Never has a restaurant name captured the emotions of its guests quite like Felix, which means “happy” in Latin. It also means “lucky,” which is what you’ll feel when you score a table. Enjoying an evening of impeccable Italian creations by chef Evan Funke—a former James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist—requires careful timing. Patrons wait outside before the door is unlocked at 5:30 p.m. in hopes of getting a walk-in spot or a bar stool, or else they try to snag an online booking exactly four weeks out at 12:01 a.m. To celebrate victory, start with a pick from the restaurant’s extensive champagne list, or the tequila, pisco, and limoncello Hey Nineteen cocktail. Ask for a seat in Nonna’s dining room; its vintage lighting and Fornasetti wall coverings set an atmosphere that’s elegant yet without pretense (ask for a round booth if you’re with a group). Funke’s comprehensive menu is organized by Italian regions, and the pasta is made daily in the glassed-off, temperature-controlled laboratorio at the restaurant’s center. Go hungry or bring friends, to sample as many of the pastas as possible. If you only pick one entrée, order the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, but only after trying the cloud-like Sfincione focaccia, Fiori di Zucca, and a Margherita pizza.
As the name suggests, the best way to experience this Abbot Kinney stalwart is to order the three- or five-course family-style tasting menu—never written and unique for each table. While James Beard finalist chef Casey Lane’s innovative, Mediterranean-influenced food is ever changing, certain recurring favorites include tagliarini with shrimp and serrano and or roasted branzino (with always-changing toppings). A pair of olive trees and candlelight soften the glass-walled main dining room, while in the humming bar, hip-hop or house music plays while patrons order cocktails off the chalkboard menu (ask for the Braveheart, featuring whiskey, ginger, and honey, or a spicy tequila Crazy Horse). Weekend brunch is a locals’ affair that can’t be missed, especially for the decadent waffles (sweet or savory) with “fried clucks” (chicken). Pro tip: Ask for mezzanine table 64 for the best sunset view, or in the summer, request one of the two outdoor tables for a date night.
With A.O.C., which opened in 2002, chef Suzanne Goin and sommelier Caroline Styne have proven their uncanny ability to create not only an essential L.A. restaurant, but also one with true staying power. Although the Mediterranean-meets-Big Sur–style eatery moved to its present location (formerly the Joe Allen pub) in 2013, it feels as if it’s always been there, with pottery from the 1960s and ’70s, laurel trees, and creeping fig vines creating a warm, grounded atmosphere. But it’s Goin’s James Beard Award–winning finesse in the kitchen and Styne’s inspired wine menu that keep the place packed. Angelenos love to indulge in romantic dinners of seasonal small plates (ask for a table by a balcony in the wine room) or long lunches on the sun-dappled patio. The generous by-the-glass menu of biodynamic, sustainable, or organically farmed pours invites tasting and experimentation. If barman Christiaan is in the house, make sure to also try one of his intriguing cocktails—like Fire & Smoke, with mezcal, sweet wood, and chile de arbol. Communal tables are popular, especially when there are bacon-wrapped dates on offer during the daily 5 to 7 p.m. cocktail hour.
This restaurant is such an institution that it predates the city’s most iconic landmark—the Hollywood sign. In a way, Hollywood was born in Musso & Frank’s red booths, back when the famed boulevard was still a dirt road. The restaurant opened in 1919, and much of the menu remains from the first chef, Frenchman Jean La Rue, who used to specially prepare fettuccini alfredo for silent film stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Only two executive chefs have held the job since. Dinner dishes such as lobster thermidor and grenadine of beef take you back half a century, while chicken pot pie (on Thursdays only) and steaks, cooked on L.A.’s oldest open-fire grill, taste comfortingly familiar. Don’t miss brunch, which features Greta Garbo’s favorite Flannel Cake, a cross between a pancake and crepe invented by chef La Rue in the 1920s. In keeping with the authentic vintage spirit, martinis are strictly stirred—never shaken—and served with a mini glass sidecar containing the rest of the drink in its own tiny ice bucket. Consider yourself lucky if Ruben—who started at Musso & Frank in 1967—is the one painstakingly crafting yours. Pro tip: Order the off-menu slow-roasted prime rib, finished on the mesquite grill and served rare.
Verspertine isn’t so much a restaurant as an experience—a collaboration between chef-owner Jordan Kahn and architect Eric Owen Moss. The futuristic four-level structure, wrapped in undulating steel with glass walls and minimal design elements, sets a dramatic stage for the art on the plates. The restaurant serves dinner only—and by reservation only. Pull up to valet parking and they already know who you are. Wait briefly on the garden’s heated benches for the elevator up, where chef Kahn—whose bona fides include French Laundry and Per Se—is the first to greet each guest by name. Tables seat four people at most, keeping things intimate for a sensorial multi-course meal that’s unique each night. Sculptural dishes could include delicate snowy white asparagus with sword fin squid and macadamia nut, or hirame (fish) served in a glittering black bowl that appears empty at first glance. (They do accommodate dietary restrictions and can offer modifications.) Essentially, get ready for a lot of surprises. One thing that doesn’t change: the layered, effects-heavy original score created by the band This Will Destroy You specifically for Vespertine. Pro tip: Opt for the I beverage pairing option (III features nonalcoholic juices and infusions), which offers a libation for each course.
