With all due respect to hearty home-cooked Christmas meals centered around major hunks of proteins, tamales and starchy vegetables, it's not all that difficult to find interesting ways to eat out on December 25th in Los Angeles. Alright, in all fairness, the endeavor can be challenging. But it's also subversively fun to be out when most of the world seems tucked away, kind of like teenagers sneaking out in the middle of the night. Regardless, we don't advise spontaneously dropping in on your neighborhood canteen in hopes of finding the lights on and the kitchen humming along.
Our guide breaks down L.A. Christmas dining into five categories — Christmas Eve dinners, Persian restaurants, Delis, Hotels, and Chinese food — with five options in each, plus one bonus. Because it's worth mentioning when a beloved 1958 landmark restaurant finally decides to flip the sign at the door to read “Open” on December 25th.
5. Christmas Warm Up: December 24th Dinners:
Either hold out for deli the next day (see below), or substitute Naugahyde booths for more upscale décor and Eastern Mediterranean cooking finesse with a Jewish Christmas dinner at Mezze on the 24th. Chef Micah Wexler's plans entail chopped chicken livers with grape mostarda and challah, smoked sable with lebne and pickled shallots, haute matzo ball soup, and shawarma and brisket and much more, all available until 1 a.m. Since late last month, Il Covo has been settling into the space on West 3rd Street that was known for years as the west coast outpost of Joe Allen and then Orso. (Some Orso regulars still mourn the beloved liver and onions.) This newcomer, owned by hospitality veteran Sean MacPherson and business partner Jared Meisler, arrived with a smartly well-worn aesthetic and hearty Italian menu.
Plus never underestimate the sway of fireplaces, especially on Christmas Eve, when chef Roberto Maggioni offers a $65 tasting menu along with a la carte selections. Providence and Drago Centro each do their own take on the Italian tradition of Christmas Eve fish-centric dinner. Michael Cimarusti's “La Vigilia” feast of the Seven Fishes this year features family-inspired dishes such as scallops with cauliflower and black truffle, and squid ink spaghetti alla chitarra with crab sauce and sea urchin. Seatings are between 4 and 8 p.m., cost is $120 per person, $170 with wine pairings. Celestino Drago's seven-course $70 menu downtown includes Maine lobster cappuccino and seared diver scallop with saffron risotto.
December 24th is the final chance to eat through Ford's Filling Station's three-course holiday dinner ($40 per person), with plates such as braised lamb shank and sage gnocchi with Brussels sprouts to stoke the seasonal spirit.
Mezze: 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 657-4103
Il Covo: 8700 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (310) 858-0020
Providence: 5955 Melrose Ave., Hollywood/Hancock Park; (323) 460-4170
Drago Centro: 525 S. Flower St., Downtown; (213) 228-8998
Ford's Filling Station: 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 202-1470
Los Angeles' robust Persian community has made the Westwood area in particular a treasure trove of heaping rice platters, kabobs, stews, palate-awakening sweets and other standout culinary accomplishments. And these restaurants give non-Christmas observing Angelenos lots to be psyched about. Javan on Santa Monica Blvd. keeps up a steady turnover and maintains its typically smooth operation (if you're lucky, you might hear some tunes coming from the white baby grand piano). Ditch the yuletide log in favor of the clay oven at Shaherzad on Westwood Blvd. You'll eat much better fresh flatbread that way.
Other nearby choices include Shamshiri Grill, and Darya has locations in West L.A. and in the O.C. Outside of the Westside enclave, Shiraz restaurant in Glendale and Sherman Oaks will serve its wide-ranging menu of what it advertises as Middle Eastern and Armenian foods, but with a name like Shiraz, expect to find plenty of Persian specialties.
Javan Restaurant: 11500 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 207-5555
Shaherzad: 1422 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 470-3242
Shamshiri Grill: 1712 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 474-1410
Darya: 12130 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 442-9011
Shiraz: 211 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale; (818) 500-8661; 15472 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 789-7788
Forgive us for suggesting what might be low hanging (ornamental) fruit, but filling a faux wood grain-patterned laminate table with pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup, pickles and knishes is a hallowed Christmas tradition for many folks. And remember, this Christmas is also the sixth night of Hanukkah. Be warned, however; we've experienced wicked waits at Canter's on December 25th, and recall a waitress muttering that it's one of the busiest days of the year. So go figure and take your chances when going to any delicatessen.
