Word to the wise: If given the opportunity to backpack through Europe, just go ahead and do it. Don’t think too hard, just pack a few pairs of jorts and a rain poncho and NEVER LOOK BACK. I’m serious about the jorts though. They’re back. (Or maybe never left). And on my recent such adventures, as I was perusing the cities and countrysides, climbing castles and taking socially uncomfortable selfies, I was able to sample some of the best local cuisine in Europe. And it didn’t disappoint. From street carts to food halls and everything in between, I was blown away by the uniqueness of flavor and the pride in which their food was prepared. But what good is food that’s 5,000 miles away? Well, it’s all kinds of good when you live in the steaming hot cultural jacuzzi that is Los Angeles. So don’t fret LA, Europe is right in our backyard. And below I highlight my favorite meal in every country and where in our glorious City of Angels you can find the very best local version.
Lamb Palak at Needoo Grill in London
When it comes to English cuisine, generally three words come to mind: “Fish and Chips”. And while that dish is being served on every street corner from London to Liverpool, many Americans don’t realize that it pales in comparison to the deep rooted influence Indian food has on the English culture. And I certainly wasn’t complaining. Though Indian food can be found in any pub in the city, the epicenter exists in the Brick Lane district in East London. And a few blocks off of that is the highly-regarded Needoo Grill, serving some of the best Indian food this side of Mumbai. This is real-deal Indian and come thirsty because they are not kidding with the spice. If you don’t drink an entire gallon of water by the end of your meal, I’m concerned for you.
London in LA: Al-Noor
15112 Inglewood Avenue, Lawndale
Welcome to the best Indian food in Los Angeles. Most well-known for its appearance on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” (garlic naan), this unassuming strip-mall Indian joint in the shadow of LAX has a cult following and I consider myself a part of the tribe. Technically also considered Pakistani cuisine, there is a certain sweetness to all its fare that I haven’t found anywhere else in town. Order pick-up or dine in for a serious no frills dinner. Service isn’t the best and they literally do not care. And neither do I. Next time you fly into LA don’t worry about In N Out, go STRAIGHT to Al-Noor.
Swedish Meatballs at Tysta Mari in Ostermalms Saluhall in Stockholm
Tucked away in the hip, exclusive neighborhood of Ostermalm in the glistening streets of Stockholm sits the Swedish food market Saluhall. Populated by equal parts tourists and locals, Saluhall is a crash course in traditional Swedish cuisine. Fresh seafood dominates and the smell of pickled herring fills the air, but deep in the far right corner is Tysta Mari, a food stall many consider to be making the best version of Sweden’s staple dish. The star at Tysta is the gravy that provides a sweet, light flavor to the baseball-sized meatballs. I found myself coming up with creative, unacceptable ways to get every last drop of it off my plate.
Stockholm in LA: Olson’s Scandinavian Delicatessan
5660 W. Pico Boulevard, Mid-City
The fact that this place even exists in Los Angeles is a testament to the true cultural integration that has taken place in Southern California. Established in 1948 but recently re-opened after an extensive renovation, Olson’s is the premiere spot for Scandinavian cuisine in the city. Part deli, part restaurant, part food market, you can find everything from pickled herring sandwiches to traditional Toast Skagen (The Lobster Roll of Scandinavia). But the star of the show here is, of course, the meatballs. Sweet, juicy and not overbearing, these are the best versions of the Swedish dish in the city and it’s not even really close. Sorry Ikea.
The Danish Hotdog at DOP in Copenhagen
Ahhhh Denmark, the land of Hans Christian Anderson, bicycle traffic and…hotdogs? Yup. Ask any Dane and they will surely boast that the hotdog did not come from Germany or Coney Island but, in fact, Denmark. And they are quite adamant too. Even going as far as awarding DOP, a simple food cart outside the popular Round Tower, as the best eats in Copenhagen. That’s really saying something for a city that has the #1 restaurant in the world within its border. So what makes a Danish hotdog so different? Well it starts with the meat, which is different than anywhere in the world and ends with the traditional toppings such as crisp onions and remoulade. Sweet, sweet, happy goodness.
