The Best Restaurants in Hollywood

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Snow crab legs | Photo courtesy of littlefork

Like all great actors, Hollywood is constantly reinventing itself. At various times, it’s been known as the home of pioneering movie studios, the first Academy Awards ceremony, an Art Deco treasure trove, a punk rock stomping ground, a tourist T-shirt mecca, and an epicenter of nightlife. These restaurants, from as far back as 1919 to more recent openings, have helped to establish Hollywood as one of the hottest dining and drinking destinations in the city.

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Musso & Frank Grill



The storied Musso & Frank Grill has anchored the Hollywood scene since 1919, and the famous faces that have passed through its doors reads like a cinematic and literary Who’s Who of the past century. In addition to its iconic location and designation as the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso's and has been in the same family since 1927, when original proprietors Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet sold the restaurant to John Mosso and his partner Joseph Carrissimi. Today, Musso’s is operated by the third and fourth generations of the Mosso family, a reflection of the pride in ownership and a continuity of service that is unique in Los Angeles. It’s a theme that’s carried through many members of the wait staff, several of whom have been at Musso’s for more than 40 years. When regulars make a reservation, they don’t ask for a specific table, they request one in the section of their favorite waiter.

The kitchen has been entrusted to only three executive chefs in the entire 94-year history of the restaurant. The current toque, J.P. Amateau, came in all the time as a kid with his dad, a director and producer who had a house account and ordered the legendary “flannel cakes” from his counter perch. The sweet pancake-crêpe hybrid remains a daytime menu staple. At night, the grill on the Old Room side sees most of the action, with steaks and chops being a focal point, but the Charlie Chaplin-favorite lamb kidneys have a following as well. And the fettucini Alfredo is none other than the original recipe Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford brought back from their honeymoon in Rome.

Musso’s is also famed for its classic martini, a legendary cocktail that’s best enjoyed at the vintage bar in the New Room. Though this space was part of the 1955 expansion, many elements such as the chandelier and the bar itself were part of the original Writer’s Room that debuted after the end of Prohibition. (PHOTO: Martini - Musso & Frank courtesy of Thirsty in LA)

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Though it seems like a visionary move now, when David Lenz announced in 2005 that he was opening a serious seafood restaurant at Sunset and Vine—in a mall, no less—people thought he was nuts. But The Hungry Cat had a name that helped endear it to early visitors, a play on the feline diet and the voracious appetites of the two formerly feral cats that Lenz and his wife, Suzanne Goin, had just adopted. The inside joke was that “we’ve got to open this restaurant to feed these hungry cats.”

The formerly Spartan, industrial space is now warmer, thanks to seat cushions on the benches and a 2007 expansion next door. What hasn’t changed is relationships with compelling purveyors like Santa Barbara sea urchin diver Harry Liquornik, who personally delivers the creatures after each risky mission. Though the specialty here is seafood, Lenz says the variations on surf and turf are among his favorites, such as the house-made chorizo and braised clams, or scallops and sweetbreads. The Pug burger, named after his dog, has been a staple since Day One.

And long before mixology was a buzzword, The Hungry Cat was one of the first Hollywood restaurants where the bar program mirrored the kitchen’s commitment to seasonality and has always used only artisanal, small-batch spirits. (PHOTO: Clams - The Hungry Cat by Noe Montes, courtesy of The Hungry Cat)

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Beachwood Café



Beachwood Café may be the best-kept secret in Hollywood. The adorable little eatery celebrated its one-year anniversary in March 2013, but it's still largely under the radar. People seem to think it’s far off the beaten path, but it’s located only one mile up Beachwood Canyon from Franklin Ave. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the city discovers what many locals already know: there’s something special here. The prices are affordable and the seasonal menu offers truly unique dishes, many with Asian accents.

The restaurant’s secret weapon is chef Minh Phan, formerly of Axe in Venice. Phan favors ingredients from northern regions in her cooking, citing parts of Asia and Scandinavia as especially influential, along with the Mediterranean for its emphasis on grains and produce. Her cream-braised corn and orzo with smoked bacon is a big seller and one of the few regularly available items, along with the “flexitarian,” which uses seasonal vegetables and gives diners a choice of proteins. Minh doubles as the wine buyer and picks small-production varietals that pair well with the clean flavors of the food, such as a Burgundian chardonnay with the sole. She’s also the pastry chef, and her cardamom cake with homemade chai cream is amazing even if you’re not a dessert person.

