Every town has its star restaurants—but just like movie stars, some culinary greats keep a pretty low profile. These 22 restaurants fly well under the radar, and that’s the way the neighborhood regulars like it. Here’s where to find local favorite restaurants across the state, and what to order when you get there.
1.The Cork and Craft, San Diego
You would hardly expect to find a stylish gastropub concealed in a San Diego business park just off the I-15 freeway, but it makes perfect sense when you consider that Abnormal Beer Co. and Abnormal Wine are also located on-site. Along with house-made beer and wine, the menu presents elevated comfort food such as braised short ribs with citrus cilantro puree, seared yellowtail, and lobster rolls with roasted garlic.
2. Himitsu, La Jolla
An unexpected treasure set within a small La Jolla shopping center, tiny Himitsu showcases exquisitely fresh fish in an intimate, contemporary setting. While the restaurant’s leafy patio is serene, the nine-person sushi bar is the place to watch chef Mitsu Aihara—formerly of San Diego’s celebrated Sushi Ota—and his talented crew create unforgettable omakase experiences, à la carte nigiri, and Japanese-style tapas.
3. Alps Village, Palm Desert
From the outside, Alps Village looks like any other strip-mall restaurant in the Palm Springs area. But step inside and a German beer hall—complete with wood-paneled walls, wagon-wheel chandeliers, and Oktoberfest decor—awaits. The family-run operation is helmed by the charismatic “Mamma Milka,” who hails from the former Yugoslavia. Alps Village is a popular spot for hearty specialties including goulash, grilled sausages, and several varieties of schnitzel—
accompanied by cold German beer.
4. Goodies in the Pantry, Orange
This carnivore’s dream combines a European-style butcher shop with a cozy café. Tables at Goodies in the Pantry are tucked among the shelves, adding to the casual vibe, but the food is anything but ordinary. The 40-plus-ounce smoked tomahawk and double-smoked pork chop are can’t-miss dinner choices, and meaty sandwich options like the one piled with brisket consistently wow the lunchtime crowd. Hit up the butcher shop for artisan charcuterie that’s made, cured, and smoked in-house.
5. Mitla Café, San Bernardino
This Route 66 institution has been serving Mexican comfort food for more than 80 years and is still owned by the same family. Legend has it that Glenn Bell, a regular in the early 1960s, modeled taco bell’s crispy tacos after Mitla Café’s, but there’s really no substitute for the real deal. Mitla’s hard shells are fried to order and filled with perfectly seasoned shredded beef, tomatoes, and bright orange cheese.
6. Post & Beam, Los Angeles
Comfortable and contemporary, this Black-owned-and-operated restaurant in L.A.’s Baldwin Hills district has been whipping up soul food with a California accent since 2012. The all-day Sunday brunch is a major draw thanks to Post & Beam’s decadent pecan pie French toast topped with cinnamon cream and bourbon caramel—plus Southern eats like smoky shrimp n’ grits, and fried chicken perched atop buttermilk waffles. Even bottomless mimosas get an upgrade with a choice of fresh juices.
7. Bill’s Hamburgers, Van Nuys
Owner Bill Ewell opened his no-frills neighborhood burger stand on an industrial Van Nuys side street in 1965, and he has remained behind the well-seasoned grill ever since. Bill’s OG burgers are thin and tasty (order the double), topped with grilled onions, chili, and other goodies. Sit at an outdoor counter stool and watch the grilling action happen. A juicy double will set you back just five bucks—or $5.50 with a side of potato chips.
8. Arnoldi’s Café, Santa Barbara
Italian comfort food is always on the menu at this family-owned Santa Barbara staple, housed in the same historic stone building since 1937. Kick back in one of Arnoldi’s two large dining rooms, or head out to the heated patio for a few rounds of bocce (leagues command the courts on weekday nights). Along with expertly executed classics like spaghetti with clams, the menu includes fresh local fish and specials from the Santa Barbara Farmers Market.
9. Tortas al 100, Salinas
Young locals Orlando Orsonio and his wife, Denise, longed to bring something unique to the Salinas food scene, and if the lines leading up to their fusion food truck are any indication, they’ve succeeded with Tortas al 100. The Orsonios put a flavor-packed spin on traditional Mexican tortas, filling fluffy buns with such enticing toppings as chorizo, grilled pineapple, bacon, pork al pastor, and even Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
10. Meltdown Bistro, Fresno
Folks rave about the cheese-filled delights from this mobile food truck founded in 2015 by local chef Pete Ramirez. Sandwiches are grilled to a golden glory and piled high with flavor-packed ingredients, from the Pig Mac—pulled pork with bacon and cheddar mac & cheese—to the Cuban Melt, filled with slow-roasted pork, grilled ham, and pickles. Their Fried Mac & Cheese Ballz stuffed with jalapeños and crispy bacon are definitely a must.
11. Euro Grill, Santa Clara
This is the kind of place Silicon Valley locals love to show off to friends—especially if they’ve never tried Bosnian food. Casual and welcoming, Euro Grill attracts homesick Bosnians and local converts with its delicious cevapi—finger-sized sausages stuffed into soft bread with red pepper spread and raw onions on the side—and burek, a flaky pastry filled with meat, cheese, or spinach. Order the combination plate and sample a little of everything.
