Dining out is always a great date option, but why not go one better and throw some art viewing into the mix? Several of Los Angeles’ best museums also have very good restaurants on the premises, or just a short stroll away.
Not long ago, museum restaurants catered to captive audiences desperate for, well, almost anything. Happily, times have changed and quality cuisine is becoming easier to find at (or near) L.A.’s cultural institutions.
With that in mind I’m going to use to this list to zero in on (in my humble opinion) the finest museum-dining combos in the city. Hopefully you can find something below to inspire you on your next adventure!
Ray’s and Stark Bar at LACMA
A quintessentially Los Angeles eatery, Ray’s and Stark Bar offers the most extensive water menu in the entire United States. Located next to LACMA behind one of L.A.’s most iconic photo sites/artworks —- Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation — this culinary hotspot was named for Hollywood hotshot Ray Stark, whose producing credits include West Side Story, Steel Magnolias, and Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita.
Well-situated, its large outdoor bar and glassed-in space ideal for people watching, Ray’s decor is cool and mid-century inspired. The well-curated cocktail menu includes such gems as A Gentleman’s Breakfast (cognac, cold-brew coffee, maple syrup, black walnut bitters and cream) and a Coconut Pineapple Margarita. The wood-fired pizzas are a menu highlight — one is topped with prosciutto, fontina, arugula and figs, while the Di Mare Pizza is laden with sea urchin, clams, bottarga, and burrata. Munch on those, or other notable dishes like the crispy chicken wings with tograshi and shishito peppers; pork cheeks with spaghetti squash, caramelized apples and pumpkin seeds; or the American Kobe beef cheeseburger decadently loaded with bacon, gouda, hollandaise sauce, avocado, red onions, and tomato, and you’ll see why both Travel + Leisure and Afar anointed Ray’s one of the best museum Restaurants in America and the world, respectively.
LACMA’s current must-see show is Picasso & Rivera, while essentials from the permanent collection include Rene Magritte’s surrealistic masterpiece The Persistence of Time, David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive, Robert Graham’s Retrospective Column and Diego Rivera’s Flower Day.
Drago at the Petersen Automotive Museum
The four Drago brothers, who hail from Sicily, have created some of L.A.’s best Italian restaurants, including Drago Centro in DTLA. The new Drago, just opened in December inside the Petersen Automotive Museum, is no exception. It’s a superior Italian eatery offering locally grown produce, delicious house-made pastas, and refined signature dishes.
This newly built space works well with the museum, with modern decor intended to evoke the streamlined curves and fluid lines of classic autos. Standout dishes include house-made cavatelli coated in venison ragu and porcini mushrooms; soft polenta topped with sautéed jumbo scallops, artichokes and morel mushrooms; and creamy risotto with butternut squash, crispy zucchini flowers and roasted hazelnut. The delightfully unpredictable dessert menu includes semifreddo al cocco (coconut semifreddo, braised pineapple, huckleberry compote and almond spongecake) and an apple-rosemary tart with redcurrant mousse.
While you’re at the Petersen, you might want to check out the 1933 Deusenberg, a 1952 Hudson Wasp, a 1939 Bugatti, and The Unconventional Canvases of Keith Haring.
Otium at The Broad
The Broad just opened in late 2015 but it’s already one of LA’s most beloved museums, thanks to daily free admission and an amazing permanent collection of contemporary works accumulated over decades by the Broad family. Remarkable architecture both without and within, the Infinity Mirrored Room and special exhibitions like last year’s Cindy Sherman show add to the appeal, as does their restaurant, Otium.
Otium’s chef, Timothy Hollingsworth, is very much a product of California — he spent 13 years in the Napa Valley and is currently a resident of Downtown L.A. The menu is a well-curated assortment of dishes with influences from across the U.S., Mexico, Asia, northern Africa and beyond. Standouts include the oxtail tart with duxelles, mizithra and crispy shallots; butternut squash with coffee, ricotta, pepitas and sorrel; and monkfish with heirloom bean cassoulet and tomato confit.
