A classic restaurant is like a classic car. They’re familiar to lots of people, often endearingly imperfect, and you’ll more than likely see Jay Leno sitting in one of them. We don’t think of a classic as something that solely equates to age though. Like, be real, that old stain on your kitchen wall isn’t “a classic stain.” It’s the scene of a so-so ragu you cooked ten years ago. Something as special as a classic restaurant needs more than longevity and more than perfect food. It needs to make you feel something.
You see, a classic restaurant doesn’t have to be faultless. It can have great dumplings but bad lighting, average lechon and an amazing atmosphere. But as long as it gives everyone that feeling—that contentment that only a true institution can offer—well, then that’s what makes it a stone-cold classic. These are our favorite classic restaurants in LA.
photo credit: Matt Gendal
Unlike other Old Hollywood spots where much of the allure stems from sitting in a booth that the Rat Pack sat in 55 years ago, Dan Tana’s is a restaurant still very much in its heyday. Without fail, Dan Tana’s will place you in the crossfire of several rounds of gin martinis, secret shots with the maitre d’, and copious amounts of cheesy chicken parm served on red-checkered tablecloths. You’ll flirt with someone wearing a pink boa at the bar, squeeze your entire group into a red booth, and lose track of how many Oscar winners walk past. Dan Tana’s is not serving the most refined Italian food in town, but if you came here expecting perfectly plated all’amatriciana and elevated takes on coastal cuisine, you showed up at the wrong party.
Philippe The Original
Legend has it that Philippe The Original invented the French dip sandwich. While we can’t prove that, we can prove that this split-level sandwich spot in DTLA is one of the longest-running businesses in the city, having continuously operated since 1908. On weekends or during Dodger games, you’ll have to stand in a fast-moving line for one of their hot sandwiches loaded with pastrami, roast beef, or turkey on a crusty French roll. We always order ours with a slice of Swiss cheese, which helps the sandwich stick together even after a long soak up the rich jus (ordering your sandwich "wet" is non-negotiable). Someone behind the counter will hand you a bright red tray, and if you come during the lunch rush, you might feel like a nervous/excited middle schooler in a cafeteria.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Come to this Northridge staple any day of the week and you’ll find the vast dining room filled with large families, hungover college kids, weekly book clubs, and solo regulars who haven’t opened the menu in three decades. With over 650 different items, that menu is an actual encyclopedia, so make sure you come with a plan. The black pastrami Reuben (swap out the steak fries for curly fries), the latke and blintz sampler, and split pea soup are all must-orders, and if you’re with a big group, tack on the ortega brisket melt and stuffed cabbage rolls. If you don’t walk out of Brent’s with at least one bag of leftovers, you’re opening yourself up to judgment.
You can't bring up Oaxacan food in LA without talking about Guelaguetza, and for good reason: this Koreatown institution deserves credit for bringing top tier mole to the masses in LA (their website domain is literally ilovemole.com). But mole aside, Guelaguetza is also where you go for a crash course on all things Oaxacan: banana leaf tamales, black bean enfrijoladas, and crispy tlayudas decorated an assortment of meats like tasajo and spicy chorizo links. Dinner at this giant Chinese-pagoda-turned-Oaxacan restaurant is like going to a full-fledged tourist attraction: there’s a gift shop selling merch, an open kitchen where spectators can take photos of sizzling meats, and even a live band playing Latin jazz (there’s a good chance a xylophone will be present). Head to Guelaguetza for large groups, birthdays, or anytime you're in the mood for a $25 mezcal tasting.
Harold & Belles Restaurant
Serving comforting pots of gumbo with dark-brown roux isn’t the only thing that makes Harold & Belle’s a household name—this Creole restaurant is also a source of pride for the Black community in LA. The Jefferson Park/Crenshaw communities have been coming to this candlelit restaurant to eat catfish platters, crunchy po’boys, and shrimp étouffée for over 50 years. Currently run by the third-generation of New Orleans transplants, Harold & Belle’s has evolved with the times, adding plant-based options like vegan gumbo and fried oyster mushrooms to their menu. But most tables here are packed with the classic Creole dishes that made this South LA spot famous.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
If you text five of your friends for dinner recs in Thai town, there’s a high chance all of them will ask if you've been to Jitlada. Whether or not Jitlada is the best Thai restaurant in LA is a source of debate, but it’s certainly the most famous and definitely good enough to live up to its hype. Ever since a change in ownership in 2006, the small strip mall restaurant climbed its way to institution status, which you’ll quickly realize once you show up for dinner. Crowds line up to experience bold flavors in this narrow, tightly packed space covered in press cutouts and portraits of Thai royalty. The menu is a massive collection of 400 dishes, many of which are known to be generous with their Thai chile heat. Dishes come in big, family-style portions, whether it's the spicy jungle curry with crispy pork, the Dungeness crab slathered in delicious garlic sauce, or the pad thai that is still one of our favorites in town. Also, order the off-menu jazz burger.
