California natives will tell you that there’s no place better than California and people from all other states will tell you that there’s no better place to visit than California. Because not only does California have golden beaches and endless sunshine, it also has some of the best food out there. There’s a reason why so many California restaurants have been featured on “before you die” type bucket lists, with the most recent being Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in 2016.
But with so many amazing places to eat, how can you even possibly know where to begin? That’s where this list comes in clutch. We’ve compiled this handy guide of the fifty best things to eat in California — perfect for both locals and visitors alike. Enjoy, and happy eating!
1. Any Dog at Pink’s Hot Dogs
Normal hot dogs are boring. Pink’s hot dogs are epic. They’re named after infamous celebrities and are topped with anything from bacon to sour cream to nacho cheese.
2. A Fully Topped Donut at California Donuts
California Donuts also proves that Californians love their toppings. While there’s a good selection of your normal sprinkle and maple bacon donuts, this famous donut shop also has must-try cereal and candy-topped donuts.
3. Chicken and Waffles at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
Roscoe’s is the only place to have the classic chicken and waffle combo. With chains all around California, you have no excuse not to hit one up.
4. Bacon, Egg, and Cheese at Eggslut
The only thing slutty about this place is the amount of yolk porn you’ll see from every single egg dish.
5. Godmother from Bay Cities
Good Italian subs are hard to find in California, but Bay Cities has got you covered. Pick one up for your next beach day — the Godmother is their best-selling one.
6. Animal Style Anything from In-N-Out Burger
The not-so-secret “secret” menu at In-n-Out includes both animal-style fries and an animal-style burger. Either one is good — or both, if you love that animal sauce.
7. Breakfast Burrito at Tacos Villa Corona
Nobody makes breakfast burritos like Californians do. This little hole-in-the-wall taco shop beats all the competition with its perfect combination of egg, potato and chorizo.
8. Custom Crêpe from Harajuku Crêpe
Parisians aren’t the only ones who can make an awesome crêpe. Harajuku Crêpes is a Japanese crêpe place that lets you customize your own crêpe, and has options for add-ins ranging from sesame ice cream to mochi. Added bonus — everything is organic.
9. Açai Bowl from Banzai Bowls
Açai bowls may have originated in Brazil and first became popular in Hawaii, but they’re still a SoCal favorite. Topped with fruit and superfoods, you’ll feel healthy and fit right in as you stroll down the streets of Santa Monica.
10. Poke from Sweetfin Poke
Poke is another Hawaiian favorite that Californians have adopted. Though nothing can beat true Hawaiian poke, Sweetfin comes pretty damn close.
11. California Burrito from Nico’s Mexican Food
If you haven’t had fries in a burrito, you haven’t truly lived. This San Diego classic takes normal burritos to a whole new level and is a perfect post-beach meal.
12. Seafood Burrito from El Zarape
San Diegans sure know how to do a burrito right. Instead of fish tacos, make sure to try a seafood burrito in San Diego — it’s much more filling and is better than your typical carne asada burrito.
13. Cheeseburger from Hodad’s
The beauty of this cheeseburger in its simplicity. It’s juicy and and sinful and everything a burger should be.
14. Carne Asada Tater Tots from Bull Taco
Carne asada tater tots are carb-y bowls of goodness — an upgrade to the classic carne asada fries.
15. Churros from Disneyland
Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, and their churros will make you the happiest person on earth.
16. Tacos Al Pastor (Adobada) from Tacos el Gordo de Tijuana B.C.
This Chula Vista place serves the most authentic tacos north of the border. The adobada is carved off a massive spit and plopped into warm corn tortillas topped with special sauce. Heaven.
17. The Rebel Within from Craftsman and Wolves
Surprise yolk porn is the best yolk porn. Just cut into this savory muffin and you’ll see.
18. Matt Cain Sandwich from Ike’s Place
Go to Ike’s and you’ll be guaranteed a full and satisfied stomach. Any of their sandwiches are good (it is a famous place, after all), but the Matt Cain has three different types of meat, automatically making it one of our top choices.
19. Sushirrito from Sushirrito
20. Carne Asada Super Burrito from La Taqueria
SoCal may have the best California burritos, but NorCal has the best classic burritos. La Taqueria does it the authentic way, with no rice and lots of guac.
21. Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie
If you’re ever in San Francisco, hitting up the Embarcadero market is the first thing you should do. Find the red tent and get in line to get these porchetta sandwiches — we promise you won’t regret it. And if you’re looking for a more carb-heavy meal (aren’t we always?), get the potatoes as well.
22. Secret Breakfast from Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
Breakfast in ice cream form? Um yes. While the ingredients of this ice cream may be a secret (hint: it contains whiskey and cornflakes), the fact that it’s one of the most popular ice cream flavors in California definitely isn’t.
23. Mint Mojito Coffee from Philz Coffee
There’s not actually any alcohol in this coffee (sorry), but it’s the most unique coffee you’ll ever taste. They put actual mint leaves in, giving your coffee an instant pick-me-up.
24. All You Can Eat KBBQ from Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ Restaurant
AYCE KBBQ > any buffet you’ve ever been to in your life. Just pay a set price and you get as many plates of meat as you want, as well as many side dishes as you want.
#SpoonTip: Don’t order more than you can eat — they charge $15 for unfinished meat.
25. Pork Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) from Din Tai Fung
This famous Taiwanese chain has moved to the US, which is a win for people who love soup dumplings. Which, to be honest, should be everyone. Thin skin, flavorful broth, and quality meat makes Din Tai Fun’s xiao long bao a definite dim sum must-try.
26. Garlic Knots from C&O Trattoria
Garlic lovers, you have to try this. These garlic knots are like garlic bread on steroids: warm, fluffy, and wonderfully flavored with lots of garlic.
27. Ramen from Daikokuya
Perfectly chewy noodles and a rich, flavorful broth makes Daikokuya’s ramen the best in LA and subsequently, California.
28. Omusubi from Sunny Blue
What’s not to love about a place that has the tagline “this little place has balls”? Sunny Blue specializes in Japanese onmusubi (also known as onigiri), which are filled rice balls. Any of the balls are a good choice, though the miso beef is one of the most popular choices.
29. Fish Tacos from Ricky’s Fish Tacos
Fish tacos are a California beach classic. With so many options, you can’t really go wrong eating them anywhere in California. But Ricky’s has been dubbed the “best fish taco” from Serious Eats and LA Weekly, to name a few.
30. Sushi Combination from Sushi Ota
Don’t let the strip mall location fool you. Sushi Ota has the best sushi in San Diego, and arguably some of the best sushi in the state. Plus, you can try live uni if you’re feeling adventurous.
31. Self-serve Boba from Class 302
Move over, self-serve fro yo. Self-serve boba is here, fulfilling all boba addicts’ dreams. You can customize your drink to your heart’s content, which is great for just about anyone.
#SpoonTip: Check out the do’s and don’ts of self-serve boba here.
32. Umami Burger from Umami Burger
“Umami” means a flavor with a distinct, pleasant savory taste, and the aptly named Umami Burger chain has burgers with unique combinations that will fulfill your umami receptors. Although all their options are interesting, go with the classic Umami Burger for your first time (Parmesan frico, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, and Umami ketchup) — it will be sure to satisfy your tastebuds.
33. Half Chicken from Zankou Chicken
Hungry? Get Zankou’s half chicken. Not hungry? Get Zankou’s half chicken and share. It’s crispy and crunchy and will make you rethink your previous concept of chicken.
34. Local Beer from Telegraph Brewing Company
Though California is known for its Napa Valley wines, beer lovers should know that the locally brewed craft beers are something worth trying as well. Telegraph has seasonal beers as well as classic beers, all of which are made with locally sourced ingredients.
35. Green Tea Latte from Urth Caffe
This matcha latte is probably one of the most Instagrammed photos by anyone who has been to or lived in SoCal, and for good reason. It looks artsy and is made with care from ceremonial-grade matcha from a family farm in Japan.
36. Macarons from Bottega Louie
Bottega Louie has food, but don’t even bother. Just go for the rainbow macarons — get a box.
37. Baby Back Ribs from Phil’s BBQ
38. Praise the Lard from The Waffle Experience
Sacramento is one of the most underrated food cities in California. But with restaurants like The Waffle Experience, it has recently come into the spotlight. The local cafe features creatively named waffle combinations like Farmer in the Dell, Praise the Lard, and Eggcellent. We suggest that anyone who has a hankering for pork belly go for Praise the Lard, which has cider-braised pork belly, a farm fresh egg, burrata cheese, a lard-stuffed waffle, maple syrup, and on-the-vine tomatoes.
39. Mac ‘n Cheetos from The Attic
Literally the stuff of college student dreams.
40. Oysters from Hog Island Oysters
They grow, harvest, shuck, and shell their own oysters, so the oysters are always unbelievably fresh. You can find them in Napa or in San Fran, but we recommend that you visit their farm at Marshall for the full experience.
41. Cioppino from Sotto Mare
Cioppino is a tomato stew filled with seafood and pasta — aka the perfect meal no matter what the weather or your mood. You can’t get much more authentic than Sotto Mare, which is right in the heart of San Francisco’s Italian North Beach.
42. Short Rib Tacos from Kogi BBQ Truck
43. Carbonara Pizza from Pizzeria Delfina
If you thought carbonara only works as a type of pasta, think again. Thanks to Pizzeria Delfina, you can now enjoy it in a pizza form, runny egg and all.
44. Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung’s
Chinese food is a big part of Californian cuisine. So instead of KFC or Chick-Fil-A, we have Sam Tung’s to satisfy our fried chicken cravings.
45. Brunch at Blu Jam Cafe
No one loves brunch as much as Californians do, and with places like Blu Jam, that’s no surprise. They have everything from the healthy to the decadent, and it’s all Instagram-worthy.
#SpoonTip: They serve breakfast all day and offer vegan and gluten-free options, so there’s really no losing by going here.
46. House Meat Pie at Beijing Pie House
There are dumplings and there are steamed bao, and then there are Beijing Pie House’s meat pies. Filled with the traditional dumpling fillings, these savory pies fit perfectly into your hand and taste wonderful in your mouth.
47. Chocolate Bouchons from Bouchon Bakery
New York has their fair share of famous bakeries, but that doesn’t mean that California’s desserts should be overlooked. Bouchon Bakery is famous for its innovative and gorgeous pastries, especially their decadent chocolate bouchons.
48. Whole Snook from Coni’Seafood
Jonathon Gold ate this, so you probably should too. Snook is rarely seen in the states, so it’s definitely a specialty.
#SpoonTip: Gold recommends trying the triple-spicy guac with this. We agree.
49. The Bambu Special from Bambu
Irvine is the Asian food hub, so it only makes sense that the most unique Asian food is found there. Bambu takes desserts one step further with its traditional Vietnamese Chè (sweet beverages, desserts, and drinks). They have a smashed avocado drink for die-hard avo lovers, but for everyone else, we recommend the Bambu Special, which is made with fresh coconut juice with longan, basil seed, coconut meat, and pandan jelly.
50. Julian Apple Pie from Julian Pie Company
One of the most famous pie places in California, the Julian Pie Company grows their own apples and retains the original traditions from when they first started, making it a cozy, homey place to grab a slice of pie. Though based out of Julian, you can now find their pies in San Diego and Riverside as well.