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Culinary History

10 Best Classic Mid-Century Restaurants in L.A.: Pretend You're in Mad Men

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Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 9:49 AM

click to enlarge PETER MORUZZI COLLECTION
  • Peter Moruzzi Collection
"Go to these places now. Don't wait. This may be your last chance to immerse yourself in a vanishing world." So says Peter Moruzzi, author of the just-published book Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants, a glossy, full-color, coast-to-coast tour of the restaurants your parents or grandparents went to on fancy occasions -- many of which are still with us, at least for the time being.

To celebrate the release of the book, this Saturday at 7 p.m. Wacko/La Luz De Jesus Gallery is hosting a party -- the Dresden will be pouring their Blood & Sand cocktails, Tam O' Shanter will be making sliders and Lawry's Prime Rib will be giving away 50 of their famous seasoned salt and pepper caddies, customized for the occasion.

Recently we asked Moruzzi to recommend the best of Los Angeles' classics. Turn the page for his picks of this town's 10 Best Classic Mid-Century Restaurants -- see them while you still can.

click to enlarge SVEN A. KIRSTEN
  • Sven A. Kirsten
10. Dal Rae:

"Tableside preparation -- that' s the key to the Dal Rae. Caesars salad, which is spectacular, done tableside, as well as flaming dishes, also done tableside: steak Diane, bananas Foster, duck a l'Orange, cherries jubilee. It's very theatrical. The idea, and this is what Richard Frank said about the carving cart at Lawry's, is to have the show of the meal be right at the table." 9023 East Washington Blvd., Pico Rivera; 323-664-0228.

click to enlarge Lawry's carving cart, 1950 - PETER MORUZZI COLLECTION
  • Peter Moruzzi Collection
  • Lawry's carving cart, 1950
9. Lawry's The Prime Rib:

"Their tradition goes back to 1938. The carving cart was invented specifically by the co- founder, Lawrence Frank, who decided that people would want to have this enormous cart come to their table and let them choose the cut of meat they want. Everything would be fresh right there. That is part of tableside theatricality at its finest. They carry on the tradition with the outfits -- the waitresses wear the same outfits they've worn since the 30's. the menu is pretty much the same thing -- salad, bread, baked potato, and then the stuff that's in the cart. Creamed corn, creamed spinach, gravy, au jus, and all that stuff. They havent' really changed since the '30s. Lawry's also invented having the salad as the first course as opposed to the last course That was where it started. They had salads all year long because they were in California, whereas back east they didn't." 100 North La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; 310-652-2827.

click to enlarge SVEN A. KIRSTEN
  • Sven A. Kirsten
8. The Dresden:

"Classic lounge restaurant, where Marty and Elayne have been performing since 1982. One side has the formal continental style fine dining booths. Just the décor alone in that half of the restaurant is worth going there. It's incredible -- off-white vinyl booths, with the logo embossed in the back of the chairs, custom lighting fixtures, slatted wood dividers, these kind of curling candelabra type sconces. It was redesigned in 1964." 1760 North Vermont Ave., Los Angeles; 323-665-4294.

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY TAYLOR'S
  • Image courtesy Taylor's
7. Taylor's Steak House:

"Taylor's is just a great traditional steakhouse in the middle of L.A. Unlike Lawry's, it doesn't have a carving cart, so it's more traditional, but it does have the dark wood walls, black booths, a great big bar, great cocktails and waiters that have been doing it for a long time. They are terrific." 3361 West 8th St., Los Angeles; 213-382-8449.

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY TAIX
  • Image courtesy Taix
6. Taix:

"Taix hearkens back to days when a lot of restaurants were themed by Hollywood set dressers. They would be hired to create a theme, and this is a French theme. The current location is from the early '60s, but the décor was brought from other Taix locations that go much further back. It's old French -- the chairs, the building, the exterior, the provincial French architecture style where you have stucco and exposed wood called half timbering -- the building has a rural French look to it on the exterior. It's more traditional on the interior -- dark wood, subdued lighting, white table cloths, and of course the menu is French. 1911 West Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 213-484-1265.

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