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.

Watching celebrities poke at plates of Caesar salad outside of Urth Cafe may have once been the main attraction of L.A.’s dining scene to outsiders. Those bleak days are long gone, supplanted by quirky, unfussy joints cranking out imaginative food that captures the city’s multicultural, farmers market-driven ethos. It is no surprise, then, that when the folks running these kitchens are away from the stove, they beeline for no-frills diners and taco trucks instead of paparazzi-infested Hollywood haunts. From tricked-out burgers to late-night Korean grub, here are the restorative dives and roadside stands where you’ll find 14 of L.A’s boldest chefs chowing down when they’re off the clock.

Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis

Chefs/owners at Bestia


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Yuca’s (2056 Hillhurst Ave, Los Feliz; 323-662-1214, yucasla.com)

Menashe and Gergis say: “We get the cheeseburger. It is a great price and tastes delicious. They smash the meat and cook it on a flat-top, not a grill, so it gets crispy.  Yuca’s is old-school and has a small-town diner feel to it.” (Photo: Jonathan Cristaldi)

Sang Yoon

Chef/owner at Father’s Office and Lukshon


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Gilbert’s El Indio Restaurant (2526 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica; 310-450-8057, gilbertselindio.com)

Yoon says: “I’ve been going here since I was a kid. I think all the employees are family members, and it’s so familiar every time you go. The only things I have ever ordered from the bar or have ever seen anyone order from the bar are margaritas and beer. I don’t know if they have anything else. But the thing to get is the Extra Super Mule Burrito. I have to have one every so often. It’s enormous, filled with meat, rice, avocado, chiles, and great memories. Also, the whole thing is topped with a tart green sauce and cheese. It’s the wet burrito of my childhood and there is no better.” (Photo: Yelp)

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo

Chef/owners at Animal, Son of a Gun, and Trois Mec


Shook’s favorite under-the-radar spot: Mario’s Peruvian & Seafood (5786 Melrose Ave, Hancock Park; 323-466-4181)

Shook says: “I get the lomo saltado—strips of beef sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and French-fried potatoes—and the pescado sudado, steamed filet of fish cooked with tomatoes, onions, and a touch of wine, served with rice. It’s so delicious. The overall experience and quality of food for the price is amazing.” (Photo: Yelp)


Dotolo’s favorite under-the-radar spot: El Cochinito (3508 W Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake; 323-668-0737)

Dotolo says: “I get the bistec empanizado (breaded steak) and it is so amazing. It’s the most authentic Cuban food in L.A. that I’ve found. It’s always easy to get a table while you watch everyone wait at Millie’s next door. This was one of the first places I went to with Jon. Our friends from Miami brought us here when they moved to L.A. It reminds me of home; it might be even better in some regards. It is really affordable, delicious, and great service.” (Photo: Yelp)

Craig Thornton

Chef/founder at Wolvesmouth


Favorite under-the-radar spot: DGM-DwitGolMok (3275 Wilshire Blvd, Koreatown; 213-382-8432)

Thornton says: “This place is open late, so it’s a spot we will hit up after service for kimchi pankcakes and cheesy corn. It’s Korean bar food and doesn’t claim to be anything but: spicy rice cakes tossed in chile and pork, ssam-style. As far as the grittiness of it, the space just feels like you’re in the equivalent of a punk venue.” (Photo: Foursquare)

Joachim Splichal

Chef/founder at Patina Restaurant Group


Favorite under-the-radar spot: El Taquito Mexicano Truck (510 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena; 480-505-8877)

Splichal says: “It’s my go-to spot for taking house guests, as it’s a fun way to welcome them to the city. People come out of the woodwork for their tacos—my favorite thing to order is their lengua—and I love how it brings so much energy to an otherwise quiet street at such a late hour.”

Eddie Ruiz

Chef/owner at Corazón y Miel


Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Standing Room (144 N Catalina Ave, Redondo Beach; 310-374-7545, letseat.at/standingroom)

Ruiz says: “Tucked away in the back of Catalina Liquor & Deli is the order counter for the Standing Room, a tiny ‘hut’ dishing some epic burgers. The Napoleon, topped with braised short ribs and a fried egg on a perfectly toasted bun that they cook on an electric griddle set atop a utility sink, is usually the first thing to hit my tab. I get it with sweet-potato fries and pan-roasted edamame. These guys don’t let the small, confined kitchen hold them back from cooking a great product. Best part is while you are waiting for your order to come up, you are already standing in a liquor store that will fulfill any of your other vices.” (Photo: Yelp)

Josiah Citrin

Chef/owner at Melisse


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Rae’s Restaurant (2901 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica; 310-828-7937)

Citrin says: “I used to go all the time when I was a kid, and I still stop in every now and again. Before high school, I would always come here for coffee and breakfast. It’s been around forever, and still serves up classic, greasy-spoon diner food. I order the corned beef hash or the broiled ham steak glazed with pineapple and over-easy eggs, potatoes, and hot biscuits. Always be sure to add the gravy to the biscuits.” (Photo: Retro Road Map)

Steve Samson

Chef/owner at Sotto Restaurant


Favorite under-the radar spot: Mariscos Jalisco (3040 E Olympic Blvd, Boyle Heights; 323-528-6701)

Samson says: “The shrimp tacos dorados are my favorite in town, and if you hand them a beer they’ll turn it into a great michelada for you, free of charge.” (Photo: Yelp)

Tin Vuong

Executive chef/partner at Blackhouse Hospitality (Little Sister, Abigaile, Dia de Campo, and Wildcraft)


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Tasty Garden (500 N Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park; 626-872-0900)

Vuong says: “Honestly, I really like the standard club sandwich here. It’s just easy. It’s the last thing you’d think, but it’s the best. It’s open till 4am and there are a lot of young people who don’t speak English. I also love the baked pork chop with fried rice and shitty cheese. It’s nostalgic and always good. I equate Tasty Garden with a Chinese version of NORMS.” (Photo: Urbanspoon)

Ari Taymor

Chef/owner at Alma


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Hinano Café (15 Washington Blvd, Venice; 310-822-3902, hinanocafevenice.com)

Taymor says: “A beach dive with pool and burgers coming off an old, weathered griddle. So good late with a Dos Equis.” (Photo: Starchefs, Yelp)

Josef Centeno

Chef/owner at Bäco Mercat and BAR AMÁ


Favorite under-the-radar spot: Kang Kang Food Court (27 E Valley Rd, Alhambra; 626-308-3898)

Centeno says: “Explore the steam tables or go straight for the sheng jian bao, which is what I do. They’re pan-fried, soup-filled buns (as opposed to steamed soup dumplings, which the restaurant also serves). I love these, followed up by some traditional shaved ice.” (Photo: Yelp)

Ludo Lefebvre

Chef at Petit Trois, Trois Mec, and Ludo Bird


Favorite under-the-radar spot: La Reyna (2000 E 7th St, Downtown; 213-624-9879)

Lefebvre says: “Just down the street from the Greyhound bus stop, this spot is L.A.’s best-kept secret. If you know, you know. The actual restaurant is not very good, but something amazing happens around 5:30 or 6pm: a little, old lady in a traditional Mexican apron and two cooks come out and start to prepare a limited menu at their street cart. The food is great—tacos de carne asada, tacos de chorizo, tacos al pastor, burritos, and quesadillas. They close around midnight.” (Photo: Yelp)