Los Angeles has a long and storied history that is often associated with oil barons and movie moguls. But everyone’s gotta eat.
And the restaurants of Los Angeles provided in spades. Dating back nearly 100 years, some of the most iconic L.A. eateries have been serving up sandwiches, Mexican food, burgers, and other delicacies to the rich, famous, and all their fans.
There’s a fight in Los Angeles over who created the French Dip sandwich. The first contender is Cole’s, whose sign on the door says they’re the originator of the salty, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth meats. The restaurant opened in 1908 and today is still going strong with dark lighting, delicious sandwiches, and a secret speakeasy called the Varnish hidden in the back.
Also opened in 1908, Phillipe’s is the second restaurant to claim ownership of the French Dip. Owner Philippe Mathieu claims that the sandwich was invented in 1918 when he accidentally dropped the roll into a vat of hot jus and the customer said he didn’t care. It was so good he came back the next day for more. The name of the sandwich was coined because of the dipping into the jus and because of Mathieu’s French heritage—although another telling of its history claims the customer was French. No one actually knows, but their sandwiches are amazing.
The Musso & Frank Grill
This classic steakhouse opened in 1919 by Frank Toulet, Joseph Musso, and French chef Jean Rue. The eatery quickly became a hot spot for A-list guests like Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald who allegedly proofread his novels in the booths. Today Musso’s is known for perfect martinis, red tux-wearing waiters, leather booths, and sizzling steaks.
Taylor’s Steak House
Another classic steak joint, Taylor’s was opened in 1953 by Tex and Margie Taylor. This Koreatown joint is as old school as it gets with giant cuts of beef against brooding, dark light and deep leather booths.
Today, people probably know the Dresden because of its starring role in the hit movie Swingers. But this lively restaurant/bar got its start in 1954. Still hopping today, customers will delight to see the famous duo of Marty and Elayne still singing (badly) almost every night of the week against retro décor and tight, squeezed-in tables.
Pacific Dining Car
The Pacific Dining Car was opened in 1921 by Fred Cook and built out of an abandoned railway train car. To many, the diner’s claim to fame is being featured in the movie Training Day but it’s always been popular for breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea regardless of its time on the big screen. Guests here can expect heavy steaks and seafood as well as a late-night menu that runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Original Pantry Café
Opened in 1924 by Dewey Logan, this classic diner claims to have never closed in the entirety of its run and is currently owned by former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan. Open 24/7, the diner serves American food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and is known for cakes, pies, steaks, and chops. The cash-only establishment is also a Los Angeles historic-cultural monument.
Considered the best sandwich shop in town, this Italian deli has been open since 1925 and is home to the famous Godmother, a signature sandwich made with prosciutto, ham, capi cola, mortadella, Genoa salami, and Provolone cheese. The restaurant doubles as an Italian market where you can get everything from meats and cheeses to wine and beer.
In 1926, Herman Greenblatt opened his eponymous deli which serves Jewish deli food, wine, and spirits. The restaurant claims to have the rarest roast beef in town–and they’re probably right. The deli also boasts a famous clientele that’s included Marlon Brando, Lenny Bruce, Rita Hayworth, and John Belushi.
John “Barney” Anthony opened the currently-located-spot in 1927 which was then along the famous Route 66. Today, Barney’s is known as a sports bar with arcade games, bar food, and some of the best chili in town. Famous guests have included the Doors, Charles Bukowski, and Quentin Tarantino, who allegedly wrote Pulp Fiction in the battered booths here.
Opened in 1931, Canter’s is your classic Jewish deli, through and through. In front, you can buy freshly baked breads and pastries, while the enormous restaurant offers everything from giant sandwiches to matzoh ball soup 24-hours a day. In addition to the food, there’s also the Kibbitz Room which features live music and comedy throughout the week.
Blanche and George March opened El Coyote in 1931 and they chose the name because the word is the same in English and Spanish. The family-friendly Mexican restaurant is one of the oldest in town and offers up all the standard nachos, burritos, and enchiladas. If it’s on the menu, make sure you get the Ostrich tacos–they’re one-of-a-kind.
Pink's Hot Dogs
Since it opened in 1939 by Paul and Betty Pink, this ultra-famous hot dog stand has had lines around the block filled with Angeleno’s and tourists alike. Pink’s is most known for their chili dogs as well as being open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
The Polo Lounge has been a celebrity staple of the Beverly Hills Hotel since the early 1940s. No matter what day you visit, you’re virtually guaranteed to spot A-list celebs and powerful agents and executives hashing out Hollywood deals over lunch. Besides a power lunch location, the food is also great, and the Lounge is known for its afternoon tea and classic dishes like their tortilla soup, McCarthy salad, and wagyu burger.
Nate 'n Al
Opened by Al Mendelson and Nate Rimer, this classic Jewish deli has been catering to its Beverly Hills clientele since 1945. You’ll undoubtedly spot some celebrities here–Larry King is a regular. The food has all the typical deli dishes like matzoh brei, smoked salmon, sturgeon, herring, and giant sandwiches.
Burger fans have been tearing through Tommy’s since Tom Koulax opened the flagship store in 1946. This downtown L.A. staple is open 24/7 and has some of the juiciest burgers, hot dogs, and chili in town.
The Apple Pan
Burger-snobs will tell you that the Apple Pan has one of the best burgers in L.A. and based on being open since 1947, it’s not hard to see why. In addition to its savory ground-beef, the restaurant is also known for its apple pies. This is a classic diner, with a slightly surly staff, but you’ll look past that the second you gnaw into your steak or hickory burger.
Al Langer opened this vintage Jewish deli in 1947 and it’s typically rated as the best in Los Angeles. Open for breakfast and lunch, you’ll find all the deli classics here. The best thing on the menu is the #19, a pastrami sandwich with Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing.
Billed as Hollywood’s oldest Italian restaurant, Miceli’s opened in 1949. The highlight of this red-sauce spot is their singing waiters and waitresses who belt out Italian tunes between taking your order. You can expect red-checked table cloths and an old-school vibe. For their best dishes, check out Aunt Angie’s Original Lasagna or the Miceli’s Special Pizza with pepperoni, sausage, meatball, salami, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers.
The Red Lion Tavern
Though it wasn’t a German beer hall when it was first opened in 1959 by Ted Mandekic and Edward Pagliano, it quickly changed formats in 1963 to what you see today. Locals come here to watch soccer and take down giant German pretzels, sizzling schnitzel, loads of sausages, and gallons of beer.