The Malibu Café at Calamigos Ranch
Weave along Mulholland to the Calamigos Ranch turnoff. Go past the grapevines and the Biggest Loser Resort. That’s when you’ll see it: a slim opening to a wood walkway that leads to an almost impossibly bucolic restaurant. Chandeliers hang from the trees, and cabanas stand sentry on the meadowlike lawn that surrounds a picturesque pond. The menu ranges from sweet corn-lobster ravioli to burgers, but a meal isn’t complete here without strolling the grounds. » 327 S. Latigo Canyon Rd., Malibu, 818-540-2400.
Chronicle Wine Cellar
It’s Sideways meets Hoarders at the Chronicle, a wineshop that has been stuffed into a storage space behind (and belonging to the guy who owns) Pasadena’s Pie ’N Burger. Signage—along with streetside visibility—is nonexistent. Gus Martin, who manages the place, has an encyclopedic knowledge and focuses on deals ($17 is the average for a very nice bottle), and while the stock is heavy on pinot noirs, there are good French whites from the Languedoc region for as cheap as $8. » 919 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, 626-577-2549.
Cocktail Crafting at The Greystone
In the belly of the 1928 Greystone Mansion, you and a dozen others file into a small room just off the bowling alley that was featured in There Will Be Blood. Then the retracting wood-paneled wall is given the heave-ho to reveal drink master Aaron Stepka of L.A.’s 1933 Group at the original speakeasy wet bar. The Institute of Domestic Technology’s two-hour “Cocktail Crafting” class is nothing but fun, and the $95 fee offers a peek at other parts of the home that belonged to Edward Doheny’s son. » Various venues, instituteofdomesticctechnology.com
For decades Disneyland’s Tiki Juice Bar has had a local lock on Dole Whip, the beloved pineapple-flavored soft-serve. Recently, however, the nondescript yogurt shop Whipp’d LA began dispensing swirls of the same frozen tropical treat from a dingy minimall on Santa Monica Boulevard. You might even spot a singing parrot or two—this is West Hollywood, after all. » 7901 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 323-300-4722.
Longevity has hardly propelled the Japanese confectioner into the glare of L.A.’s culinary radar, even though it’s been selling its soft, chewy mochi (rice cakes) and manju (bean cakes) for 109 years. Only internment during World War II interrupted the Kito family’s operation of the Little Tokyo storefront, where a glass case presents you with delicate creations that range from pink to yellow to glistening brown. As time collapses, you’ll ask yourself what took you so long to come here. » 315 E. 1st St., Little Tokyo, 213-625-8595.
Though the address is on Hollywood Boulevard, you have to enter through an alley between Las Palmas and Cherokee. Inside is a watering hole that balances throwback charm with an ambience that’s relaxed and modern. When the spot was called Musso & Frank’s Back Room in the 1930s and ’40s, it was the haunt of such literary boozehounds as Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sip one of the carefully constructed libations and maybe inspiration will strike you, too. » 6685 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323-491-4148.
Amid a sprawl of industrial buildings across from Los Angeles State Historic Park stands an old-fashioned diner that’s a favorite of LAPD officers. They sit by its wood-paneled walls and at the wraparound counter for the same reasons we do—the steaming house-baked muffins, the buttermilk biscuits with thick white gravy, the corned beef hash that sports a sear only a griddle that’s seen 64 years of seasoning can provide. » 1300 N. Spring St., Chinatown, 323-222-1450.
As if Golden Road Brewing weren’t already off the beaten track, cofounder Tony Yanow has opened an exclusive club within the craft beer behemoth. Where the brewpub is all barn doors and corrugated metal, Chloe’s—accessed through a door marked private to the left of the main bar—evokes a classic British tavern with plaid carpeting, a fireplace, and antiquey furnishings. Free membership grants you access for meetings and special events, though there’s the occasional public fete as well. » 5410 W. San Fernando Rd., Atwater Village, 213-373-4677.
Back in 1885, before it became part of Deukmejian Wilderness Park, Dunsmore Canyon was lined with grapevines belonging to winemakers George Le Mesnager and Pierre Durancette. The Stonebarn Vineyard Conservancy has replanted 71 vines outside the stone storage house that George’s son, Louis, built in 1905. Join the conservancy for $40 and you can get a bottle of Glendale’s finest varietal. » 3429 Markridge Rd., Glendale, 818-249-2414.
Westside Sharpening & Cutlery Center
Once you spot the small sign with the knife on it, you know Laurence Segal’s shop is nearby. Working at the end of a corridor surrounded by piles of stainless steel, he’ll return your santoku blades to their Sur la Table glory. Better still, he’ll create custom cutlery, tracing your hands and discussing the virtues of Hawaiian koa and California buckeye wood. “If the handle doesn’t fit your hand, it doesn’t matter how good the blade is,” he says. » 1207 4th St., Ste. 50, Santa Monica, 310-395-3075.
Off Menu Tips
There are two main reasons why a restaurant keeps a dish a secret: the clandestine item is a pain to make, or it’s just too good. We suspect the latter is why Brandon Boudet has stayed mum about the SOS Sandwich at Tom Bergin’s. Scarfing down one of these supersize creations will have you crying for another. Wolfgang Puck changed much of his Beverly Hills institution, Spago, this year, but no amount of redecorating could silence the clamor for his signature smoked salmon pizza, spicy tuna cones, and wienerschnitzel—the kitchen will still make ’em if you ask. Josef Centeno moved on from the Lazy Ox Canteen long ago, but his pig’s ear chicharrones still wind up on the tables of folks in the know. Some say the Big Makosher burger at Mexikosher outshines any of the restaurant’s rabbi-approved south-of-the-border staples. And should you happen to shout “no dough” at Michael Voltaggio’s ink. sack, don’t worry: They won’t think you’re broke; they’ll let you go carb free.
Inspired by a po’boy, the monstrosity tops a seared rib eye with fried oysters and creamy béarnaise and is stuffed into a buttered roll.
SMOKED SALMON PIZZA
The Spago original: a wood-fired pie layered with slices of smoked salmon and dollops of caviar.
Puck channels his childhood with the Austrian classic: breaded veal scallopini, usually served with a warm fingerling salad.
SPICY TUNA CONES
Sushi-grade tuna tartare dressed in ac sicy chili mayo arrives in a crisp miso-sesame cone.
The kosher version of a Big Mac includes two five-ounce beef patties, vegan cheese, "secret" sauce, and a sesame bun.
PIG’S EAR CHICHARRONES
Thin, crunchy strips of pig's ear that have been braised, then fried, put french fries to shame.
With these two magic words, any number of sandwiches will be wrapped in lettuce instead of bread.
Stealth Dining: Tacos So good, They're Illegal
A spray of balloons dangles from the gate of an old two-story South L.A. home guarded by a pair of ceramic lions. Strung across them is a banner announcing the outlaw restaurant: hay rica barbacoa! Behind the house, people are seated on picnic benches covered with recycled food containers that hold salsas and vegetables. Off to the side a young man sells pirated DVDs, and a group of construction workers arrives with a bag of ice; another, with a 12-pack of Bud. They’ve come for pit-roasted lamb cooked in maguey leaves, chile-rubbed lamb offal steamed in a lamb’s skull, and hot bowls of lamb consommé to accompany do-it-yourself $1 lamb tacos sold by the family from Capulhuac, Estado de México, who runs the backyard barbacoa operation. Strangers sell one another beers, devouring bites of lamb while hidden from all authority. “Come back later to catch the pay-per-view fight on the tube,” says the barbacoa master. “Five bucks.”--Bill Esparaza