The holidays aren’t just about gifts, they’re also about togetherness, and certain LA restaurants excel at creating group-friendly environments. So gather with family and friends, and descend on these restaurants on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and any day that calls for a festive, communal dining experience.
Every day, Mike Tcholakian’s palatial, scimitar-accented restaurant near Glendale’s Alex Theatre is great for large groups thanks to the wide array of share-friendly Lebanese kebabs and mezzas. However, Friday or Saturday nights are especially ideal to dine at Carousel thanks to the live music, scintillating sahlala dance teams and high-value, gut-busting group meals. The Entertainment Menu includes dips like hammos (chickpea and tahini) and mutabbal (eggplant), kbbeh nayyeh (steak tartar), the fried, herb flecked cheese turnovers called fatayer, and entrees like filet shish kebab.
Choose your own adventure at chef Tom Colicchio’s contemporary Century City outpost. The sleek, glass-sided restaurant has wood flooring, exposed light bulbs and an a la carte menu with a shout out to farmer friends and dishes dedicated to “fish & shellfish,” “vegetables,” “meat,” “mushrooms” and more. Seasonal options that chef de cuisine John Keenan might highlight include roasted veal sweetbreads & black garlic, Petrale sole & gribiche, and avocado, tomatillos & spiced peanuts. Pastry chef Shannon Swindle is similarly seasonal. Everybody order a couple plates and pass to the left.
In 1938, brother-in-laws Lawrence Frank and Walter Van de Kamp built on the success of their family’s Van de Kamp Bakery by opening a now-landmark restaurant in Beverly Hills that features fresh-carved prime rib. Specify cuts for servers to slice from a roving stainless steel cart, whether it’s the thin-sliced English cut, the traditional Lawry cut, or the bone-in Beef Bowl Cut, which Rose Bowl football players indulge in before the big game. Each prime rib comes with buttery mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, whipped cream horseradish, and the dramatic spinning bowl salad, assembled and tossed tableside.
The triangular Highland Park restaurant with red “spaghetti” walls from chef Andre Guerrero was already a neighborhood hub, and that was before he added an inviting, tiered patio. The open air space features Astroturf-lined walls and strings of lights, great on a warm night or for weekend brunch. The Italian dinner menu includes seasonal vegetable preparations, spaghetti and meatballs, panoply of pizzas, and plates like the pan-roasted pork chop. Pastry chef Jan Purdy plates delectable desserts like spumoni, cannoli and ricotta cheesecake. Servers also pass around her bagged cookies, which might contain pairs of Snickerdoodles or chocolate dipped macaroons.
Genet Agonafer hails from Ethiopia, just like her neighbors on Fairfax Avenue, but she’s taken her dining experience in a more contemporary direction, complete with white walls lined with Ethiopian paintings and wood silhouettes. However, you can still get your hands dirty with friends and family. Tear off pieces of the sour teff spongebread called injera and snag pieces of Yebere Siga Tibs (spicy sautéed beef), Hirutye’s Yebegsiga Alitcha (stewed lamb) or one of the distinct piles that form the Vegetarian Combination platter. Of course no meal is complete without a bottle of sweet Ethiopian honey wine.
A typical meal at this Byzantine-Latino Quarter institution from the Chrys family defines Greek comfort food, but the best time to visit is Thursday night. For $24, beginning at 6:30 p.m., each diner is treated to a feast that the family calls their Big Fat Greek Family Style Dinner. The meal includes wine, appetizers like dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), taramasalata (caviar dip), loukaniko (grilled sausage), entrees like marinated lamb loin and lemon oregano chicken, Greek coffee and dessert that might be baklava. Don’t forget the complimentary sides of belly dancing and live Bouzouki music.
One of the best communal dining experiences is dim sum, and there are plenty of places in the San Gabriel Valley to enjoy the often-savory Chinese small plates, perhaps none better than Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant. The Vancouver import doesn’t have any carts or stamps. Instead, they rely on a checklist to produce premium options like thin-skinned siu mai topped with roe, steamed shrimp and chive dumplings, and sesame-lined balls filled with mung bean paste and served hot.
Gathering around to grill meat while sipping beer is practically gospel, and L.A.’s Koreatown may be the best place in the U.S. to share that experience. At Soowon, which is one of the more approachable BBQ houses, get past a parade of panchan to reach the main attraction, high-quality meat. Combo Specials cost up to $99.99 at Soowon, but easily feed six people and come with alcohol. Split the difference and order the B set, which includes marinated beef short rib, sliced rib eye, lean pork neck, seasoned rib eye, and thin-sliced beef brisket. Charcoal contributes to a winning sear. Wrap the results in slippery rice paper wrappers, dip in savory “galbi sauce,” spicy chile sauce, and repeat.
Chef Roy Choi and David Reiss’ ode to the island of Jamaica retooled their concept, and plates now come with yellow salty rice, black beans and cole slaw, whether it’s Diablo jumbo shrimp, spicy rum sauce, garlic butter and herbs; or grilled striped bass filet with coconut carrot puree and chile vinegar. They’ve retained share plates like rum cured ceviche and What a Jerk Wings seasoned with allspice, ginger, garlic and habanero. Lead bartender Brian Butler complements the experience with Caribbean themed cocktails such as the menacing Death in the D.R., a drink that combines Dominican rum, lime, honey, absinthe and Champagne. Some beers also stick with the theme, including Red Stripe Jamaican lager and Mad River Jamaican Red Ale.
The Bazaar gets most of the hype, but inside the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, your best bet in the afternoon is Tres, another outlet from chef José Andrés that offers afternoon tea service from 3 p.m – 5 p.m. The space includes communal marble tables with high top seats, wood tables with cushioned sofas and chairs that face wood-burning fireplaces, each topped with a glowing "deer head." Choose a tea, whether it’s the floral SLS Blend or soothing Harmony blend, both of which arrive in a gigantic French press. Choose a cone, each crafted with brik dough and containing either guacamole and heirloom tomato, or crème fraiche and caviar. From there, just sit back, chat and wait for the rest of the snacks to arrive, including steamed buns with crème fraiche and caviar, chocolate “pop rocks” served in a paper cornucopia, airy beet macarons filled with goat cheese and topped with yogurt dust, and squishy passion fruit pate de fruit.
304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, 818.246.7775
10100 Constellation Blvd., Century City, 310.279.4180
Lawry’s The Prime Rib
100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310.652.2827
5930 York Blvd., Highland Park, 323.739.6125
Meals By Genet
1053 S. Fairfax Ave., Little Ethiopia, 323.938.9304
2771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 323.737.2970
Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
3939 Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, 626.288.3939
856 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown, 213.365.9292
822 Washington Blvd., Venice, 301.448.8884
465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310.246.5551