While you’re at The Broad, don’t miss Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons, the still-timely Your Body is a Battleground by Barbara Kruger, 13 works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and the largest Warhol collection on the West Coast.
Grammy Museum and WP24
The Grammy Museum, located Downtown in L.A. LIVE, pays homage to the history of the Grammy Awards and to music in general. New exhibits pop up numerous times a year and its tiny Clive Davis Theater, with just 200 seats, often hosts intimate concerts and conversations with top artists. Barbra Streisand, Weezer, Taylor Swift and Sting all made appearances at the Clive Davis over the last few months.
The Grammy Museum doesn’t have a restaurant on the premises but if you’re visiting and would like a meal before or after, L.A. Live has a few choices and the best one might be WP24 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Wolfgang Puck’s fine-dining Chinese restaurant has amazing views due to its 24th-floor location, and offerings such as dumplings stuffed with Alaskan king crab, shrimp and Kurobuta pork; Assam curry seafood hotpot, and whole Peking duck.
The Grammy Museum’s current must-see show is Hey! Ho! Let’s Go! Ramones and the Birth of Punk. Up through February 28, it features artifacts like Joey’s Ramones’ high-school report card, diaries, setlists, the band’s clothing and instruments and a slew of original photos. Jazz fans should check out the Count Basie exhibit. Jim Marshall’s 1967 is a collection of 60 photos taken by the notable rock photographer of icons such as Jimi Hendrix taken during that pivotal year in rock history.
MOCA at Pacific Design Center and red | seven
The small offshoot of MOCA in DTLA focuses on exhibits related to design and architecture. Located at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center, it’s also home to red | seven, a Wolfgang Peck eatery inside the Green PDC building. This airy spot, open only at lunch, offers dishes like a turkey croque monsieur on cranberrry walnut brioche, prosciutto flatbread with walnut kale pesto and burrata, and an Angus beef breakfast burger topped with bacon, fried egg, arugula, and tarragon aioli.
Past MOCA at PDC shows have focused on avant-garde ‘60s fashion designer Rudi Gernreich and the homoerotic art of Tom of Finland. MOCA at PDC’s current show, Rick Owens: Furniture, focuses on the iconoclastic designer’s brutalist-inspired home designs made of materials including concrete, leather, marble, and bronze.
Manuela at Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel
Though officially a gallery and not a museum, Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel comes close. This huge Downtown L.A. space offers museum-quality exhibits, internal outdoor spaces, a bookstore and a restaurant, Manuela.
Manuela’s chef, Wes Whitsell, hails from rural Texas, and his background is reflected in his culinary influences, with fermenting, pickling, preserving and in-house smoking dominating the menu at this art-dominated space. Cocktails are concocted with house-made bitters and tonics, while menu standouts include grilled quail with labne and pomegranate, pulled-pork sliders with fermented jalapeño, and bacon-wrapped elk loin with maitake and fermented radicchio.
While you’re there, be sure to check out Jason Rhoades: Installations 1994-2006.
FIDM Museum and Faith & Flower
The FIDM Museum is a true L.A. treasure. This small but beautifully edited space within the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising offers free exhibitions of costume and vintage clothing that are musts for dedicated lovers of fashion. The 25th Annual Art of Motion Picture Design, featuring costumes from Oscar-nominated fashion designers, is currently on display and a yearly tradition. Another annual show dedicated to TV costume design appears every summer.
After looking at gorgeous clothing you deserve a cocktail or bite in a spot brimming with style, and Faith & Flower easily fits the bill. A short walk from the FIDM Museum, Faith & Flower is a gorgeous space that harkens back to the 1920s while retaining a modern vibe.
