Where To Have Dinner When Your Family Visits LA
19 spots perfect for your mom, dad, sister, brother, estranged aunt, older cousin, and family friend who’s not technically blood-related.
Planning a dinner with out-of-town family is a delicate exercise in strategy, compromise, and fortune-telling. You want something nice enough to seem like you’re trying, but in an environment that doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable and with enough options to appease everyone at the table. Oh, and preferably with a waitstaff who will patiently smile, and maybe even chuckle lightly when your dad inevitably jokes about “Roux-ing the day” or the latest breach at “Wiki-Leeks.” It’s a tall order, but here are 19 spots that even your pickiest relatives will enjoy.
No matter where your family has flown in from (Cape Cod? Hawai’i? Off the coast of Playa Del Carmen?), Holbox’s super fresh seafood is sure to impress even the pickiest fish connoisseurs. Located in Mercado La Paloma, a colorful South Central food hall, this order-at-the-counter Mexican spot serves bright, spicy scallop aguachiles bathed in vibrant green sauce, crispy tostadas topped with kanpachi and dollops of uni, plus smoked clams on the half-shell that are both sweet and savory.
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Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery
Agnes, a new restaurant and cheesery (!) in Pasadena, has all the things your family loves about the Midwest (comfort food, wooden rafters that soar above the dining room, puppy chow), but none of the things they don’t (occasional poison ivy patches, birthday parties where the main attraction is a creek, etc). In addition to a market filled with hard-to-find cheeses - as well as cheeses you’ll find hard, like parmesan and pecorino - Agnes also serves some of LA’s most inventive dishes, like cornbread eclairs topped with silky chicken liver mousse and loaded baked potato dumplings that are equal parts childhood nostalgia and roasted broccoli salsa.
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From Glendale to Westwood to all 12 locations of Zankou Chicken, LA is home to a rich Middle Eastern community. However, if your family is in the mood for a classic establishment with a wrap-around bar and stone-painted walls meant to evoke summertime on the Lebanese coast, there’s only one choice: Marouch. When it comes to LA dining, this Lebanese-Armenian restaurant in East Hollywood is certified royalty, known for their incredible mezze plates packed with crispy falafel, hummus for as far as the eye can see, and bright-red muhammara, a tangy dip made with walnuts, bell peppers, and pomegranate molasses. Heads up, serving sizes are huge here, so the bigger the family, the better.
Not only is Guelaguetza one of the most legendary restaurants in town (open since 1994, they’ve completely revolutionized Oaxacan food in LA), it’s also one of our best parties. Since the pandemic, they’ve added a new patio to their Ktown dining room where you’ll find a rowdy mix of families, friends, and people who’ve only just met all happily toasting hibiscus agua frescas and sharing giant plates of Oaxacan grilled meats plates. Definitely order one of their [excellent tlayudas], but it’s not an official celebration without the Festival de Moles, a sampler platter combining four kinds of silky sauces and Guelaguetza’s signature dish.
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As soon as you enter Dear John’s dining room, you’ll be transported to another era, one where servers wore tuxedos, martinis were downed like water, and restaurants were too dark to take pictures of your food. In other words, a much better time. This renovated Culver City classic feels like a perfectly preserved relic from the 1960s: you’ll see red leather booths, messy plates of spaghetti and clams (just how we like them), and well-dressed Caesar salads being tossed tableside by even better-dressed servers.
photo credit: Krystal Thompson
Karuba's Yardy Kitchen
There’s nothing worse than an over-complicated meal with a visiting family (trust us, your dad does not want to get hit with a reservation cancellation fee), so make things simple and head to Karuba’s Yardy Kitchen. This Jamaican restaurant in Inglewood is one of the neighborhood’s most popular spots, known for their fantastic oxtails that come in a thick, fragrant gravy and sweet, smoky jerk chicken. Pair either with a side of roasted plantains, rice, or beans and make it a combo for just $12.99. It’s a small price to pay to avoid seeing your dad scream at the OpenTable app for upwards of an hour.
This iconic beachside deli is everything your parents picture when they think of LA: breezy Venice location, lines of beautiful, sun-kissed Midwesterners, and an entire part of the menu dedicated to “lettuces.” But, the food is also really f*cking good. Grab a spot on their expanded patio and enjoy tomato and burrata sandwiches, open-face bagels littered with an entire farmers market’s worth of produce, or the tuna conserva - a slick, oily sandwich packed with roasted peppers, olive tapenade, and crunchy sprouts that will make you question if you’ve ever really eaten sprouts before.
photo credit: Krystal Thompson
You’ll find the entire range of the human experience at Union. We’ve taken everyone we know to this Pasadena pasta restaurant - best friends, promising first dates, exes who we can’t stand talking to for more than five minutes. But where Union really shines is with impressing family members. It’s in a sleepy part of Pasadena, so you won’t have to worry about cars speeding past your table or anybody seeing a “hypebeast,” plus they serve some of the best Italian food we’ve ever eaten. There’s wild mushroom polenta, bright-orange saffron linguine, and a tonnarelli cacio e pepe topped with so much grated parmesan, you might actually see God.
