Los Angeles is not short on places to wow your date and experience a memorable meal. Try one of our favorite spots to impress your loved one. We broke this down to what you need to know – what to sip, order, share, savor, and what not to miss.
Inko Nito in Downtown LA Arts District
For a sensational interactive dinner, sit at the bar and watch the chefs prepare your meal in this beautiful open space dripping with plants and the grills as the focal point. The Japanese robatayaki restaurant has elements of Korean food but also reminds me of fresh grilled skewered seafood, meats and veggies I’ve sampled in Tulum, Mexico.
Drink: The refreshing Spring St Punch is a lemon blend tea made with Seedlip Garden, shiso, and pineapple.
Share: Dungeness crab tartare served in a tin with chicken skin crisps and roasted nori, nigaki (a new sushi style with roasted seasoned nori, sushi rice, and toppings)
Order: Start with the miso soup with crab meat and chili oil and grilled smoky chili butter corn. Savor the tender yellowtail collar with a crisp fish skin and beef cheek with spicy Korean miso.
Dessert: Charred coconut ice cream with red chili flakes, soy, Pocky Matcha sticks and Japanese granola is an uncanny combination that you will want to figure out how to recreate at home.
Don’t miss: Sit around the bar to watch the grilling happen.
Castaway in Burbank
Los Angeles’s newest revamped gorgeous venue provides a dramatic setting with views of the whole city. Set up on the hillside above a golf course in the Verdugo Mountains surrounded by canyons and palm trees in Burbank, find a seat outside on the grand terrace or indoors at a cozy booth with AC. The 12,500 square foot venue is worth the drive for a special brunch or dinner under the stars with firepits. The whole venue is brand spanking new with a $10 million dollar revamp.
You will actually feel “Castaway” from the city life while you peruse the menu that reads like a movie script. Spot a real star sitting nearby and drool over what seasonally-inspired dish is the most-worthy from newly appointed Chef Perry Pollaci, a Cut Throat Kitchen winner. Special features of Castaway include a meat dry-aging room created from glowing bricks of Himalayan salt, a floor to ceiling wine cellar, and a 10-person Chef’s Table that allows behind the scenes kitchen action and chef interaction.
Drink: Bottomless brunch mimosas for $18. The wraparound bar includes a built-in tap system helping to reduce its carbon footprint, offering beers, eight different wines, and four cocktails on tap – in addition to their cellar. “Tappy Hour” is held Monday – Friday from 4 – 6 pm, offering $3 off all tap beers, cocktails, and wines, and $10 off social punches.
Share: Ricotta honey strawberry tartine or crushed avocado 24-hour tomato tartine. The impressive Charcuterie Board presented on a grand olive wood board allows you to pick and choose your artisanal meats and cheeses with chef accouterments. Try the duck prosciutto, Italian chorizo salami, goats milk with crème Brulee from Spain, and sheep’s milk gouda from the Netherlands. For dinner, share the Dungeness Crab Cake with cornflake-crusted West Coast Crab.
Order: Panko crusted Lobster & Waffles with a smoked syrup with star anise, cinnamon, and vanilla. Steak and Eggs Wagyu Benedict served atop a wooden board with tennis ball roasted tomatoes and the poached eggs sitting atop soft potatoes. For dinner, you may wish to try the Whole Roasted Branzino or the Snake River Farms American Wagyu with shallot marmalade and sweet garlic chips.
Dessert: French Toast cut with rum-roasted banana, Nutella, and spiced maple syrup
Don’t miss: The Heirloom Tomato Salad coated with a crystalized strawberry jam atop basil whipped goat cheese.
Farmhouse in the Beverly center
Served on dishes that remind me of my mom’s house, find a rustic table near the fireplace. This grand restaurant with various stunning rooms works directly with many farms. Resident Chef/Farmer Nathan creates a seasonal farm-traceable “seed-to-plate” cuisine that showcases 6 ingredients at their peak each month. The August menu highlights eggplant, peppers, heirloom tomato, corn, melon, stone fruits and responsibly farmed meat, poultry, and sustainable seafood. Although the menu changes, here are some dishes we enjoyed.
Drink: Every wine they suggested was outstanding.
Share: Clams, Fig & Proscuitto Pizza.
Order: Zucchini soup, Diver Scallops, Ravioli with ricotta and spinach.
Dessert: Dark Chocolate Custard with California apricot mousse, Melon Sorbets.
Don’t miss: Meet the resident Executive Farmer Nathan Peitso who works directly with his family farm and the region’s top farmers to grow, harvest, and create seasonal and vibrant dishes. All the grain used for the pasta, pizza and bread comes from his family farm. You can valet right at the door.
