Recently, we published our 99 Essential Restaurants in Los Angeles issue for 2017, along with its new sister list, the Freshmen 15 (for the newbie restaurants too young to be “essential” but that we love nonetheless). Among all those restaurants are a whole lot of choices for special occasion meals: birthdays, anniversaries, job promotions, or just that one Saturday night that you were lucky enough to snag a babysitter and you have $300 burning a hole in your pocket. Here are the 12 special occasion restaurants from our 99 Essentials list, and one bonus place from the Freshmen 15.
Has the novelty of eating in a tiny room behind the guise of a Raffalo’s Pizza sign worn off? Does the food seem less thrilling, the concept less fresh? Not in the slightest. If anything, recent meals have been more exciting, more innovative than when Ludo Levebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo first won our hearts four years ago with their weird experiment of a restaurant. After a flurry of “snacks” that might include foie gras beignets and a tiny, tangy mustard crème brûlée, you’ll be served five courses of delicious oddities such as plump vegetable-root dumplings bobbing in a Parmesan broth, or pineapple sushi with burrata.
Read Trois Mec's full 99 Essentials entry here.
Spago Beverly Hills
There are other places in town you could go for Old Hollywood glamour — Spago has never dealt in nostalgia, really, and if it started to do so, a menu revamp and sleek renovation a few years back nixed any fantasies that the restaurant would slip into Grand Old Dame territory. But Spago is a place to go if you want to be treated as a movie star might have been back in the good old days when service and pomp still mattered. Everyone here is treated like a VIP, whether you booked the table months ago to celebrate a special occasion, or because you felt like stopping by on a Tuesday night to perch at a cocktail table and snack on veal filet mignon tartare tucked into a marrow bone and topped with a layer of smoked mascarpone.
Read Spago's full 99 Essentials entry here.
Jeremy Fox is one of those chefs whom other chefs gush about, and Rustic Canyon is the restaurant where you’ll find many of those other chefs when there’s cause for celebration or need for inspiration. Since Fox teamed with Rustic Canyon’s owners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb in 2013, the restaurant has just gotten better and better, and Fox’s ideas seem to be more distilled than ever. There are longtime favorite dishes, such as the bright shellfish pozole verde, which is both soothing and exciting. But with each new visit you’re bound to find something that spends only a few days on the menu and is as delightful as it is fleeting.
Read Rustic Canyon's full 99 Essentials entry here.
Walter and Margarita Manzke’s incredibly ambitious restaurant and bakery and cafe and bar is one of Los Angeles’ great places to celebrate over a slab of prime beef filet with foie gras and black winter truffles, just as it is a lovely venue for a casual cocktail and platter of oysters at the bar. You can do whatever you want with this restaurant, as long as you can get a reservation — it turns out half the city considers République a favorite of one sort or another.
Read République's full 99 Essentials entry here.
When Redbird opened in December 2014, it felt like a necessary addition; downtown needed a major shiny new restaurant to anchor its burgeoning dining scene. It needed a place where the well-heeled would be happy to flock pre-theater, a restaurant for business or pleasure, a one-stop-pleases-all kind of place that nonetheless feels special. A couple of years later, Redbird is still a restaurant for when the mood strikes to live high on the hog, a place for eating in a decadent but sturdy fashion.
Read Redbird's full 99 Essentials listing here.
There are only a handful of restaurants in Los Angeles that aim for the same heights as Providence does, and perhaps none that achieve those lofty aims quite so well. Michael Cimarusti’s seafood-focused, fine-dining standard-bearer excels at the formal service that much of the restaurant world has abandoned. There’s a lot of joy to be found on the plate as well. No kitchen does the flurry of amuse-bouches as well as Cimarusti and crew, from a darling taco made with a nasturtium leaf to cigars made from Wagyu beef that come presented in a cigar box. Ultra-fresh (and always sustainable) seafood, such as Santa Barbara spot prawns or Norwegian red king crab, is presented elegantly and simply.
Read Providence's full 99 Essentials listing here.
When you’re in the realm of ultra-expensive meals, the ones that hit well over three figures before you’ve even considered a glass of wine let alone tax and tip, it can be hard to discern true value. Of course, it depends what’s important to you: Luxurious surroundings? Obsequious service? If your main interest is in food, in particular gorgeously plated, highly fussed over, brightly seasonal, modern Japanese cuisine, we recommend n/naka, the quiet Palms kaiseki restaurant run by Niki Nakayama. Nakayama may be the only female kaiseki chef in the world — kaiseki being the formal, multicourse, seasonal style of Japanese dining. Regardless of whether she is unique in that regard, her restaurant and food (much of it grown in the restaurant’s garden) are certainly singular in Los Angeles.
Read n/naka's full 99 Essentials listing here.
It’s easy to become jaded about luxury fine dining, to forget the pleasures of eating in an elegant room with formal service (Captains! Sommeliers and assistant sommeliers! Runners who swoop in to drop food or bus your tables as if they’re performing ballet!). If what’s so great about dining in this manner has slipped your mind, it really is worth a trip to Mélisse, Josiah Citrin’s modern French restaurant in Santa Monica, to refresh your memory. Revel in extravagances such as caviar service, or a tableside filleting of Dover sole or carving of truffle-stuffed chicken, or Citrin’s “10” menu, which spans 10 courses and will cost you a cool $185 per person. It’s an investment, but it’s worth using the excuse of a special occasion to see what Citrin is capable of — his soups so much silkier than anyone else’s, his sauces so much more refined.
Read Melisse's full 99 Essentials listing here.
It’s kind of wonderful to visit Maude and discover that it’s just a very nice family restaurant. Which is appropriate, given that it’s named after chef Curtis Stone’s grandmother. But beyond that, Stone is often there chatting to customers at one of the tiny place’s 13 tables, or delivering the food, which comes on old, flowered plates. That the food is quietly astonishing, that it’s centered every month around a seasonal ingredient, and that on non-truffle months these nine-course tasting menus are a relative bargain (at around $130 per person, service included) — these things only add to the charm of the place. Maude is an intensely personal, unpretentious restaurant. It’s also one of the loveliest dining experiences in the city.
Read Maude's full 99 Essentials listing here.
From the comforting fireplace that greets you upon arrival, to the back patio with its vine-covered walls, everything about Lucques oozes calm and refinement. Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s original restaurant hasn’t changed much in the 19 years since opening, and it’s a good place to come if you miss civilized dining, the kind that includes proper wine service, tablecloths, and appetizers and entrees rather than small plates. Here dishes are classics spun on their heads to become something that seems even more classic than the original.
Read the full Lucques 99 Essentials listing here.
For meat lovers, there is hardly a restaurant in L.A. more geared toward delivering maximum carnivorous joy than Chi Spacca, the charcuterie and butchery-focused wing of the Mozza compound in Hancock Park. Originally the passion project of chef Chad Colby (who has since moved on), Chi Spacca is now in the able hands of Ryan DeNicola, with the help — of course — of Mozza queen Nancy Silverton. Chi Spacca still delivers what is probably the best charcuterie in town, offering daily selections of salumi, pâté and aged whole-muscle cured meats that just might deliver the most fragrant, ethereal form of fat you’ve ever tasted. There’s the insanely decadent beef and bone marrow pie, and the serious (and seriously expensive) Fiorentina steaks. These steaks are some of L.A.’s great special-occasion dishes, the char and blood and tang of them so memorable that the sense memory of eating them lasts for months.
Read Chi Spacca's full 99 Essentials listing here.
Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s A.O.C. has always been representative of everything great about the mashup of local cuisine and European influence. This was apparent in its original location, which opened in 2002, and it’s even more apparent in the spot it moved to in 2012, which is an utter dream of a restaurant: a cozy dining room with circular corner booths; the leafy, bricked-in magic of the patio, anchored by a candle-festooned fireplace. The feeling is of stepping into an enchanted space where everything might be taken care of. What should you eat? You can barely go wrong.
Read A.O.C.'s full 99 Essentials listing here.
Located on the 71st floor of the US Bank Tower, 71Above is attempting to be a landmark restaurant for Los Angeles. Its name is rendered in marble and metal on the floor at the entrance, the ceiling is decorated with hexagonal sculptural forms, the waiters have the suave formality of first-class airline stewards. The dining room circles the inner perimeter of the building, so no matter where you're sitting you're in range of the floor-to-ceiling windows, beyond which Los Angeles spreads out in all its twinkling glory. In the kitchen is Vartan Abgaryan, who came to 71Above from a stint at Cliff's Edge in Silver Lake, where he raised the quality of the food considerably. Abgaryan's cooking never seemed quite right at the neighborhood-centric Cliff's Edge — it was too pretty, too formal for that sprawling space. At 71Above, his penchant for high-end drama on the plate is much more at home.
Read the full Freshmen 15 list, which includes 71 Above's full listing, here.