1. Cooks County
The Vibe: On Beverly Boulevard, the place is the epitome of neighborhoody comfort. The bar has tractor seats for stools; the ceiling is exposed beams. It doesn’t scream “special occasion,” but for an elegant date or an everyday bite, it’s ideal.
The Crowd: All ages and fashion sets are welcome—everyone seems well tailored.
The Must-Have Dishes: Since this place worships the farm-to-table ethos, the menu changes frequently. Some memorable offerings include a squid and chickpea stew, clams with fennel and white beans, asparagus with hazelnut vinaigrette, and almost any of Roxanna Jullapat’s fabulous desserts.
The Drinks: Beer and wine only. Owner Claudio Blotta is a wine expert who once workesd at Campanile. Put yourself in his hands.
Worthwhile Splurge: Dinner entrées rarely cost more than $25. A plate of grass-fed beef short ribs goes for $29.
Getting a Table: They don’t do online reservations so you’ve got to pick up the phone, but space is rarely an issue.
Insider Tip: We may even like this place more for its brunch. Darling egg dishes, pecan sticky buns, and a serious grass-fed beef burger make Cooks County a weekend destination.
8009 Beverly Boulevard, Beverly Grove, cookscountyrestaurant.com
2. The Parish
The Vibe: There’s a slight disconnect between the upstairs and downstairs dining rooms. The first floor has a more casual, industrial feeling suited to breakfast and lunch. The second story is a manly tavernlike haven with deep leather armchairs.
The Crowd: Youngish, hippish, stylish.
The Must-Have Dishes: Heavier items like fried oyster poutine and buttermilk fried chicken get a lot of buzz, but we love Casey Lane’s lighter dishes such as ricotta with peas, salsa verde, and toasted brioche, or the roasted beets with horseradish yogurt. At breakfast, any of the biscuit sandwiches will set you right.
The Drinks: A superb cocktail program anchors the place, and a collection of Belgian and Belgian-style beers—some from a couple of local breweries—pair well with the food. There’s wine, too.
Worthwhile Splurge: Here your indulgence is more in calories than dollars. The priciest item is a grilled rib eye, at $35, which is well worth whatever its price in both currencies.
Getting a Table: This place hops on weekend nights. Make reservations for Thursdays through Sundays. The vibe is more relaxed during the day.
Insider Tip: The Disco Nap cocktail features the astonishingly harsh grape-based spirit, grappa. You might need a real nap afterward.
840 South Spring Street, downtown, theparishla.com
The Vibe: Scandinavian minimalism at its best. The overall spirit fluctuates depending on how busy they are.
The Crowd: A mix of homesick Austrians, in-the-know foodies, and some more “veteran” residents from Beverly Hills.
The Must-Have Dishes: You’ve never had schnitzel this good, we swear. Weisswurst—a pale veal sausage—poached in milk and dusted with nutmeg is soul satisfying. The gulash is downright sexy—which is saying something because, you know, it’s gulash.
The Drinks: The wine list reads like an introductory course to fantastic Austrian grapes. The real surprise, though, is the unparalleled schnapps selection.
Worthwhile Splurge: Seared venison loin with braised red cabbage and bread dumpling will set you back $38, but you won’t regret it.
Getting a Table: We wish this place were more packed than it is. But it’s small, so a reservation is a safe bet.
Insider Tip: They pour schnapps by the centiliter (ooh, the metric system!). Order a flight to compare and contrast. We promise it’s nothing like the peach stuff you slugged in high school.
9669 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, bierbeisl-la.com
4. Tar & Roses
The Vibe: Long, narrow, dark, and masculine—effortlessly cool.
The Crowd: Well-to-do Westsiders of all ages and a few A-listers mixed in for good measure. (We had one of our best all-time celebrity sightings here: Julia Louis-Dreyfus with Sally Field.)
The Must-Have Dishes: The menu is hyperseasonal, which means dishes change regularly. But most everything that comes out of that wood-fired oven is worth trying. The lamb belly is popular, as are the skate wing and roasted snap peas.
The Drinks: Wine and beer only, with a nice mix of bottles from California, Italy, and Spain.
Worthwhile Splurge: A whole fried snapper for two recently went for $48. Considering that it’s meant for sharing, that’s a deal—and a delicious one.
Getting a Table: This is one of the tougher tickets on the Westside, especially if you want to go between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Book a week in advance for peak times on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. You can scope out open times online.
Insider Tip: Don’t dismiss the “veggies” section on the menu as mere sides. They’re center-stage worthy.
602 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, tarandroses.com
5. Bäco Mercat
The Vibe: Very loud, lively, easygoing.
The Crowd: Art walkers, loft dwellers, hip Eastsiders, and most everyone hungry and under 50.
The Must-Have Dishes: Of the bäcos, we crave the crispy shrimp-based El Pesco the most. Josef Centeno has a way with vegetables—his blistered okra and Caesar brussels sprouts prove it.
The Drinks: The bar here runs a top-notch cocktail program, including barrel-aged versions of popular drinks.
Worthwhile Splurge: Of the larger plates, a 16-ounce, 30-day dry-aged prime, coffee-charred rib eye takes the steak ($58).
