20 Essential L.A. Neighborhood Restaurants

Pork collar with rosewater jaew, radish kimchi and flowering cilantro at Michael’s in Santa Monica (Photo by Jakob Layman)

Neighborhoods in Los Angeles are constantly evolving, and their dining scenes feature both established favorites and exciting newcomers.

By Roger Grody

Los Angeles is a patchwork of vibrant, multicultural neighborhoods, each one with its own style, personality and flavor. Some are hip, others homey; some are the epicenters of global industries, while others are fueled by mom-and-pop enterprises. And each neighborhood offers noteworthy dining, whether at renowned institutions steeped in history or at new arrivals that reflect emerging trends.

Forever Famous: Hollywood

No neighborhood is more quintessentially “L.A.” than Hollywood, whose mystique has endured through good times and bad. And over the decades, Musso & Frank Grill has been one of the neighborhood’s most iconic restaurants, offering legendary martinis and steaks since 1919. A few of the waiters, all consummate pros, look like they have been there since opening night, and Musso & Frank remains a great spot to score old-fashioned dishes like turkey à la king or Welsh rarebit. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323.467.7788. mussoandfrank.com

APL Restaurant repackages the spirit of Hollywood for the 21st century, yet chef/owner Adam Perry Lang draws inspiration from nostalgic chophouses like Musso & Frank. Lang trained with French cuisine heavyweights Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy, but his menu is all-American, featuring sophisticated renditions of old-school staples. Begin with an iceberg wedge or shrimp cocktail before moving on to prime attractions like Lang’s signature short rib and rib-eye or tomahawk steaks. The chef has studied metalworking, so diners are presented with hand-forged knives to cut into beef that has been dry-aged on-site. The restaurant, housed in a historic building, is a contemporary reimagination of the mahogany- and leather-clad steakhouses of old Hollywood. 1680 Vine St., Hollywood, 323.416.1280. aplrestaurant.com

A Fashionable Scene: Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills offers the height of luxury and style, with brands like Gucci, Prada and Valentino setting the tone. Spago is surely not the oldest restaurant in town—places like La Scala and Lawry’s outdate it by many decades—but the Wolfgang Puck flagship is the epitome of celebrity-fueled glamour. It also earned a pair of Michelin stars for dishes like crispy-scaled black bass with lobster and sauce américaine, Cantonese duck and Austrian specialties such as kaiserschmarrn. The scene is more subdued than it used to be, but Spago remains the dining equivalent of watching the Lakers from courtside seats. 176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310.385.0880. wolfgangpuck.com

Headlining a new version of elegance is Avra Beverly Hills, the West Coast edition of a renowned Midtown Manhattan Greek restaurant where a beautiful crowd gathers to sip Greco-themed cocktails and sample authentic dishes with progressive notes. With its sleek, contemporary design, Avra is no rustic taverna, and the sophistication extends to a menu showcasing fresh seafood from the grill. 233 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, 310.734.0841. avrabeverlyhills.com

The fish display at Avra Beverly Hills. (Photo by Wonho Frank Lee)

The New “It” ’Hood: Highland Park

A decade ago, this community along the Pasadena Freeway went virtually unnoticed, but today, millennials seeking new frontiers are pushing home prices above the million-dollar mark. Seven years ago, chef Andre Guerrero was among the first to recognize the nascent dining scene’s potential when he debuted Maximiliano. Here the chef/restaurateur, known for killer pastrami sandwiches at the Oinkster and for introducing L.A. diners to Filipino flavors, presents traditional Italian fare with pizzas and handmade pastas—even old-school favorites like spaghetti and meatballs. 5930 York Blvd., Highland Park, 323.739.6125. maximilianohp.com

One of the newest additions to the sizzling neighborhood is Hippo, from former Osteria/Pizzeria Mozza chef Matt Molina, which has generated a buzz that extends citywide. Casual and approachable, Hippo offers hamachi crudo with kumquat relish, intriguing pastas and well-priced entrées such as cedar-smoked ocean trout with sweet-corn succotash. In keeping with the current Highland Park vibe, the look is rustic-chic and the cuisine (complemented by a top-notch wine program) sophisticated but relatable. 5916 1/2 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park, 323.545.3536. hipporestaurant.com

Polishing the Edge: Echo Park

Echo Park is another up-and-coming place—a cool, edgy neighborhood convenient to Silver Lake, Dodger Stadium and downtown. Taix French Restaurant, an ornate but unfussy bistro established in 1927 that has been operating at its current location since 1962, has recently been rediscovered for timeless specialties like moules marinières, coq au vin and steak au poivre. 1911 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, 213.484.1265. taixfrench.com

Introducing a brand new Echo Park is stylish, intimate Tsubaki, a true izakaya that balances authenticity with a little California fun. Loyal customers from the neighborhood and beyond sample craft sakes with upscale Japanese bar food like chawanmushi (egg custard) with crab, karaage (fried chicken) and sake-marinated foie gras in a lively, convivial setting. The Tsubaki team will soon open bar Ototo next door, which will offer small-batch sakes, Japanese craft beers and shochu. 1356 Allison Ave., Echo Park, 213.900.4900. tsubakila.com

Underestimated: The Valley

The underrated San Fernando Valley dining scene offers everything from ethnic holes-in the-wall to avant-garde chefs experimenting their way to stardom. An incredible concentration of sushi bars lines Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, and since opening more than 20 years ago, Asanebo has been among the best. Don’t be fooled by its modest strip-mall location, as this eatery has earned a Michelin star. Splurge on an omakase feast featuring a parade of artfully plated sushi and refined dishes laced with caviar and truffles. 11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818.760.3348. asanebo-restaurant.com

