Welcome to L.A. Week on First We Feast. As part of our continuing initiative to devote more coverage to Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week to explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its most vaunted chefs, to its gritty underbelly.
Last year, New York Times food critic Pete Wells drew our attention to the rise of camera cuisine: “Any dish inspired by a picture or aspires to be one, [and] in purest form it is both exquisitely photogenic and peculiarly bland.” His theory applies to the food scene at large, but it perhaps resonates more deeply with the paparazzi- and food truck-obsessed twitterati of Los Angeles.
Mobile operations like Roy Choi’s Kogi (which, mind you, is by no means “bland”) leveraged social media to garner a cultish following. Snapping a photo of your galbi taco was the consummate pay-off for tracking your meal on a mobile device.
In camera-ready Los Angeles, the same instinct to snap a photo of Katy Perry walking down Sunset Boulevard is now re-focused on decadent omakase tasting menus, or fro-yo dates with friends. As a response, some restaurants enforced strict policies prohibiting photography (which, in its own twisted way, has encouraged diners even more so to sneak pictures of Bucato’s cacio e pepe #Guilty). On the other hand, a spot like Eggslut in Grand Central Market provides further evidence that a willingness to encourage photography can quickly launch a dish to food-porn stardom. Factor in Angelenos’ obsessive nature to hunt down the next Jitlada and you’re left with a groundswell of hyper-active food ‘grammers.
To find out which L.A. restaurants are really thriving on the photo-sharing platform, we teamed up with MyFab5 to attempt a bit of semi-scientific analysis and uncover the 20 most-Instagrammed dishes in Los Angeles, just as we did to determine NYC’s favorites. Here’s the breakdown:
- We used data provided by MyFab5 to find out which restaurants had the most food-related Instagrams in 2014.
- We found the restaurant’s geotag for its most well-known L.A. location, then looked at the photos to see which dish drives the most ‘grams (sample size: ~100). In most cases, the star of the show was pretty obvious.
- We ranked each dish’s popularity based upon MyFab5’s ranking of the restaurant where it’s served.
So, what kind of food town is Los Angeles? Does it favor big-name, celebrity-endorsed dishes over the obscure street-foods? Here’s what we found about what grub the City of Angels ‘grams the most.
20. Latte at Go Get Em Tiger
The latte isn’t a runaway favorite here, but people shouted it out it more than any other drink. What isn’t debatable: Go Get Em Tiger is a coffee joint located on the ultra-trendy Larchmont Avenue, next to Hancock Park mansions and well-manicured lawns.
19. A bowl of vodka punch at Tart
The fact that Instagram users called out vodka punch bowls most often when visiting Tart makes the restaurant nothing more than a spiffier version of your college’s most notorious bar. The blatant #TartLA advertisement on the homepage doesn’t hurt either.
We ain’t playin today!!! Homemade blackberry vodka, blackberries, orange, and cranberry! @femi_fit A photo posted by bruinlady (@bruinlady) on
18. Really anything at Sage Vegan Bistro
When we took a look at the Echo Park location’s first 100 geotagged photos, there was no consensus winner—people Instagrammed everything. However, this vegan reuben seemed to be a favorite among the encroaching throngs of hipsters.
17. Corn flake-crusted French toast at Blu Jam Café
Gluten-free brunch on Melrose Avenue? Perfect for L.A. starlets. People enjoy a variety of items here, but this dish appears in almost every photo.
Uhh…Crunchy French Toast…that is all! #addicted #worththefat #carboload A photo posted by Tiffany C. (@clos3tgirlygirl) on
16. Strawberry macaron with red velvet ice-cream sandwich at The Milk Shop
Think of this as L.A.’s answer to Magnolia Bakery’s red-velvet cupcake.
15. Miso Ramen at Orochon Ramen
L.A. loves two things above all else: coffee and ramen. This Little Tokyo staple is also known for its spicy ramen challenge. Vomiting is the norm.
14. Bold Ramen at Tatsu Ramen
As we were saying: L.A. <3’s ramen. When the Hollywood scene wants it, Tatsu on Melrose provides the fix.
Ramen Pregame #melrose #losangeles
13. Churros Largos at Churros Calientes
This entry is surprising; however, Churros Largos is on the Westside, where the tacos pale in comparison to those on the Eastside. Who knows though—churros might be the next big thing.
A photo posted by @lonnysup on
12. Kimchi Fried Rice at Republique
Republique’s location in the former home of the influential Campanile lends itself to lots of Instagrams. When patrons stop gawking at the tiled floors and high ceilings, they typically snap photos of this brunch-time dish.
Best breakfast ever – kimchi fried rice, soft eggs with beef short ribs. Noms. Fuelling us for our road trip to SF! #kimchi #kimchifriedrice #shortribs #breakfast #republiquela #la #losangeles #roadtrip #foodpics #instapic #instafood #foodgasm #korean #kfood #eggporn
11. Chili Cheese Dog at Pink’s
The signature dog at the long-time Sunset Boulevard icon is big with tourists.