History can be hard to come by in Santa Monica—we still miss the old dinosaur topiary at The Promenade—and that’s exactly why Bay Cities is so essential. This century-old grocery is a cultural touchpoint for the entire Westside, and home to a deli counter that sells one of the greatest sandwiches in existence: The Godmother. Prosciutto, mortadella, salami, and provolone are laid out on the freshest, crunchiest Italian bread this side of the Jersey turnpike. Lines can get extreme, so order ahead of time online or grab a pre-made sandwich up front to bypass the line of mostly locals that show up daily. Also, if you don’t order your sandwich with “the works” (choose hot or mild peppers), you can’t actually say you’ve eaten it. Rules are rules.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Los Angeles doesn’t have a ton of noteworthy Greek restaurants within its city limits, but there is Papa Cristo’s. In operation since 1948, a meal at this restaurant/market in Pico-Union feels less like you’re eating at a traditional restaurant and more like you stumbled into a neighborhood potluck at a community center. Everyone orders what they want individually from the front counter—we love the gooey saganaki and veggie moussaka—and then dines in the adjoining dining room where enough tables have been pushed together to fit your needs. Be sure to grab some homemade Greek yogurt and honey for dessert.
Al & Bea's Mexican Food
The combination of beans, cheese, and tortilla is a simple thing—but somehow this well-worn stand in Boyle Heights has taken that trifecta to a whole other level. Open since 1966, Al & Bea’s is a family-owned East LA staple with a loyal fan base that spans from Boomers to the TikTok generation. Though they serve a long list of Mexican bites like taquitos and hard shell tacos, we usually hone in on their classic bean and cheese burrito. Each one starts with a stretchy flour tortilla filled with refried pintos that are gloriously flavored with lard and a handful of shredded yellow cheese that liquefies against the molten hot beans. Ask for red and green salsa. These handheld masterpieces are the reason why many Angelenos have been coming here for over three decades.
Lawry's The Prime Rib
Lawry’s is one of those restaurants you can’t suggest to first-timers without them asking, “Wait, like that Lawry’s?” Yes, that Lawry’s—the Beverly Hills institution whose seasoning is in the back of every spice rack in America. A meal at the ballroom-esque La Cienega location is slightly corny, and you’ll definitely feel like you’re eating dinner on a cruise ship, but the food is legitimately delicious. Between the spinning salad, the “meat and potato” martinis, and the glorious, silver prime rib cart that rolls right up to your table, dinner at Lawry’s is a show from start to finish. Come holiday season, things get taken to a completely different level with extravagant decorations and costumed carolers who roam the dining room taking song requests.
photo credit: Yasara Gunawardena
There’s something intrinsically nostalgic about driving up PCH’s Malibu coastline. The wind’s whipping through your hair, the salty air is wafting off the water, and your stomach is growling for a basket of fried seafood. While there are a number of seafood shacks on this stretch, few can match the history of Neptune’s Net. Open since 1956, this kitschy roadside tavern is an essential PCH pitstop with top-notch views, a unique crowd (it’s a big biker spot), a roomy front patio, and one of our favorite clam chowders in SoCal.
We won't get into the weeds of the boring LA vs. NY debate, but we will say that Langer's in Westlake makes what might be the best pastrami sandwich in the world. We're aware that is a bold statement, but if you disagree, you probably haven't had the #19. This sandwich comes with juicy, thick slices of pastrami, swiss cheese, and Russian-style coleslaw stacked between slices of soft rye bread, and it is perfect. The overall experience of dining at Langer’s is an experience in its own right, from the staff’s white diner uniforms, the old leather booths, and the daily regulars hiding behind their newspapers or meeting up with friends to complain for the sake of complaining. Besides the life-changing pastrami, there are plenty of other Jewish deli essentials worth trying at this 70-something-year-old institution, like the lox and smoked white fish platter with an assortment of pickles and your choice of bagel (everything or bust).
