The best thing about Los Angeles – besides the obvious – is the city’s food scene. L.A. is a melting pot of cultures; made up of countless diverse pockets and neighbourhoods that stretch far and wide, beyond the glitz and glam you see on TV or the Instagram Stories of influencers, many of whom never venture far outside West Hollywood's area code.
In the East, there’s Koreatown, Little Tokyo (try Sushi Gen then Tea Master Matcha for the best matcha ice cream in town), Thai Town (Jitlanda or Ruen Pair, and Lolo Wine Bar either before or after) and China Town. There are trendy new spots popping up constantly in Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park and Highland Park, and the Arts District in Downtown, which has long been home to the likes of critically-acclaimed places like Bestia and Majordomo, and now has Lasita and Cafe Triste nearby.
What’s cool about Los Angeles, though, that differentiates it from other cities I’ve lived in is the real affinity and intrinsic appreciation Angelenos have for the institutions and old-school haunts here. Instead of the hot new restaurant openings pulling the crowds, it’s the places that have been around forever, occupying the same street in the same neighbourhood for decades. This makes sense: Los Angeles is all about storytelling. People move from far and wide to live in the city where dreams are made, so it's only natural they’d want to honour its history, experience the rooms where the magic of some of their favourite movies was first concocted, and hear its stories from those who know them best: the servers.
Below, the Los Angeles restaurants that deserve to be on anyone’s hit list when visiting the City of Angels.
1. Musso & Frank Grill
An obvious inclusion, but for good reason. Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, Musso & Frank has been located on Hollywood Boulevard, in the centre of the action, since 1919. Everyone has a story about this place – most of which came directly from the servers’ mouths (they’re legendary for their long tenures). I have two: A musician friend informed me the barman, Sonny Bones, is also a poet who’ll often attend her shows, and on my birthday this year, they sat me in Frank Sinatra’s favourite booth. Sinatra was a regular, so too was Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Steve McQueen. John Travolta still visits regularly.
Given how beloved the restaurant is with Hollywood stars, it only makes sense it would be the backdrop in films, including recently in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood when Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters met with Al Pacino’s. Given its famous affiliations, Musso & Frank is frequented by tourists, but don’t let that dissuade you: the locals and regulars are there every night, too because it’s old Hollywood in the best of ways: the service is impeccable, the food is delicious. It’s the place to dress up, to order a dirty martini and to eat a bone-in rib-eye steak. It’s the perfect date night spot. I can also highly recommend their vodka pasta and famous chicken pot pie (Thursdays only). Another tip: it books out quite far in advance but the bar is first come, first served so if you see a spot, grab it.
2. Dan Tana’s
Another old-school Italian American spot, Dan Tana’s has been a Hollywood favourite since 1947. Complete with red-and-white-checked tablecloths, red leather booths, tableside Caesar salads and a loud, bustling atmosphere, it's the place to go for a fun dinner party type of night — perfect for birthdays, big groups, or a dinner date where the plan is to get drink martinis and get a bit silly together. My personal favourite dish is mozzarella-blanketed chicken parm (which comes with a side of pasta), or the arrabbiata. Make sure to book in advance.
3. Dal Rae
Dal Rae is famous in its own right – and has been an institution in the city since 1952 – but unless you’ve done some real searching, you’ll likely not hear about this old-school Italian steakhouse. That’s partly because it’s a bit of a trek away, located in Pico Rivera. But the drive is well worth it for the fact you feel like you've been transported back in time once you walk through its doors. Definitely opt for the tableside prepared dishes, such as Caesar salad, Steak Diane, and Chateaubriand for two, or for dessert the Bananas Flambé, Cherries Jubilee, and Grand Mariner Supreme.
4. Sunset Tower
Sunset Tower is so iconic that recently when its Tower Bar maître d’ retired, the news of their replacement (the very chic Geshie) made headlines. Having a cocktail at Tower Bar is a rite of passage when visiting L.A., but if you can stay here to experience the rooms, robes and poolside treatment, do it. Or, make like the rest of us, and book in for brunch or lunch so you get to experience the space during the day, too. I also just Googled and am happy to say that after unionising due to unfair treatment, the staff at Chateau Marmont — the historic Hollywood hotel — struck a deal with management where employees are better compensated, and have retirement benefits and other protections. So, to summarise, it's back on the list for lunch, dinner or drinks, too.
5. Formosa Café
Open since 1939, Formosa is one of the oldest bars in Los Angeles. After a change in ownership threatened its future back in 2016, thankfully, it instead underwent a massive refurbishment and reopened better than ever, with three separate bars, a dine-in train car, and a spacious rooftop. If you're hungry, it offers a Taiwanese bar menu made up of the likes of cold sesame noodles, dan dan mian, and dim sum. You can also BYOB.
6. El Coyote
Another spot you’ve likely heard before is El Coyote, the Mexican restaurant that was famously the last place Sharon Tate dined at before her untimely death in 1969 (and the place Margot Robbie’s scene was shot when she portrayed her in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). El Coyote has been around since 1931 and is very much a vibes-over-food type of institution, where the ambience (and the margaritas) make up for the taste not being quite as refined as some of its competitors in close proximity. But honestly, I love a low-key taco, rice and beans situation with never-ending corn chips and salsa refills, so no complaints here. If you want to move up a bit on the scale taste-wise (and avoid the tourists who frequent El Coyote due to its celebrity history), head to El Carmen down the road, which still has a great atmosphere and some of the best restaurant tacos in the area.
Saving the best ‘til (nearly) last! I almost didn’t include Pace on this list because it’s my current favourite restaurant in Los Angeles and there’s always that girlboss, gatekeep instinct to keep a good thing close. But I would never have found out about it without someone sharing it with me — and I trust the taste of all RUSSH readers. Pace in Laurel Canyon, tucked away in the hills above a quaint grocery store, is the best. It’s another Italian restaurant for the list, but one where I'd recommend you order their famous cedar wood grilled salmon above all else (or, ideally, alongside some pasta. But make sure to save room for their chocolate cake). Inside the main room (where I'd suggest you ask to be seated when booking), it's cosy and candle-lit, with drawings by patrons all over the walls (somewhere, there’s one I drew of a purple cat). It's perfect for a romantic dinner date, or a place for a catch-up with a small group of friends, as the vibe is more relaxed than rowdy.
8. The Dresden Room
A Los Feliz staple since 1954, The Dresden Room is made up of a main dining room and a bar-lounge area. For over 40 years, this is where the iconic cabaret duo Marty & Elayne would perform weekly, until January 2022, when Marty sadly passed away. Despite this loss for regulars of their show, The Dresden is still a great place for an old-school cocktail and live music. The food isn't half bad, either, but if given the option, I'd probably pop down to Figaro Bistrot for dinner post-cocktails, instead.