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Looking for an UNUSUAL restaurant

My birthday's fast approaching, and in keeping with my tradition of celebrating it at a MEMORABLE eatery, I'm trying to find a place that fits that description. Past examples: Bahooka's, Guelaguetza, Lowenbrau Keller... You get the idea - a place
a) with an extremely UNIQUE ambience
b) with decent-to-great food (while food's less important in this case, I still want it to be edible!)
c) reasonably priced
d) within a 10-mile (give or take) radius of the city

Ethnic restaurants are great (and seem to most often fit the specs. Although if Clifton's was open later at night, I have it there in heartbeat). If it's got a private room, or is small enough to take over with 30 people (eg. Polka) -- so much the better.

I welcome all suggestions. (And would be happy to invite the winner -- as my guest -- to the celebration... which is always a blast!)

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  1. I recently had a birthday dinner at Tagine Restaurant on Robertson in Beverly Hills. The food is Moroccan, with a gourmet twist, and very good. They have a tasting menu that runs around $40 per person -- the food is varied, fun, delicious -- and nobody will leave hungry, as portions are generous. Service is excellent and the ambiance is nice as well. With a group of 30 you could probably take over the whole place.

    Here's a link to their webpage: http://www.taginecuisine.com/

    Here's a link to a photo review that Perceptor did a while back, which gives you a sense of the ambiance and the tasting menu (although the items vary):


    1. For some reason I'm thinking of the Gardens of Taxco. Maybe it's more kitsch than you're after and the food isn't terrific, but it's not bad. And it's fun.

      2 Replies
      1. re: pnoeric

        My first thought was of the Gardens of Taxco, too. It's fun and feels different and festive. It's pretty small--I don't know how they'd feel about someone taking it over for the night, but with 30 people, you'd probably come close. I went for a smaller birthday gathering and there seemed to be many others taking place, so I'm sure they're used to dealing with parties. And I agree with pnoeric--the food isn't great, but it's not bad. I have friends from Texas who love it and feel it's the closest to the Mexican food they get back home, so some obviously like it more than others. The only other weird thing is that they don't have a liquor license, so the margaritas are made of one of those weird sweet potato wines or something. They're not bad though--especially after you've had a few!

        1. re: sarahvagaca

          Gardens of Taxco has a back room for parties. don't know how big it is though.

      2. I like Dar Maghreb for unique and for groups given you can order family style, and then of course, you eat with your hands.

        I don't know if Ethiopian counts as unusual, but Messob and Rahel would be options if so. Magic Carpet for Yemenite cuisine.

        With groups, I have found places of sharing fun, i.e. korean bbq, shabu shabu, or fondue concepts...

        Asia de Cuba might be a fun choice as well.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Emme

          Dhar Maghreb definitely. Gorgeous, exotic interior and you eat with your fingers on low couches, patrolled by belly dancers.

          Or if you're looking for pure hoopla, the Saddle Ranch Chop House, with mechanical bull - lots of tipsy but cute types choosing to ride said bull with comical results, and as I recall, decent steaks.

          1. re: Emme

            I went to Dar Maghreb a few years ago with a group of people, and we had a blast. I recommend it.

          2. How about Carousel? I was there last week, had a fantastic meal, and on Friday and Saturday nights there's bellydancing.


            1. Ever been to La Velvet Margarita on Cahuenga? It's got a funky atmosphere and the food is pretty good. They have a private 'white room' and a patio you can reserve.


              1. Thinking Dal Rae, but not sure how they can accommodate a party this large, not sure about private rooms or the cost. Cherries Jubilee anyone?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jesdamala

                  I've rented private rooms there many times. They have a smaller private area just off the front and they have a bigger room in the back. I had a party for 40 people in the back room and we fit in easily. They handle large parties with ease -- great service, great food, etc. It's a great place...

                2. How about a Brasilian Churrascaria? All you can eat grilled meats served from the skewer to your plate. Green Field in Long Beach has a large room, and large tables for bigger groups and is not nearly as pricey as Fogo de Chao in BH. These are truly good cuts of meat, and the restaurant is a pretty accurate picture of the experience in Brasil.

