In addition to game days, the “weekender,” homecoming, and all of University of Southern California’s tried and true traditions, I’m equally excited to return to the Los Angeles food scene. The university is surrounded by more than a few hidden restaurant gems, you just have to know where to go to find them.
When I transferred to USC, my expectations were certainly exceeded regarding food options—and my expectations continued to be surpassed; for example when I found out just last week that the USC bookstore is installing a Sprinkles ATM machine.
To help you navigate through the vast array of food options both on and around USC’s campus, I’ve put together this guide to prepare you for your best eating year yet.
1. When you are hungry at 2 am: Spudnuts
It’s okay to admit it, we’ve all had those late night cravings. The beauty of this donut shop lies in the fact that it’s open 24 hours and that it is merely two blocks away from both the 9-0 and The Row. Perfect for those late-night snacks on your way home from a night out.
What to Order: If you have a late-night sweet tooth, go for the maple bacon cronut, or if you’re someone who craves breakfast at all hours of the day be sure to order their egg sandwiches that come with melted cheese and sausage, hot off the press.
Location: 3001 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90007
2. When you need to grab lunch for under $10 between classes: Lemonade
Lemonade is ideal for a quick meal on-the-go as they offer different size portions of salads and hot meals, in addition to customized sandwiches that you can eat on the way to class or enjoy at a table at Campus Center under the LA sun.
What to Order: Rightfully so, their lemonade is delightful and perfect to sip on during those hot LA days when you’re sweating on your way to class. My favorite salads include the avocado with cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and lime, and the salad with red quinoa, curry cauliflower, tangerines, cucumbers, mint, and peanuts. For a little extra you can add meat such as grilled salmon, chicken or ahi tuna. And for dessert? Red velvet cake.
Location: 3601 Trousdale Pkwy, Los Angeles, CA 90089
3. When you’re going on a first date: Urth Café
When it comes to a first date, you want to impress without trying too hard. Urth Café is the perfect option for a coffee date or a low-key meal whether it’s brunch, lunch or dinner. Located just a short drive from USC’s campus, this trendy cafe offers fabulous coffee, breakfast, salads, pizzas and more. You just can’t go wrong.
What to Order: But first, coffee! Try their honey vanilla latte if you’re looking to spice up your usual. And if you’re on a lunch date, try their Greek salad or the D’Lox pizza with smoked salmon and arugula (it’s perfect for sharing).
Location: 451 S Hewitt St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
4. When you’re sick of Starbucks: Nature’s Brew
Just a ten minute walk down Hoover, Nature’s Brew is a hidden gem of South Central. (Or if you’re too lazy to walk, you can utilize USC’s free Uber service if you go after 7 pm). In addition to their healthy and tasty food, Nature’s Brew is a great place to study with their communal tables and free wifi.
What to Order: Nature’s Brew brews delicious coffee when you’re desperate for fuel. I also love their PB&J smoothies and all of their homemade cookies.
#SpoonTip: You can always count on the Nature’s Brew food truck to park on the corner of Jefferson and Hoover, every Monday from 7 am to 6 pm.
Location: 2316 S Union Ave Los Angeles, CA 90007
5. When you’re craving Mexican: El Cholo
El Cholo is a great spot for big groups whether it’s for birthdays, pre-invite or Taco Tuesday. With made-to-order margaritas and fresh guacamole, El Cholo easily satisfies any and all Mexican cuisine cravings. Located just next to LA Live, it’s well worth the seven minute drive from campus.
What to Order: El Cholo serves masterful margaritas, offering a variety of flavors including peach, mango and strawberry (I like to combine the peach and strawberry flavors). To eat, chips and guac is a given and their signature blue corn chicken enchiladas are to die for.
Location: 1037 S. Flower St. Los Angeles, CA 90015
6. When you’re hungover: Jacks ‘n’ Joes
If you had a little too much fun last night and you’re in recovery mode the morning after, Jack’s ‘n’ Joes is the solution to your problem. The best part? They serve breakfast all day so no matter what time you finally decide to roll out of bed, you can still get exactly what you want.
