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Malibu Hindu Temple Exterior
Photograph: Victor Leung

The 8 most unexpected places in L.A. for a great bite to eat

From tacos at a tire shop to gas station cookies, check out our top picks for the city’s most clandestine cuisine.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
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Good food in L.A. isn’t hard to find, but sometimes a little detective work can be required, particularly in the age of Instagram pop-ups, Tock takeout orders and cottage bakeries. Having faded into the background, but never truly gone, is a different kind of unique dining experience: the unexpected places scattered across SoCal that also happen to offer a great, often inexpensive bite to eat. While some of our non-restaurant picks below have garnered local acclaim, their unlikely locations still make them noteworthy and special to us—so read on for our guide to the eight best unexpected places to eat in Los Angeles.

Our favorite dishes from the most unexpected places in L.A.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • South LA
  • price 1 of 4

Fill up on slow-cooked swine as your wheels get aligned at South L.A.’s Tacos Los Guichos, a food truck operation outside of So-cal Tires and Wheels. Each taco comes strapped with alambres (stir-fry of meats, peppers, onions and cheeses), tortas, tacos and the best carnitas in town. While your car’s in the shop, a big, bubbling steel cazo of pig parts simmers in lard, the source for pork-intensive tacos stuffed with fried rib, shoulder, skin, ear and head meats. Get cochon-concentrated with the weekend-only tacos surtidas, a succulent amalgam of all of these cuts under one warm tortilla.

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Westside
  • price 1 of 4

If you’re a hardcore L.A. cookie lover, there’s no better place in town than sleekly designed United Oil on National Boulevard, where you’ll find Zooies sharing space with the We Got It convenience store. There’s a dizzying number of cookies and dessert bars on offer, including at least three different twists on chocolate chip: Chewie, brown butter and Gooie (the most popular, and our recommendation for first-timers). Although you may need to call for a preorder, Zooies even offers paleo, vegan and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, as well as a sugar-free cookie for diabetics. Elsewhere in the glass display, you’ll also find more whimsical cookies dreamt up by baker Arezou Appel, including a s’mores cookie topped with burnt marshmallow, fruity delights like strawberry shortcake and even a baklava-inspired cookie topped with dusted pistachios.

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  • Restaurants
  • South Asian
  • Northridge
  • price 1 of 4

Although Northridge’s Baja Subs and Deli might look like another strip mall deli and minimart in the Valley, owners Premil and Koshalie Jayasinghe have served a dual takeout menu of casual Mexican food and some of the best Sri Lankan cuisine in L.A. since 2016. On weekends, Baja Subs serves larger dishes, including a Sri Lankan-style biryani, which comes topped with caramelized onions, hard-boiled egg, cashews and pineapple chutney, and lamprais—a portable banana leaf packet of rice, meat, sambal and curried vegetables, though its exact components change on a weekly basis.

  • Things to do
  • Angeles National Forest

High up in the San Gabriel Mountains, Mt. Wilson Observatory gives spring, summer and fall tours to the public, offering visitors a chance to check out the observatory’s historic telescopes, a small astronomy museum and other instruments actively in use, including the CHARA array, which helped discover starspots 181 lightyears away in 2013. Whether you’re headed there for a tour or to embark on a hike within the Angeles National Forest, however, it’s worth also ordering a chili dog at the observatory’s Cosmic Café, which also does Frito pie, bowls of chili and breakfast bites in the mornings. Note: Both the Observatory and Cosmic Café close to the public for the winter, typically in late November, and reopen in the spring.

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  • Health and beauty
  • Massage and body treatments
  • Koreatown
  • price 2 of 4

At Wi Spa, a budget-friendly Koreatown self-care day becomes even more of a treat after a visit to the Korean spa’s coed jimjilbang, where patrons can order comforting homestyle Korean dishes like beef and pork bulgogi, Shin ramen and vegetable bibimbap. The café, located on the same floor as the spa’s various themed dry saunas, also offers freshly squeezed juice and soothing cold bowls of buckwheat noodles if you’d rather cool off after a round in the ultra-hot bulgama, which is kept around 231 degrees.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Palms
  • price 1 of 4

Hidden inside a windowless storefront, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City is already one of the quirkiest attractions you can find across all of L.A., but this strange little repository of unique curios, immaculately made dioramas and fantastical miniatures also has a tea room and patio where visitors can enjoy complimentary Georgian black tea and cookies on Thursday, Friday and weekend afternoons. Upstairs, the patio full of pigeons and greenery helps convey a sense of tranquility and calm, an exceptional feat considering its proximity to the busy traffic on Venice Boulevard.

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  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Santa Monica Mountains

If mountain scenery is on your day trip agenda, you'd be hard-pressed to find a rival to the Malibu Hindu Temple, which features a gleaming white shrine to Venkateswara in the hills of Calabasas. Step inside the intricately-carved temple for solemn supplication, as well as a free taste of halvah. If you’re visiting on a weekend, the temple's kitchen also serves donation-based vegetarian meals, including ambrosial tamarind rice and tropical dishes from the southern Indian state of Kerala.

  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

Good news: You don’t need to sit through an Orthodox service in Russian to enjoy the late Sunday morning feast that follows. As long as your money is green, the babushkas slinging a spread of homemade Russian pastries and snacks in the courtyard of Holy Virgin Protection Church will take it. We like the baked and fried meat-stuffed piroshkis, sweet slices of Napoleon cake and hot items like pelmeni dumplings and seasonal fruit blinis. The church's own kitchen also churns out a massive pot of borscht, offering parishioners and the public alike a taste of Eastern Europe to soothe their souls every Sunday.

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