Rory's Place interior.
Photos courtesy of Rory’s Place

Letter of RecommendationLos Angeles

Rory’s Place is the Perfect One-Night Escape from L.A.


Maybe you’re tired of the monotony. Or you’re burnt out. Perhaps you’re feeling devoid of inspiration, your roommate is really getting on your nerves, or the fling you’ve been having is escalating and you want to propose a more adventurous date. These are all great reasons to skip town. Yet you haven’t planned for it. You’re not prepared to take time off from work. All you need is a quick fix. One night — one dinner, really — could be enough.

Here’s where I tell you that there’s a place perfect for exactly that, and it’s called Rory’s Place. Rory’s is in Ojai, the idyllic valley town 80 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s a wonderfully charming and delicious place to eat, and it feels like a world away from life in L.A. Still, without traffic, you can get there in an hour and a half by car. Because it’s so close yet so far, dinner at Rory’s is the perfect one-night escape. And afterward, you can drive home and sleep in your own bed. 

The Ojai vibe is worlds removed from L.A. It’s harmonious, bucolic, and communal — a tranquil getaway in and of itself. You might think you’d miss out on these enchanting traits if you’re only going for dinner, but Rory’s somehow manages to perfectly encapsulate everything there is to love about Ojai in one neat package. 

The restaurant is owned by a pair of sisters, Rory and chef Meave McAuliffe, who grew up hanging around their mother’s bakery in Santa Monica. They opened Rory’s at the beginning of last year, inspired by their upbringing and the agricultural community around Ojai, rife with farmers, ranchers, foragers, and fishers. 

Upon entry, allow yourself to first be drawn into the warm red glow emanating from the neon “Oyster Bar” sign that hangs over the front section of the dining room. Admire the fabric panel that suspends from the wood beam ceiling, a patchwork of sheer and colorfully patterned textiles. And then the paintings by Kelly McLane, the vintage mahogany chairs, and the ceramic sconces. There’s a certain softness to Rory’s rustic aesthetic, and it’s undeniably alluring, particularly when paired with a room full of locals and the scent of wood-fired California cooking. It’s the kind of restaurant that draws you in, then demands you relax into the unhurried mood.

The food and drink drives the point home further. The menu is full of locally harvested seafood and seasonal produce that, even in the dead of winter, overwhelms with color. Start with a cocktail, like the mezcal and tequila-based “Hello Satan” made with habanero, passion fruit, cilantro, and olive oil infused with Ojai Pixie tangerines. If you’re the designated driver, try the house sparkling limeade. 

It is my personal belief that a true marker of a great restaurant is a menu that makes it very hard to decide what to order. (Note that this has nothing to do with the size of the menu itself.) Why? When there’s an excess of items you want, you’re making a mental note to return before you’ve even left. And there is something irresistibly luxurious about wanting more than you can realistically have. 

The menu reflects the seasons, and dishes read like cheffed-up renditions of what you might enjoy at a breezy-chic dinner party. It’s divided into four sections: raw, bar (think œuf mayo and charcuterie), kitchen (wood-fired vegetables and proteins, hand-cut tagliatelle), and dessert. Maybe you try something from each section, say, the daily crudo, chicken liver pâté, herb salad, and the hanger steak? Or perhaps you want to frontload on the raw? The seafood tower at Rory’s is a worthy indulgence, stacked with oysters, buttery peel-n-eat prawns, pudgy mussels that are creamy and saline and sweet, fresh crab, plush Santa Barbara uni topped with a spoonful of salmon roe, caviar, and crème fraîche, served with Ritz crackers for good measure. 

You came all this way, so I wouldn’t advise skipping dessert. Spring for whatever is on offer with seasonal fruit (like a lemon tart), the flourless chocolate torte, or a warm cookie with milk, a sweet ending to a dreamy night. 

Local legend has it that Ojai is an energy vortex, and therefore rejuvenating — something to do with its geological orientation. A meal at Rory’s is similarly restorative. For its warmth, its hospitality, its roasted half chicken on flame-kissed escarole, and more, a one-night escape here is well worth the drive. 


Rory’s Place is open Wednesdays through Mondays from 5 to 10 p.m.

Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.