Reservations at Cassia are even harder to come by since New York Times critic Pete Wells stopped by to give the place a full starred review. It was a bold choice for the Times’ first West Coast review, but we understand exactly why Wells picked Cassia: The restaurant is representative of much of what’s exciting about dining in Los Angeles right this minute. The collaboration between Zoe Nathan, Josh Loeb, and Bryant and Kim Ng may look and feel like just another trendy restaurant, and certainly there is a sense of taking all that’s fun about big, loud, fashionable places and pouring those elements on thickly. But Cassia delivers so much more in the substance of the cuisine, so much more heart and flavor and ingenuity. Chef Bryant Ng has brought some of the sensibility that made his now-departed Spice Table a favorite, but the context is slightly different. Here, he’s riffing on the interplay between French and Vietnamese cuisines, both the influences that are born of the historical French occupation of Vietnam and crossovers born of Ng’s imagination and training. Cassia is part grand brasserie and part modern Asian eating house. You can order a chilled seafood platter in various sizes, but rather than the tower of chilled crustacean bits that’s customary, you get a sampling of Ng’s cooked and raw cold seafood creations: a bowl of large prawns bathed in an aromatic Vietnamese hot sauce; smoked salmon dip topped with fresh salmon roe and served with grilled country bread; hunks of raw scallop in chili oil with tiny bits of ham and corn and gobs of fresh herbs; long spindly king crab legs cut lengthwise so the sweet meat is easy to access, topped with a lemongrass fish sauce and a flurry of shiso leaves. Other French/Vietnamese mashups, such as the pho-influenced pot-au-feu, are striking in their cleverness but also in just how well they sum up the aim of this restaurant: an elegant ode to what both Europe and Asia have taught us about deliciousness. —Besha Rodell
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Sitting almost in the shadow of the Burbank Ikea, just across the Glendale city line, sits one of Greater L.A.’s best Middle Eastern restaurants, though the type of Middle Eastern food served at Adana is a little hard to define. The Armenian-American-Persian-Turkish-Georgian menu is broad and beautiful. For kebab lovers, the grilled meats over rice are tender, and the rice is fluffy and fragrant. The barbecued tomato you can — and should — order on the side is smoky and flavorful. Many devotees of the place come here for kebabs, and the kebabs alone would be reason enough to visit (hint: get the Cornish hen). But chef and owner Edward Khechemyan has more to offer than just the standards here. Order the pasus dolma, an Armenian version of the ubiquitous rice-and–grape leaves dish, and be rewarded with a delicious jumble of lentils, kidney beans, garbanzos and tomatoes, wrapped in tender cabbage leaves with a hint of pickle and spice. Try the kashk-e-bademjan, an Iranian dish that usually comes as a pasty eggplant spread topped with whey and fried shallots but is served here as thin slices of fried eggplant cooked to their sweet, sticky essence. If you stick to the appetizers (and it is a wholly fulfilling way to eat if you do), your meal will almost certainly be vegetarian and you’re unlikely to even notice. What you will notice is that this is perhaps the most interesting, soulful Middle Eastern food around. —Besha Rodell
When I originally reviewed Alimento in September 2014, I could tell that Pollack had created something special. But I also had a few complaints. The room was deafeningly loud, and the food was in some instances searingly salty. It certainly didn't strike me as one of the best restaurants in the city. Two and a half years later, however, Alimento can absolutely bear the weight of that distinction. The meals I've had more recently there have been head-spinningly, stunningly great, so much so that at first I wondered if I'd stumbled into a fluke of lucky ordering and high kitchen morale. But subsequent meals have had the same magical quality. The mortadella pig in a blanket and the escolar dishes have lost none of their shine, and newer menu additions live up to those early successes' precedent of greatness. There's a bracing, Italian-leaning Caesar salad that makes glorious use of white radicchio's natural bitterness and its compatibility with sharp cheese. Pastas remain flawless. The braised-lettuce bruschetta utilizes the creamy smoosh of burrata in a way you've never experienced, and that's saying something in a town overrun with burrata-on-toast variations. Is it still too loud? Possibly, though Pollack has made an effort to implement sound-absorbing solutions. Either way I didn't notice; I was too busy being thrilled by the food. —Besha Rodell
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There is hardly a restaurant so ingrained in the life of its neighborhood or its customers as Angelini Osteria, a place that seems as if it has been here for all of civilized history. (In today’s restaurant market, 15 years practically is all of civilized history.) That it is such a classic Italian eatery, complete with no-nonsense, charming professional waiters, probably explains much of its timeless feel, as does the room full of older customers, many of whom come here every week and sit at the exact same table. (The people-watching at Angelini is outstanding, made all the easier because the tables are so thoroughly crammed together.) The exceptional pastas, still — even in this age of handmade pasta bounty — are some of the best in town, whether coated in a simple eggplant and tomato sauce, or laden with uni and seafood funk. In Los Angeles, sometimes extreme quality and extreme popularity do not cohabitate. Angelini is one of the happy examples of the two enjoying a long and fruitful marriage. —Besha Rodell