Notable dishes include the oxtail agnolotti with bone marrow butter and beef tendon chicharrones, deviled jidori eggs with kimchee, and eggs benedict pizza. During a recent cocktail tasting here, two standouts were the Spark of Madness (mezcal, pisco, caramelized pineapple gomme, L’Orgeat almond liqueur and lime) and the Dusty Fedora (Eagle Rare Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Hamilton’s Pimento Dram, maple syrup and both Decanter and chocolate bitters).
Annenberg Space for Photography and Hinoki & the Bird
Since its opening in 2009, Century City’s Annenberg Space for Photography has featured some of the most exciting photographic exhibitions in Los Angeles, including Beauty Culture, Who Shot Rock and Roll and Helmut Newton White Women/Sleepless Nights/Big Nudes.
Take a short walk and you’ll find Hinoki & the Bird, a rustic yet sophisticated indoor/outdoor restaurant inspired by travels along the Silk Road. Merging French technique with Japanese cuisine, Hinoki & the Bird’s signature dishes include crispy sucking pig, butter lobster ramen and wild boar ribs.
Admission is always free at the Annenberg Space for Photography, which is currently exhibiting Identity, an exploration of race, gender, class and sexuality; and #girlgaze, featuring work from young female photographers from around the world.
Hammer Museum and Ammo at the Hammer
The Hammer Museum is a vibrant cultural center located in Westwood that offers 20 exhibits and 300 events a year, in addition to its impressive permanent art collection of Europeand and American art and the Billy Wilder Theater. This home to UCLA’s Film and Television Archives’ public programming regularly screens movies all the way from the silent era to current times.
Adjoining The Hammer’s large, peaceful courtyard is AMMO at the Hammer, a cafe offering brunch, lunch and light fare till 7:30 p.m. Here you’ll find simple, tasty dishes like a salmon bowl with brown rice and veggies, a grilled cheese and braised kale sandwich, and a board laden with prosciutto, pears, parmigiana reggiano and almonds.
Go to The Hammer for the Mindful Awareness class every Thursday at 12:30 p.m., to view Barbara Kruger’s 13-minute video installation The Globe Shrinks, or to see John Singer Sargent’s 1881 portrait Dr. Pozzi at Home.
Huntington Library and Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle House
Located in San Marino, the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens is one of the world’s greatest research and cultural centers. Over a century old, it’s the onetime estate of Henry Huntington, a railroad magnate and collector of rare books.120 acres of gardens feature rare plants from around the world, while the Beaux Arts mansion referred to as the library houses some of the world’s rarest books, dating back as far as the 15th century, along with art, photos and more.
A recent addition to the Huntington is Freshwater Dumpling & Noodle House, from one of L.A.’s most iconic chefs, Susan Feniger. Located in the Chinese Garden, Freshwater offers noodle dishes and dumplings from many areas of China, with additional influences from Nepal and Mongolia. Try the pork congee or the tek tek peanut noodles. 1919, another Feniger venture at the Huntington, features Mexican cuisine from the Border Grill taqueria, a sushi bar and global small plates, along with beer, wine and craft cocktails.
While at the Huntington, you won’t want to miss Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy, painted in 1779, and the Gutenberg Bible dating back to 1455
The Getty Center and Restaurant at the Getty Center
Perched high above the 405 in Brentwood, the Getty Center is one of the city’s top tourist attractions, due to its modern design courtesy of architect Richard Meier, sweeping city views, breathtaking gardens and impressive permanent collection and exhibits.
The best place to eat here is the Restaurant at the Getty Center. Offering impressive views of the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains, the Restaurant is a great place for brunch (try the chilaquiles, the Venetian pork panini or the baby artichoke salad), lunch or dinner (with offerings that include duck breast confit and cioppino).
Current shows at the Getty focus on pastel fashion drawings of the 18th century, Degas, and a photography and video exhibition called Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media.
While you’re there, you won’t want to miss the Center for Photographs, along with masterpieces like Van Gogh’s Irises and Monet’s Portal of Rouen Cathedral.