Whether you’re a starving student or have some more resources to spare on your meals, the South L.A. neighborhoods surrounding Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the University of Southern California (USC) offer some interesting dining options. Learn about 23 of our favorite area restaurants, most of which are within walking distance of Exposition Park and the USC campus.
23rd Street Café
The name 23rd Street Café doesn’t give much away, other than the location. The restaurant with a tan brick facade, orange walls, and open kitchen has been around since 2006 and proudly embraces a fusion of Indian, Mexican, and American influences. It’s possible to snag a completely serviceable BLT or turkey burger at 23rd Street Café, but mash-ups are more compelling. Flour tortillas are their canvases. Paneer tikka masala breakfast burrito features sautéed farmer's cheese cubes, egg, hash browns, mozzarella, and cilantro. Chicken tikka masala also joins mozzarella and cilantro in a quesadilla.
Alex Alomari hails from Erbet, Jordan, near the Syria and Israel borders. He named Aldewaniah, his USC-adjacent restaurant and hookah lounge, for traditional Arabic cushioned communal floor seating, which is in effect. The space also features a decorative mural on the south wall depicting a hookah and woman wearing a purple veil. During our visits, many students were praying, lounging, and of course eating. Meat and rice dishes predominate, including mandi, a fluffy rice plate flavored with peppercorns, cardamom and raisins. Kabsa is the name for another rice dish in Jordan and goes by majbos in Kuwait. Regardless, expect to find rosy chunks of bone-in lamb. Mutabaq is a flaky fried flatbread filled with onion and ground lamb and served with lemon, jalapeño and chopped parsley. Order Arabic tea sweetened with cinnamon to end the meal.
The Kronfli brothers (Danny and Bobby) and chef Lior Hillel found enough success with this wine-friendly food bar (or vice versa) that they opened branches called Bacari in Glendale, Mid-City, Playa del Rey, and West Adams. The original features a black awning and interior with low-slung cushioned seating, blackboard menus and wine bottle ceiling. Bacaro L.A. specializes in Mediterranean small plates called cicchetti. Top picks include slow-baked salmon with a walnut crust and bed of garlic parsley bulgur. Grilled hanger steak comes with grilled zucchini and house-made Béarnaise. They also have an open-faced burger with tomato, caramelized onion, Worcestershire aioli, and if you’re smart, fried egg, all stacked strategically on a telera roll. Beefsteak Sunday takes place on the last Sunday night of each month and comes with AYCE petite filet, fries, house onion rings, and open bar with select beer, wine and four-fruit sangria for $35 per person.
Café Dulce has been a coffee and bakery sensation in DTLA since 2011. James Choi started in Little Tokyo and now has four locations spanning from there to Vernon. The USC Village outpost debuted in 2018 and quickly the most popular option in the Insta-community with brick buildings and vast courtyards across from campus. People pile into patio tables under concrete arches as well as communal tables and counters indoors. A custom three-group La Marzocco espresso machine with shark and sea creature coat dispenses memorable coffee drinks. Café Dulce also makes cold brew, Vietnamese iced coffee, and an array of tea drinks. A plentiful pastry case greets visitors with vivid strawberry jelly donuts, brick toasts, and crusty buns called roti filled with ingredients like blueberry and red bean. Breakfast burritos, spicy Korean cheesesteak sandwiches, and Asian chicken salads are particularly popular with people craving more savory fare.
Wilson Saguero and his family have run this Peruvian restaurant since 2008 in a freeway-friendly plaza. The space features concrete flooring, orange walls sporting cartoon cavemen with steaks on sticks and chicken on spits. Cavemen murals are also painted on the windows. Peruvian plates, salads and burgers are all popular, but we’d recommend Caveman’s wood-fired rotisserie chicken, which arrives with a smoky bark, corn tortillas and a choice of two sides - try the stewed black beans and steamed white rice. The chicken has plenty of flavor, but your plate could still benefit from a generous helping of pastel green aji sauce and spicy habanero vinegar.
