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A bowl of snap peas, bok choy, gomae and brussels sprouts.
Hansei is a multicourse experience from chef Chris Ono at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, charting the evolution of Japanese American cuisine in Los Angeles.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Eating at an L.A. museum has never been better. These 18 places show us why

Growing up, I never ate at museum restaurants. Instead, my parents studiously packed brown bag lunches for museum visits, reminding my younger brothers and me that admission to the museum was our adventure for the day. Even when school field trips took me back to those cultural institutions and I was lucky enough to choose from a kids menu, I rarely found them more appealing than the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my mother sent with me. As I grew up and began visiting museums on my own, I learned to plan ahead, mapping out restaurants nearby or eating before I left home to avoid overspending on an uninspired meal I’d probably regret.

Lately my practice has shifted. A promising trend emerged among L.A.’s modern museum restaurants since pandemic shutdowns ended. Hoping to attract Angelenos and tourists back through their doors, many institutions took the opportunity to reshape their food programs, bringing in new chefs, debuting fresh menus and, in some cases, revamping entire spaces.

The pinnacle of this movement is perhaps best embodied by the arrival of Lulu. In late 2021, Alice Waters, a trailblazer in the farm-to-table movement and founder of Chez Panisse, journeyed down the coast to partner with cookbook author David Tanis to open an all-day restaurant in the courtyard of the Hammer Museum at UCLA. This was notable not just because it served as both chefs’ first foray into L.A.’s restaurant scene, but also because of Lulu’s menu, which promotes similar ideals of sustainability, along with a strong local sourcing program and an often-changing seasonal menu.

If you’re searching for the essential food of L.A., let our critic’s 2022 restaurant list be your guide. Find the best vegetarian, Italian, Mexican and more.

Dec. 6, 2022

Other eye-popping upgrades have followed. In May 2022, chef Chris Ono, an L.A. native with a fine-dining background that includes Providence and Eleven Madison Park, was announced as the chef-in-residence at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo. He launched Hansei, a three-part dinner series that offers a tour of the center’s lounge and garden and includes several courses at a chef’s counter, where Ono dives into the trademarks of Japanese American cuisine. The dinner series has proved so popular that Ono’s residency was extended through at least August. The center recently brought on Keizo Shimamoto, creator of the ramen burger and founder of San Juan Capistrano’s Ramen Shack, as director of culinary events.


“I really want people to enjoy the space, experience the JACCC and what it has to offer,” Ono said. “The garden is very private and the dinner is one of the only public events where people can see it.”

Upon arriving, guests take an elevator down to a small exhibition room where an Ikebana floral arrangement is on display with antique ceramics. The first part of the dinner is held in JACCC’s bamboo garden.

With 11 to 12 courses presented over the course of an evening, Hansei might represent a special-occasion option, but plenty of museums are bringing a similar intentionality to casual restaurants and even grab-and-go counters. Take Neighborhood Grill by Post & Beam, which just opened in the Natural History Museum. Led by South L.A. locals John and Roni Cleveland in partnership with South L.A. Cafe Hospitality, the restaurant offers made-to-order sandwiches, tacos and flatbreads, in addition to a market counter stocked with items from local Black-owned businesses, encouraging guests to keep seeking out such products on their own.

“It means so much to me as a South Los Angeles native to be a part of the evolution of such a historic place,” Roni Cleveland said. The Clevelands have a young son with dietary restrictions and one of their goals with Neighborhood Grill is to make museum dining easier for families with selective eaters.


Here, we offer 18 artful food experiences convenient to L.A.’s best museums, galleries and landmarks. The list isn’t exhaustive but includes highlights such as a coffeehouse with a history of local activism and a downtown art complex with a restaurant as its centerpiece. From a garden tea at an Italian-inspired villa to a seaside brunch among sculptures, the culinary programs at these museum-adjacent restaurants are just as remarkable as the collections.

