By Cait Teegarden

Against all odds, restaurants came roaring back this year after a dizzying gauntlet of reinvention. The return came as a sign of defiance against any skepticism that exceptional dining could happen again.

Needless to say, there are no skeptics over here. We could spend all day gushing about our most exceptional dining experiences. (We do that). And holidays or no, we’re thinking hard about Los Angeles, and the restaurants that always offer special touches for locals and visitors alike. And in this case, every one is part of Global Dining Access by Resy, which provides exclusive access to American Express premium card members.

In that spirit, we wanted to offer our services as personal dining concierge, with a few hints along the way to enhance your dining experience. Whether it’s the inimitable chicken sandwich at Son of a Gun, the merging of Californian ingredients and Mexican flavors at Damian, or the stellar wine program that complements a seasonal menu at Rustic Canyon, here are the ins and outs of some of the most pleasurable dining the city has to offer.

Kismet

Los Feliz

There’s a very specific comfort in having a dependable all-day restaurant in the neighborhood. And fortunately for Los Feliz, Kismet does just this — and also makes out-of-towners feel like they’re at home. Chef-owners Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson have been at the helm innovating their vegetable-forward menu blending local California produce with Middle Eastern flavors since opening in 2017. The accolades show no signs of slowing, although there’s always evolution of the best sort.

THE VIBE

A hip, understated, and airy nook trusted to delight. In other words, very Los Feliz.

DON’T MISS

With a menu that helpfully articulates various dishes by shareability, it’s easy to navigate with any party size. Split the impossibly good Persian Crispy Rice amongst your group, or turn your attention to the “Go Big” section — the rabbit for two with all the fixings is a must.

BY THE WAY

Just a few doors down you will find Kismet Rotisserie, the more casual (but oh-so-satisfying) offshoot that hones its focus on the craft of rotisserie chicken. With schmaltzy potatoes on the side, of course.

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Rustic Canyon

Santa Monica

Venture a few blocks east of the bustling Santa Monica pier and you’ll find respite in the ever-cozy Rustic Canyon space. Seasonality and sustainability are key pillars here — not that unique in L.A., save for the parties involved: executive chef Andy Doubrava and chef-owner Jeremy Fox, who pioneered the next level of vegetarian cooking in NorCal before coming south. This translates to a perpetually inspired menu that constantly shifts with the seasons — down to a dish as perfectly simple as Little Gem lettuces with a shallot vinaigrette. Local ingredients from farmers, ranchers, and fisherman are on full display. Sharing is strongly encouraged.

THE VIBE

Understated California minimalism. Its subtle distressed wood and sparse decor holds warmth, while ensuring the focal point is the food.

DON’T MISS

With that hyper-seasonal menu, missing out is a real concern. As you read this, it’s likely that the sweet and spicy coal-grilled turnips are having their moment in the sun. As for mains, the pork chop in smoked trout roe sauce may raise eyebrows but will prove any skeptic wrong.

BY THE WAY

Perfecting the balance on the menu has not distracted from crafting a perpetually lauded wine program. Sommelier Kathryn Spencer brings the stories of local (and not so local) producers to the table while always offering something new, like a semillon from Santa Barbara producer Kings Carey.

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Olivetta

West Hollywood

This WeHo staple has a scene-y reputation for a reason. You’ll feel like you made the guest list for an expensive afterparty, though the canapés will be a world better. Executive chef Michael Fiorelli channels the Mediterranean with a menu that we can dub “contemporary coastal“ (Dover sole with baby leeks, and a vegan double-double), including an impressive display of pastas.

THE VIBE

Lives up to the neighborhood expectations with a plush, stylish interior that combines the colors and style of Mediterranean cities. This bungalow is also for adults only (21+).

DON’T MISS

Firststart things off with the excellent toasted sourdough. You should definitely peruse one of the aforementioned pastas (all housemade), like the radiatore with “all day” lamb Bolognese or the vegetarian rigatoni with arugula-cashew pesto. The grilled branzino with fresh green herbs and lemon conserva is also a hit.

BY THE WAY

While you’re enjoying the European holiday mindset, enjoy one of the complex cocktails that beverage director Melina Meza is crafting. The Dirty Bleu Martini with vodka, bleu cheese-infused dry vermouth and a Kalamata olive is practically vying for a spot as an appetizer.

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Damian

Arts District

It’s fitting that the Arts District would house such an impressive achievement as Damian. Amid the various murals, galleries, and museums throughout the neighborhood stands an impeccably curated interpretation of how chef Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Cosme, ATLA) melds Mexican culture with seasonal California flavors. We won’t say it’s art — that analogy is always tricky — but for sure it’s artistically dazzling and postmodern, and so it would seem Olvera and his team found exactly the right L.A. home for their genius work.

