Los Angeles is often written off as a fast-food town, with Angelinos gobbling up burgers, hot dogs, and tacos between traffic lights. While there is certainly some truth to the stereotype (Pink’s Hot Dogs, In-N-Out Burger), the city boasts a long history of important restaurants and bars.
George Geary’s new book, L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, proves it. The beautiful ode to La La Land’s restaurants and bars features lavish photo spreads, original menus, and even recipes for signature dishes. “For decades, Los Angeles has been at the forefront of the food scene in America,” says Geary. “Trends tend to start on the West Coast and the East joins in a few years later.”
For The Daily Beast, Geary choose the seven most influential L.A. establishments of all time—and his list goes well beyond burgers and franks.
Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel
“From wartime dances to political campaigns, every star, from the 1930s to the ’80s, played and partied at the Coconut Grove. The establishment even hosted many Academy Award ceremonies. The food, like the food served at many places of the time, was not so special, but eating at the Coconut Grove was the event and the people made it the place it was.”
“For 54 years, Perino’s was the epitome of class. The menu was overwhelming in size and the number of items it offered. Everything was served on silver platters and the owner, Alexander Perino, had one of the city’s highest standards for food and how it was to be prepared. Los Angeles might not have a music center if the late Dorothy Chandler hadn’t dined weekly at Perino’s to solicit donations for the project she wanted to build in downtown.”
Don the Beachcomber
“Donn Beach was the father of tiki. Where would we be without all of his South Pacific drinks packed with rums from the islands? Beach was a marketing genius. He sold his own mixers, rums, apparel and even had a Chinese grocer off of Hollywood Boulevard.”
“The last of the Old Hollywood Republican haunts. Yes, Los Angeles had Democrat and Republican restaurants. Chasen’s was the Reagans’ place. It is where Ronnie proposed to Nancy. The chili was made famous by a story that the restaurant flew it to Elizabeth Taylor while on the set of Cleopatra. This was one of the first establishments where the stars dined in their booths, sometimes nightly. The place was elegant like Perino’s, yet closer to Beverly Hills.”
“This is a non-descript dive bar close to the pier in Santa Monica [1657 Ocean Ave.]. The place was a circus… literally. Opening night, they had an elephant and served peanuts, which they still do today. The food is great for a dive. The drinks are strong. So much history has happened in this small place and an underground feeling still exists to this day. Sinatra and Brando were regulars. Kissinger often dined and held meetings at table 10. Part of Good Will Hunting, by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, was written at table 10. Daniel Ellsberg passed the Pentagon Papers to a New York Times reporter on table 10. Allegedly, Monroe was picked up here by Peter Lawford and taken to his home up the coast where President Kennedy was waiting.”
“We would not have many of the city’s greatest restaurants if Patrick Terrell, the owner of Ma Mason, hadn’t opened his place on the patio of a little house on Melrose Avenue. Patrick knew great talent. He brought Wolfgang Puck, Mary Sue Millikan, Susan Feniger, Claude Segal and Mark Peel into his kitchen. He knew the front of the house and how to staff it and also how to deal with the guests. He knew how to place them in the dining room. It was a place to be seen even in the afternoon.”
“After leaving Ma Maison, Wolfgang Puck and his wife, Barbara, created a restaurant that became synonymous with a new style of California cooking. For one, the design of its open kitchen was remarkable. The menu was also like no other, from its signature pumpkin ravioli to its goat cheese pizza. Who would have thought a gourmet pizza would become the world’s most popular food? It was the first time in L.A. that the celebrity was the chef. Everyone from day one wanted to eat at Spago. It was close to Bel Air and Beverly Hills, off the Sunset Strip, on a hill overlooking the L.A. Basin. Perfect locale. Perfect food.”