The dinner menu changes at least four times each year, on the equinoxes and solstices. Breakfast and lunch are entirely different experiences. There’s higher table turnover and more of an American comfort food focus, which Phan leaves partly to the direction of owner Patti Peck, who previously helmed Millie’s and Edendale Grill. (PHOTO: Shiso sole - Beachwood Café by Minh Phan, courtesy of Beachwood Café)

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Named after the tiny shellfish utensil, littlefork is the realization of a lifelong aspiration by chef/owner Jason Travi, who grew up a half-hour outside of Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. The acclaimed chef, formerly of the original Fraiche in Culver City, says, “I’ve always wanted to do a project like this, but I never thought I would find people who believed in it and wanted to do it with me. It’s definitely a dream come true.”

For those wondering what the smoked meats and poutine are doing on a New England menu, littlefork started out as a Montreal-style concept, but changed course after Travi’s partners fell in love with Boston. The brisket is one of the remnants of the earlier French-Canadian focus, and it’s particularly good. But Travi’s favorite dishes are those that remind him of his childhood. “Clam cakes are something I really love—generic New England—but they are usually really bad there, dense and heavy. I lightened up ours to make them different. The lobster roll is very traditional; it’s exactly what I learned to make from my dad.” Travi’s wife Miho consulted on the dessert menu, which includes whoopie pie and warm apple cider donuts.

The cocktails alone are worth a visit. When bar manager Dino Balocchi left his post at Longman & Eagle in Chicago, littlefork was lucky enough to swoop him up. The result? Drinks like the rye-based, aromatic Saskatchewan Summer and the refreshing Thai Town Mule, with Thai basil and peppercorns. (PHOTO: Snow crab legs - littlefork by Lesley Balla, courtesy of littlefork)

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Los Balcones



Peruvian cuisine has become one of the biggest food trends in LA, with much of the credit going to Ricardo Zarate, thanks to his 2011 Best New Chef designation by Food & Wine magazine. But Los Balcones del Peru has been quietly and steadily building a loyal following in Hollywood since 2005. Named after the variety of balconies that are an architectural fixture throughout Peru, the restaurant is celebrating its eighth anniversary in April with the opening of a new lounge area and, for the first time, a full bar. The menu is changing as well, with many signature dishes remaining and new ones added. The small plates format allows novices to experiment with as many tastes as possible.  

Owner and Lima native Jorge Rodriguez likes to call Peru “the real melting pot,” but his mission when he opened Los Balcones was to “present another angle of Peruvian food.” He says what LA knew before was mostly the Asian influences in dishes like lomo saltado (sautéed beef), which is what he ate as a kid at home, not in restaurants. Signature dishes like the marinated beef heart and ceviches will stay, but will be joined by (fully cooked) ceviche de pollo and pork spare ribs. At the bar, expect plenty of pisco sours, but also traditional chilcanos, a lighter beverage made with pisco, lime and ginger ale. (PHOTO: Tiradito - Los Balcones del Peru by Joshua Lurie)

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The Loteria Grill locations have become fixtures in Los Angeles since the original outpost opened at the Farmers Market in 2002, but in many ways the Hollywood location anchors the operation. It’s where menu development for all of the locations begins. Specials have become a bigger focus as of late. Of course, old favorites like the shredded beef taco, the enchiladas in tomatillo sauce and the skirt steak served with roasted fingerlings remain popular. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Loteria Grill)

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Papilles



In 2011, Santos Uy took a trip to Paris that not only changed his life but also what it means to be a neighborhood restaurant in Hollywood. Every night he experienced prix fixe menus and fell in love with the simplicity of that style of dining. On the trip back, he jotted down notes for his next restaurant concept, and ended up selling his original downtown restaurant, Bacaro, to finance it. Toying between a DTLA food court and an old Altadena bakery, he later settled on an old Raffalo’s strip mall location on Franklin. It's a move that seems prescient now, given the Ludo Lefebvre/Animal partnership on Trois Mec, a new restaurant that also utilizes an old Raffalo’s.

Since opening in 2011, Papilles hasn’t strayed much from the original concept. Like the Parisian restaurants Uy experienced, the format is limited to prix fixe offerings. Foie gras was once available as a supplement, but since the ban, it’s been replaced with occasional uni offerings, as well as more expensive main-course substitutions like a rib eye for two. Uy says that at first, there were some misperceptions about the price: “$30-something for a three-course menu is a big number to hear all at once, but one main course might cost $36 at a Restaurant X.” The executive chef is Tim Carey, who worked at Patina prior to Papilles.

Uy’s wine background comes from his stint at Silver Lake Wine and as a junior sommelier at A.O.C. He still curates the ever-changing list for Papilles, and favors Burgundies and the Loire Valley, since they pair well with both fish and meat, as many guests split everything 50/50. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Papilles)

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Wood & Vine



Named after the famous intersection at which it’s located, Wood & Vine occupies prime real estate on the ground floor and outdoor courtyard space of the historic Taft Building. The interior is vintage-style and moody, while the patio is a welcoming wooden deck of open-air seating under twinkling white lights. The hip vibe befits the location, but it’s equally appealing to the diverse crowd that fills in for pre-theater meals before shows at the Pantages Theatre across the street. During the run of Book of Mormon, the restaurant featured “Latter Day Night Fever” specials.

Former sous chef Eric Buss is now in charge, following opening chef Gavin Mills’ decampment to Tavern. Signature dishes that were created under Mills still remain, such as the chicken and waffles and potato gnocchi. But Buss has added his own touches to the rotating menu, among them two incredibly hearty dishes: fried chicken livers on buttermilk biscuits with roasted pork gravy, and the staff favorite house-made sausage in a bacon-beer broth with fried Brussels sprouts. For special occasions, Buss pushes boundaries even further, as with the uni pasta with anise cream that made its way onto the Valentine’s Day menu.

This is also a cocktail geek’s paradise. For an aromatic treat, try the 5 Points Manhattan, made with smoked bourbon, Guinness reduction, Punt e Mes vermouth and Angostura bitters. (PHOTO: Chicken and waffles - Wood & Vine by Marie Buck, courtesy of Wood & Vine)

Cleo is located in the chic Redbury Hotel, right around the corner from Wood & Vine. Short for Cleopatra—an apt reference to the Mediterranean-style menu—the bustling dining room seats 150 people and often does 450 covers on a Saturday night. According to Cleo GM, Andrew Adams, there’s a “high capture of hotel guests,” but it also attracts fans of SBE from as far away as Brentwood and Santa Monica. He says, “there’s people who live on the Westside who say, ‘I never come to this side of town, but I like the food so much, I make the trek.’”

Given that SBE used to be known more for velvet-rope nightlife, Adams believes Cleo was a game changer in terms of “adding a lot of substance to the brand from a food perspective.” And the food is good. With a shared-plates ethos and surprisingly generous portions, it’s the kind of place where you never run out of new things to try from the large menu. Roast lamb is served perfectly pink on a bed of Israeli couscous, flatbreads with a paper-thin crust may include topping like duck confit, and grilled octopus is beautifully charred. New menu items are cropping up all the time, like a healthy but substantial shaved Brussels sprouts and farro salad. Flourless chocolate cake highlights Ecuadorian Arriba chocolate.

Visit on the last Wednesday of the month to check out the free Live @ The Library music series, featuring up-and-coming acts, held in the outdoor courtyard.

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25 Degrees



Twenty-five degrees is the difference in temperature between a medium-rare burger and one that’s well done. It's also the name of the 24-hour upscale burger joint at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where your server won’t look at you sideways if you order burger still mooing. Not only that, there's flocked wallpaper, chandeliers, cushy oversized booths, and a full bar.

Three house specialties get the most attention. The No. 3 with green chili, chipotle and avocado has a nice kick, but there are also endless DIY options with gourmet cheeses, more than 10 sauces and lots of extras. Breakfast is only served in the mornings, but a good compromise for a post-drinking, late-night nosh is the fried egg sandwich, available around-the-clock. The jumbo-sized onion rings are also a must-order. Spiked shakes have their own following, especially the Salty Caramel, which is so sweet it’s easy to forget there’s Maker’s Mark in it, though the touch of red sea salt really elevates it to true adult-beverage status. (PHOTO: Courtesy of 25 Degrees)