I would avoid the Grove and go to the Farmer's Market. Personal favorites are Loteria, Moishe's (even though their prices keep going up) and the Banana Leaf.
The Farmer's Market is one of the best places in LA to eat and people watch. It's become a lot more crowded since the Grove opened, but it is still a great place.
The Grove is not a destination.
In the FM, I also like Loteria. Monsieur Marcel. Malaysian place for salads. Ulysses Voyage for mezze platter. Brazilian place too.
You're so close to so many other places, so if you give an idea of what kind of food you're looking for and price range, we can probably help you out further...
to name a few...
Ethiopian on Fairfax (Meals by Genet, Rahel)
Joan's on 3rd
It's true. The Grove is fine for shopping, but it's not a culinary destination, at least not with all the great restaurants on nearby 3rd Street and Beverly Blvd and the great casual/eclectic dining at the Farmers Market.
That said, if you are eating at the Grove, Farm Beverly Hills is not a bad mid-range choice. And there's a little hidden place called the Whisper Lounge which is great for cocktails and appetizers. You'd never know you were in a mall.
There's also TART across the street at the Farmer's Daughter Motel.
But if you were gonna spend the money on one of the nicer places there, you might as well venture out into a one-mile radius of The Grove where you'll really get your money's worth.
To name a few.
Yay for Chameau! This is definitely what I'd recommend as the best restaurant in relation to proximity to The Grove. I also really enjoy Cobras & Matadors on Beverly. And let's not forget that Lucques isn't too far away, either.
I haven't gotten to Tasca, just down Third at Crescent Heights, but I want to. It looks great, and it's right near The Grove, too, as is Pastis, another I've-been-meaning-to-get-there place.
I just don't really like The Farmer's Market anymore. It was awesome before The Grove opened up, and it had a relaxed vibe and nice old-fashioned places to eat. Now it's the pedestrian version of the 405 on a Monday rush hour, and the restaurants tend towards the overpriced, trendy, and soulless. (Loteria, I'm looking squarely at you.) Hell, it has a Starbucks and a Pinkberry in it now. Let's face it, folks: The Farmer's Market is no longer The Farmer's Market - it's now just the food court for The Grove.
What everyone else said -- the Grove has basically the same package of restaurants you'd find in an upscale mall in Texas.
The Farmer's Market has a lot of great options for lunch or solo dinner, but the trappings aren't really nice enough to have a good "dinner out" at.
I'd add Dolce to the list of places nearby people have suggested. Some claim it's overrated and overpriced but I had great food and a great experience there.
There is a somewhat unusual, very large Sushi restaurant on the second floor of the eastern edge of Farmer's Market - at the interface between the Market and the Grove. They have, in one section, a sushi conveyor belt, another section has teppan, and they have nice roof top-type seating in another section. Sorry, I forgot the name.
I went to Kado... knew one of the sushi chefs and got a free fixed price meal in the sushi conveyor side. It may not be fair to judge the soft opening with how the place currently operates, but the sushi prices were expensive and the flavor was quite bland. Rice was not properly seasoned and I felt they were pawning fish ends on us. Cannot recommend. Definitely try Moishe's (really amazingly fantastic middle eastern food, if a little too pricey), Singapore Banana Leaf for some excellent laksa (spicy chicken and tofu coconut soup with rice noodles) and fluffy, lovely goliath pancakes at 24-hour Du Pars. Also, be sure to check out Magee's for the super succulent, flavorful corned beef and fresh horseradish... it's actually one of the original restaurants from when the market opened in the 1930's (though I'd avoid the fully gringo-ized yellow cheese Meximerican steam table dishes). Go to Bennet's for great homemade ice cream (albeit outrageously expensive) and swing by Bob's for a real old fashioned buttermilk doughnut. Banish the light and airy Krispy Kreme's from your mind... these are dense, but at the same time are moist and crumbly and outrageously good when dunked in coffee.
Avoid the barbecue and chinese food joints at all costs. Pizza, if you must, next to Bob's doughnuts but NOT the one at the other end of the market.
Incidentally, no food trip to LA would be complete without at least one visit to the San Gabriel Valley for Chinese food. Most white people miss it entirely. Search this board (or check out Jonathan Gold's reviews at laweekly.com)
re: Mr Taster
Singapore Banana Leaf- I'm a huge fan. The laska is great and the noodle dish with the egg and chicken skewered (can someone help me with the name) is fantastic! Prices are reasonable and service is courteous.
Moishe's: I like the family vibe at that place but its just too pricey for the type of food. The fallafal plate is like $12 but I can get a tastier version for only $6.
Thats more of a locals gripe, its a good alternative to other places in the FM.
It's worth acknowledging that despite the Disneyfied atmosphere with it's Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano's and Wood Ranch chain outposts, unlike your average American mall, The Grove does have a handful of "decent" independent restaurants: La Piazza, Morels (upstairs and down) and the aforementioned Farm BH and Whisper Lounge. I just would never choose them over the much better places in the surrounding area, unless it was out of pure convenience.
That said, depending on your "cultural" bent, I imagine there are plenty of folks who might be enchanted by dining al fresco in the shadow of a dancing fountain.
I second the note on Morels and Whisper Lounge. The dinner I had at Whisper was actually good enough for me to return. As for Morels, it's my go-to spot for drinks and charcuterie plate when I'm at The Grove anyway for an evening movie.
I must admit, though, that I'd rather head to Hirozen or Cobras for dinner than any of The Grove restaurants if I have no further shopping to do for the night.
By the way, has anyone else noticed that with Pinkberry taking over the spot once occupied by an actual fruit and veg stand (this is a FARMER'S market, after all) that there are now only 2 remaining produce stands in the market....
At the Grove: I know some people here recoil at the notion that a chain restaurant can serve a decent meal but my friends and I have always been happy with Maggiano's (especially the lobster ravioli or the braised beef cannelloni) and Wood Ranch Grill (the barbecued tri-tip).
And I still love Farmer's Market, though you have to know which stands to hit. I really like the barbecued beef and chicken sandwiches at Bryan's BBQ. Don't much care for their ribs but they do sandwiches well. Right near them is the China Depot that serves a great won ton soup and a good grilled chicken in a kind of Chinese teriyaki sauce.
Magee's serves an incredible, hand-carved corned beef sandwich. Bob's donuts are great and so is Bennett's ice cream. The spaghetti at Patsy's is a great comfort food, though I prefer the spaghetti across the street at Andre's in the shopping mall with the Whole Foods Market.
Also at Farmer's Market, there's a Brazilian barbecue that has great carved meats and a very good Chicken Stroganoff in the buffet.
I like the teppan cooking at Kado but haven't been impressed with their sushi. It's a very friendly place though and rarely crowded.