Where to watch chefs work their magic in L.A.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in September 2016.

CNN  — 

You can call up any hot restaurant in Los Angeles and be told they have no weekend tables available this month but may have a Tuesday 5 p.m. slot in the spring. What’s an even tougher mission for fine-dining warriors here?

Scoring a front-row seat by the kitchen of a top toque performing her or his magic right before your eyes.

It may take some time (and money) to check off the following vital L.A. chef’s table-style experiences in the mecca of culinary stars and impossible reservations. But what’s an unforgettable dinner-and-show without a challenge?


Bestia's roasted bone marrow.

When done right, inspired Cal-Italian comfort food works well under just about any roofed structure.

Especially, it turns out, a repurposed warehouse in the factory-adorned outskirts of the Downtown Arts District – home to one of the most packed contemporary trattorias west of Umbria.

Busy, boisterous, bustling with bandanna’d chefs turning out burrata pizzas, bold housemade pastas and addictive ricotta dumplings with pork sausage and black truffles, the Bestia experience is best reserved well ahead.

A range of seating options includes funky booths, communal tables and a pair of patios.

For the real show with dinner, opt for a counter seat by the pizza oven or at the kitchen-adjacent chef’s table – a wooden perch seating up to seven where roasted marrow bone, spinach gnocchetti and pan-roasted chicken gizzard demos are on the house.

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Trois Mec

Only in L.A. does a Food & Wine-lauded dining room run by a star chef sit sort-of incognito in a sunburnt strip mall behind an old Raffallo’s P ZZA (missing I) sign from the space’s former tenant.

Ludovic Lefebvre’s Trois Mec – tapped repeatedly in its three years as one of L.A.’s best restaurants – is easy to drive right past.

Much harder: being quick enough to snag an online prepaid dining ticket (released every other Friday morning at 10 a.m.) at this 26-seat Modern American must-try – home of the best unkept $85 prix fixe dining “secret” in town.

Revolving five-course tasting menus are unpretentiously served in an open-kitchen setting where Lefebvre and his crew would be joining you if they were any closer.

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Le Comptoir

Don’t bother trying to call Le Comptoir for a reservation – as there’s no phone number.

Best to email a request for an early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) reservation at this 10-seat counter hiding in Koreatown’s historic Hotel Normandie – and patiently wait for French Laundry-alum chef Gary Menes to get back to you.

The seven-course tasting menu ($89 before wine pairings or corkage) showcases Menes’ singular form of French California cooking, with a focus on seasonal vegetables sourced from the chef’s own organic urban garden in Long Beach.

Meals might be supplemented by Japanese Wagyu beef or a diver scallop upon request.

But it’s the freshly harvested beans, figs, squash, leeks, asparagus, carrots, delicately halved grapes, etc. that are the stars of this show. Diligently prepared, plated and elucidated sans white tablecloth or pretension for a snug gathering of counter foodies.