Best Old-School Dining Spots In LA

Los Angeles is a world-class city for dining. You can hardly throw a stone without hitting one (or two, or three) chic new restaurants. Yet among all those shiny new things remain the tried and true stalwarts of the LA food scene. These are the steadfast establishments who soldier on decade after decade, continuing to draw crowds despite — or perhaps because of — their age.

From hot dog stands to steakhouses, the old guard of LA's restaurant biz is a great way to explore the city's history through food. Check out the hole in the wall where Frank Sinatra used to rub elbows with the commoners. Visit the sparring sandwich shops which both claim to have invented the French Dip. Or tie one on at the Irish pub that's been open since the Great Depression. This list catalogs the best of what historic LA has to offer for your next meal. The city's your oyster, so get out there and shuck it.

Canter's Deli

Even if you've never been, you're probably familiar with the famous sign hovering above Fairfax Avenue. Canter's Deli was founded in 1931 and remains an LA mainstay to this day thanks to its old-school charm, quintessential Jewish deli experience, and famous housemade pickles. The Fairfax Avenue spot is open 24 hours a day and, in addition to its deli counter, serves a full roster of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options in its restaurant. The deli also function as a bakery, offering freshly baked bread and pastries each day. This place truly is an all-in-one classic where you can dine-in, shop to-go, and even wet your whistle in the Kibitz Room — a tiny, hideaway bar adjacent to the deli.

Thanks to its location and longevity, Canter's is no stranger to celebrities. Its website offers a who's who of famous visitors, including politicians, athletes, and entertainers. Hey, if the place is good enough for Taylor Swift, Wayne Gretzky, and Season 7 Episode 1 of "Mad Men," it should be good enough for you.

Dan Tana's

If it weren't for the neon signage in front of Dan Tana's, you might think you were outside someone's little yellow house. Despite its unassuming appearance, the small spot on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood has been a heavy hitter in the LA restaurant scene for 56 years. Its menu is a smorgasbord of meat, fish, and pasta with indecipherable dishes like "Veal a la George Clooney" or "Steak and Peppers Sinatra" just daring rookie diners to ask a tuxedoed waiter for a helping hand. There's no printed cocktail menu, but the bartenders excel at the classics, and any true Angeleno will tell you a martini is a go-to move here.

Like many other places on this list, Dan Tana's has a reputation for being a celebrity favorite, but that doesn't mean it's stuffy or elitist. The environment is welcoming, loud, crowded, and chock full of kitschy decor like sports jerseys, news clippings, and a seemingly infinite supply of chianti bottles that hang from the ceiling. The food is good, sure, but the restaurant's success is more likely attributable to the fact that it's just a whole lot of fun.

Original Pantry Cafe

The Original Pantry Cafe has been in continuous operation since 1924. For many decades, the 24-hour cafe boasted that it had never been closed — not even for a minute. According to the LA Times, the Pantry had to move locations in 1950 to make way for the Harbor Freeway. To maintain its unbroken record of days open, the old location served lunch while the new one started dinner service, thus technically preserving the streak.

Today, the Pantry is owned by former LA mayor Richard Riordan and operates on a more reasonable breakfast- and lunch-only schedule at its downtown LA (DTLA) location. While it's lost some of its operating hours, the cafe hasn't lost any of its charm. You won't find Michelin-level food here, and the Pantry doesn't promise it. But you will find the same gritty, nostalgic diner experience that hosted the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Martin Luther King, Jr. And if we're hankering for a plate of pancakes? That's good enough for us.

The Apple Pan

Tourists have no reason to suspect that the little white building on Pico Boulevard is LA culinary royalty. Why would they? The ramshackle place with the old-school signage isn't much to look at, but that's not the point. Since 1947, The Apple Pan has been serving Angelenos its trademark menu of burgers, apple pie, and banana splits to clamorous success (via Instagram). Like many others on this list, the Pan is known as much for its ambiance as for its food. The swiveling leather stools, enamel countertops, and paper-wrapped burgers dropped off without an ounce of fanfare — this is a restaurant stuck in time, and we'd have it no other way.

The Apple Pan's motto is "Quality Forever," which seems particularly apt when you consider the longevity of its operation and the continued success it enjoys today. With no end in sight, why not aim for forever?

