Whether you’ve decided to put in actual effort into your next date or want to impress your out-of-town friends, one thing is clear: you’re ready for something new. Eating pretty vegetables on a pretty patio isn’t always going to cut it. That’s where we come in.
We’ve put together a list of 16 restaurants that are unlike any other. Some are hidden, one is a glitzy jazz club, and another is an invite-only club for the greatest magicians in the world. If nothing else, they’ll leave you with an experience you’ll be talking about long after.
Finding enough space in your apartment for your crochet button collection is hard enough, let alone hosting a proper dinner party. That’s what makes Ilé, a Nigerian fine dining pop-up in Hollywood, so impressive—it’s actually held inside the chef’s luxury loft apartment. You’ll make a couple new friends, eat some delicious and dramatically presented food, and enjoy an intimate experience highlighting West African cuisine. The dinner is BYOB and you can reserve spots for a four or eight-course meal, depending on your budget. Just be prepared to learn a lot about the chef, who tells personal stories about his upbringing in Lagos between courses.
Unlike many of our favorite Malibu spots, this cafe doesn’t offer oceanfront views or ex-Hollister models walking around in boardshorts. Instead, located about 20 minutes inland from PCH, you’ll find a sprawling 5,000 acre property filled with waterfalls, tree groves, and fire pits. Yes, it’s mostly an event space, and yes, it will cost you a boatload of money to rent it out, but anyone can wander into the cafe. Order the very nice crab salad—it looks like a mess on the plate but is very generous with the shellfish—and sip on a citrus seltzer while looking over the grounds and pretending you’re in an REI commercial.
While the food at Kodō wavers between “fine” and “mostly unremarkable,” dining here feels like being invited to a goth social club in a zen garden. Architecturally, you won’t find a more stunning restaurant in LA: jet black walls frame a cement path leading you to the central courtyard, with billowing fabric hung above and concrete cubes that double as seats. Faint house music plays in the background and the staff struts around like models in a Rick Owens fashion show. If you have out-of-town guests who are wide-eyed and begging to see something “LA,” a.k.a. something that’ll rattle their small town souls, Kodō is that place.
The Magic Castle
To call The Magic Castle merely a restaurant would be doing it an injustice. It’s a private club, home to the best magicians on the planet, with a restaurant that’s better than you’d expect. Getting into this massive Victorian mansion in Hollywood takes some effort (you need to secure an invite from an actual club member), but once you’re inside, you’ll embark on a night of up-close magic, strong Old Fashioneds, and mechanical owls that’ll talk back to you. The fairly traditional steakhouse menu (think jumbo shrimp cocktails and beef wellington) isn’t going to melt your mind, but that’s what the magic is for.
The Old Place
Whenever we need a break from the chaos of Los Angeles, we drive up to Old Place. It’s in the Santa Monica Mountains, located on the grounds of a 19th-century general store-turned-saloon and steakhouse, complete with a Wild West aesthetic that reminds us of the movies our dad loves to watch. The menu is packed with American comfort foods like bone-in ribeyes, glorious apple crispy, and something called a “noodle and cheese bake,” a mac-and-cheese type dish that’s made with thick egg noodles smothered in parmesan, goat cheese, and mozzarella.
Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill & Jazz
Opened by the legendary American trumpet player, Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill is anything but low-key. As soon as you enter the Bel-Air spot (from the parking lot filled with Aston Martins and Porsches), you’ll be greeted by a glittering ballroom and the live jazz band upfront. People are wearing suits, jackets, and dresses they found in the “evening wear” section at Neiman Marcus, and everything–from the steak to the calamari to the complimentary ice cream scoop they’ll give if they know it’s your birthday–tastes perfectly acceptable, sometimes even good. Be prepared to spend money and have fun.
This French-ish spot in the old Pikey space on Sunset has preserved the dark red booths, worn-in wooden bar, and general anything-is-possible-tonight feel that’s made this location such a local hang since it was called Ye Coach & Horses almost a century ago. But despite the space’s history, Horses provides lots of new flair. They manage to make horse decor feel edgy, and the seasonal food elevates it from another Hollywood martini place to a big anniversary or birthday dinner destination. From the endive caesar to the adorable Cornish hen with dandelion panzanella, Horses’ menu is full of delicious surprises.