Joao Cocktail Bar at Jeremy Hotel in west hollywood
Cozy up at the sexy dark upscale lobby bar or the intimate outdoor patio at the newest Sunset Strip hotel, the Jeremy. Sensational cocktails abound reimagined with a touch of glamour, but we recommend starting with the rosebud or red chili pepper in your drink. Joao is a throwback to Old Hollywood. Classic spirits swirl and shake with house-made infusions and culinary precision to produce wistful yet bold flavors, paired with crave-worthy bites.
Drink: The Ava donned with a baby rose tea bud comes with Cyrano Roxanne, Combier Rose, Lemon, Black Pepper, and Egg White. For some added buzz, sip the Joao Espresso Martini with Vodka, Cafe Lolita, and Espresso.
Share: Crisp Brussel Sprouts with almonds, dates and honey are some of the best in LA, and the generous portion of Burrata with stone fruit and pretzel bread was amazing for the price. The Tuna Poke Bowl with Brown Rice, Kale, Edamame, Carrot, Mango, Onion, and Ginger Soy offers a flavorful medley.
Order: Miso Black Cod should be at the top of your list, but for the carnivore, try the Jeremy Burger or Impossible Burger. The Poke mango bowl below is a flavorful medley.
Don’t miss: Happy hour is offered 4pm–6pm daily, with a selection of specialty cocktails, wines by the glass, beer, and small plates priced $5–$10.
Chaya Modern Izakaya in Venice
More than just sushi, Chaya Venice has transitioned into Chaya Modern Izakaya with a new menu, a new chef team, a new beverage program, and a new interior look 28 years later. The restaurant and bar continue to buzz with Happy Hour from 5:00 pm til close. Just a block from the beach on Main Street, discover that same innovative Japanese-Californian cuisine with a modern Izakaya approach. The new menu consists of dishes meant to be shared. Often special menu items will appear due to seasonal farmer’s market produce. The Kaiseki Chef Counter allows guests to enjoy an up close and personal experience and order a 5-course omakase experience for $65.
Drink: Far East Side (Sake, tequila, cucumber, lime, shiso), Spicy Margarita (Tequila, agave, lime, habanero bitters), Highball Cocktail comprised of Suntory Whisky Toki and club soda with an etched Suntory ice cube. Still a drinking destination, guests can enjoy handcrafted cocktails, premium spirits, Japanese Whisky (with rare 1 oz tasting pours), an eclectic sake and wine collection, and Japanese and local craft beers.
Share: Grilled Peach with burrata, prosciutto, and shishito peppers and Carmalized Miso Tofu, a sweeter tofu with a smoother consistency doused in farmer’s market flowers and greens.
Order: Hamachi, Smoked Soy, Wasabi Hand Roll, Ramen with chicken, tequila, and pork chashu (a lighter version made with chicken broth), and Pork Chop Katsu, a crispy fried cutlet rolled with Japanese panko breadcrumbs and enhanced with dollops of peanut mole and karashi mustard.
Dessert: Bread Pudding warm with ice cream.
Don’t miss: For an interactive dish, the Wagyu Chazuke comes with a hot water pour over to cook the thinly sliced meat resting above rice, dashi tea and shiitake. Ask for specials that are not on the menu. Sushi hand rolls are served with the inside open that you can roll, pick up, and bite.
Barbette in West Hollywood
The visionary owners and partners Sean MacPherson and Jared Meisler of former hotspot Jones plus The Pikey, Roger Room and Bar Lubitsch bring you West Hollywood’s newest French-inspired bar and bistro. The stylish and classy establishment is filled with booths and a lavish intimate bar with decorative motifs reminiscent of the Belle Epoch era, perfect for that after work drink meet-up or a long enjoyable dinner. You can also sit out back in the covered patio area that feels like a funky cafe or French greenhouse garden. The menu from Executive Chef Robert Flaherty includes French classics as well as gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Small plates are reasonably priced at $6 – $15. Just a few months old, make memories in what is sure to become another enchanting Hollywood story.
Drink: Absinthe cocktails like the Starine (vodka, absinthe, kiwi, honeydew, lime, mint, rocks) or Death in the Afternoon with house–made Absinthe and champagne classically served with flaming sugar cube and chilled water. The Gold River with Mezcal, Grand Poppy, apricot, lime, agave, turmeric, habanero, and smoked salt is another worthy concoction.
