15 LA Restaurants That Are Great During The Holidays
Think Los Angeles isn’t a holiday hotbed? Check out these spots.
In a city with 70-degree weather in December and fake snowstorms in malls, it can be tough to get into the holiday spirit in LA. Luckily, there are plenty of places doing their part to change that. Whether you’re looking for a classic restaurant for a family dinner or a festive spot for you and all your friends to get together before everybody leaves town, here are 14 LA restaurants where the holiday spirit is alive and well... and a little tipsy on eggnog.
Dal Rae Restaurant
When you hear of a restaurant “going all out for the holidays,” chances are you’re envisioning what occurs at Dal Rae. This classic steakhouse in the southeastern LA city of Pico Rivera transforms its massive dining rooms into what’s essentially a 10,000-square-foot festival of lights. Twinkling strands cascade from the ceilings, there are Christmas trees in every direction, and lighted garland cover every available surface. Is it too much? Only for Grinches. This place is the definition of cheer, and when combined with a big slab of pepper steak and a tableside caesar salad, you’ve got a holiday dinner straight out of a made-for-TV movie.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
As soon as the calendar turns to December, you can expect a few things: nonstop Christmas commercials, Mariah Carey rising from her slumber, and all your friends requesting group dinners before the holiday break. Make it easy on yourself this year and go to El Coyote. This ancient Mexican restaurant on Beverly Blvd. is one of the best big-group spots in town, and when you add in all the lights, garland, and Christmas trees they put up, you’ve got your holiday meal handled.
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photo credit: Jakob Layman
The Old Place
The holidays always bring about a strong sense of nostalgia—and not just the kind that involves room-temperature fruitcake and being gifted kids’ clothes well into your college years. We mean that general desire to escape reality for a few joyous hours. If that’s what you’re looking for, head to The Old Place. This dusty saloon/restaurant up in the Santa Monica Mountains has been around since the late 1800s and feels like you’ve entered a different universe. There’s a guy playing banjo carols in the corner, a stranger just made you a friendship bracelet, and a ribeye so big it brings a whole new meaning to the term “Cowboy cut.” ’Tis the season to travel back in time.
photo credit: Matt Gendal
With white string lights along the walls, red-checkered tablecloths throughout the dining room, and dozens of chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling, a meal at Dan Tana’s always kind of feels like a holiday celebration. But during December, that energy is only amplified. The crowd at this Weho institution is raucous, the legendary chicken parm somehow tastes even better, and a second martini is always necessary. Will you regret it tomorrow morning? Sure, but it’s not officially the holidays until you wake up hoping your Secret Santa brought you ibuprofen today.
photo credit: Philip Guerette
The Valley has no shortage of classic restaurants, but few can compete with the history of Casa Vega. Open since 1956, this legendary Mexican restaurant is a party every single day of the week, and the kind of place where you’ll spot a Kardashian, a cult leader, and your tax guy all within a few booths of each other. During the holidays, the already-festive dining room transforms into a full-on holiday wonderland—garland and tinsel strung across the ceiling, ornaments hanging from the chandeliers, and you, finally shaking your seasonal Grinch energy.
Rao’s is among New York’s most iconic Italian restaurants and is famous for being one of the hardest reservations to score in the country. Luckily, the location in Hollywood doesn’t have anything close to that problem. The food at this red sauce spot isn’t anything to write home about (except the meatballs), but you aren’t here for inspiring Italian food. You’re here because the wreath-adorned dining room feels like you’re back in East Harlem, and the crackling fireplace will, at least briefly, trick you into believing it’s not 78 degrees outside.
photo credit: The Galley
There’s no such thing as time or seasons at The Galley in Santa Monica. The drinks are always flowing, the Christmas lights are always glowing, and the neighborhood fixtures are always hunched over their beers looking for answers. That said, it is, of course, a lovely place to come for drinks and a snack during the holidays. It’s warm and cozy, with a worn-in bar and booths, lots of regulars, and a maritime theme could easily trick you into thinking you’re in a small coastal town in the Northeast where snow exists and children aren’t too cool for Santa Claus.
