Gjusta (photo: Ashley Randall)

Fast-casual grows up: LA’s 8 best quick meals high on flavor

By Kat Odell

A city known for its casual eats, in the last decade Los Angeles has upped its ante with big name chefs hitting town, and more sophisticated menus sprouting from the Eastside to the West. The result is a breed of quick-serve restaurants sidestepping the classic burgers and fries for cheffy plates often built from the city’s excellent produce. Below, for those seeking food fast, check out these A-listers elevating LA’s quick-serve game.

Chef Josef Centeno coined the term “bäco”—a hybrid sandwich, taco, pizza construction that resembles a stuffed, folded pita—at his downtown hit Bäco Mercat. With this spot now in Culver City, he’s built a casual spinoff around his namesake dish. BäcoShop bakes its bäcos and bäcorritos (his play on a burrito) in house, and fills them with fried chicken and coffee-rubbed steak. There’s also a number of veggies and salads for those who don’t need to grab and go.
Neighborhood: Culver City MAP

Triple Beam Pizza
Bread queen Nancy Silverton brought Los Angeles quality pizzas first by way of Pizzeria Mozza, and more recently via Triple Beam Pizza, a Roman-style concept she spawned with longtime Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza chef de cuisine, Matt Molina. Since earlier this year, this duo has been cutting long rectangular pies into to order in Highland Park, pricing and selling them by the ounce. Options include heirloom tomato, margherita, and roasted eggplant.
Highland Park MAP

Following the fast-casual model, Dune assembles bright, olive oil and lemon juice–rich Israeli and Mediterranean eats using local and seasonal ingredients. Think an organic falafel served on warm, house-made flatbread, and a hummus plate topped with seared chicken or lamb. The totally casual yet flavor-packed dishes have earned a quick following, and since its Atwater Village debut three years back, the brand now counts three locations.
Neighborhoods: Atwater Village MAP Venice MAP Downtown MAP

Since its inception in 2015, Korean spot Baroo has made waves for the unsung fermentation experiments that invade every corner of the menu, from kombucha to kimchi-fried rice. Despite the casual barstool seating and cozy strip mall space here, owner Kwang Uh has earned praise from major publications, like Bon Appetit and Los Angeles Times, for his innovative, forward-thinking umami-rich cookery.
Neighborhood: Hollywood MAP

Tiny little Loqui slid into Culver City’s Platform mall two years back, bringing with it a Baja-inspired menu of excellent house-made flour tortillas carrying chicken and mushrooms. With its modern minimalist Mexican design and craft Mexican beer, it has been an easy win for the nabe.
Neighborhood: Culver City MAP

After winning over not only Los Angeles, but really the whole country, with super fresh ingredient-driven dishes directed by the seasons at Venice’s Gjelina, chef Travis Lett went on to launch his more casual bakery and deli Gjusta nearby. And extending the Gjelina vision to all-day eats, guests can expect super high-quality, hyper seasonal products, from tomato confit and burrata toast to a kimchi and dashi–spiked grain bowl, alongside a swath of excellent house-made pastries and breads.
Neighborhood: Venice MAP

Chef Jessica Koslow kicked off her Los Angeles cooking career as a pastry chef making jams. She then found toast to be a vehicle for the jam—thickly sliced, pillowy brioche bread topped with creamy whipped ricotta and laced with a seasonal, house-made jam. And while that toast is still her calling card, you can walk up to Sqirl’s Silver Lake counter for more substantial dishes, too, like a crispy brown rice salad or her take on grilled cheese: melted Cheddar with tomato and coriander jam plus arugula. While Sqirl is a totally casual operation (guests dine on small bistro tables outside along the street or within a covered adjacent area), note that the lines get long here, so try to come at an off hour to avoid the wait.
Neighborhood: Silver Lake MAP

Top Round
Five years back, chef Steven Fretz launched a mostly outdoor 1950s-inspired fast-food stand, selling fantastic roast beef sandwiches made from meat slow-roasted for 12 hours, along with fried chicken sandwiches, fries, and milk shakes made from ice cream custard. Since he’s spent time with some of the city’s top chefs like Michael Mina and Curtis Stone, it comes as no surprise that his classic fast-food fare is built with great ingredients and a cheffy touch.
Neighborhood: Mid Wilshire MAP

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