Photos: Los Angeles: City of Angels

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  1. Los Angeles has a stunning and recognizable skyline and is a great spot to see Hollywood's A-listers, but is also known for sprawl and smog. L.A. is home to nearly 10 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2008 figures). (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The East Pavilion at the Getty Center is pictured in L.A. "The J. Paul Getty Museum seeks to further knowledge of the visual arts and to nurture critical seeing by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of the highest quality," according to The Getty's Web site. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Venice Beach has the boardwalk, Muscle Beach, volleyball courts, a bike trail and many other attractions that have been luring people for decades. "Venice has always been known as a hangout for the creative and the artistic," boasts venicebeach.com. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. If you're a nut about pumping iron, you'll want to one very specific part of Venice Beach. "Muscle Beach is a special area where fanatic bodybuilders pump iron in a public show of strength," according to L.A.'s Department of Recreation & Parks. This photo shows Larry Pollock striking a pose in the finals of the annual Venice Classic bodybuilding competition at Venice Beach back in 2003. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Two women walk past businesses that cater to high-end luxury item consumers along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. "The famed shopping street is known throughout the world as the epicenter of luxury fashion," claims Rodeo Drive's official Web site. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Looking for stars in L.A.? You need not look beyond The Griffith Observatory. OK, maybe these aren't the stars you had in mind, but the observatory overlooks Los Angeles from atop the Hollywood Hills. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland is the centerpiece of Fantasyland, and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. (Paul Hiffmeyer for Disneyland) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Visitors raft through realistic looking hot springs and geysers on the ''Grizzly River Rapids'' ride at Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, Calif. The 55-acre park next to Disneyland is based on California themes, and opened to the public in 2001. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Cownose Ray glides past as divers feed tropical fish in the Tropical Pacific Gallery at the Aquarium of the Pacific. The Aquarium features a shark lagoon and three main viewing galleries where visitors can learn about ocean issues and conservation. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A simulated "Jaws" shark attack is just one of the attractions that draws in visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood. Park rides include Revenge of the Mummy, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park, The Blues Brother, The Simpsons, and more. (Universal Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Hollywood Sign was refurbished in 2005. The sign is one of the better-known landmarks in America, and sits atop Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains. (David Livingston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is best known for the Oscars, an annual telecast set to run for the 82nd time. "More than 6,000 of the most accomplished men and women working in cinema" make up the Academy's membership, according to oscars.org. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Galleria Studio Hollywood sells merchandise along the Walk of Fame, where Hollywood's icons are immortalized. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Stars have left their hand and foot prints in concrete for more than eight decades at the original Graumans Chinese Theatre forecourt. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Dodger Stadium, opened in 1962, has seen more than 125 million fans come through its gates. Baseball fans can purchase a famed Dodger Dog and a beer, soak up some sun, take in a breathtaking view of downtown L.A., look for celebrities -- oh, and watch America's favorite pasttime. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 500 pieces of art created by more than 200 artists. MOCA was founded in 1979 and "is the only museum in Los Angeles devoted exclusively to contemporary art," its Web site says. (Ted Thai / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Visitors to Olvera Street can stroll around the marketplace and shop for Mexican-inspired souvenirs. On weekends, revelers can enjoy entertainment by roaming musicans, Mariachi bands and performances by Aztec Indians. (L.A. Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The 2,265-seat Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is clad with more than 6,000 steel panels. The hall is home to the Music Center of Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Farmers Market started in July of 1934 when some farmers pulled their trucks onto some empty land known as Gilmore Island. The farmers displayed their wares, and customers came, parked, strolled around and purchased fruit, vegetables and other goods. "The atmosphere was casual, the open air commerce enticing, the goods fresh, and the result remarkable," farmersmarketla.com claims. "Farmers Market became an instant institution." (Farmers Market) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. This diorama of a mastodon trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits is featured at the Page Museum. "Rancho La Brea is one of the world's most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world," the Page Museum's Web site claims. (David Peevers / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A surfer heads toward the water at Laguna Beach in Orange County, Calif. The state's myriad beaches draw a large number of tourists and surfers from across the country. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The $1.5 million solar-powered ferris wheel runs at Pacific Park amusement park on the Santa Monic Pier. Even with its 160,000 lights, the ride is 75 percent more energy efficient than the Pacific Wheel -- the ride it replaced -- which was auctioned off on eBay for $132,400. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 3, 2009, in Hollywood. The Philharmonic regularly performs at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Mathew Imaging / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Manhattan Beach is located about 20 miles southwest of Los Angeles, and features more than 2 miles of beach front, 40 acres of recreational beach area. The scenic 928-foot-long pier at the end of Manhattan Beach is easily recognizable, and fishing is permitted all year long. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 6/5/2006 3:03:10 PM ET 2006-06-05T19:03:10

