New York diners don’t like to admit it, but L.A. has the healthy-ish, all-day-café thing on lockdown. It’s the kind of gorgeous, good-for-you food—with juices and great coffee, of course—that not only photographs better, it often tastes better than similar East Coast offerings, too. So if you’re looking for a winter escape to a warm place that also has stellar food, well, our apologies to Miami.
First, you must try the holy trinity. Gjusta is the perfect intro (or outro), seeing as its Venice location is just 15 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Take a number from the middle counter as soon as you enter: The deli-style displays can be distracting, but there is seemingly always a wait, so you’ll have time to choose from the dizzyingly inventive fresh pastries and breads, egg dishes and smoked fish, sandwiches layered with house-roasted meats, seasonal salads, flatbreads, and—believe it or not—more. (In addition to what’s in the cases, there are menus above them!) Don’t forget the juices, teas, and coffee. In fact, just place an order, eat it outside while surrounded by truly beautiful people, then go back in and do it again. It’s worth it.
Sqirl, too, is worth the wait. Jessica Koslow’s Silver Lake breakfast-till-4 café and restaurant gives good rice bowl—make that sorrel pesto rice bowl—and practically invented the toast craze. (For real.) You’ll also find a fresh take on shakshuka, amazing savory porridge, kabbouleh salad, and some alt-grainy pastries to suit every diet. A turmeric tonic and a chicory cloud latte are musts—or maybe order an iced Al Puccino while you watch actress Busy Philipps stand in line.
Botanica has the distinction of being the slightly healthier option of the three. Here you can have a strawberry grain bowl with black rice and quinoa, sure, but also something called Cake for Breakfast (amen), which, it turns out, is an orangey almond tea cake topped with organic whipped cream. We love the arugula lemonade, the extensive list of “day drinks,” and the highly photogenic smoked-beet tartine.
Newcomer Porridge & Puffs is about just that: Gorgeous bowls of (mostly savory) porridge, made with heirloom rice, rich stock, and the day’s fruit and veg from the farmers’ market transformed into never-before-tasted pickles, powders, and more. Each bowl is a fleeting work of art—and not just because they’ve been selling out early. The Historic Filipinotown café represents the perfect intersection between crafted and casual. Oh, and those puffs? Crispy, ethereal bits of fried bread.
Triniti looks like a 650-square-foot coffee shop. And it is. Except that the small plates coming out of the tiny kitchen are being crafted by a former Noma chef, who also cooked at the excellent Culver City café Destroyer. (More on Destroyer, below.) Each and every plate, whether it’s a Little Gem salad with spicy XO dressing, chickpeas in a clam-tomato broth, an Instagram-breaking potato dish, or a warm canelé and kouign-amann from the pastry case up front, is delicious. Whether or not you order the buttered yam latte is up to you…
West Adams now has the cool and polished Highly Likely, opened by one of the owners of the healthy all-stars Café Gratitude and Juice Served Here. The difference is that the food here is only gluten-free and vegan if you ask. Try a Not Another Kale salad with coconut dukkah; a crispy Fish (Don’t Have) Fingers sando with yuzu cabbage slaw; and a Japanese breakfast bowl with many, many things in it. Thirsty? Its take on the Arnold Palmer combines limonade with genmaicha, a green tea with puffed brown rice. We’re there.
Echo Park success story Kismet is run by two ex-New Yorkers who love Middle Eastern food as much as they love veggies (and natural wine). That means broccoli toast, cinnamon babka toast, or a Persian-style frittata for breakfast; flaky bread with a soft-boiled egg, labneh, and spice midmorning; and freekeh polenta with lamb and green chiles or a sweet potato with puffed wild rice and lentils in a coconutty vinaigrette for lunch. If you’re in the natural wine camp, definitely stay for dinner: The women of Kismet offer one of the city’s best lists.
If you’re doing a hike in Malibu, then a meal at Malibu Farm restaurant or café is a must. The healthy, market-fresh organic food, while not as up to the minute as the other spots mentioned here, is a favorite of many (professionally) beautiful people—the kind who order pizza with cauliflower or zucchini crust—and the pier-perched settings are reason enough to put your NYC apartment on the market.
Vegetarians are hooked on PYT downtown, and for good reason. Even the crudités at celebrated chef Josef Centeno’s superstylish lunch and dinner spot are elaborately prepared, served with roasted tomatillo crème fraîche. Its wintry take on toast? Piled with ripe persimmons, ricotta, pumpkin seeds, and honey. And your Instagram feed has been waiting for these sweet potatoes, garnished with chile-spiked popcorn and sweet jujube butter.
Finally, there is a place in L.A. that does kale salad and avocado in quotation marks—and, it could be said, much more deliciously. Destroyer is a blast from the future, serving a kind of postapocalyptic poetry—as seen on a much larger scale at its nearby sister restaurant, the highly polarizing Vespertine. Here, you might try chicken confit with grits and roasted strawberry (it works), and maybe roast cabbage with black barley and black butter. And that kale? It’s in powder form. Is this art or lunch? Both.