                  1. I highly recommend Tangier in Los feliz. I had a birthday there and loved it.
                    website: www.tangierrestaurant.net
                    They have an awesome lounge that you can usually get private on Saturdays from 7-10 for free. The room then has a Free, yes I said Free, dj at 10pm. It has
                    great food and it is reasonably priced. I had a wonderful party there last year. It is decorated in African/ moroccan style , and has a patio for the smokers....

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sallybean

                      My understanding is that Tangier is closed for renovation and under new ownership.

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        I drove by it the other day and it was open. I think there are new owners, but it is still the same.

                    2. Damon's Glendale

                      Tam O Shanter ( 70 year old waitresses in short kilts, what could be more memorable).

                      La Golondrina Olvera Street (I'm fairly sure they either have a large room or let you take over the restaurant). And the margaritas are good.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mlgb

                        The Stinking Rose (garlic) restaurent on La Cienega might be a little Disneylandish, but the ambiance is great fun mock-middle eastern/Morrocan/Moorish. The food is surprisingly ungarlicy, as well as not all that remarkable. But I'd bring a party there for a fun atmosphere and decent-enough food.

                        1. re: ecaitlin

                          I have to say that I've found every meal I've had at Stinking Rose disappointing, and left every time vowing never to return (then end up stuck there for a party or whatnot). There's no free bread or any pre-meal product, and that got under my skin. I really wanted to like the chicken last time, and the bf's eggplant lasagna, but I just couldn't convince myself. And, the garlic ice cream.... um, no thanks :-)

                      2. a) with an extremely UNIQUE ambience= Nova Sci-Fi Cafe
                        b) with decent-to-great food (while food's less important in this case, I still want it to be edible!)= Nova Cafe
                        c) reasonably priced= Nova Cafe
                        d) within a 10-mile (give or take) radius of the city= Nova Cafe, across from Canter's on Fairfax


                        Although, as one person described how Gardens of Taco is small, Nova is probably even smaller.

                        1. El Chavo Mexican Restaurant on Sunset definitely fits your criteria - sort of a psychedelic Diego Rivera style, big place with parking in back and very reasonably priced. Food is at least decent. The Prince Korean Restaurant (7th & Catalina) probably also fits your criteria but only if you like Korean food. Plenty of Room but you might have to divide up in booths. Can't beat the ambiance. Prices are reasonable if you share enormous plates. Venice Room Perhaps. Not extremely unique but close. I think Miceli's in Hollywood (Las Palmas branch) would fit the bill if you reserve a big table. Sit upstairs near the piano.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Paliau

                            The Prince does have private rooms, although they are substantially less glamorous than the main dining room. They're good at doing the banquet thing too.

                          2. Crystal might work for you. It's a Russian restaurant at Fairfax and SM and has only one seating per night - so you go for the whole night. In between courses (there are lots of them - you pick your menu ahead of time) and vodka, everyone goes to the dance floor in the center of the room (imagine a wedding reception room). There's usually a Russian band that plays Russian and American songs. It's a very different experience and could be really fun if your crowd is open to it.

                            1. On a totally different tangent, at the top of Beachwood are some stables. You can take a sunset horseback ride through Griffith Park, over the hill into Burbank. Then have a Mexican dinner with margaritas and ride back over the hill.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: lil mikey

                                That is such a romantic idea! What mexican restaurant are you referring to? Is that the only dining in that area in mid-horseback riding?


