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Restaurant Guide: Best Restaurants in Los Angeles
 
 

Campanile
624 South La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, California
Phone: (323) 938-1447


The voice of Mark Peel comes over KNX radio as you're frozen in freeway traffic, calmly explaining how to grill corn on the barbecue or make onion soup as though he's talking to you over the backyard fence. He sounds like — and is — a chef you can trust. In his own kitchen, his California Mediterranean cooking is honestly constructed with the pick of the local farmers markets, and you actually could chat with him over the heirloom tomatoes as he makes his regular Wednesday-morning rounds. Campanile is now in its 11th year, and Peel and his wife, Nancy Silverton, bread baker and pastry chef extraordinaire, keep their contemporary L.A. classic perennially fresh. Monday night is "family dinner," with a different menu each week served on communal platters in the middle of each table. Peel prepares elaborate degustations on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, Silverton mans the sandwich press for grilled cheese night — where the grilled cheese in question may involve fresh burrata and grilled radicchio. After discovering Sunday brunch's vegetable quiche, ginger scones, and crème fraîche coffeecake, you may never sleep in again.
 
 

Ginza Sushiko
218 North Rodeo Drive
Beverly Hills, California
Phone: (310) 247-8939

Even those who know sushi best bow before the artistry and personal charm of Masa Takayama, whose admirers fly in from all over the world. His restaurant has only nine seats at the maple counter (plus a few more in a private room), so prospective diners without reservations are shooed away. For each guest, Takayama creates a kaiseki-like succession of seasonal dishes, none of which are ever the same twice. Among the delicacies, on an ascending scale of exquisiteness, are imported saltwater hamo — a delicious, extremely bony fish that requires a special knife to prepare — as well as the winter crabs called kegani, and fugu, the potentially lethal blowfish that some Japanese say, only partly in jest, they'd gladly die for. In autumn, he may compose small masterpieces of matsutake mushrooms grilled on a red clay hibachi, itself a work of art. "The ginjo sake you sip as an apéritif is very special," Takayama says; to produce it, every grain of rice is peeled and only its center used. This is undoubtedly the most expensive sushi experience outside of Japan. It is also incomparable.
 
 
Lucques
8474 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, California
Phone: (323) 655-6277
Lucques — the near-unpronounceable name of an obscure Languedoc olive — was on everyone's tongue soon after it opened in what was once the carriage house of silent-screen star Harold Lloyd's mansion. It's true that Los Angeles laps up cinema lore. But the real buzz was about the richly textured pan-Mediterranean cooking of native daughter Suzanne Goin, a graduate of such institutes of higher learning as Al Forno, Olives, Chez Panisse, and Campanile. She's avoided getting stuck in the same old groove — her kitchen excels in garlicky Provençal bourrides and Portuguese-inspired cataplanas of clams and chorizo; in aromatic chicken braised the Moroccan way, with preserved lemons and olives; and in elegant endings that run to fruit crumbles and rich chocolate bread puddings. L.A. can thank its lucky stars she returned home.  
 
 
Spago Beverly Hills
176 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, California
Phone: (310) 385-0880
The party had already moved to Spago Beverly Hills before the farewell dinner in March at Wolfgang Puck's original Spago on the Sunset Strip. With all the kissing, hand stroking, and table hopping going on in the chic new location, you'd think that chef Lee Hefter had slipped something into the sparkling gazpacho or that Sherry Yard had discovered aphrodisiacal strawberries for her seminal shortcake and its rosy sorbet. But no, it's just the passion they put into an exciting, ever-changing menu. The high-voltage scene is fun, but what you eat and how you're served (even when nobody knows who you are) frequently add up to a seriously glamorous dining experience that few other restaurants ever achieve.
 
 
Valentino
3115 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, California
Phone: (310) 829-4313
Friday lunch at Valentino may have the same significance for Los Angeles foodies that Friday lunch at Galatoire's does for Louisiana socialites: It is essential. Of the thousands of Italian places in the United States, Valentino is perhaps the most traditional luxury restaurant, with dim lighting, a 150,000-bottle cellar, and a written menu that regular customers never see: Meals are essentially dictated by Piero Selvaggio or one of his captains, and they are always better when you challenge the chef to do something with the season's first asparagus or to cook to an old bottle of Barbaresco from the list. We have had some of the best meals of our lives at Valentino, abstract desire solidified into fish and meat and rice — but none has been ordered from the menu.
  


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