THE VIBE

The (mostly outdoor) converted warehouse space emphasizes greenery, presenting a sophisticated terrarium experience.

DON’T MISS

Get your bearings with a few of the bright and fresh starters, such as the shrimp tlayuda, served atop a handmade tortilla, or the ceviche incorporating Japanese kosho seasoning. As for the mains, the duck al pastor and pescado a la brasca are downright celebratory.

BY THE WAY

If you’re passing through the neighborhood, swing by the back-door taqueria, Ditroit, and grab a few street-style tacos.

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Majordōmo

Chinatown

Majordomo touched down in 2018 as the first imprint of Momofuku restaurants in L.A.,  and it hasn’t looked back. This may be part of David Chang’s empire, but with chef Jude Parra-Sickels running point, the breadth of the menu matches the expansive space at the edge of Chinatown space, and sets up perfectly for sharing (or repeat visits).

THE VIBE

Industrial and reverential, but also inviting.

DON’T MISS

The Majordomo menu can be daunting in the best way possible. Mull over the rest of the meal to come with one of the bings. The housemade flatbread will help set up the dunk for the whole plate beef short rib (call 24 hours in advance to confirm availability). And brace for impact with the Macaroni and Chickpea pasta dish that sneaks onto the menu as an unsuspecting power player — a New York invention that came west to stay.

BY THE WAY

Keep an eye on the updated classic cocktails that shift perception of what savory can be in a beverage. Whether it’s the Manhattan with a short rib fat-washed rye, or the Gibson with white soy and pickled red onion, every sip defies any expectation your palate may have.

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pasjoli

Main Street Santa Monica

In a town literally fueled on hype, it’s healthy to have a bit of skepticism. But the clamor around the finessed French bistro treatment that has been pasjoli’s signature for years remains warranted. In other words, when you get the opportunity to indulge in the creativity of chef Dave Beran (formerly Dialogue), you take it. Decadence is abundant here, what with the Parisian inspiration, but at that perfect point just shy of excess.

THE VIBE

If it wasn’t a special occasion before, it is now. The thoughtful antique touches underscore the luxury of it all.

DON’T MISS

The stunned silence generated by pasjoli’s famous duck press for two reverberate in the memories of all those so fortunate to have this tableside experience. But avoid tragic disappointment and call ahead to reserve. Before that hits the table, be sure to order the foie de poulet à la Strasbourgeoise (chicken liver mousse) to get you in the Parisian bistro spirit.

BY THE WAY

For a chef who has solidified himself as a master of precision, excellence, and fine dining, it’s remarkable that Beran started his restaurant career in his teens as “Toast Boy” at a Michigan diner — it was more stressful than you think.

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Son of a Gun

Beverly Grove

The duo behind L.A. essentials like Animal, Jon & Vinny’s, and Petit Trois have that knack of delivering exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. And for more than 10 years, Son of a Gun has been delivering consistently delicious, seafood-centric classics in Beverly Grove, from smoked mahi dip to trout almandine. Its reliability does not go unappreciated.

THE VIBE

Nautical kitsch, with a wink.

DON’T MISS

The bigeye tuna with avocado and tortilla has an unconventional presentation but is a must-have to start. You won’t regret any of the seaside favorites, like the mini lobster rolls or the shrimp toast sandwich. Speaking of sandwiches, the fried chicken sandwich gets everyone all riled up, with its spicy slaw and rooster aioli.

BY THE WAY

Take home a couple of pints of housemade ice creams or sorbets from the dessert menu.

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Girl & the Goat LA

Downtown

Speaking of transplants to the Arts District … For years it was only the lucky Chicagoans who got to revel in that hard-to-nab reservation at “Top Chef” Stephanie Izzard’s Girl & the Goat. Now Angelenos can rejoice: Izard’s bold flavors and global influence from the flagship location have landed in California and are acclimating quite nicely.

THE VIBE

A lightened-up and plant-filled “happy to be here” Midwest energy.

DON’T MISS

Some of the flagship classics, including the chickpea fritters and confit goat belly, made the journey from Chicago to Los Angeles and are welcomed with open arms. Having set up shop on the west coast, you can enjoy some newcomers with California touches like the lamb skewers or the flavorful chile quail crunch.

BY THE WAY

Despite its namesake, Girl & the Goat boasts an entirely vegan menu as an option, a testament to Izard’s ability to pack every bite with flavor, regardless of ingredient.

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