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A photo collage of the Hollywood Bowl surrounded by giant bowls of food.
(Illustration by Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Photographs by Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times and Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

14 places to pick up a picnic for summer at the Hollywood Bowl

Few Los Angeles experiences feel more idyllic, more summer-quintessential, than a picnic and a show at the Hollywood Bowl. As the sun sets over the hills peeking out behind the venue’s iconic dome, world-class musicians, screenings of classic films and the Los Angeles Philharmonic take the century-old stage — and the only thing better than a good box seat to witness it all is showing up with the right provisions. Seasoned vets pack coolers full of snacks, homemade meals and even bottles of wine (for the shows that allow it), and the venue itself offers a catering program from Lucques Group’s Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne for those looking to pick up dinner there. But the Bowl’s BYO-meal policy offers a unique opportunity to explore the venue’s surrounding restaurants and build a picnic that will draw the envy of your seat neighbors, whether you’re craving fluffy falafel, some of the best dim sum west of San Gabriel or L.A.’s most beloved papas rellenas.

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A sandwich from Banh Oui
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Banh Oui

Hollywood Vietnamese
Banh Oui began as a kind of quick and casual outpost serving French-meets-Vietnamese banh mì sandwiches, fish-sauce-caramel wings and more, and while these items are far and away some of the best examples of each in town, the restaurant’s menu has evolved and expanded to include whatever catches the imagination of chef-owner — and Providence vet — Casey Felton and her kitchen team. Farmers markets provide inspiration for seasonal specials such as blistered snap peas with crème fraîche or chilled buckwheat noodles with poblano-and-tofu cream, while the stalwart banh mì-style sandwiches come stuffed with everything from pork belly to sous vide duck breast or Japanese-leaning katsu chicken. Not only do the seasonal salads, sides and killer sandwiches make for an idyllic spread but Banh Oui also jars its own pickles, pâtê and hot sauces, so guests can leave with gourmet goods for the picnic and for their homes.

— Stephanie Breijo
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A tray with a bowl of homemade pickles in the center surrounded by barbecued chicken, brisket, pork ribs and two sausages
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Bludso’s Bar and Que

Fairfax Barbecue
Barbecue is a cuisine best ordered as a blitz. If you do it right you’ll be overwhelmed by it, trying every hours-long-smoked meat and the copious amounts of accompanying sides too — rich and meaty and filling as it all is. This is why barbecue is an ideal meal to share with a big group, or at least with one or two others: Order it all, then sample your way through it. Roughly 10 minutes from the Hollywood Bowl, one of L.A.’s premier pitmasters is working wood-smoked wonders: Kevin Bludso’s Compton-founded Bludso’s Bar and Que operates on La Brea but its inception came from generations of smoked meats and family recipes in Corsicana, Texas. These recipes and house-made spice rubs and sauces make for peppery, tender and bursting-with-flavor brisket, ribs, tri-tip steaks, chicken and pulled pork. They’re all worth an order, and all come by the quarter-, half- and full-pound family-style serving. Smoky sausages, desserts like creamy banana pudding and sides such as mac and cheese and brisket-studded baked beans round out the meal. If you’re Bowling with a large group, opt for the prix fixe barbecue trays, which offer a bit of everything.

Stephanie Breijo
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The double cheeseburger from For the Win
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

For the Win

Hollywood Burgers
If a backyard smashburger and a bowl of French onion soup had a love child, it would be the double cheeseburger at For the Win. The patties are nicely crusted and juicy, blanketed in enough American cheese and sweet grilled onion to form a single messy layer of toppings. There’s the obligatory pink burger sauce (a more savory than sweet Thousand Island dressing) that glues the entire thing together. The burgers are best eaten immediately, but the Martin’s Potato bun keeps the insides where they should be and your toppings amply gooey while traveling.

— Jenn Harris
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An array of salads and cut-in-half sandwiches in cardboard boxes
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Ggiata

Hollywood Italian American
This Italian American deli serves heaped-high sandwiches on sesame bread and filled-to-the-brim salads for a truly chef’s-kiss takeout experience. The three Jersey boys behind Ggiata know what they’re doing: Chicken cutlet sandwiches come slathered with pomodoro or spicy vodka sauce, the Masterpiece — a classic Italian sub — comes stacked with high-caliber cold cuts, the eggplant parm holds up especially well after a car ride home or to a show, and all sandwiches come cut in half for sharing and tasting ease. Sides like white-wine arancini will keep your friends clamoring for the last bite, so be the Italian-deli hero you wish to see in the world and pick up some Ggiata before you head to the Bowl. Just be sure to order a few rainbow cookies and limoncello cakes too.