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Whole Harissa Shrimp over baby carrot puree and tabil collard chips.
(Erica Allen)


Downtown L.A. Global Tunisian $$
With its rotating residencies that highlight rising chefs and restaurateurs, you’ll never tire of the menu at Abernethy’s — in fact, you might wish certain spotlights lasted longer. Lenora Marouani, co-owner of Barsha, a Tunisian restaurant with locations in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, is one such talent. Find a seat at the stylish bar, in the intimate dining room or on the patio that faces the Music Center courtyard with its illuminated water installation, its colors painting a scene against the sunset. The menu that Marouani has dubbed “Tunisian Soul” features harissa-coated prawns over a spiced horia puree with collard green chips and a tabil branzino over a couscous risotto with succotash and chive tahini sauce — it stands out as one of the most inventive branzino renditions you’ll find across the city. Culinary heavyweights Govind Armstrong, Shirley Chung and Susan Feniger advise on the restaurant’s selection of chefs, with Michelle Muñoz of Moo’s Craft Barbecue taking over later this year. While reservations are not required, the restaurant’s limited hours that cater to Music Center programming require planning ahead.
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Macaroni and cheese and greens at Alta Adams.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Alta Adams

West Adams Southern $$
Chef and co-owner of Alta Adams, Keith Corbin is passionate about providing opportunities for his staff to develop their talents, inviting his bartenders to create cocktails for special events and his cooks to host coursed dinners. Corbin partnered with Band of Vices gallery owner Terrell Tilford to curate art for the restaurant that celebrates the South L.A. neighborhoods where they both grew up as well as Black culture at large. The menu also honors Corbin’s cultural heritage with California-inflected Southern dishes like vegan collard greens that are given a dash of umami with liquid smoke, plus new dishes like a spicy purple sweet potato soup and jerk-spiced grilled plantain tacos. Memorialize your visit and take a picture beneath Alta Adams’ mural of a little girl throwing up a “Westside” hand-symbol with a kaleidoscope background framing her smiling face. Check out whatever exhibition is rotating at Band of Vices (admission is free) while you wait for your table or after your meal.
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The short rib from Asterid.
(Jim Sullivan)


Downtown L.A. Global $$$
Taking over the space formerly occupied by Patina next to Walt Disney Concert Hall is this sleek restaurant from Ray Garcia that celebrates the expansive culinary heritage of Los Angeles. It’s the obvious route if you want to pair dinner with a Gustavo Dudamel-led show (while you still can), but don’t disregard the bar menu for late-night cocktails and bites like a butternut squash tamal crowned with caviar, or the Sunday brunch menu, with a chorizo-laced frittata and poppyseed and blueberry pancakes. The dinner menu is built for sharing with beef tenderloin tartare, red beet risotto and a lamb shank that’s brightened with pomegranate seeds and preserved lemon. In addition to live performances, the concert hall offers rotating exhibits and complimentary guided tours.
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Tower of sandwiches and desserts on a table in a covered outdoor dining space
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Café and Garden Tea at the Getty Villa

Pacific Palisades Mediterranean Breakfast/Brunch $$
Looking out over the Pacific Ocean in the Palisades is this replica of a Herculaneum seaside villa as museum, with Greek and Roman artifacts plus limited exhibitions. You could easily spend a day wandering through the columned hallways, zigzagging through the outdoor gardens and staring into the long sculpture-lined reflecting pool. Should you work up an appetite during your explorations, you can stop by the cafe for a Mediterranean menu in an al fresco setting that overlooks the villa. Options include starters and shareable plates like a charcuterie box or Mediterranean sampler with tabbouleh, hummus, Greek olives and pita, along with a selection of sandwiches, wraps and salads. For a literally elevated experience, plan ahead to attend Garden Tea, which takes place in the Founder’s Room (one level up from the cafe) on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. Tea service includes scones, breads and a tower of sandwiches and desserts, with an assortment of teas available, plus Champagne and wine at an additional cost.
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Smoked salmon benedict and buttermilk biscuit breakfast sandwich with a bloody mary and a bacon bloody mary
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times )

Claire's at the Museum

Long Beach Breakfast/Brunch $$
Named in honor of the late artist Claire Falkenstein, this oceanfront restaurant shares a campus with Long Beach Museum of Art and boasts views of the Queen Mary and Catalina Island, in addition to a fountain sculpture from Falkenstein called “Structure and Flow” anchors the tiered patio that’s dotted with yellow umbrellas. The interior buzzes during weekend brunch, with diners scattered across different hardwood-floored rooms in the historic two-story home. It’s easy to lose an afternoon here, with brunch cocktails like a bloody mary with a house-made mix of tomato, muddled celery, cilantro, cucumber, lime juice, hot sauce and vodka offered in a goblet. A bacon bloody mary comes with three crispy slices that bob in the thick, soupy drink, with crushed bits inside. The menu includes favorites like a breakfast sandwich with a buttermilk biscuit and a thick-cut slab of bacon and the milkbread French toast that’s battered in crème brûlée. After your meal, take a stroll around the sculpture garden or visit the exhibits at the museum next door.
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A hand holds aloft a plate full of taquitos, rice and beans in front of El Cielito Lindo at Olvera Street.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

