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The Five Best Argentine Restaurants in Los Angeles

Lionel Messi’s favorite milanesa, alfajores good enough for the pope, and where else to get your fill of high-quality Argentine cuisine.

12:34 PM PDT on August 21, 2023

    Empanadas at Botega Malbec

    We have some thoughts on where Lionel Messi should eat in Los Angeles. So do the owners of L.A.'s most esteemed, longest-running Argentine restaurants.

    Messi, perhaps the greatest futbol player of all time, will visit Los Angeles with his Inter Miami teammates in less than a month. The team touches down on September 3, 2023, to face off against L.A.F.C., the reigning MLS Cup Champions, right here at BMO Field.

    Since Messi’s announced signing in MLS, the league’s profile has rocketed to new levels of global respect. Ticket prices for any matches Messi is playing in have swiftly risen. It's no different for this upcoming hometown match, in which LAFC face-off with the Argentine captain and his new crew. 

    Before his arrival, tickets for LAFC vs. Inter Miami were priced around $150. During the period of his impending signing with MLS, tickets shot up to around $785 for even the cheapest seats; an increase of almost 400%, according to CNN Business. 

    So, if you want to see the World Cup winner play in person, your wallet is about to get walloped. But of course, who wouldn’t want to see Messi? 

    The upcoming local match will definitely be different from Inter Miami’s previous, solitary visit to L.A. It's almost guaranteed that a glittering array of L.A.’s most visible stars will be present. LeBron James, Kim Kardashian, DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, and Derek Jeter have all been spotted in the stands, watching Messi play in Florida.

    They’ll be among the more than 22,000 fans packing BMO to lay witness to what is sure to be an electrifying match between Messi’s Inter Miami and L.A.’s own Black and Gold.

    But soccer is just another day at work for Leo. 

    He’ll be here in Los Angeles, home of some of the world’s best food. Including some excellent Argentine cuisine recommended, like these places in L.A.’s TACO Guide to Argentine Food in L.A.

    So what do you feed a G.O.A.T. to fuel their feats on the soccer field?

    What should Messi Eat in L.A.?

    Italian nutritionist Guiliano Poser, who has worked with Messi on his diet for almost a decade, has been quoted as saying that Messi’s diet consists of raw foods, lean proteins, fresh fruits, and vegetables these days.

    But that doesn't mean that Leo doesn’t have his favorites. It’s well-documented that Messi’s favorite food is his mother’s milanesa Napolitana

    Tweet URL: https://twitter.com/PauReyFierro_/status/1683282802446417923

    The Argentine take on milanesa centers on a breaded chicken filet with a simple sauce made of pepper, onions, tomatoes, and oregano. Throw in a slice of ham, tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella cheese, and it becomes a Napolitana (some versions omit the ham). The Hard Rock Cafe has its own sandwich version of it in Messi’s honor, as part of a sponsorship deal it has with the soccer star.

    The website of Messi’s former club, Barcelona, claims that Messi’s favorite recipe is roasted chicken with root vegetables. He has also been known to indulge in easy Italian fare like canned tuna pasta. 

    It’s also a fact that Messi once loved to have a post-match pizza feast. That indulgence was even blamed for some less-than-stellar performances at one point in his Barcelona spell. 

    You, however, assumedly not being a global soccer sensation, won’t get any criticism for such behavior. So let’s go!

    We’ll tell you where to get some of Messi’s favorite foods in Los Angeles below.

    Empanadas Place

    If Messi craves the quick comfort of home favorite after landing, Empanadas Place is a mere 20 minutes from LAX in the Mar Vista neighborhood, serving empanadas and other Argentine classics. Its sparkling reputation, built up over 40 years, should put Leo at ease that he’s getting the real deal. 

    Norma Gil and her sons started Empanadas Place in 1985 and still get together every Monday to prepare for the week ahead. We spoke with guests at Empanadas Place, each of whom detailed many decades of loyal patronage and testimonials about the unwavering quality of the product.

    “When you have the empanadas, it gives you those tingles,” said longtime patron Sebastian Gallegos, who made the journey from Calabasas for a meal with his dog Enzo. “It washes over you.”

    Shane Azpilicueta, the son of Norma, was unequivocal about what’s behind the endurance of their neighborhood restaurant, whose clientele spans a world of cultures far beyond homesick Argentines.

    “Just fresh, homemade ingredients,” he said. “And a lot of love.” 

    Roque Al, Norma’s brother, has worked at the restaurant for 47 years and confirms the kitchen’s commitment to making their empanadas the same way it has since day one.