Now that its owners, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, are bona fide restaurant czars, Animal can be examined from a sociological viewpoint. It is the organism that spawned an empire but also a way of thinking and cooking and serving and being that barely existed in the restaurant world before its arrival. Pull-no-punches, meat-driven, casual and fun restaurants — which are nonetheless quality-focused above all else — are ubiquitous now, and you can thank Animal in large part for that fact. That it has barely changed in its nine years of existence and yet still seems so current might help explain why Shook and Dotolo have been able to spin its success into such a huge platform. They were ahead of their time then, and their newer projects continue to push L.A.’s dining culture in unexpected and giddily fun directions. If you want to understand our city’s dining scene, you still have to eat at Animal. You need to vie for a table in the perpetually packed room; to dive into the ridiculously rich and stupidly enjoyable oxtail poutine; to eat foie gras on a biscuit with maple sausage gravy and wonder how the minds that came up with those delicious obscenities could also deliver delicacy and balance in a snap pea panzanella, or a hamachi tostada with peanuts and avocado. We don’t know what dining in L.A., or America, would look like had Animal never roared into existence, and we’re happy we’ll never have to find out. —Besha Rodell
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Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s A.O.C. has always been representative of everything great about the mashup of local cuisine and European influence. This was apparent in its original location, which opened in 2002, and it’s even more apparent in the spot it moved to in 2012, which is an utter dream of a restaurant: a cozy dining room with circular corner booths; the leafy, bricked-in magic of the patio, anchored by a candle-festooned fireplace. The feeling is of stepping into an enchanted space where everything might be taken care of. What should you eat? You can barely go wrong. Spread the table with meats and cheeses and the farmer’s plate, a jumble of roasted veggies and bitter greens and chickpea puree and burrata and hunks of grilled bread. There are beautiful international influences in many of the small plates, such as the devilishly black arroz negro, the slightly firm rice punctuated with soft squid and lush saffron aioli. Over midafternoon drinks at the quiet bar (barman Christiaan Rollich continues to turn out some of L.A.’s most exciting cocktails), or nibbles at happy hour along the high communal table, over sunny brunches on the patio and wonderful dinners in those booths or under the trees, A.O.C. has become the spot we turn to when we need to be comforted but also pampered. —Besha Rodell
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Some restaurant experiences are simply a rite of passage for L.A. food lovers, and the tense wait for a stool at Apple Pan’s U-shaped counter is one of those experiences. Opened in 1947, the burger joint has barely changed in its 70-year history. Once you swoop in and grab your seat, your choice is simple: hickory burger or steak burger? If you’re looking for a touch of smoky barbecue flavor, go for the former; if you’re more of a purist, the latter. There are some non-burger sandwiches on the menu, including simple egg salad or tuna salad, but it’s unlikely that’s why you’re here. The no-nonsense waiters will ask you gruffly if you want anything else when you finish your classic, immensely satisfying burger. The correct answer is, “Apple pie please, à la mode.” Gobble it up, pay your bill (they accept cash only), and get out of the way so one of the people waiting along the back wall can get their taste of edible American history. —Besha Rodell
One day the city of Los Angeles may well rename this part of downtown “Centenoville” for the delicious influence chef Josef Centeno has brought to the couple of blocks where his five restaurants reside. Bar Amá, his ode to Tex-Mex, is as fun a place to eat and drink as any in town. Orsa & Winston delivers one of the most interesting, thoughtful tasting-menu experiences around. Ledlow is a model for the modern neighborhood cafe, and PYT, his newer ode to vegetables, will show you how to appreciate a turnip as you’ve never appreciated a turnip before. But Bäco Mercat stands resplendent as Centeno’s original vision for what downtown needed: a place that reinvented the sandwich (or is it a taco? A wrap?) in the form of a bäco, a flatbread/pita arrangement that smooshes soft bread with tangy sauce with meaty meat, whether it be beef tongue schnitzel or oxtail hash. The rest of the menu darts all over the globe and reveals more about Centeno’s point of view than it adheres to any particular trend or style. Hamachi crudo with Abkhazian chili spice is tangy, fresh and pert; vegetable dishes such as roasted romanesco with treviso and pea tendrils remain utterly original in the face of an onslaught of derivative vegetable arrangements elsewhere. Be it yam, pea and pomegranate on a spiced beef flatbread or a yellowtail collar with yuzu kosho and walnut vinaigrette, something at Bäco Mercat will get you, and get you good. —Besha Rodell
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Los Angeles has a lot of pride when it comes to our Mexican food, so whenever our friends return from SXSW extolling the virtues of Tex-Mex, it’s not uncommon to deliver a skeptical side-eye. In recent years we’ve seen some expats from the Lone Star state mosey up to our coast, like HomeState’s decent breakfast tacos to Los Feliz, but Josef Centeno’s ode to Tejano cuisine is more our vibe. While Bar Amá looks to Texas for influence, it has a style all its own. From the savory short rib chalupa with tangy cabbage slaw to the Tex-Mex fried chicken, which is actually a deep-fried Cornish game hen dusted with cumin, the menu is heavy but incredibly delicious. Slow-roasted carnitas tacos and enchiladas are great, as is to be expected, but the real gem of the menu is the hearty cauliflower with cilantro pesto, cashews and cotija. Wash it all down with craft beer or the signature cocktails, which often pair citrus and tequila, and you’ll feel ready to ride any bull the day puts in your way. If you’re feeling brave, there’s the big bowl of molten queso and crisp chips, which, if Friday Night Lights is to be believed, is sacrosanct in homes from the Panhandle to the Rio Grande. You don’t mess with Texas, but we’re glad Centeno did anyway. —Drew Tewksbury
