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From Southern California to the North Coast, California is a state full of breathtaking vistas and unique attractions that millions of tourists flock to each year. And to celebrate all the great food and drink that the country’s most populous state has to offer, we’ve rounded up 44 of the Golden State’s claims to culinary fame as part of our first-annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
Courtesy of Julian Pie Company
Julian, a town in the mountains northeast of San Diego, is famous for apple pie. Julian Pie Company is a family-run business, founded in 1986 by Liz Smothers, that specializes in apple pies (though other kinds are available). Their pies have become so popular that they are now delivered to San Diego and Riverside counties, as well as shipped throughout the United States. Their Facebook page is filled with five-star reviews and comments: “T’was the best apple pie I’ve had”; “The Dutch Apple Pie topped with the cinnamon ice cream is simply amazing”; “Best pie in the world”; and “super fabulous.”
Photo by Elena N. via Yelp
You’d think California’s best bar would be located somewhere in Los Angeles, given the city’s legendary food & drinks scene, but it’s actually right in the Bay Area. Another one of Esquire’s best bars in America, Bar Agricole (which means “farm bar” in French) is still quintessentially Californian. With a true contemporary look, their menu offers natural wines, farmhouse-distilled drinks, and delicious NorCal food full of organic ingredients from local and biodynamic farms.
Courtesy of Russian River Brewing Company
Released at Russian River Brewing Company on the first Friday in February and available for only two weeks at the pub, Pliny the Younger is The Daily Meal’s third best beer in the world. So obviously it’s the best brew in California. Those lucky enough to get a glass of this understand how beautiful the blend of hops in this triple IPA truly is.
An open charcoal grill sends aromas wafting through this dimly lit, elegantly modern churrascaria, inviting in hungry diners. The picanha here lives up to the aroma, and meat-eaters won’t be disappointed with the other offerings like marinated spareribs. The hot buffet has tasty creamed corn, beef stroganoff, and stuffed peppers. A cold soda, Guarana Antarctica, is just the thing for those not drinking wine or cocktails, and everyone raves about M Grill’s pineapple, grilled with cinnamon and sugar. Exemplary service throughout the meal makes this an even better experience.
What do you get when you go to Father’s Office, chef Sang Yoon’s gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretension. It has the wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it’s clean, to the point, and one of The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Casual Restaurants of 2017. You’ll find great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel with fennel and onions). You can also “Eat Big” and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But let’s face it: you’re there for the Office Burger, which many people in LA refer to as the city’s best burger. There’s nothing frou-frou about it, just arugula, bacon, caramelized onion, Gruyère, and Maytag Blue on a loaf that’s more similar to a baguette than a bun. It’s a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. The fries are also among America’s best, but don’t forget that there’s no ketchup on the premises.
Boos Philly Cheesesteaks and Hoagies/Yelp
This family-run shop is serving the best cheesesteaks in Los Angeles, starting with rolls shipped in from Philadelphia’s Amoroso’s. The formula here is simple — griddled thin-sliced rib-eye, grilled onions, and your choice of American, Cheese Whiz, or provolone — but the ratio is a lot harder to perfect than you might think. These guys hit the nail on the head.
At this quaint and unassuming country store in
northern California, biscuit sandwiches and slow-cooked brisket are among the top sellers, but those in the know go for their Chain Gang Chili. To make the chili, pork shoulder is rubbed with nearly a dozen spices including chili powder, ground bay leaf, cumin, thyme, cinnamon, and clove and slow-smoked for five hours. It’s then braised in a rich stock for three hours before being shredded and mixed with a ground beef chili made with nearly a dozen more spices, fresh pasilla chiles, and kidney beans. It’s then cooked down for an hour and tightened up with cornmeal slurry, and the end result is rich, layered, and so thick you can stand a spoon in it.
The secret to this perpetually crowded Hong Kong-style restaurant’s success? It sends its staff to Asia on occasion to learn about the newest dining trends and then incorporates them into the menu back home. This sprawling Daly City, California, restaurant and event space opened in 1996 and has been one of the Bay Area’s top Chinese spots since day one.
World-class dim sum is the name of the game during lunchtime, but once dinnertime rolls around, Koi Palace becomes a seafood destination with entire menu sections dedicated to abalone, crab, shrimp, and lobster. Though these preparations are spot-on authentic, there’s plenty of room to be daring: Goose intestine chow fun, anyone? We’ll stick with the whole suckling pig, selling for $190, or its legendary Shanghai crab dumplings.
