We'd love to linger over a classic breakfast combo and endless cups of coffee at John Lautner's 1949 Googie Coffee Shop, since it was the actual place whose name defined a genre. And then enjoy the cannelloni au gratin at Sardi's on Hollywood Boulevard designed by Rudolph Schindler instead of whatever is served at The Cave (we really don't want to think about it). Meanwhile, the make-your-own toast void remains in Los Angeles since all Ship's locations were demolished. Eating Celestino Drago's pastas might be that much more sublime if Drago Centro were located within Stiles O. Clements' black and gold deco Richfield Building on the same site where ARCO Plaza by AC Martin Partners stands.
OK, enough whining. Even if we've lost a vexing number of architecturally significant restaurants over the years — and continue to do so — Los Angeles still keeps on giving to the architecture enthusiasts and food fans among us. Turn the page for our list of Top 10 Restaurants in Buildings Designed by Significant Los Angeles Architects.
The following (mostly-chronological) list isn't a rundown of Los Angeles' greatest landmark restaurants, or the most exceptional specimens of restaurant design. Instead, we're honoring places located within buildings credited to some of our city's best locally-based architects.
Archi-tourism can work up an appetite. So be sure to take an extra close look around and appreciate Churrigueresque details along with your kimchi, or perhaps notice the DeCon building components with your Danish.
10. Salute Wine Bar and Peet's/Edgemar Complex, Frank O. Gehry & Associates
For many years, Hans Röckenwagner's bakery and restaurant was the perfect tenant for Edgemar, the mixed-use complex by Frank Gehry (1984-88). Along with Röckenwagner, the MOCA gift shop outpost, a high-end salon, a Peet's, Ben & Jerry's, and other businesses seemed to happily coexist in Deconstructivist harmony. (The Point located in one of Eric Owen Moss' Hayden Tract structures on National Blvd. was a close contender for this slot.) Saluté Wine Bar now occupies the expansive former Röckenwagner space, yet Peet's remains one of the first architecturally intriguing places to caffeinate well; although now we have other venues around town that fit that bill and have raised the bar considerably. Make that a … super specialized custom-designed coffee bar.
9. Kate Mantilini, Morphosis
The construction of Kate Mantilini was the talk of the town as Morphosis' restaurant commission took shape at Wilshire and Doheny in 1985. An offshoot of the Hamburger Hamlet empire, Kate's contemporary and relatively serious treatment of Not Fancy Food raised quite a few eyebrows. Or was it all a ploy to charge unheard of prices for roast chicken, creamed spinach, meatloaf and such? Customers didn't seem to care, since crowds have filled the soaring main room below the mural of Hagler-Hearns fight ever since Kate's opened. For another rare local example of Thom Mayne's restaurant design from around the same period, head to Angeli, where Evan Kleiman recruited the Pritzker Prize-winning architect — who Kleiman says “was the only architect I knew personally” back in 1984 — to play interesting tricks with a modest 1920s vernacular storefront.
8. Encounter/LAX Theme Building, Paul Williams, Welton Becket et al.
The retro lounge theme at Encounter at the LAX Theme Building by Paul Williams, Welton Becket (whose imprint is on many other important L.A. eateries), William Pereira and Charles Luckman feels dated, but not because of its original concept. Instead, it's caught in a surreal trend loop that reverberates between the futuristic hopes of early 1960s Los Angeles and retro lounge craze of the mid-1990s. But once you get past the theremin music in the elevator and take a seat by the canted picture windows in the middle of LAX, it's easy to forget how annoyingly overused the lava lamp is as a motif. This building represents the kind of engineering and imagineering L.A. does best (literally — the Walt Disney Co. was involved with the renovation). After being closed for seismic retrofitting, we're ecstatic to be able to eat inside of this marvel once again.
