In a city and an era always on the lookout for the next new thing, any place that endures for more than a decade seems a historic survivor. The ever-fickle nature of the restaurant business makes it even harder to find a place with any sort of staying power.
Yet a select few Los Angeles dining establishments have withstood the test of time, thanks to noteworthy food, service, ambience, or all of the above. The following restaurants, which range in age from 82 to a relatively youthful 37 years, offer the chance to savor what life in Southern California was like way back in – well, another century.
The Musso & Frank Grill, affectionately known as Musso's, opened in 1919, when Hollywood was not yet on the map. Still a favorite hangout for deal makers and wannabes, it works its spell with a comfortably faded atmosphere and a menu that, though printed daily, seems eternal. The steaks, chops, and chicken potpies are still as tasty as ever. 11–11 Tue–Sat. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 467-7788.
Gone are the days of elegant railroad dining, but at the Pacific Dining Car, they live on. Original owners Fred and Lovey Cook built the railroad dining car replica to distinguish their new steak house; that structure endures in the entrance and front dining area of the much-expanded restaurant. This dining classic still enjoys a stellar reputation for its USDA prime beef, a wine list lauded by Wine Spectator, and excellent service. Open 24 hours daily. 1310 W. Sixth St., Los Angeles; (213) 483-6000.
Ask Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan why he bought stock in the Original Pantry back in 1980, and he might well cite bad service at the top of his list. The first time he ate there, his waiter insulted him. "I came from New York City and sort of missed that out here," he chuckles. Though some customers might object to the sometimes brusque manner of the staff in this bare-bones, linoleum-floored joint, since 1924 they've been queuing up for huge portions of bargain-priced food – macaroni and cheese, lamb curry, prime rib, and steaks – all from the menu scribbled on a wall-mounted blackboard. "I still eat there about three times a week," says the mayor – and he's not alone. Open 24 hours daily. 877 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles; (213) 972-9279.
Lawrence Frank all but dispensed with menus when he opened Lawry's the Prime Rib on the block known as Restaurant Row in 1938. Sure, evening guests arriving in the stately dining room were and still are welcomed with printed lists. But those are to explain the various sizes of cuts sliced from the huge, succulent beef roasts that carvers wheel from table to table in gleaming metal carts. Service remains downright theatrical: Order a salad and watch as your server spins a giant metal bowl on a bed of ice while pouring dressing from a sauceboat held high above. 5–10 Mon–Fri (until 11 Fri), 4:30–11 Sat, 4–10 Sun. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 652-2827.
A more subdued atmosphere reigns at the Polo Lounge, decorated in the signature greens and pinks of the establishment it has served since 1941, the Beverly Hills Hotel. Once a hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, this landmark retains a classic Tinseltown air. Though some things have changed – the cuisine, for example, improved considerably when executive chef Katsuo Sugiura (a.k.a. Chef Suki) introduced his East-West fusion menu in 1997 – almost everyone occupying its secluded booths still looks like an old-time producer or agent. Midday, the pretty, palm-fringed patio fills with Beverly Hills ladies who lunch. 7 a.m.–1 a.m. daily. 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 276-2251.
Taylor's Steak House has been serving meat lovers since 1953. With its cozy booths and dim lighting, it's the perfect spot for an old-fashioned rendezvous. The house specialty is the culotte steak, a 2-inch-thick cut from the end of the top sirloin. 11:30–10 Mon–Fri, 4–10 Sat–Sun (until 10:30 Sat). 3361 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles; (213) 382-8449.
Relative youngster though it is, Dan Tana's, opened in 1964 by none other than Dan Tana, feels like as much of an L.A. bastion as any of its older peers. Credit that to a menu, prepared for the last 31 years by chef Mate Mustac, that offers definitive renditions of such classics as Caesar salad, mozzarella marinara, linguini with clams, and New York steak. Each night, showbiz regulars fill the red leather booths beneath hanging Chianti bottles in the little yellow bungalow just south of the Sunset Strip. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. daily. 9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 275-9444.