Timothy Cam is looking to make his over-the-top Dirt Dog concept “the official hot dog of Los Angeles.” Lofty lingo includes a goal to “sell amazing Los Angeles Street food and take it to a level you've never experienced before.” Cam and his partners expanded to Las Vegas, and their original University Park outpost remains thriving, complete with a lamppost logo, wall devoted to graffiti and signed dollar bills, black cushioned banquettes and booths. Griddled hot dogs include a deli-inspired, bacon-wrapped Pastrami Dog and a Green Dog dressed with chimichurri, guacamole spread, caramelized onions, jalapeños, and bacon bits. Sides include "Dirty Fries" seasoned with chile and lime and "Flaming Corn" on the cob coated with Hot Cheetos, lime mayo, chipotle aioli, and cilantro.
Eric Bae, a Korean-American entrepreneur, opened this Asian fusion gastropub with a Thai chef and Japanese focus. This combo might sound crazy, but the elements somehow mesh. The setting is fun, with copious amounts of wood, a communal marble table, a massive blackboard menu, paper lanterns, and a colorful mural depicting USC football players, dragons and R2D2, which all coexist. The music is upbeat K-Pop. The menu features pretty standard selection of sushi rolls, bar bites and ramen bowls, but fusion does come into play in certain dishes. For instance, The Original Ebaes Ramen is crafted with coconut milk, chiles, mushrooms, tomatoes and green onion. Choose between chicken, and even better, shrimp. At lunch, you’re able to turn this ramen into a combo, possibly a seared salmon roll with crab, cucumber and avocado core.
Everytable - South L.A.
Hedge fund vet Sam Polk, founder of a local food-focused nonprofit called Groceryships, teamed with former private equity professional David Foster on Everytable. Their meals are uniquely priced for each neighborhood. Order from a menu printed in both English and Spanish. Their airy USC-friendly outpost features a Miami-style orange and teal color scheme, light wood tables with yellow accents, and shelves of prepared bowls waiting in eco-friendly containers. Everytable’s promise: “Locally made every day with wholesome ingredients and big flavor.” L.A. inspired bowls include Vietnamese chicken salad bowl with mung bean noodles, pickled vegetables and spicy chili-lime vinaigrette. Jamaican Jerk chicken comes with rice, beans, carrot, yucca, plantain, and spicy jerk BBQ sauce. Cajun blackened fish features well-spiced tilapia with braised collard greens, black-eyed peas, and sweet potato puree. You’ll even find pozole rojo with hominy, tomato, layered spice from chipotle, guajillo, and jalapeno, radishes and chips for crunch. Two microwaves are available for reheating hot bowls. Cold bowls are ready to eat.
The Fields LA
The Fields LA is an airy food hall located next to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Banc of California Stadium. Choose your own adventure at one (or more) of eight stalls, take a number, and wait for food in the communal seating area. Burritos La Palma owners Alberto Bañuelos and wife/partner Lauren expanded from Zacatecas to El Monte in 2012 and now have locations in Santa Ana and The Fields LA. A simple birria de res, refried bean and melted cheese burrito still excites when cradled in their signature flour tortillas. Platillo especial is even bolder, teaming two burritos blanketed in spicy, chunky salsa verde folded with ground pork. Barbara Jean is another standout stall featuring chef Jason Fullilove’s “market-inspired, elevated American soul food dishes with a Cajun-Creole twist.” Po’ boys are popular, but don’t skip shrimp & grits starring fried shrimp served atop buttery grits with zesty tomato sauce, herbaceous green sauce, and cooked garlic cloves. Other notable vendors include Ms Chi Chinese features “Top Chef” competitor Shirley Chung, who serves house-made dumplings, rice and noodle plates, and cheese foam oolong tea. Timothy Hollingsworth, who created the menu for Free Play gastropub upstairs, also runs C.J. Boyd’s Fried Chicken stall. His East L.A. sandwich co-stars chunky salsa macha with crushed peanuts, shredded cabbage, and lime crema.