The Valley is also a hotbed for French bistros, and the latest arrival is Petit Trois from former haute-cuisine chef Ludo Lefebvre and fellow renegades Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. Looking the part of a 5th arrondissement bistro, Petit Trois has an approachable menu and all-day service, so you can drop in for ham- and Gruyère-stuffed waffles in the morning, a croque monsieur at lunch and steak frites or a sloppy, sensual burger (le Big Mec) in the evening, washed down with an unpretentious Beaujolais. 13705 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818.989.2600. petittrois.com

Studio/Restaurant Town: Culver City

This diverse Westside community was originally a studio town, but it owes much of its recent renaissance to its restaurants, both in the city’s historic downtown district and ultra-trendy Hayden Tract. Akasha may not date back to the halcyon days of MGM, but pioneering chef/owner Akasha Richmond (also behind newer AR Cucina) was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Culver City. The globe-trotting chef offers a multicultural menu that continues to earn admirers with eclectic dishes like tandoori-spiced chicken wings and striped bass in turmeric dashi. 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City, 310.845.1700. akasharestaurant.com

Gifted, iconoclastic chef Jordan Kahn is creating quite a stir at Vespertine, housed in one of Hayden Tract’s many architectural curiosities, and his pricey cuisine is so cutting-edge it makes Richmond’s innovative fare look old-fashioned. Kahn’s ingredients assume unexpected shapes and physical properties (delighting some and mystifying others)—a cuisine that is unfamiliar, esoteric and way out of most diners’ comfort zones. The late critic Jonathan Gold, who rated the restaurant the best in L.A. last year, wrote, “At Vespertine, you should probably submit to ‘Jordanworld.’ You will be back on Earth soon enough.” 3599 Hayden Ave., Culver City, 323.320.4023. vespertine.la

Mezze maniche alla carbonara at Felix Trattoria in Venice (Courtesy photo)

Magnet for Chefs: Venice

Venice continues to evolve from its Muscle Beach roots to an affluent enclave for residents with artistic sensibilities. In 1990, when gentrification was just underway, Chaya Venice debuted a French-influenced Japanese menu that included the now-ubiquitous tuna tartare, a dish the Chaya team claims to have invented at its sister restaurant. Recently rebranded as Chaya Modern Izakaya, the restaurant offers a fun five-course tasting menu in addition to sushi, hand rolls and robata. 110 Navy St., Venice, 310.396.1179. thechaya.com

Ironically, now-trendy Venice is well represented by a restaurant that honors tradition. At Felix Trattoria, chef Evan Funke meticulously employs centuries-old techniques to create remarkable handcrafted pasta for his tonnarelli cacio e pepe and Bolognese-style pappardelle topped with premium aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. Felix also offers pizzas, branzino and a 40-ounce dry-aged bistecca alla fiorentina for sharing in a modern, inviting space. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 424.387.8622. felixla.com

The Celebrity Corridor: Sunset Strip

“The Strip,” one of L.A.’s most storied and recognizable districts, boasts a rich dining heritage that has included glamorous Le Dome and the original Spago. Helping to usher in the contemporary steakhouse trend—a welcome departure from the sedate, buttoned-down chophouses that preceded it—was Boa Steakhouse, which has been part of the Sunset scene since 2001. The restaurant still looks cool, even clubby, and its updated riffs on traditional steakhouse fare deftly bridge the gap between eras. 9200 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.278.2050. boasteak.com

Brand-new to the Strip is Tesse Restaurant (a play on délicatesse, or “tasty,” in French), where Michelin-starred chef Raphael Francois creates a menu that blends classic French—he’s a master charcutier—with contemporary dishes like the crab simplissime he introduced at New York’s Le Cirque. The dining room, which blends into the kitchen, is sleek and tailored, warmed by wood and leather. 8500 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.360.3866. tesserestaurant.com

Chef-Driven Coast: Santa Monica

Owner Michael McCarty and ambitious young chefs Nancy Silverton, Jonathan Waxman and Roy Yamaguchi (to name a few) pioneered California cuisine at Michael’s, a culinary landmark no less influential than Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Oddly enough, current-day Santa Monica—no longer the sleepy town it was when McCarty opened his doors in 1979—is also represented by Michael’s. The restaurateur updated his eponymous establishment, which still features great modern art and a sexy patio, while recruiting Miles Thompson, another gifted young chef, to help write the next chapter of American cuisine. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, 310.451.0843. michaelssantamonica.com

New to Santa Monica is Native, a contemporary bistro from chef Nyesha Arrington. Her cuisine is steeped in classic French technique (she was mentored by Josiah Citrin at Mélisse) but incorporates cross-cultural accents from her own family and beyond in dishes like wagyu beef tartare inspired by her Korean grandmother, and lamb meatballs with plantain chips and piri piri. 620 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310.458.4427> eatnative.la

Finally Discovered: Atwater Village

Tam O’Shanter is a true survivor in Atwater Village, a neighborhood long overshadowed by adjacent Los Feliz and Silver Lake. The Tam has been attracting hungry diners since 1922—including Walt Disney, who loved the restaurant—and is now benefiting from the Village’s revival. The plaid laden Scottish-pub-themed eatery serves fish and chips, haggis and satisfying prime rib (the accompanying Yorkshire pudding is legendary), followed by sticky toffee pudding or English trifle. 2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village, 323.664.0228. lawrysonline.com

A robust dining scene has emerged on Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village, and one of the street’s best restaurants is Good Measure, a funky, inviting wine bar where a global list complements chef Mike Garber’s crispy pork rillettes, chickpea fries and gnocchi with Parmesan cream. A group of six to eight can reserve the table in the wine cellar, featuring hands-on service from co-owner/wine director Matthew Kaner. 3224 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, 323.426.9461. goodmeasurela.com

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