The best thing about Christmas in Los Angeles is that “Christmas in Los Angeles” can mean just about anything. Maybe it’s a trip to the beach. Maybe it’s dim sum and afternoon tea. Maybe it’s a double feature at the New Beverly. Maybe it’s singing along with KOST FM at the top of your lungs while stuck in traffic. There’s no wrong answer.
But, sometimes, even the most hardcore of Angelenos yearns for a taste of those classic clichés—It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and all that wintery cheeseball goodness.
Which is exactly why we should be so grateful for L.A.’s timeless dining institutions, the ones that still deck the halls with colorful and lavish holiday decorations every year without fail. Through them we find respite in a magical land of tinsel, garland, and boughs of holly, if only for a couple weeks. Come, all ye faithful!
Atwater Village’s beloved Scottish-themed pub, a one-time Disney studio hang that originally opened in 1922, is home to “Strolling Victorian Carolers” roaming the wreath-hung dining room every evening in December. It doesn’t get much more Christmas-y than that. Nestle up to the fireplace with a Hot Toddy and bask, merry revelers, in glorious tales of Yuletides past! 2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village.
“The Dal Rae at Christmas—freaking hell, the Dal Rae at Christmas,” wrote Jonathan Gold in a 2011 LA Weekly restaurant review. His declaration about sums it up. Pico Rivera’s throwback chophouse, open since 1951, transforms into an eye-popping wonderland every holiday season: twinkling Christmas trees crammed into every unoccupied corner, paper snowflakes hung in bunches from the ceiling, Santa figures stacked among upholstered booths. If all that’s not enticing enough, there’s thick slabs of prime rib, stiff cocktails, and a piano maestro rattling out ballads in the back room. 9023 E. Washington Blvd., Pico Rivera.
Rumor has it that Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill were among the famous faces known for knocking back a drink or two at Koreatown’s famed 69-year-old nautical-themed dive bar. All we know is that the holiday decorations are cheery and bright, the bar snacks are solid, and you always count on the Wise Man’s Special (a shot and a Tecate for $5.50) to provide a Star of Bethlehem-worthy glow. 3357 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown.
The sparkly holiday decorations are up at Echo Park’s long-running French restaurant, including some creepy elf dolls that look like they might come alive when your back is turned. But hey, Christmas is fun! Taix’s classic French onion soup is always a good bet, but look out for the annual dessert special, Buché de Noel, which should appear on the menu in the next couple of weeks. 1911 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park.
It might not seem fair to include Santa Monica’s oldest restaurant on this list, if only because the strands upon strands of multicolored Christmas lights lining its tiki-pirate ship dining room are left up all year long. But you should probably visit the beachside favorite in December anyway, at least to sip a Mai Tai with the cheery regulars. Maybe you’ll even cajole Captain Ron (The Galley’s longtime owner) into telling a couple jokes. 2442 Main St., Santa Monica.
There’s an unwritten rule that if you dine at Lawry’s Prime Rib during the month of December, you’re going to take a photo in front of the big honkin’ Christmas tree parked in the main lobby. Either that, or someone is going to ask you to take a picture of them. That’s just how it goes. Oh, and there are carolers here, too. But we’re pretty sure they’re just the same ones from Tam O’Shanter on rotation (talk about seasonal labor!). Nevertheless, Lawry’s during the holidays is a bona fide civic treasure. 100 La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.
Another storied local institution known for keeping its Christmas lights up all year round, El Coyote takes things one step further by draping its dark comfy booths with plastic poinsettias and installing a tree and a cute little Santa display in the foyer. Be sure to ask for your burrito “Christmas-style,” smothered in both red and green salsa (actually no one calls it that, but it’s delicious and the petticoated waitresses will totally know what you’re talking about). 7312 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove.
As the kids say these days, Steak ’n’ Stein is lit! (kids are still saying that, right?). At this slightly corny but nonetheless charming English-cottage-themed restaurant in Pico Rivera, you’ll find an indoor fire pit, sirloin steaks flame-seared table-side, and more red and green lighting than you can shake a candy cane at. That’s pretty lit, fam. (You should also consider Clearman’s North Woods Inn; same basic steak-heavy menu but with a decor that’s more like Frontierland during a snowstorm.) 9545 E. Whittier Blvd., Pico Rivera.
It should come as no surprise that Burbank’s premiere retro steakhouse, a favorite haunt for Old Hollywood, goes pretty hard on holiday decorations (including a pair of illuminated nutcrackers that stand guard near the front door). Might we suggest the Manhattan and a side of creamed spinach? 4420 Lakeside Dr., Burbank.
The crispy-crust, rectangular Sicilian pies served at Barone’s are tasty, but the real reason to come to this Valley Glen pizzeria is the sweet 1940s decor. It’s like an Italian grandmother’s postwar dining room frozen in amber, complete with red carpeting and carved wood trim. As you might imagine, it looks even more amazing after the Christmas decorations go up. Plus there is spumoni for dessert. 13726 Oxnard St., Valley Glen.
Opened in 1922 as a swank dining option for horse-racing fans at nearby Santa Anita Racetrack, the Derby has endured as an old-guard staple in Arcadia (shrimp cocktails, wedge salad, flambéed Baked Alaskas—pure ritzy Americana). The walls are filled with jockey memorabilia, which is cool if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s the gorgeous holiday displays that make a visit during this time of year feel like a special treat. 233 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia.
Are we seriously suggesting you drive all the way out to Riverside? Well, yes, but only to experience the sheer majesty of the historic hotel’s Festival of Lights. Book a table on the restaurant’s outdoor patio and you’re afforded a view in full glory, complete with a reindeer sculpture-thingy in the center. Apparently the food is pretty good, too. 3649 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside.