwiches like pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, or oven-roasted turkey are served on rye, unless the customer requests otherwise. Today, it also caters to the vegetarian and gluten-free communities by offering gluten-free buns, bagels, and matzoh. A Las Vegas outpost has opened as well.”
- Guisados, Los Angeles (#50)
- “With three locations in Los Angeles, Guisados celebrates the simplicity of Mexican food through a focused menu of tacos made with traditional, home-style braises served in fresh, handmade tortillas. They offer different options for each main taco group, including steak, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetarian. As for the pork tacos, diners can sample chicharrón , chorizo, chuleta en salsa verde, and cochinita pibil . Wash it all down with a melon, lemon, or hibiscus agua fresca and you'll find yourself in taco heaven.”
- Guelaguetza, Los Angeles (#53)
- “With the 1994 opening of Guelaguetza , the Lopez family introduced Los Angeles to authentic Oaxacan cuisine. Now the number of local Oaxacan restaurants trails only those of Mexico City and Oaxaca itself, at least according to respected critic Jonathan Gold — and much of that can be attributed to the success of this Koreatown spot. Named for Oaxaca's famous traditional summertime festival, Guelaguetza is a year-round destination for its tamales, memelas (chubby cornmeal cakes similar to sopes), unstuffed enchiladas, and of course, exquisite moles.”
- The Apple Pan, Los Angeles (#54)
- ” This standalone counter-only burger-and-pie place in West Los Angeles hasn’t changed since it opened in 1947 (well, except for the prices). The Apple Pan’s signature Hickory Burger is a juicy round of hickory-smoked ground beef on a reasonably standard bun anointed with mayonnaise and a secret sauce that tastes like slightly spiced-up ketchup (spring for some Tillamook Cheddar for an extra 50 cents). It's a masterpiece (and everyone who goes there seems to order one), but other standouts include Southern baked ham and Swiss, perfect French fries, and flawless old-school pies.”
- Tito’s Tacos, Culver City (#55)
- “This Los Angeles Westside institution is famous for its plump burritos (like one with chili con carne and refried beans that people dream about), but for good old American-style tacos — the kind purists scorn — it’s hard to beat this place. The beef is long-cooked and shredded, not ground. The shredded Cheddar is tart, and the julienned iceberg is crisp and cool. It's nothing short of hard-shell taco perfection.”
The complete list of 101 Best Casual Restaurants in America can be seen here . (Get Patch real-time email alerts for the latest news from your California neighborhood . Also, download the free Patch iPhone app or free Patch Android app . Also, be sure to follow your local Patch on Facebook!)
Did any of your favorite California casual restaurants not make the list? Let us know in the comments.
Patch staffer Tom Davis contributed to this post; Image via Shutterstock
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