17 Throwback Restaurants You Have to Visit in LA

Classic steakhouses, Italian joints and more
August 10, 2015
by Lesley Balla

Those who say that Los Angeles has no history clearly haven't eaten at Philippe the Original or Musso & Frank. These are just two of the oldest restaurants still operating today, places that harken back to a simpler time. Some of the most iconic restaurants might be gone — Chasen's is now a Bristol Farms, the original Brown Derby (the hat-shaped one) is a Koreatown strip mall, Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel is a school, and a condo stands where Perino's did on Wilshire Boulevard — but there are a lot of dining establishments that still throw a vibe from the 1920s straight through the 1980s (yes, that's "retro" now). Here is a look at the must-visits around town now.

Musso & Frank

Throwback to: 1920s–1930s

Opened in 1919, this Hollywood restaurant was made famous by its French-leaning menu, which is mostly unchanged today (where else can you get jellied consommé, avocado cocktail and flannel cakes on any given day?). Its history is lengthy: In the 1930s, it was where studio execs recruited authors to the Hollywood sets. One step in either of its rooms, and you feel the ghosts of Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck hanging around. The bar is still one of the best places for a martini in town, where red-jacketed servers, some who’ve been there for more than 50 years, shake and serve them up with olives (and a little extra on the side). This was a favorite spot for Mad Men location scouts.

6667 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-467-7788

Pacific Dining Car

Throwback to: 1920s–1930s

Born in a railway car parked on a rented lot in Downtown Los Angeles, the original Pacific Dining Car (1921) served the hungry appetites of land speculators, real estate moguls and bootleggers — the kind of men who made deals over big steaks, flaky pies and a cup of coffee. As the place (and the economy) grew after the Depression, celebrities from mafia heads to Mae West were fans of the hideaway. A meal in the original wood-paneled dining car with its tasseled curtains, green velvet chairs and dog portraits on the wall is a taste of a more glamorous time around the table, long before cell phones and selfies became the norm. It's also open 24/7.

1310 W Sixth St.; 213-483-6000


Throwback to: 1920s

Henry Cole debuted his P.E. Buffet in 1908 on the ground floor of the Pacific Electric Building in Downtown LA, which served as the main terminal for the Pacific Electric Railway. Thousands of people passed through that terminal on a daily basis, and many stopped at Cole’s for a sandwich — the French dip was reportedly created here, giving birth to the Philippe vs. Cole’s debate — a cup of coffee and eventually cocktails. Current owner Cedd Moses, known for giving new life to historic dilapidated properties, had the place brought to code in 2008, but it still feels like an early-20th-century watering hole with its deeply colored wood walls, mahogany bar and vintage lights. The Varnish speakeasy, which didn’t exist before Moses took over the building, gives it a real pre-Prohibition vibe. This was a favorite location for many 1960s Mad Men dining scenes.

118 E Sixth St.; 213-622-4090

Philippe the Original

Throwback to: 1930s

This historic deli, founded in 1908, also claims to have created the French Dip in 1918. Having moved to its current location in 1951 (relocated for construction of the 101 Freeway), there’s something decidedly Depression Era about the uniformed women behind the counter constructing single- or double-dipped beef, lamb and turkey sandwiches and scooping out potato salad or coleslaw. Maybe it’s the jars of pickled eggs, or the communal tables surrounded by sawdust on the floor, or the housemade nasal-clearing mustard that’s a hand’s reach away from any seat. But quite possibly it’s the prices — a cup of coffee cost a nickel well into the 1970s and is still only 45 cents now. Philippe finally started taking credit cards in 2014. The whole experience is a delicious step back in time.

1001 N. Alameda St.; 213-628-3781

Tam O’Shanter

Throwback to: 1930s

Though not often credited as such, this Atwater Village home to prime rib and Yorkshire pudding can be seen as one of the original theme restaurants in LA. Established in 1922, the Tam was designed by storybook architect Harry Oliver, who created its ramshackle roof and Disney-esque exterior. It wasn’t originally a Scottish-themed spot, that came a little later, along with plaid-wearing servers, and stuck. The owners, Lawrence Frank and Walter Van de Kamp, went on to open Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills.

2980 Los Feliz Blvd.; 323-664-0228

El Cholo

Throwback to: 1930s

The original restaurant, a small shack, was established in 1923, but the outpost on Western Avenue, which we all know as the “original El Cholo,” opened in 1927. It’s much bigger than it was then, growing from a few stools, a couple booths and a stove for heating tortillas to several rooms, a full kitchen and a bar (although that original stove remains in the entryway as an artifact). But it feels old-school, a throwback to when the only Mexican food anyone knew consisted of combo platters, Spanish rice, refried beans and lots of cheese. Nachos were made popular here, as were margaritas; the green tamales are still legendary. The newer locations, all opened by various generations of the same family, have tried to replicate the vibe, but the original oozes it.

1121 Western Ave.; 323-734-2773

The Apple Pan

Throwback to: 1940s

As the West LA malls and shops have grown around it, the Apple Pan is still an honest burger joint set in a small house with a U-shaped counter, red leather stools and vintage signs. There’s almost always a wait, they only take cash and a piece of pie is mandatory no matter how full you are after eating a hickory or steak burger. If it looks like Johnny Rockets, from the white paper hats on the cooks and servers to the quick-serve mentality, that's because it supposedly was the inspiration for the chain.

