Whether you’ve decided to put real effort into your next date or your East Coast friends who are all pre-programmed to hate this city are in town, you’re ready to do something different than eating pretty vegetables on a pretty patio. Nice as those dinners are, at some point, they all start to blur together.
So here are some restaurants unlike any others. Some are hidden, one has a jungle cruise inside it, and another is a members-only club for the greatest magicians in the world. All of these places, however, are as much about the overall experience as they are about food. Go try one of these places you’ll actually remember.
Located up in the mountains above Malibu, Saddle Peak Lodge is LA’s original destination restaurant. This massive place has history dating back to the Pony Express, but nowadays feels like you’re eating dinner at Richard Branson’s hunting lodge in Montana. There are three separate floors, themed rooms (including an attic filled with tiny boats), and a sprawling patio overlooking the mountains. Chances are high that you’ll be seated next to a roaring fireplace, staring point-blank at a taxidermied deer, and eating giant plates of rare meat. Just be sure to save room for the bread pudding.
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.
Occasionally, the task of deciding what to order is enough to make you skip a meal or eat only crackers for lunch. When you’re having an existential crisis brought on by too many options, the solution is to get yourself to Hawthorne, walk into Zam Zam Market, and ask them what’s cooking today. Zam Zam is a Pakistani market that happens to have very good biriyani, kebabs, and more - not that you’ll get to choose any of those. They’ll just bring you out a plate of the day’s specials, which is a much better option than crackers on your couch.
To call The Magic Castle a restaurant would be doing it an injustice. It’s a private club, home to the best magicians on the planet, with a better-than-you’d-expect restaurant. 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 steak and potatoes-heavy menu isn’t going to melt your mind, but that’s what the magic is for.
There’s nothing particularly unique about an out-of-this-world sushi place on Ventura Blvd. But Sushi Note is special for a couple of reasons. First, this omakase sushi meal is one of the best deals in town. (It’s $80 for 10 courses, plus edamame, miso soup, a starter, and a hand roll.) Second, Sushi Note is just as much a wine bar as it is a sushi place. The friendly staff will do a mini pairing to go with your dinner, and are happy to cycle through a bunch of different glasses until you find your perfect match, a generosity we absolutely have never abused.
Prior to 2017, if someone had told you to drop $700 on dinner inside a Santa Monica food court, you would’ve been smart to run the opposite direction. But the opening of Dialogue changed that. This tiny restaurant inside a building on the 3rd Street Promenade is home to a 21-course tasting menu that’s certainly experimental, but also approachable - and the food is some of the best in Los Angeles. If you sit at the counter, you’ll be served by the chef, who will tell you a crazy story about what inspired the dish and why you’re currently drinking wine with a shot of vinegar in it.
Technically, Joe Jost’s is a bar. And while drinking giant steins of beer and playing billiards is an important part of this Long Beach institution, you won’t have really been to Joe Jost’s if you didn’t eat here as well. There’s no other place in the greater Los Angeles area where you can hang out at a bar and talk to someone who may or may not be a real-life pirate while you gorge on pickled eggs and pretzels.
There are plenty of things you expect from the Valley. Like lots of SUVs, strip malls, and sushi restaurants in strip malls. What you’re probably not expecting is a restaurant with a 20-course tasting menu next to CPK. But the odd location and big price tag ($185 a head) are the least unique things about Scratch Bar - it’s the food and the atmosphere that make it interesting. Each dish is a little weirder than the last (building up to desserts like cheese ice cream you spread on toast) without being strange just for the sake of it. Almost every course works, and it helps that you’re surrounded by people who are truly excited to be at dinner.
Let’s get this out of the way right now - Tokyo Delves is a mess. The sushi is not very good, someone in your group will definitely drink too much, and you’ll wake up to multiple videos of you singing the YMCA to a room full of strangers on Instagram. But this sushi bar/cabaret is also the most exciting night of debauchery in the city. Come here with as many friends as you can (it fills up, so get reservations beforehand), partake in several restaurant-wide sake bombs, finish runner-up in a Shakira dance-off, and walk out knowing you just had one of the best nights out in LA.
Usually hosted in an actual house somewhere on the Eastside, Wolvesmouth is a “roaming dinner party” that’s essentially just a guy and his friends cooking a tasting menu comprised of whatever dishes they feel like making that night. If that setup sounds like something you can do with your own friends for a lot less money, know that at Wolvesmouth you pay what you feel like paying. There are no set dates (get on the mailing list to try to snag a seat), you’re only allowed to bring one other person, and it’s entirely BYO. Time to pull out that bottle of Cabernet you’ve been saving since Christmas.
Cicada Club is one those places that reminds you Los Angeles is much cooler than it will ever get credit for. This downtown supper club feels like you’re eating in the grand ballroom of the Titanic and there’s a live brass band that gets the dance floor heated up early. You can go all-in for the dinner setup ($64 for a three-course meal), or just buy separate tickets to come and only dance. The dress code is suits and cocktail dresses, but if you show up in a flapper outfit, absolutely no one will blink an eye. If you’re looking for something different to do on your birthday this year, take the crew to Cicada Club.
Do any sort of research on restaurants in Malibu and you’ll find most places telling you they have ocean views and beachfront patios. They aren’t lying. But there’s only one place where you’re allowed to eat on the beach with your feet in the sand. And that place is Paradise Cove. Sure, its gigantic bar food menu isn’t the greatest on the coast and its ticketed parking lot is a certifiable nightmare, but the joy of watching your parents and other out-of-town friends realize they’re eating lunch on a private beach is worth the hassle.
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 very good three-course prix-fixe menu, this is definitely the kind of place where getting dressed up feels worth it.
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.
Lost Spirits does not serve food, but we put it on this list simply because it’s one of our favorites experiences in the city. If the term “rum distillery” triggers painful memories of guzzling Malibu out of the bottle in college, let us clarify - Lost Spirits isn’t just a place to drink rum. It’s an art installation/jungle cruise/science experiment. In the spirit of being as awestruck as we were, we’ll withhold any specific details, but just know the $35 admission price is fully worth it. Each tour last around 90 minutes, and you should book tickets well in advance on their website. Tours run Friday through Sunday.
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 three reasonably priced prix-fixe menus of 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.
Located on an old movie sound stage in Pacoima, here you’ll be eating dinner inside a replica of the airline’s famous Boeing 747. The plane itself is furnished with memorabilia from actual Pan Am airplanes and you’ll be served by a wait staff dressed in vintage Pan Am uniforms. It’s hard to tell if this place is a restaurant, a living museum, or a Britney Spears’ Toxic fever dream, so if anybody actually gets tickets (there’s only one seating a month), please let us know which one it ends up being. Prices start at $475 per person.
To be perfectly clear, we have not been to Totoraku. This tiny Japanese restaurant behind a nondescript storefront along Pico is frankly more of a myth than anything else, but if you’re able to somehow get in (you need to be invited by the chef himself or come with a friend who did), you’ll embark on a pretty ridiculous meal. It’s BYOB, but not in the rowdy kind of way. In the way that you need to show up with a really good bottle of wine to impress the chef, so he’ll be inclined to invite you back again. The meat-heavy menu is decided entirely by what the chef feels like cooking that night and runs about $300 per person.