My travels have always revolved around where to eat. Of course, in Torrance, we wandered The Louvre, and in Athens toured the Acropolis, but leisurely lunches, beverage stops, and dinner reservations are always researched diligently. Thus, when I was tasked to partner with Discover Torrance to seek out culinary gems in a new-to-me California city, I couldn't wait to embark on a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to explore.
Torrance is located in the South Bay region of Los Angeles and is a hidden food mecca, with more than 400 dining establishments and 10 craft breweries within its city limits. Situated 20 miles southwest of downtown LA, this coastal community includes Torrance Beach, is home to the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the area, and boasts some of the best Japanese restaurants in the country, thanks in part to Toyota moving their headquarters there in 1982, with other companies such as Honda the following suit.
I wasn't able to visit all the restaurants I had on my list - that's for my next trip! - but follow along on my food adventures with these culinary highlights.
Not Your Mama's Kitchen Our Torrance eating adventures started with our stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Los Angeles Torrance/Redondo Beach, a perfect home base within minutes of many of the restaurants I had chosen to visit. Our spacious penthouse suite featured the top two floors of a townhouse with a loft, two bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen, and amenities including complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi, pool, outdoor grills, and a fitness room.
Serendipitously, we checked in on a Food Truck night which takes place on alternate Wednesdays with pop-up restaurants and rotating food trucks. Helping myself to a complimentary brew in the restaurant lounge, I headed to Not Your Mama's Kitchen food truck, where I decided on wings and waffles. Verdict? Some of the best-fried chicken I've ever had! If I hadn't already made dinner plans, I would have been back at the window sampling more of the menu. Not Your Mama's Kitchen celebrates their Southern roots with family recipes for fried chicken, catfish, smothered pork chops, red beans, and rice, and more. You'll want to be on the lookout for their yellow truck if you're in the area, and you can follow their schedule here on Instagram.
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant Of course, you can pick up bread, cakes, and pastries from their bakery too. And an insider's tip from Shannon, a friend and fellow writer who used to work at Toyota's headquarters: "Their Paradise Cake is a guilty pleasure - layers of guava, passion fruit, and lime chiffon. It’s wildly popular and was the go-to for office birthday parties (in honor of people we truly liked!)."
Pinwheel Café & Bakery This charming French bakery and café is located in Rolling Hills Plaza off the Pacific Coast Highway and is open seven days a week until 6 pm. On the menu, you'll find wonderful pastries along with breakfast items, soups, and sandwiches. That includes waffles and omelets, French onion soup, salade niçoise, croissant sandwiches, and croques. I ordered a delicious Basque tartine (leading photo) layered with a tangy tomato spread, fresh arugula, Bayonne ham, shaved Basque cheese, and a drizzle of espelette pepper olive oil, while my husband enjoyed a fluffy omelet with tomato soup and bread so good, we bought more baguettes to take back to Phoenix, along with chocolate croissants and white chocolate and cashew scone.
Hey 19 Public House We stopped in for lunch at this retro pub paying homage to the '70s and '80s. Check out the fun and funky decor, and you might spy prints of Farrah Fawcett and Han Solo, vintage video game covers, or the band Kiss memorialized on a lava lamp. The menu is just as eclectic, ranging from addictive snacks of bacon-wrapped tater tots to the popular Meat Your Maker's, a double-cut pork chop with Maker's Mark bourbon-spiked chutney, mashed sweet potatoes, and collard greens.
Creative specials also lure the crowds, such as the recent "Let’s get Kraken" with grilled Spanish octopus, organic red quinoa, fried oyster mushrooms, and lemon vinaigrette. With an aim towards sourcing from local farmer's markets, their vegetable dishes shouldn't be overlooked either. Even though I'm not a vegetarian, I'll find it hard not to order the Hippie Tacos again - filled with a flavorful medley of roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, radicchio, toasted almonds, goat cheese, and slaw, all tossed with house Bourbon BBQ 19 sauce. Pair it with one of the well-crafted cocktails such as Don't Cry for Me with Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica, Double Cross vodka, Elixir G ginger, and house-made ginger ale. Hey, 19 also has live music on the weekends, and daily specials such as half-off Wine and Whiskey Wednesdays, and all-day Happy Hour on Mondays.
Din Tai Fung Din Tai Fung's fame as a dumpling restaurant was born in Taiwan in 1972 as an extension of a cooking oil shop. By 1993, the New York Times had declared it one of the top ten gourmet restaurants in the world, and in 2010 the Hong Kong location had been awarded a Michelin star. Fast forward, and Din Tai Fung now has branches in countries from Malaysia to Australia, including eleven restaurants in the US (all in California and Washington). The Torrance location is an upscale, modern space located in the Del Amo Fashion Center shopping mall. Like its counterparts, it’s always filled with crowds drawn to the excellent handmade dumplings and noodles. The signature dish is xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings which contain a minced filling and savory broth. With an emphasis on Southern Chinese cuisine, the menu offers an array of appetizers, noodles, soups, stir-fried vegetables, steamed buns, and a variety of dumplings. Tip: Late afternoon is usually the best time to avoid the lines.
