The Bazaar by José Andrés (465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; tel. 310/246-5555)
Walking into this SLS Hotel restaurant is total sensory overload: four separate areas all in one open space, with lots of shiny glitz and glam, artwork, and eye candy (it's one of the most popular restaurants in town right now). Spanish celebrity chef José Andrés put L.A. on the dining map with his traditional and contemporary take on tapas. The cocktails alone are worth a visit -- margarita with salt "air," anyone? For the ultimate splurge, take one of the 30 seats at tasting-menu-only "secret" restaurant-within-a-restaurant SAAM.
Cut (9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; tel. 310/276-8500)
Tom and Katie may not be regulars anymore (they used to be a fixture here), but A-listers still frequent the place, and because the room is so open, they have nowhere to hide. It's all in the details at Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse, from perfectly cooked steaks to top-notch service to Sherry Yard's amazing desserts.
House of Blues Gospel Brunch (8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; tel. 323/848-5100)
For more than a decade, the HOB has hosted a raucous Sunday brunch that's simmering with high-energy gospel music and all-you-can-eat Southern home cookin'. It's a booty-shaking brunch.
Koi (730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; tel. 310/659-9449)
The combination of soothing feng shui ambience and superb Asian fusion cuisine has made Koi one of the hottest restaurants in L.A. Hollywood's biggest celebrities -- Colin Farrell, Joe Jonas, Jennifer Hudson, Demi and Ashton -- come here often to nosh on addictive dishes such as baked crab rolls with edible rice paper and miso-bronzed black cod.
La Cachette Bistro (1733 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; tel. 310/434-9509)
Though there are entrée-size portions available, I suggest sticking with the "French tapas." It represents small-plates-style dining at its best, a culinary adventure in different tastes. It's also nice to see a successful chef, Jean François Meteigner, still spending time in his own kitchen.
The Little Door (8164 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; tel. 323/951-1210)
Consistently voted one of L.A.'s most romantic restaurants is this French/Mediterranean charmer hidden behind a little door on 3rd Street. Sit at the shaded patio among the fragrant bougainvillea while sipping champagne and you'd swear you're in Provence.
Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza (641 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; tel. 323/297-0101; and 6602 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; tel. 323/297-0100)
Still one of the hottest reservations in town, side-by-side Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza are a must-stop. Every time I eat at either, I spend the next few days dreamily contemplating how simple yet brilliant my meal was.
Ray's and Stark Bar (5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; tel. 323/857-6180)
This is hands down L.A.'s best museum restaurant. While it doesn't have the sweeping vistas of the one at the Getty, the patio is adjacent to the famous lamppost installation. Both food and drink are topnotch. It's something special.
Rivera (1050 S. Flower St., Los Angeles; tel. 213/749-1460?)
It's so exciting to see more and more amazing restaurants popping up Downtown. Out of all of them, I like this newcomer best, not only for the creative pan-Latin and Mexican cuisine, but also for incredible mixology program.
Saddle Peak Lodge (419 Cold Canyon Rd., Calabasas; tel. 818/222-3888)
In L.A., a romantic restaurant is one without cellphone service (that would be in the hills above Malibu). This converted hunting lodge is quite the quixotic setting for a game-centric meal for two. Candlelit tables, a crackling fireplace, and a Wine Spectator-endorsed wine list are sure bets for creating la mood d'amour.
Savory (29169 Heathercliff Rd., Malibu; tel. 310/589-8997)
This cozy eatery has a casual enough vibe to make it an instant favorite among laid-back Malibu regulars, but the sensational California fare attracts foodies from all over the city. It's high time that Malibu attained a restaurant of this caliber.
Best Places for a Power Lunch
Between 12:30 and 2pm, industry honchos swarm like locusts to a handful of watering holes du jour. Actors, agents, lawyers, and producers flock to perennial favorites the Ivy, 113 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/274-8303), and the L.A. branch of New York's venerable the Palm, 9001 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/550-8811), a steakhouse where the food is impeccable and the conversations read like dialogue from Entourage.
Best Old-School Diners
Stand in line for one of the city's best hamburgers at the Apple Pan, 10801 Pico Blvd., West L.A. (tel. 310/475-3585). Choose from the "steakburger" or the saucy "hickory burger" -- though regulars know to get extra hickory sauce on the side (for french-fry dipping). The wallpaper at this beloved family-run cottage on the busy Westside looks like it dates from the opening day in 1947. Dating to 1958, Rae's Restaurant, 2901 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/828-7937), is pretty inconspicuous, but the cash-only, all-American diner is very popular among locals, especially at breakfast time.
The Restaurant at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., West L.A. (tel. 310/440-6810), has an in-the-clouds locale that makes for postcard views when the L.A. sky is smog-free. Reservations are recommended, even for lunch and brunch (served Tues-Sun); dinner is served only on Saturday, when the museum is open late. Make reservations online at www.getty.edu. For one of the best views in Los Angeles, the Penthouse, 1111 2nd St., Santa Monica (tel. 310/393-8080), at the top of the 18-story Huntley Santa Monica Beach, has a 360-degree view of Santa Monica, with Los Angeles to the east, the beach to the west, Malibu to the north, and Venice to the south, not to mention the occasional celeb or two in-house. There is really no bad seat, but the cabanas are definitely prime real estate.
