As someone who lived in LA for 6 years I always get asked about it. And I always say - it's both wonderful and awful. So I thought I would cover the MUST spots and make a guide for those planning to visit, complete with star spotting to make sure you see the WONDERFUL.
Urth Caffe - First thing that comes to mind because I miss it the most. Everything is organic and tastes too good to be true. Some of my "musts" are - amazing fair trade coffees, incredible pumpkin pie (even if you hate pumpkin pie you will love this pumpkin pie), chicken curry sandwich, portobello mushroom panini, green tea-mango boba, cherry danish. The best location is Melrose Ave. - where the boys of Entourage frequently indulge on the show. Also spotted - Billy Zane, Sarah Chalke, and Jason Statham. Ideal for breakfast/brunch/a quick pick me up.
STK - MTV's The Hills favourite, where I noticed the actual Entourage cast hang out, as well as Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minnillo. One stop shop - great bar, plenty of singles, DJ, juicy steak, foie gras, and Coco de Ville nightclub where the likes of Kate Beckinsale and Victoria Beckham were spotted when it first opened.
The Spanish Kitchen - Worth a visit just for the Chocolate Lobster Crepe - on the half off starter menu during happy hour (4-7). Since you're in LA you have to try some Mexican food, and at this place you can do that in style. But it's worth popping into some hole in the wall like Tere’s for a good Chile Relleno Burrito at some point as well.
Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian on Sunset Blvd - if you're in search of a breathtaking nighttime view, and amazing food. Try the duck, and lobster mash is an absolute must. You might want to pop into the famous Sky Bar before or after for a drink.
The Abbey - a beautiful gay hotspot that's another one-stop-shop for a cafe, bar, and a dance club. Definitely something to see, especially during Halloween time.
The Standard (Downtown) is the other nighttime must for late night drinks or a hot summer day by the pool bar with a rented Chihuahua.
The Ortolan - the most beautiful restaurant you may ever see. Owned by a stunning and welcoming couple - chef Christophe Eme and Jeri Ryan (Shark/Star Trek).
Beverly Hills Hotel - If you're mainly into star spotting The Polo Bar is your port of call. Adam Sandler, Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase are all regulars.
Chateau Marmont - Andre Balaaz's famous hot spot is located right on Sunset Blvd, and a frequent sanctuary to the likes of Kate Moss, Lindsay Lohan and the rest of Hollywood hooligans. If you can get a reservation, the food at the restaurant is fantastic.
The Ivy - another LiLo favourite...spotted by my bff Alice and I. The food is delicious and the place is very charming. Dress to impress the staff, or you may get the cold shoulder and beware of the famous USA sized portions and paparazzi stampedes.
Shade Hotel - If you're in LA, you have to check out the beach, but don't go to just any beach or you may be in for a roach ridden disappointment...it's not the way it looks on TV you know. Head south to Manhattan Beach. Malibu is too cold. When there, play or stay at Shade Hotel - listed in Conde Nast Traveller Hot List #6 reason to visit LA and as the area's newest hip corner. One of just 19 U.S. properties to make the Hot List.
Sprinkles Cupcakes - accept no substitutes. Worth getting up early for, or you're going to end up in a long line. Yeah, that good. While in the area check out Rodeo Dr, and The Beverly Hilton, "home" of Pretty Woman.
Sushi Mon - LA is famous for its sushi, compared to LA there is no good sushi in London. Sushi Mon on Third used to be sushi heaven, but it suddenly changed owners and became ordinary. I had to ammend my posting because I no longer reccomend it. Any suggestions Angelinos?
Greystone Park/Mansion - Drive up The Hills for some fresh air and a breathtaking city view from the mansion Tom Cruise tried to buy for $100 mil. Fortunately The City (of Beverly Hills, not that “reality” MTV show) wanted to keep it for the public. Used to belong to the Doheney's who are building a more suitable property next door. Relax and watch the turtles climb on top of each other and stroll through the dreamy landscaped paths.
La Conversasion – Speaking of Doheny’s, check out this very cute café to have breakfast/brunch/tea and cake on Doheny Drive.
Grauman's Chinese - You're going to visit Hollywood Blvd, but to reimburse the disappointment go see a movie at the famous theatre which is bound to impress.