Free Play DTLA
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, winner of “The Final Table” on Netflix and executive chef of Otium, also runs Free Play above The Fields LA. The space includes a fast casual “bar” overlooking the food hall, a full-service dining room, and “den” with couches. Yes, Free Play houses myriad games, including pinball, video games, shuffleboard, foosball, pool, Connect Four, and Jenga. A lot of people enjoy double cheeseburgers or plate of tri-tip nachos, but they go bigger. Spice-rubbed baby-back ribs are smoked in-house with red oak, lacquered with a tangy house BBQ sauce and served with mac and cheese coated with brown butter panko. They slather grilled flat-iron steak with peppercorn sauce and served with crispy fries. They also make pesto pasta co-starring fusilli, sweet Argentinean prawns and an atypical pesto made with basil, arugula, pistachios, and walnuts. The beverage program involves 14 taps, a full cocktail program, shooters and shandies.
Halaloğlu is a fast-casual Turkish restaurant next to USC that features an all-seeing hamsa hand logo and a map of Turkey featuring photos of dishes that correspond to different cities. For instance, Adana kebab comes from a coastal Mediterranean city and Gaziantep fuels baklava. The name Halaloğlu translates from Turkish as “righteous child.” Jasmine Summer runs the restaurant with a menu from father Sami Othman, who founded the local Orleans & York Deli chain. The Halal menu focuses on kebab plates, Istanbul (burgers) and yufka (pita “street tacos”). Highlights include grilled beef and lamb patties in two flavors: red bell pepper infused Adana and parsley-flecked Urfa. Sides include short-grain Istanbul rice tossed with toasted vermicelli strands, crunchy purple cabbage, and Tartuni salad featuring diced tomato, cucumber and parsley.
With support from son Abishek, Renu Kayastha replaced Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine with Himalayan House in Trojan Square to start 2016. She and chef Samanta Khanal specialize in the cuisine of Nepal, India and Tibet. The space features red and yellow walls lined with photos of the Himalayas. Momo are dumplings available either steamed or pan-fried, with ground chicken preferable to veggies. Either way, take your dumplings for a dip in tomato achaar. Yak meat, rarely seen outside of the Himalayas, is brisket-like and stir-fried with green bell pepper, onion, tomato, ginger and garlic. Other Himalayan House proteins include Pokhareli chicken cooked with coriander and mango powder, and a sizzling combo platter featuring chicken, lamb, and shrimp. At lunch, the Nepalese set menu is a good bet. Choose from lamb, fish, vegetable, goat, or chicken and receive vegetable curry, lentils, raita, rice, and naan, plus a small rice pudding for dessert.
Honeybird USC Village
Phil Lee expanded on his La Cañada Flintridge fried chicken concept with a Honeybird outpost at USC Village. A brick façade gives way to a honeycomb pattern design. Bone-in fried chicken showcases organic, hormone-free birds that are brined for 28 hours in a proprietary herb and spice blend before bathing in bubbling soybean oil. Fried chicken sandwiches are also popular. Fire-eaters will enjoy the Firebird, which showcases a fried thigh dipped in chile oil, dusted with more ground spices, and teamed with spicy mayo, cooling coleslaw and tomato on a brioche bun. Phil-Lee O’Fish sandwich name-checks the chef-owner. Crispy, slightly chewy, tempura-like beer batter shrouds flaky whitefish and comes piled with cole claw, tomato, pickles, tartar sauce and chiles on a toasted bun. Swing by the register before leaving for a slab (or entire tin) of salted honey or pecan pie.
La Flor Blanca
This Salvadoran restaurant from Edgar Navarrette and son Rolando has been a popular dining option at the Trojan Square strip mall since 1998. The space features blue tables, photo murals of El Salvador, an overhead menu, and counter service. Yes, they have five types of pupusas with loroco, pork, beans or cheese, but dig deeper with stewed and grilled items. The Desayuno Especial is a great way to sample several different dishes for breakfast or lunch, with bulb-shaped chorizo, griddled carne asada, casamiento (mixed rice and beans) folded with onions and peppers, tangy sour cream, avocado and thick handmade tortillas that are almost creamy in the middle.
La Taquiza No. 2
Miguel Medina presides over La Casa de las Mulitas (“the house of mulitas”), which occupies the corner of a strip mall within shouting distance of USC’s Galen Center. The counter-service space features colorful lime green, orange, red and purple walls lined with decorative plates and Mexican art, skylights and wood tables. Sure, La Taquiza grills New York steak and seafood and serves nachos and mac & cheese, but they specialize in mulitas. This griddled corn tortilla "sandwich" cradles molten Monterey Jack cheese, creamy guacamole and choice of filling, which could consist of well-spiced pastor or plump shrimp.
Lemonade - USC
Alan Jackson has grown his colorful cafeteria-style concept into a juggernaut, with locations from Larchmont to LAX. Lemonade now resides on the second floor of the Ronald Tutor Campus Center in the heart of USC. Pastel green chairs and grassy wallpaper primarily welcomes students and faculty. Bins hold a rotating selection of market soups, braises, sandwiches, salads, marketplace sides and selections from the land and sea. Options include roasted beets with melon, frisee and hazelnuts; smoked trout roll with a cucumber wrapper and radishes; and mac & cheese with cheddar, blue and Parmesan cheeses. Lemonade stocks a pastry case by the register and serves eight kinds of lemonade. Think pineapple coriander lemonade or guava limeade, both kinds simply crafted with fruit, water and sugar.
Mercado La Paloma
The Dove Marketplace, a 34,000 square foot building with Elizabeth Eve’s inviting mural, is a key project from the Esparanza Community Housing Corporation. The community-minded organization leases first floor stalls to artisans and food vendors, some of which are very good. Chitzen Itza chef Gilberto Cetina started serving Yucatan cuisine in 2001, including cochinita pibil, papadzules, and poc chuc. His son, Gilberto Centina, Jr., added a Holbox counter in the middle of the market, featuring Yucatan-style seafood. His menu changes frequently based on market finds, but might include whole wood-grilled branzino, spot prawn & scallop aguachile bathing in Serrano-spiked lime juice, and beer-battered soft-shell crab plated atop avocado cucumber puree in a pool of soy sauce. Raul Morales opened Taqueria Vista Hermosa in 2000, and this stall serves Michoacan style tacos like spit-roasted pastor, carne asada and citrus-marinated chicken. Oaxacalifornia, from Juan and Sofia Antonio, serves ice cream in tropical flavors like guanabana and mamey, plus aguas frescas made with fruits such as cantaloupe and chilacayote with sweet squash strands, seeds and a lime sorbet cap. Azla Mekonnen, daughter Nez Abegaze and their family opened colorful Azla in 2013, featuring an Ethiopian vegan food in the former Mo-chica space. Go with their vegetable combo, which teams springy rolled injera (teff flatbread) with preparations like bitter gomen (kale + collards + garlic); misir (red lentils + spicy berbere); and slightly sweet fasolia (carrots + green beans + caramelized onions).
Momota Ramen House
The third Momota Ramen House location from Yoon Kim resides in the same strip mall as La Taquiza #2. He named Momota for his favorite Japanese wrestler, who was named for a mythical peach who, as the tale goes, became a strong boy. The space features a high wood bar and counter, wood banquette, and black flags sporting the name/logo. Black garlic ramen may well be Momota’s best bowl, featuring a rich 16-hour pork tonkotsu broth infused with roasted black garlic oil and house special chile paste. Scallions, bean sprouts, kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), spinach, nori, pork belly chashu, red onions, and marinated soft-boiled egg round out the bowl. More pork-centric Hakata tonkotsu, shio chicken, and vegan miso add depth and diversity to the menu.