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Baroo is that most wonderful of restaurants, a place that is almost impossible to describe in part because no one would believe it to be true — a modernist, health-focused Korean fantasy inside a sparse room located on a decidedly unglamorous stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, just east of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There’s no sign, and the room is tiny and simple: white walls, a communal table, a counter from which you order, a few stools along another counter against the wall, a blackboard menu and some shelving in back holding jars of things in various stages of fermentation. Owner Kwang Uh is currently on a sabbatical, spending time at a Buddhist temple in the southern part of South Korea, but he’s left the cooking in the capable hands of his business partner and co-chef, Matthew Kim. And the cooking is still incredible: Handmade pasta ribbons support a kaleidoscope of celery and celeriac: thinly pureed celeriac, pickled julienned celery, crispy chips made from celeriac and a dusky powder they call “celery ash.” The dish takes one flavor profile and layers it over itself with multiple variations in texture and technique. The result is lightly fruity and creamy and utterly beguiling. There are a lot of grains being put to use, including a few dishes with Job’s tears, which you may have seen sold as Chinese pearl barley. They’re best here in the dish called noorook, which also has farro and kamut, and is mixed with roasted koji beet cream, concentrated kombu dashi, seeds, nuts, finger lime and rose onion pickle. Baroo is a weird, exceptionally personal, only-in-L.A. kind of treat. Is there any better kind? —Besha Rodell
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Los Angeles County has an abundance of Chinese restaurants, representing perhaps every region of mainland China, and Taiwan too. Beijing Pie House is a great place to learn about food traditionally made and eaten in Northern China. It’s heavy on lamb, pastry and noodles, and the vegetables are mostly served cold and sometimes lightly pickled. The cabbage is a great mystery. Served chopped and tossed with oil and Sichuan peppercorn, it is perhaps the best presentation of cabbage I’ve ever come across, even this year, when the cruciferous vegetable is having a moment at restaurants further west. It’s also a great introduction to Sichuan peppercorn, which strikes fear in many hearts (mine included) but in truth offers a complex flavor, not just searing heat. It does make your water taste a little funny for a bit. It’s totally worth it. But the must-get dish is the meat pie. Get the lamb and green onion version. It’s about the shape of a hockey puck, and served outrageously hot. Turn it up vertically on your spoon and take a little nibble off the top to let out the steam. Wait a beat, and then get into this dish that was created for cold-weather living but is so good that it’s a hit even in L.A. —Katherine Spiers
The Bellwether is the brainchild of Ted Hopson, a journeyman L.A. chef who most recently worked under Sang Yoon at Father’s Office and Lukshon. The Studio City restaurant might seem to have the DNA of half the gastropubs in town, but it nails the small details most places overlook. Hopson is what you might call a chef’s chef, and he and sous chef John Cho weave solid and inventive cooking techniques into even the most commonplace dishes. The french fries here are brined, steamed, frozen and fried, part of a three-day process that yields long, crispy batons as fluffy as a baked potato inside yet shatteringly crunchy outside. Ruby-red squares of bigeye tuna sashimi arrive crowned with a raw caper-and-olive relish and confit fennel with Calabrian chilies, a small meditation on puttanesca. Humble potato salad is glitzed up with fat coins of Yukon potato, smoked salmon roe and truffle vinaigrette. It’s not always useful to read too much into the meaning of a restaurant’s name, but in the case of “bellwether” — “one that leads or indicates trends” — the definition seems an apt description of what Hopson has accomplished. The Bellwether takes what we’ve come to expect from a neighborhood restaurant and adds another layer of delicious polish. —Garrett Snyder
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Four years after opening its industrial-chic doors in the Arts District, Bestia remains one of L.A.’s few true perennial hot spots, and it still manages to thrill trend seekers and serious food nerds alike. The winning formula, concocted by Sprout restaurant group and chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, consists of a buzzing warehouse space in the bottom of a loft building down one of the Arts District’s darkest streets, aggressively cheffy Italian cooking, and stellar drinks both at the bar and on the wine list. This is a profoundly fun place to eat, the energy in the room matching the gleeful combinations on the plate, such as slow-roasted lamb neck with baby fennel, pickled sunchokes and black sesame, or the perennial favorite of chicken gizzards with roasted beets and Belgian endive. The pastas remain some of the best in town, or if you’re looking for simplicity you can stop by for a pizza and a beer. If you can get in, that is — even on a Tuesday night the bar is four deep by 6:30, and reservations are a practical impossibility. It’s not hard to see why.—Besha Rodell
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Beverly Soon Tofu’s 31-year legacy could serve as a lesson for aspiring businesspeople everywhere: Focus on one thing and do it very, very well. The specialty of the house is and has always been soon tofu, the volcanic red bubbling soft tofu stew, available in a variety of flavors. Whether you choose cod roe or kimchi or the house favorite — a combination of pork or beef and seafood — the effect is basically the same: a warming, comforting glow from the chili and egg and almost puddinglike tofu. The small room is practically enrobed in wood, from the beautiful cross-section of redwood that takes up one wall to the rustic wooden tables and benches and stools where you sit to slurp and gobble your food. The incredibly diverse crowd — which on weekend days piles up at the doorway waiting to be seated — just goes to show how much a narrow focus on quality and consistency resonates with all types of Angelenos. —Besha Rodell