There may very well be no California cuisine without Wolfgang Puck, the James Beard Award–winning chef responsible for the defining genre. The Austrian-born chef’s flagship, Spago, debuted in 1982 and became known for its locally sourced menu—considered New Age-y at the time—and fabulous Oscar parties. The same see-and-be-seen vibe still reigns, and it’s one of a small handful of L.A. restaurants to be awarded two Michelin stars. The current Beverly Hills venue was redesigned in 2012, making the fireplace-studded patio even more romantic for white-tablecloth dinners. In the vibrant dining room, old-school waiters charm as they take orders for the barrel-aged Manhattan and refreshing Pepino’s Revenge (tequila, cucumber, basil, lime), plus the ever-popular California tasting menu (the whole table must participate). It usually features several of the longtime regulars’ favorites, such as the agnolotti, with a filling that changes seasonally (guests should call ahead in the summer to find out if the sweet corn is in yet). Pro tip: Along with the off-menu salmon pizza—made with house-smoked salmon—ask for the spicy tuna tartare in a sesame miso cone.
Santa Barbara spot prawns roasted under a layer of salt. Nasturtium leaf tacos filled with scallop tartare. Gelée of littleneck clam and chorizo served in the clam shell. These are just a few of the delicacies guests might taste at chef-owner Michael Cimarusti’s seafood mecca Providence. This top Los Angeles chef is so masterful with unusual ingredients that he even serves a course inspired by his travels in Japan called the Ugly Bunch, transforming unattractive ingredients into a breathtaking plate. The game-changing chef is also the West Coast pioneer of Dock to Dish Los Angeles, a restaurant-supported fishery program promoting sustainably caught seafood. Naturally, the menu at this destination, decorated with driftwood chandeliers and ceramic barnacles, changes nightly and always includes three tasting menu options. Those in the know book the four-seat private chef’s table overlooking the kitchen for a special occasion, or go for Friday lunch, when they can enjoy chef Cimarusti’s skills in the light of day. Must-order: One of head bartender Kim Stodel’s “zero-waste” cocktails, like the Tom Kha curry–flavored Muay Thai creation, with a rum infusion made from lemongrass, ginger, and kaffir leaf leftover from the kitchen, and served with a biodegradable straw.
You’ll want to block off at least three hours of your day for a meal at n/naka, Los Angeles’s temple to the elaborate, multi-course traditional Japanese feast known as kaiseki. Chef-owner Niki Nakayama—the world’s sole female kaiseki master and a James Beard semifinalist—has created an intimate, authentically Japanese space for up to 26 guests to savor one of two 13-course tasting menus. In a serene setting of minimalist, hand-built furniture, the Japanese American chef serves up a parade of vibrantly colored, elaborately plated dishes, each made with hyper-local ingredients. A typical menu begins with a modern take on sashimi and then proceeds through a series of innovative vegetarian, fish, meat, and dessert courses. One stop-you-in-your-tracks favorite: the Shiizakana (which translates to “not bound by tradition, chef’s choice”), in which spaghettini is twirled with abalone, pickled cod roe, and Burgundy truffles. At the end of the meal, chef Nakayama and sous chef Carole Iida-Nakayama emerge from the kitchen to greet each diner. Pro tip: Plan ahead. A two- to three-month waiting list means you need to be flexible with early or late dinner times.
Tucked away on Third Street since 1979, Michael’s is arguably the best-kept secret in Santa Monica—a Cheers-like stalwart for locals, who return to proprietor Michael McCarty’s inviting restaurant and bar regularly. It hasn’t hurt that star chefs Jonathan Waxman, Nancy Silverton, Sang Yoon, and Mark Peel have all done time in the kitchen. Artwork by John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, and Cy Twombly set the backdrop for equally creative, flavor-packed masterpieces by the current chef Miles Thompson. Modern California-sourced dishes change seasonally, but octopus is a must-order. (If you’re lucky, Thompson will be serving his confit version with burnt butter and Sichuan peppercorn marshmallow.) A relaxed, jungle-like garden patio invites late-night lingering over a drink from the creative cocktail menu; be sure to try the popular Road to Kyushu, a mix of Japanese whiskey, kumquats, cloves, and barrel-aged bitters. Pro tip: For early birds, Michael’s lounge has probably the best happy hour in L.A.: a $1.79 cocktail from 5:30 to 6 p.m. (to honor its opening year), plus the signature barbecue aioli–topped Smash Burger available in limited numbers until 7 p.m.
Chef Nyesha Arrington’s personality may have won her fans on Top Chef years back, but it’s her talent in the kitchen that shot her to success at various Michelin-starred restaurants. With Native, which opened in late 2017, she brings together Los Angeles’s diverse influences and cultures through food. Pastrami from local Langer’s deli inspired her roast duck breast with pastrami jus and marble rye tuile; her Wagyu beef tartare seasoned with Aisoon sauce was named for her Korean grandmother. Enthusiastic waiters—many of whom go the extra mile by getting to know diners by name—may suggest favorites such as chestnut spaghetti with shiitakes and burrata, or even a secret item like a super-tender steak when available. As with Arrington’s cuisine, the 95-seat restaurant is approachable yet elevated, with rich honey-hued wood, brass, and a touch of marble. Don’t miss weekend brunch for the crazy-sounding but addictive kimchi latkes, as well as the coconut brown butter pancakes. Pro tip: If you can’t make it for a sit-down dinner, come to the bar during Community Hour, daily from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and ask for the off-menu burger along with your rum-based cocktail Right by the Beach, served in a coconut.
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