    The Chicken Empanada at Empanadas Place is among the most popular at the restaurant. (Photo Credit: Jeanneth Vallejos Jalón)

    Although the family behind Empanadas Place is excited about the prospect of Messi potentially visiting them, both remained humble about it. Al pointed to the size of the restaurant, a cozy nook decked out with photos of Argentine culture and paraphernalia from different Argentine soccer teams, like San Lorenzo and River Plate. 

    If Messi ever did show up. the place would be packed.

    “We would love to have him, but can you imagine what it might be like?” he asked.

    Azpilicueta would enjoy hosting Messi, too. But is just as happy when greeting any guest who comes through their doors. 

    “You know, we’re happy to have everybody,” Azpilicueta said. “Sure, it’d be great to have him here, but I’m happy to have you guys down here.  It’s that attitude that has turned Empanadas Place into an L.A. mainstay.

    The Milanesa Napolitana Sandwich from LA favorite Empanadas Place on Sawtelle Ave. (Photo Credit: Jeanneth Vallejos Jalón)

    While empanadas are an eponymous must, they also have a criminally overlooked and underrated milanesa Napolitana sandwich of their own. From the moment you taste it, all else in the world becomes less important for a brief spell. 

    It could be just the fuel the  G.O.A.T. needs for his first LA clash. Or the escapist entree you need to survive 2023.

    3811 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90066. Closest Metro line and stop: Bus Line 33 - “Venice/Sawtelle.”

    Culver City’s Grand Casino Bakery & Cafe serves up thousands of empanadas during the holidays. (Photo Credit: Jeanneth Vallejos Jalón)

    Grand Casino Bakery & Cafe

    Down the street amid a busy L.A .corridor, Culver City’s Grand Casino Bakery & Cafe is another small sliver of Buenos Aires that is well known to locals, who stop by for a quick empanada or two. 

    The restaurant also has a wine list stocked with Argentine wines and a robust menu specializing in asado, traditional Argentine barbecue. One side of the wide space contains a bakery highlighting desserts and baked goods, and there is plenty of sidewalk seating for pretending you’re back in Belgrano.

    Owners Lidia and Francisco Lamanna took over operations on the bakery side of Grand Casino with their children in 1987, establishing the now perpetually packed restaurant on the other side by 2004. 

    After Lidia and Francisco passed, their children “decided to carry on our beloved parents’ tradition,” according to Gustavo Lamanna, one of the Lamannas’ sons.

    Photo Credit: Jeanneth Vallejos Jalón

    It's an operation that never sleeps. The bakery or restaurant is always open, the ovens full of either empanadas, one of several styles of fresh breads, or the dulce de leche-oozing alfajores cookies they make there every day. 

    These alfajores have such a reputation that they’ve even reportedly made it to Pope Francis’s table.

    Kitchen supervisor Patricia Palomino, who has worked here for over 20 years, shares her thoughts on the secret to the Lamanna’s longevity. She points to the empanadas being baked, and not fried, which gives them a lighter texture and more pronounced flavor. The bakery sells almost 600 daily. 

    A selection of baked empanadas from Grand Casino Bakery & Cafe. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    “We make everything here, homemade and from scratch,” Palomino said. “There is always someone here either making bread, prepping sauces, cutting fresh produce, or getting empanadas ready for daily orders. During the holidays, these orders can be over a thousand empanadas on certain tickets.” 

    Just as their empanadas and food have become a part of many local families’ holiday traditions, so has coming in for a seat to watch Argentina and Messi play. 

    “Everyone here was very excited during the [2022] World Cup,” Palomino recalled. “Even more so when Argentina won. We had flags, people wearing their jerseys that could not believe it. People tried to celebrate by getting on tables, and were singing.”

    Now that Messi’s coming to Los Angeles, Palomino has been getting ready. Much of her staff has already asked for the time off to go see him play in person.

    Server Jaime Rios Hernandez, who was an Inter Miami fan before Messi’s arrival, due to its many Mexican players, said he will not miss it. 

    Server Jaime Rios Hernandez is a huge Inter Miami and Leo Messi fan. He will try to attend Inter Miami vs. LAFC, though he says the price might keep him away. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    “I know the tickets are expensive, but I’m going to see if there’s a way because it's Messi,” Hernandez said in a pristine, white Argentina hat.

    Much of her staff may see Leo live, but Palomino is standing ready to serve when guests come in to watch the match.

    When asked what she would serve Messi if he came to Grand Casino, Palomino became flush with excitement. 

    “I would want to serve him our asado, which is exceptional and what we specialize in,” she said. “But I know he likes pasta. So I would offer him our homemade spinach and cheese raviolis with pink sauce.”

