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Visiting LA, Some 'must have' recs, please.

I will be visiting LA in the middle of February with my family and have been browsing this board relatively frequently as of late trying to make meal plans. While I myself have been to town a couple times, this will be the first time with the family.

As my sister and mother are huge pancake fans, we're already planning to hit Griddle Cafe and Doughboys (I've been to both and simply want to take them for the laugh-out-loud audactiy of the menu) for Breakfasts. I've been to Toast and Square One already and although great, neither are as 'wow.'

Additionally, my sister is a big Wolfgang Puck fan and has made Spago a must-have.

My question is where to head for our other 3 meals, one of which is to be Italian (I've had Batali's cuisine in NYC and am leaning towards Mozza) and the others ideally sushi and something 'american-esque.' I tried Koi last year and was underwhelmed, Simon and was mildly impressed, and had C&O Trattoria which was good for a lunch on the beach.

We definitely want higher end places, albeit not overpriced with small portions (my mother, love her to death, isn't going to appreciate tiny portions and large pricetags, even if made with high end ingredients) and it would be ideal if the sushi option had 'other' dishes such as chicken.

In terms of price, trying to hit less than $70pp +tax and tip (not including alcohol) for each meal.

So far I was thinking Mastro's and Hokusai but also am interested in opinions for the "LA Experience" + decent portions + good food and atmosphere.

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  1. I think there are a few things to consider depending on what you want to do:
    View-you could hit the patio at Boa-West Hollywood with a view of downtown, or Katana with a view of the strip.
    Cooking-You could hit Bastide for the absurdity of the aesthetic but the sublime cooking of Walter Manzke.
    You could hit the tasting menu at Providence.
    (neither of those would be under $70.00pp)
    You could do Osteria Mozza but it's nothing you wouldn't get in NYC...but Pizzeria Mozza for lunch would be great.
    Speaking of lunch, how about Pink's for the sheer tourism of it.
    Maybe you could hit Santa Monica or Malibu for a beach experience.

    I love the Griddle but be prepared to wait for at least an hour on the weekend.

    My absolute must low-end but fun place when I have visitors in LA is Fish Grill on Beverly Blvd just west of La Brea. It's a traditional Jewish location, closed on Fridays/Saturdays but has AMAZING fish tacos for a reasonable price.

    1. Italian - Osteria Mozza is definitely an LA experience, with the frequent celeb sightings, so I would stick with that.

      Sushi - It will be less likely for a sushi spot to carry chicken; more often if they carry some other protein, it'll be beef. Check out Matsuhisa's menu to see if it'll fit your budget.

      American - Grace would definitely fit the bill here.

      Grace Restaurant
      7360 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

      Pizzeria Mozza
      6602 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038

      129 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

      1. For Japanese, you may want to take your family to Gonpachi. It doesn't get a lot of love on this board but my visitors from Japan actually thought it's equilavent to the Gonpachi in Tokyo. You will be dining in a 300-yr-old Japanese house surrounded by a beautiful koi garden. Their tasting menu ($35 & $58) are beautifully presented. Sushi and many cooked items are served. Serive can be off sometimes, but overall it's quite a nice experience.

        134 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

        1. PLEASE don't waste one of your meals [or your money] at mastro's.

          for a true "l.a." experience you're better off at someplace like dan tana's or the grill on the alley...or if it doesn't have to be steak, take mom to the ivy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            oops, links didn't take. let's try that again...

            Grill On the Alley
            9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

            Dan Tana's Restaurant
            9071 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90069

            113 N Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048

          2. I'm not so sure about Doughboys -- it seems to be in decline, from my personal, unprofessional survey. The pancakes are probably pretty safe, though, if that's what you're after.

            As for higher end, American-esque restaurants, I would recommend Joe's on Abbot Kinney in Venice, Josie in Santa Monica, and JiRaffe (they've got a great prix fixe deal on Monday nights). You should be able to stay within your price-range at all those places very easily, without compromising on anything.

            The recently re-opened Bastide is getting rave reviews, but I'm not sure if that would suit your mother's fancy.

            If you were considering Mastro's, I would re-consider. Try Musso & Frank instead -- it's old school LA.

            For casual lunches and snacks, I like BreadBar and Clementine.

            For sushi, try Sushi Zo or Kiriko -- those are my two favorites for the freshest omakase in town.