As one of the world's cultural crossroads, Los Angeles is an international atlas of exotic cuisines: Afghan, Argentinean, Armenian, Burmese, Cajun, Cambodian, Caribbean, Cuban, Ethiopian, Indian, Jewish, Korean, Lebanese, Moroccan, Oaxacan, Peruvian, Persian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese. . . well, you get the point. Whatever you're in the mood for, this town has it covered, and all you need to join the dinner party is an adventurous palate because half the fun of visiting Los Angeles is experiencing worldly dishes that only a major metropolis can provide. And since it's L.A., there's always the added bonus of spotting celebrities.

Although it's those famous celebrity chef and celebrity-owned restaurants that attract most of the media limelight, the majority of L.A.'s best dining experiences are at its small neighborhood haunts and minimalls, the kind you'll never find unless someone lets you in on the city's dining secrets, and this chapter is full of them.

While dining in Los Angeles is almost always a hassle-free experience, there are a few things you should keep in mind the next time you eat out:

If you want a table at the restaurants with the best reputations, you probably need to book several weeks in advance for weekends, and at least 2 weeks ahead for weekdays.

If there's a long wait for a table, ask if you can order at the bar, which is often faster and more fun.

Don't leave anything valuable in your car while dining. Also, it's best to give the parking valet only the key to your car, not your hotel room or house key.

Remember, it's against the law to smoke in any restaurant in California, even if it has a separate bar or lounge area. You're welcome to smoke outside, however.

This ain't New York: Plan on dining early. Most restaurants close their kitchens around 10 p.m.

Grace (7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; tel. 323/934-4400): The best overall dining experience in Los Angeles. Iron Chef Neal Fraser was trained by America's finest chefs, and it shows (the fois gras served two ways is worth the trip alone). Sophisticated yet unpretentious, Grace is a splurge worth making.

Koi (730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; tel. 310/659-9449): The combination of soothing feng shui ambience and superb Asian fusion cuisine has made Koi one of the hottest restaurants in L.A. Hollywood's biggest celebrities -- George Clooney, Jennifer Garner, the Osbournes, Demi and Ashton -- arrive here nightly to nosh on addictive dishes such as baked crab rolls with edible rice paper and miso-bronzed black cod.

Saddle Peak Lodge (419 Cold Canyon Rd., Calabasas; tel. 818/222-3888): In L.A., a romantic restaurant is one without cellphone service (that would be in the hills above Malibu). This converted hunting lodge is quite the quixotic setting for a meaty meal for two. Candlelit tables, a crackling fireplace, and a Wine Spectator?award-winning wine list are sure bets for creating la mood d'amour.

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Beacon (3280 Helms Ave., Culver City; tel. 310/838-7500): Chef Kazuto Matsusaka serves Spago-quality Asian fusion and a fraction of the price at this humble Culver City hot spot. The warm crispy oysters in lettuce cups, stir-fried mushroom salad, and miso-marinated black cod are fantastic.

Meson G (6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; tel. 323/525-1415): Take a culinary tour around the world with Chef Josef Centeno's globally inspired small-plate sensations. Crunchy kaboucha squash poppers, salt cod fritters, turnip soup, Maine scallop ceviche, fois gras panna cotta -- the man's a friggin' genius. You'll also dig the suave setting on hip Melrose Avenue.

Mastro's Steakhouse (246 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills; tel. 310/888-8782): You'll find Fred Flintstone size slabs of hand-cut USDA beef, oysters the size of your palm, and a big pile of creamy mashed potatoes mixed with sour cream, chives, bacon, and butter. God bless America.