Girasole - the only real Italian food restaurant outside of Italy as far as I’m concerned. Located in Hancock Park, a beautiful old-school Hollywood area worth driving through. Specifically in Larchmont Village, a charming small town feel street sprinkled with mom'n'pop stores and cafés’. BYOB (bring your own bottle), or buy from a cute wine shop next door and don't leave without trying the Chicken Marsala. Penne Bolognese is also delicious, as is the Panna Cotta.
Neptune's Net - Beautiful drive to Malibu for some ocean air and fresh seafood at a famous biker bar where you can sometimes spot the cutest celebrity of all - a Husky riding on the back of his owners Harley. Of course some movies like The Fast and the Furious were filmed there too. You can go for your own little canyon run on any of the nearby mountain roads also.
Houston's - Amazing American fusion restaurant. You will want to go there every night. If there's a long wait for a table, eat at the bar, it's very civilized and a lot of fun. Don't leave without trying the French Dip and the Thai Jungle Salad. The ribs, sushi, crab cakes, prime rib, dessert, and wine are all fantastic too.
The Magic Castle - You have to know someone who knows someone to get in. Your Hotel concierge may be able to help. A really fun place to visit to see all kinds of amazing magic shows, celebs frequently appear, but most importantly, they have the most delicious prime rib I ever tasted, just watch out for that horseradish.
Chart House Restaurant - Has the best Chocolate Lava Cake around, made with Godiva chocolate. Order in advance, as there is a 20 min wait while they make it. Two sea-side locations, which also makes it a great dinner date venue as it has amazing views of the marina in Marina del Rey, or sunset over the ocean in Malibu.
Mirabelle - Probably the best chocolate souffle in the city. Open late and if that's your thing...you can smoke there. How is that possible? The owner...knows people.
Chan Dara Thai Restaurant - Famous for their attractive Thai waitresses and a fun sports bar section. Worth a visit for their incredible Thai Lolly Pop dish. If you're not into sports and beer, enjoy your food in the lovely garden. Go for the Larchmont Village location in Hancock Park.
Palms Thai - Another Thai restaurant worth a visit, for their delicious classics like Beef Pad See-You, Tom Yum Soup, and Thai Iced Tea. As well as witnessing an Asian Elvis performing in his blue suede shoes. Open till midnight, or 2am on the weekends.
Pacific Dining Car - Another venue for those who prey nocturnally. Old-school American eatery, open 24/7, incredible service, and one of the best steaks I have ever tasted.
M Cafe - If you're in the mood for something light and healthy, macrobiotic M Cafe is worth a visit for their mouthwatering tuna burger. Not much else.
Figaro – A Los Felis venue so cute it's used for a good chunk of Hollywood filming, as well as Madonna’s latest Louis Vuitton photoshoot. But most importantly on my list for its incredible Croque Madamme and Chicken Marsala Crepes.
Raffi's Place - Probably the best Kebab in the states. Or as the Persians, who rule LA meat scene, say - Kabob. Definitely worth a visit if you're a bit of a carnivore. It's quite the drive to Glendale, but there's a fabulous shopping center The Americana nearby where you can sample the real...well...Americana.
The Grove - Speaking of shopping centers, the only one that's actually a pleasure to visit, even if you hate shopping. It's America at its best, especially during Christmas time. The famous Farmer's Market is also there, which is a great place to grab a bite for the more adventurous. I recommend the Brazilian BBQ.
Aero Club Van Nuys - Home of the private jets of the rich and famous offers shockingly affordable flying lessons over LA. You can take over the wheel once in the sky and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. The pilot can take you over the Hollywood Sign and Hollywood Hills, as well as to Malibu where you can take in the view of the incredible homes and the ocean. The damage is only $65 per half hour which is the best price in the city and you can split the cost between passengers. The plane can take up to five people and they're willing to take you anywhere you want to go and pick you up. For instance if you want to fly for a Buffalo Burger on Catalina Island, the pilot will take you there and wait while you hang out. You will only be charged for flight time.
Don't fall for the hype of: Pink's Hot Dogs - 3 hour line for mediocre food. Joan's on Third - infuriating service. Sweet Lady Jane - the French pastry chef who made the place famous is long gone. Mr. Chow - even if it's good enough for Britney and Mikey Rourke, there's no good Chinese food in LA, period.
Just...don't: Use public transport. Leave without catching that famous LA sunset, sponsored by the smog. Think you won't get sunburned. Forget reservations. Get lost Downtown.
Do: Get lost in the hills. Substitute all you want in restaurants - you're in El Ay! Rent a car, driving is more fun in Cali. Consider a road trip to wine country.