飯テロ A photo posted by Sudo Misuzu (@misuzu023) on
10. Mini-Taco Sampler at Guisados
The sampler plate of stewed meats is stunning—and it’s also one of the 10 essential tacos to grab when visiting L.A. The fact that they opened two locations in the heart of the city’s hipsterdom—Silver Lake and Downtown—only adds fuel to the ‘Gram fire.
9. Macarons at Bottega Louie
No surprise here. This colorful French pastry is the most Instagrammed dish at one of the most visually arresting (and tourist-driven) restaurants in the city.
Bottega Louie x L.A A photo posted by @aanouushka on
8. Pepperoni Pizza Slice at Pizzanista!
Pizzanista! benefits from a couple of social media-padding qualities: Its heavily connected owners (which includes a pro skateboarder and a former PR bigwig) and its Pizza Tuesday deals, when the photogenic pepperoni slice goes for just $2. Honorable mention: the mac-and-cheese pizza, which the store sells on Sundays only.
7. Yakatori at Shin Sen Gumi (Original Location)
The winner here was hard to determine because the Shin Sen Gumi empire is huge: 16 locations across the Southland and Japan. However, the O.G. location in Gardena apparently sells yakatori at a rapid clip.
Today’s lunch: Yakitori!! OMG was this good. A photo posted by Ivette Vazquez (@boba_vett) on
6. Bacon, Egg, and Cheese at Eggslut at Grand Central Market
Of Grand Central Market’s many vendors, Egg Slut’s the most popular by far. This breakfast sandwich has quickly become one of the most recognizable dishes in the city.
A photo posted by Grand Central Market (@grandcentralmarketla) on
5. Coffee at Stumptown
Good coffee + trendy Downtown kids = a super-popular photo on Instagram.
Let see what the buzz is all about @gojanedotcom A photo posted by Ben Tsui (@bentsuiphotos) on
4. Oysters at EMC Seafood & Raw Bar
There are more notable L.A. seafood spots, but EMC’s IG triumph shows that Koreatown’s really on the up-and-up.
EMC… Valentines brunch with da bae.
A photo posted by Benjamin Chung (@benjamminchung) on
3. Strawberry Shortcake Doughnut at Donut Friend
People love customizable doughnuts. And people also love this shop’s owner, Mark Trombino (former Blink 182 producer).
Now that, friends, is a donut #ohhellyes #walktheneat A photo posted by lbokeeks (@lbokeeks) on
2. Coffee in a Chocolate Waffle Cone at Alfred Coffee
It’s coffee IN A WAFFLE CONE. That sufficiently explains its ranking.
A photo posted by Mina Kim (@the_blushing_rose) on
1. Daikoku Ramen at Daikokuya
Little Tokyo’s Diakokuya might not lay claim to Los Angeles’ best ramen anymore, but it’s the spot that blew up the ramen craze in the city. Lines regularly extend out the door.
After 1.5 hours wait I finally tasted one of LA’s most legendary ramen shops – Daikokuya. That bowl will stop wars. #foodie #ramen #LAfoodie A photo posted by Fran Cedillo (@fran_azafran) on
And now for some analysis…
That a gimmicky waffle cone receptacle beat out powerhouse Eggslut is proof that bells and whistles will always tickle the public’s fancy. Like New York, ramen places high thanks to its tech-savvy adorers, and pizza remains almost an afterthought, despite its surging presence in pop culture (although, to be fair, L.A. has never been pegged as a pizza town).
What’s also fascinating to note is that Eastside completely dominates the Westside. Koreatown, Highland Park, and Downtown have all experienced massive ways of gentrification, reeling in younger diners who have money to burn. Pizzanista!, EMC, Donut Friend, and the Little Tokyo ramen joints benefit from this greatly. Hollywood producers and screenwriters run on coffee, so the inclusion of Stumptown and Go Get Em Tiger is no surprise either.
What did catch us off guard is that despite being hailed as the best place for Chinese food in the country, not one noodle or dumpling house made the list. This is especially strange when you consider the social-media fluency of the so-called 626 Generation. Also: Where are the burgers? And what about the acai bowls, the green juices, and the expertly sliced slabs of sushi? While the list makes sense overall, it’s not entirely representative of the city’s identity, either.
Which is why we’ve added three more restaurants that should have cracked the top 20:
1. Double-Double at In-N-Out
Even if you’re under the impression that Shake Shack is somehow better than California’s most important fast-food franchise, a list without a double-double is practically sacrilege. And as with Shake Shack in NYC, we think the only reason it didn’t crack the top 20 is due to the fact that the ‘grams are spread out over many locations.
2. Anything from Sqirl
Not only is its IG account immaculate, but the fresh, simple fare (including sorrel pesto rice bowls and brioche toast with homemade preserves) is indicative of what L.A. dining is all about.
3. Sushi from Sugarfish
Angelenos expect to have their sushi multiple times a week, year-round. Nozawa’s empire (nine locations) may not live up to the standards of Urasawa or Shunji, but it’s far more accessible and sees more foot traffic than other fish temples.