Successful downtown businessmen have for years enjoyed Pacific Dining Car (1310 W. 6th Street, just west of the Harbor Freeway). Built around an old railroad car,it is L.A.'s oldest steakhouse. It's best enjoyed on an expense account but regardless, this is one of the city's finest restaurants. Open 24 hours, the breakfasts are sensational and it gets a crowd at all hours of the morning and night. There's a second location at 2700 Wilshire in Santa Monica, but it does not have the tradition of the downtown location.
Dan Tana's (9071 Santa Monica Blvd.) is another highbrow steakhouse, though more with a Hollywood feel. In fact, celebrities often like to hide here in its darkness. The waiters are knowledgeable and the bartenders pour a mean drink.
While on the subject of steaks, Lawry's The Prime Rib (100 N. LaCienega Blvd., just up form Wilshire) is famous for not only its namesake, but its spinning salad bowls. This is where teams playing in the New Year's Day Rose Bowl go to chow down before the big game. Lawry's, by the way, claims to be the first restaurant to serve salads ahead of the main course.
The Ivy (113 N. Robertson) has long been one of Los Angeles' premier upper-class restaurants. It has a very French countryside feel to it, and the menu varies from pasta to steaks to seafood. Nancy Reagan was known to favor it during her days in L.A. There's also a seaside location across from the Santa Monica Pier, which is no less outstanding. Many find the latter's ivy-covered patio preferable to the Beverly Hills location.
Well, we had to include it. Le Dome (8720 Sunset Blvd.) is where celebrities meet agents, where agents meet producers, where in fact, the term "power lunch" was created. The menu is heavy on salads – healthy looks are important in this town – and the bar can be an interesting place for a drink early in the evening.
Only in L.A. would one go to the airport to eat. Yet the old control tower in the signature arched building at LAX serves high-class cuisine in what is basically a Jetson's theme park. Called Encounter, its space-aged surroundings are a great way to encounter locals. Mike Myers once rented it out for a private Austin Powers cast party.
Anything with Wolfgang Puck's name attached to it is a guaranteed good meal. Spago, once housed on the Sunset Strip at Horn Ave. behind Tower Records, is no longer open but anyone can eat the good fare at the Wolfgang Puck Cafes scattered about town.
Chason's (246 N. Canyon Dr.) was originally located in Hollywood but has relocated to Beverly Hills. Fortunately, it brought the cheese toast, chili and chicken pot pie along with it.
Chaya Venice on Main Street in Santa Monica also rates high on the list with its modern Asian cuisine. Down the street, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver's Schatzi's on Main is nearly its equal at more affordable prices in a more cozy atmosphere (Johnny Carson has been known to lunch here frequently). The bar is a good place to drop in for a cocktail and the tropical rainforest sound effects in the restrooms are quite relaxing.
L' Ermitage (9121 Burton Way, Beverly Hills) features Mediterranean food with an Asian flair. It's another favorite of the expense-account crowd.
For atmosphere, it's hard to beat the Saddle Peak Lodge (419, Cold Canyon Drive in Calabasas; better call for directions and certainly reservations, 818-222-3888). This is an upscale, cozy game lodge, serving venison, quail, buffalo and sautéed ostrich (high in flavor, low in fat). Some prefer the lush back patio to the dining room.
No place says "old L.A." like The Pantry. Located a Kobe Bryant jump shot from the Staples Center, it's worth the trip downtown. Meatloaf and gravy, eggs and ham and other basic but delicious items are served in huge portions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Retaining the busy old charm of the traditional U.S. diner, it has operated continuously for more than 50 years until closing for one day a couple of years ago while the heath board made an inspection. It is owned by former Mayor Richard Riordan.
Canter's Deli (on Fairfax, just north of Beverly) is as traditional L.A. as it gets. Canter's gives a full plate food made by people who know how to make deli-style sandwiches. Everyone in L.A. has been here at least once, if not hundreds of times. If you want to taste a part of the city, this is the place to do it.
Jerry's Famous Deli in Studio City (Ventura Blvd., east of Coldwater Canyon) in the Valley is a power lunch haven for Hollywood executives. The restaurant has expanded to other locations, but none have the authentic feel of the original.
One of the most recognizable landmarks is Carney's. It's in an old railroad car overlooking the Sunset Strip. The menu is basic – chili dogs and hamburgers – but it's a landmark for tourists and locals alike. Go during the week between 4:30-7 and enjoy beers for $1.50.
The most popular hot dog stand in L.A. is Pink's (LaBrea at Melrose). Celebrities and locals have been coming here for years, dating back to pre-Marlyn Monroe. It is especially popular after the bars close; at 2 a.m., limos are lined up around the block.
The Best of the Rest
Not to be confused with Shaq, The Shack in Playa del Rey is hamburger heaven.
Manhattan Beach doesn't get much respect around Los Angeles for dining – it's more of a surf and bar town – but Rock 'N Fish (120 Manhattan Beach Blvd., 310-379-9900) is one of L.A's best seafood spots. Salmon, halibut, shrimp and other dishes are delicious. The clam chowder might be the best in all of Southern California and the gumbo gives New Orleans veterans a flashback to The Big Easy. And with its signature Navy Grog drinks leading the way, the bar area is one of downtown Manhattan's top hot spots.
Paco's Tacos (Centinela and Washington Place in Culver City) is one of the city's best Mexican restaurants, and that's saying something in this town. Be prepared for a wait, but grab a beer and enjoy the atmosphere. Park at the bank across the street.
The Reel Inn, (Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu) is good, casual dining at its best. With picnic tables in an open, spacious room, it's not fancy, but for affordable and tasty seafood it's hard to beat.
The Shack (Vista del Mar at Culver Blvd. in Playa del Rey) . Not to be confused with Shaq the basketball player, the Shack restaurant is the perfect burger-and-beer joint. It specializes in the "Shack Burger" combining meat with spicy sausage. Tuesdays are "Shack Attack" days, with $1 off all burgers. There's a second location in Santa Monica, but it ranks well below Playa in atmosphere.
Still, the World's Best Burgers can be found at Ercoles, a Manhattan Beach dive bar (1101 Manhattan Ave., 310-379-9917).