The 9 best fine-dining restaurants in L.A.
Name a more iconic L.A. fine-dining institution—we’ll wait. Fortunately, after nearly 40 years, Spago is both the old standby and the new kid on the block thanks to an ever-changing menu that makes the restaurant seem altogether fresh. Don’t worry, you can still ask for the smoked salmon pizza if you crave it, and Spago purists will be pleased to hear that Wolfgang Puck’s flagship is still refreshingly old-school when it comes to presentation. The Beverly Hills menu from managing partner and executive chef Lee Hefter, and chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi, features contemporary additions such as chirashi boxes of sashimi with a yuzu-jalapeño gel; Spanish octopus in young coconut with charred habanero; and Hong Kong-style striped bass with sweet soy, to name a few. The handmade agnolotti is still outstanding after all these years (and don’t forget to opt for the truffle version, when it’s in season). Spago’s been serving stellar cuisine since the Reagan era, proving that age ain’t nothing but a number.
For serving a city next to the Pacific, Michael Cimarusti’s Providence somehow still manages to surprise and reinterpret seafood. His mostly-aquatic menu deftly showcases the bounty of the West Coast, as well as the globe: Big Island abalone, Santa Barbara spot prawns and steelhead trout from the Quinault River in Washington are among the varied choices, though the menus change seasonally. Cimarusti may not always earn locavore points, but his knack for finding the best product will make you focus only on the perfect bite hanging from your fork, and nothing else. Multicourse options run the gamut, including a $95 lunch-only tasting menu, but for the truly adventurous—and deep-pocketed—there’s the 10-plus–course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($240) where luxury fare including caviar, truffles and A5 wagyu beef are the catch of the day.
You could say that the Netflix documentary Chef’s Table helped shine a spotlight on n/naka, but the Palms restaurant was already on the map, front and center. Chef-owner Niki Nakayama is a former protégé of the legendary Morihiro Onodera (formerly of Mori Sushi, currently of Inn Ann), though Nakayama focuses her talent on kaiseki: a classical style of Japanese cooking that dictates a specific progression of textures, temperatures, tastes and seasonal ingredients. À la carte is not an option, and when every dish is this good, that’s OK by us. n/naka offers either a 13-course modern kaiseki ($225) or a 13-course vegetarian tasting menu ($200), and both can be paired with wine for $95. The menus change daily and seasonally, but there is always something to delight in: a glass filled with sea urchin and lobster in a bath of chilled dashi, maybe, or a seared diver-harvested scallop cuddled next to a warm okra pod. It can take two or three hours to get through a meal here, but it’s well worth it; Nakayama is one of L.A.’s best talents, and scoring a meal at her restaurant is money and time well spent.
Dialogue is an investment in just about every way imaginable, but it’s always a worthwhile one. At around $220 per dinner, it’s a clear splurge for most, and beverage pairings can almost equal that amount. The sheer number of courses—around 20—means you’re committed for the evening, and—at least if you’re east of the 405—you’ll be trekking to Santa Monica, then trying to find the hidden, nondescript entrance through a mall. Of course, the James Beard Award-winning chef Dave Beran, formerly of Chicago’s lauded Alinea, will always make it worth your while with transportive, deftly constructed morsels in a kaiseki-style menu that moves through the seasons. Produce shines through, even if it is in the form of a dusted sphere.
L.A.’s seen its fair share of haute Japanese cuisine, but there’s something special happening in ROW DTLA. This is fine-dining done the Japanese way, or more specifically, done chef-owner Brandon Go’s way. The space is intimate, the ceramics are handcrafted and imported from Japan, and Go’s precision and technique come by way of training under Michelin-starred chefs, clear in his execution of every course of the $200 kaiseki menu. Hayato’s delicate flavors and Go’s humble nature could lead Angelenos to overlook some of the most beautiful cooking happening in the city. We hope they don’t. They’d be missing out on phenomenal dishes such as steamed abalone with an unctuous liver sauce; an owan course of delicate crab meatball soup; and fresh fruit coated in a salted sake jelly. The stunning kaiseki dinners often fill up a month in advance. Plan ahead.
Beverly Hills is full of high-profile restaurants perfect for an expense-account or date-night splurge, but one of the finest and most memorable is Curtis Stone’s ambitious temple to the tasting menu. Maude first gained buzz for its ingredient-driven concept—swapping menus out every month—but the restaurant flipped to a new and even more enticing format. Now, the Aussie celebrity chef and his team serve delicate, thoughtful and intricate courses inspired by a different wine region every quarter. Stone’s dishes range from reverent to cheeky: You might be sampling traditional house-made boudin on one menu, and potato chips with Aussie beer at another. Meander through Rioja, Burgundy, Western Australia and even the Central Coast—menu depending—with a range of wine-pairing options to take your meal from singular to one of the best dining experiences you’ll have all year.
When chef Phillip Frankland Lee moved his popular Scratch Bar from Beverly Hills, he began laying the groundwork for his current restaurant empire in an Encino strip mall—and a growing empire that’s now expanded into Montecito. The gem of his concepts, though, is still the open-kitchen tasting menu of Scratch Bar, a whimsical yet exacting procession of 15 or so seasonal courses, each dish more inspired than the last. Thanks to a semi-recent revamp, you now begin your experience with a trio of welcome cocktails and snacks at a bar exclusive to Scratch guests—an easing-in before you experience one of the city’s most ambitious meals. From there you’ll move into the intimate dining room where you can see Frankland Lee and his team building each dish. There might be wagyu rib eye with wagyu lardo, or perhaps a bowl of Moroccan-spiced spot prawns with caramelized fish sauce. Whatever the menu has in store, you’re in for a treat. Be sure to stick around for the additional trio of desserts made by pastry chef, co-owner and Frankland Lee’s wife, Margarita Kallas-Lee, whose skill is worth a trip to the restaurant alone.
Ludo Lefebvre fans flock to his corner of Hancock Park when they’re craving ceramic Petit Trois cauldrons of French onion soup or cheese-filled tunnels of the most elegant omelet in L.A.—but next door is where the magic really happens. From Tuesday to Saturday at Trois Mec, the reservation-only restaurant from Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the doors under the old Raffalo’s Pizza sign swing open and welcome you to one of the city’s least pretentious fine-dining spots. There are no white tablecloths—just five seasonally-inspired courses so intricate and visually arresting, they’d feel much more at home in a museum than a strip mall. Dinners run $110 per guest, and you can only book tables for two, four or six people per night. There’s also a vegetarian option, not to mention supplemental wine and non-alcoholic pairings available. (Get the wine.)
Nestled on the ground floor of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Joachim Splichal’s haute restaurant hums with perfectly-harmonized service and plates with a perfect symphony of flavors. Since 1989, Splichal’s been serving exquisite contemporary French fare of the caliber usually reserved for healthy expense accounts, and now, executive chef Andreas Roller keeps the tradition alive. The dishes rotate frequently, a touch of Southern California produce in your traditional French cuisine. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, so go for the prix-fixe tasting option, which starts at three courses (for $109), and can scale all the way up to seven courses ($160), plus supplements.