7. Polo Lounge/Beverly Hills Hotel, Elmer Grey, Paul Williams, et al.
The Polo Lounge might be both a respected and ridiculed L.A. cliché, and yet, this institution never lost its cache. Maybe being in the Beverly Hills Hotel originally designed by Elmer Grey in 1911-12 and subsequently remodeled by other architects, including Paul R. Williams' 1959 major overhaul, has a lot to do with that. The Polo Lounge — as well as the Fountain Coffee Room downstairs — maintains a level of discretion and subtlety that feels refreshingly retro in this age of see-and-be-seen hotel bars and restaurants.
6. Pann's, Louis Armét and Eldon Davis
Does Pann's really need to emblazon the words “Classic 50's” on its signage? Isn't the beautiful Googie architecture evidence enough? Regardless of how Pann's chooses to market itself, our heart always leaps at the sight of the 1956 Westchester landmark. Its crazy cantilevered roofline, dramatic massing, and thoughtful landscaping dominate that chaotic La Tijera/La Cienega/Centinela intersection. Space Age master architects Louis Armét and Eldon Davis, along with associate Helen Liu Fong, really outdid themselves here. Now if some enterprising restaurateur would take over another Armét & Davis building, Johnie's Coffee Shop on Fairfax and Wilshire. Well, there will always be a few good Norm's, and the Astro is still alive and kicking.
5. 24/7 and Rooftop/Standard Downtown, Claud Beelman
You can fight for pool or waterbed pod space on the fabled rooftop, or sit in the more civilized and very useful 24/7 restaurant or lobby lounge of the downtown Standard, AKA the Superior Oil Company building by architect Claud Beelman. This 1953 tower shows how the oft-overlooked Beelman advanced the type and style of mid-century office buildings. In concert with the rehab helmed by Santa Monica-based Koning Eizenberg Architecture, fantastic design from any era never goes out of style. Check out Takami across the street in Welton Becket's 1949 General Petroleum Building for some architectural dialogue.
4. Bob's Big Boy, Wayne McAllister
Thankfully the original spot where a jolly, oddly-proportioned inanimate figure with a disturbingly shellacked 'do named Bob first proffered a burger remains in Toluca Lake. Wayne McAllister's influential billboard-scale signage for Bob's Big Boy (1949) has fared better than many of the franchises that subsequently opened (although sometimes happy endings do happen).
3. Traxx/Union Station, John and Donald Parkinson
Everyone agrees that Union Station (1934-39) is one of Los Angeles's most beloved landmarks. Parkinson & Parkinson's eclectic Art Deco styling combined with Mediterranean and Southwestern elements transport us to Los Angeles of another time. That said, this building also still literally transports people, since it serves as the region's major rail hub. So maybe that's why Traxx restaurant's upscale American food is just about as predictable and reliable as a train schedule. Not necessarily a bad thing. The Traxx bar across the main corridor is also an option. Just don't expect to see any Harvey Girls.
2. Kyoto/Chapman Market, Morgan, Walls & Clements
The prolific career of the aforementioned Clements and the many Wilshire Boulevard buildings he created with his firm, Morgan, Walls & Clements, makes this a tough one. The Denny's at the eastern side of the Wiltern (formerly the Pellissier Building, 1930-31) is perhaps the most dignified setting that any location in that chain can claim. (There's also a Novel Café at the Wiltern.) But for jaw-dropping opulence, atmosphere and historic significance of a different sort, head a bit northeast in Koreatown to the Chapman Park Market (1928-29) on 6th Street between Kenmore and Alexandria. One of the country's first auto-oriented retail complexes with an interior courtyard and car park, thank goodness this gem was rehabbed and reopened in the early 90s. Kyoto offers Japanese food with a hearty Korean menu presence, and the dark restaurant interior is super stylish, too. You might find yourself dipping into Chapman's other food and drink tenants just to explore more of the property.
1. Cicada/Oviatt Building, Percy A. Eisen and Albert R. Walker
Cicada isn't at the top of every local Italophile's list, and the space has evolved into more of a club and swanky wedding/special events venue. But fortunately, the stunning Art Deco and Zigzag Moderne grandeur remains intact at Walker & Eisen's masterful Oviatt Building (1927-28).