The pantheon of great dim sum spots in the San Gabriel Valley is wide and vast, and while there is usually a hot new upstart that opens once a year or so, a place like Sea Harbour has staying power. The spacious dining room at this Cantonese spot in Rosemead looks like a hotel conference room decked out with live seafood tanks and you order by ticking off what you want from a menu (no rolling carts here). You’ll not only find excellent renditions of dim sum staples like har gow and crispy turnip cakes, but upscale twists that are worth the expense, like truffled siu mai and squid ink salty egg buns. But be warned: despite this place running like a well-oiled machine, waits on the weekend (and sometimes weekdays) are often measured in hours. That said, no place beats the scene at Sea Harbour, thanks to a wondrous ladies-who-lunch crowd that you’ll see clutching Prada bags and whispering about the latest neighborhood gossip. If they ever shoot Real Housewives of the San Gabriel Valley, send the casting agents here first.
This iconic Lebanese-Armenian restaurant in Glendale is the social center of the neighborhood—and arguably Southern California's Armenian community at large. Its gigantic, belly dancer-filled dining hall is a party almost every night of the week, and the massive kebab platters, assorted meze, and shawarma are guaranteed to feed groups of any size. There’s also a smaller, much more low-key location in East Hollywood.
Hawkin’s House of Burgers is a revered spot in Watts that smells like fryer oil and looks like it hasn’t been touched since the Lakers moved to LA. Meaty, chargrilled, and piled high with bacon, the standout cheeseburger here is our favorite in South LA. Since opening in 1939, the menu at Hawkins has expanded quite a bit—they’ll make you pancakes for breakfast, a pastrami sandwich for lunch, or a basket of chili cheese fries for dinner. But whether you go with something classic or go all out with “The Leaning Tower Of Watts'' stacked with three patties, hot links, and chili, the food here will make the stuff at other fast-casual burger spots taste like it’s missing something.
Kobawoo House has been around since before Koreatown was the land of limited street parking and soju bars blasting trap music. Open since 1983, this strip mall spot is a quiet restaurant right off bustling Vermont Ave where you can sit peacefully in a booth while a water fountain trickles in the background. Although Kobawoo House serves excellent jeon and steaming bowls of yuk gae jang, the specialty here is undoubtedly bossam: slices of boiled pork belly fanned out like a deck of cards and paired with steamed cabbage wraps. These hefty platters of tender meat are best suited for sharing (unless you come for the smaller lunch special) and, in fact, group dinners tend to be where Kobawoo shines brightest—the portions are huge, all shareable entrees cost under $40, and it’s a laid-back alternative to newer (louder) Koreatown spots where you can actually carry a conversation without straining your voice.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Almost every neighborhood in LA has an old third or fourth-generation California-Mexican spot to claim as its own. Sherman Oaks has Casa Vega, Boyle Heights has El Tepeyac, and Venice has Casablanca. But the most storied of them all? That’s El Coyote. Established in 1931, this landmark Mexican restaurant on Beverly Blvd. has had more weird LA history happen within its walls than the principal dressing rooms at The Hollywood Bowl (go google Sharon Tate if you don’t believe us). It’s also convenient, consistent, and the colossal, Christmas light-adorned dining room is filled nightly up with big groups who are down to get a little weird. The food is by no means special, but that doesn’t matter. You’re here to drink their legendary margaritas with a legendary hack (order the ice on the side and get two drinks for one), fill up on the complimentary chips and salsa, eat a combo plate plastered with molten cheese, and stumble out two hours later.
Musso & Frank has been open for a century and is perhaps the only restaurant in town where both brochure-clutching tourists and old men complaining about Nixon’s foreign policy live in harmony. This iconic Hollywood steakhouse is one of the most bizarre restaurants in LA, and while you don’t probably need to rush to eat any of the food (except for maybe the baked escargot), sitting at the bar and drinking a martini is a quintessential LA experience. Stirred and served with a sidecar on chilled ice, it’s a technically perfect martini that’s been served the same way for decades, and still makes gravity tricky after a few sips.
