16 Eating and Drinking Secrets Around LA

By Lesley Balla  |  September 9, 2013
Credit: Petrossian

Within the sprawling metropolis that is greater Los Angeles, from the suburbs to the distinct neighborhoods within the city limits, no doubt there are hidden gems. But we also have secret hideaways, dining rooms and drinking dens too, and sometimes right there under your nose. To be in the know, check out the slide show below of under-the-radar pop-ups, off-menu dishes and dining rooms and bars so covert, you have to know which doorknob to turn. Or even have your own key.

  • Credit: Daily Dose

    Covert Coffee Spots and Cafes

    You’ve no doubt heard about Handsome Coffee Roasters, Urth Caffe and the forthcoming Stumptown Coffee roaster and retail shop in the Arts District downtown. But tucked away down a little walkway near Church & State and the Biscuit Lofts is the Daily Dose, where you’ll find Intelligentsia coffee, fresh-baked pastries, great sandwiches and one fantastic secluded patio. It's a quieter way to enjoy the artsy urban vibe of the neighborhood (1820 Industrial St.; 213-281-9300).

    Alfred Coffee & Kitchen, the stylish two-story coffee hideaway on Melrose Place, is the perfect stop for cinnamon rolls, sandwiches and Stumptown Coffee (cold, hot or latte-d). Everything’s on-trend: the mustachioed cup sleeves, the Hedley & Bennett aprons and the Pressed Juicery juices in a reach-in cooler (8428 Melrose Pl.; 323-944-0811).

    Short Cake at the Original Farmers Market has amazing sweet and savory pastries, but the coffee program is so good it has its own entity. Single Origin was conceived by coffee geek Nik Krankl and is now overseen by Short Cake’s Hourie Sahakian, who sources the best coffees for hand-brews and espressos. The Shakerato is a hit, an iced drink made with Verve coffee, which he cold-brews with fresh-roasted chicory over a 24-hour period, plus milk and a touch of simple syrup (6333 W. Third St.; 323-761-7976).

  • Credit: Lock & Key

    Hidden Bars

    Tucked away in Koreatown across from Ralph’s and next to a take-out window called Stall 239, Lock & Key isn’t just any hidden bar. To get in, you have to pick the right doorknob out of the countless doorknobs on the wall. Inside it’s dark woods, leather booths, flickering candles and classic cocktails made with care (239 S. Vermont St.; 213-389-5625).

    Like at their other spots like La Descarga, where you enter through an armoire, and Pour Vous, which has a secret smoking bus permanently parked out back, to get into the Houston brothers’ new No Vacancy, you have to pick the right door. But once inside the Hollywood nightspot set in an old mansion set back from the bustling boulevard, you’ll find rooms filled with antiques, tiles, red-velour furniture and other bric-a-brac. It truly feels like no other place, and often not of this time. The spirits program is heavy on gin and whiskey, and the list of 12 drinks created by bartender superstars like Marcos Tello and Julian Cox swaps out throughout the year (1727 N. Hudson Ave.; 323-465-1902).

    Sure, you can get a quick cut at the Blind Barber - it is, after all, a barber shop. But you can go for a cocktail too, once you find the bar hidden in back. And you don’t need to get a haircut before entering (10797 W. Washington Blvd.; 310-841-6679).

    Some other great hidden spots include The Varnish inside Cole’s, Caña Rum Bar in a Downtown LA garage, and the Basement Tavern under The Victorian in Santa Monica.

  • Credit: Malibu Pier Restaurant & Bar

    Under-the-Radar Pop-Ups

    Gary Menes has taken his Le Comptoir experience to Glendale, landing at The Wine Vault on Brand Avenue. Menes went through the Patina machine, staged at the French Laundry, and eventually landed at Firefly and then at Palate Food & Wine with Octavio Becerra, where he garnered great praise. His seasonal focus and attention to detail belies the relatively inexpensive price for his counter-seat dinners ($60 for six courses). Seatings are at 6 and 8:15 PM.

    Since leaving Cafe Pinot, chef Kevin Meehan has been holding roving dinner parties with Kali Dining. The settings can be anywhere, the menus can be anything, but it’s always a lively, communal affair. The chef’s goal is not only to prepare a great meal, but also to be accessible in the kitchen for a truly interactive evening. No booze is sold, so BYO is strongly encouraged (no corkage fee).

    While rumors are still swirling as to what will replace the shuttered restaurants on the refurbished Malibu Pier, ‘bu resident Helen Henderson launched Malibu Farm at the Pier dinners over Labor Day. Taking her popular (and equally under-the-radar) parties from her Malibu home and farm to the former Ruby’s space, she's made breakfast and lunch with a view available from 9 AM-5 PM, Wednesdays through Sundays. The goal is to get a liquor license and begin dinner service in October.

  • Credit: A.O.C.

    Secret Rooms

    The Library at The Redbury is a perfect respite from the occasionally overwhelming Hollywood crowds. Located on the second floor of the hotel, you can grab a cocktail or two, plus food from the limited Cleo menu at the indoor-outdoor lounge space and maybe even a game of pool (1717 Vine St.; 323-962-1711).

    The Bazaar is known for its dramatic dining rooms and bar and super-chic ready-to-party crowd, which is why we love Saam so. The private dining room is quite serene considering the crowds out front, a place to sit for a thorough 21-course tasting menu from the José Andrés team (465 S. La Cienega Blvd.; 310-246-5545).

    If the restaurant and bar is just too crowded at A.O.C., check out the upstairs lounge found via steps along the front of the restaurant. Windows open out to the courtyard, the walls are lined with wine bottles, candles flicker from every corner, and a bronze bull’s head keeps an eye on things. It’s a great spot for a glass of wine or a cocktail and a quick nosh if it’s not being used for a private party. There’s also a large table up there for larger groups (8700 W. Third St.; 310-859-9859).

  • Credit: Petrossian

    Off-Menu Dishes

    Chilaquiles aren’t just for breakfast, they're also the best way to sop up a boozy night. That’s why Walter Manzke whips up chilaquiles for Petty Cash bar patrons late (usually after 10 PM) and gratis, as long as you’ve ordered a cocktail. The flavors change, but there are always chips, cheese and protein, which could be anything from shrimp to al pastor (7360 Beverly Blvd.; 323-933-5300).

    You can get caviar on just about anything at Petrossian in West Hollywood, and now you can even have it on a burger. Only those in the know request the beef burger topped with crème fraîche, a fried egg, butter lettuce and a sheet of Petrossian’s pressed caviar. At $75 a pop, it’s not an ordinary price tag either (321 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310-271-0576).

    Yes, the entire menu and concept has been modernized at Spago. There’s even a bar menu now and happy hour (crazy). But for you old-schoolers, do know that even though you don’t see some of Wolfgang Puck’s most famous dishes on the menu, you can still order them, including the weinerschnitzel and smoked-salmon pizza (176 N. Canon Dr.; 310-385-0880).

  • Credit: Mari Vanna

    Hold the Key to Karaoke

    New Russian hot spot Mari Vanna has taken exclusivity to a new level. Owner Tatiana Brunetti and management staff have handed out keys on Russian nesting-doll keychains to select VIPs, regulars and other notable guests, which enable them to unlock the door on Monday nights after 10 PM for karaoke parties, infused-vodka cocktails and more. But if you don't get one, it's ok: ring the doorbell and someone might let you in (8475 Melrose Pl.; 323-655-1977).