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5 of the Best L.A. Restaurants Serving Fresh California Cuisine

AAA/Frank Swanson
By AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
October 12, 2021
Not many states can boast as much influence on the American menu as California. Thanks to its mild climate and long growing season, fresh fruits and vegetables are not only big business, but also the main ingredients in California cuisine, known for its simplicity and focus on brief cooking techniques that release flavors while maintaining the food’s texture. Salads are an obvious menu staple, but so are dishes spotlighting locally caught fish and just-picked herbs, citrus and avocadoes. Of course, meals served at the best restaurants in the Golden State are often paired with that other famous product exported throughout the world—California wine.
flickr / CC BY ND/JoVe DX

The Ivy

113 N. Robertson Blvd.
(310) 274-8303
When The Ivy first opened in the 1980s, it quickly became known for its famous clientele—so much so that the owners banned taking photos inside the dining room. Good luck enforcing that rule in the era of the iPhone and Instagram! While the no-camera policy might have gone the way of videotapes and acid-wash jeans, the reputation for celebrity sightings is as deserved as ever.
It’s easy to see why The Ivy—a AAA Three Diamond restaurant in the Beverly Hills-adjacent neighborhood of Beverly Grove—would be so popular with Hollywood A-listers. Bright, cheerful colors and painted jugs filled with roses dominate the décor, which as a whole creates the feel of a pleasant French cottage. Outside, colorful Christmas lights are draped around tree branches and along a white picket fence. “Cozy” comes to mind, due mainly to the rustic design scheme and tables being packed tightly together. Tasty choices from the menu include salads, gourmet pizzas and tacos with Santa Barbara shrimp. Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock, though—this ever-fashionable fun place to go charges Beverly Hills prices.
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AAA/Frank Swanson

Justice Urban Tavern

120 S. Los Angeles St.
(213) 253-9235
Abstract paintings with a law-and-order theme decorate the walls at Justice Urban Tavern, which is just as it should be because this sleek, contemporary gastropub lies in the shadow of L.A.’s City Hall and is virtually surrounded by courthouses and public buildings. One can easily imagine this local restaurant overflowing with judges, attorneys and police officers during the lunch rush. Specials are listed on a blackboard titled the “Daily Docket.”
But you don’t have to be a cop to love the fresh, hearty fare served here. Favorites include crispy tofu teriyaki or charred tuna steak accompanied by Napa cabbage slaw in a rice wine vinaigrette. Occupying the first floor of a DoubleTree hotel in downtown’s Little Tokyo neighborhood, Justice Urban Tavern is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you’re likely to find a friendly local crowd relaxing in the bar at the end of the workday.
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AAA/Frank Swanson

The Lab Gastropub

3500 Figueroa St.
(213) 743-2078
A college hangout across Figueroa Street from the University of Southern California, The Lab Gastropub serves delicious pub grub with a few nods to its chemistry lab theme (think cocktails served in beakers and long communal tables that’ll likely remind you of the stations in a high school science class). Tall glass doors slide out of the way to let in plenty of sunlight, and patio seating lets you enjoy Los Angeles’ mild climate.
A favorite among USC Trojan fans, and others, is the spinach and artichoke dip that comes with flatbread chips. You also can’t go wrong with the tacos with either chicken shawarma or beer-battered fish. And if you have a sweet tooth, the Belgian waffle served with coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce is so worth the calories.
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Courtesy of Restaurant at the Getty Center

Restaurant at the Getty Center

1200 Getty Center Dr.
(310) 440-6810
Does it get any classier than savoring a meal at a fine dining establishment in a world-class art museum? Probably not! After riding the tram up the hill to the AAA GEM Getty Center—perhaps taking a couple hours to wander through the art galleries in this free-form steel, glass and travertine museum complex—a delightful meal in the AAA Three Diamond Restaurant at the Getty Center might just be the perfect ending to your day.
The Getty generated a lot of headlines when it opened in 1997 thanks to its stunning architecture, beautifully landscaped grounds and primo setting in the foothills above Los Angeles. The Restaurant’s elegant dining room makes the most of its views with multistory glass walls offering a sweeping vista of the Santa Monica Mountains. The food is presented with just as much forethought and artistry as the view is, and though the menu changes periodically, dishes making frequent appearances include cobb salad, seared scallops and wild salmon. The seasonal soups are always a good choice, and the desserts are so beautifully crafted that you’ll hesitate (or snap a photo) before digging in.
AAA/Frank Swanson

Rockwell Table & Stage

1714 N. Vermont Ave.
(323) 661-6163
It was a sad day for the Los Feliz neighborhood when a family-run Italian bakery that had been at this location for more than half a century shut its doors in 2000. But Rockwell Table & Stage has eased the pain of losing such a beloved local institution by renovating the space, serving great food, hosting live music and making the most of its lovely courtyard, which is centered around a huge coral tree that provides shade to the open-air patio’s two levels.
Rockwell’s menu includes great salads filled with fresh ingredients like the honey mustard chicken and avocado. Among the other standouts prepared here are the grilled cheese and tomato bisque dip, filet mignon tacos in blue corn tortillas served with guacamole and pico de gallo, or the Los Feliz Village natural beef sliders topped with caramelized onions and blue cheese fondue.
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