    Among Messi’s favorite dishes is simple pasta. This spinach and cheese ravioli with pink sauce is homemade and fresh every day. (Photo Credit: Jeanneth Vallejos Jalón)

    As Palomino spoke, a couple had just finished that exact dish two tables down. They looked over and nodded in agreement. 

    If Messi is in the mood for pasta the way it’s done back home, he has found his spot. 

    3826 Main St. Culver City, CA 90232. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Line 33 - “Venice/Bagley” or Metro E Line and Bus Line 617 - "Culver City Station."

    Asado at Carlitos Gardel, winner of various honors for "best steakhouse." (Photo Credit: Carlitos Gardel Argentine Steakhouse)

    Carlitos Gardel Argentine Steakhouse

    West Hollywood’s Carlitos Gardel Argentine Steakhouse might be among the most impressive dining experiences in the city.

    Co-owners (and brothers) Gerard and Max Bozoghlian are proud recipients of The Michelin Guide's “The Plate” distinction. They’ve taken their parents’ successful Melrose restaurant and further elevated it, with Gerard now running the kitchen and Max the wine program.

    They’ve introduced new cuts of beef. Like the tapa de ojo or ribeye cap, which is currently rising in popularity in Argentina as well, thanks to their innovation. The wine list is 350 labels strong, with about 200 of those coming from Argentina. The restaurant also recently opened a gem of an al fresco dining space called Patio Piazzolla.

    Patio Piazzolla at Carlitos Gardel Argentine Steakhouse. (Photo Credit: Carlitos Gardel Argentine Steakhouse)

    Like the other Messi-friendly restaurants we’ve looked at, Carlitos Gardel’s perseverance can be credited to not compromising on its identity. As third-generation Argentine-Armenians, the Bozoghlian+s are committed to staying true to what chef Gerard calls “the true Argentine form.”

    “That's really what our restaurant has been about in the almost 30 years that we've been open,” he said. “We offer the classic and the standard.”

    Such dedication to an authentic Argentine experience is what makes Carlitos Gardel, named for the national hero of tango singers, a culinary embassy and place of gathering. 

    When it was announced that Messi was coming to MLS, the excitement was palpable in the restaurant. Chef Gerard quickly got to work on special menu items inspired by Messi’s favorites. In an exclusive for LA Taco, he was able to share that the new items will consist of a whole milanesa menu, which will be featured as a running special.

    There will be a classic, plus a “Campera” with grilled tomatoes, a “Tostado” napolitana (pressed ham and cheese, inspired by the pressed ham-and-cheese sandwiches found in Argentina), and a Tano version with prosciutto San Daniele and heirloom tomatoes. That sounds like a future Messi favorite in particular, while the pollo al ajo (garlic chicken) could catch his eye, too, as he’s been known to like simple roast chicken dishes.

    Chef Gerard’s excitement over Messi’s arrival is understandable. Football is in his blood, as a child who visited Buenos Aires’ La Bombonera often. The crackling atmosphere of Boca Juniors’ home ground was something he cherished. 

    He told us he feels that feeling again while being an avid supporter of LAFC. 

    “There’s this soccer energy that I knew from Buenos Aires,” he said. “I can taste it. I can feel it. There’s this vibration that happens.”

    As much as Carlitos Gardel is an Argentine culinary embassy, you shouldn't expect to congregate here to watch Messi play the black and gold next month. Chef Gerard and the entire family will be in attendance at BMO Stadium on September 3. 

    The Bozoghlians will close the restaurant on that day to back LAFC and, of course, cheer on the Argentine captain. So if you’re trying to eat like Messi or try anything off the new milanesa menu, you better pick it up the day before.

    “We used to open for days like this, but we’re too passionate, too passionate,” Chef Gerard said with a laugh.

    7963 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90046. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 10, 217 and 218 - “Melrose/Fairfax .”

    Rene Vildoza and his family have owned and operated El Morfi Grill since 1991. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    El Morfi Grill

    “El morfi” is essentially a feeling; slang for all the good things in life. The right food, drink, and setting to enjoy them in, when they all come together, that's “el morfi.” 

    For the past 32 years, El Morfi Grill has recreated this magical feeling for its Glendale neighbors. Their three decades in business is proof enough of all the great food and good times to be found within.

    Brothers Rene and Jorge Vildoza started the restaurant in 1991 and moved to their current location on Brand Boulevard in 1997. According to Rene Vildoza, it was his brother that pushed to open the restaurant. After a year of construction, Jorge set up shop in the kitchen, while Rene took over front-of-house duties. 

    “My brother, he was one of those people, you could tell he loved what he did,” says Vildoza. “That’s why we’ve been able to do this for so long. Because the love is there.”

    After Jorge passed in 2018, Rene’s family, including his children and wife, took over operations. Rene’s buoyant energy and ready smile fill El Morfi, where Jorge’s legacy remains intact.