Smoke House Restaurant
Located in the shadow of Warner Brothers studios, Smoke House is a Valley legend and a place where, on any given night, you’ll find celebrities, set designers, and security guards all swigging martinis and toasting to another day on the lot. Come the holidays, things get even more festive. The cavernous, wooden interior is decked out with lights and garlands, the double-sided fireplace roars in the back, and prime rib and garlic bread are being consumed like they’re running out of stock.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Corny as it sounds, the holidays are about being with family, and even if you aren’t technically with yours at Il Pastaio, it sure feels like it. This neighborhood Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills is a scene, but not in the way you’d expect from a restaurant on Canon Drive. Generations of families share the same bowls of pasta they’ve been eating for decades, and groups of friends who are all back in town for the holidays chug wine so they can actually fall asleep in their childhood beds. Add in giant wreaths and twinkling lights strewn across the walls, and you've got a homey, holiday wonderland.
Lawry's The Prime Rib
If you haven’t been to Lawry’s in December, open a new tab right this second and book a table. It’s an essential LA spot during the holidays—they have everything from inch-thick prime-rib cuts straight out of the Hogwarts dining hall to a tableside spinning salad routine, plus servers in old-timey uniforms. The holidays are an especially great time to be here, when they fill the dining room with a veritable Christmas tree farm of pines. And make sure you check to see when they have events going on, too: They’ve got a fantastic dinner-theater performance of A Christmas Carol that involves a capella Christmas songs.
It might be shorts weather outside, but sometimes, you just want to hole up in a dark restaurant and pretend you’re hiding from a record-setting blizzard. Dear John’s is just the place to do that: there are no windows, and they keep the lights at roughly the same level as a movie theater. So it’s the perfect place to pretend you didn’t just come straight from the beach, and they’ve got great whiskey drinks (especially the Manhattan), killer French onion soup, and a damn good chicken parmesan. Perfect for when it’s snowing outside. Or at least when you’re pretending it is.
Clearman's North Woods Inn
Turns out a restaurant with year-round fake snow on the roof is even better during the holidays. Clearman’s North Woods Inn has three locations around the greater SGV (San Gabriel, Covina, and La Mirada), plus the less wintery-y Steak ’N Stein concept, and each is as delightfully cheesy as the next. There are cozy log cabin interiors, aggressive taxidermy, gas lamps, and speckled flooring that looks like someone keeps tracking snow in. The food isn’t anything special, but it’s decent and exactly what you want from a place that feels like the Montana game lodge. Think cheese bread, porterhouse steaks, and free refills on cabbage salad.
The HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty is a nautical-themed dive bar in Koreatown that’s been open since the ’40s. Year-round, they’ve got Christmas lights hung around the bar and drinks strong enough to knock out Blitzen (well-known as the heaviest-drinking reindeer). As far as food, we usually stick to the bar snacks—the chicken wings are our favorites, but you won’t be mad about the Shrimp Louie or fried calamari, either. As a bonus, this is one of the only bars in town that’s actually open on Christmas Day, if you’re looking for a way to escape that drunken family game of charades that inevitably ends in blows.
photo credit: Taix Restaurant
Taix French Restaurant
If the things you miss most about your childhood are the creepy holiday decorations at your grandparents’ house, you’re in luck—all those dead-eyed elves and duck-footed reindeer have up and zombie-walked to Taix. This French restaurant in Echo Park gets decked out every year with decorations we assume they’ve had since they first opened in 1927. The food here is nothing spectacular, but no matter what you order, make sure you start with the French onion soup. It’s about 50% cheese, which is just how we like it.
The Tam O'Shanter
Eating at the Tam O’Shanter feels a bit like having dinner in the witch’s house that Hansel and Gretel got lured into, only not creepy, because imagine that witch was also really, really into Christmas. They hang enough wreaths and garland in their dining room to keep the Atwater Boy Scouts in business year after year. This Scottish cabin right on Los Feliz serves excellent prime rib (they’re owned by the same people as Lawry’s), along with a great roast turkey dinner (and all the fixings), and, our favorite, the Toad In The Hole: diced filet mignon, mushrooms, and onions over a Yorkshire pudding.