The Restaurant That Helped Define Hollywood

In this week's newsletter, we spill the secrets of L.A.'s most glamorous vintage eateries with writer and historian David Kipen.

Sergio Gonzales, one of the longest-tenured servers at Musso’s, delivers truffled mac and cheese, crab Louie, and grilled New York steak to a hungry Anniversarist.
Sergio Gonzales, one of the longest-tenured servers at Musso’s, delivers truffled mac and cheese, crab Louie, and grilled New York steak to a hungry Anniversarist.

The world-famous Musso & Frank Grill rivals the Hollywood star power of Cary Grant or Rita Hayworth. Now in its hundredth year, the Los Angeles mainstay continues to shine in the kitchen—and on-screen. Musso’s, as it’s known, features prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s summer hit, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, a stylized take on the story of late 1960s Hollywood and the Manson family murders. In our current issue, Altacontributor and master quip king David Kipen adopts the persona of the Anniversarist, a noir-style gumshoe in search of a vintage case. For “6667 Hollywood Boulevard,” the Anniversarist settles in for an evening at Musso’s and solves a martini-fueled mystery. 

Kipen (who recently joined Alta’s podcast) donned his private eye fedora and answered a few of my questions about Musso’s and its magic. 

Alta: Can any other Los Angeles restaurants challenge Musso & Frank Grill for longevity and star power?

Kipen: For longevity—the restaurants’, not the diners’—feel free to compare the rival self-proclaimed inventors of the French dip sandwich: Cole’s P.E. Buffet and Philippe’s. For star power, try the Trancas Beach Starbucks. But for both? Not a chance. 

Incidentally, want to know what other Southern California restaurants Alta readers should especially enjoy? Tops on the list should probably be Alta Eats, a very pleasant establishment of no particular cuisine, hidden across from a great Armenian market in the foothills in Pasadena. There’s no signage out front and not much light inside, but don’t panic, just enjoy. And you can’t beat that name. 

Also, Golden State, a counter-service hole-in-the-wall on Fairfax near Melrose. Great burgers, dogs, fries, and craft beer—whatever that is—with every last ingredient sourced exclusively in California.

Alta: Seems like there are a lot of stories of silver-screen stars having been “discovered” or “sighted” at a cafeteria counter. What famous people have you bumped into?  

Kipen: Do folk musicians count? I once discovered the Roches in a health-food restaurant. 

Also, I once saw Van Dyke Parks—who wrote the lyrics for the Beach Boys’ unfinished Smile album and whose album Song Cycle other musicians have been filching ideas from for decades—at Alta Eats (see above).

Alta: Musso’s has some very old-fashioned menu items. I know you’re pretty adventurous, but is there anything on the Musso’s menu that’s a big pass for you? What’s your go-to menu pick? 

Kipen: I always order any item with the restaurant’s name in it. Or the chef’s. Or the chef’s mom’s. Or with an adjective in the entrée. Or that I never heard of. In other words, bring me Mrs. Musso’s Original Famous Flannel Cakes and I’m happy. 

This interview appeared in Alta‘s August 22, 2019 newsletter, a free weekly round-up of the latest from Alta, the best curated content from around the web, and a collection of events from us and our partners throughout the state. Subscribe in the upper right hand corner.  

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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