Dear John's

Prodded by his good friend Frank Sinatra, actor Johnny Harlowe opened Dear John's in 1962. The Culver City steakhouse quickly became a happenin' hotspot for celebrities and locals alike, with some patrons lucky enough to catch Ol' Blue Eyes himself tickling the ivories on a given night. According to Resy, Harlowe sold the restaurant in the '80s and the place began to flag in quality under new management, but it had enough gas in the tank to keep afloat until its most recent stewards resuscitated it into a popular Westside haunt.

Hans Röckenwagner (of Röckenwagner Bakery) and two-star Michelin chef Josiah Citrin (of Melisse and more) partnered to revamp Dear John's menu while maintaining its old-school air and charming decor. Classic dishes like French onion soup, steak tartare, and a good New York strip make this everything you'd want in an LA steak joint. And much like its spiritual sibling Dan Tana's, this spot is known for its martinis. So skip the red wine and get a goblet of booze to wash down that steak — you're at John's.

Factor's Famous Deli

The LA deli scene isn't just Canter's, you know. The "other" famous Jewish deli (though of course there are plenty more than two) is Factor's Famous Deli, an LA institution that's been located on Pico Boulevard since it was founded in 1948. Its current owners, the Markowitz family, took over Factor's in 1969 and have spent the last five decades expanding and refining their operation to include a large takeout counter and a patio for outdoor dining.

An interesting wrinkle: the deli is non-kosher, but manages to thrive in a neighborhood replete with kosher offerings. The business relies heavily on regular customers, who make up a bulk of their business — as much as 80%, according to Food and Wine. It's no surprise Factor's has built such a loyal base. Its friendly service, wide menu offerings, full catering service, and welcoming ambiance are everything you could ask for in your local Jewish deli. Even Jerry Seinfeld counts himself as a fan.

Jackson Market

While we're on the topic of delis, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Jackson Market, a Culver City hideaway that's been serving those in the know since 1925. One of the best-kept secrets in LA, this little gem is located in the midst of an entirely residential neighborhood and serves sandwiches, salads, coffee, sweets, and — on select nights — wood-fired pizza. The outdoor patio is absolutely gorgeous, with koi ponds, waterfalls, and lush greenery that has a lot of work-from-home folks converting to work-from-Jackson-Market folks. Seriously, we can't overstate the beauty of this patio. It's stunning.

Jackson Market is also, as its name suggests, a market. They stock just about everything you need at a moment's notice, including grocery staples, dry goods, snacks, fresh produce, wine, and beer. Pro tip: buy a bottle of vino and pop it open on the patio (sans corkage fee) for an inexpensive date night. 

Golden Bull

The Golden Bull is another LA steakhouse in the vein of Dan Tana's or Dear John's, but slightly more secretive. This isn't the place tourists flock to on their first night in the big city. And indeed, it's off the beaten path, on a little side street near the Pacific Coast Highway. But since 1949, it's been pumping out cold martinis and hot steaks in a very cool atmosphere. Black leather booths, white linen tablecloths, and — in one of the few silver linings coming out of Covid restrictions — a great outdoor patio for alfresco dining.

The menu is organized in classic steakhouse fashion: a la carte meat offerings like filet mignon, ribeye, strip, and lamb chops come with as few or as many of the over 12 sides that the Bull offers. Its cocktail list eschews modern mixological trends, instead opting for a classics-only approach: Manhattans, martinis, old-fashioneds, and mules. This place is effortlessly cool, and a great flex to show that one LA friend who thinks they've seen it all.

Casablanca

Opened in 1980, Casablanca is a long-running exercise in contradictions. It's a Mexican restaurant with a Moroccan theme — yes, it's themed after that Casablanca. Its owner is part restaurateur, part novelist. And it features a menu that celebrates Mexican classics while also attempting to popularize oddities like the calamari steak and squid that's pounded into a filet and served with your choice of sauce.

The restaurant's blue and white exterior is a marked departure from the surrounding Venice design motifs, and the interior confirms what you might suspect: You aren't in Kansas anymore. Expect a dining experience surrounded by stucco arches, murals featuring characters from the film, and laconic ceiling fans circulating the air as if to beat away the heavy humidity of Morocco itself. Tequila connoisseurs take note — the restaurant also features more than 250 tequilas, so you can snack on one of the celebrated house-made tortillas and wash it down with your choice of agave spirit. Here's lookin' at you, Casablanca.