Known for their irreverent labels, Lagunitas has been one of America’s fastest-growing craft breweries, opening a Chicago outpost in 2014 and a third operation that’s just recently been built in Azusa, California. Long known for their association with marijuana, they even named a beer “Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale” in reference to the brewery’s
twenty-day suspension of operations as the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control investigated alleged cannabis dealing amongst the brewery’s staff. No charges were filed, but another great beer was born.
Yelp/ Celeste M.
This small, family-run bakery began as a passion for cookies but quickly grew into a gourmet cookie and cupcake destination. The delectable cupcake creations come in a variety of flavors like Boston cream pie, PB&J, red velvet and tres leches, to name a few. They also offer French macarons and “sumptuous cinnamon rolls” along with their growing list of cupcakes and custom cookies.
Tony Gemignani is a master pizza chameleon, an expert at more pizza styles than you’ve ever tasted. No surprise then that his red-boothed, brick-walled homage to Chicago-style pizza in San Francisco’s North Beach landed on our list of the 101 best pizzas in America. And by Chicago-style, we mean a choice between deep dish, cast iron pan, stuffed, and cracker
For 30 years, bikers, punkers, and indie rockers alike have been congregating at Zeitgeist in San Francisco. Though the clientele has classed up a bit over the years, the bartenders are still crusty and the barbecue is still greasy. Don’t leave without trying one of their legendary Bloody Marys and drinking it out on the sprawling patio.
Photo by Bouchon Bakery via Yelp
There’s some hot competition for the title of best doughnut in California, but after much debate and deliberation, we honestly believe that Bouchon Bakery deserves to win. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro fries several varieties of doughnuts to be sold at his bakery next door. The rich confections of brioche-like, buttery dough are filled with fresh, seasonal preserves to create the best doughnuts in the state.
The Santa Monica Wednesday Market is the largest grower-only certified market in Southern California and is a favorite of top Los Angeles chefs and locals alike. They also offer a number of healthy-eating education outreach programs for both children and adults. The quantity and quality of the produce, along with a host of other reasons, make our No. 1 pick for Best Farmers Market in America!
Food Fix is the best food truck in California. The Modesto-based truck offers some fantastic food creations unlike anything you’ve ever seen on wheels (or at all, in most cases). Think sandwiches like the “Porkstrami and Pre
ztel,” “Root Beer Pulled Pork,” and “Angry Bleubird” with mesquite grilled chicken, pepper jack cheese, and homemade blue cheese dressing. Food Fix also offers some salads, but that would mean missing out on the sandwiches!
Yelp/ Tamar A.
The French fries at rock star chef Ludo Lefebvre’s casual Petit Trois take three days to prepare, and are the result of a fair amount of trial and error. Skin-on Kennebec potatoes are cut and soaked in cold water overnight, blanched the following day, and fried again to order. Though Petit Trois prepared fries in beef tallow upon the restaurant’s opening, Lefebvre is currently frying them in clarified butter, making it one of the only restaurants in the country to do so. The results, if it’s not already obvious, are spectacular. Eschew the ketchup and aïoli and instead dunk them is cheesy house-made Mornay sauce.
Yelp/ Randy F.
Since 1971, this cash-only restaurant has been serving some of the country’s finest seafood out of a nearly 100-year-old building located right on the water. Along with clam chowder and fried calamari, the fish and chips are the most popular option on the menu, and they don’t disappoint. Thick-sliced rock cod gets a light tempura-style coating and comes out golden brown and delicious, served alongside thick-cut steak fries that need nothing more than a sprinkling of salt.
Yelp / Alvin C
This late-night spot, originally located in Hollywood, has been serving fried chicken and waffles since 1975 — when owner and Harlem-bred Herb Hudson brought some recipes from home to the West Coast — and has since expanded into a small local chain of restaurants. The list of celebrity diners is endless (which is no surprise, considering its Los Angeles locale), but regulars include Snoop Dogg and Larry King; even President Obama made a pit stop at Roscoe’s during a visit to Los Angeles. The chicken is skillet-fried fresh to order, and make sure to ask for your waffles to be cooked extra-crispy.
Dave L. via Yelp
Berkeley Bowl Marketplace is quite a remarkable grocery store. It carries a vast range of products and foods, and also offers a large organic produce section with reasonable prices. A Google reviewer said it best: “This is probably the best grocery store I have ever been to. The fruit section has a huge section of every kind of fruit you can think of…
Good prices as well.”
Yelp/ Cesar R.
