The Fancy Dinner Guide
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Fancy restaurants can be a bit precious, from the chef tweezers to servers who are dead-set on remaining invisible while refilling your water. But sometimes the occasion calls for a fine dining meal where you'll hear the last yelps of an oyster mushroom before it dies or watch a duck pressed in a medieval torture device. Maybe it’s a big birthday or an anniversary, or you’re just in the mood to exchange money for the experience of being treated like a little prince. Whatever the reason, these high-end restaurants in LA are the best in the category.
Pasjoli in Santa Monica nails the fancy French thing without feeling like it just woke up from a nap in the '80s. The sommelier wears a suit, but he's not pushing a $350 bottle from Bordeaux. There's chicken liver mousse on the menu, but it's unexpectedly served in the carved-out keyhole of a fluffy brioche bun. For roughly $200, you and another person can (read: should) split a duck extravaganza, which comes with an entire sliced breast per person, a simple but perfect salad with crispy duck skin on top, and a theater performance at the kitchen pass where you watch the chef press the duck’s juices and then reduce them down into a cognac gravy. A meal here is like an ode to Jacques Pépin if Jacques Pépin f*cked.
If it's not there already, add Morihiro’s $400 omakase to the top of your LA fine dining bucket list. At this Atwater Village Japanese restaurant, servers explain every dish in painstaking detail, much of the dinnerware was made by the chef himself, and you theoretically could swallow your slab of soft hamachi without chewing at all. But if you just walk by and peek in the window, the space looks like a somewhat nicer version of your average neighborhood sushi spot. Of course, most casual sushi spots don’t serve a signature tofu that cuts like custard, snow crab shabu shabu, or perfect saba nigiri. Bring a wealthy fish enthusiast who likes wearing jeans to formal dinners. You know the type.
Damian serves upscale Mexican food you won’t find anywhere else in LA, like lobster al pastor, house-cured duck carnitas, and creamy mushroom mole. This concrete spectacle in the Arts District comes from the team being Pujol in CDMX and Cosme in NYC. You'll pay at least $100 per person for incredibly precise food, sure, but the dining experience wouldn't be the same without the in-sync service. And now that the initial opening hype around Damian has settled down a bit, you can get a table without any bribes.
Antico Nuovo is a fancy restaurant dressed up as a charming neighborhood spot. Or maybe it’s the other way around. This strip mall Italian spot in Ktown is home to our favorite pasta in LA. Sit at the bar and enjoy views of the chefs pawing perfectly al dente agnolotti stuffed with beef cheeks and pancetta, and the expeditor inspecting every plate with the concentration of a jewel appraiser. The plain, low-lit dining room works for a big deal date night or studying the face of your CEO from New York as they bite into mattress-thick focaccia. End it all with some homemade ice cream.
Between the spinning salads, the “meat and potato” martinis, and the glorious, silver cart that rolls right up to your table to serve you prime rib, dinner at Lawry’s is a show from start to finish. There’s a good chance you’ll feel like you’re eating dinner on a cruise ship at the flagship location on La Cienega. But the food is legitimately delicious and no one will stare at you if you show up in a cumberbund. Come holiday season, things get even more extravagant with decorations and costumed carolers who roam the dining room taking song requests.
The number of high-end omakase sushi restaurants in LA seems to multiply every week. But Sushi Kaneyoshi has a few key elements distinguishing it from all the other places. First, there’s the setting. It's located in the parking structure of a Little Tokyo office building, where you'll wander through a random lobby, buzz into a guarded hallway, and eventually descend into their dungeon lair. The $300 omakase also stands out from its peers, mainly through its dedication to serving elusive sea life. If you’re more likely to be impressed by dry-aged grouper from Nagasaki than by yet another torched piece of salmon, get Sushi Kaneyoshi on your list.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: dinner at this French restaurant will cost $800 for two people. Minimum. So, if you’re eating here, alert your bank. That said, this decades-old Santa Monica mainstay isn't some stuffy time capsule—the soundtrack runs from David Bowie to Frank Sinatra and the sommelier won’t judge you for choosing a bottle under $100. Melisse’s tasting menu changes nightly, but you can expect dishes like scallop carpaccio, a tiny pea tart, or an oyster topped with smoked vinegar jelly. There’s nothing heady or outrageously niche about the food at Melisse—it’s just that everything you put in your mouth is essentially flawless.