    The first thing one sees when opening the doors into this transporting space is the giant flag of Argentina. Rows of Argentine wine bottles greet you; perfect for pairing to El Morfi’s extensive menu of national culinary classics. If there’s a soccer game playing anywhere in the world, it will probably be playing softly on the T.V. in the background.

    The Fugazetta pizza at El Morfi Grill in Glendale, next to a plate of morcilla and a dish of chimichurri (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    The same T.V. Vildoza has witnessed Messi’s heroics on since coming to the league. 

    “He’s a kid that has everything,” Vildoza said. “Se le dio todo (“he was given everything”) and that’s why he’s able to do what he does on the field. He’s become leading scorer already since coming.”

    He noted Messi’s tournament-leading seven goals in four games. 

    El Morfi has everything, too. All of Messi’s favorites can be found in a one-stop shop. Looking at their menu practically invites you to plan your next visit. Even while you're still ordering for your current one. 

    “If Messi came, it would be the honor of a lifetime,” Vildoza said. “I would love to be able to say that he came here and to be able to feed him our food.”

    As he spoke, he began composing his perfect Messi menu.

    Leo Messi’s favorites like pizza margherita and milanesa Napolitana are on offer at El Morfi Grill. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    Vildoza would, of course, offer Messi’s favorite milanesa. 

    To follow, he would attempt to entice Messi with El Morfi’s excellent pizza or fugazetta. Both the traditional fugazetta, a sauceless pie with cheese and onion, and the simple margherita, are showstoppers. 

    But in truth, Messi could stop here and be happy with anything he ordered, just like its Glendale loyals have for over 30 years.

    “Our consistency has people come back,” Vildoza said. “Our flavors keep them here. Instead of paying for a ticket to Argentina, we invite you to come to El Morfi instead.”

    241 N. Brand Blvd. Glendale, CA 91203. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 92 and 501 - “Brand/California” or Bus Lines 94 and 501 - "Brand/Broadway."

    Bodega Malbec, photo: Robert Jalón

    Bodega Malbec Argentinean Grill

    On a busy Toluca Lake street, barely a field goal beyond Hollywood’s major studios, Bodega Malbec Argentinean Grill revels in a warm, familial feeling before you even take a bite.

    Owner Javier Pardini greets almost everyone by name and always with enthusiasm. If Pardini is tied up at a table, the arriving guest almost always calls out to him in recognition first.

    There’s a sense that you’ve stepped into an old friend's dining room here, true in a sense, for the regulars who return to its comfortable climes like their own personal “puerta cerrada” in Palermo. Many of the guests have been stepping into Pardini’s “dining room” for Bodega Malbec’s 14-year run. 

    Bodega Malbec’s familial atmosphere invokes a close friend’s dining room during a lively dinner party. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    But if it's your first time, you’ll get to watch Pardini pop in among his staff to fill many functions in support. He plays the part of the host, sommelier, food runner, and bartender, and even looks like he’s enjoying it.

    For all the fun Pardini is having, Bodega Malbec’s commitment to “comida tipica Argentina,” or typical Argentine food, is very serious.

    “We use the best products,” Pardini said about the restaurant he opened in 2009. “But I keep all the recipes legit, original recipes. I go by the book.” 

    His menu highlights different cuts of high-quality Argentine beef or asado. There’s also what he calls “typical” Italian-Argentine pasta, fresh salads, and hearty vegetables to pair with the beef. 

    Pardini is proud of his “comida tipica Argentina,” like pastas and asado. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    In other words, many of Messi’s favorites. 

    “It would be awesome,” Pardini said. “I’d love to have him on. We’d reserve the private room or private patio for him and his family.”

    He credits Argentina and Messi for giving Bodega Malbec and other Argentine restaurants a jump in visibility after the country won the World Cup. 

    Already a multicultural atmosphere due to its proximity to the studios and Pardini’s charismatic nature, Argentina’s victory opened even more eyes to Bodega Malbec’s excellent food.

    When asked what he would serve the star, Pardini described a sumptuous tasting menu with the aforementioned asado, plus pasta, empanadas, and a pollo al ajo or garlic chicken. 

    When Messi was at Barcelona, he was known to enjoy a roast chicken dish as one of his favorites. (Photo Credit: Robert Jalón)

    It’s the kind of food that would appeal to anyone, be you Messi or not. You can always stop by Bodega Malbec and eat like him. You’ll feel welcome, even if you’ve never kicked a ball in your life.

    10151 Riverside Dr. Toluca Lake, CA 91602. Closest Metro lines and stop: Bus Lines 155 and 222 - “Riverside/Forman.”

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