Poor Hollywood. Aside from the folks who actually live there -- and tout its cheap rent, down-and-dirty attitude, and "central location" -- the neighborhood inspires sneers, scoffs and, at best, a low level of tolerance from other L.A. residents. By day, tourists clog the main boulevards, slowly rubbernecking through crosswalks while we strum our fingertips on our steering wheels, waiting to make our right turns. By night, underdressed 20-somethings teeter on too-tall heels, stumbling around after overdosing on over-priced drinks.
But stop the sighing. Stop the head-shaking. When you sift through the grit, there's some really great cooking happening in Hollywood, particularly these five restaurants that care about the food more than the scene. Or think of it this way: Now you've got somewhere to take your relatives after their trip to the Walk of Fame.
Dinner and a movie just got a lot better in Hollywood, now that Stella Barra has opened, next to the Arclight theater. It's the sister of Westside staple Stella Rossa and has the same casual-cool vibe, a beautiful bar with a well-priced drink list and a small but delicious menu of pizzas, vegetables and salumi. Start your meal with antipasti (including a salty-sweet roasted tomato jam served with cheese), or the olive-oil poached tuna salad, and split a pizza with your date. There's a range of interesting toppings: from a simple margherita to a porchetta/fennel concoction to a white pie topped with fennel, burrata and basil. The crust is chewy, fat, and bubbly. You can have a Roman-style, extra-thin pizza if you so desire, but why would you want to? Tip: if Raisinettes aren't your thing, there's a cookie and pastry bar here -- pop in for some sugar before the show. 6372 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 301-4001.
4. Ammo Café:
Ammo feels blessedly far away from the touristy bustle of Hollywood, tucked into a secluded space on Highland. Dimly lit and romantic, it's a great place for a quiet dinner with your date or a (small) group of friends. The restaurant is practically ancient for this part of town (opened in 1996) but there's been some kitchen turnover recently: Ernesto Morales is now at the helm, putting out dishes so seasonal that the menu changes daily. Right now you should dig into the fat spears of spring asparagus, charred and topped with burrata; or a bowl heavy with clams, mussels and pancetta. A sea bass entrée feels very Provençal, with a white wine broth, new green olives, baby carrots and cannellini beans. Pretty cocktails and a nice wine list will help you get your night started on the right (wobbly) foot. 1155 Highland Ave, Hollywood; (323) 871-2666.
Aventine is the Hollywood outpost of a San Francisco taverna -- so new, chef Adolfo Veronese is still commuting between the two. In a gorgeous, high-ceilinged trattoria you'll dine on comforting Southern Italian dishes: cracker-crust pizza topped with artichoke hearts, a pile of finger-licking-good lamb chops, and pillowy gnocchi in a light pesto sauce. On a recent night the chef had a risotto special made the way his grandmother taught him, rich with pancetta and smoky mozzarella. The restaurant is cavernous, so it's a great place for groups, and they have one of the most beautiful back patios in town, with a horseshoe bar and trees wrapped in lights. Bonus: you can start your night there and nurse your hangover: They just started serving brunch. 1607 N Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood; (323)-500-0969.
2. Wood and Vine:
Across the street from the Pantages theater, Wood and Vine does a brisk pre-show business. Let the crowds thin out and then stop by this unassuming storefront, which obscures a soaring bar area and a hidden back patio strung with lights. The tucked away feel of the place is very New York, and while the food isn't revolutionary, chef Eric Buss is doing a damn fine job of keeping things fresh and interesting. A simple salad of tomatoes, avocado and feta is helped by just-picked ingredients and is bright with mint, basil and balsamic syrup; a chicken-and-waffles plate is composed of chicken and herbed butter piled atop a crispy waffle. Buss isn't pushing boundaries here, but he is slinging food you and all your dining companions will really enjoy. It's also a sweet stop for pre-party drinks: Your date will be impressed by the long bar, the beautiful people, and the inventive cocktail list. 6280 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood; (323) 334-3360.
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This Mediterranean restaurant, helmed by chef Danny Elmaleh, is a sultry addition to the increasingly hip Hollywood & Vine intersection. Cleo anchors the lobby of The Redbury Hotel (both are run by sbe), and is as sexy as it gets -- all curtains and candles and mirrors -- the kind of moody light that makes everyone look good. But it's not just pretty: The menu is long and the food is stellar. You can start with any number of Middle Eastern dips (baba ganoush, feta and yogurt, hummus), served with a charred flatbread that's as light as it is addictive. Salads are inventive and fresh, including a spring-y Green Goddess with radish, new peas and fennel. It's all mezze-sized, so dig into the grilled octopus with tahini. Grab lamb, chicken and beef kebabs, vegetables straight out of the wood-burning oven, or one of the five kinds of flatbread. The food is reasonably-priced for this part of town -- you can feed two people for about $50 -- but beware of the cocktails. They're yummy, but at $15 a piece, they can add up. 1717 Vine St., Hollywood; (323) 962-1711.
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