Crowds will spill out from what's already a cramped waiting area at Nate 'n Al. Greenblatt's and Izzy's Deli in Santa Monica are both open 365 days a year, and as far as we understand, the 25th of December is included in that number. Factor's Famous Deli on Pico near Beverly Drive is serving until 4 p.m. If it's Brent's you want, you can only get that by placing a catering order, which can be picked up on Christmas Day but not eaten on-site in Northridge. Holiday bonus time! Pann's is obviously not a deli, but it is undeniably an L.A. original.
For some Googie with your eggnog and turkey, head to the architectural gem at La Cienega and La Tijera, where the Panagopoulos family will welcome diners to stick around awhile, and or grab prepped to-go meal packages on Christmas Day for the first time in its storied 53 year history.
Canter's Deli: 419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 651-2030
Nate 'n Al: 414 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills; (310) 274-0101
Greenblatt's: 8017 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 656-0606
Izzy's: 1433 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 394-1131
Factor's Famous Deli: 9420 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 278-9175
Pann's: 6710 La Tijera Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 670-1441
When it feels like the whole city has shut down, the need for holiday food and drink is one of the better excuses to play tourist in your own town. Just don't get too hung up on any potential awkwardness from interacting with strangers whose job it is to make you feel at “home.” Who doesn't love to see L.A. hotels all gussied up in their holiday decoration finest? Shutters on the Beach, for example, sets up a mesmerizing model train in the lobby, and its One Pico Restaurant offers a three-course $75 holiday menu on Christmas from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
It doesn't get much more crazy upscale and cozy deluxe than the revamped Hotel Bel-Air, where the crystal will clink, the champagne will flow and the resident swans will glide during Christmas brunch at Wolfgang Puck's newest spot from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. ($125 per person). The Standard Hotel Downtown still keeps buzzing, especially with the rooftop spot that's kept the party going long enough to recently add the Biergarten. 24/7 restaurant downstairs is, you guessed it, open. In comparison, the Royce at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena will be a calmer, quieter elegant holiday scene with Chef David Féau's $125 five-course menu. Or settle into a table at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge and think about Irving Berlin likely having written “White Christmas” somewhere just down the street.
Shutters on the Beach: 1 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (800) 334-9000
Wolfgang Puck at the Hotel Bel-Air: 701 Stone Canyon Rd., Bel Air; (310) 472-1211
Standard Hotel Downtown: 550 S. Flower St., Downtown; (213) 892-8080
The Royce at the Langham Hotel: 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena; (626) 585-6410
Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge: 9641 W. Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 887-2777
Christmas auspiciously falls on a Sunday this year, making for a double whammy cross-cultural custom. All the better for dim sum seekers, too. If you have, say, grandparents from Queens to please, we suggest planning an early dinner at Twin Dragon on Pico near Robertson, or holiday stalwart Yang Chow in Chinatown. (Yang Chow operates two other locations, but going to Chinatown proper on Xmas is part of the fun.)
The wait for soup dumplings might still be excruciating at Din Tai Fung, but at least traffic along major freeways hopefully will be a breeze. (Thankfully they've added an overflow location.) The situation at Elite could be similar. Or you can take Tony Chen's rec for a restaurant that he reminds us is “ridiculously authentic, sickeningly affordable for a huge party” and check out Shen Yang in San Gabriel. Maybe fried denuded chicken bones cooked with a heady soy sauce and cumin mixture will turn out to be just the perfect twist on holiday poultry.
Twin Dragon: 8597 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson; (310) 657-7355
Yang Chow: 819 N. Broadway, Chinatown; (213) 625-0811
Din Tai Fung: 1108 and 1088 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 574-7068
Elite Restaurant: 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 282-9998
Shen Yang: 137 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 292-5758
Jessica Ritz also writes about eating out with kids and other family-related food news at Taster Tots L.A. Follow her @TasterTotsLA.