                                1. re: chica

                                  http://www.sunsetranchhollywood.com/d... The dinner is at Viva at the entrance to the LA Equestrian Center- good margaritas, music,...only okay Mexican food,- no one really seems to care much, since the ride is really not about the food ..it's fun - romantic may be a stretch - generally a large group of riders, and the wranglers will do their best to keep you together, tho' there are places on the route where you can spread out and not be in a line... on a clear evening the view alone is worth the ride,

                                  1. re: Local

                                    Are you sure you don't feel like falling off on the ride back, after a few margaritas???!!! Hee hee

                                2. re: lil mikey

                                  That is a great idea -- and I've done it -- but if I can pass along a VERY smart suggestion:
                                  START and FINISH the horseback riding in Burbank (there's a stable there, as well) --- then finish the evening at the restaurant. The combo of Mexican food & margaritas has been known to make some people queasy on the return trip on the back of a horse... :)

                                  1. re: cleanmyplate

                                    I know -- that's what I was thinking!! LOL

                                    1. re: cleanmyplate

                                      From personal experience, the margarita made me a lot more authoritative with the horse. I found the horse much more obedient after my shot of liquid courage...

                                  2. Dar Maghreb is certainly unusual, but most certainly NOT reasonably priced. For less money you can go to Soot Bull Jeep in Koreatown for a very unusual experience to go with great food and a fun birthday atmosphere. No cakes, but plenty of soju! Not sure it will be accept a party as large as 30 people, though, without closing down the hole restaurant.

                                    1. Hello... Any objection to a daytime (and weekend) celebration? If not, how about the upcoming Water Festival at the North Hollywood Wat Thai this month? The variety of street vendor chow combined with the extra celebratory aspect of the festival (read: huge crowds) should be a unique way to ring in a birthday. Only drawback: it's on temple grounds, so obviously no boozin' !

                                      1. I've never been to Opaque, but based on the description, I'd say the ambiance was fairly close to unique.


                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: PaulF

                                          Trader Vic's!! Need I say more!!! : )

                                          1. re: aurora50

                                            yes. Trader Vic's is icky, food wise. Drinks are fun.

                                        2. POLKA in Eagle Rock is fun and completely one of a kind...the owner is a tad eccentric and has transformed a corner of a strip mall into a sort of Salvador Dali painting meets cozy Polish Eatery. Very warm service and AMAZING perogies all make for a very UNUSUAL but completely satisfying dining experience.

                                          1. Moun of Tunis is the place for you. Eat Morrocan food with your finges with huge towels on your lap. Lots of fun and pretty good food. This is a smaller more family style than the opulent Dar Mcgreb. Much less expensive too.

                                            Everyone we have taken loved it, even my picky eater cousin.


                                            Moun-Of-Tunis Restaurant
                                            7445 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
                                            (323) 874-3333

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Wes

                                              I love Moun of Tunis, too. We enjoy going there

                                              1. re: Wes

                                                I was going to suggest Moun of Tunis as well ... I planned my husband's "Rockin' the Casbah" b-day there a few years back and it was pretty fabulous. We had a big group and with the private rooms that feel like little kitchy little Shangri-las, the belly dancers, and all that eating with your hands ... it is totally fun and off the wall. The food may not be the best Moroccan I've ever had, but the staff is super attentive and the food is on the pretty-good side. They have a lot of selections too ... we had some vegetarians in the group and they were happy with the offerings. The restaurant let me bring a big cake that I had made at Hansen's and held it in their fridge while we partied. They brought it out at just the right time. If you plan to do that though ... just remember to bring your own forks! ;)

                                              2. DAMON'S ... lots of fun, my review:
                                                If you live in the SGV and have never been to Damon’s Steak House, then shame on you!!! It’s camp, it’s retro, it’s fun, it’s a time warp, it’s a tiki hut monument to the bovine. The restaurant has been there for-ever! And the clientele is amusing to say the least, oh and the food is good, but don’t expect JJ’s or Morton’s you will be disappointed.

                                                Expect big strong mai tai’s, double stuffed potatoes instead of baked, beets in your salad with some house dressing that is a bit like French, and big steaks. They recently added a rib eye to their menu, this is my favorite cut, so it is what I order. Just enough marbling and fat, and cooked nicely at medium rare. The portions are big, and you will not leave hungry or sober, unless you don’t drink mai tai's!

