Deep in the heart of West Hollywood, Cleo remains a beacon for eastern and southern style Mediterranean food in the neighborhood. The original LA location is part of SBE’s expansive restaurant and hotel offerings, and re-opened to the public last summer on the corner of Vine and Hollywood. The reemergence came after the international spot shut down for many months while the building’s new private club tenant, H Club, settled into the space.
It seemed the restaurant was in talks to go private in order to exclusively serve members of the club, but eventually opted to remain available to the general public when it reopened. After a sporadic couple of years in Los Angeles, with the Hollywood location shut down for over a year, and the downtown location at LA Live shuttering after about eighteen months, the restaurant is back and thriving in both Hollywood, its West Third Location inside The Orlando Hotel in Beverly Grove, and across the globe in the Bahamas, Kuwait, South Beach Miami and New York.
Chef Martin Heierling’s food is worth the wait though, especially in their warm, cozy space in Hollywood that’s wonderfully improved by velvety jewel tones, stately marble tables, high ceilings and elaborate chandeliers. Sitting in one of the many leather booths that frame the 120 seat floor for a recent dinner, the space is roomy without feeling enormous, and was partially filled with a buzzing, rotating crowd even on an unassuming weeknight. With clear Mediterranean influences on the design, via the light wood, dark leather, and groups of pillar candles scattered throughout the floor, Cleo Hollywood is an upscale spot on an iconic block that never feels inaccessible.
Oh, and a lit-up homage to Cleopatra herself that towers in the entryway helps reestablish exactly who this restaurant was named for — and why. This burst of feminine energy is a welcome oasis in this part of Hollywood’s sometimes frustratingly stodgy feel, and Cleo’s modern elegance is punctuated by its celebration of the divine feminine. Or at least, that’s the feeling I happily projected onto the space when trying it for the first time earlier this month.
It’s the food that will really conjure up ideas of heaven though, especially in a city where Mediterranean options seem sadly lacking. Cleo’s mezze style menu (read: small dishes) emphasizes seafood and raw bar selections, and is perfect for sharing a family-style feast. Plus their emphasis on sourcing local and sustainable ingredients is unmistakable in the quality and taste of everything on the menu.
As delicious and overwhelming as the food at Cleo is, the drinks are even better. Full wine and beer lists include excellent champagne by the glass, that I happily began the evening with, but the cocktails by Gui Jaroschy are the pièce de résistance. Our table’s favorite, the Shell Shocked, comes in a glass shell for a highly-Instagrammable moment. If you’re looking for an extensive happy hour option, come Mondays 5 PM – 10 PM for a full array of affordable options, or swing by the bar 5 PM – 7 PM Tuesday through Sunday, until 10 PM every night but Friday and Saturday, when the kitchen stays open till 11 PM.
Serious diners can come for seated dinner beginning at 5 PM every day, and my advice is to start off with the trio of Signature Dips ($13), no matter what else catches your eye. The pita bread is perfectly fluffy, and house made hummus, babaganoush and labneh are some of the best I’ve had in Los Angeles. From there, get serious with the Salt Roasted Beets ($18) punctuated with fresh dill that made the flavors pop beyond even what I’m used to when it comes to beets. Fried Cauliflower ($16) with bleu cheese tahini and Green Falafel ($12) with pickled fennel were some other excellent meze plates, but the Grilled Spanish Octopus ($18) with harissa aioli totally stole the show.
Speaking of serious diners, sharing all that and still going in for one of the hearty meat plates — the Apricot Lamb Tagine ($34) — was almost too much for our table of four, who also ordered the Kofta Turkish Pide Flatbread ($18) that comes with spiced lamb earlier. The flatbread can be ordered without meat, and there are plenty of both fish and plant-based options for larger plates for anyone looking to avoid red meat.
Even the inclusion of cheese and cream, once so common in American takes on Mediterranean cooking, can be easily avoided here while still enjoying plenty of menu items like Crispy Brussel Sprouts ($12), Vegan Mushroom Shawarma Pockets ($12) — offered instead of Lamb — and Fattoush salad ($16) with tomatoes, mint, persian cucumbers and pita on the side.
Potatoes, rice, couscous and fries offered on the side for $6 each help round out their offerings for vegan and vegetarian diners — asparagus is also available as a side for $8. Cleo may be traditional when it comes to adhering to the long-established conventions of Meditarranean cuisine, but they also know where they are, and offering clearly marked vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and even keto options on the menu is a welcome nod to Los Angeles norms. Though it may have taken a few years for Cleo to figure out exactly where and how they fit into this city, they’ve adapted perfectly with the updates to their thoughtfully chic outpost in the heart of Hollywood.