Los Angeles used to be a wasteland in terms of great restaurants. Mile upon mile of junky fast food joints littering the boulevards, malls with their generic food courts, and frustrated foodies weeping into their napkins. Well, there’s still some of that, but Los Angeles has come a long way. The 1990s were a flush time in the City of Angels, and many famous chefs (Wolfgang Puck, Nobu Matsuhisa, etc) opened up shop. Add to this the constant stream of hungry tourists passing through, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great city for dining out. Here, then, are the top 10 best upscale restaurants in Los Angeles, California.
Melisse, 1104 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica - I had my last wedding anniversary dinner here, and for good reason: I do my “best restaurants” research, after all. Melisse is rated as the best American-French restaurant in Los Angeles by Zagat’s, and has been awarded 2 stars by the prestigious and picky Michelin Guide. Like most best upscale restaurants, Melisse is pricey but worth it – it’s also fantastically romantic, with a subdued and sophisticated atmosphere.The seared foie gras is the best I’ve had outside of France
Spago, 9430 Wilshire Blvd Beverly Hills - Can’t have a Top 10 foodie list without Spago. Wolfgang Puck’s
flagship restaurant is a mainstay in Los Angeles, and for good reason; Spago Beverly Hills led to several others (in Boston, Las Vegas…) but the LA location was first. I love the coordination of the waitstaff — for larger parties (even just groups of four) the entrees all arrive at once via several waiters and waitresses. The meals, of course, are just as impressive, and the atmosphere more boisterous than at Melisse.
Urasawa, 218 N Rodeo Dr Beverly Hills - There are more than three outstanding sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, but to be fair I needed to narrow it down to three. Urasawa is in a smaller space than Katsuya or Nobu (see below) and this fosters a more intimate ambience. Try to request the sashimi platter served on a block of ice, but all the options here are impeccably prepared and served. The name of the game here, though, is omakase. This means, the chef decides what you get. Don’t be afraid to make requests (I’ve always asked for no sea urchins, for example), and the meal will be full of great surprises.
Katsuya, 11777 San Vicente Blvd, Brentwood - There are a few Katsuya locations in Los Angeles, but I like
the scene here better than the one in Hollywood (and I haven’t been to the ones on Olympic or in Glendale). Exceedingly hip and modern, with funky giant photos of women’s eyes and lips, Katsuya doesn’t make for a quiet romantic night out. I’ve never NOT had a “star sighting” here, though, and that has its appeal for tourists. Unlike Urasawa, diners can order a la carte as well as omakase. There are all the traditional favorites here, like spicy tuna rolls and tempura, but the more interesting menu items are really memorable. It’s expensive for a family restaurant, but this is the one Japanese spot on the list I’ve taken my kids to. They’re never the only children there.
Nobu, 903 N. La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood - Nobu is a famous name for foodies, and certainly Nobu Matsushita has many great eponymous restaurants across the globe. I prefer this Nobu to the ones in NYC and Malibu, but all have the same trendy atmosphere. Yes, Nobu is a fashionable place to see and be seen in Los Angeles, but the chef’s modern and unique takes on Japanese standards really are worth the (as usual, pricey) night out. There are plenty of noteworthy non-sushi options here; I recommend the Kobe steak.
Cut, 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills - Cut opened in 2006 and became instantly popular – some said overhyped – but its ongoing high ratings and popularity are testament to its quality and standards of both fare and service. With chef Wolfgang Puck at the helm, the same organized choreography of service is seen here as at Spago. When I’ve eaten there, I’ve noticed invariably that the trendiness of Cut means a beautiful young crowd – but the entrees are wonderful, and the wine list as good as any. Try not to fill up on the artisanal bead before the main courses arrive!
Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica - This is an old-school Italian restaurant near the 10 freeway, and one of my favorite fancy Italian joints in Southern California. It’s a restaurant I return to often. The dinners here are serious affairs that last several hours, so plan to make a reservation here as the activity of the evening. My current favorite dish is the risotto with white truffles, but this may be only seasonally available.
Water Grill, 544 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles - There are a lot of great seafood options in Los Angeles, but this is considered by many (including the Zagat Guide) to be the “best seafood in Southern California.” It also has been awarded a Michelin star. It’s the only downtown LA restaurant on this Top 10 list; a night at Disney Concert Hall – also on Grand Ave – and dinner here would make for a wonderfully cultural and culinary experience. I enjoy the Art Deco decor and the sophistication of the clientele. The seafood is as fresh and well-prepared as it gets, needless to say. The raw bar, tuna tartare, and Scottish King Salmon are all recommended.
Giorgio Baldi, 114 W Channel Rd, Santa Monica - The food here is tremendous, and the space relatively small, so there’s 1) a tight fit 2) a good chance you’ll end up rubbing shoulders with some Hollywood luminary. I’ve never tasted fresher, more impeccably prepared pasta in my life, and the branzino is top-notch. However, because of the small size, table turnover is important for Giorgio Baldi to make a profit. As a result, there is no leisurely 3-hour dinner here. Even purchasers of $400 bottles of wine can feel rushed. That being said, you know the food is amazing when the restaurant stays so busy despite the service.
Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles – Mario Batali is ony one of two famous chefs associated with this restaurant. Nancy Silverton, of Napa Valley fame, is the pasta chef of great renown among Italian food lovers. Melrose Ave is a hopping area in LA, and Osteria Mozza is likewise fun and lively. It’s Italian, but with an equal emphasis emphasis on southern pasta dishes, and more delicate fare of Northern Italy. The Guinea hen crostone, the quail wrapped in pancetta and the soft shell crab are my recommendations.