Is L.A. the best city for late-night dining? Maybe not. You can blame all those people with “early auditions” tomorrow, probably. That said, there are still places in Los Angeles that offer a great meal after-hours, or even after the bars close. We've pulled some midnight or post-midnight gems from our list of the 99 Essential Restaurants to keep your late-night hunger pangs at bay.
Button Mash (open until 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat., until 12 a.m. Tue.-Thu. & Sun.)
There’s something about Button Mash and its dinging, ringing energy that is massively appealing, even if you’re not here to take advantage of the old-school video and pinball games that line the walls. Button Mash is as much a bar and restaurant as it is an arcade, and as long as the cacophony of games and pinball machines doesn’t bother you, it’s a pretty enjoyable place to eat and drink and people-watch. The involvement of Starry Kitchen, the beloved on-again-off-again pop-up/restaurant, is an obvious draw, though this food isn’t an exact replica of what was served at any of Starry Kitchen’s iterations. The menu is more like a greatest-hits album of Asian and American drunk food. There are crispy tofu balls and appropriately lacquered double-fried chicken wings, which you can get in a number of flavors: tamarind, ginger or a “tangy” version made with gochujang. There’s a cheeseburger that, like the games, is pure old-school nostalgia. A lot of thought has gone into this thing, from the way the ingredients are stacked (mustard, meat, American cheese, Boston lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle) to the intense crisp on the patties. It’s really tall and really good in a really base kind of way. If it turns out that this is the new face of Echo Park’s dining scene, maybe that’s a good thing. When your burgers and beer come wrapped in such original, joyful revelry — with tofu balls and Galaga thrown in for good measure — it somehow feels fresher than half the serious restaurants in town. —Besha Rodell
1391 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 250-9903, buttonmashla.com.
Father's Office (open until 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat., 1 a.m. Mon.-Thu. and midnight Sun.)
Despite how much we here in L.A. covet the Father’s Office burger, chef Sang Yoon’s pair of gastropubs (the second location is in Culver City) still don’t get the props they deserve. Did you know, for instance, that the FO burger was the first truly chef-driven, gourmet burger in the country? (Yes, it came before Daniel Boulud’s DB Burger in New York.) Did you know that before Yoon took over the original Father’s Office in 2000, the word “gastropub” wasn’t really a part of the American vernacular? So many food and drink trends were spawned by this chef and this place that it deserves a plaque, a holiday, a parade. Even without its historical import, either location of Father’s Office is a great place to eat and drink, with fantastic beer selections and a menu of modern bar food that will knock your socks off even if you skip the burger completely. All you have to do is obey the rules: no kids, no table service, no substitutions, no ketchup. Got it? Good, now go pay homage to a piece of American food heritage. —BR
1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 736-2224, fathersoffice.com.
Gjelina (open until midnight nightly)
There may be no restaurant as emblematic of the breezy, stylish Venice lifestyle as Travis Lett’s Gjelina, no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations. The pizzas have crispy edges and are topped with ingredients such as burrata and wild nettles; the vegetable dishes might include roasted fennel with white wine, blood orange and fennel pollen; the rib-eye is from Niman Ranch; the wine list is long and engrossing. The magic trick of Gjelina is that food this serious (and it is seriously good) can be served in a room so effortlessly casual, the brick back patio all leafy and twinkly, the crowded dining room looking like a wood cabin met the beach and they fell in love. Walk past this restaurant and see the crowds of people waiting outside, and peek through the windows at diners snacking on charcuterie and bowls of house-made pasta, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “I want to be them. I want to be there.” You’re going to have to wait a long time for a table, but the good news is that you, too, can be part of the fantasy. —BR
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 450-1429, gjelina.com.
Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong (open until 2 a.m., nightly)
As far as we know (at press time, the restaurant was briefly closed for renovation), the walls of Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong are still adorned with comic book–style illustrations of Kang-Ho Dong, the chain’s charismatic Korean wrestler/owner/mascot, sweatily grappling pigs into submission, as if your dinner is here because he personally defeated it. However it got here, it’s delicious, especially when washed down with beer or with ice-cold soju that turns to jelly when it hits your glass. When you arrive at your table in the cavernous, bare-bones room, your meal will already be partially set up. Around your circular table, which has in its center a charcoal-burning grill, will be various sauces and salads, a slice of pumpkin and other banchan. Around the grill will be a trough of egg and another of corn and cheese, which will cook slowly once the meat you’re about to order hits the grill. Choices here are fairly easy — various cuts of beef or pork, or perhaps a set meal of one or the other (or both). The set meals offer a variety of cuts; we suggest the beef meal over the pork for quality, but go piggy if you desire. Either way, it’s a bargain — the smaller meal (there are two sizes) will easily feed three people, and it comes with a bubbling vat of kimchi stew to whet your appetite. At its heart, Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong is a beer and meat hall, plain and simple. If you like your beer and meat with charcoal smoke, cheesy corn and a soundtrack of loud K-pop, this is the place for you. —BR
3465 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 384-9678.
Tsujita L.A. (open until 2 a.m. nightly)
What is the best ramen in America’s best ramen city? It depends, I suppose, on your mood, on your stylistic preference, on many things. But the consensus among the throngs of diners lining up outside Tsujita is that this is the best ramen in L.A., and we tend to agree. Once inside (the wait is long — it’s worth it), you’ll feast on Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen or perhaps get your dip on with the fantastic tsukemen, its dipping broth thick and silky and rich. With a ramen annex across the street and a sushi restaurant down the block, the Tokyo-based company is slowly taking over this stretch of Sawtelle, and Tsujita Sushi’s lunchtime offerings are outstanding in terms of raw-fish value. Perhaps once in a while we’ll make that detour, but for the most part you can find us up the street waiting in line and then slurping on ramen, intensely thankful for our noodle riches. —BR
2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle; (310) 231-7373, tsujita-la.com.
Tacos Leo (open until 3 a.m., nightly)
It’s 2 a.m. You’re hungry. You might not be totally sober. You crave tacos. In these situations, many people would settle for whatever floppy tortillas and dry meat happen their way. But in Los Angeles, there is Tacos Leo, the shining beacon of al pastor. There are few taco trucks in existence that offer such consistent and reliable comfort. It would be worthwhile to break down all the admirable components of Leo’s $1 tacos: the warm and pliable tortillas, the char-kissed marinated pork freshly trimmed from the spit and dripping with juice, the soothing avocado sauce and musky salsa roja, and the dudes who wield long knifes and flick shards of pineapple into the air like they’re part of a Benihana performance. You barely notice the low, thunderous drone of butane burners filling the night air while you destroy your taco in a few bites and order another. —Garrett Snyder
1515 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City; (323) 346-2001.
Terrine (open until 11 p.m. Sun.-Thu., until 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.)
Chefs have long been playing in the fun space between California cooking and the grand French brasserie, but with Terrine it feels as though Kris Morningstar has finally hit on something solid, something more than playtime. His take on the French classics is stunning: The French onion soup is as deep and rich and laden with cheese as any you could find in Paris, and his grand charcuterie plate is a thing of wonder. But he’s also inventing classics of his own. The crispy pig ears served in strips with aioli on the side are like frites from piggy heaven. The garbure, a stew of duck confit and white beans, expresses the very quintessence of duck, its deep brawny soul, its particular gamey perfume. The room, with its burnished mirrors and heavy silverware, feels exactly classy enough (without ever veering toward stuffy), and the back patio, with its glorious Javanese bishopwood tree, is one of L.A.’s loveliest outdoor dining options. The cocktails are great, the wine list is fantastic, and the service has just the hint of formality you’d expect from the charming Frenchmen, Stephane Bombet and François Renaud, who oversee it. —BR
8265 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove; (323) 746-5130, terrinela.com.