10801 W. Pico Blvd.; 310-475-3585

Taylor’s Steakhouse

Throwback to: 1950s

The Naugahyde booths, the art on the walls, the extra chilled martinis and dry-aged steaks — these are all reasons to love Taylor’s. Originally opened in 1953 on the corner of Olympic and Western, it moved to its current location in the 1970s, but it can’t shake that super old-school vibe. The servers are sassy but will take care of every whim and need, and the steaks are some of the best deals in the business. You can almost feel the ghosts; or maybe that’s just cloudy air from years and years of cigarette, cigar and grill smoke.

3361 W. Eighth St.; 213-382-8449

The Polo Lounge

Throwback to: 1950s

The Beverly Hills Hotel restaurant has seen luminaries and celebrities practically every day of the week since its opening in 1941, but the 1950s were the heyday when the Rat Pack would use it as a favorite watering hole and everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly would dine there. Recent renovations have smoothed out some of the weathered ruffles. The Fountain Room, a soda fountain that opened in 1949, has that same old-school vibe (and great cake and milkshakes).

9641 Sunset Blvd.; 310-887-2777

Dan Tana’s

Throwback to: 1960s

When you think of an old-school Italian restaurant, this West Hollywood icon fits the picture to a T: It's filled with red leather booths, Chianti bottles, red-and-white-checkered table cloths and  — this being Dan Tana’s — celebrities, with some having their favorite dishes on the menu named after them. Classic red-sauce dishes are the norm here, the kind you could imagine Old Blue Eyes eating in between cigarette breaks.

9071 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-275-9444

The Dresden

Throwback to: 1950s

Open since 1954, the Los Feliz steakhouse and lounge has awesomely preserved midcentury design — big curved white leather booths, river rock walls and vintage everything, including Marty and Elayne, who’ve been performing there since the early 1980s. If you’ve seen Swingers, you know all about the duo and the Dresden. You’ve also seen the dining room in Mad Men (of course).

1760 N. Vermont Ave.; 323-665-4294


Throwback to: 1960s

Yamashiro the building has been overlooking the city from its perch above Hollywood since 1914, but it wasn’t until after WWII that the then owner decided to restore it. In the 1960s, a small bar morphed into a small dining room, which grew into what it is today, taking up the entire east wing of the original building with stunning views of Hollywood, the 600-year-old pagoda on the hill and beyond.

1999 N. Sycamore Ave.; 323-466-5125

Chez Jay

Throwback to: 1960s

Not much has changed at this iconic Santa Monica dive bar since it opened in 1959. There are still stiff drinks at the bar, sand dabs and butter steak on the menu, and the most famous of faces inconspicuously imbibing with strangers who don’t bother them. The late original owner, Jay Fiondella, who’s often been described as an adventurer and competitive hot air balloonist, is said to have inspired the Most Fascinating Man in the World from the beer commercials. His spirit fills the place, a landmark we hope never changes, even as the world around it does.

1657 Ocean Ave.; 310-395-1741

Good Times at Davey Wayne’s

Throwback to: 1970s

This is really a bar with some food, not a restaurant. But when Johnnie and Mark Houston put their minds together to create a '70s-themed bar, they did it with such perfection, you can almost hear The Brady Bunch theme song in the background. The Hollywood spot, found only by wandering into a garage sale and walking through a refrigerator door, drops you right into the Me Decade, with wood paneling, avocado-green furniture, starburst mirrors and drinks named for pop-culture references only those born before 1975 will get. Think The Regal Beagle, Cisco Kid and Some People Call Me Maurice. The Houston brothers did the same thing with the 1980s at Break Room 86.

1611 N. El Centro Ave.; 323-962-3804

Chinois on Main

Throwback to: 1980s

Asian-fusion cuisine was a direct result of 1980s ingenuity. Wolfgang Puck moved from the flavors he knew at Spago to create hybrid dishes — here a combination of French, Chinese and California sensibilities — in a colorful and vibrant dining room that’s as eclectic as its dishes. Not much has changed since then, either. The Venice restaurant still pulls people in for Chinese chicken salad and whole sizzling catfish.

2709 Main St.; 310-392-9025

The Ivy

Throwback to: 1980s

The '80s were all about big hair, big salads and big deals at the Ivy, which attracted a who’s-who of Hollywood and glamorous LA life long before TMZ. Known as a hobnobbing hub for stars and agents and everyone who wants to be around them, The Ivy isn't about eating, although you may see people pushing around a few leaves of lettuce around from a chopped salad. It’s purely to be seen. The menu hasn’t progressed too far from an '80s mentality, although the prices certainly have — it's almost $24 for a margherita pizza — which keeps the riffraff out. Well, except for those celebrity stalkers who hope to dine next to fame in a chintz-filled cottage.

113 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310-274-8303


Throwback to: 1980s

Long before farm-to-table, seasonal or market-fresh were buzzwords, Michael McCarty was carving out a name for himself in the food world, alongside many chefs who were soon to become the strongest branches of the Los Angeles culinary family tree. The Santa Monica restaurant debuted in 1979, a place where modern American cooking met French technique and locally sourced ingredients. The patio has been touched up a bit since the '80s, and the menu has had a few updates too (as has the bar in front), but it still feels like you could turn to see Nancy Silverton, Jonathan Waxman or Mark Peel walk out of the kitchen after a shift.

1147 Third St.; 310-451-0843

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