Toca Madera: Think Spanish mission meets ‘80s Vegas meets the set of The Phantom of the Opera: skulls, aged lanterns, open torches and a topless portrait of a pinup gal with a skull painted on her face. Standouts: table-made guac with pomegranate seeds, corn so sweet it should be a dessert and the peppery, kick-in-the-ass East Los cocktail. Tinder date drinks? Right here.
8450 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90048
Short for “formaggio,” Forma lays down the lactose. Cheese plates from Camembert to taleggio meticulously paired with sweeta and savory jams, nuts and fruit. Don't sleep on the chewy cacio e pepe, made in a colossal wheel of pecorino romano so rich and soothing you can’t operate heavy machinery after. A meal so fullfilling you'll forget the horror of finding parking off Montana.
1610 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90403
If you’re after Indian food that won't incur Oscar-speech-level tears on the Scoville scale, go to Sāmbār. Chef Akasha Richmond’s menu offers updated, accessible versions of dishes from all over India. Don’t miss the goat curry, with tough strips of borderline stringy meat in a sauce that wraps the mild creaminess of goat yogurt and tomato around the sharpness of cumin and onion.
9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
The first thing you're gonna notice at Bacchus Kitchen is a rusting, lopsided chandelier clinging to the ceiling. Edison bulbs encased in upturned wine bottles. It's gaudy and shameless and wonderful. Adding to the place's rustic chic: a row of hanging doors with peeling paint. But the neglect aesthetic stops at the food. Chef Claud Beltran’s sumptuous eats mix multiple cuisines in one dish, like shiitakes cooked into a tamale or the prime steak smothered in gumbo sauce.
1384 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, CA. 91104
At Maré, Chef Eric Greenspan offers your choice of shellfish and broth. It's super fresh and delicious, but the best part is that he serves it alongside a bowl of pasta and a 64-degree egg, which you mix with the broth after you’ve cleared out the shellfish. Gets kinda messy. But that’s the idea. The branzino, with its crispy skin and tender meat, is also mandatory.
7461 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA