How did an international chain restaurant make it onto this list? By being so much damn fun. Because whatever you say about Mari Vanna, the outrageous Russian restaurant in the Beverly Hills house that once was Bastide, you'd have to be a Scrooge of epic bitterness to miss the fun of this place. There's the zillion birdhouses on the patio, the squillion florid teapots and doodads crowding the walls inside, the mantelpieces dripping with the wax of a thousand candles, the waitresses in flowered dresses with thick Russian accents, the copious amounts of flavored vodkas in every possible iteration. Exaggeration? Perhaps. But it's a place that inspires hyperbole. After all this, it's almost a surprise to find that the food is quite delightful as well: Russian dumplings, beef stroganoff, aspic-topped salads, even Herring Under a Fur Coat, a layered molded salad of herring, grated beets and potatoes. Yes, this is an international chain, with outposts in London, New York, Moscow and Washington, D.C. But to say this is unlike any other chain would be the understatement of the century. —Besha Rodell

8475 Melrose Place, Beverly Hills. (323) 655-1977,

LA Weekly