Stephanie Breijo
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Pieces of fried chicken
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Harold’s Chicken

Hollywood Fried Chicken
Excellent fried chicken is good at any temperature. But the chicken at Harold’s Chicken seems to get a little flavor boost when it makes the transition from piping hot to warm. Maybe it’s the fact that the chicken at this Chicago-based chain is fried in a mixture of vegetable oil and beef tallow. There’s an underlying unctuousness to the golden skin that’s craggily crisp and ultra rich. It requires no sauce, though sauce is part of the Harold’s shtick, and the company takes great pride in its mild and hot sauces. The mild is a sweet ketchup-adjacent concoction with the mildest kick of vinegar, and the hot is a thicker, sweeter version of good old Crystal. You can have either drizzled on top of fries, chicken and fish, but order the sauce on the side and get your chicken in a bucket. If you’re headed to a show, be sure to order ahead. Everything is made to order, and the chicken won’t be rushed, for anyone.

Jenn Harris
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A plate of dumplings and two servings of grilled skewers
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Hui Tou Xiang

Hollywood Chinese
There’s really only one question to consider when ordering from Hui Tou Xiang: How many orders of beef and pork hui tou? Both blintz-shaped dumplings are swollen with filling that satisfies hot or cold. The pork has a juicy middle, similar to xiao long bao, and the beef will make you think of really great albondigas. An order of the vegetarian leek pancakes, beautifully folded and stuffed with chopped leek, egg and glass noodles, is also a must. And there’s a lot more than dumplings. Marinated tofu skins, cucumber salad and wood ear mushrooms make great picnic-style side dishes. Ask for extra vinegar and chile (the restaurant makes its own chile crisp!) for dunking.

Jenn Harris
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Three bowls of different types of dim sum
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

ixlb DimSum Eats

Hollywood Taiwanese Chinese
Turning out some of the best dim sum found beyond the San Gabriel Valley, ixlb DimSum Eats serves plump shumai, carefully folded har gow, textural wontons in chili oil, sweet-and-salty barbecued pork buns, planks of pan-fried turnip cakes, saucy and succulent roast meats and more, all made to order in the heart of Hollywood. Gloria Shi and her parents run the takeout-only operation, which serves Taiwanese and Chinese dim sum classics along with rice bowls, noodles, teas, sweets like egg tarts and fried sesame balls and daily specials. Dim sum’s mix-and-match format always lends itself well to picnics and noshing, and the ample menu offerings at ixlb mean you and your seatmates will have plenty of bites to sample and share (or keep all to yourself).

— Stephanie Breijo
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An assortment of dishes and goods from Joan;s On Third.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Joan’s on Third

Studio City American
There are few better picnic-provisions meccas in L.A. than Joan’s on Third, and fortunately for Bowl-goers there’s one roughly 10 minutes from the venue. Owner Joan McNamara keeps both the Studio City and the Beverly Grove locations brimming with artisanal crackers, jars of jams and pickles and mustards, and bags of chips and flavored popcorns, not to mention bottles of wine, craft beer and plenty of nonalcoholic drinks — many of them refrigerated for your picnicking pleasure. After you’re done skimming the shelves for gourmet accouterments, make your way to the refrigerated case to peruse the daily sides, such as Szechuan green beans, lentil salad or roasted butternut squash with currants, then hit the registers to order an array of sandwiches (we swear by the short rib). Chilled takeout items like the turkey meatloaf and thick wedges of mac and cheese can be heated for you, and there’s a ready-made case for salad and chilled sandwiches too, making for a customizable spread with something for everyone. Drop by the coffee bar on the way out for sweets and caffeine — especially if you’re headed to a longer show.

Stephanie Breijo
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The falafel laffa wrap from Joe's Falafel.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Joe’s Falafel

Studio City Mediterranean
You can order your falafel at this strip-mall restaurant as a side, stuffed into a pita, on a plate or wrapped in laffa. But for optimum portability, laffa is the only way to go. Owner Joe Mattar stretches the dough over a towel-wrapped mound, then smacks it onto the side of a vertical oven. The bread emerges blistered, chewy and malleable. It’s the perfect vessel for the falafel, roundish blobs with a deep brown ragged crust that gives way to a fluffy middle tinged green with fresh herbs. The bread is smeared with hummus and layered with chopped lettuce and tomato. The sandwich gets an extra hit of sesame from the addition of the smooth, cool tahini sauce. Wrapped up like a footlong burrito, it’s easy to transport and unwrap at your seat.

