Where To Have A Unique Dining Experience In LA guide image


Where To Have A Unique Dining Experience In LA

Head to these LA restaurants for a time you’ll actually remember.

Whether you've decided to put in actual effort into your next date or want to impress your out-of-town friends, one thing is clear: you're ready for something new. Eating pretty vegetables on a pretty patio isn't always going to cut it. That's where we come in.

We've put together a list of restaurants that are unlike any other. Some are hidden, one is a glitzy jazz club, and another is an invite-only club for the greatest magicians in the world. If nothing else, they'll leave you with an experience you'll be talking about long after.


photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Flavors From Afar review image

Flavors From Afar


1046 S Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles
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The menu at this warm, quaint cafe in Little Ethiopia changes monthly, with new chefs (all of whom are refugees and asylum seekers) rotating in and out of the kitchen. On any given month, you might eat succulent Venezuelan goat stew and deep-fried plantains, savory West African beignets, or Palestinian maqluba, a layered dish filled with lamb, rice, potato, and eggplant. Social activism is at the core of what Flavors From Afar does—40% of all the restaurant’s profits go towards the Tiyya Foundation, a non-profit that creates economic opportunity for members of displaced communities—but the icing on the cake is that the food here happens to be incredible, too.

If you wanted to plan a bus tour of LA's best Thai spots (sign us up), the food court at Wat Thai food court would be a mandatory stop. Every weekend, the Thai Buddhist temple right on the border of Sun Valley and North Hollywood hosts a street food market in its parking lot. Each vendor opens around 8am , and popular dishes can sell out as early as noon. A one-stop destination serving a wide range of excellent Thai specialties, Wat Thai serves juicy BBQ pork skewers, beefy boat noodles, creamy mango sticky rice, and spicy papaya salad that you can grab  in one walk-through. Just remember that it’s cash-only and you’ll need to exchange your money for tokens that you’ll trade for your food later.

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If you’re coming from LA, Costa Mesa isn’t exactly a quick drive, but even with rising gas prices, we think it’s a small burden for a special meal at Taco Maria. This progressive Mexican fine dining spot is a place everyone needs to hit at least once—each dish is deluxe enough to make a pharaoh blush, complete with silky textures and creative preparations that'll leave you with distinct memories. Do the tasting menu—there are two options for every course, so bring a date and try the entire menu. You’ll eat things like smoked albacore tacos on heirloom blue corn tortillas and dry-aged ribeye tartare with charred avocado.

photo credit: Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles

Restaurant 917 review image

Restaurant 917

While you won’t eat anything remarkable for lunch at Restaurant 917, you will get front-row seats to a thrilling car show. This daytime spot is located on the second floor of the Porsche Experience Center in Carson, the official driving school of the luxury car company. As you eat dishes like crab spaghetti or a wagyu beef burger in the casual dining room, sports cars will whizz by at 110pmh on the track down below. Most people come here to drift a Porsche 911 with a birthday crew, but the restaurant is still a fun place to sip a martini and have a light bite even if you don’t plan on getting behind the wheel.

Dinner at Hansei in Little Tokyo begins not at a hostess stand, but with a tour of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center’s lush gardens followed by shochu-infused drinks and small bites. From there, the multi-course experience takes you through various other locations around the center, including an interior "chef's counter" where you’ll be served dishes like teriyaki wagyu steak and a play on the California roll that involves fried seaweed. There are a lot of moving pieces to a dinner here, but you can set your own pace. We suggest hanging in the garden to watch the sunset or sipping green tea after dessert. It’s pricey—the nine-course menu runs $175 per person (before tax and tip)—but for a splurge-y dinner that’s unlike anything else in LA, this is a reservation to make.

Most West Hollywood lunches involve standing around waiting for an $18 custom-made salad to arrive. If you’re looking for something completely different—and whole-heartedly nostalgic—go to Tail O’ The Pup. The legendary hot dog stand (that’s shaped like a giant hot dog, no less) has recently reopened on Santa Monica Blvd. with a full build-out that includes two separate patios and an interior that looks like a suped-up In-N-Out. Our favorite dogs on the menu include the fully-loaded Chicago Pup and spicy Jalapeno Pup, but don’t overlook the Sassy Cheese, a fast food-style burger with a layer of crispy, griddled cheese inside. 

Cicada Club is one of those places that reminds you there’s always more to downtown LA than meets the eye. This Art Deco supper club across from Pershing Square feels as if you’re eating in the grand ballroom of the Titanic (sans iceberg), complete with a live brass band that gets the dance floor heated up early. You can go all-in for the dinner setup ($79 for a three-course meal), or just buy separate tickets to just come and dance. The dress code is suits and cocktail dresses—show up in a flapper outfit and no one will blink an eye. If you’re looking for something different to do on your birthday this year, take the crew to Cicada Club. 

A night inside MainRo is like hanging out on the set of The Voice, if it were filmed inside a spaceship rocketing towards galaxies unknown. In other words, it’s complete chaos from the moment you walk in. If you’re in the market for an over-the-top clubstaurant experience, though, MainRo is the best show in town. You’ll see trapeze artists, aerial acts, and girls coming down from the ceiling belting out Adele songs. Servers will dance on tables to ABBA and Cher hits, and you’ll eat overpriced sushi rolls and random finger food like wagyu-stuffed gyozas that kind of taste like Big Macs. The food isn’t great, but it also isn’t so bad that it distracts from the pandemonium—which is why you’re here anyway. 