Wadatsumi Torrance I'm jealous of those who live nearby and are able to dine on Japanese food of this caliber regularly. The only other locations of this stellar Japanese restaurant are in Tokyo and Singapore, so it's no surprise that it's a spot that is deservedly busy. We were also pleasantly surprised to find the lunch menu a bargain, offering sushi bowls paired with miso soup and salad, and set meals of seafood or steak accompanied by chilled tofu, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), rice, and Japanese pickles for $12.95 (menus below). My husband loved his shrimp and vegetable tempura, while I was just as delighted with a chirashi bowl brimming with pristine raw tuna, salmon and yellowtail, ikura (salmon roe), and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), plus a side of a half-order of zaru soba (cold handmade soba noodles). The dinner menu is more extensive, with daily specials of fish flown in from Japan, grilled and fried seafood, and Japanese Wagyu.
Torihei Yakitori Robata Dining Like Wadatsumi, Torihei has its roots in Japan, with its original restaurant still garnering praise in Yokohama. Morihei specializes in oden (a style of hotpot) and yakitori/robata (skewers grilled over charcoal). If you're that person who likes to try a multitude of dishes and flavors, this is the cuisine for you. You'll receive three menus - sushi, izakaya, and yakitori - to check off your selections. We didn't do justice to all the delicious-sounding options as we were still full from lunch at Wadatsumi, but happily dined on octopus carpaccio, Negima yakitori (grilled chicken thighs with scallions), shio ramen, shiokara (salted raw octopus), grilled shiitake mushrooms with bonito, and "cabbage with spicy sauce" (so simple, but one of my favorites of the night). Be sure to make reservations as this is a small, casual spot, but a must-visit when in Torrance.
Madre Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcaleria A spotlight on Oaxaca is the focus of Madre, and as shown by a boisterous packed house for dinner, we weren't the only fans of this regional cuisine. More familiar Mexican dishes are on the menu, but we were there to dine on specialties such as moles (masa empanadas) and memelas (tortilla-like masa cakes garnished with toppings). Oaxaca is renowned for its moles (complex sauces made with dried chiles, fruit, herbs, and spices) and here at Madre you'll find not one, but six different styles - Verde, Amarillo, Rojo, coloradito, estofado, and mole negro Oaxaqueño, the region's famous black mole made with unsweetened chocolate.
Tlayuda is another traditional dish you will want to try. Often described as an Oaxacan pizza, the base is a large thin tortilla heaped with toppings. With four options, we chose the Tlayuda Madre, piled high with layers of black beans, shredded cabbage, tomato, quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), avocado, chorizo, tasajo (grilled thinly-sliced or pounded beef), and cecina (dried spiced pork).
Excellent margaritas can be ordered to wash down your feast, but I suggest entering the world of mezcal. The flavor of this smokier cousin of tequila is derived from spit-roasting the heart of the agave plant. As a cocktail writer and frequent competition judge, I thought I had a pretty good handle on mezcal producers, but as I learned from Madre's incredible collection, there is always more to explore. Have a seat at the bar and ask for one of the artisanal single-village mezcals to sip. They're served the authentic Oaxacan way, neat, with traditional accompaniments of chapulines (crispy fried grasshoppers), cacahuates (peanuts), and orange slices with sal de gusano.
Primo Italia A relative newcomer to the dining scene, debuting approximately a year and a half ago, Primo was our finale dinner and a highlight of our California trip. We loved everything about this modern Italian restaurant: The elegant yet cozy atmosphere, well-crafted cocktails and wine list, friendly and professional service, and, oh yes, the food. You'll find it hard to decide between mouthwatering dishes on the expansive menu such as Gamberoni Alla Griglia (grilled red prawns with escarole and lemon), Osso Bucco di Agnello (braised lamb shank over polenta), or Porchetta Pizza with fontina cheese and arugula, and all eleven kinds of pasta are made fresh daily.
My husband raved about his appetizer of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara made with authentic guanciale and an entree of veal piccata, and I was just as impressed with the fabulous Carciofi Alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes) and decadent Pici Toscano with hand-rolled pici pasta enrobed in a sausage cream sauce and finished with a shower of truffles. End your evening with an indulgent dessert and a glass of grappa or Primo's barrel-aged Negroni while enjoying the ambiance of live music on the piano.