They say that L.A. doesn’t have good American barbecue. They say it’s because we don’t understand the traditional barbecue regions. But what if L.A. is its own barbecue region? One unbeholden to rules and territorialism. We invent religions in Southern California all the time — why can’t we invent new barbecue? Neil Strawder and his wife, Phyllis, have done just that. Though they have some family in Texas, they make the barbecue they and their customers want to eat. The ribs tips here are sticky with caramelization, and the brisket is perhaps the best in L.A.: not too smoky, never gratuitously fatty. The Strawders are all-American success stories, too: They started with a smoker on the balcony, moved on to farmers markets and now have two brick-and-mortars. It’s downright inspiring. —Katherine Spiers
Gourmet burgers are a wonderful concept — and are often executed beautifully, too — but we can never forget about the originals, the thin-patty, vegetable-heavy cheeseburgers that are emblems of Southern California. Bill’s Burgers in the San Fernando Valley has changed its name a couple of times, but it has never changed its style. It’s a simple roadside stand with no pretensions, just a short menu of sandwiches and burgers. No fries. There are plenty of fans who show up on weekdays, cash in hand, to get a burger topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato, chopped onions, pickles and mayonnaise. It’s best to add cheese and make it a double. This is one of those “sum greater than its parts” burgers, where the onion is tempered by the mayonnaise and the peppery meat doesn’t get lost in the American cheese. Bill Elwell started the burger stand in the mid-1960s, in a windblown, industrial stretch of the Valley that Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks sometimes fight over. Back then the stand sat on a patch of dirt, and burgers cost less than $1. It’s still pretty grubby, with seats at the outside counter or behind the restaurant, at a long table in a shack. It’s part of its charm. —Katherine Spiers
There are many Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles that will deliver traditional tastes of the culinary treasures of Latin America. Broken Spanish is not one of them. Instead, Broken Spanish provides a sampling of the thrilling approach to contemporary Mexican cooking, and it wouldn’t be out of place in Mexico City in the high-roller neighborhood of Polanco or in Mexico’s remote cocinas de campos or even the farm-to-table outposts of Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe wine region. But why travel when Broken Spanish brings together Latin America’s up-to-the-millisecond food scene, filtered through an Angeleno palate. It was Mayor Eric Garcetti who once suggested that L.A. was the northern capital of Latin America (sorry Miami!), and Broken Spanish makes his theory truer than ever. Chef Ray Garcia is a lifelong Angeleno and an Eastsider trained in fine kitchens around the city, including a long stint running Santa Monica’s Fig. At Broken Spanish, Garcia’s intensely flavorful dishes push the limits of the food’s Mexican lineage. There are tamales with umami flavors of lamb neck and king oyster mushroom; yellow beet pibil, dusted with ochre achiote spices; and chile relleno coated with a creamy soubise sauce (perhaps a subtle reminder of France’s escapades in Mexico long ago). Then there’s the unmissable red snapper, fried and encrusted with salt — an almost Paleolithic specimen baring its teeth — laid upon leeks and green clamato. Pair your dinner with a wide array of Mexican wines, including selections from Baja’s earthship-shaped winery Alximia and Las Nubes’ hillside vineyards, or maybe a mezcal cocktail, and experience the full breadth of the modern Mexican movement. —Drew Tewksbury
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What differentiates a burrito and a taco? It’s a question that has launched a thousand food-nerd fights, but the unsatisfying answer is: It depends. The burritos at El Monte’s Burritos La Palma have won taco awards, and they are about the same size as Texas breakfast tacos. Maybe the reason these particular burritos are so beloved in L.A. is actually due to their size — after all, this is a taco town. The signature burrito here is stuffed with birria — the beef version, not goat, even though the restaurant originated in the state of Zacatecas, where they do use the more traditional goat meat. Order two or three at a time, either all filled with birria or with a combo of chicken tinga, carne deshebrada with potatoes, or gelatinous chicharrones. They can be ordered topped with sauce and melted cheese, too, at which point we have to circle back and ask, what’s the difference between a burrito and an enchilada? —Katherine Spiers
If you don’t live in Eagle Rock, the first thought you might have upon entering Cacao Mexicatessen is, “Man, I wish this was in my neighborhood.” The deli/restaurant/bar/coffee shop has so many things going for it, it’s hard to know where to start. Of course, there’s the menu, full of hearty, comforting Mexican classics as well as the now-legendary carnitas de pato (duck carnitas), the mole fries, the lightly fried avocado or uni tacos. But this place is as much about the feel as it is about the food. Families cram into booths and feast on tacos. There’s a long bar where you can sit and eat and drink from the rotating selection of craft beers on tap, or the wine list, which has a heavy focus on Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe. You can stop by and grab a package of the handmade tortillas and a tub of guacamole or salsa to take home — this is, in part, a deli. Whatever it is, we’re envious of Eagle Rock and its residents that they have this awesome, homey place to meet so many of their eating and drinking needs. —Besha Rodell