If you’re familiar with that stretch of La Brea Ave between Trader Joe’s and Pink’s Hot Dogs or the vegan food corner of Tik Tok, you might already know about this counter-service spot. Commonly referred to as the “vegan McDonald’s,” Mr. Charlie’s has taken the global fast-food chain’s image and turned it on its head. Instead of a Happy Meal, they serve an “Unhappie Meal.” Rather than the signature smile, they offer red boxes emblazoned with a yellow frown. And instead of $2.49, a meal here costs over $15. You order everything on a touch screen at the counter and since the upstairs seating area is about the size of a dorm room, most people take their food to go. Their small menu of cheeseburgers, nuggets, and french fries are all on par with Mickey D’s—simple and mildly addictive. But ‘good food’ is not the point. You’re really here to experience what feels like a parallel fast-food universe or some kind of interactive art installation funded by a vegan tech CEO.
Dinner with your friends is great. Dinner with your friends and a drag queen that continually gives you sh*t for everything you do is even better. Hamburger Mary’s is a national chain these days, but the magic of its original West Hollywood location is still going strong. Come any Sunday or Wednesday night for their famous drag queen bingo, and you’ll find a packed house full of people eating solid bar food, getting rowdy on bright blue cocktails, and letting that drag queen at the front of the room tear them to shreds.
Taco Maria (an experimental Mexican restaurant in Costa Mesa) has recently dropped their prix-fixe menu, but eating there still feels like a two-hour vacation. Their new menu has a lot of great options, like marinated nopalitos in preserved lemon, fresh cranberry frijoles topped with a toasted avocado leaf, and our favorite, a red corn and burnt strawberry tamal, covered in a dollop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream that all but made sugarplum fairies one-two step in our heads.
A meal at this high-end sushi bar in the San Fernando Valley can only be described as a transcendental experience. The bar is filled with regulars, the walls are a strangely soothing bright-orange color, and fluorescent lighting flickers overhead. It seems like a casual experience, despite the $200 price tag, and everyone’s having fun. The chef behind the counter is as calm as a Headspace instructor, carefully constructing ahi tuna four ways or shrimp tempura with a hint of yuzu. The omakase is the way to go – instead of nigiri, you’ll get four different cuts of ahi prepared four different ways, blue crab hand rolls laced with truffle oil, and scallops topped with caviar.
The Tam O’Shanter
The Tam O’Shanter is one of those extremely European places that Southern California seems to love so much (see also: literally all of Solvang). Wrought iron chandeliers swing from the ceiling, there’s about five miles of carpet on the floors, and you can find fireplaces in nearly every room. The menu’s stacked with foods that feel like they should be eaten in candlelight, like a funky Scotch rarebit or Toad In The Hole that’s essentially a filet mignon stew. This Scottish pub feels like its been frozen in time in the best way possible.
In cities like New York, Chicago, or Dubai, restaurants on top of tall buildings are not special. But this is Los Angeles, the land of chronic “big one” anxieties, so when a restaurant is located on the 71st floor of one of our only legitimate skyscrapers, it’s special. 71Above is on the fancier side, but with 360-degree views of the city, fantastic cocktails, and a respectable three-course prix-fixe menu, this is definitely the kind of place where getting dressed up feels worth it.
Idle Hour Bar
This iconic bar housed in a larger-than-life wooden barrel is one of LA’s greatest examples of programmatic architecture. And for those who don’t regularly lurk architecture porn subreddits, it’s also a great thing to stare at whenever you’re tired of heading to your neighborhood restaurant for the 20th time this week. Their excellent back patio has lots of space, a bulldog building smoking a pipe, and dishes like pulled pork sliders and sloppy tots.
If there’s a type of restaurant especially unique to Los Angeles, it’s the celebrity hangout. Sitting in a restaurant with Clooney in a corner and paparazzi out front is the kind of thing you have to do at least once in this city. We’d argue there’s no better place to watch famous people pretend to not notice you watching them than at Giorgio Baldi. In a canyon near the beach, the surprising thing about this place is that the Italian food is very good. So while people are here to rub elbows with Dustin Hoffman and hope to see Rihanna do one of her signature exits with wine glass in hand, they’re just as likely to get distracted by the sweet corn and truffle agnolotti.
From the outside, El Cid appears to be just a random door frame along Sunset Blvd. But walk down the staircase, and you’ll find yourself in a hidden dinner theater featuring weekly live music and professional flamenco shows. The dinner-and-a-show setup runs every Saturday and Sunday night, with solid-enough Spanish food that will keep everybody in your group happy. Once the show is over, grab another cocktail from the bar, and take the party outside to one of our favorite patios in the city.