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It took a while for Los Angeles to develop its current reputation as being one of America’s great restaurant towns. In Hollywood’s heyday of the 1940 and 1950s, restaurants were far more famous for their bizarre look—The Brown Derby leaps to mind—and their glittering clientele than for their food. Glamour endured as an attraction in the 1980s when the city went through a copycat French nouvelle cuisine phase, when the term California chic referred as much to what people wore to restaurants as they did to movie openings.
Most of the city’s fine dining places have disappeared—L’Ermitage, Le Dôme, L’Orangerie, Rex Il Ristorante, Valentino, to name a few—replaced by more modern casual places like Spago and Michael’s, which were in the vanguard of the so-called New California Cuisine movement.
Still, Los Angeles has always had pockets of ethnic neighborhoods that manifested its extraordinary immigrant cultures, not least Mexican, amplified by a new generation from China, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
Here are some old and some new restaurants that show the range of Los Angeles’s restaurants where you’ll feel like a star.
6667 Hollywood Boulevard｜323-467-7788
If the essence of Los Angeles is out with the old and make way for the new, Musso & Frank, opened in 1919 by Frank Toulet and Joseph Musso, never got the memo. Since then changes in ownership and location have been minimal, and the huge dining rooms, done up in Hollywood memorabilia, worn leather booths, forest murals and hanging lamps, are steeped in legends, from the time when Charlie Chaplin challenged Douglas Fairbanks to a horse race down Hollywood Boulevard, with the winner picking up the check, and Raymond Chandler wrote chapters of his novel The Big Sleep while sitting at the bar. Located across from the Screen Writers Guild, M&F’s was a place where, as the Los Angeles Times once put it, if you stood in the restaurant’s exclusive Back Room long enough, “you would have seen every living writer you had ever heard of, and some you would not know until later.”
The menu hasn’t changed much over the decades, with old-fashioned dishes like shrimp Louie and sauerbraten with potato pancakes to daily specials like corned beef and cabbage on Tuesdays and bouillabaisse on Fridays. Little of the food would now rank with the best in town, but it’s solid, it’s consistent and M&F’s legion of fans wouldn’t change a thing about any of it.