The prerequisite for a restaurant to call itself one is pretty simple—they’ve gotta serve food. But as we all know, our favorite restaurants take more than one sense into account. Interiors are tricky; like most refined arts, the best design is intended to be subtle. It’s meant to contribute to the experience as a whole without distracting from the food and conversation.
In the spirit of the Design Issue, we’ve rounded up the most gorgeous eateries in town. With decor ranging from contemporary and minimal, to historic or rustic, LA’s really got something for every aesthetic persuasion. Dig in—but don’t forget to document it first.
République | La Brea
Since opening its doors in December of 2013, République has been no stranger to dozens of international “Best Of” lists. Dripping with history, overflowing with character, République is the sexy older Spanish gentleman with a familiar grin.
Preserving the feel of the 1920s but infusing a chic modern flair, the renovation of the restaurant came with restored light fixtures, geometric tile flooring, white-brick walls, and reclaimed wood tables. The main dining area is open and communal, but there are a number of options available for diners who prefer a more private atmosphere, including the Right Bank Mezzanine, the Left Bank Wine Room, The Alcove, Kitchen Table, or the Full Buyout for the best company party you’ve ever been to.
Walter Manzke and Margarita—spouses and business partners—are the star chef and star pastry chef, respectively. The Café flourishes in the daytime, largely thanks to Margarita’s popular freshly baked breads and biscuits. Oh, and don’t get us started on the Kimchi fried rice.
Vespaio | Bunker Hill
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Emerson, an upscale apartment building in the heart of Downtown LA. Beyond living in a lovely unit with awesome amenities, residents can consider themselves lucky for another reason—the first floor of the building houses our favorite Ralph Gentile Architects’ yacht-inspired restaurant: Vespaio. Yeah, we’re about this life.
The restaurant, facing the bustling Grand Avenue, stretches over 5,500 square feet of space. That’s barely enough to house the classic and modern Italian flavor that renowned chef Agostino Sciandri brings to the table(s).
Speaking of tables, you can enjoy your breakfast, lunch, or dinner on the ones lining the spacious—and exquisitely lit—outdoor patio. There will soon be even more seating at Vespaio’s neighbor, The Broad Museum Park. Sit outdoors while you wolf down an entire sea bream. No one’s judging; these guys want you to make yourself at home.
Hinoki & the Bird | Century City
Hinoki & the Bird, a winner in the 10th Restaurant Design Awards, features a colorful palette for the eyes and equally colorful menu for your palate. Aside from Hinoki, aka an aromatic Japanese cedar wood, other equally enticing elements decorate the restaurant: oak and walnut with denim and brass are the staples of H&tB’s interior, designed by Studio MAI’s Milo Garcia.
Mismatched chairs and quirky accents flirt with the classy, upscale layout of the rest of the space, as the lively and hungry of Century City fill it up. The subtle hospitality of the restaurant, visually appealing dish designs, and, of course, citrusy musk of wood, keep diners coming back.
Clifton’s Cafeteria | Downtown
#TBT to elementary school: what was your favorite part of the school day? Most likely lunch—ours was. Bringing that experience back (but with a full bar) is Clifton’s Cafeteria.
The dining experience is one that allows for much creativity, and as Clifford Clinton (aka Cliffton) once described his restaurant: “a world of adventure, imagination, and magic.” Indeed, Clifton’s “Golden Rule” was that they’d never turn away anyone hungry, and had a history of helping those who couldn’t pay for their meals.
The largest public cafeteria in the world, Clifton’s Cafeteria—now renovated and reopened—in DTLA’s Theatre District features exotic, eye-catching decor. Once you grab a tray, and peek in, you’ll see the universe inside the 10,000 square foot area: waterfalls, a 250-pound meteorite, a Gothic Bar, the ghost of Ray Bradbury (serious!) and some big-ass redwood trees. Transport to another time and place at Clifton’s—with or without the help of their absinthe-infused cocktails.
Redbird | Downtown
Former cathedral, current and forever architectural treasure, Vibiana is home to chef Neal Fraser’s modern American restaurant, Redbird. It was designed by Robert Weimer and Amy Knoll Fraser, who left the authenticity of the cathedral untouched, while giving it a modern makeover, using key, complementary pieces. The white-walled patio lined with trees sews the past and present together in a visually seamless manner.
The menu is filled with seasonal plates that channel the rich cultural influence within Los Angeles, fit for refined yet worldly palates. Jonathan Gold of the LA Times remarked, “You feel as if you are part of something bigger than yourself, a hungry, chattering component of a grand pleasure machine.”