Stop for a cocktail at Bäco Mercat’s sister restaurant, and order an inventive cocktail like the spicy Zapatista. If you’re in a group, order a margarita pitcher and tuck into some puffy tacos and other Tex-Mex classics.
The toughest reservation to score is at this Italian hot spot, the brainchild of restaurateur Bill Chait (of Sotto and Picca fame) and chef Ori Menashe (of Angelini Osteria). Some say the pasta is the specialty, but others opt for the pizza or the crostini, so try to get a reservation and decide for yourself what they do best.
This trendy steakhouse serves delicious chops and cuts in a bold and colorful environment. With chicken and seafood options as well as traditional bur gourmet sides (black truffle gnocchi, lobster mashed potatoes) and an extensive cocktail menu, Boa is good for both group dining and more intimate meals. There is a second location in Santa Monica (101 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-899-4466).
Bungalow at Fairmont Miramar
Ask your concierge to make a reservation at this seaside hot spot at the Fairmont Miramar. The vibe reminds of Montauk’s Surf Lodge with its orchestrated hippie-chic in a cottage, with surf boards mounted behind the bar, sitting corners of couches and artisanal cocktails made with crafted syrups and homegrown herbs. The crowd is a bit too look-at-me sceny to really go with the laid-back vibe (this is a Brent Bolthouse production, after all), but it’s a fun addition to the Westside, a bit like Chateau Marmont visits the beach.
The atmosphere at this Santa Monica restaurant resembles a French brasserie, while the menu leans toward Southeast Asian cuisine. Housed in a 1937 Art Deco building, Cassia is the latest project from Santa Monica restaurant power couple Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan (of Rustic Canyon and Milo and Olive) in partnership with rising star chef Bryant Ng. The high-ceilinged, 5,000-square-foot dining room is sparsely decorated, with polished concrete walls and floors, and white marble top tables and copper pendant lamps lend warmth to the space. Start with a round of cocktails such as bartender Lava Flow Pina Colada, and move on to Vietnamese prawns, chickpea curry, jellyfish salad and finally, Vietnamese coffee pudding.
DAMA Fashion District
Faith & Flower
The interior at this gorgeous downtown restaurant pays homage to the Roaring Twenties, while the diverse menu attests to L.A.’s multiculturalism. In this showbiz town, it’s appropriate that the team here feels like a star-studded cast: executive chef Michael Hung hails from Daniel and La Folie; pastry chef Ben Spungin is a veteran of Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge; and mixologist Michael Lay takes his cocktails seriously (but not too seriously). Start with an English Milk Punch, a fragrant and heady elixir of bourbon, rum, pineapple and clarified milk; order the oxtail agnolotti with apricot salsa; and finish with the apple and miso crumble.
Before chefs all over town started offering their own haute takes on the burger, there was the granddaddy of them all: the iconic Office Burger. On any given day in Santa Monica, you’ll see locals lining up outside or sitting in their cars along Montana waiting for the doors of a small pub called Father’s Office to open at 5 pm. By 5:15, all eleven of its square wooden tables are claimed; by 5:30, the whole place is packed. Some come for the artisanal beer (the extensive menu is divided into Malty, Hoppy, Yeasty/Spicy, and Fruity/Herbaceous), but most need their fix of the house specialty, a perfectly grilled beef patty with a dollop of melted Gruyere and Maytag Blue, a pile of fresh arugula, a little smoked bacon, and a compote of deeply caramelized onions, all served on a soft French roll. As my cousin explained to me, “It’s the best burger you will ever have in your life, and if you ask for ketchup they will throw you out.” Trust me, you won’t need the ketchup. The burger is flawless and the fries (thin, delicate, curly, with a dusting of parsley) come with an insanely addictive garlic aioli dipping sauce. Don’t expect glam surroundings—this is, after all, a burger-and-beer affair, where you place your order with the bartender. But know that you’ll be dreaming of it long afterwards. There is a new, much bigger location in LA, but it will never match the heart and soul of the Santa Monica original.
