As a multi-decade resident of the area, I thought I’d contribute a guide to things you might not discover using the usual sources. Enjoy!

Quintessential Movies to Watch on Your Journey

As a world center for film, LA often gets captured as a backdrop. You will be busy at the conference, so start the trip before you get here. I promise that any of these will be better than taking a random draw of your airline’s seat back entertainment. Links go to trailers. All should be available for online streaming – the locals would hate it if you downloaded a bootleg mp4.

Reality

City of Gold follows Jonathan Gold, the first food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize, on a tour and history lesson of LA. You don’t need to be a foodie to understand the real LA which Gold describes as an multi-ethnic “anti-melting pot”. This is your ticket behind the stage erected for the average tourist. Highly recommended – at least check out the trailer on Amazon.

Action Thriller version

Collateral is an action thriller set in the area of the OSS/MesosCon site, seen from the eyes of a cab driver. Thankfully the real LA is lighter on assassins. The high def cinematography here really captures the look and feel of LA at night, and if you like action this will make a couple hours of your flight disappear.

Fantasy version

LA LA Land is a musical set in LA. It opens with a dance scene on an LA freeway (the famous 105/110 interchange) and moves on to other famous locations like the city overlook at the Griffith Park observatory, the Colorado Street Bridge, and the (now closed) Rialto Theater.

Comedy

The Big Lebowski. Just hope that during your visit you won’t fall victim to a case of mistaken identity and crime like “The Dude” in this classic, filmed in the 90s at various sites in LA.

The Past

People from outside the US may laugh, but 100 years ago is ancient history by LA standards. Take the classic caper film The Maltese Falcon, put it in LA, and you get Chinatown. The Mulwray character is based on William Mulholland, a figure in the costly effort to bring water to the desert of Los Angeles.

The Future

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a vision of a future Los Angeles. It was filmed in the Bradbury building and other downtown locations. You can walk to see them from the LA Live site.

Food

Hot Dogs

Oki Dogs

Forget the celebrity frequented Pinks. An Oki Dog is a car crash of ethnic food, that on first glance might inspire fear. Somehow it comes together nicely if you dredge up the courage to actually taste it. Start with a hot dog and a little chili, but since this is LA, put it in a tortilla. Add pastrami, but wait we need something Asian, how about some stir fried Okinawan cabbage? And this is America, so better add cheese. Did I mention it’s cheap – a combo comes with a soft drink and a pound and a half of fries for under $10. This attribute made it a legendary stop for late night punk rockers and bar closing time evictees back in the 70’s. And for you the tourist, that means prime people watching, No mistaking that you are not in Kansas anymore. Oki Dog was evicted from its original Hollywood location and reopened nearby (story). Later they opened a second store. I recommend the 860 N. Fairfax location. Irreverent location comparison chart here.

Pastrami and Deli

The classic pastrami on rye sandwich was invented by the kosher delis in New York city. Pastrami starts with heavily seasoned beef brisket that is then smoked and finally steamed. In the recent book, “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli”, historian Ted Merwin observes that the New York deli’s reached their heyday in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s. Changing demographic trends has led to only 15 proper Jewish delicatessens in New York City, down from about 1,500 at the peak.

I am happy to report that the deli is still alive and well in Los Angeles, and the pastrami crown has moved west. As far back as 2002, an article in The New Yorker nominated the sandwich at Langer’s Delicatessen in downtown LA as the finest in the world. You won’t find a James Beard Award silver plate hanging on the wall at Oki Dog, but Langer’s has one. If you want to try Langer’s, it will have to be for lunch because they’re only open 8am-4pm. Delivery might be the best option, because it’s 1.3 miles away.

 

Downtown LA doesn’t just have the #1 pastrami sandwich in the world – it also has #2 and many allege that the newer arrival Wexler’s owns the crown. I say if you are here, try them both and decide for yourself. Wexlers smokes both pastrami and lox from scratch, on site. Because of lack of space, the rye bread is outsourced to a small traditional Basque bakery. This bread, sold only at Wexlers, is incredible, and has its own story. You will have to catch Wexlers for lunch, because they close at 4 and sometime sell out items before then. If traffic is light, it’s an under a 10 minute Uber ride from LA Live.

Mexican

Carnitas is a slow cooked pork originating in Michoacán, Mexico. Walk up to the Villa Morelianas counter and look up at the menu sign like a newbie. In a tactic out of the drug dealer playbook, you will be offered a free sample. A diabolical tactic, since after that taste you’re not walking away without a purchase. The stall owner hails from the capital of the Michoacan state; this is the real thing – not some weak fast food pretender. While in the Grand Central market, be sure to add a stop at an Aguas Frescas stall for a beverage.

Speaking of beverages, here’s a guide to the 11 best places to pick up a Horchata in downtown LA. Many also offer food.

 

Green corn tamales (made with fresh corn steamed in a corn husk) are only available from May to October and El Cholo has been the place to go for these since 1922. Stick with their specialty, which they do better than anybody. For other Mexican dishes, you can find better elsewhere.

Chinese

In the interest of cultural awareness, I’ll start by pointing out that most Chinese people in China wouldn’t recognize a fortune cookie, a rectangular take-out carton, or a plate of orange chicken. American Chinese food is a distinct category, adapted by immigrants for American ingredients and palate.

