Who doesn’t love the feeling of stumbling upon an unexpected drinking and dining gem? Whether you’ve got the skinny on a secret place behind an unmarked door or the intel on an unassuming bar that serves up surprisingly good food, it’s good to be in the know. These 10 L.A.-area spots are lesser-known or downright hidden, yes, but they’re also at the top of their game and worth seeking out, whether for crunchy fried chicken, late-night gourmet grilled cheeses, or the prettiest sliver of a patio for lunch and a latte.Read More
Unexpected But Great Dining and Drinking in LA
Old Place Restaurant
Tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains in the tiny town of Cornell is a rustic steakhouse that hasn’t seen much updating since its general store days. Nab a reservation for one of three nightly seatings and, under original low-beamed ceilings, feast on dishes that have been favorites since the 1970s: steamed clams, oak-grilled rib-eye, and old-school desserts like cast-iron apple crisp. It’s a classic LA hideaway you may want to keep all to yourself.
Nobody checks their phone at this hidden spot behind Venice’s Scopa Italian Roots because phones aren’t allowed. That’s just one of the quirks at Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni’s liquor and cocktail haven. The only way in is via Resy, and you’ll want to dress to impress. Once inside, you can get a finely crafted cocktail, sure, but much of the allure is a supply of difficult-to-find liquor, from the owners’ private stock.
This hidden Long Beach bar is a throwback in more ways than one. To find the secret spot, enter Roxanne’s Lounge and head for the vintage booth and give the day’s password, received by making a reservation or texting (562) 826-2940 after 7 p.m. Follow the instructions in the phone booth for entry. Enhancing the last-century vibe are live music on Friday and Saturday, craft cocktails, and a strictly enforced dress code.
The One Up
A “barcade” with a huge selection of games, beer, and bar bites? The One Up has all you could ask for in a gaming and dining experience. The menu is decidedly offbeat to add to the whimsy of Pac-Man and Mario Kart: Try the goat cheese tater tots, poke-won tacos, or Cap’n Crunch wings with an order of Elysian.
Experience the 80s and 90s just like you remember, except this time you play endless rounds of Tekken (free!) with an adult beverage in hand. It’s all nostalgia at this Garden Grove locale with fusion drinking snacks on the menu, such as chorizo aji fries and bulgogi pizza, plus plenty of old console games. Modern decor intersperses Star Wars figurines with VHS cover art, but it’s Elysian’s Space Dust IPA that’ll keep you coming back.
The Thirsty Merchant
This Valley Village bar provides all the outdoor accoutrements you need for a chill time in L.A.—built-in bocce ball courts, foosball and corn hole — with a food menu that gives you reason to linger. Choose from among freshly ground burgers (on gluten-free buns if you like), deviled eggs, salads, and a full brunch menu, plus daily specials. There’s a beer list with West Coast pale ales and IPAs, like the Space Dust IPA from Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Company, and international gems.
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KoKo Chicken & BBQ
There’s plenty of crispy Korean fried chicken, cabbage salad, corn cheese, and other drinking snacks to go with the cold craft beers and soju on offer at this barebones Garden Grove strip mall hangout. This in-the-know OC favorite serves everything family style, so it’s fun for a low-key date or a big group outing. Just remember, the wings are made fresh, so order another beer while you wait — it’s worth it.
Mission Tobacco Lounge
Don’t let the name fool you. It’s all about the music at this bar and concert venue, with an event calendar that segues from Beastie Boys cover band to live acoustic showcase. Another surprise? The downtown Riverside spot is open daily starting at 2 p.m. with a menu of bar favorites, including wings, a cheesesteak sandwich and grilled chicken wrap to match with drinks from the full bar and Elysian on tap.
What started in 2002 with two guys rooted in SoCal (Randy and Dan) and a dream of creating a Mexican restaurant, has blossomed into a national and international chain with 30-plus California locations. To get a taste of the recipes passed down from family, try the carne asada, al pastor, and other slow-roasted combinations (also the loaded Chronic fries). At this Corona location, an indoor bar and outdoor patio with a thatched roof sweeten the deal.