Part art gallery, part banquet space: It’s hard not to be transfixed by the colorful, traditional decor lining the walls at La Casita Mexicana. But rest assured, it’s the soulful flavors in each regional Mexican dish that will haunt your memory for days afterward. The stellar cooking and rustic charm of one of the city’s most iconic and revered Mexican restaurants is as pronounced as ever, even as its chef duo — Jaime Martín del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu— rises to new levels of stardom. The heart of the menu is the lush moles, each as vivid and distinct as a Frida Kahlo portrait. But there’s a great deal of pleasure in less publicized dishes, too: meltingly tender beef shank in tangy guajillo chili sauce, unabashedly gooey queso fundido and smoky sheets of carne asada with grilled cactus. The hardest decision, though, comes at dessert, when you’ll be forced to choose between caramel-filled churros and ultra-rich flan. A trip to Bell without at least one seems unthinkable. —Garrett Snyder
The Chengdu Taste empire just keeps growing, with four restaurants now under the same ownership, all thanks to the public’s hunger for this particular brand of spicy, numbing, complex, alluring Sichuan food. We still prefer the original Valley Boulevard location, for toothpick lamb bristling with cumin, wontons that have an almost floral undertone (if you can taste anything under the extreme chili oil heat), slick jelly noodles, and water boiled fish with green chilies. You can order a whole pork shank cooked in a deep, sweet braise and slathered with red chilies, or chopped rabbit in Younger Sister’s Secret Sauce. What’s in that secret sauce? Peanuts, and — you guessed it — chili. Yes, this is a pilgrimage spot for spice masochists, but focusing on that alone takes away from the nuance in this cooking, the layering of flavors that makes this food so much more complex and satisfying than places where heat is the primary characteristic. Expect to wait a long time for a table, expect to order far too many things, expect to fall into a kind of Sichuan peppercorn–induced stupor for the rest of the afternoon or evening. —Besha Rodell
For meat lovers, there is hardly a restaurant in L.A. more geared toward delivering maximum carnivorous joy than Chi Spacca, the charcuterie and butchery-focused wing of the Mozza compound in Hancock Park. Originally the passion project of chef Chad Colby (who has since moved on), Chi Spacca is now in the able hands of Ryan DeNicola, with the help — of course — of Mozza queen Nancy Silverton. Chi Spacca still delivers what is probably the best charcuterie in town, offering daily selections of salumi, pâté and aged whole-muscle cured meats that just might deliver the most fragrant, ethereal form of fat you’ve ever tasted. There’s the insanely decadent beef and bone marrow pie, and the serious (and seriously expensive) Fiorentina steaks. These steaks are some of L.A.’s great special-occasion dishes, the char and blood and tang of them so memorable that the sense memory of eating them lasts for months. And, of course, you can’t miss the focaccia di Recco, the crispy, cheesy, crackly wonder that resulted from a years-long quest on the part of Silverton to re-create a focaccia she ate in the dish’s namesake Italian town. At $18 it’s maybe the most expensive order of bread you’re likely to find, and — like everything at Chi Spacca — it is totally, absolutely, thrillingly worth every cent. —Besha Rodell
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If there’s a greater source of piggy pleasure in L.A. than the glorious pile of cochinita pibil at Chichén Itzá, we’ve yet to come across it. Think of all the clichés that attach themselves to descriptions of good meat — tender, juicy, dripping with flavor — and then apply it in your mind to a mound of shredded, slow-cooked pork, topped with magenta pickled red onion and nestled against fluffy white rice and hearty frijoles negros. The stand in the back of Mercado la Paloma in Historic South-Central is undoubtedly the most celebrated L.A. establishment serving Yucatecan cuisine, and for good reason. Founder Gilberto Cetina literally wrote the book on the food of the region (Sabores Yucatecos: A Culinary Tour of the Yucatán, which you can buy at the restaurant), and his son, Gilberto Cetina Jr., is carrying on the tradition. Chichén Itzá serves up some specialties that are hard to find anywhere else. Get a feel for the mixed heritage of the Yucatán with the Lebanese-tinged kibi, or try the agua de chaya, made from the leafy green chaya plant. Cetina Jr. has just opened another stall in the Mercado called Holbox, which celebrates the seafood of the region, and promises to add a whole new layer to our understanding of Yucatán cuisine. —Besha Rodell
Like many of its surrounding neighborhoods, Eagle Rock has had a slew of trendy eateries open in recent years, with varying degrees of success. But if you want a glimpse into the real heart and soul of the neighborhood, there’s no better place to find it than at Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse & Jazz Club, a restaurant that has been serving this community since 1954. People of all ages and all walks of life gather in the big circular booths and dine on old-school, upscale Italian cooking while listening to live jazz, which begins at 4:30 or 5:30 p.m. nightly. The bar is always packed with regulars, and the atmosphere is always joyful. The music’s pretty damn good, too. What should you eat? The steaks are the best bet, though if you’re in the mood for sauce-slathered pasta, or chicken piccata, there’s plenty of that type of thing to be had. But this isn’t a place for serious food snobs. It’s a place for reveling in the type of community — and the type of fun — that hasn’t been commonplace in L.A. restaurants for decades. Let’s pray it’s here for decades to come. —Besha Rodell
