10 Under-the-Radar Gems Around LA

By Lesley Balla  |  October 14, 2013
Credit: Venice Beach Wines

Everyone knows the hot spots around town, but the everyday restaurants, the ones the locals frequent on a regular basis, are the unsung heroes of any local dining scene. You know the type: restaurants where the food is consistently solid, the space is welcoming and dining there once or even twice a week won’t break the bank. While it’s impossible to hit every enclave of this grand expanse in one list, here are 10 under-the-radar gems, some new, some old, in popular neighborhoods around LA.

  • Mid-City: Carlitos Gardel

    You’ve probably driven by this Argentinean steakhouse for the last 17 years, and didn’t realize what you were missing: fantastic steaks cooked to perfection, the crisp fries covered in garlic and parsley, and the impressive wine list (especially if you’re looking for, say, an Argentinean Pinot Noir or Chardonnay). The charm is all there, and occasionally so is a celebrity trying to tuck out of the fray.

    7963 Melrose Ave.; 323-655-0891

  • Hollywood/Larchmont: Osteria Mamma

    There are other osterias around Hollywood that get more ink than this one, but the Italian charmer from the original owners of Osteria La Buca - Mamma Loredana and her son, Filipo Cortivo - is a great family-friendly spot for a plate of hand-cut pasta (the reginette della Mamma is out of this world), simple salads and pizza. And there’s now a lovely patio for warm evenings, and a small wine bar.

    5732 Melrose Ave.; 323-284-7060

  • Downtown: Bar | Kitchen

    The hip, boutique O Hotel is hidden enough in Downtown LA, and with so many culinary superstars lighting up the area, it’s a wonder the restaurant isn’t on everyone’s lips. It should be for the cocktails alone, plus an ever-evolving menu of things like shrimp and grits, pork chops with grilled peaches and bacon jam, and a really great burger. With Honeycut, the new bar and disco opening behind it, it’s poised to become super hot, so discover it now so you can say you were a regular before the crowds take over. There’s also a great happy hour.

    819 S. Flower St.; 213-784-3048

  • West Hollywood: Pingtung

    When you’re craving dim sum and too lazy to drive to the San Gabriel Valley, this restaurant and market will do. Inspired by owner Ping Li's favorite dishes from Taiwan, China, Vietnam and Japan, the indoor-outdoor space is more of a cafe during the day and loungey at night when the bar (beer, sochu, sake) is open. The menu features several banh mi sandwiches, dumplings, salads, sides, wraps and shaved ice, plus a marketplace for unique and gourmet items.

    7455 Melrose Ave.; 323-866-1866

  • Los Feliz: Mother Dough

    Owner Bez Compani takes his pizza very seriously. He thinks a pizzaiolo should become one with the oven - he supposedly painted over the temperature gauge so he could "feel" his way around the fire. But it's usually around 900 degrees so the pizza cooks in about 90 seconds, leaving a pretty authentic texture. Toppings are simple and classic. The hipster factor is too. It’s a great stop after a glass or two of vino at Covell Wine Bar a few doors away.

    4648 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-644-2885

  • Silver Lake: Blair’s

    Once the darling of the eastside dining scene, this comfy New American restaurant still has style and good food, even if the menu screams the early Aughts. But there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re craving truffle mac 'n' cheese, Brussels sprouts with pistachios or really good roast chicken. A few changes have occurred in the 10 years it's been open - the dining room and bar have switched places, a few chefs have come and gone - but Blair’s continues to draw a local crowd out for a solid meal.

    2903 Rowena Ave.; 323-660-1882

  • Santa Monica: JiRaffe

    Even with high-ranking scores in the Zagat Los Angeles Restaurants Survey year after year, Raphael Lunetta’s relaxed bistro sometimes falls off the radar for dining in Santa Monica. So much has opened and changed around it, but the comfortable dining room and Lunetta’s seasonal cuisine is such a lovely change of pace from the louder, trendier spots nearby. The three-course Bistro Night menus on Mondays are great for diners on a budget.

    502 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-917-6671

  • Venice: Venice Beach Wines

    Rose Avenue has become quite the hot block in Venice, almost surpassing the livelier and more popular Abbot Kinney, but before everyone was lining up at Superba or went ga-ga for Cafe Gratitude, there was VBW, sitting in its teensy little spot, filled with neighbors noshing on bacon-wrapped dates, whitefish crostini and lambwiches while sipping great wines and beer. Although the space hasn’t grown a bit - you still sit at benches and a few tables on the almost nonexistent patio - the offerings have: there’s now lunch, brunch and happy hour.

    529 Rose Ave.; 310-606-2529

  • Beverly Hills: Caulfield’s

    With newish chef Stephen Kalt heading up the kitchen, and with a new look in the dining room, the restaurant at the Thompson Beverly Hills is better than ever. The New York transplant continues to serve American classics with a twist for breakfast, lunch and dinner, things like rice porridge with hazelnuts, wild mushrooms and a runny egg, to acorn-fed pork with roasted pears and Brussels sprout leaves. This is a good spot for a business lunch or an intimate dinner away from the bustle of the Golden Triangle.

    9360 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-388-6860

  • South Bay: Dominique’s Kitchen

    French-born chef Dominique Theval, who made his way through various hotel kitchens in Europe to opening exec chef of Morels Bistro and then to Taix (LA's oldest French restaurant), brought his rustic, (mostly) French cuisine to Redondo Beach last year, and now it’s one of the best-kept secrets for escargot, rillettes, French onion soup and seasonal specials based on Theval’s finds at the farmer's markets. Think gluten-free squash ravioli with sage.

    522 S. Pacific Coast Hwy.; 424-247-9054