Some of our favorite restaurants in Los Angeles offer dishes that aren’t in plain sight. But just because a menu item is “secret” doesn’t mean it’s good. When dining off-piste, it’s more important than ever to know what you’re getting into.
These insider eats—including an off-menu Boner Burger with “420 sauce,” a fully-loaded seafood tostada, fried brisket-stuffed kreplach, and more are worth seeking out, even if you have to drive across town to get ’em.
Address and phone: 435 N Fairfax Ave, Beverly Grove (323-782-9225)
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s aptly named, off-menu Boner Burger is one of L.A.’s finest patties: the beef is house-ground chuck, short rib, and bone marrow, a rich and fatty blend that gushes juice all over your hands and limbs. The burger is sheathed in melted jack cheese, caramelized onion, and grilled poblano chile (we’re huge fans of poblano on burgers, for the record), then covered in mustardy “420 sauce” which serves to further lubricate the patty. The sauce is of great importance here: It adds a tangy element to cut all that fat, and it pools together with the beef juices on the plate, creating a meaty liquor that we can (and did) drink like soup. As for the grilled Diamond Bakery marbled rye bread that serves as a bun? No bun, no problem—patty melts rule.
Address and phone: 419 N Fairfax Ave, Beverly Grove (323-651-2030)
Sometimes, you get drunk at The Kibbitz Room (Canter’s cocktail lounge) and find yourself sitting in a booth next door needing some serious Jewish comfort/drunk food. Pro tip: Stop looking at the menu, stare your server in the eyes, and tell her you want fried kreplach. She will look at you inquisitively and say, “I’ve been working here for 10 years and only six people have ever ordered fried kreplach.” Pay no mind to this comment. The brisket-stuffed ovals of fried dough are golden brown and delicious. Kreplach normally resemble dumplings or ravioli when boiled—here, they’re more reminiscent of savory donuts or meat-filled funnel cake, with crispy edges and a puffy, tender interior. “Just the name kreplach alone is a cool thing,” says Marc Canter, adding that fried kreplach “is something from the past that not many people ask for anymore” (but we’re predicting a full-fledged fried kreplach resurgence). Be sure to order a bowl of thick beef gravy on the side, which is perfect for dunking—that is, until it cools down and congeals.
Puffy Tacos at Bar Ama
Address and phone: 118 W 4th St, Downtown (213-687-8002)
Price: $7 each ($6 for potato)
The puffy taco, a Tex-Mex delicacy, was first created in San Antonio in the ’50s by brothers Henry and Ray Lopez while working at Ray’s Drive Inn. “It’s a dish I grew up with and loved eating as a kid,” explains Bar Ama chef and San Antonio native Josef Centeno. When he first opened his Tex-Mex cantina in downtown L.A., Centeno made sure the puffy tacos were on the menu; a few months later they disappeared, but they’re still available to those in the know. The masa shell is dropped into peanut oil until it puffs up like carnival fried dough, then filled with your choice of shrimp, beef picadillo (ground beef), chicken, potato, or chorizo. The plump chipotle- and chile de árbol-marinated shrimp taco, topped with pickled cabbage and onions, is a winner; same goes for the beef picadillo version, filled with ground beef cooked with potatoes, onions, and chocolatey mulato chile. Dipping the puffy tacos in queso is optional but strongly recommended, as is ordering a mezcal flight from Bar Ama’s superb list.
Address and phone: 3040 E Olympic Blvd, Boyle Heights (323-528-6701)
Driving down Olympic Boulevard near Soto Street, you will see the Mariscos Jalisco truck surrounded by a sizeable swarm of people. Most of them will be devouring shrimp dorado tacos: crispy deep-fried tortillas filled with warm and creamy diced shrimp, smothered in gazpacho-like tomato salsa, and topped with slices of refreshing avocado. But some of the regulars will also be feasting on the unlisted Poseidon tostada, a seafood-lovers dream loaded with shrimp ceviche, sliced octopus, shrimp aguachile, red onion, cucumbers, and creamy avocado. Note to the line cook who created the fully loaded tostada on his break: You’re a god.
Jazz Burger at Jitlada
Address and phone: 5233 Sunset Blvd, East Hollywood (323-667-9809)
What in god’s name is a Thai hamburger? If you’re in Jazz Singnasong’s J. Gold-approved Silver Lake dining room, it’s a chile- and garlic-laced patty doused in mustard sauce that’s decidedly not one of Jitlada’s 400+ menu items. “This is the food I cook for my kids when they come home from school,” Singnasong told us on a recent visit. (To think our moms were feeding us tuna sandwiches and Pepperidge Farm cookies, smh.) The Jitlada proprietor marinates the beef overnight in palm sugar along with other ingredients she won’t disclose, not even to her brother who works in the kitchen. The oversized burger is served bunless, alongside crisp lettuce, tomato slices, fragrant Thai basil leaves, and a mound of scorching chiles that will hurt you the next day.