For some families, sopa de fideo is a hot cauldron of comfort, dished out as a cure for everything from the common cold to the harshest of hangovers. At Colonia Publica, Whittier’s hip Mexican gastropub, this sumptuous noodle soup is the focal point of its contemporary cantina fare, offering a fully customizable bowl. Helmed by chef Ricardo Diaz — founder of the taco mecca Guisados — the restaurant is a distinctly Angeleno affair marrying casual Mexican eats with ingredient-forward California cuisine. Expect small plates such as a crispy chicharron quesadilla with snappy pickled onion; smoked salmon tostada topped with a sunny-side-up egg; or choriqueso tacos cradling homemade chorizo on a hand-crafted tortilla. Dodge a decorative cactus or two and belly up to the bar for a selection of micheladas, pairing amber craft brews with mixes ranging from the classic clamato to the spicy jalapeño aguachile, which is like a swift zonkey kick to the face. But it’s the celestial soup that brought you here. After all, fideo is a universe in a soup bowl. It’s the realm where you can play God, imagining the ingredients of the ecosystem you’re about to devour: perhaps a grove of cilantro, an earthy crumble of chorizo or a hard-boiled egg bobbing in the beef broth like a wayward iceberg. Behold your creation. Then, like the deity you are, deliver ravenous wrath with each spoonful and scoop of the noodly goodness. It assuages even the most existential pangs of hunger; you can’t control fate, but a fideo is a world all your own. And in the remnants left behind, maybe you can read your future in the bottom of the bowl. —Drew Tewksbury
There’s been some debate and consternation over the fate of Coni’Seafood since chef Sergio Peñuelas left, but we’re here to tell you there’s nothing to fear. Left in the hands of owners Vicente Cossio and his daughter Connie Cossio, the restaurant is still turning out some of the best Mexican seafood in town. It’s not surprising — Vicente Cossio was the originator of almost all of the dishes that garnered Coni’Seafood so much attention in the first place. There are all manner of cocteles, such as the ceviche marinero, a jumble of shrimp marinated in lemon, cucumber, cilantro and tomato, topped with hunks of sweet mango and bathed in a wicked, dusky “black sauce.” Then there are the camarones, giant, head-on shrimp that come in many different variations of sauce: diablo for the spice lovers; borrachos — in a broth made from tequila, lime, cilantro and crushed peppers — for the hungover. And yes, you can still get the pescado zarandeado, the whole split, grilled, tender white fish that came to be Coni’Seafood’s signature dish. And yes, it’s still as thrillingly delicious as ever. —Besha Rodell
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If you grew up, as Michael Cimarusti did, fishing in the Atlantic and dining on the bounty of the great Northeast, you’ll understand the chef’s nostalgia for the brine and comfort of that type of seafood. Connie & Ted’s is Cimarusti’s ode to New England, and he’s created a restaurant that would be utterly at home on Boston Harbor but also feels exactly right for West Hollywood. The large dining room is an immensely convivial place to scarf down chowder and lobster rolls and fried clams, and the bar is one of the best places in town to watch the Dodgers while slurping on oysters from the massive raw bar. On top of all this is Cimarusti’s dedication to only the freshest, most sustainable seafood, so you can rest assured that not only is your meal enjoyable but it’s also entirely ethical. —Besha Rodell
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L.A. is rich in old-school restaurants that capture the feel of a bygone era. In fact, it’s one of our city’s greatest (and least appreciated) cultural gifts. But at most of those restaurants — particularly the ones that have retained much of their original menus — the food doesn’t seem to be made with a whole lot of care. That is not the case at Dal Rae, where you can taste what high-class food actually was like in 1958, the year the restaurant moved to its current location. Yes, the vintage Pico Rivera steak-centric stalwart has all the midcentury glam you could hope for, and it’s worth visiting for the visuals and the theatrics of the tableside food presentations alone. But nowhere else are you likely to get your artichokes stuffed with crab and doused in hollandaise made from artichokes trimmed in-house, the crab obviously fresh and high-quality. Nowhere else are the oysters Rockefeller quite so tasty, the creamed spinach so well made. It’s the place to come for lobster thermidor, for châteaubriand carved tableside for two, or for the restaurant’s famed pepper steak. I’m not saying that this food has been modernized for today’s tastes — quite the opposite. Just that at Dal Rae, they’re still cooking and serving with the pride they might have back when this was the height of sophisticated dining. —Besha Rodell
Some might argue that the greatest thing about Los Angeles is Koreatown, and specifically the Korean restaurants therein, those that visitors from South Korea will admit, in hushed tones, might even be better than what’s found back home. Dan Sung Sa is one of the greats, even though it’s not the KBBQ the whole city is so obsessed with. The late-night establishment (yes, we all know that in L.A. anything after midnight counts as late-night) serves a lot of items on skewers, from rice cakes to gingko nuts to intestines to frog legs, as well as big plates of grilled items such as chicken feet and eel. They’re the perfect starter to a hangover-preventing meal that must include the legendary sweet-and-spicy chicken wings and the famous “corn cheese,” which is corn niblets blanketed under melted cheese and sweet mayonnaise. Maybe the place has no windows so that no one outside can see our shame, but they can’t see our joy, either. —Katherine Spiers
To some purists, the proliferation of Din Tai Fung locations — its very real status as an international chain — makes the dumpling house less thrilling than when we knew it as one restaurant in Arcadia. That original location has given way to a proliferation of upscale mall versions, including the newly expanded outpost at the Americana at Brand in Glendale. (There’s also one in Orange County, one in Torrance and a couple in Seattle, not to mention the 13 other countries with locations.) The truth is that no matter how many outposts of Din Tai Fung there are, the food — the famous juicy, thin-skinned xiao long bao, but also the other dumplings and the veggie dishes and the noodles and the rice cakes — is still damn good. When the urge strikes to stuff ourselves with seven different kinds of dumplings, this is still the first place we turn. If that leads to world dumpling domination, then so be it. —Besha Rodell