El Pueblo de Los Angeles

Downtown L.A. Mexican $
This historic monument and living museum is close to where 44 pobladores of Indigenous, African and European ancestry founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles in 1781, setting the growth of our present-day city into motion. You can visit Avila Adobe, the oldest existing residence in L.A., plus LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and La Plaza Cocina, which host exhibitions, cooking classes, workshops and festivals that celebrate Mexican and Mexican American heritage. There’s also the Italian American Museum and Chinese American Museum, in addition to Olvera Street, where you’ll find an assortment of vendors selling handcrafted items, lucha libre masks, jewelry and more, plus long-standing spots like the famed Cielito Lindo, famous for its fried beef taquitos (two for $5) that are presented in a takeout bowl in a generous puddle of avocado sauce. If the line there is too long, fourth-generation-owned El Rancho Grande is a solid substitute — order a No. 4 with two taquitos, one enchilada, beans and a salad for just $9. Additional dining and drinking options include El Paseo Inn, which opened in 1930 and holds the distinction of being one of the oldest bars in the city; Las Anitas Cafe, serving Cal-Mex cuisine since 1947; and La Luz del Dia, which has been a bastion for Michoacán-style Mexican food since 1959.
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The entrance to a restaurant with barstools and low tables, with the word Fanny's over the door.
(Wonho Frank Lee)


Mid-Wilshire New American $$$
A spacious escape from the busy Wilshire and Fairfax intersection is this restaurant and cafe that’s named after legendary film star Fanny Brice, whom Barbra Streisand depicted in the Oscar-winning musical “Funny Girl.” It’s next door to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and shares a block with LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits. Even during the day, when Fanny’s offers a casual, counter-service menu with pastries, salads and a selection of hot items like lamb and chicken meatballs perched on a chickpea puree, dining feels like a star experience with rich red booths, an Art Deco-inspired bar and a wraparound mural highlighting Hollywood’s history. Dinner service steps it up with an old-school, captain-based service model, offering options like black truffle hummus with crispy mushrooms, sea bream with a macha hollandaise and a decadent, double-patty burger with bordelaise, Fiscalini cheddar and jambon de Paris.
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Chef Chris Ono displays a dish standing in the garden of a museum
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


Downtown L.A. Nikkei Japanese American $$$
Nestled behind a plaza that’s dominated by a volcanic basalt sculpture by artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center is one of the largest centers of its kind in the U.S. Its 2.2-acre campus includes a gallery, cultural room, exhibition center and a cutting-edge culinary cultural center that opens up to the James Irvine Japanese Garden, which features plants, trees and a waterfall that cascades in a 170-foot stream to lower levels connected by cedar bridges and feeds into a peaceful pond at the bottom. This is the setting that diners journey through during their 11- to 12-course Nikkei experience led by chef-in-residence Chris Ono. Staple Japanese American dishes are reimagined at Hansei, including a California roll that’s perched on tempura-coated nori with Dungeness crab and Santa Barbara sea urchin replacing the usual imitation crab; slivers of avocado and diced cucumber add a refreshing crunch to the wholly satisfying bite. Each course is artfully presented so that it compliments the setting of the cultural center, including oysters that are displayed on a log with draping seaweed and morsels of chicken karaage topped with California caviar cradled in a bowl that’s filled with smooth pebbles. Now that Keizo Shimamoto has joined the center’s team as the culinary director of events, Ono looks forward to expanding the beverage program to include more sake options, cocktails and a wine list.
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Cardamom cake with chantilly creme at Lulu.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)


Westwood Californian $$
Chef and restaurateur Alice Waters, of Berkeley’s pioneering Chez Panisse, teamed up with cookbook author and chef David Tanis to open Lulu in the open-air courtyard of the Hammer Museum in late 2021. Here, Tanis embraces the farm-forward, regenerative practices that Waters has long championed with a strong sourcing program and a seasonal menu that changes almost daily. Lulu also offers a three-course lunch ($45) and dinner ($65), making it a popular choice for date night and UCLA students dining with visiting parents. With pops of primary colors, hanging lanterns and sprawling trees dotting the space, Lulu is an inviting idea before or after your museum visit, but be warned that it gets busy during mealtimes. Make a reservation if you can.
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Manuela's expansive covered patio is a tiered space with hanging light fixtures and blooming plant life.


