What does summer mean in LA? Hotter days, busier beaches and the constant search for anything to keep us cool. Every year we comb the city to bring you the best tastes and sips of the season, but not your typical salads, hot dogs and ice cream sundaes. From spicy peel-and-eat prawns to boozy milkshakes and fancy frozen desserts, here are 22 must-try dishes and drinks for this summer in Los Angeles.
Cucumber salad at Kismet
Everything is cool at Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson’s Los Feliz hot spot, from many of the dishes to the hipsters themselves. Some dishes change with the seasons, some things won't, like the Persian cucumbers with rosewater lebneh and parsley seed za'atar. A perfectly chill bite on a hot night.
4648 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-409-0404
The Bludso's Tray at Bludso's Bar & Que
The original Compton location may have closed, but Kevin Bludso's Texas 'cue lives on at this La Brea restaurant. Along with the smoked meats, draft cocktails, great sides and Nicole Rucker pies, there are serious party trays for groups, both to eat in and take out. This one has everything and feeds up to six people: brisket, pulled pork, chicken, rib tips, babyback ribs, hot links, cornbread, pickles and your choice of sides. Don't forget the sauce.
609 N. La Brea Ave.; 323-931-2583
Cranked bowls at The Mar Vista
Co-owner and chef Jill Davie creates these fun tableside desserts with frozen “ugly” fruit from the local farmer’s markets, including strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, and a hand-cranked grinder. Ground into a sort of fluffy granita that’s dairy free and comes topped with everything from Nutella to vanilla meringue, pomegranate molasses, edible flowers and nuts, it's a big hit with the kids.
12249 Venice Blvd.; 310-751-6773
Scallop aguachile at Holbox
The Mexican blood clams in morita sauce get high marks from fans of this stand at the Mercado la Paloma near USC — they are unique and quite delicious. But we also love the scallops marinated in lime, cilantro and serrano chile. Of course everything from this sibling of Chichen Itza is fantastic, especially the cold seafood specialties like those you’d find on the Yucatan peninsula.
3655 S. Grand Ave.; 213-986-9972
Social bowls at Tower 12
Destined to be the oceanside party spot of the summer, this Hermosa Beach hangout has great bites and fun, fruity cocktails. The social bowls are perfect for a group, like the Southbay Swizzle, a 48-ouncer filled with rum, cintronage, Luxardo cherry liqueur and lime juice. And yes, they light it on fire.
53 Pier Ave.; 310-379-6400
The Redneck at Manuela
Because it’s shaded inside an Arts District complex, this Southern-tinged gem is actually pretty breezy and cool. This platter of thinly sliced country ham, housemade chow chow, pimento cheese, deviled eggs and buttery biscuit is like a picnic, but without the dirt, grass stains and ants.
907 E. 3rd St.; 323-849-0480
Avocado semifreddo at Estrella
Strawberry shortcake is a classic but can be boring. Chef Dakota Weiss amps it up with avocado semifreddo, fresh berries and honey pound cake. The avocado adds a nice creaminess and color to the whole thing.
8800 Sunset Blvd.; 310-652-6613
Bara chirashi at Hamasaku
Way better than a poke bowl, this chirashi at the Westside stalwart brings all the tastes of the sea together in one place: diced tuna, salmon, yellowtail, uni, unagi, daikon and roe. It’s only available at lunch.
11043 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-479-7636
Triple berry crumble crunch cake at Cake Monkey
Cupcakes are so over. This vanilla cake filled with layers of housemade strawberry, blueberry and raspberry jam and topped with raspberry crumble, comes in small and large sizes. Go ahead — we won’t tell anyone you ate a “whole” (mini) cake if you demolish one.
7807 Beverly Blvd.; 323-932-1142
Purple Drank at Sweet Chick
Yep, it’s purple. And no, it's not made with cough syrup like OG "purple drank" (at least we don't think so). All you need to know is that the sweet slushie is made with gin, grape soda and lime, and it’s served in a plastic domed cup. What did you expect from the new soul food spot on Fairfax? Drink this, watermelon cocktails or boozy iced tea along with fried chicken and waffles and sides of super-creamy mac ‘n’ cheese.