The menu at Dune, the tiny counter-service Mediterranean operation from the owners of Elf Cafe, has expanded over the past year. Along with the falafel and the lamb meatball sandwich, you now can get chicken shawarma, or a mezze plate, or even avocado toast. But mainly you’re here for the falafel. Presented on stretchy, slightly charred bread that’s grilled to order, Dune’s falafel balls are large and crispy but soft on the inside. They sit atop a smear of hummus, a handful of fresh herbs, pickles and a smattering of thin fried potato spears. The falafel itself is made without any flour, which makes it less bready and spongy than some falafel. It’s a glory of a sandwich, soft and tangy and warm and satisfying on multiple levels. The term “best falafel in town” has been thrown around, and I’m not one to disagree. There’s house-made pickled mango on the counter to add a kick of sweet/sour to any dish, and super-tart, fresh lemonade to go along with your meal. Is there a downside? This is a teeny operation, with people making bread and frying falafel to order, and food can take a long time if you’re there at peak times. It’s worth it. That’s damn good falafel. —Besha Rodell
It was an idea so elementary, it’s hard to believe it was revolutionary. Maybe someone ought to make breakfast with the same care and creativity that chefs dedicate to dinner. Sqirl may get much of the credit in L.A. for “reinventing breakfast,” but it certainly wasn’t the only place in town to be thinking along these lines, and Eggslut — which began as a food truck in 2011 — deserves much of the credit for our breakfast awakening. Chef and owner Alvin Cailan began with what he calls “a genuine love of eggs” and has wound up with a phenomenon: a stall in Grand Central Market with lines that stretch into infinity; a slew of new locations in Venice, Glendale and Las Vegas; a following that is global in its reach (I recently saw an ode to the “slut,” the coddled egg and potato puree served in a glass jar, on a menu in Melbourne, Australia). All this, and for what? Really, really good egg sandwiches, served on warm brioche buns, made with carefully sourced ingredients. Sometimes the most revelatory ideas are also the simplest. —Besha Rodell
One can live his entire life without ever saying the word “Orgasmo.” It’s not a word often uttered among close friends or even casual hookups. But at El Coraloense, the delightful seafood spot in Bell Gardens, it’s common to hear the word wafting through the air, backed by bellowing accordions of vintage Colombian cumbia on the radio or the cheers of football fans watching the flatscreen TV. This small but cheerful restaurant specializes in Mexican seafood whose style originates in the coastal states of Nayarit and Sinaloa. And here everyone is ordering the Orgasmo, a savory siete mares soup featuring a melange of sea creatures including shrimp, octopus and an entire crab. From the murky depths, the crab’s spacey face peers up from the broth, while one claw drapes over the side of the bowl’s edge, like the poster for Roger Corman’s midnight movie Attack of the Crab Monsters. El Coraloense balances kitsch with guilty pleasures, such as the decadent coconut-milk blended horchata or the highly addictive “fish wings,” fried swordfish blanketed with tangy Buffalo wing sauce. But behind its wide spectrum of incredibly fresh ceviches and seaside eats, El Coraloense holds high-end culinary philosophies. The Bell Gardens restaurant was launched by Maria Curie and her husband, Nayarit native Leonardo — who dreamed up the funny dish titles such as viagra.com, which includes shrimp and avocado spooning an oyster in its shell. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu, their children Natalie and Leo Jr. took over the operation in 2008, adding new approaches to their parents’ more traditional fare. The results are transportive. Each bite evokes Mexican beach shacks and pushcarts along the Pacific, where merchants shill mariscos straight from the ocean. —Drew Tewksbury
The huarache doesn’t get a lot of play in Los Angeles. It’s one of Mexico’s dishes that didn’t fully infiltrate our city, perhaps due to migration patterns, or maybe because store-bought tortillas are cheaper and easier to come by. Named for its shape — huarache is a sandal — it's made of masa, much thicker than a tortilla and patted into an oval. Sometimes beans are mixed right in, rather than used as a topping. It tends to be covered in much more sauce than a taco — a huarache can stand up to all that liquid, after all. Created in either Mexico City or the agricultural area just north of there, huaraches have found an L.A. home at El Huarache Azteca in Highland Park. It’s a little counter-service place with high-quality food: The aguas frescas are homemade and the guacamole is fresh, herby and tart with lime. But don’t leave without trying the signature dish, a rare gift to Los Angeles. Get the “super” version, topped with meat, two salsas, crema and cotija cheese. —Katherine Spiers
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When the lilliputian Elf Cafe opened in 2006, Echo Park was not yet home to million-dollar homes and organic grocery stores. Instead it shared a stretch of Sunset Boulevard with Burrito King’s adorable donkey marquee and American Apparel’s first U.S. store, which opened in 2003. The area was transitioning, but you could still witness an occasional drive-by while waiting line for a Dresden Dolls show at Jensen’s Rec Center. More than a decade later, Dov Charney’s flagship store is gone but Elf remains, serving inspired fare with cooking steeped in Moroccan, Indian and continental European traditions. It’s a meatless restaurant, not that it matters. The simple but elegant restaurant survived the arrival next door of Mohawk Bend, the behemoth vegan- and vegetarian-friendly beer hall from Golden Road Brewing impresario Tony Yanow. Why does Elf persist? Every dinner here feels like a special occasion. Maybe it’s the dining room enshrouded with plants or the warm, yolky glow of the filament bulbs that make entrees such as kale with Tunisian chermoula salad look almost like Flemish still-lifes, plated with delicate precision. Founded by Scott Zwiezen and Astara Calas, Elf has been recently shaped by chef Dave Martinez, who joined the team in 2013 after working at West Hollywood’s Soho House. His imagination flourished on the menu in dishes such as risotto with saffron cream, maitake and chanterelle mushrooms; baked feta in grape leaves; and unmissable flaky puff pastries. In a lot of ways, Elf is the last remnant of the late ’90s/early 2000s Northeast L.A. vibe, when neighborhood haunts weren’t just places to be seen on Instagram. —Drew Tewksbury