Best "Old Hollywood" Restaurant
Haunted by the ghosts of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway -- who drank here during their screenwriting days -- Musso and Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood (tel. 323/467-7788), is virtually unchanged since 1919. The atmosphere urges you to order a martini and chicken potpie. Listen to the longtime waitstaff wax nostalgic about the days when Hollywood Boulevard was still fashionable and Orson Welles held court at Musso's.
Best Spot for People-Watching
Nowhere in L.A. is better for people-watching than Venice's Ocean Front Walk, and no restaurant offers a better seat for the action than the Sidewalk Cafe, 1401 Ocean Front Walk, Venice (tel. 310/399-5547). Unobstructed views of parading skaters, bikers, skateboarders, musclemen, break dancers, street performers, sword swallowers, and other participants in the daily carnival overshadow the food, which is better than it needs to be.
Best Spots for Celebrity Sighting
You'll always find well-known faces frequenting Hollywood hot spots, the most sizzling of which is Katsuya Hollywood, 6300 Hollywood Blvd. (tel. 323/871-8777), the current fave of Jessica Simpson, Janet Jackson, Lauren Conrad, and so on. Other celebrity hangouts include Koi, 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/659-9449); Osteria Mozza, 641 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles (tel. 323/297-0100); Mastro's Steakhouse, 246 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills (tel. 310/888-8782); Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel, 8358 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 323/848-6677); the Ivy, 113 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/274-8303); Mr. Chow, 344 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills (tel. 310/278-9911); and, of course, Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills (tel. 310/385-0880).
Best Alfresco Dining
You'll find that more and more Los Angeles restaurants are eager to create appealing outdoor seating, even if it means placing bistro tables along a busy sidewalk. One of my favorites is the garden patio at the Little Door, 8164 W. 3rd St., West Hollywood (tel. 323/951-1210), one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. A more affordable way to enjoy a meal outdoors is to stroll Sunset Boulevard around Sunset Plaza Drive. At least a half-dozen sidewalk cafes dot this strip -- and the people-watching is some of the best in the city. For on-the-beach dining, literally, take a trip to Back On The Beach Café at the Annenberg Community Beach House, 445 Palisades Beach Rd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/393-8282), where you dine with your feet in the sand.
Best Wine List
Year after year, plenty of other restaurants offer thoughtfully chosen vintages, but no one comes close to toppling Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/829-4313), which still boasts L.A.'s best cellar and is continually honored with Wine Spectator's highest ratings.
Best California Cuisine
Everyone seems to be doing market-to-table cuisine these days, understandable since L.A. is blessed with amazing farmers' markets and produce year-round. At Santa Monica's Michael's, 1147 3rd St. (tel. 310/451-0843), chef/owner Michael McCarty is considered an originator of California cuisine, but others like Hatfield's, 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles (tel. 323/935-2977); Josie, 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/581-9888); and Forage, 3823 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake (tel. 323/663-6885), always have some of the best season-inspired menus.
Best Italian Cuisine
After more than 40 years in the business, restaurateur Piero Selvaggio is still at the top of his game. Nothing beats the understated elegance of Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/829-4313), for an authentic Italian dinner. Selvaggio's hospitality is oft imitated (or exaggerated) but never duplicated. Though new-school foodies may chide me for my ode to the old-fashioned, sometimes simple really is best. I dare you to find a better vitello tonnato.
Best Mexican Cuisine
L.A. is teeming with authentic Mexican food -- some of the tastiest is even found on mobile taco trucks. For amazing mole, seek out Guelaguetza, 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles (tel. 213/427-0608), which draws a large Spanish-speaking clientele even thought it's in Koreatown. La Casita, 4030 Gage Ave., Bell ([tel 323/773-1898) is another winner; though it's a more of a trek from the touristy areas.
Best Afternoon Tea
Surrounded by botanical gardens, the tearoom at the Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino (tel. 626/683-8131), is truly an oasis. The Huntington, located in a wealthy residential area near Pasadena, has the added appeal of pre- and post-tea activities, such as strolling the theme gardens, viewing the art gallery or library, and visiting the bookstore/gift shop. Though it's a bit pricey ($28 plus museum admission) the tea is served buffet-style, so you can stuff yourself with fresh-baked scones, finger sandwiches, and strawberries with thick Devonshire cream.
Former mayor Richard Riordan's the Original Pantry, 877 S. Figueroa St., Downtown (tel. 213/972-9279), stays open 24 hours a day, serving up large plates of traditional American comfort food (meatloaf, coleslaw, ham 'n' eggs) that won't win any culinary awards but offers some of the best values in town (you won't leave hungry, that's for sure). Far more upscale but equally value-oriented (particularly, the three-course lunch for $18) is Joe's Restaurant, 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice (tel. 310/399-5811).
Best Noshing (While Standing)
Open since 1917, Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Downtown (tel. 213/624-2378), is L.A.'s largest and oldest food hall, selling everything from fresh bread, local and exotic produce, and fresh fruit juice to smoked meats, Chinese noodles, and chili.
Best for Late-Night Dining
On the theory that later is better, our vote goes to Toi on Sunset, 7505 1/2 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 323/874-8062). You'll never feel like the last patron at this place -- they're open until 4am -- and the terrific Thai food will give your fading brain a spicy kick.
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