Mo-chica

Los Angeles has not always been known as a food city. But its reputation has changed in recent years, with James Oseland, Saveur magazine’s editor-in-chief declaring in a 2011 Reuters article that L.A. was “food city of the moment.”  From the food truck craze to creative “pop-up” restaurants, L.A.’s food identity is known as the culinary Wild West, where anything—even lobster beignets and PB&J burgers—goes. “While San Francisco, New York and Chicago have well-defined food identities,” the article noted, “Los Angeles’ vast, varied and undiluted ethnic food tradition makes it more difficult to pin down.”

Whether it’s a natural extension of the city’s experimental and creative roots a la Hollywood—or a consequence of its geography (the ever-witty Dorothy Parker to once remarked that Los Angeles was 72 suburbs in search of a city), the food theme in L.A. today—if there is one—would probably be diversity. Which is why DineLA’s Restaurant Week  is the beloved event that it is—because it unites this grand, disparate metropolis for 12 days twice a year with the promise of experiencing the city’s best cuisine for affordable prices. Between now and February 1, more than 250 participating restaurants throughout the greater Los Angeles area will offer pre-fixe lunches for $15, $20, or $25, as well as dinner menus ranging between $25, $35, or $45. Here are 5 regional favorites participating in Restaurant Week.

1.    Bouchon Beverly Hills

Why travel to Napa to enjoy Thomas Keller’s French Laundry when you can enjoy Keller’s Bouchon right in Beverly Hills? While the bistro may not live up to the praise showered upon it over the last two years (the Los Angeles Times declared it the “best French bistro in Los Angeles”), it has become a revered Beverly Hills spot for both lunch and dinner. Bistro favorites like Moules Frites are a given of course, but for DineLA, you might also want to try the Coq au Vin or the Steak Frites (also on their regular menu). Finish off our meal wit the Profiteroles—the thought of vanilla ice cream at night might leave you cold, but with daytime temperatures in the 70s, it’s a welcome end to a long business lunch.

2.    Mo-chica in Downtown L.A.

Ricardo Zarate is, by far, the chef of the moment in Los Angeles, and well, the entire food world–if you count Food & Wine and GQ Magazine as qualified national voices in the culinary scene. Following his first restaurant Picca’s debut in 2011, Zarate opened Mo-chica in downtown LA. Both subsequently landed on LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants, curated by Jonathan Gold. You might say Mo-chica carries a distinctively more urban vibe than Picca, with downtown hipsters serving up modern takes on traditional Peruvian comfort food against the backdrop of salsa music and brightly-hued walls tagged with graffiti. Mo-chica is always a happening spot for dinner, but your best bet for DineLA is actually the restaurant’s $20 three-course lunch menu with a choice of Peruvian chicken stew, braised ox tongue, seafood melody or barley with warm beets and dessert.

3.    Parkway Grill in Pasadena

Parkway Grill,  the culinary brainchild of restaurateurs Bob and Gregg Smith, is one of those Pasadena mainstays that is always packed. (And for good reason–just read the Yelp reviews.) Voted “One of America’s Top Tables” by Gourmet magazine and “One of Southern California’s most popular restaurants” by the Zagat Survey, the Parkway Grill is known for its seasonal, market-driven approach and twist on French techniques. Locals always seem to rave about the Tiki Salad and Brick-Oven Baked Cambazola Pear Flat Bread—but the DineLA menu this year offers some intriguing spcials: bacon wrapped dates, tiger shrimp corndogs and seared scallops with herb infused farro risotto (if you can consider quinoa passé, then farro is the grain of the moment). Finish your meal off with the dark chocolate glazed cannoli.

4.    Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks

There’s a reason why Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks has a loyal celebrity following (Jennifer Aniston, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, John Mayer, Al Pacino, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Steven Tyler) have all dined at the Sherman Oaks mainstay. Strong margaritas, a dark clubby old Hollywood ambiance and good food. First opening in 1956 by Rafael “Ray” Vega, it is now run by Ray’s daughter Christy Vega Fowler, who has changed little about her family’s famous eatery. For DineLA, you can’t go wrong with the tostada-style dinner salad!) for DineLA, Casa Vega is a great spot. You’ll even enjoy its clubby old Hollywood ambiance with red Naugahyde booths and 1960s oil paintings of bullfighters.

5.    Abigaile in Hermosa Beach

Since opening in February 2012, the Hermosa Beach haunt, Abigaile, has been turning heads and palates with its fresh, locally sourced take on the American brasserie experience. For DineLA, you’ll sit at one of the communal tables, drinking the house-brewed craft beers and eating Brazillian cheezy poofs, grilled broccolini, escargot poppers and maybe even the duck french dip. “Edgy,” “cool” and “loud” all come to mind in this graffiti-fied space.

Even if these restaurants aren’t in your neighborhood, DineLA is a great reason to venture outside of your comfort zone and discover new culinary delights in a city that simply refuses to be defined. Have you visited any of these restaurants? Which one is foremost on your list to try?