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Quintessential LA?

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I have a good friend coming to LA with his wife for a very quick visit. I get to take them out to dinner just one night. While there is no shortage of restaurants I love, I have a list a mile long - I was curious how fellow chowhounds would answer this question (and give me some ideas in the process ) :

If you could bring out of town guests to only one restaurant, and you wanted to give them a great feel/experience of LA, where would you bring them?

I don't necessarily mean the best food -- though it needs to be decent. Nor is price important -- cheap or expensive is fine. I can't make up my mind. I don't necessarily want to bring them to a personal favorite like Campanile or Luques, for although the food and service at such a restaurant are superior, I am not sure they typify 'LA." Would it be an LA institution like Musso's, El Cholo, Taylor's, El Coyote, etc? Or a place like Lawry's, Phillipe's or Empress Pavilion, something they are not likely to experience anywhere else? Or rather a place that just has an 'LA feel,' for lack of a better term? Obviously, this will change from person to person, depending on your view of our city. As I was trying to decide, I thought it might make for good Los Angeles Chowhound fodder.

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  1. I like to take people to the Bel Air Hotel to eat on the terrace because the setting is so unbelievably beautiful, and so LA. But I guess you don't get Mexican food in a lot of other places so El Cholo is a good choice.

    1. LA is so diverse that it is impossible to name one restaurant that is quintessential. That's what makes LA great -- there is an enormous amount of variety, and you can have a completely different culinary experience, depending on the restaurant. That's also what makes LA problematic -- there's no one central place that represents the community as a whole. LA is a balkanized city to a large extent, so whatever restaurant you choose will be representative only of a faction of the LA community.

      I would suggest a trendy restaurant where celebrities go on a regular basis; to me, that's quintessential LA, since LA is really about the entertainment industry. But others, of course, will disagree.

      1. Talk about overloading the data banks....I do think you are better off taking your friends to one of your favorites. That way you can do a much better job of insuring that they have a wonderful meal. Los Angeles is so diverse in terms of food/culture that you will never be able to give them a one meal tutorial. I think if it is just for food I would blow the budget at Chinois. You can be sure that they will remember an all out meal there for years to come. Just remember to tell us where you end up going and what you ate.

        1. Oooooh, good question. Depending on where my out of towners are from, I like to go places that are uniquely LA-y, yet cater to their culinary whims. Granted, some of these spots are not exactly the epicenter of culinary nirvana in LA, but I think the ambience makes up for it. Plus, as hosts, it's not all about us. (Or is it?)

          If it's someone who likes panoramic vistas, I'd take them to Windows, Yamashiro or The Lobster for a drink. For old school Cali beach charm, and assuming you didn't have too stiff a cocktail at said panoramic watering holes, I'd hit Neptune's Net, Reel Inn or another Malibu area "dive"...especially in the late afternoon/early evening the drive is gorgeous and leisurely.

          Empress Pavillion, coupled with a Dodgers game and dog and/or shopping (stop at Phillipe's later if you're a complete glutton for punishment), can't be beat for low budget thrills. However, I'd take the precaution of making sure it's not too exotic...I once took an out of town guest to EP and he was so not into it.

          Many of my friends are charmed by Musso's, but just as many curmudgeons "don't get it."

          For Mexican/Latin food I'd forego El Cholo - if I want a greasy Mexican joint I'll stick to El Conquistador - and head to Border Grill. I've hit The Lobster for cocktails at sunset, Border Grill for dinner and the Promenade for walk + ice cream after dinner and my guests loved it.

          Let us know what you decide!

          1. It all depends on what you're trying to accomplish.
            If you want your out of town guess to experience the LA that they've see and read about,the answer is Spago.
            Dine at a celebrity chef's restaurant, rub elbows with entertainment execs, see stars and be served over priced, over hyped cuisine by waiter/actors
            I find that when I show out of town guess an LA that differs from what they've come to except, they seem unsatisfied by the experience.
            If you insist on showing your guess that LA is more than Hollywood, take them to the original EL Cholo.
            What could be more LA than Americans eating Mexican food in a Korean Town.