Tantra (3705 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; tel. 323/663-8268): Bollywood meets Hollywood at L.A.'s übertrendy Indian restaurant and nightclub. It took a studio design company to create the too-cool ambience, and the food is superb. Lord Ganesha watches over Silver Lake hipsters as they dine, dance, and drink Shiva's Revenges.

La Cachette (10506 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City; tel. 310/470-4992): Jean Francois Meteigner, owner and executive chef of this tres romantique restaurant, is one of America's most influential French chefs, and his cuisine naturelle menu is full of flavor while 90% free of cream and butter.

The Hump (3221 Donald Douglas Loop Rd., Santa Monica; tel. 310/313-0977): Claim a sushi bar as L.A.'s best -- and I think this is the best -- and you're sure to start an argument. The chefs at The Hump are deadly serious about their sushi: Flown in daily from Tokyo's Tsukijii and Fukuoka fish markets in oxygen-filled containers, it's so fresh that there's a sign at the entrance warning the faint-of-heart that the meat's still moving.

Restaurant Hama (213 Windward Ave., Venice; tel. 310/396-8783): It's the always- festive atmosphere that makes everyone feel welcome at this lively Japanese restaurant. Party along with the six cheery sushi chefs as they slice, dice, and drink many rounds of beers and sake. By closing time, everyone's singing along to "Hotel California."

Frida (236 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills; tel. 310/278-7666): This Mexican restaurant's cuisine is so authentic the executive chef's ancestors are responsible for the recipes (the mole dishes alone are worth the drive over here). Bite into a handmade soft taco brimming with sautéed shrimp bathed in a dark, tangy pasilla-orange sauce, and you'll know why everyone's talking about this Beverly Hills newcomer.

Water Grill (544 S. Grand Ave., Downtown; tel. 213/891-0900): A beautiful contemporary fish house that serves imaginative dishes influenced by America's regional cuisines. An absolutely huge raw bar features the best clams, crabs, shrimp, and oysters available, and the fish is so fresh it practically jumps onto the plate.

The Apple Pan (10801 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; tel. 310/475-3585): Stand in line for the city's best hamburger. Choose from the "steakburger" or the saucy "hickory burger" -- though regulars know to get hickory sauce on the side instead (for french-fry dipping). The wallpaper looks like it dates from opening day in 1947 at this family-run cottage on the busy Westside.

Nonya (61 N. Raymond Ave.; tel. 626/583-8398): Yet another reason to make the drive to Pasadena is this gorgeous restaurant that serves a cuisine you've probably never even heard of: Peranakan, a blend of Chinese and Malaysian culinary styles. Chile-marinated chicken grilled in banana leaves? A mango-halibut salad? Let's go.

House of Blues Gospel Brunch (8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; tel. 323/848-5100): For more than a decade the HOB has hosted a raucous Sunday brunch that's simmering with high-energy gospel groups and all-you-can-eat Southern home cookin'. It's brunch you can shake your booty to.

BEST DINING BETS

Best Places for a Power Lunch: Between 12:30 and 2 p.m., industry honchos swarm like locusts to a handful of watering holes du jour. Actors, agents, lawyers, and producers flock to perennial favorites The Ivy, 113 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/274-8303), and the L.A. branch of New York's venerable The Palm, 9001 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/550-8811), a steakhouse where the food is impeccable and the conversations read like dialogue from The Player.

Best View: The Restaurant at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., West L.A. (tel. 310/440-6810) has an in-the-clouds locale that makes for postcard views when the L.A. sky is smog-free. Reservations are a must, even for lunch (served Tues?Sun); dinner is served only Friday and Saturday, when the museum is open late. Make reservations online at www.getty.edu.

Best "Old Hollywood" Restaurant: Haunted by the ghosts of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway -- who drank here during their screenwriting days -- Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood (tel. 323/467-7788) is virtually unchanged since 1919. The atmosphere urges you to order a martini and chicken potpie. Listen to the longtime waitstaff wax nostalgic about the days when Hollywood Boulevard was still fashionable and Orson Welles held court at Musso's.

Best Spot for People-Watching: Nowhere in L.A. is better for people-watching than Venice's Ocean Front Walk, and no restaurant offers a better seat for the action than the Sidewalk Café, 1401 Ocean Front Walk, Venice (tel. 310/399-5547). Unobstructed views of parading skaters, bikers, skateboarders, musclemen, break dancers, street performers, sword swallowers, and other participants in the daily carnival overshadow the food, which is a whole lot better than it needs to be.