Mario Batali and partner Joe Bastianich teamed up with La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton to open this stunner of an Italian restaurant that specializes in fresh handmade pastas. Their ricotta and egg raviolo is a master class in making this difficult-to-execute dish, but the real star is the simple and perfect goat cheese ravioli with Coach Farm goat cheese and “five lilies,” meaning five members of the allium, or onion, family.
Dave L. via Yelp
Is there anything to say about Pink’s that hasn’t been said? Hard to imagine. Even detractors define themselves by it. But you won’t find many of those — 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 offers 35 varieties of hot dogs and toppings and sells on average about 2,000 hot dogs a day. Credit much of Pink’s success to its chili — it once led then New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl to gdumpster-diving to figure out the recipe (true story). And while he wouldn’t divulge its ingredients, in an interview with The Daily Meal, Pink did note “that it needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers.” For all the bacon-, sour cream-, guacamole-, pastrami-, and nacho cheese-topped hot dogs, the Three Dog Night is the right move. This “dog” (shouldn’t it really be called a meal?) features three hot dogs wrapped in a giant tortilla with three slices of cheese, three slices of bacon, chili, and onions. It’s a best-seller that was born the Laker Three-Peat Dog, was then renamed after Matrix Reloaded, and after the movie had its run, finally settled into a permanent homage to the ‘70s rock band.
Yelp/ Christina A.
Guests are invited to grill their own steak at this unique restaurant (not a strip club), and the savings are passed down to the customer. Choice Angus beef is dry aged for 21 days and marinated in olive oil and garlic, and all entrées are served with salad and garlic bread. A 10-ounce skirt steak costs $16.95, a 10-ounce steak marinated in Guinness and garlic costs $18.95, and a 14-ounce bone-in rib-eye costs just $21.95.
Yelp / Steve R
Founded in 1936, and thus one of the oldest (almost) continuously operated bars in LA (it closed briefly in 2013, but was reopened by a regular patron who took it over), Tom Bergin’s was said to have been one of the inspirations for the ‘80s sitcom Cheers, and also has long disputed with San Francisco’s Buena Vista Café over which one of them introduced Irish coffee to America.
Located in a historic brick
both charming and elegant. Chef and owner Michael Tusk, who won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific, creates an Italian dining experience rooted in his relationships with a tightly knit network of only the best Northern California food purveyors. Every night, the 12-course tasting menu ($250) features vegetable-driven dishes highlighting the season’s produce, including some things grown on the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Those hoping to sample the food (and a wide variety of caviar) without splashing out on a tasting menu should visit the salon, where they can order à la carte. Now’s as good a time as any to visit - Quince has been bumped from two Michelin stars to three.
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.
Sam’s Chowder House
The lobster rolls served at Sam’s hit all the right notes: First, they’re gorgeous to look at, with massive chunks of super-fresh lobster dressed with just a little bit of drawn butter, fresh herbs, and celery, and tucked into a custom-baked bun. Second, the view from the deck out across the Pacific is second to none. Third, it’s about as New England an experience as you can get, but 3,000 miles away. With a menu that’s brimming with local seafood as well as specialties like cioppino, bacon-wrapped crabmeat-stuffed prawns, and a grilled rib-eye, it’s not just one of the best lobster rolls in the Bay Area, it’s one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area.
The macaroni and cheese at chef Cory Obenour’s Blue Plate was created more than
ten years ago and is still one of the most popular menu items. The secret ingredient? Semi-firm drunken goat cheese, from Murcia, Spain, which is cured in red wine. When combined with elbow macaroni, white Cheddar, Tabasco, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard, the finished product is creamy, tangy, a little spicy, and worthy of cultish devotion.
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 legendary Urasawa is one of America’s finest Japanese restaurants, with two Michelin stars to its name, and it’s also not just the most expensive restaurant in California, but in the whole country. It boasts a daily-changing omakase menu of 25 or more courses, which will set you back $400 before tax, tip, and beverages. The average check costs more than $1,000 per person.
Yelp/ Howie C.
At this popular truck, you’ll find a wide variety of creative grilled cheeses, including the Pepperbelly Melt (chili, habanero Jack cheese, cilantro-lime sour cream, tomato salsa, and Fritos); Cheesy Mac ‘n’ Rib (mac and cheese, smoked barbecue pork, barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, and sharp Cheddar); and Brie Melt (brie, sliced pears, fresh thyme, toasted almonds, and honey). There are also a ton of add-ons available, including chili, Fritos, caramelized onions, brown butter apples, and peanut butter.