            It's a shame that there is no Mexican, Middle Eastern, or other ethnic places in your plans. I think those are the restaurants that make LA shine as a foodie destination. Our high-end restaurants, while good, are not exceptional in comparison to other major cities. But we kick everybody's ass with our Oaxacan, Persian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, etc.

            1. For the Italian (if you cannot get into Mozza), my favorite choices are All' Angelo (one of Esquire's best new restaurants in 2007) [Melrose West of La Brea]; Angelini Osteria [on Beverly between Fairfax and La Brea]; La Botte (Michelin star recipient) [Santa Monica Blvd. at 7th in Santa Monica]; La Terza (owned by Angelini) [3rd and Orlando near Beverly Center]; Valentino (Michelin star recipient with a fantastic wine list) [Pico West of Centinela]; and Vincenti [San Vicente East of Bundy].

              For sushi with non-fish options, I would recommend Bar Hayama [Sawtelle South of Santa Monica Blvd.]; Kiriko [Sawtelle North of Olympic]; K-Zo [Culver near Canfield in Culver City] and Mori (another Michelin star winner) [Pico at Gateway in West L.A.].

              For American-esque, Grace [Beverly between La Brea and Fairfax]; Jar [Beverly West of Crescent Heights] and Josie (some lovely game options) [Pico at 24th] would be my top three picks--offering more than just steakhouse fare. Providence is also wonderful but is mostly seafood and might not meet your Mom's test. Puck's new Cut is also terrific but another hard reservation and highly likely to exceed your price point.

              1. Orris on Sawtelle just N. of Olympic is really good LA food - it's Japanese-ish small bites, but amalgam of lots of other flavors, too, without being gimmicky at all. It's "high-end" in quality and the service is fabulous and friendly, but it's a drop-in place (no reservations accepted).

                1. i just realized no one has yet suggested the 3rd & fairfax farmers' market. it's not the same as dining at a restaurant, and it's certainly not high end, but there are some great meals to be had there, and it's a fun way to spend an afternoon in l.a.

                  oh, and hugo's is another option for a very "l.a." breakfast/brunch. it also happens to be one of my favorites.

                  Hugo's Restaurant
                  8401 Santa Monica Blvd West, Hollywood, CA

                  1. Thank you all for the great suggestions. I'm definitely interested in Gonpachi as I think it has sufficient 'wow' factor and variety for the family. La Botte and Bastide also look very interesting. Has anyone tried Hokusai? How does it compare to Koi (or to Nobu - I've been to the Vegas and SoHo versions.)

                    Where would be a good place for a nice lunch around Santa Monica on a Saturday afternoon?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: uhockey

                      I was underwhelmed with the food and scene at Hokusai--I went in really wanting to like it as I was planning to go again with a friend for a birthday dinner (we wound up going elsewhere at my urging). I thought Koi was better though it is not a favorite of mine.

                      For Saturday lunch, the Penthouse at the Huntley offers great views and decent (not great) food; other options with better food would include Boa, Joe's (actually on Abbott Kinney in Venice), Ocean Avenue Seafood and The Lobster.

                      1. re: New Trial

                        Agree with The Penthouse or The Lobster for Saturday lunch. Killer view of Santa Monica Bay. Food is not bad at all.

                        Since you've had Batali's cuisine in NY, you can skip Mozza. I highly recommend La Botte. Besides excellent food and wonderful service, your mom will probably enjoy the sophisticated ambiance more than Mozza.

                        1. re: New Trial

                          I recommend Joe's (Venice)...their brunch is awesome - great food, atmosphere and service.

                          The Lobster is not so bad either - food is great, and the view - however it can get a little loud.

                          1. re: foodiescientist

                            I had a great Saturday lunch at Joe's. If it's a decent day, the patio is a very nice spot.

                        2. re: uhockey

                          the ivy at the shore would be great for lunch.

                          Ivy At the Shore
                          1535 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            ...and you can marvel at the LA-ness of paying $28 for a hamburger.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              or 30 bucks for a grilled vegetable salad.

                              precisely my point in suggesting it...it doesn't get much more "l.a." than the ivy ;)

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                L. A. in the case of The I.V. would stand for Laughably Absurd or Ludicrously Asinine.

                        3. If you want to wander over to Studio City, I had the best sushi ever there. And not so expensive. I will write the friend who took me, if you are interested.
                          I would definitely try to go to the Getty Museum. Completely free ($8.00 parking unless you take the bus) and they have a fantastic restaurant or much more casual cafe, with dream like views looking over the city and a gorgeous garden. fayefood.com

                          1. Very few of my "must have" places in LA are higher end, including Philippe's, Langer's, Daikokuya, the taco truck on Fair Oaks, and the chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley.

                            But for nicer dinners, I like Spago and Mozza. I might throw in Lawry's for the history and novelty of it (although they have 4 locations now). Hatfield's is nice. I'm a fan of Sasabune for sushi, but everyone's got their own preference. I'd say Urasawa, but that's pretty far out of your budget.

                            1. For Japanese, think about Katana. They have good fish most of the time, and they also have a Robata menu that has a good range of other options. And it's a very LA experience, on the strip. One of the times I was there I saw Heffner and five playmates. It will cost you about 60$/person sans alcohol, depending on how crazy you go with the sushi. Mori is a great sushi place, but not a scene. And they probably don't have other options (chicken etc.)

                              I agree skip out on Mastro's. If Sunday night is one of the nights you're looking to go out, Lucques has there SUnday night sup (three course price fix 40$) that is a decent way to experience the restaurant.

                              1. Italian- Il Picolo in Venice Beach. Magnificent pasta, hard to get into, few tables, go early on weekdays and have a backup. It's w/in (under) your range. Zagat loves them, as do I. I go every time I go to LA.
                                For Puck, you could go to Vert in H'wood - it's less expensive but it's Puck (european/austrian). Likewise Puck's "Chinois on Main" in Sta Monica (Asian fusion). I go to both but haven't been to Spago, so can't compare. You could do either of the other two Pucks as the third place.
                                You didn't aks, but if Mex, try Monte Alban or Guelaguetza, both hole-in-wall Oaxacan, get the mole (get mole negro ramal and mole coloradtio chicken at Monte Alban. More upscale is Border Grill in Sta Monica. More for your mom at Tlapazola Grill, great mole but "gringo" food too.
                                Sushi and chicken: Cafe Melange in Redondo does sushi and "regular" food, but I don't do sushi so can't comment on it, but the other will probably do fine.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: RLColeman

                                  Vert closed its doors about a month or so ago.

                                2. Katsuya Studio City. Cheaper than brentwood and hollywood counterparts, better food. Stick to the "specials" menu. You will love it.

                                  1. I thank you all for your thoughts.

                                    The reason we are going to do Mastro's is because we are attending the Ducks/Flames game at Honda Center on Sunday and needed someplace relatively close for dinner after the game on the way back to our hotel.

                                    I love the look of Gonpachi, but it seems the food reviews are hit/miss in terms of the price. I'm a big soba fan and no one seemed to think Hokusai was worth mention, so perhaps the ambience will make Gonpachi a better option for the group.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: uhockey

                                      Mastro's isn't really close to the Honda Center, though -- if you're talking about the Costa Mesa branch, it's 20-25 minutes away with no traffic. If you need closer to the Honda Center, there's Morton's and Ruth's Chris on Harbor Blvd.

                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                        Yahoo indicates it is 11.7miles away, and we have Morton's and Ruth's in Ohio. :-)

                                        1. re: uhockey

                                          So, like I said, 20-25 minutes. More if you get stuck in bad traffic exiting the game. I've never been myself, but I'm told it's worth the pain of the 55.

                                    2. Just wanted to thank you all for your recs and your great city for the food. We made it a goal to have 2 meals out per day, plus to sample the unique cupcake offerings of the city. All the choices were great and all were based on recs on this board.

                                      Saturday: Border Grille, Yummy Cupcakes, All' Angelo
                                      Highlights were definitely the greet corn tamales at Border, the PB+J and Banana Creme Cupcakes at Yummy, and the Octopus Carpaccio, Cauliflower Timbale, and Chitarra Spaghetti with Langoustines at All' Angelo

                                      Sunday: Griddle Cafe, Mrs. Beasley's Cupcakes, Mastro's
                                      Highlights were Saturday Morning Fever and Black Magic Pancakes at Griddle, the Glacier Mint Cupcakes at Beasleys, and the Pretzle Bread, Butter Cake, Sashimi Style Big Eye, and King Crab + Truffle Gnocchi at Mastro's.

                                      Monday: Doughboys, Spago, Crumbs.
                                      PBJ+C, Cornbread, and Red Velvet Cake at Doughboys. The flatbread, lobster club sandwich, apple strudle, and wild mushroom Pizza at Spago, and the Cookie Dough Cupcake at Crumbs.

                                      Thanks again to all of you, and I can't wait to do it again next year. I took a bunch of pics, if anyone is interested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23978247...