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Many KBBQ spots can feel pretty chaotic, with plates of kalbi flying out the door, pitchers of beer overflowing on every table, and a strict put-your-name-down-then-wait-to-be-seated system. It’s why we love Koreatown. But when you’ve got your parents and sister in tow, plus her newborn baby (who truly hasn’t learned any manners yet), you’re going to want something a little more low-key. Head to Chosun Galbee. Reservations are easy to make online, their outdoor patio feels serene and quiet, and you can let the sounds of bulgogi sizzling on the grill take you away as your mom launches into another rant about LA traffic.
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The Old Place
Say your older cousin and his girlfriend are coming in from a land-locked state. They want to see the ocean but aren’t really into seafood or anything that involves “shucking.” Head to The Old Place. Located in a former general store and post office, this saloon/restaurant in the Santa Monica Mountains has everything you want for impressing your out-of-town family - a scenic drive up the PCH, an antique store selling Italian limestone fountains, plus a gigantic patio in the back. The menu is filled with comfort foods, like chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes, bleu cheese potato salad, and an oak-grilled 18-ounce ribeye that puts every La Cienega steakhouse to shame.
Harold & Belle's
Hosting your parents in LA can get stressful, especially when your mom has a penchant for backseat driving and screaming whenever you try to merge. So, if you’re looking for a calm environment and food you know will taste good, try Harold & Belles. This 50-year-old institution serves Southern favorites like charbroiled oysters, Louisiana-style catfish, shrimp and crawfish étouffée, and one of the best gumbos in town. Maybe if all goes well, you and your mom can have a little heart-to-heart afterward.
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photo credit: Carla Choy
Madre is an excellent Oaxacan restaurant in Torrance that specializes in shareable dishes, plus one of the best (and largest) mezcal selections in Southern California. You’re going to want to order a few spicy mezcal margaritas, their chorizo and mushroom-filled queso fundido, and the pecado de mole, a sampler platter of three of their housemade moles that range from sweet and rich to ultra-earthy.
Simply put, Anajak is serving some of the most exciting Thai food in the entire city. The weekends-only, prix-fixe menu at this Sherman Oaks spot is designed in the style of a Japanese omakase and includes dishes like dry-aged barramundi and haw mok, a creamy fish curry custard that tastes like a spicy dessert. It’s the perfect place to bring your cool older sibling who you desperately want to impress.
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photo credit: Jakob Layman
With its dim lighting and dining room that’s the size of a hallway, the Hollywood location of this fancy-ish French restaurant might feel a little too sultry for dinner with your brother. But if you’re both in the mood for steak frites, croque monsieur, and escargot loaded with so much garlic that you’ll be safe from vampires indefinitely, it’s time to head to The Valley. Their Sherman Oaks location has almost double the space, takes reservations, has an extended menu, and serves brunch. You know, just in case you want to throw some beignets into the mix.
This American comfort food spot in Santa Monica has an industrial space that looks like something you’d find in the Arts District, not the Westside. With a massive dining room and a wide-ranging menu filled with everything from whole-roasted chicken to noodle kugel to an entire caviar platter, it’s an ideal spot for families who can never agree on what they’re in the mood for. There’s even a separate kids menu filled with things like potato-crusted chicken fingers, which is ideal since every single one of your cousins announced they were pregnant last year.
Vegan family members do exist (and we celebrate them, of course), so instead of taking them to a steakhouse where they can “just find something to eat,” bring them to Pura Vita. This all-vegan Italian spot in West Hollywood has incredible pastas like macadamia Romano cream, lasagnas made with cashew ricotta, and shiitake bacon-filled carbonara that we still dream about on a daily basis.
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Musso & Frank Grill
This old-fashioned restaurant is Glamor with a capital-G, filled with red leather booths and waiters wearing suit jackets and bow ties. It’s the ideal place to bring a film-obsessed family member, like your dad who’s seen Rebel Without A Cause no less than 16 times, or your younger sister who recently became obsessed with Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood. And while the food’s not spectacular, it’s also impossible to have a bad time here – just order a very strong martini and let yourself get sucked into the time machine.
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Getting sushi with family can get tricky. A full-on omakase might take too long, but you also don’t want to settle for somewhere that uses the stuff from a packet to make miso soup. Sushi Tama solves all of that. It’s located in a particularly glitzy part of Beverly Hills (literally right across the street from the Chanel store), but serves high-quality sushi at surprisingly reasonable prices, with pieces of nigiri hovering just under $4. Cuts of toro are buttery and smooth, bright-orange ikura bursts in your mouth, and all of their uni comes directly from Mexico or Japan - all of which will be patiently explained to you by a member of their waitstaff.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Messob Ethiopian Restaurant
This family-run operation in Little Ethiopia is low-key and casual (so anyone who refuses to wear a dress shirt won’t feel out of place), but still is nice enough to appease that one seemingly unappeasable family member. While everybody can order a la carte, the best way to enjoy a meal here is to get the “Super Messob Exclusive.” What sounds like a fiery TV tell-all is actually a massive plate of ten or so different dishes from across the menu, all hanging out on a huge layer of injera. You’ll get spicy lamb stew, fresh and crunchy tomato fit-fit, and collard greens that will touch the inside of your soul.