In 1947, owners Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs assembled a staff of 14 carhops to serve passing motorists at the first Mel's Drive-In. For the next two decades, customers partial to automobile dining flocked to the chain’s 11 California locations, eager to wash down grass-fed half-pound burgers with thick milk shakes. As fast-food outlets outpaced the drive-in's once-speedy service, its popularity declined, and it was eventually scheduled for demolition. The building got a temporary reprieve, however, when filmmaker George Lucas decided to use the drive-in's original location on Lombard Street as the colorful backdrop for his film American Graffiti. As bulldozers destroyed the last remnants of the historic drive-in, American Graffiti opened in theaters.
A decade later, though, Mel's son Steven reopened Mel's Drive-In in an attempt to carry on his father's dream. Steven restored the drive-in's multiple locations to mirror their original motif by stocking each with midcentury must-haves such as illuminated marquees, jukeboxes, and Elvis-themed WiFi passwords. The drive-in’s menu, meanwhile, balances period-appropriate fare, such as hot dogs and burgers, with healthy options, such as the Haven’s Famous vegetarian sandwich, two slices of nine-grain bread topped with avocado, sprouts, and tomatoes.
Itzik Hagadol Grill has two locations, one in Encino, California, and the original in Jaffa, Israel. Despite being separated from its sister restaurant by an ocean and three in-flight movies, the American eatery still embraces the characteristic flavors and ingredients of Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine, earning a rating of "good to very good" from Zagat. The kitchen's taboon oven bakes fresh laffa bread as the cooks carefully arrange more than 20 kinds of Middle Eastern salads, which garnered praise from the Los Angeles Times in 2009 for their vibrancy and variety. Grills further heat up the kitchen by searing kebabs of house-ground veal and lamb as well as skewers of less common meats, including foie gras, chicken liver, and veal sweetbreads. The warmth forged in the culinary crucible that is the kitchen emanates outward to the dining area, where padded booths stimulate comfort and conviviality.
The Hummus Bar & Grill channels the flavors and spirit of Tel Aviv with authentic offerings of steaming, hot pitas and succulent grill-kissed skewers served in a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere. Diners can request a side of hot pita baked on location to scoop up israeli salad, which, like a lion tamer's living will, is made fresh every day. High-quality meats, including gourmet offerings such as chicken schnitzel and foie gras, are lovingly speared onto grilled skewers, and vegetarians can enjoy fire-kissed portobello mushrooms. A robust kosher menu includes homestyle dishes such as chicken-thigh steak and a special of the day. Guests can top off their meals with a turkish coffee and watch as the sun goes down and the dining room quickly fills with carefree ambiance as fellow diners clink glasses of Italian or Israeli wines against beers imported from Belgium, Holland, and England.
At age 14, Moroccan-born Simon Elmaleh already had a job, and it was no paper route—he was already earning his chops in the kitchen of a Mediterranean restaurant. Just two years later, he launched his 17-year career as an assistant chef on a five-star passenger cruise liner, and in 1986, he opened the first Moroccan restaurant in Japan. In 2001, he brought his decades-long passion for Mediterranean cuisine to California, where he founded Simon's Restaurant.
A Los Angeles Times writer praised the "warm atmosphere," which is decked out in rich cream-colored tones and vintage French cabaret posters. At cloth-draped tables, guests feast on traditional Moroccan tagines, spicy homemade lamb sausages, and baba ghanouj, described as "vivid—roasty and pure, whipped into a fluffy cloud of eggplant."
The Stand’s menu of chili dogs, burgers, and tuna melts evokes classic Americana images of diners and ball games. The eats may be casual, but the staff strives to give them modern style, earning a spot on Gayot's 2012 list of Top 10 LA Hot Dog Restaurants. Upon request, the staff will wrap burgers in whole-wheat buns or lettuce wraps instead of classic buns, and diners also have their choice of beef, turkey, or housemade veggie patties. Gourmet hot-dog and sausage toppings such as garlic mushrooms and corn salsa join traditional fixings such as mustard, sweet pickle relish, and tears from a recently defeated baseball team. To wash it all down, servers blend up 20-ounce chocolate and vanilla milkshakes and tap a rotating menu of draft beers, as well as root beer.
Red isn't the only color on Reds Restaurant's wine list, which presents bottles that speak multiple languages and come and go as they please. While sipping vinos from California, South America, and Italy, guests can peer past the black-hole-black bar straight into the open kitchen. There, the chefs will summon smoked-salmon farfalle, spam-fried rice, and duck confit into existence, and bring life to desserts such as The Brownie and pineapple upside-down cake. Dinner is the main feature at this wine-and-tapas shop, but a lunch menu attracts a midday crowd to the Encino Place Shopping Center's second floor from Tuesday to Friday every week.