Downtown L.A. Southern Californian $$$
The sprawling Southern-inflected restaurant in Hauser & Wirth has its own noteworthy art collection on display throughout its interior, with commissions from artists such as Paul McCarthy, Mark Bradford and Subodh Gupta. The lush garden courtyard is the perfect setting for tucking into executive chef Kris Tominaga’s seasonally driven menu, with vibrant options like a Cara Cara orange salad with sweet onion, garlic miso, spiced cashews and serrano chiles , but don’t forget an order of the staple cast-iron cornbread for the table. Stroll Manuela’s on-site garden while you wait to be seated, and afterward take a peek into Hauser & Wirth, which hosts gallery exhibitions in addition to artist talks and performances.
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Breakfast burrito and rose latte on a wooden table.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Meyers Manx Cafe

Mid-Wilshire Breakfast/Lunch Coffee $
Quietly opened in the Petersen Automotive Museum in fall 2022, Meyers Manx Cafe lets you order from the cafe, breakfast or lunch menu without purchasing entrance to the museum and you’ll still get a view of classic and souped-up cars on display through the cafe’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside the cozy cafe that’s named after the original dune buggy, you’ll see framed memorabilia that celebrates road and racing culture, including retired professional driver Parnelli Jones’ bright yellow racing suit, with a stylish bar, plenty of moss-green leather booths and chairs, and an outdoor patio facing Wilshire Boulevard for settling in. You’ll find diner-inspired dishes in a setting that matches, including a breakfast burrito with an over-easy egg, crispy tater tots, melted jack and cheddar cheese, avocado and avocado salsa, with a sweet and citrus-driven mango salsa served on the side (add bacon). A selection of bedecked toasts and a breakfast sandwich are available, in addition to pastries and cookies for breakfast, while the lunch menu offers tuna tartare, a handful of pizzas, sandwiches, salads and soft-serve ice cream. Beer and wine are available, in addition to craft cocktails. There’s also a market section with coffee beans, hot sauces and other pantry items from small businesses as well as cafe merchandise.
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Fried Fish Nuggets on a plate with garnish
(Oscar Mendoza / Los Angeles Times)

Neighborhood Grill by Post & Beam

Exposition Park Californian $
This new casual spot from John and Roni Cleveland represents a furthering of the mission of Post & Beam, their California soul-food restaurant that offers a welcoming sit-down option in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood. Complete with a garden view, Neighborhood Grill subtly educates diners on signature soul food ingredients and flavors, like a smoked pastrami sandwich that replaces the usual sauerkraut with vinegary collard greens, a vegan street taco with jerk-spiced mushrooms, and rockfish nuggets that recall the popular catfish nuggets served at Post & Beam. The grab-and-go section highlights local Black-owned businesses like Hotville Chicken and Southern Girl Desserts, with beer and wine curated by Crown & Hops. Guests also can look forward to the debut of an educational supper series from chef Martin Draluck, who currently hosts Black Pot Supper Club at Post & Beam.
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Duck pot pie in a skillet, its crust a puffy browned pastry dough. A silver spoon lifts a bite from the side.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)


Downtown L.A. New American $$
Tucked in a courtyard next to the Broad, Otium features an engaging open kitchen that blends indoor and outdoor, with a menu from chef Tim Hollingsworth that leans on wood-fired cooking and sustainable sourcing. There are compelling reasons to return for weekday lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Order at the counter for lunch and brunch and treat yourself to fresh-baked pastries including fluffy banana bread and apple brown butter coffee cake with a thick crumbly crust. Look out for just-added items like a duck confit pot pie cradled in a flaky pastry crust and a fresh take on the Reuben with thick, veal-tongue pastrami stacked with sauerkraut between slices of toasted rye bread. Reservations are recommended for dinner, which adds dishes like escargot topped with a fried garlic doughnut and rigatoni in a white Bolognese sauce with hen-of-the-wood mushrooms. Diners receive a deep discount on parking at the Broad when they validate at the restaurant.
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Purple haze goat cheese plate and house-made hibiscus lemonade on a wooden table
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