Share: Ouefs Nicoise (soft cooked eggs with anchovies) and plump juicy Moules Marinière, mussels soaked in a flavorful white wine sauce. Ask for more bread to soak up the extra juicy goodness!
Order: The Crab Rice comes with a generous portion of crab mixed with saffron, spring garlic, and basmati. The Black Cod had a crisp salty skin served with broccolini and butter beans.
Dessert: Chocolate mousse doused with boozy cherries and peanut brittle
Don’t miss: The Barbette sourdough bread has been perfected by the chef himself through years of trial and time spent working with magical bakers, so indulge in the $4 crusty loaf.
Osen Izakaya in Silver Lake
Move over Nobu prices, sample premium sushi, and innovative Japanese dishes from Chef Damon Cho, formerly from Matsuhisa, Masa (NYC), and TAO Hollywood. Great care is put into each dish at this traditional Japanese izakaya. Sit at the bar or one of their cozy wooden tables with a cherry blossom tree hanging with customer’s photos. The Miso Soup is prepared traditional style from fish bone. The typical Baked Alaska King Crab Hand Roll and the Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice are still worthy of ordering.
Drink: Sake and Japanese liquors.
Share: Miso Glazed Eggplant doused in colorful plants with crisp skin and a slightly sweet sauce.
Order: Super fresh fish like Red Snapper with shiso dressing, Citron Salmon with a ceviche dressing, and delicate tender Miso Glazed Sea Bass on a stick.
Dessert: Order warm green tea and black cake with green tea ice cream and sesame ice cream, complete with a floral presentation. The scrumptious dish reminded me of mochi.
Don’t miss: Indulge in the Uni Bowl (from Hokkaido Japan) with gold flakes over rice. Osen is a small venue so make reservations for dinner although I had no issues getting a table midday during the week for lunch.
Uovo in Santa Monica
Who doesn’t love homemade pasta? Dine at Uovo’s countertop bar and watch as they serve your pasta directly to your plate from the kitchen. The traditional handmade pasta is overnighted from their kitchen in Bologna, Italy. Before you get worried about the carbon footprint, know that the pasta is resting in the belly of a commercial passenger airplane that is already en route to LA. Even after sharing my fourth pasta dish, I didn’t feel sickeningly full. Perhaps the light texture made with specially sourced eggs not available in the US combined with the age-old technique of sheeting and cutting pasta by the Sfoglina in the Bologna kitchen results in this superior noodle with a deep yellow color that perfectly bonds with the sauces.
Expect classic pasta dishes like Amatriciana, Tagliatelle al Ragu, Cacio e Pepe, Tortellini, Meat Lasagne made with green pasta, Tonnarelli Carbonara with egg, guanciale, 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and black pepper, and Ricotta Ravioli in Pomodoro sauce. Two of the four founders created Sushi Nozawa (SUGARFISH, KazuNori, Nozawa Bar) and are responsible for this pasta concept, thus we can expect the same values and commitment to serve incredible food.
Drink: Red and white wine, Peroni or Angelo Poretti, Mexican Coke
Share: As many pasta dishes as you can eat, but we were happy to share the Tagliatelle al Ragú, and Clams Pasta, a “Massimini” family recipe with red chili pepper and a nice helping of open shelled fresh clams on yellow buttery noodles.
Order: Since you probably won’t want to share this one, order the Tortellini Crema di Parmigiano all to yourself. The handmade meat tortellini in cream of Parmigiano-Reggiano is creamy and sinful and by far our favorite.
Don’t miss: The delicious Tagliatelle al Ragú, a better version of my favorite Bolognese pasta, made in the “original” style with no cheese, milk, or cream, just pasta and meat.
Nerano in Beverly Hills
Nestled into one of our favorite streets in Beverly Hills, just a walk away from the Peninsula Hotel lies the intimate mod white tablecloth Nerano, the fourth restaurant from the Toscana Restaurant Group. Sprung from the vision of owners Andy Brandon-Gordon and Carlo Brandon-Gordon’s Amalfi Coast trips to the village of Nerano, they became inspired by the temperate climate, the simplicity of the coastal cuisine and the welcoming Italian culture. Behind our half-moon booth was the bar and upstairs, the new swank BG Lounge reminiscent of Bemelmans Bar at New York’s Carlyle Hotel or Bar Hemingway in Paris. Executive Chef Michele Lisi’s uses only the finest California and imported Italian ingredients.
Drink: Select a Napa Valley Cabernet or the ‘Sorrento’ made with El Jimador Silver Tequila, Fresh Lime, Cucumber Water, Scrappy’s Firewater, Sal de Gusano and topped with a Fresno Chili Pepper.