Prioritize this Santa Monica Japanese restaurant when your dinner calls for incredible sushi in a fun room. Chef Shunji himself runs his omakase like a two-hour standup set. The meal starts with a few seasonal small dishes, but the pyrotechnics really kick off when the parade of nigiri starts. Not only will you get some of the city’s best sushi—from aged marinated tuna to subtly seared seaperch—you’ll make small talk with a guy who knows how to lighten the mood of a very-serious-omakase-experience.
This is the flagship restaurant of the Nobu empire, complete with stunning ocean views, exorbitantly priced miso black cod, and a patio packed with celebrities in sunglasses. When you’re eating rock shrimp tempura at a beachside fortress that looks like it’s owned by a Bond supervillain, you’ll feel like a big deal. From the fantastic sashimi to the paparazzi sitting outside, the experience is worth the hassle of getting a reservation.
If you want your fancy meal to involve a large group passing around family-style plates, make a reservation at Bistro Na’s. This legendary Temple City spot is one of very few Chinese imperial cuisine restaurants in the U.S., which means it serves food that was originally made for royalty. The dining room builds on that theme, with its carved wood paneling, jade everything, and super-attentive staff. Bistro Na’s even has private rooms with big round tables for banquet-style meals. No matter how many people you come with, make sure to concentrate on the crispy shrimp, honey pepper beef, sea cucumber, and lamb chops.
Gwen is the most consistent high-end dinner spot in Hollywood, and one of the rare places where spending $200 on a hunk of meat feels worth it. The dining room at this American steakhouse has crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, pendant light fixtures illuminating dramatic white pillars, and multiple hearths roaring in the open kitchen. Though the menu changes seasonally, you can generally expect dishes like hearty charcuterie boards arranged like a painter’s palette, parmesan risotto with a marrow-filled bone towering in the center, and some of the best steaks in LA.
Thanks to Netflix and a slew of other filmmakers, N/Naka is consistently one of the most difficult tables to secure in town. You’ll fail a few times (OK, you’ll fail a lot of times), but take your cue from Aaliyah and dust yourself off and try again. This tiny, nondescript building in Palms is still one of the best fine dining experiences in LA. It’s a modern kaiseki menu involving 13 courses that change with the seasons. That might include things like foam-topped conch, steamed and fried dishes, wagyu, and a whole bunch of sushi. Either way, be ready to dish out $310 per person for it.
To some, fancy dinners evoke images of small, intricate courses or maybe a sea bass that was formerly a reincarnated deity. That’s not the case at Chi Spacca, a meat-centric Italian restaurant from the Mozza team made for a “f*ck it, we ball” type of meal. At this Hollywood spot, you’re dropping $200 on a behemoth, dry-aged fiorentina steak with a charred crust and juicy, medium-rare middle. It’s as heavy (and spectacular) as it sounds, but so is everything else here, like the flaky bone marrow pies and cheese-filled focaccia di recco that arrives sizzling in oil. You’ll probably need a moment after the check to process the glorious amounts of butter, beef, and wine you’ve just consumed, but at least know in your gut that you got your money’s worth.
Block off at least three hours in your schedule for a meal at this experimental seafood spot with a rotating tasting menu. There might be a server who prepares salt-baked Santa Barbara spot prawns tableside, or a cheese cart, and almost surely a packaged sweet brioche to take home for breakfast the next day. But Providence does event-eating in a way that avoids pretention. The food itself is imaginative and delicious—think halibut in clam bouillon and swordfish with lipstick peppers—and everyone who works here behaves like human beings rather than over-trained holograms. If you’re looking to throw down in a big way (a meal for two with wine can easily top $1K), Providence is the place.
Hayato is a tiny Japanese restaurant that serves one elaborate kaiseki dinner per night. You’ll need to reserve several months in advance, pay a $100 deposit, and be comfortable with having no idea what you’re going to eat. The food is pristine. You'll sit at a bar with five or six other people, and watch as the chef prepares ten courses of eel tempura, Kyoto-style sushi, and dashi broth. There’s no music, which gives you the sense that you should probably whisper. It’s all very subtle and understated. That, combined with the high price ($350 per person before tax and tip), makes this a place for fine-dining die-hards only.
Farm-to-table buzzwords usually read as pretentious. Not at Heritage in Long Beach. This seasonal American restaurant changes its tasting menu often, so you'll never be able to predict the specificities of your six-course meal here. But we'll tell you with confidence the food will turn anyone into a farmers market junkie. Imagine grilled diver scallop on a bed of sweet corn or toasted sunchoke ice cream—all served in an old converted Craftsman house that truly does feel like a neighborhood bistro. Heritage is perfect for keeping things low-key, but it's still special enough for an anniversary dinner or a quiet birthday meal.