Fountain Coffee Room
The coffee shop at the Beverly Hills Hotel with its legendary banana leaf wallpaper, curvy counter and wrought-iron counter stools is a fun spot for a casual meal with kids. It opens early for breakfast, serves salads and burgers at lunch and dinner and is rightly famous for its homemade ice cream. But note that there are only 19 seats at the counter—and the counter is all there is—so it can be tough to get more than a few seats together.
This Beverly Hills hot spot from pasta genius Evan Funke (also behind LA’s Felix and Mother Wolf) is one L.A.'s hardest reservations. The specialties are Funke’s now-signature handmade pastas, including highlights like tortelli di zucca and a duck ragú. Another must-try: the light-as-a-cloud sfincione in bianco, a Sicilian take on foccaccia.
Expanding across two floors, the interiors’ design doesn’t quite match the quality of the food. Music is also loud enough to make actual conversation difficult. One tip: there are reservations needed at Funke's rooftop, Bar Funke, an elegant terrace that serves fancy cocktails, small bites and a selection of pizzas.
Recommended by Indagare Ambassador Andrea Feldman Falcione
Jon and Vinny's
Despite its friendly, casual vibe, this Italian eatery is far from the average neighborhood pizzeria. Named after owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (creators of LA staples Animal, Son of a Gun and Trois Mec, 716 N Highland Ave), this pint-sized restaurant serves scrumptious pastas and perfectly charred pizzas using simple but sublime ingredients. The interior is wrapped in white oak (the architect, Jeff Guga, previously worked for Frank Gehry), with artist-designed pizza boxes stacked along the walls. There’s also an on-site wine shop, Helen’s, which boasts an impeccable selection.
Note: A Brentwood location serves the same menu at a much more convenient location for travelers staying in Santa Monica or visiting The Getty.
With food from famed Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi and interiors designed by Philippe Starck, Katsuya’s eight locations (three of which are in Los Angeles) offers innovative sushi in spectacularly chic surroundings. An Indagare member raves, ‘Katsuya is always terrific. Standouts there include the baked crab roll and the seared tuna with Japanese salsa (I prefer this to their signature crispy rice with spicy tuna.)
Orsa & Winston
Pioneering and beloved chef Josef Centeno, whose Bäco Mercat could be easily credited with making downtown Los Angeles a culinary destination, takes on fine dining at this omakase restaurant. Whether you opt for the five- nine- or 20-course meal, expect unusual pairings that balance elegance and audacity, with some subtle cues from Japan and Italy: eggplant and abalone with pomegranate seeds and scallions; sunchoke and salsify soup with pickled grapes; satsuki rice with uni. Relinquish control to Centeno, you won’t be disappointed.
For foodies—or anyone really—no trip to LA is complete without a dinner at Osteria Mozza. The team behind the popular Pizzeria Mozza (next door) followed up with a marvelous Italian restaurant that’s wildly, and deservedly, popular. The large interior has an upscale bistro ambience, centered—physically and spiritually—on the huge mozzarella bar. As you peruse the menu, banish thoughts of salad and proceed directly to the über-fresh cheeses. There are more than a dozen picks, each big enough to share, so order several. The incredibly tender and creamy burricotti, for instance, is served on two crostini and topped with roasted radicchio, crisp spiced walnuts, a drizzle of honey and fried rosemary. Or consider burrata with bacon, ricotta with hazelnuts, or bufala mozzarella with pesto. Of course, there are fabulous pastas (even a pasta tasting menu), and entrées like gnocchi with duck ragu or cedar-smoked wild salmon. Be sure to try the desserts. Osteria Mozza is the kind of place where, before the meal is even over, you are already planning your next visit. Is tomorrow too soon? Reservations several weeks in advance are absolutely essential.
Nancy Silverton, the talent behind the bonanza of La Brea Bakery, opened this stylish gourmet pizza joint, which serves pies topped with either wild nettles or eggs, plus any combination of guanciale, radicchio and bagna cauda. Salads and desserts are solid too. It took off the minute it opened, so don’t plan on coming without a reservation unless you don’t mind standing around waiting for a seat at the too-cramped bar. Don’t miss sister restaurant Osteria Mozza, which has a more upscale menu and a mozzarella bar. On busy nights, the restaurant can be quite loud.