Where To Dress Up And Not Feel Stupid
photo credit: Shelby Moore
LA is an extremely casual town. You can wear sneakers, a baseball hat, and a wrinkled t-shirt you got for free at a Lakers game to almost any restaurant in the city. Don’t get us wrong, we like that about LA. But sometimes, it’s fun to get really dressed up and feel fancy as hell. To do so, you’ll want to go somewhere you can walk in without being looked at like a martian (or worse, a New Yorker) for wearing a fitted suit jacket or platform heels. Here are some great LA restaurants where getting dressed up is part of the experience.
OK, maybe you’ll feel a little stupid walking up to Pasjoli in a smart outfit. It’s hard to tune out the drunk UCLA students at the Irish pub down the block. But the servers and sommeliers at this Santa Monica spot wear classic uniforms and suits, which means you’re never the most overdressed person in the room. Order this fancy French restaurant’s $200 duck dinner for two, and you’ll feel appropriately dressed. It’s a multi-course celebration of all things quack, with beautifully roasted breasts, a custardy duck leg bread pudding, and a simple lettuce salad topped with crispy skin. It’s deluxe, showy, and elaborate like everything at Pasjoli, so match the energy with a nicer-than-usual fit.
With leopard print carpet, tableside caesars, and most of last year’s Oscar nominees sitting in the dining room, a meal at La Dolce Vita is an event—or at least, an event worth busting out the most expensive piece of clothing in your closet. You could show up to this classic Old Hollywood spot in Beverly Hills wearing a designer slip dress or a three-piece suit and still feel like you could’ve gone bigger. So go big and don’t regret a thing.
There’s something classically chic about eating a fancy dinner and then seeing some live theater afterward. One of our favorite one-two punches for this exact scenario is Bar Chelou next to the Pasadena Playhouse. The modern bistro is actually fairly casual—particularly for Pasadena standards—but given how many people inside have tickets to one of the best regional theaters in the country, you won’t be out of place in ironed slacks and a statement brooch.
This upscale Mexican spot in the Arts District comes from the same chef as Pujol in Mexico City, meaning you should expect modern, beautiful-plated food, service that moves like a choreographed dance, and an intimate setting that feels like you’re eating inside a botanical garden from the future. In other words, if there ever was a place to wear that mesh blouse you bought in Rio and have been too scared to wear it since, it’s here.
This avante-garde Italian restaurant inside the Beverly Hills Gucci store technically has a “smart casual” dress code, but expect to see tourist dads in shorts and designer sneakers. Maybe it’s the connection to a luxury brand, but bold fashion statements are common here, so don’t worry about doing too much. You might feel silly for paying this much money for whimsical Italian food on Rodeo Drive, but, hey, at least you look great doing it.
Thanks to the TV overlords at Netflix, N/Naka went from being a niche Japanese restaurant in Palms to one of the hardest tables to book in the country. This now very famous restaurant offers a modern take on the traditional kaiseki, an elaborate multi-course meal that shifts with the seasons. This is dinner as performance, which means wearing big looks and bold patterns are more than acceptable.
Truth be told if you don’t dress up at Cicada Club, you’re the one who’s going to feel stupid. This reservation-only supper club Downtown looks like you accidentally slipped into a black hole and landed in 1920s Manhattan. There’s a huge live swing band, people unironically dressed in flapper outfits, and a dance floor that gets started early and never stops. The prix fixe menu is admittedly just OK, but nobody really cares when you’re able to role-play Daisy Buchanan all night.
Driving up PCH to Malibu, you’ll spot a lot of mothball-filled steakhouses that look exactly the same. Skip them all and go to Lucky’s. This fancy spot inside the Country Mart comes to us from SoCal’s other A-Lister commune, Montecito, and though you probably won’t spot Oprah and Meghan Markle here, the well-heeled crowd is still there to impress. You’ll see locals sipping martinis and intentionally placing their hands so everyone can see their jewelry and modern-day socialites making grand entrances. Lucky’s is more than just a people-watching sideshow though—the mostly meat-and-potatoes menu is good, too.
Lawry’s is one of those places where you’ll see a booth filled with a family wearing t-shirts and cargo shorts, and turn a corner to find a room full of three-piece tuxedos and evening gowns. Dress the part of the latter. With spinning salads and shining golden carts of prime rib on wheels, this Beverly Hills original is one of the most entertaining meals in town. The more all-in you go on the unabashed cheesiness, the more you’ll get out of it.
Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant, is one of the most recognizable names in LA dining. It’s also a great place to watch really famous people get incredibly drunk because, for whatever reason, they feel safe here. Don’t come here if you’re trying to be home by 8:30pm. This is where you put on that risqué button-down you bought last year in Berlin, eat some off-menu salmon pizza, and join Mary Steenburgen on her quest to champagne glory.
This prix-fixe seafood restaurant on Melrose might just be the fanciest of them all. Don’t be surprised if the final bill here comes out above $300 per person—a price that screams "put on those beautiful shoes that make your feet hurt." But with that, you get eight or so courses of ridiculously fresh, inventive seafood dishes, a visit from a magical roaming cheese cart, and a waitstaff that makes you feel like you’re a big deal from the second you walk through the door.
Being someone who lives a well-balanced lifestyle is a good thing, but only if you toss in a night of complete excess every now and then. Go to Chi Spacca—the meat-centric restaurant at Melrose and Highland where excess isn’t just encouraged, it’s mandatory. The same can be said for showing up in a suit jacket and expensive jeans, which seems to be the standard look here. Concentrate on the charcuterie, the focaccia, and the beef and bone marrow pie. Your week of clean eating can start the next day.
Nothing about Melisse is cool. This decades-old, tasting menu-only French restaurant in Santa Monica doesn’t have shared plates, a converted warehouse space, or HBO actors flirting at the bar. What it does have, though, is incredible food, sommeliers in suits, and an atmosphere that lets everybody be as fancy as they damn well, please. That said, Melisse isn't some stuffy time capsule. People speak at normal volumes, the waiters have clearly practiced plate choreography, and everybody gets excited when the champagne cart gets wheeled out.
The Royce is a very fancy steakhouse in Pasadena where you go to impress extremely important people in a room that feels like the top-deck restaurant of the Titanic. This is the kind of place where old money goes to feel young again, so you might as well put on your Sunday best and go play the part for a few hours. As one might expect, steaks should be the focus here, but it would be a mistake not to have at least one order of crab cakes for the table.