Best Spots for Celebrity Sighting: You'll always find well-known faces frequenting West Hollywood hot spots, the most sizzling of which is Koi, 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/659-9449), the current fave of George Clooney, Jennifer Garner, the Osbournes, Madonna, Demi, Ashton, J.Lo, and their ilk. The Hump, 3221 Donald Douglas Loop Rd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/313-0977), is a little-known Santa Monica Airport sushi bar where Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Phil Jackson make regular appearances. Other celebrity hangouts include Le Dôme, 8720 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/659-6919); Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian hotel, 8440 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 323/848-6000); The Ivy, 133 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood (tel. 310/274-8303); and, of course, Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills (tel. 310/385-0880).

Best Alfresco Dining: You'll find that more and more Los Angeles restaurants are eager to create appealing outdoor seating, even if it means placing bistro tables along a busy sidewalk. At the high end of L.A. alfresco is Four Oaks, 2181 N. Beverly Glen Blvd., Los Angeles (tel. 310/470-2265), nestled under romantically lit trees in the canyon of Beverly Glen. A more affordable way to enjoy a meal outdoors is to stroll Sunset Boulevard around Sunset Plaza Drive. There are at least a half-dozen pleasant sidewalk cafes -- and the people-watching is some of the best in the city.

Best Wine List: Year after year, plenty of other restaurants offer thoughtfully chosen vintages, but no one comes close to toppling Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/829-4313; http://www.welovewine.com/), which still boasts L.A.'s best cellar and is continually honored with Wine Spectator's highest ratings.

Best California Cuisine: At chef/owner Michael McCarty's eponymous Santa Monica restaurant Michael's, 1147 3rd St., Santa Monica (tel. 310/451-0843), the creative dishes with fresh ingredients at this perennial favorite make it clear why McCarty is considered an originator of California cuisine.

Best Italian Cuisine: Former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl called Valentino, 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/829-4313), the best Italian restaurant in America. This restaurant is very traditional and unusually formal for L.A., but the dining experience is worth dressing up for.

Best Mexican Cuisine: They may not be Mexican, but Two Hot Tamales Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger traveled deep into Mexico to absorb regional tastes and aromas, and returned with secret ingredients and kitchen savvy to pass on to their patrons at the Border Grill, 1445 4th St., Santa Monica (tel. 310/451-1655).

Best Afternoon Tea: Surrounded by botanical gardens, the tearoom at the Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino (tel. 626/683-8131), is truly an oasis. The Huntington, located in a wealthy residential area of Pasadena, has the added appeal of pre- and post-tea activities, such as strolling the theme gardens, viewing the art gallery or library, and visiting the bookstore/gift shop. The moderately priced tea ($13) is buffet style, so you can stuff yourself with fresh-baked scones, finger sandwiches, and strawberries with thick Devonshire cream.

Best Value: Former mayor Richard Riordan's The Original Pantry, 877 S. Figueroa St., Downtown (tel. 213/972-9279), stays open 24 hours a day, serving up large plates of traditional American comfort food (meatloaf, coleslaw, ham 'n' eggs) that won't win any culinary awards but offers some of the best values in town (you won't leave hungry, that's for sure). Far more upscale but equally value-oriented is Joe's Restaurant, 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice (tel. 310/399-5811), where the four-course prix-fixe menus are a real bargain for under $40.

Best Noshing (While Standing): Open since 1917, Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Downtown (tel. 213/624-2378), is L.A.'s largest and oldest food hall, selling everything from fresh bread to local and exotic produce, fresh fruit juice, smoked meats, Chinese noodles, and chili.

Best for Late-Night Dining: On the theory that later is better, our vote goes to Toi on Sunset, 7505 1/2 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (tel. 323/874-8062), and its brethren, Toi on Wilshire, 1120 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (tel. 310/394-7804), and Toi on Vine, 1360 N. Vine St., Hollywood (tel. 323/467-8378). You'll never feel like the last patron at these places -- they're open till 4 a.m., 3 a.m., and 2 a.m. respectively -- and the terrific Thai food will give your fading brain a spicy kick.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our online dining index.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

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