Share: Crudo Tasting consisting of super fresh Icelandic halibut, salmon, and yellowtail, all enhanced with just the right dab of ponzu, radish, chili pepper, grapefruit, or Tuscan mint.
Order: Gnudi, gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese instead of potato. The result is a lighter, “pillowy” dish. Nerano’s Ricotta and Spinach Gnudi is complimented with chanterelle mushrooms, toasted sage, and black truffle. Their signature dish Spaghetti all Nerano is simple and light made with sauteed Italian zucchini, squash blossoms, provolone, and basil. Spaghetti with clams and Bolognese with Black Angus Beef Ragu are exceptional pasta choices too.
Dessert: For a light option, sample the Lemon and Coconut Sorbet. For a richer option, share the Nocciolino cup filled with Guanaja Dark Chocolate Mousse and crunch hazelnut gelato topped with toasted Italian Meringue.
Don’t miss: Ask for specials not on the menu like Porchetta Pizza thinly sliced with truffle, burrata, and mozzarella. Porchetta is often so rich that this is a flavorful new way to experience pork roast on the wood-fired oven dough.
Toscana in Brentwood
Bar Toscana sits on one side while the more formal Tuscan trattoria sits adjacent, but they both serve food. The lively cocktail bar has been open since 2010 while the restaurant has been around for almost 30 years! That is quite a feat in Los Angeles where peoples’ tastes change daily and many Angelenos tire of restaurants only open a year due to their desire for something new. Like an old-school Italian restaurant with white tablecloths, this quaint rustic establishment is always buzzing with dates, business meeting dinners, and family gatherings.
Drink: Handcrafted cocktails are inspired by Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy. For those who enjoy Mezcal, order the smoky spicy Mr. Diaz (Mezcal with blood orange, chipotle, honey, and lime) or the Mexico Picante with reposado tequila, mezcal, jalapeno, cucumber, basil, and lime. Perhaps an Italian aperitif is more your style? For dinner, share a delicious bottle of Cabernet from Frank Family Vineyards.
Share: Creamy burrata on a board with grilled ciabatta, sweet green heirloom tomato jam, and thinly shaved fresh smoked prosciutto. The Tuna Tartar mound comes with shishito peppers, asparagus and black truffles. The thinly pounded raw beef Carpaccio is exceptionally delicious topped with olive oil, arugula, marinated artichokes, black truffles, and shaved pecorino.
Order: Fettuccine Bolognese. Most pastas are made in-house and the sauce is executed the way I like it – heavy on flavor and light on acid. Grilled melt in your mouth Branzino with lemon plated tableside is another excellent option. Try a Toscana classic in their wood-burning oven – Pizza with many toppings, Grilled Veal Chop with butter and sage, Roasted Lamb Chops of New Zealand, Grilled Salmon with arugula and tomatoes, or Filet Mignon with porcini mushrooms, and more
Dessert: Coconut Sorbet in a coconut shell with a bowl of berries is the perfect light ending to a memorable meal.
Don’t miss: Ask for specials like the crispy soft-shelled crab (comes with two) with tender meat that doesn’t even need the sauce.
Beauty and Essex in Hollywood
For your flashy glitzy Hollywood night filled with young hot starlets, enter through a “pawn shop” filled with diamonds and blinged out objects before entering this opulent venue that came to LA by way of NYC and Vegas. Start your wild night out with this fun elevated comfort food from Founder/Chef Chris Santos. The main dining room boasts natural light from a 20-foot oval skylight dripping with a crystal dripping chandelier. An outdoor seating area is also available in a ground floor courtyard and patio on the second level.
Drink: The Beauty Elixir with Botanist Gin, Cucumber, Strawberry, Rosé Sparkling Wine
Share: Forget ordering your own dish, these menu items are meant to be shared. Share the ever-popular bite-sized Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Dumplings on a spoon and Tuna Poke Wonton Tacos. New menu items include sweet Lobster “BLT” Sliders with tomato jam, Grilled Peach Toast with ricotta and honey, and refreshing light Watermelon & Feta Salad with mint, Thai basil, frisee, and cumin-agave dressing – truly a new flavor for us.
Dessert: Warm puffy dreamy”les, nyc” sugared doughnuts that can be dipped in dark chocolate fudge, and berry and caramel sauces.
Don’t miss: Champagne being served in the bathroom. The numerous photo ops inside and out, like the giant glowing “OMG” sign. For a special occasion, order an unforgettable signature cake from Charm City Cakes West ahead of time when making a reservation.