Jenn Harris
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A spread of rotisserie chicken, pita bread and vegetable side dishes
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Kismet Rotisserie

Los Feliz Mediterranean
It’s hard to imagine a better spread for an al fresco show: There’s an array of springy and summery sides — such as tahini-slicked cabbage or carrots bright with citrus and coriander — and there’s a to-go container bursting with creamy-insides roast potatoes. The fluffy pita lets out steam the second it’s torn into, and the roast chicken is tender to the point of falling off the bone. At Kismet Rotisserie, the casual, globally inspired Kismet offshoot from chef-owners Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, chicken and market vegetables lead the menu in a rainbow of styles and formats. For sharing, you can choose your own chicken adventure with quarter, half and whole birds and sides; opt for the set chicken plates; simply go for a few chicken or veggie pita sandwiches; or cover all the bases with party packs for groups of four, 10, 20 or 30 people. That light and produce-forward menu under the stars is a great signal that summer’s here — and it’s hard to argue that while sipping a fresh carrot-and-ginger juice or biting into a gooey strawberry “shortcookie.”

Stephanie Breijo
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Lomo saltado is a dish of beef chunks, sliced fried potatoes, onion, tomato and more.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Mario's Peruvian

Larchmont Peruvian Seafood
The lomo saltado at Mario’s Peruvian is the ideal one-container meal. It hits most of the food groups with tender chunks of steak, sauteed slivers of onions, chopped tomato and thick-cut fries, all heaped together. I use the term “fries” loosely as they will be the opposite of crispy by the time you open your dinner, but that’s a good thing. Instead, think of them as seasoned potato logs the consistency of perfect baked potato. One order is enough for two and weighs about as much as my 6-month-old godson. But why not round out the meal with some pollo de chicharron too? The fried nuggets of chicken are good at any temperature. Just don’t forget sides of the restaurant’s aji, a vibrant green sauce that’s heavy on the cilantro and chile.

Jenn Harris
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Two to-go containers of fried chicken
(Lucas Kwan Peterson / Los Angeles Times)

Noya Kitchen

Koreatown Bangladeshi American
The next time you’re craving fried chicken, head to Noya Kitchen, a Bangladeshi American restaurant west of the official four-block Little Bangladesh neighborhood on 3rd Street. The juicy, flavorful pieces with drum-tight skin should travel reasonably well to the Bowl if you poke a couple of holes in the takeout container. And who doesn’t love fried chicken at a picnic? Spicy versions of the bone-in chicken and tenders are available, and they have just the right amount of heat — enough to perk your ears up but not pointlessly gimmicky. Owner Faisal Qureshi, with years of experience working with different restaurant chains in the American South, opened Noya Kitchen just as the pandemic shutdown hit. Try pairing your chicken order with one of the restaurant’s curries, kebabs or biriyanis.

Lucas Kwan Peterson
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Pizza from Pijja Place
(Lucas Kwan Peterson / Los Angeles Times)

Pijja Palace

Silver Lake Indian Pizza
Here’s the downside to ordering takeout from Pijja Palace, the new Indian pizza place and sports bar next to the Comfort Inn on Sunset Boulevard (R.I.P. Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign): It doesn’t have a published phone number and doesn’t currently offer online ordering (although a staff member told me that will be changing soon). Here’s the upside: The food tastes great. Customers can order specialty pizzas, like a green chutney version that has an herbaceous tang and surprising heat, or construct their own. Toppings such as chicken tikka and Goan sausage go perfectly on the thin-crust pies. Other menu items are equally casual and snacky: Think lamb kebab sliders and okra fries. I’ll let you discover the pastas on your own — while somewhat less portable, they might be the best thing on the menu.

Lucas Kwan Peterson
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The Cuban sandwich from Porto's, served with coffee
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Porto’s Bakery & Cafe

Burbank Cuban
There is arguably no better way to be hailed as the conquering hero of a party or family gathering than showing up with an armload of distinctive daffodil-yellow Porto’s boxes stuffed with various goodies from its bakery and kitchen. The key here is portable for easy picnicking: The legendary papas rellenas, or potato balls, travel well, as do the cheese-and-guava pastries, croissants and other goodies. The sandwiches are great too. The Cubano is an obvious choice, but you might take a flyer on the chicken milanesa, a golden brown cutlet with avocado on an eggy medianoche roll. If you’re coming from the Valley, it’s practically on your way.

Lucas Kwan Peterson
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