The Kronfli brothers and chef Lior Hillel also own this coffeehouse, which serves as a de facto office for dozens of students per day. The partners fill a pastry case with baked goods like croissants and cookies crafted with kale, which is of course conveniently located by the cash register. Breakfast and lunch menus are populated with comfort foods, and the owners/chef are also prone to bust out specials based on their Israeli heritage. For instance, if they ever have sabich sandwich on the blackboard, order it. This beast arrives with roasted eggplant and amba, all piled between two slices of toasted wheat bread. Fresh juice, a full coffee bar and creative smoothies also help to spur visitor creativity.
Betty Ren runs two dough-focused Chinese food restaurants under the Northern Cafe banner by UCLA and recently introduced dumplings and noodle dishes to USC students. Her brick-walled University Park outpost contains chandeliers featuring exposed filament bulbs, a mix of red cushioned booths and wood tables, and an exhibition kitchen to watch dumpling making. Most dumplings are available boiled or pan-fried with fillings like lamb, fish and pork. Pan-fried shrimp & yellow chive dumplings are particularly good, especially dipped in murky brown soy, vinegar and peanut oil sauce flecked with minced garlic. Accent with two types of house chile sauce: a fire red puree and a dark seedy sludge. Northern Café also sells large-format dishes like “huge plate” braised chicken with wings, bell pepper, potato and shaved noodles; and grilled whole Sichuan-style grouper with peanuts, carrots, green peas and sesame.
Qin West Noodle
Qin West Noodle started in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza and later expanded to Westwood, Arcadia, Irvine, and most importantly for this guide, USC. The owner is from Shanxi, a province in northern China. Their airy space features light wood table and counter seats with stainless steel stools, and white walls featuring uplifting sayings like “The first and best victory is to conquer self,” and, “Writing is the geography of the soul.” Noodles are the biggest draw. Dry mix rice noodle features sliced beef shank, pickled Chinese cabbage, lily flowers, peanuts, sour bean, and pot-stewed egg. They also offer a brothy variation called Guilin soup. Liang Pi teams bean sprouts, cucumbers, peanuts and special sauce (chile paste and oil) with thick, hand-made flat noodles. Saozi noodle features fettuccine-like rice noodles with diced pork belly, potato, tofu, bean sprouts, enlightening greenery, and fiery chile flakes. “high quality noodle and soup.” Choose your desired spice level.
Farid Zadi and wife Susan Park have diverse culinary backgrounds, and they’ve fixed on North African tacos with their latest endeavor, which is designed to team flavor with value. The space sports grey walls, blue walls, wood tables and a patio with a communal table and drum smoker. A tagine appears alongside a molcajete on the single shelf. A highly customizable menu includes burritos, bowls and tacos, which are all available with options like roasted cauliflower, black-eyed pea falafel or smoked lamb. “Bling out your food” with multi-cultural condiments like kimchi curtido, red harissa or roasted tomatillo chermoula.
Saola by Hannah An
Hannah An, one of Crustacean founder Helene An’s daughters, also runs The District by Hannah An in Mid-City and recently opened the fast casual Saola at USC Village. The name refers to a rare horned animal that’s indigenous to Vietnam and Laos. The space is much more approachable, featuring white brick walls, a long dark wood counter; curved bamboo banquettes, living walls and conical nón lá hats. Thit kho is a rice bowl featuring meaty pork belly caramelized in lemongrass fish sauce, garlic, and lime), garnished with a medium-boiled egg and seasonal vegetables, in this case broccolini and zucchini. More iconic dishes include pho, banh mi, and a version of the An family’s famed garlic noodles with filet mignon (or chicken). Fish lovers will appreciate cha ca Thanh Long, a play on a Hanoi classic starring grilled turmeric white fish with dill served over rice vermicelli.