Chef Michael Tusk’s Cotogna, along with its next-door predecessor Quince, are constantly raising the bar for what can be done with simple, seasonal California ingredients. Cotogna celebrates rustic Italian cuisine with a daily-changing selection of grilled meats and fish, wood oven pizzas, and house
Yelp/ Dean C.
Osteria Mozza is a Los Angeles hot spot where the famous clientele pales in comparison to the innovative, creative fare. The pizzeria, attached to the main restaurant, offers a variety of Italian specialties, from antipasti to bruschetta, but the Neapolitan pizzas steal the show.
Their list of 21 pies ranges from a simple aglio e olio, a classic cheese pizza, to a more unique pie with squash blossoms, tomato, and burrata — a delicious and simple pizza that transports through the quality and nuance of its ingredients. No matter where you eat this pizza or what you order, you’re going to get a beautifully executed, superior puffy cornicione and excellent ingredients.
Los Angeles is a city that thrives on food trucks and pop-ups, but sometimes a no-holds-barred fine
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. (The “single dip” means that just the top half is dunked, but the more popular “double dip” includes both halves.)
This colorfully cool Pismo Beach cafe is making waves in the world of West Coast seafood with its award-winning clam chowder. The chowder is made from scratch every day, and Splash says it serves more than 20,000 gallons per year. Other much-loved menu items include fresh salmon, ahi tuna tacos, crispy hot fish and chips, and fresh calamari. Order some chowder, pull up a picnic table, and soak in its beachfront views.
Esther’s German Bakery / Facebook
Esther’s provides pretzels to many of San Francisco’s leading German spots like Schmidt’s and gastropubs like Monk’s Kettle, so you know that these pretzels are great. Opened by a husband-and-wife duo who emigrated from Germany in 1997, they use an old family recipe to craft their pretzels. The pretzels can be purchased at their Los Altos café as well as at more than 20 farmers markets and specialty shops throughout the Bay Area.
Yelp/ Adam S.
Hog Island is one of the most famous restaurants in San Francisco, with a second location in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, and their oysters, from Tomales Bay, really are something special. For those in the know, their chowder is also a must-order. The bowl is loaded with bacon, potatoes, and cream, it’s also overflowing with fresh manila clams still in their shell.
This funky Mission District standoutdoes its spaghetti right, as the name might imply. And the best way to sample them? Tossed with house-made chunky marinara sauce and served with three 100-percent beef meatballs. Take a look around and you’ll notice that everyone else is eating them, because they’re just that good.
This swanky Argentinian steakhousecooks all of its meats on a wood-fired grill, and its wide selection of steaks, small plates, and South American specialties makes it one of the city’s most exciting steakhouses. You can also eat very well here on the cheap: A six-ounce entraña (skirt steak) costs $18, an eight-ounce aguja (flatiron steak) costs $19, and a 12-ounce tira (cross-cut beef short rib) costs $18.
Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine (and gave us California-style pizza) at Spago, pioneered Asian fusion food at Chinois on Main, and even figured out a way to produce decent airport food at his many Wolfgang Puck Express outlets, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he has also reinvented the steakhouse with CUT in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (there are now spin-offs in Las Vegas, London, and Singapore). The traditional red leather booths and bucolic paintings have given way to a cool white interior by rationalist architect Richard Meier and a series of pieces by conceptual artist John Baldessari. In place of iceberg wedges and grilled swordfish, look for warm veal tongue with baby artichokes and roast Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon. Oh, and the steaks? Not the usual four or five choices, but a total of 17 cuts and places of origin, from Australian filet mignon to Illinois bone-in New York sirloin to genuine Japanese Wagyu ribeye from Miyazaki Prefecture. Puck has reinvented the steakhouse experience at CUT, and what he’s done is nothing short of mind-blowing.
This two-Michelin-star Japanese culinary shrine, with a sushi bar and just enough room for 10 diners nightly, located in a shopping center off of Rodeo Drive, might be called the West Coast version of New York City’s Masa. That’s not surprising: Not only did Urasawa chef-owner Hiroyuki Urasawa train under Masa Takayama before opening his eponymous restaurant here, but the spot previously housed Takayama’s Ginza Sushi-ko, where Masa made his reputation. Urasawa has a nearly 30-course omakase menu that changes daily, not to be missed if you can afford to pay $395 for the privilege.
Photo by Winnie L. via Yelp
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. 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 and topped with your choice of pinto beans, onions, pico de gallo, cheese, crema, or guacamole (or none of the above), there just might be no better taco in America. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.