We doubt we have to explain the nostalgic appeal of a breakfast diner tucked inside an old school bowling alley, but we’ll give it a go anyway: Gardena Bowl is a decades-old coffee shop and neighborhood landmark where the service is warm and you can bowl a full game before or after your meal. Reflecting the general diversity of LA’s South Bay, the menu here is a mix of Japanese, Hawaiian and American breakfast dishes, with items like loco moco, banana pecan pancakes, kimchi bacon fried rice, and meat-filled freeform scrambles called "royales" taking up most of the menu. The food is comforting and generous, but much like skipping The Rock’s song in Moana, you’ll be missing out if you didn’t savor the little details that make this place a treat: the handwritten specials above the counter, the blue faux-leather swivel chairs, and the $5 bags of boiled peanuts they sometimes sell by the cash register.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
If you’ve ever seen Wolfgang Puck’s shiny grin on a café menu at LAX or a can of tomato bisque at the supermarket, you have Spago to thank. When it opened in 1982, the iconic restaurant (now located in Beverly Hills) changed how the entire country thought about food in LA and made Puck a superstar in the process. And though no longer as groundbreaking as it was during the years when putting goat cheese on angel hair pasta blew people's minds, Spago is still cruising well into middle age. The airy, modern space looks like a rich movie star’s estate in the Hollywood Hills and the food is like the best version of what you might get on an expensive luxury cruise to Antarctica (there will be some nice seasonal specials on the menu, but make sure to order the perennial tuna tartare cones and smoked salmon pizza). Spago is a legitimate piece of LA restaurant history, but more than that, it remains the Beverly Hills restaurant you head to for a big, glamorous occasion.
Pann’s is a space-age-style diner where Ladera Heights regulars, tourists, and old friends can be found eating fresh biscuits and gravy on a Wednesday morning. The 64-year-old institution is filled with red leather booths, a long line of bar stools overlooking the kitchen, and at least one waitress who will call you “honey.” Between 8am and 3pm every day, you can drop in for a stack of hotcakes, fried pork chops, or a tuna melt with a side of homemade onion rings. But the main draw here is definitely the charming atmosphere—you’ll instantly feel like you’ve stepped onto a retro mid-century movie set.
photo credit: Holly Liss
Of the countless sushi options in LA, Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo exists in the highly coveted category of excellent sushi at an affordable price. The reason you’re here–and the reason why 50 other people are in line in front of you here–is the deluxe sushi platter. At lunch, the promise of a $23 nigiri spread fills up the parking lot in Honda Plaza and turns casual lunch outings into an hour wait for a table. But for over 40 years, people have kept coming to Sushi Gen to sit down in a lively, spacious restaurant, and watch a team of sushi chefs work diligently behind the bar to crank out fresh nigiri and sashimi platters like clockwork. If you're coming here solo or as a party of two, opt for the bar's a la carte sushi to cut down your wait time for a seat. Although you won’t be granted access to a sushi deluxe platter, getting a front-row seat at Sushi Gen’s bar and ordering nigiri directly from one of the veteran chefs is an experience everyone should do once.
photo credit: Holly Liss
The Apple Pan
The Apple Pan in Cheviot Hills is not a museum, but stepping into this 1940s diner feels like visiting a preserved historical landmark. The staff wears classic soda jerk hats as they flip burgers and slice pieces of the diner's famous banana cream pie. There's some very dated plaid wallpaper on display, red leather chairs at the counter, and a general hominess that makes this a unique L.A. experience—even if the prices are definitely higher than they used to be. The ham sandwich and tuna melt and low-key favorites, but we have to suggest the delicious, if not divisive, hickory burger with its sweet and tangy sauce that falls somewhere between ketchup and barbecue glaze. If you're a Thousand Island purist you might be offended, but we remain staunch fans of this LA original—it has a distinctively smoky, hickory flavor that you won't find in any other burger in town.
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles
Long before President Obama visited the flagship location of this soul food chain, it had a cult following. Roscoe’s opened its first restaurant in Long Beach during the 1970s and quickly became famous for introducing the West Coast to fried chicken and waffles. This Black-owned spot has continued expanding ever since, with several locations across SoCal from Hollywood to Anaheim. A true LA institution, Roscoe’s helped make crispy chicken and buttery waffles an iconic duo, and that’s exactly what we order every time we’re here. Whether you come for brunch or a late night dinner, slide into one of their big leather booths, bask in the glow of the pink neon lights in their dining room, and drizzle some cinnamon syrup over your entire plate and let it soak in before diving into the namesake dish.
photo credit: Cielito Lindo
Cielito Lindo is a colorful food stand on Olvera Street that looks like a fake cantina from the set of Zorro or any other Mexican historical drama. However, this Downtown spot has been open since the early 1930s, which makes it a piece of literal history instead of a stand that just looks like one. You come to Cielito Lindo for the specialty: crispy, golden-brown beef pan-fried taquitos covered in their famous tangy avocado salsa. It’s a simple, quick snack that delivers when you need a little something between meals. And while they might be the perfect bite while you're shopping for ceramic bowls on Olvera Street, these taquitos also double as a nearly century-old symbol of LA's Mexican-American community and its deep roots that run through the city. Our suggestion: skip the refried beans and order the two taquito combo, which comes with a spinach and cheese tamale (double the carbs, double the salsa).