What to Order: In the realm of pancakes, my favorite is the “Pudgy Elvis” which comes with peanut butter, bananas and is sprinkled with powdered sugar. They also have the “Fight On” which includes pancakes served with bacon in the mix. Need I say more?
Location: 2498 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles CA 90007
7. When you turn 21: Bacaro LA
Bacaro LA is the perfect spot for a 21st birthday dinner with all your best buds. Their creative tapas are made for sharing and did I mention they have a $20, 90 minute open bar offer where you can order unlimited drinks?
What to Order: Their sangria is a must, it’s just the right amount of sleep. To eat, I love their “Bacaro Fries” with chef’s sunflower, roasted garlic, lemon smoked pepper sauce, and you can even add a fried egg on top. Their five-cheese bacon mac ‘n cheese is equally amazing so be sure to add that to your list. And for dessert, brown butter cookie dough of course.
Location: 2308 South Union Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007
8. When you’re craving pizza: Blaze
Located on Figueroa just around the corner from Gateway Apartments, Blaze is the spot for your pizza cravings. The best part is that you can create your own pies with whatever toppings your heart desires or if you want to keep it simple you can choose from their signature pizzas such as the BBQ chicken or “Green Stripe” which has pesto drizzled over grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, chopped garlic, mozzarella, and arugula.
What to Order: I’m always a fan of BBQ chicken but if you’re feeling adventurous, build your own pizza. The more toppings the better.
Location: 3335 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90007
9. If you’re trying to be healthy: Café Gratitude
One of the best parts about living in LA is the vast array of health food options. Café Gratitude is one of the tastiest and healthiest finds in Downtown Los Angeles, offering a creative spin on traditional salads, sandwiches and so much more.
When you order you begin by saying, “I am” and fill in the blank with the name of the dish you wish to order. For example, you would say “I am gracious” if you’d like the summer grain salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes, blue lake green beans cashew mozzarella, avocado, basil hempseed pesto wild arugula, golden balsamic reduction.
What to Order: My favorite is the “liberated” which includes pesto kelp noodles, heirloom cherry tomatoes, local olives, basil hempseed pesto wild arugula, cashew ricotta, brazil nut parmesan. Equally healthy and delicious.
Location: 639 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90004
10. When you’re feeling romantic: The Perch
What’s more romantic than a candlelit dinner with the LA skyline behind you? The Perch is located just a ten minute drive from USC in the heart of downtown on the 15th floor of a skyscraper, giving you a panoramic view of the City of Angels. Prime for a night out with that special someone.
What to Order: To start, their Surf ‘n’ Turf skewers. My favorite entree is the classic chicken that comes with creamy truffled polenta and broccoli. Before dinner, be sure to enjoy a cocktail on their upper level lounge!
#SpoonTip: There is live jazz music every Monday night.
Location: 448 South Hill St. Los Angeles, CA 90013
11. When you’re craving sushi: Katsuya at L.A. Live
Located at LA Live just five minutes from campus, Katsuya is one of the best sushi spots in Los Angeles. With an outdoor patio overlooking the L.A. Live square, it’s an ample spot for people-watching. The best part? USC students get 15% off by showing a valid student ID. Take advantage of it.
What to Order: Known for their crispy rice and spicy tuna, you can’t go to Katsuya without trying it. I also love the rock shrimp tempura roll—it’s got a spicy kick. And the miso-glazed sea bass is everything you could want it to be.
Location: 800 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
12. When you want to go out: 901 Bar & Grill aka The 9-0
Just a block off The Row on Figueroa, the 9-0 is USC’s most popping bar and the perfect place to end your night with a drink with friends. (But don’t get there too late, the lines are notoriously long.) Also, in case you hadn’t heard, Justin Bieber was spotted there after the Chainsmokers concert this past year—he even bought a round for some Trojans.
What to order: One of the most popular drinks that the 9-0 has to offer is their classic blue “AMF” drink that is just the right amount of sweet and strong enough to ensure that you will have a fun night.
Whether you’re looking for pizza, sushi, or a romantic date spot, you will be sure to find what you’re looking for within a four mile radius of USC’s campus. So fight on and eat on.
Location: 2902 Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90007