                                                Damon’s is not for everyone. If your culinary palate is snobby, or you don’t like bamboo, umbrella drinks, Hawaiian shirts or waitresses who have been there for-ever, then go somewhere else. But Damon’s fills a need for a big steak at a small price, for a strong drink, and some atmosphere and entertainment. My 23 year old niece loves it. We go together, it bridges the generation gap.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: rantsnravesnreviews

                                                  I second and my GF thirds Damons. The tenderloin, butterflied is our choice every time. Butterflied to keep the char down It is excellent. the stuffed potato is good Optional garlic bread. Yum

                                                  The house salad has a light French type dressing. they have other dressings but we stick with the default. Not usually out type of dressing but it is quite good so we have not been tempted to change.


                                                  1. re: Wes

                                                    So, Cleanmyplate, what's looking good? Who will be the winner? Just curious-

                                                    1. re: aurora50

                                                      Call ahead and order the the Baked Catfish at Phong Din, Viet Namese, on San Gabriel blvd.. Then order more off the menu, (We tried kangaroo, frogs legs, wild boar and goat riblets. When your finished, runover a couple of blocks and have everybody get a Chinese foot massage (real thing - no jokes :) for $15 an hour at Twin Jade on Valley. You'll have a memorable b'day

                                                2. "AND THE WINNER IS..."
                                                  First of all, THANKS for all the great suggestions!
                                                  Several were right on the money... I know, since I've already CELEBRATED my birthday there (Polka, La Golondrina, Carousel - swell places, all)!
                                                  Others will definitely be on my future party list (Phong Din, The Prince, Soot Bull Jeep).
                                                  And thanks for reminding me about the Water Fest at Wat Thai -- can't wait to go again.
                                                  For you Damon's (and even Trader Vic's) fans, if you've haven't been, you ougtha check out Bahooka's in Rosemead (if only for the ambience & drinks).
                                                  And I'd definitely add Marrakesh in Studio City to any list of Moroccan "group" eateries (tons of private/semi-private rooms, reasonably priced.)
                                                  I look forward to trying Green Field, as well as Crystal -- having already had memorable party experiences at Uzbekistan and Traktir (Hollywood & WeHo, respectively).
                                                  And I think I can a wrangle a friend to take me to the Dal Rae as a bd gift. :)
                                                  Finally, if you're looking for a one-of-a-kind dining experience, you might wanna head over to Athen's Royal Garden in North Hollywood, PRONTO -- even though if the service is so-so, and you may well be the only diners there (and it's Armenian, not Greek -- go figure). It's all outdoors amidst fake waterfalls and concrete Koi ponds... with live BUNNIES and BIRDS hoppin'/flyin' around!! (Plus, my friends & I thought the hummus, grape leaves, tabouli,etc. were as good/better as any we've had in LA). I would've definitely had my party there -- had they not just SOLD the place! (I think they're closing 4/16th) :(
                                                  Anyway, I've picked TWO places for this year's birthday bashe(s), namely...
                                                  (drum roll, please)
                                                  Guantanamera Cuban Restaurant, in Burbank (authentic food, great mojitos, private room, LIVE music)
                                                  the Tam O'Shanter (it was the70-year-kilt-wearing waitresses that got my attention... but the chilled salad forks, Toad-in-the-hole, and "specialty" souffles which sealed the deal)
                                                  Thanks, "mlgb" -- contact me if you'd like to be my guest of honor at either place!
                                                  (And if anyone would like to take ME to dinner at Opaque, feel free... LOL!)

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: cleanmyplate

                                                    Hey, that's great! I'll be in touch. It was your reference to Lowenbrau Keller that made me think of Tam!

                                                  2. Seriously unique. Try Athen's Royal Garden in North Hollywood. The place is big and usually pretty quiet. There are bunnies and birds everywhere and it serves Russian food. (not greek, like the name suggests). Oh, and the Borscht soup is incredible. Look it up on citysearch, I think there was a review there.

                                                    1. Another unusual place is the lowenbraukeller on beverly. Good german food and an interior that looks like Liberace and a dominatrix did a pile of blow and decided to decorate. God I love the place.