El Coyote

El Coyote was founded all the way back in 1931 by husband and wife team Blanche and George March. Back then, it was a tiny little joint at the corner of First and La Brea. Today, it boasts seating for close to 400 people and is located on Beverly Boulevard, but the place's original charm remains. The interior is splashed with brightly colored paint, and the proprietors choose to leave Christmas lights up year-round. Over its storied history, the restaurant has served the likes of John Wayne, Drew Barrymore, and even Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. 

This isn't the place to go if you want a chef-driven, new-age take on Mexican cuisine. El Coyote plays the hits and plays them well. Expect a menu of fajitas, tacos, enchiladas, tamales, margaritas, and cervezas — and not a whole lot else. This is a West LA eatery that knows exactly what it is and why it works — and that's why it continues to draw crowds after more than 90 years in business. 

Tom Bergin's

What would any list like this be without an Irish pub? Tom Bergin's opened in 1936 when former aviator and lawyer Tom Bergin wanted a place in LA that reminded him of his family's Irish bar in Boston, according to Discover Los Angeles. The pub has changed hands over the years, but the odd thing is that it's usually customers who end up owning the joint. Take Derek Schreck, for instance. He left an acting career to purchase the bar and save it from permanent closure in 2013 and is the current proprietor.

Under Schreck's stewardship, the Fairfax bar has lost some of the gritty, hard-drinking Irish pub vibes and become a more "respectable" imbibing establishment, with a menu of good gastropub food and a selection of craft beer that caters to a more discerning modern crowd. But it's still an Irish pub, and old as heck.

The Polo Lounge

The Polo Lounge is the stuff of legend. Located inside the historic Beverly Hills Hotel, this place has been included in gossip rags, novels, movies — you name it. It's a hangout for the rich and famous, and nothing screams LA excess quite like this bougie joint. According to its website, the Polo Lounge opened in the 1930s and was named for the polo grounds upon which it was built. Today, you can expect a strict dress code and a discerning clientele, with everyone from Hollywood bigwigs to wealthy tourists stopping by to drink and dine. 

If you're planning to swing by, make sure to budget for the occasion. Dinners start in the $30 range, and a burger will set you back $45. It's not an everyday dining destination, but it's worth a splurge if you want to experience historic LA, rub elbows with the elite, and enjoy a meal with a side of glitz and glamor. 

Cole's

Cole's is one of two downtown LA eateries that take credit for inventing the French dip sandwich. Originally opened in 1908 as Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet, the restaurant was part of a railroad terminal that served hundreds of thousands of travelers a day (via Tales of the Cocktail). It was there that the place found its first success, and it remains today, despite that particular railroad going the way of the dodo. The current iteration of Cole's retains a historical feel — i.e. leather booths and penny tile floors — without straying into kitsch or gimmicks. It also houses The Varnish Room, a speakeasy tucked behind a "secret" door in the back.

Because you're going to ask, Cole's version of the French Dip invention goes like this. The restaurant's original chef, Jack Garlinghouse, responded to a customer with sensitive gums by offering au jus as a dipping sauce to soften the French bread. Thus the iconic sandwich was born. Whether that piece of lore is true or not remains up for debate, but this much is true: Cole's is a classic with major staying power — and for good reason.

Philippe The Original

Also founded in downtown LA back in 1908 and laying claim to the we-invented-the-French-dip crown is Philippe The Original, aka Philippe's. According to its website, Philippe's version of events posits that the French dip came about in 1918 when Philippe Mathieu accidentally dropped the French roll of a policeman's order in the pan filled with hot au jus. The cop, who was in a rush, said he'd eat the soggy sando anyway. When he returned with friends the next day looking for more, Mathieu knew he had a hit on his hands.

The service at Philippe's is unique. One of ten "carvers" services guests from individual lines, and each one has everything they need to complete the order — food, coffee, wine, cash, you name it. Service is quick and to the point, and it's this no-nonsense dedication to making guests happy that's kept loyal Angelenos returning to Philippe's for more than a century. 

Next time you find yourself in DTLA, try both Philippe's and Cole's French Dips and decide for yourself who deserves the crown.

Musso & Frank

We know, we know. Another steakhouse? But none have a reputation quite as legendary as Musso & Frank, the Hollywood hotspot that's been serving Tinsel Town since 1919. According to its site, Musso & Frank was originally opened by entrepreneur Frank Toulet and restaurateur Joseph Musso, who ended up selling the place less than a decade later. The new owners kept the Musso & Frank name, moved the restaurant next door, and opened the "Back Room" in 1934 which was highly exclusive and served Hollywood elites like Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, and Steve McQueen until the lease on the space expired. Today, the Back Room's fixtures live on in the "New Room" (though it's hardly new anymore).