Authentic Category (as found in China)

LA isn’t Hong Kong but ranks as the Chinese food pinnacle of North America. But you’re going to have to drive about 10 miles from downtown to the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) if this is what you seek. I’ll refer you to this article: “How LA became a powerhouse for Chinese food” and this one comparing LA to Vancouver. David R. Chan is a frequently travelling accountant and attorney who has eaten in over 6,000 Chinese American restaurants in the US and Canada, keeping a meticulous record in a spreadsheet that he started on his first computer in the 90’s. Read about him here. I will defer to his top 3 list, all in the SGV, as recounted for LA Weekly, which is Seafood Palace , Xi Guan Noodle House , and Qing Dao Bread Food .

American Chinese

The Chinatown district is headquarters for the Americanized version of Chinese food. BTW, a local wag once lauded the county health department for usefully providing prominent guides to local Chinese restaurants in the form of the report card posted in the window. His suggestion was that the ‘A’ stands for “American Chinese Restaurant”, ‘B’ = “Better Chinese Restaurant”, and ‘C’ = Chinese restaurant.

Hop Li is a good old school Cantonese restaurant in the Chinatown district.

Additional options in the American Chinese category:

China Cafe in the Grand Central Market is famous for their wonton soup. In fact if you go there, consider the non traditional step of fortifying your soup with avocado. After all, that avocado toast thing is so last year.

Another suggestion is a throwback restaurant known for the Tommy Lasorda Special, named after the legendary Dodgers manager. Paul’s Kitchen is a Cantonese diner that has been open since 1946.

Fusion Chinese

Wolfgang Puck’s WP24 on the top of the Ritz Carlton (very close to LA Live) offers a view and fusion Chinese food that falls into the upscale dining experience category. You might be a little underdressed in a conference t shirt, but LA is pretty relaxed and if you avoid flip flops, shorts, and ball caps you might still get in.

 

Japanese

Little Tokyo in LA is a legitimate center of commerce frequented by Japanese expatriates and immigrants. The Japanese food options here are as good as you are likely to find anywhere on the North American continent. This is at the opposite end of downtown and probably too long to walk for most people, but a short Uber ride away.

Sushi Gen has quality sushi at a price point that won’t cause your expense report to be bounced when you get back home.

Curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan, introduced by way of the British. Curry House is an American outlet of the House Foods curry empire which operates over 1,300 curry restaurants in Japan. This place is casual and inexpensive.

The Little Tokyo outlet of Shin-Sen Gumi serves Hakata style ramen in a loud raucous room reminiscent of Tokyo. You can customize pretty much anything that goes in your bowl.

Orochon Ramen is for those who like their ramen spicy and has been featured in the Adam Richmond Man vs Food program.

The Marukai Market is a grocery and general goods store for expatriates. It offers inexpensive bento’s and a good window shopping opportunity even if you choose to eat elsewhere. I haven’t been here lately but I believe they may require purchasing a membership card for $1 in order to check out.

The Blue Whale is a Little Tokyo night club featuring live jazz. Food and craft cocktails are available.

Filipino

Ricebar is a true hole-in-the-wall (7 seats, 275 sq feet) and serves bowls of heirloom rice grown in the Philippines with assorted topping options. And get this, the chef formerly learned the trade at the French Laundry in Napa Valley!

American

BTW did you know that for all its healthy reputation, LA is the donut eating capital of the world? Story of how Cambodian immigrants took over the local donut industry and drove out the chains.

The Original Pantry is a coffee shop – it is owned by former LA mayor Richard Riordan and has been featured in many movies and the Michael Connelly series of crime novels. It claims to have never been closed or empty since 1950. A very short walk from LA Live, known for pancakes and huge portions.

Lawry’s Carvery is in LA Live and serves the same prime rib as the better known Beverly Hills location.

Entertainment and Recreation

The Hollywood Bowl has multiple evening concerts during the week of OSS + MesosCon. Calendar

Hiking – if you are an early riser and up for exercise before the morning conference activities you may be able to Uber to the trail head and squeeze in this hike. There is a cafe along the way that opens at 8am for coffee and scones. If you stay through the weekend, this trailhead has extensions that can take you to view the Hollywood sign or to the famous Griffith Park Observatory.

Catch a film. As home of the industry and frequent host of red carpet premiers, LA has high standards for movie theaters. In-industry audience members here vocally object to bad focus, dim projector bulbs, and buzzing sound. The top theaters have “best in world” sound systems and projection. 21 Movie Theaters in L.A. You Need to Experience Before You Die

If you don’t have conference activity Friday morning, Caltech is hosting a celebration event for the end of the Cassini mission to Saturn. Or go there some other time and do a self guided tour.

Stick around for some weekend experiences

Lost Spirits is a technology driven distillery that aims to artificially accelerate the time consuming and costly process of aging whiskey in wood barrels. It offers reservation only weekend tours that have been described as a theme park ride through a distillery. And yes a portion of the tour features a boat ride replete with ambient bird noises and jungle sounds.

Santee Alley in the Fashion District (walkable from LA Live) is enormously popular with tourists and locals, famed for bargains and a broad selection of clothing, accessories, and fabric. It is most active on Saturday morning.

Check out a local museum. I recommend the California Science Center, the Getty Villa, the Natural History Museum, the Petersen Auto Museum, and the Hollyhock House tour at Barnsdall Park.

The Los Angeles Anime Film Festival, billed as the largest in North America, opens September 15 right in LA Live.

At the Conference

I hope you find this guide useful. If you go past the {code} team booth at Open Source Summit and MesosCon, stop and say hello.

You’ll also find me and other {code} team members at various sessions and workshops during the week. Read our blog here.