448 N. Fairfax Ave.; 323-592-3423
Trofie pesto pasta at Felix
The sweet, herbal aroma of basil is one of the best things about summer. Putting it to good use is chef Evan Funke at his buzzy Italian newcomer in Venice. The trofie pasta, a small twisted shape tossed in fresh pesto, is a specialty of Liguria, Italy, and like a summer vacation in every bite.
1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; 424-387-8622
Ice cream bars at Magpies Softserve
If you don’t live near one of the two soft serve outlets — yes, now there is one in Silver Lake and a new outpost in Tarzana — following its Instagram is torture. Not only are there daily changing flavors for wildly delicious swirls and sundaes, but there are now ice cream pies and the more portable ice cream bars. Think malted milk chocolate, sweet cream or vegan corn almond ice cream coated in crunchy milk chocolate and topped with sprinkles, toasted almonds or cookie crumbs.
Beets & Berries at Rustic Canyon
While flipping through Jeremy Fox’s new cookbook, On Vegetables, this savory-sweet dish might catch your eye. With accouterments like avocado, quinoa, fennel and pistachio “soil,” it’s like a garden on your plate.
1119 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-393-7050
Sunbathing prawns at Cassia
The raw bar at the Southeast Asian–inspired restaurant is one of the best and most unique in town. Imagine getting off the beach and grabbing some oysters with sambal cocktail sauce and these peel-and-eat spicy prawns. The chiles, garlic and hot sauce ensure you’ll need a cocktail or three to go with them.
1314 7th St.; 310-393-6699
Chocolate Jesus at Salt’s Cure
This summer slushie is named for a Tom Waits song, which is already pretty cool. The boozy milkshake has rum, Cognac and Fernet Branca among other things, and is just the treat you need after a long day.
1155 Highland Ave.; 323-465-7258
Lobster roll at Plan Check Santa Monica
We're lucky to have lobster rolls in just about every pocket of town, and that the summer staple is available year-round. But not all lobster rolls are the same: This one has a few flavorful twists with gochujang, shallots and Key lime.
1401 Ocean Ave.; 310-857-1364
The Corbarina at Pizzana
At this new Beverly Hills spot, pizzaiolo Daniele Uditi has created a super-seasonal pie with squash blossoms from the local Brentwood market, cherry tomatoes, burrata and gremolata. Just start calling it the summer pizza.
11712 San Vicente Blvd.; 310-481-7108
The Staycation at Woodley Proper
Is there anything that says sunny beaches and blue skies more than a pineapple and rum? This cocktail at the Encino hideaway isn't frozen, nor as heavy as a true piña colada thanks to less coconut cream, but it does have kaffi, Thai basil and lime for a little twist. Honestly, one sip and you'll forget you're in a strip mall in the Valley.
16101 Ventura Blvd.; 818-906-9775
New England seafood boil at Connie & Ted's
If you've spent any time from Maine to Connecticut during the summer months, chances are there was a lobster boil or two. At his West Hollywood seafood house, Michael Cimarusti's version has all the requirements in one bowl: corn, potatoes, steamers, linguica and of course lobster. It comes to the table steaming, and even though the ocean is miles away, you'll feel right at the sea.
171 Santa Monica Blvd.; 323-848-2722
Blueberry mousse at Rose Cafe
The Venice restaurant might be hot, hot, hot, but the desserts are super-cool. Pastry chef Josh Graves pulls some of the best summer flavors together for this deconstructed dish. In addition to blueberry mousse, there’s lemon verbena yogurt, raspberry meringue and mulberries (while they last). This on the patio on a Venice Beach night? Perfection.
220 Rose Ave.; 310-399-0711
The Stinger at Fritzi Coop
If you’re a firm believer that eating hot food is the best antidote to super-hot weather, then the fried chicken sandwich slathered in Buffalo hot sauce at Neal Fraser’s Downtown chicken joint is for you. Blue cheese–dressed greens balance out the heat a bit, but you’ll still want a beer. Good thing the Arts District Brewery is next door.
814 Traction Ave.; 213-537-0327
Torrone at Officine Brera
The Arts District stunner has a new dining terrace, just in time for summer. After the amazing risottos and grilled dishes, sit back for the torrone, a perfect little mound of nut nougatine semifreddo, warmed chocolate fudge and amareno cherries.
1331 E. 6th St.; 213-553-8006