Copenhagen in LA: Fab Hotdogs
19417 Victory Boulevard, Reseda
Since opening only 6 years ago, this tiny spot in the heart of the Valley’s urban sprawl has developed into a bit of a regional phenomenal, rivaling other more famous competition in town. They have even now sprouted a second location in Westwood. Though its most well-known for the bacon-wrapped dogs, I’m including Fab because its a joint dead-set on the celebration of every worldly hotdog variation known to man. Though they don’t have the Danish hotdog permanently on their menu, at any time you could get a hotdog style from Boston to Texas, Mexico to Kansas City. And that’s something definitely worth celebrating.
Currywurst at Konnopke’s Imbiss in Berlin
To say that Berlin is exciting isn’t doing it justice. It thrives, pulses and progresses differently than any other city I’ve ever been to in the world. We all know the history that occurred within its borders and modern day Berliners wear it on their sleeve, soberly acknowledging their past but proudly moving forward. For as many steps that Berlin had taken backwards, it is now so many more ahead – the nightlife, fashion, people, and food. Take note world, Berlin has figured it out. And when it comes to food, there’s not a more trademark dish than currywurst. It’s sweet, but savory, with a kick of spice, and can be found just about anywhere. Underneath an elevated railway in the Weissensee District of Berlin sits Konnopke’s Imbiss, a Berlin staple that has been making the classic dish since 1930. Favorited by locals and tourists alike, this is quintessential Berlin in every way possible.
Berlin in LA: Berlin Currywurst
1620 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood & 3827 W. Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake
Thank you LA for making that one easy. Started in Silverlake in 2011, Berlin Currywurst has made quite a name for itself, dishing out a remarkably authentic version of the classic German street food. They even have a big, high-profile location on the Cahuenga corridor in Hollywood with its own beer garden! Currywurst still hasn’t caught on in America like some of the other international food trends have, but I suspect that will be changing soon. Its light but fulfilling and easy to eat on the go. Or if you have a minute, the Germans would much rather prefer you take it with a beer.
Pork Schnitzel and Dumplings at Krcma v Satlavske in Cesky Krumlov
Upon entering the glorious fairytale land known as the Czech Republic, I was awestruck at the beauty of not only its countryside and cities but its never-say-die culture. After all, this is a country that found itself directly in the cross-hairs of both World Wars and endured the weight of the Iron Curtain for an entire generation. But the reality is that the Czech Republic is experiencing a renaissance that it hasn’t felt in over a hundred years. The word is out folks. A land that remained dormant for so long, living in the shadows of its more powerful neighbors, is finally enjoying its time in the sun. And they’ve more than earned it. My favorite meal of the ENTIRE trip came at an old medieval jail in Cesky Krumlov, a small town three hours south of Prague, close to the Austrian border. I think Snow White lives there. And I ate exactly what you think I ate. Meat and dumplings and goulash and soup and then more meat. All cooked in front of me on a massive fire pit in the middle of the restaurant. Nobody will tell you Czech Republic has a food culture rivaling the best in Europe. But what it does have is a culture that doesn’t even care. You’ll will eat the best meat you’ll probably ever have and no one will probably believe you. And the Czechs are perfectly fine with that.
Czech Republic in LA (sort of): Robert’s Russian Cuisine
1603 N. La Brea Avenue, Hollywood
Yes, this is a Russian restaurant but there is a little bit of overlap in cuisines and Robert’s is one of those quiet cult favorites that has built a humble following in the heart of all the glitz and glamour; striving to bring authentic Eastern European fare to the bellies of SoCal denizens. And it does so brilliantly. I’ll admit, its terribly hard to convince friends to come here, but when they do, its always a slam dunk. People are consistently blown away by the flavors found in a region most Americans have written off as just bread and some meat. The pork schnitzel is TOPS and the chicken kiev (Ukrainian style) is probably the most ordered. So put down the pizza for a night and come to Robert’s for something different and unique, right in the middle of the Hollywood glow.