Getting a Table: You may have to wait a few minutes on a busy night, but a seat at the bar is as good as a proper table—maybe better. Steer clear on art walk nights.
Insider Tip: Always—always—get whatever’s on special.
408 South Main Street, downtown, bacomercat.com
6. Superba Snack Bar
The Vibe: Bustling and tragically hip, but the service has a sophisticated polish that is welcoming to all.
The Crowd: Venice hipster millionaires and the people who love them. But also, smart people like you.
The Must-Have Dishes: We cannot overemphasize how good chef Jason Neroni’s pastas are. Order all of them, if you can. We particularly love the smoked bucatini carbonara and the garganelli.
The Drinks: There’s a full bar with innovative cocktails. The wine list is unique and features a number of biodynamic wines. You know, for the neighborhood hippies.
Worthwhile Splurge: The charcuterie program here is stellar. Try a sampler of the meaty offerings for $25.
Getting a Table: It’s walk-in only, which can be extremely annoying, especially on weekends.
Insider Tip: Venice Beach Wines is next door. Grab a drink while you wait.
533 Rose Avenue, Venice, superbasnackbar.com
The Vibe: Light, bright, casual, and festive.
The Crowd: You’ll find young UCLA coeds munching tacos, tourists sipping margaritas, and Santa Monica locals indulging in a weeknight meal.
The Must-Have Dishes: Patric Kuh adores the nopalitos, or cactus, salad. The Dos Gringas tacos feature spit-roasted al pastor with Oaxaca cheese and chile de arbol and avocado salsas. Chef Jose Acevedo’s slow-roasted pork carnitas are authentically soul satisfying.
The Drinks: Tequila!
Worthwhile Splurge: The tequila list is nonpareil on this side of town. If you’re feeling the spirit, shell out for some of the more unique offerings, like the Milagro Unico extra anejo with notes of white pepper and maple ($68.)
Getting a Table: The place is never empty, but it’s rarely full. Most seating is communal, which is good or bad depending on your mood.
Insider Tip: Happy hour is a savory steal, with tacos and margaritas for $7 and less.
1416 4th Street, Santa Monica, mercadosantamonica.com
The Vibe: Intimate, subdued, respectful—dare we say Zen?
The Crowd: Serious Japanophiles, sushi aficionados, and food critics.
The Must-Have Dishes: Omakase is the only way to fly. Let chef Shunji Nakao choose for you.
The Drinks: You’ll find beer, wine, and sake here. Opt for the latter.
Worthwhile Splurge: The aforementioned omakase can set you back anywhere from $90 to $120. We still recommend it.
Getting a Table: It’s tiny and still relatively off the grid. Just call ahead.
Insider Tip: This place isn’t really a sushi bar—it’s a Japanese restaurant that takes its cues from the sushi and kaiseki traditions. Expect as many vegetables as fish—you won’t be disappointed.
12244 West Pico Boulevard, West Los Angeles, shunji-ns.com
9. Maison Giraud
The Vibe: Neighborhood bistro—welcoming but tight and not immune to a few service hiccups.
The Crowd: Pacific Palisades can be quite a trek for those who don’t live nearby. Well-to-do locals fill most of the tables.
The Must-Have Dishes: This is humble, everyday French, so you’d be right to take a chance on the roasted chicken “Catherine” served with natural pan juices. Also the rotating (and comforting) cocottes have become the stuff of legend. For breakfast there is no better omelette, and the croissants are the city’s best.
The Drinks: A bottle of Cotes du Rhône, bien sur!
Worthwhile Splurge: This is a locals joint, so you won’t find anything too pricey, but the glorious beef tenderloin will ding you at $36.
Getting a Table: The place is pretty small, and demand is high. Make an online reservation for peak times.
Insider Tip: One word: dessert. Alain Giraud is a pastry master.
1032 Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades, maison-giraud.com
The Vibe: Don’t be fooled by the gritty locale and frill-less setting. This is a serious spot for serious foodies.
The Crowd: Young chefs, cooks, food bloggers, and the food obsessed.
The Must-Have Dishes: The menu changes so often that it’s hard to keep track. Chef Ari Taymor is a fan of foraged foods, so this is a great chance to try some more unusual roots and seeds. Any meal should begin with the house-made bread and cultured butter.
The Drinks: The beer and wine license is still pending. For now there’s a lineup of interesting sodas, including black lime and vanilla, raw ginger, and apple and Earl Grey with honey.
Worthwhile Splurge: The tasting menu, offered at $80 to tables of four or fewer, will show you the true range of Taymor’s talents.
Getting a Table: The restaurant has remained relatively (and surprisingly) undiscovered by the masses. Get in while you can (and by online reservation).
Insider Tip: The décor was remarkably spare when we first reviewed the restaurant, but the place just underwent a lovely remodel; now you can feel safe bringing Mom and Dad. Plus, should you arrive with your own bottle of wine for pouring, they won’t turn you away. But you didn’t hear that from us.
952 South Broadway, downtown, alma-la.com
Photographs by Andrea Bricco