Editor’s choice: 12 favorite restaurants in Los Angeles

Photo credit: Dino Kuznik for Bar Chelou
Rainbow trout with garlic chive pil-pil at Bar Chelou in Los Angeles

LA’s true beauty is in its diversity. When it comes to choosing a place to eat, there are countless cuisines and price points represented—and it’s one of the reasons I’ve loved covering the city’s restaurant scene for publications like Los Angeles magazine, Travel + Leisure, and Bon Appétit for the past six and a half years. 

The city might get dinged for its vastness, and the driving that comes along with it, but that’s a huge plus for dining: You could live here for decades and not come close to sampling all its restaurants. 

From neighborhood gems to classics that have withstood the test of time, here are some of my personal favorite places to eat in LA. There’s truly so much to discover, and one great meal is just a drive—hopefully, a short one—away.

Gjelina (Venice)

Although it’s been around for more than a decade, a meal at Gjelina still feels buzzy and exciting. It’s one of my go-tos to take out-of-towners, because not only do the blistered, wood-fired pizzas and thoughtful vegetable dishes never disappoint, but an Abbot Kinney Boulevard address means some great only-in-LA people-watching, too. I almost never visit without having at least one pomodoro pizza with burrata on the table—it’s deceptively simple but incredibly satisfying.

Musso & Frank Grill (Hollywood)

Musso & Frank Grill is renowned for its ice-cold martinis. | Credit: Musso & Frank Grill

You can’t get more Old Hollywood than a dinner at Musso & Frank Grill, which has served sizzling hot steaks and ice-cold martinis since 1919. The move is to sit at the grill and watch the cooks prepare piece after piece of meat while you sip a classic cocktail. When I really want to feel fancy, I settle in for a prime-rib dinner, because there’s nothing more classic—and classy—than a meal brought to you by a server in a sharp red jacket.

Ayara Thai (Westchester)

You wouldn’t expect one of LA’s best Thai restaurants to be within easy distance of the airport. But whether or not you’re flying in or out of LAX, bright, cheery Ayara Thai is well worth a visit for chef Vanda Asapahu’s impeccably executed Thai staples and updated takes on classics. I’m never disappointed by her lobster pad Thai, studded with both lobster and crab meat, and am thrilled that after years of takeout-only service during the pandemic, the restaurant’s dining room reopened in 2023.

Fishing With Dynamite (Manhattan Beach)

This postage stamp-sized restaurant in Manhattan Beach has everything for a fancy lunch or an intimate dinner with a sunset view. There are fresh raw bar options—Peruvian scallops are my must-order—modern riffs on seafood faithfuls like lobster rolls and fish tacos, and the immensely satisfying, not-too-sweet key lime pie, one of the best desserts in town.

Pizzeria Bianco (Downtown)

Legendary pizzaiolo Chris Bianco returned to Los Angeles in 2022, and our pizza scene is better for it. At his modern restaurant in the Row DTLA, Bianco and his team turn out excellent thin-crust pies, including the sensational rosa, a white pie topped with Santa Barbara pistachios, red onion, and rosemary. The menu is compact, but everything is on point, from the prosciutto-wrapped spiedini to the ever-changing market salad.

Saffy’s (East Hollywood)

Saffy’s beautiful, buzzy dining room means it’s a date-night favorite. | Credit: Joseph Weaver

Wife-and-husband team Genevieve Gergis and Ori Menashe have the golden touch with everything they do (see also: Bestia, Bavel), and their newest and most casual venture, Saffy’s, is no exception. I love the beautiful, buzzy dining room, done up in plush pink and peach tones and brass. The only problem is deciding what to order, because everything on the Middle Eastern menu is outstanding, from the vibrant green falafel to the wood-fired lamb and beef shawarma platter.

Bar Chelou (Pasadena)

Bar Chelou’s curvy bar and glowy lighting make it an especially sexy restaurant. | Credit: Bar Chelou

Bar Chelou gave Pasadena’s dining scene a jolt of energy when it opened in 2023. Acclaimed chef Doug Rankin’s restaurant has downright sexy vibes with a curved bar, elegant drapery, and the sort of glowy lighting that makes everyone look good. The food is modern Californian cuisine at its best, thanks to unexpected accents—shelling beans with bottarga; carrots with coconut dressing—that add just the right dose of je ne sais quoi.

Casa Vega (Sherman Oaks)

Angelenos love an iconic sit-down Mexican restaurant, and with its year-round Christmas lights and strong margaritas, family-owned Casa Vega hits the mark. Big plates of nachos and enchiladas have made it a group-dinner favorite since 1956. And, of course, I never visit without ordering the fresh guacamole, made tableside with flair. 

Guelaguetza (Koreatown)

Oaxacan delicacies star on the menu at Guelaguetza. | Credit: Alberto Escobedo

Angelenos are lucky to be able to dine outdoors pretty much year-round, and few patios are as festive (and plant-filled) as the one at beloved Oaxacan staple Guelaguetza. The James Beard Award-winning restaurant has served exceptional housemade moles and regional specialties like tlayudas for decades—and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. I love the flavorful micheladas so much that I stock up on the mix whenever I visit.

Antico Nuovo (Mid-City)

Chef Chad Colby is turning out some of the city’s best Italian food in an unassuming strip-mall location. Antico Nuovo has everything for an excellent meal including a cozy, unfussy dining room, a killer Italian wine list, and housemade pastas that range from super-simple ricotta ravioli to the more elaborate pappardelle in Bolognese made with beef cheek and veal tongue. The focaccia is one of the single best bites in town, and no meal is complete without something from the wood-fired grill.

Dunsmoor (Eagle Rock)

Ham being placed in the oven by a chef at the Los Angeles restaurant Dunsmoor
Dishes at Dunsmoor are prepared on an open hearth or in a wood-fired oven. | Credit: Antonio Diaz.

Few chefs can work a hearth like Brian Dunsmoor, who cut his teeth at Southern star Hatchet Hall before opening his namesake restaurant in 2022. The long tables adorned with flickering candles make the restaurant an ideal place for a date, as do fiery dishes like wood-roasted oysters and mushroom-crusted pork chops. The cornbread, slathered in cultured butter, is the stuff of dreams.

Formosa Cafe (West Hollywood)

When old haunts are revived, the results can be less than ideal. But that’s not the case at Formosa Cafe, which opened in 1939, closed in 2016, and sprung back in 2018. The restaurant’s deep-red booths and trolley-car bar are a throwback to the past, but the Chinese-inspired food, which ranges from pork and ginger dumplings to walnut shrimp, feels undeniably modern. On summer nights, the outdoor patio upstairs is a sought-after spot for a plate of cold peanut noodles and a frosty beer.

Karen Palmer is a pizza- and pasta-obsessed food writer based in Los Angeles. She is the former editorial director of Tasting Table, and her work has appeared in Eater, Food & WineTravel + Leisure, and many other publications.

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