Circumnavigating the Globe in One Afternoon on an L.A. International Food Tour
Repatriation is never an easy process for anyone who’s spent time overseas, but if there’s one city that makes the transition easy, it’s my hometown, Los Angeles. With a history steeped in cultural confluence, 224 distinct languages spoken by its residents, and an endless variety of things to do, see, and eat, L.A. is a dream come true for the internationally curious.
This former nomad is officially nomadic no more: since February, I’ve been settling into a new, full-time office job and an apartment of my own. I’ve traded border hopping for deadlines, a backpack for drawers, and spontaneity for routine—and I’m loving everything about it. Of course, I’m still a traveler at heart, so I’ve been thrilled to explore my hometown through new, wanderlustful eyes. In November, TripAdvisor inspired me to join a Downtown Food Tour, which shed a whole new light on a city I thought I knew so well.
Eager to dive even deeper into Los Angeles culture and cuisine, I scanned TripAdvisor Attractions again until one tour jumped out at me that was right up my alley: Urban Adventures’ Ethnic Neighborhoods Food & Culture Tour. I’ve always been proud of L.A.’s multiculturality, and who doesn’t love trying new dishes and cuisines? After an easy booking process, I was ready to start eating my way through L.A.
We met our guide, Aerienne, right in the heart of Koreatown, in front of the historic Gaylord Apartments and opposite the former site of The Ambassador Hotel, where senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated. With over 110,000 Korean-Americans living in Los Angeles, no city outside of Korea can rival L.A.’s 2.7-square mile Koreatown. There, you’ll also find more Korean restaurants than you can possibly imagine, making it the perfect spot to kick off our tour.
Our first stop? Ham Ji Park, a family-run restaurant where we tasted delectable barbecue pork ribs accompanied by banchan (Korean sides) and rice tea. I could have gone home happy after this meal, but there was plenty more to see! Sticking to Koreatown a little longer, we then made our way to Zion Market. In this bustling Asian market, we had a wander around and then tried a few freshly prepared desserts: sweet buns shaped like goldfish and walnut pastries.
You could spend an entire lifetime exploring L.A.’s Koreatown and barely scratch the surface of delicious restaurants, but we were off to another part of the world: Armenia. We hopped on a bus toward East Hollywood, en route to Little Armenia. Nearly half of the U.S. Armenian population calls Los Angeles home, and, while the majority of Armenian Angelenos reside in the L.A. County city of Glendale, you’ll find a big concentration in East Hollywood’s Little Armenia as well. I visited “Big” Armenia last summer and absolutely adored it, so I was particularly excited to head to this part of town on the tour. At Sasoun Bakery we tasted cheese borek (a cheesy pastry) and lahmajune (ground beef and dough).
It wouldn’t be L.A. without an unexpected mashup of cultures, so our next stop in Little Armenia was—can you guess?—a Northern Thai restaurant. Spicy & BBQ is a tiny hole in the wall you might not otherwise notice, but its flavors were unforgettable. We began the tasting with glasses of Thai iced tea, and then we tried khao soi, a creamy, curried egg noodle soup. Although our tongues were burning by the time we reached the bottom, this had to have been one of the tastiest Thai dishes I’ve ever tried. I only regret not having a high enough spice tolerance to finish it all.
From Thai food in Little Armenia, we headed to nearby Thai Town, with Aerienne explaining some of the native and imported plants, flowers, and trees growing along the way. To make things even more confusing, our first Thai Town stop was, well, a Lebanese restaurant. Carousel is a beautifully-decorated spot offering some of the tastiest Lebanese dishes you’ll find anywhere. We tasted their lule (sausage), hummus, and muhammara (red pepper dip), and although I was reaching my limit after trying so many amazing things in one afternoon, I loved every one.
Last but certainly not least, Aerienne led us into a parking structure of all places, and there we found carts selling Thai deserts. We tried “Thai taco” pastries to top off the day’s feast before wandering around Silom Market, a Thai grocery store offering all sorts of goodies. Although I wasn’t ready for the tour to come to an end, I may have exploded if I’d had one more bite, so perhaps it was for the best that our tour concluded here.
Excited to explore L.A.’s diversity, I went into the tour with high expectations, yet somehow they were surpassed. Aerienne was a wonderful guide: knowledgeable, fun, and clearly very passionate about Los Angeles and its wide variety of cuisines. The small group size allowed us to ask all the questions we wanted and get to know each other well. And the food was absolutely divine at each and every stop.
Best of all, this tour highlighted a side of Los Angeles few tourists ever get to see, a side I think is far more fascinating than any of the city’s typical tourist destinations. We visited neighborhoods that may not be as glamorous as Rodeo Drive or as famous as Venice Beach but that are real places where real Angelenos live, work, and eat. We tried mom-and-pop restaurants you could pass every day without noticing. We learned about the history and cultural blend that makes L.A. unique and spectacular. I walked away from the tour loving my city even more than I already did.
Whether you’re a culturally curious visitor or an L.A. local looking for even more reasons to love your city, I highly recommend booking Urban Adventures’ Ethnic Neighborhoods Food & Culture Tour through TripAdvisor. It’s a strange thing to go from traveling all over the world to staying put in my hometown, but in Los Angeles I can explore the entire globe without setting foot outside the city’s boundaries. I can’t wait to see what else I discover.