West Hollywood and Vicinity
Alto Palato. The main dining room with its sky-high ceilings and roomy tables has the lofty ambiance of a European railway station — and the service can be European, too: maddening. But the cooking is authentic regional Italian; try the wafer-thin pizza and the best gelato outside of Rome. Every Wednesday night features a special, reasonably priced regional dinner. 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 657-9271. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Closed Monday. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12.95–$22.95. Italian. MH $$
Bliss. Once you find it, Bliss looks like a place the devil might like — a vast, cavernous club with womb-red walls, gas fires, and enormous sculptural paper lanterns that look like licking flames. (There’s no outside signage or address, but it’s just south of Melrose Place.) There are two bars, and curtained "boxes" where you can have both privacy and a great view of the goings-on below, which are mostly dressed-up people drinking and eating. The New American club fare is a mix of comfort food, fusion and meat. 650 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 659-0999. Dinner Wed.–Sat., from 7 p.m. Closed Sun.–Tues. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $25–$39. American. MH $$$ ® H
Cheebo. Why aren’t more restaurants like Cheebo — a smart, fun, clattery café where the food is mostly organic, very fresh, modestly priced and prepared with an in-arguable flair for flavor? Try the halibut on smoky white beans, the slow-cooked pork, the chewy, thin-crusted pizza topped with house-made sausage and fennel. Sandwiches are assembled with — or, for you carb-a-phobics, without — house-made bread. Salads are diverse and luscious (try either chopped, the city’s best caesar type, or a hippie-dippy sprout mélange, to name but a few; all of them are composed, like the restaurant itself, of countless small intelligent details). 7533 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 850-7070. Lunch and dinner, seven days, 8 a.m.–midnight. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entreés $12–$18. Organic Italian. MH $$
The Griddle Cafe. On a Sunday morning, the Griddle is really loud: clattering pans, a hundred shouted conversations, amplified rock & roll bouncing off the high ceilings. Coffee comes to the table in squat plunger pots, and the jumble of bottled condiments on each table could stock a supermarket shelf. And the woman next to you at the counter is eating a stack of berry pancakes so large that it looks like a movie prop, like three large pizzas piled on top of one another and smothered in powdered sugar. The enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked with Kahlua and Bailey’s, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream and crumbled Oreos, and they are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they are good enough. 7916 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 874-0377. Breakfast and lunch, Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two: $12–$18. American. JG $ *
Irv’s Burgers. Across the street from Hamburger Mary’s, Irv’s Burgers is a patch of unreconstructed California in the epicenter of sleek West Hollywood, Since 1950 it has been a redoubt of hand-cut French fries and double cheeseburgers, pastrami sandwiches and Denver omelets, onion rings and tuna melts, root beer and egg salad, and its fans seem almost to live at the place, reading the trades, meeting with groups of friends, stapling up posters advertising readings at A Different Light and Fatboy Slim CDs. Irv’s current proprietor, Sonia Hong, is nice — just totally, manically nice; she personalizes almost every paper plate and to-go bag with scrawled notes. The hamburgers are totally, infinitely customizable, and if you’ve been going there a while, you probably have a variation or a private sandwich configuration named after you, a sandwich that is irrevocably yours. To the utter horror of locals, Irv’s Burgers is set to be bulldozed out of existence — to be turned into a branch of Peet’s Coffee & Tea. More than 1,400 neighbors signed a petition of protest (1 in 40 citizens of West Hollywood, as one petitioner puts it) and a group calling itself the Burger Brigade has been holding rallies in front of the restaurant — rallies, it goes without saying, fueled by some pretty good hamburgers. I haven’t seen this level of community support for a doomed restaurant since developers threatened to raze the Formosa a decade or so back — and the Formosa still stands today. 8289 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 650-2456. Open Monday–Saturday, 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Difficult street parking only. Lunch for two, $8–$12. American. JG ¢ *
The Ivy. The patio here is a New Yorker’s perfect dream of Los Angeles, splashed with sunlight, decorated with amusing American kitsch, populated with lunching actresses, agents, and New York magazine editors in town to take the pulse of the city. The food is acceptable though expensive, down-home food at uptown prices. But the Ivy’s definitive corn chowder, concocted by a practically teenage Toribio Prado before he decamped to found the Cha Cha Cha empire almost 20 years ago, sizzles with gentle chile heat. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 274-8303. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$39. American. JG $$
Lucques. Named for a nutty, brine-cured French green olive, and rarely pronounced correctly, Lucques (leuk) has quietly and surely joined the small pantheon of great Los Angeles restaurants. Lucques has a quasi-historic setting (it was once Harold Lloyd’s brick, wood-beamed carriage house), a patio, adept service and, best of all, Suzanne Goin’s earthy, intelligent, somewhat indefinable cooking. Call it Cal-French-Med with welcome guests from North Africa, Spain and Berkeley, California. Go for Goin’s fish dishes, in particular, and check out the appealing bar menu. Also, Sunday nights feature three-course prix-fixe dinners. 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6277. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Limited bar menu available Fri.–Sat. 10 p.m.–mid., Mon.– Thurs. 9:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $21–$30. California/Mediter-ranean. MH $$ §
Matsuhisa. Nobu Matsuhisa was the first sushi master to introduce Americans to yellowtail sashimi with sliced jalapeños. Playing with tradition has made him an international star. Locally, you can try his food at the modest Ubon noodle house at the Beverly Center and the high-end Nobu in Malibu, but his original, stunningly uncharming location on La Cienega is still, to our mind, the best bet — especially if you sit at the sushi bar and give your chef free rein. To this day, despite many attempts, nobody has improved on his innovations. Reserva-tions are a must and, at times, a pain. 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 659-9639. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:45 a.m.–2:15 p.m. Dinner nightly 5:45–10:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $15–$50. Japanese. MH $$$
Norman’s. Los Angeles is used to exporting its chefs — its Spagos, its Pinots, its La Toques — not bringing restaurants in from suburban Florida as if we were Eurodisney or Las Vegas. This feeling of ressentiment at Norman’s rarely lasts as long as it takes to finish the first course. Norman’s style of cooking, sometimes called Floribbean cuisine, processes Caribbean recipes through the matrix of French technique, often inflecting a dish with an Asian flavor or two: the kind of French toast you’d hope to find in an $800-per-night Antigua resort, for example, piled with seared foie gras and gingered lime zest, or slices of raw, seared yellowtail wrapped around spicy braised oxtail, or duck breast served with a loose paella that can’t decide whether its flavors come from Valencia or the Yucatán. Craig Petrella must have been the most talented chef in Norman Van Aken’s restaurant empire, because it is impossible to discern where Van Aken’s ideas ease off and his own ideas begin. Except that I think I like the West Hollywood restaurant much better than the Florida original. 8570 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 657-2400. Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Tapas on the terrace and bar food begin at 5:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrees $29–$39. New World cuisine. JG $$$
Pink’s. Consider the Pink’s dog, uncouth and garlicky, skin thick and taut, so that when you sink your teeth into it, the sausage . . . pops . . . into a mouthful of juice. The bun is soft enough to achieve a oneness with the thick chili that is ladled over the dog, but firm enough to resist dissolving altogether, unless you order it with sauerkraut. And why wouldn’t you? 709 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 931-4223 (no phone orders). Open Sun.–Thurs. 9:30 a.m.–2 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–3 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Cash only. Dogs $3–$6. American. JG ¢ H *
Sona. What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but Michelle and David Myers go after nature with blowtorches and -dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. At Sona, a -sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of -watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening -cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its -cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French. JG $$$
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