12. Battambang, Oakland
Before there was Nyum Bai, there was Battambang. This downtown Cambodian gem has been making customers smile since 1993 with fresh and flavorful dishes like Trei Chien Chou Em, boneless trout battered and pan-fried in a lime sauce, and Kari Doung Chkei, a combination of chicken, green beans, yam, and young coconut meat in a red curry. The atmosphere is casual and intimate, the portions are generous, and service is helpful and friendly.
13. Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant, San Francisco
For more than 20 years, this Sunset district favorite has been warming bellies and hearts with its modern take on authentic, Beijing-style hot pot, or clay pot, dishes. The broth comes in regular and seriously spicy (half-and-half is the way to go). Choose from sliced halal meats, seafood, vegetables, tofu, and even chrysanthemum leaves, and then add them to the fragrant, simmering broth.
14. Guantonio’s Wood Fired, Lodi
The Guantone family catered events across Northern California for a decade before opening this neighborhood pizzeria. Neapolitan-style wood-fired pies are inspired by local agriculture, from the sweet corn–adorned “Summer” to the “Goldy,” topped with goldmine squash. Creative salads highlight seasonal produce such as heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and watermelon. Featuring producers like Scholium Project, Guantonio’s wine list showcases some of Lodi’s most exciting vintners.
15. Hawks Provisions + Public House, Sacramento
Husband-and-wife chef-owners Michael Fagnoni and Molly Hawks—both veterans of the Michelin-starred Village Pub in Woodside—opened this lively fine-dining destination in 2007. They source ingredients from local farms for the restaurant’s mouthwatering modern American cuisine. Take a seat along the plush banquette or grab a spot at the sleek dining bar and luxuriate in the nightly charcuterie board, featuring an ever-changing array of Hawks’ house-cured salame, pâtés, and other treats.
16. Getaway Café, Meyers
A locals’ favorite in South Lake Tahoe, this cozy daytime cafe is known for its scratch-made “Alpine comfort food”—especially its breakfast fare. For a sweet start, try the signature coconut-crusted French toast or cinnamon-kissed caramelized banana pancakes. Egg dishes are also delicious, from the Mexican chilaquiles made with housemade salsa to the massive build-your-own four-egg omelet.
17. Brew Masters Deli, Foresthill
This family-friendly Placer County taproom is all about tasty hot sandwiches and international craft beers. You might opt for the Winston, a combo of turkey, bacon, avocado, and basil oil; or the Rango Dip, a substantial stack of roast beef, provolone, and caramelized onions, with au jus on the side. In addition to California craft brews, the deli boasts an impressive lineup of bottled Belgian beers—perfect with a giant Bavarian pretzel dunked in beer cheese and
18. Fog Eater Café, Mendocino
Step into this hip, pastel-hued café for organic, vegetarian California cuisine with a Southern accent. Inspired by NorCal’s bounty of fresh produce and the lip-smacking flavors of the deep South, the Fog Eater Café menu features bites like heirloom grits, vegan pimento cheese, biscuit sliders filled with buffalo cauliflower, and beignets dolloped with seasonal jam. Wash it all down with a low-ABV cocktail or a glass of natural wine. Trust us, you won’t miss the meat.
19. La Villa Mexican Fast Food, Williams
If you’re road-tripping up I-5 north of Sacramento in Colusa County, don’t miss the chance to stop off at this hole-in-the-wall taco shop for authentically delicious Mexican fare, from crispy tacos to tamales. The chili verde street tacos are some of the best you’ll ever sample, and at just over a buck each, they’re also sure to be among the cheapest. Order the “Taco Tornado” sampler and try all six varieties. Chips and salsa are made in-house.
20. Jack’s Grill, Redding
In 1938, Redding was a boomtown populated by miners, railroad workers, and Shasta Dam builders. That same year, Jack’s opened to help the town’s laborers refuel on 16-ounce steaks. Along with its charmingly dim lighting—servers hand customers flashlights along with their menus—Jack’s is known today for its incredible USDA Choice steaks. Try the signature Jack’s Stack, layered with bits of filet, New York, and top sirloin, sautéed with onions and peppers.
21. AA Bar & Grill, Eureka
Eureka, four hours north of San Francisco, combines a beautifully restored Victorian-era Old Town district with a rustic, working seaport. Head downtown and you’ll find AA Bar & Grill, with its old-school watering hole ambience, classic horseshoe-shaped bar, and some of the tastiest steaks in Humboldt County. Chefs hand-cut the grass-fed steaks daily before giving them the charbroil treatment and serving them alongside hearty steak fries or golden onion rings. Save room for AA’s homemade cheesecake.
22. Yaks On the 5, Dunsmuir
This casual Dunsmuir burger joint is a must-stop when driving north from Sacramento on I-5 through Siskiyou County. Famous for the grass-fed burgers stacked high with ingredients like crisp onion strings and pickled jalapeños, Yaks on the 5 also has a second location in Mt. Shasta (Yaks Shack). At both you’ll also find family favorites such as coconut crème lattes, marathon bars, buttermilk biscuits, and homemade sticky buns.