Finding enough space in your apartment for your crochet button collection is hard enough, let alone hosting a proper dinner party. That’s what makes Ilé, a Nigerian fine dining pop-up in Hollywood, so impressive—it’s actually held inside the chef’s luxury loft apartment. You’ll make a couple new friends, eat some delicious and dramatically presented food, and enjoy an intimate experience highlighting West African cuisine. The dinner is BYOB and you can reserve spots for a four or eight-course meal, depending on your budget. Just be prepared to learn a lot about the chef, who tells personal stories about his upbringing in Lagos between courses.

While the food at Kodō wavers between “fine” and “mostly unremarkable,” dining here feels like being invited to a goth social club in a zen garden. Architecturally, you won’t find a more stunning restaurant in LA: jet black walls frame a cement path leading you to the central courtyard, with billowing fabric hung above and concrete cubes that double as seats. Faint house music plays in the background and the staff struts around like models in a Rick Owens fashion show. If you have out-of-town guests who are wide-eyed and begging to see something “LA,” a.k.a. something that’ll rattle their small town souls, Kodō is that place.

To call The Magic Castle merely a restaurant would be doing it an injustice. It’s a private club, home to the best magicians on the planet, with a restaurant that’s better than you’d expect. Getting into this massive Victorian mansion in Hollywood takes some effort (you need to secure an invite from an actual club member), but once you’re inside, you’ll embark on a night of up-close magic, strong Old Fashioneds, and mechanical owls that’ll talk back to you. The fairly traditional steakhouse menu (think jumbo shrimp cocktails and beef wellington) isn’t going to melt your mind, but that’s what the magic is for.

Whenever we need a break from the chaos of Los Angeles, we drive up to Old Place. It’s in the Santa Monica Mountains, located on the grounds of a 19th-century general store-turned-saloon and steakhouse, complete with a Wild West aesthetic that reminds us of the movies our dad loves to watch. The menu is packed with American comfort foods like bone-in ribeyes, glorious apple crispy, and something called a “noodle and cheese bake,” a mac-and-cheese type dish that’s made with thick egg noodles smothered in parmesan, goat cheese, and mozzarella.

Opened by the legendary American trumpet player, Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill is anything but low-key. As soon as you enter the Bel-Air spot (from the parking lot filled with Aston Martins and Porsches), you’ll be greeted by a glittering ballroom and the live jazz band upfront. People are wearing suits, jackets, and dresses they found in the “evening wear” section at Neiman Marcus, and everything–from the steak to the calamari to the complimentary ice cream scoop they’ll give if they know it’s your birthday–tastes perfectly acceptable, sometimes even good. Be prepared to spend money and have fun.

A meal at this high-end sushi bar in the San Fernando Valley can only be described as a transcendental experience. The bar is filled with regulars, the walls are a strangely soothing bright-orange color, and fluorescent lighting flickers overhead. It seems like a casual experience, despite the $200 price tag, and everyone’s having fun. The chef behind the counter is as calm as a Headspace instructor, carefully constructing ahi tuna four ways or shrimp tempura with a hint of yuzu. The omakase is the way to go - instead of nigiri, you’ll get four different cuts of ahi prepared four different ways, blue crab hand rolls laced with truffle oil, and scallops topped with caviar.

photo credit: Jakob Layman

The Tam O’Shanter review image

The Tam O'Shanter



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The Tam O’Shanter is one of those extremely European places that Southern California seems to love so much (see also: literally all of Solvang). Wrought iron chandeliers swing from the ceiling, there’s about five miles of carpet on the floors, and you can find fireplaces in nearly every room. The menu’s stacked with foods that feel like they should be eaten in candlelight, like a funky Scotch rarebit or Toad In The Hole that’s essentially a filet mignon stew. This Scottish pub feels like its been frozen in time in the best way possible.

In cities like New York, Chicago, or Dubai, restaurants on top of tall buildings are not special. But this is Los Angeles, the land of chronic “big one” anxieties, so when a restaurant is located on the 71st floor of one of our only legitimate skyscrapers, it’s special. 71Above is on the fancier side, but with 360-degree views of the city, fantastic cocktails, and a respectable three-course prix-fixe menu, this is definitely the kind of place where getting dressed up feels worth it.

This iconic bar housed in a larger-than-life wooden barrel is one of LA’s greatest examples of programmatic architecture. And for those who don’t regularly lurk architecture porn subreddits, it’s also a great thing to stare at whenever you’re tired of heading to your neighborhood restaurant for the 20th time this week. Their excellent back patio has lots of space, a bulldog building smoking a pipe, and dishes like pulled pork sliders and sloppy tots.

From the outside, El Cid appears to be just a random door frame along Sunset Blvd. But walk down the staircase, and you’ll find yourself in a hidden dinner theater featuring weekly live music and professional flamenco shows. The dinner-and-a-show setup runs every Saturday and Sunday night, with solid-enough Spanish food that will keep everybody in your group happy. Once the show is over, grab another cocktail from the bar, and take the party outside to one of our favorite patios in the city.

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