The menu has remained largely unchanged since the place opened, and you can expect a healthy selection of steaks, pork and lamb chops, and composed entrees with all the fixings. Dinner doesn't come cheap, but dining at this place is about as close to time travel as you'll get in this town — and that's worth the extra cash. 

Grand Central Market

This spot isn't so much a restaurant as it is an ever-evolving collection of dining spots. First opened in 1917 as the Wonder Market, Grand Central Market is a DTLA must-see that hosts more than 40 vendors, including 50-year veterans like China Cafe and Roast To Go. Over the years, Grand Central Market has reinvented itself many times over, evolving from an open-air grocery store to a reliable lunch place to the current smorgasbord of culinary delights it is today (via KCET).

The reinventions have been so successful — and at times, dramatic — that Grand Central Market even earned a spot as one of LA's best new restaurants in Bon Appétit magazine in 2014. A bit ironic, given that it had been around for about a hundred years at that point. The open-air market also features event spaces and a bazaar of local merchants, making this place a true one-stop-shop.

Pink's Hot Dogs

From a humble acorn grows the mighty oak. Such is the story of Pink's, a Hollywood hot dog stand that was founded on $50 and a dream way back in 1939. According to its website, Pink's owners at the time were Paul and Betty Pink, a husband and wife team who were hawking hot dogs for 10 cents and paying $15 a month in rent to park their cart. Fast forward eight decades and that little cart is a famous bustling restaurant that sells hot dogs and hamburgers to tourists, locals, and over 200 celebrity visitors whose photos grace the wall of Pink's dining room.

Though there are now 13 Pink's locations reaching as far as Hawaii and the Philippines, there's nothing quite like visiting the OG Pink's on La Brea where it all began. The joint is still family-owned, with Paul and Betty's son Richard running the show now. The Pinks attribute their restaurant's success to its quality product and loyal staff, and call themselves "the little hot dog stand that could." Indeed they could — and still do.

El Cholo

Billing itself as LA's very first Mexican restaurant, El Cholo was founded in 1923 as the Sonora Cafe. In 1925, a customer doodled a cartoon character he called "El Cholo," and the proprietors liked it so much that they changed the restaurant's name and adopted the doodle as its mascot. The little restaurant has grown from a one-room enchilada shop to something of a mini-empire in the last 99 years, with six locations in California and one slated to open in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The menu is a litany of classic Mexican dishes, and each item is backdated with a year next to its name to let curious diners know when that particular offering made its debut. The original location still stands on Western Avenue and remains family-owned to this day, with the founders' grandson Ron helming the ship as the El Cholo name continues to grow and delight new customers around LA and beyond. While LA has plenty of amazing Mexican restaurants, this was the first.

The Formosa Cafe

The Formosa Cafe is one of LA's oldest and best-known Chinese restaurants. According to its website, it was founded in 1939 and became a quick success among locals and celebrities alike. Like many of the city's classic haunts, this West Hollywood spot claims to have served a who's who of silver screen royalty, including James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, and Elvis Presley. According to The Formosa's website, John Wayne was once caught making scrambled eggs in the restaurant's kitchen after he passed out in a booth the night before. 

Modern renovations and interior design touchups have kept the place feeling fresh. Boxes of signed celebrity photos and other memorabilia made their way out of storage and back into the cafe. The Formosa also collaborated with the original owners and historians to collect and display artifacts and photos of the Chinese-American influence on early Hollywood as a celebration of underrepresented filmmakers and their crews in the early days of Tinsel Town.

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery

Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery is a classic Santa Monica spot that was established in 1925. The deli is most famous for "The Godmother," a monster of a sandwich that's bursting with just about every stripe of sliced meat you can imagine. According to its website, you can expect — get ready — prosciutto, ham, capicola, mortadella, Genoa salami, and provolone cheese with "the works," i.e. lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, and three different sauces. All you have to do is throw some hot peppers on there and call it a day. Just remember — there are no substitutions here.

Bay Cities bakes fresh bread every 20 minutes, which means there's always a piping hot loaf on hand to quell your carb cravings. And the place pulls double duty as a gourmet market, so you can either stop in for a sandwich or grab groceries to go. This is the neighborhood market and deli of your dreams.