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 13 LA restaurants where the holiday spirit is alive and well... and a little drunk on eggnog.
As soon as the calendar turns to December, you can expect a few things - nonstop Christmas commercials, Mariah Carey rising from her coffin, 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.
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’re talking about that general desire to escape your current reality and live in yesteryear 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 (it started as a general store and post office) and feels like you’ve entered a different universe. There’s a guy playing a banjo 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.
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.
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 joint 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.
At the end of the day, 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 certainly a scene, but not in the way you’d expect from a restaurant on N. Canon Drive. Generations of families gather around the same bowls of pasta they’ve been eating for decades, and large groups of friends who are all back in town for the holidays chug wine so they can actually fall asleep in their childhood beds. Being in Il Pastaio’s string-lit dining room is like being in that hometown restaurant where no matter when you look, you’ll see someone you know.
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 there, 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.
HMS Bounty is a nautical-themed dive bar in Koreatown that’s been around 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 here - 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 with punches being thrown.
If you’re looking for a good spot for a date night with a holiday tinge (maybe you’re dating Buddy The Elf), Little Door is the place. This French spot on West Third feels like some sort of mystical holiday hinterland, with string lights, arched doorways, and more plants than Huntington Gardens. It’s sort of like if the Beast’s castle had really good racks of lamb. Though it pretty much looks the same year-round, the decorations feel particularly appropriate this time of year.
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 that witch was also really, really into Christmas. They hang enough wreaths and garlands 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 Yorkshire pudding.
If the things you miss most about your childhood holiday celebrations are the creepy Christmas 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 won’t blow you away, 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.