The Kitchen at Descanso

La Cañada Flintridge Californian $
The Patina Group is behind the culinary programs at a handful of L.A. museums, including the Norton Simon Cafe and Ray’s and Stark Bar at LACMA, but the Kitchen at Descanso stands out as the best, with a menu that sources from on-site gardens. The purple haze goat cheese plate piles a half-moon of the creamy cheese, dried fruits and nuts, grapes, Coachella Valley dates, rosemary crackers, seasonal jam, fennel pollen and flower petals over a bed of arugula for a filling snack to start your garden walks, while the vegan potato tacos with tajin-spiced tahini crema and the slow-roasted pork sandwich are well-suited for a full meal. The cocktail menu also makes good use of garden ingredients with a Spring Bee margarita that blends honey, grapefruit and lemon juice with Patrón tequila, in addition to nonalcoholic options like a house-made hibiscus lemonade. An espresso bar and a selection of grab-and-go items also are available.
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A hand holds up a snake dog, a beef hot dog wrapped in a flaky croissant crust, by a sign for The Trails restaurant.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Trails Cafe

Griffith Park Breakfast/Lunch Coffee $
Not just a convenient meeting spot within sprawling Griffith Park, Trails Cafe borders a pond and a children’s playground and offers a smattering of picnic tables for resting after hiking one of the nearby trails. The menu is straightforward and vegan-friendly, with sandwiches, pastries, coffee and tea drinks. Treating yourself to whatever pie is fresh and available — vegan apple and strawberry rhubarb are favorites — is a must, as is the Snake Dog, a beef hot dog wrapped in a flaky croissant crust. The cafe is popular among families with kids on weekend mornings, but try visiting during weekday lunch for a more solitary experience.
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Biscuits and sausage gravy from Watts Coffee House.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Watts Coffee House

Watts Breakfast/Lunch Southern $
The Watts Happening Cultural Center (a.k.a. the Mafundi Institute) is where you’ll find the Watts Coffee House that was opened by a group of locals following the historic neighborhood uprising in August 1965. Providing art, cultural and social programming, it became so popular that by 1970 the center outgrew that location and moved across the street. Watts Coffee House opened in the building in 1997, with chef Desiree Edwards leading the kitchen. The breakfast and lunch menu features Southern classics like biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits and salmon croquettes cooked fresh to order. The only full-service, sit-down restaurant in Watts, the cafe is packed with locals most days and showcases the neighborhood’s history with memorabilia that’s affixed to the walls. After the cultural institute came under threat in 2019, a community coalition called the Friends of Mafundi (F.A.M.) was formed to restore the center to its former glory. In 2021, the Watts Happening Cultural Center was designated by the L.A. City Council as a historic-cultural monument and today hosts writing workshops, music education courses and an annual poetry jam.
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Matzo ball soup, bread and butter and an Israeli chopped salad on a table in a courtyard
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Zeidler's Cafe

Brentwood Vegetarian Mediterranean $$
Executive chef Sean Sheridan leads this bright indoor/outdoor cafe, in addition to Judy’s Counter, a grab-and-go station, and the overarching culinary program at the Skirball Cultural Center, which is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Jewish ceremonial objects and art and is guided by the Jewish principle of “welcoming the stranger.” The menu at Zeidler’s features kosher-friendly items like matzo ball soup, a pastrami-style smoked salmon sandwich on marble rye and a Niçoise salad with olive oil-poached albacore tuna. The cultural center is celebrating Passover with a gourmet spread that’s available for takeout, including brisket that’s been slow-braised in apple cider and roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts that are glazed in Manischewitz. On April 2, John and Katianna Hong of the Korean American deli Yangban Society will host a Korean American Passover at the museum, with a sampling of multicultural dishes to spice up your seder.
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A plate with two tacos, rice and beans, with a side of nopales salad and lemonade, on a wooden table.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

1919 Cafe and Jade Court Cafe

San Marino Mexican Asian American $$
Named in honor of the year the Huntington was founded, 1919 Cafe is a casual, cafeteria-style dining hall with food stations ranging from a sandwich shop to a pizza oven to a taqueria serving shrimp aguachile and jackfruit birria, with plenty of grab-and-go options. You can eat at the cafe without purchasing entrance to the library and gardens, but the outdoor seating still gives you a gorgeous view of the Celebration Lawn. If you do decide to visit the Huntington’s extensive grounds, take a detour through the Chinese Garden, where you’ll find the newer Jade Court Cafe, an Asian-inspired sit-down restaurant with dan dan noodles and pot stickers on a revolving menu. Also located in the Chinese Garden and open on the weekends is Freshwater Pavilion, where guests can order boba tea, pastries and a few grab-and-go items. Prior to the pandemic, the Huntington was renowned for its long-running tea service held in its historic Rose Garden Tea Room; tea service will return on May 24 after an $11.2-million renovation project that restored the front of the original 1911 building and added a new outdoor dining area. Reservations for the revamped tea room open on Wednesday, May 10.
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