The map of Los Angeles is comprised of showstopping landmarks—from the Hollywood Sign to the Getty Center—all connected by famous streets and freeways. Turn down just about any side street, however, and you can find a treasure trove of lesser-known delights.
Indeed, “you can drive by and not know you were in Thai Town,” says chef Jet Tila, the honorary mayor of that neighborhood who's also known for appearances on Iron Chef America and The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Tila is a guest on the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, in which he and two other dialed-in Angelenos share their favorite hidden gems.
Tila loves to show people around Thai Town, which sits along six blocks off Hollywood Boulevard and is the largest community of Thai people outside of Thailand. He tells host Soterios Johnson about one of his all-time favorite guests—the late, great Anthony Bourdain—and how to explore the area today.
“It's the best Thai food area in America,” Tila says, and he recommends starting a tour at Silom Supermarket, where early in the morning you can “see a procession of monks get their alms bowls, their meal for the day.” From there, try creamy Thai coffees at Sapp Café, papaya salad at Ruen Pair, tom yum noodles at Pa Ord, and coconut fritters at Bhan Kanom Thai. “You can also get Thai massage, Thai music, and Thai periodicals,” Tila says, “but food is the most romantic way to introduce yourself to a culture.”
Another way to experience a different side of Los Angeles is to seek out its green spaces. “One of the best secrets about the L.A. area is that it’s a great outdoor playground,” says Mary Forgione, who writes the weekly newsletter “The Wild" for the Los Angeles Times. “It is a fabulous place to hike, to swim, and to trail run.”
She offers tips on her favorite outdoor spaces, including Griffith Park. “It’s L.A.'s wild heart,” she says, “a massive park where you can see coyotes, owls, all kinds of things.” She loves hiking there at dusk and taking the two-to-three-mile walk toward Mount Hollywood or Mount Lee, which has views of the Hollywood Sign. At the top, “you are standing a couple thousand feet above L.A. and looking out at this lighted-up megalopolis,” she says. “It’s breathtaking.”
For more stunning views, she recommends options such as a “seascape” walk along the Palos Verdes Peninsula, seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, or checking out the green sea turtles of Long Beach. “Walk on the San Gabriel [River Trail],” she says, “and you can see these grapefruit-sized heads popping up out of the water. They like to feed on sea grasses and kelp, so they come, they forage, and now they stay."
Not far away, savvy locals enjoy another kind of feast. Zach Brooks is the general manager of Smorgasburg Los Angeles, a weekly open-air food festival held in Downtown Los Angeles. As Brooks tells Johnson, the Sundays event is a foodie magnet that typically features up to 70 food vendors and includes a family-friendly beer garden. “It’s a pretty good representation of everything that L.A. has to offer food-wise,” he says, starting with a wide array of tacos. “We've also got a vendor who sells roti, inspired by street food of Trinidad and Tobago. We've got Chinese dumplings, Filipino grilled chicken. Something for everybody.”
He is hesitant to play favorites but offers a few “smorg hacks:” “I take one thing from one vendor to another vendor's booth and make a mashup,” he says. “Once I took grilled lobster from Lobsterdamus, and then got a bean and cheese burrito from Burritos La Palma and made a lobster, bean, and cheese burrito. ” He also recommends the divide-and-conquer approach. “Come with a bunch of people, have one person go find a table, and everybody gets one thing,” he says. “Then, meet back at the table, and share everything.”