The Arts District collaboration between Silverlake Wine’s Randy Clement and former Osteria Mozza chef Matt Molina is a deceptively simple operation. There’s a long, backlit bar facing some banquette seating; a large kitchen abutting a hallway to the outdoor space; and a huge, string light–festooned back patio with picnic tables and a bocce court. Molina is turning out classic drinking food from all over the world, including Chinese-style pork buns, Mexican taquitos and an all-American burger. Little spin is given to these dishes — the pork bun is as you’d expect it to be, pork belly that’s roasted just enough to make it soft but not too wobbly, crisp but not too chewy, with a simple pickle and hoisin sauce, wrapped in a warm, springy bun. The taquitos are filled with smoky, pureed potatoes and drenched in a textbook tomatillo salsa. The burger is a triumph of greasy American gratification while somehow remaining elegant. Compact and crisp-bunned, the single, medium-thickness, prime beef chuck patty topped with Tillamook cheddar packs a wallop of buttery, meaty flavor. There’s a fun wine list and a killer spirit list, and cocktails are creative and balanced and pretty much exactly what you want. And that’s the thing about ERB — despite its straightforward façade, Clement and Molina have managed to create something rare and precious: the perfect neighborhood hangout. —Besha Rodell
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Despite how much we here in L.A. covet the Father’s Office burger, chef Sang Yoon’s pair of gastropubs probably don’t get the props they deserve. Did you know, for instance, that the FO burger was the first truly chef-driven, gourmet burger in the country? (Yes, it came before Daniel Boulud’s DB Burger in New York.) Did you know that before Yoon took over the original Father’s Office in 2000, the word “gastropub” wasn’t really a part of the American vernacular? In fact, so many food and drink trends were spawned by this chef and this place, it deserves a plaque, a holiday, a parade. Even without its historical import, either location of Father’s Office offers a great place to eat and drink right now, with fantastic beer selections and a menu of modern bar food that will knock your socks off even if you avoid the burger completely. All you have to do is obey the rules: no kids, no table service, no substitutions, no ketchup. Got it? Good, now go pay homage to a piece of American food heritage. —Besha Rodell
There may be no restaurant as emblematic of the breezy, stylish Venice lifestyle as Travis Lett’s Gjelina, no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations. The pizzas have crispy edges and are topped with ingredients such as burrata and wild nettles; the vegetable dishes might include roasted fennel with white wine, blood orange and fennel pollen; the rib-eye is from Niman Ranch; the wine list is long and engrossing. The magic trick of Gjelina is that food this serious (and it is, seriously good) can be served in a room so effortlessly casual, the brick back patio all leafy and twinkly, the crowded dining room looking like a wood cabin met the beach and they fell in love. You only have to walk past this restaurant and see the crowds of people waiting outside, and peek through the windows at the people snacking on charcuterie and bowls of house-made pasta, and you’ll find yourself thinking, “I want to be them. I want to be there.” You’re going to have to wait a long time for a table, but the good news is that you, too, can be part of the fantasy. —Besha Rodell
Gjusta, which comes to us courtesy of Gjelina owners Fran Camaj and Travis Lett, is something between a food hall and a deli, a sprawling concept that assaults all your food lust receptors at once. A long glass case runs the length of the room, and behind it there’s a world of cooking and baking and activity, along with a small army of service folks who will take your order once your ticket comes up. As you walk down the expanse of the case, you’re first attracted to the cakes and pies and pastries, and then jars of deep pink pâté catch your eye, and then you get absorbed by the glistening hunks of smoked fish. Look up, and on the back counter sit slabs of roasted meats, ready to be shaved and stuffed into sandwiches. Wander a little further down and you’ll come across puffy personal pies and platters of vibrant salads. You’ve yet to even really consider the lists of options on the menus above the counter — and you already have four or five lunches in mind. How to decide? I can’t help you there. Anything you order will be better than you imagined, and wholly worth the wait to order (the place is packed) and the ritual of hovering to snag a table on the back patio. Pro tip: It’s much less mobbed in the evenings. —Besha Rodell
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There’s so much to love about Guelaguetza, the long-standing Oaxacan restaurant in Koreatown, that it’s hard to know where to begin. The restaurant was honored by the James Beard committee in 2015 as part of its America’s Classics awards, which should give you some idea of how important this place is to its neighborhood, its community, our city and the country. The thing we love most, though, is the feel of the place on weekend evenings, when the sprawling restaurant fills with families, mainly sharing the giant platters of memelas, chorizo, tasajo and cecina, fried pork ribs and more. An ancient-looking man may be playing the xylophone onstage with his band, with kids and grandparents bouncing appreciatively in their seats to the music. There’s a lot of bang for the buck in those platters, but you’d be remiss to leave without trying the mole. You’ll want the negro, and you’ll be rewarded with a dark, bitter, gloriously slick mole — get it with chicken or chorizo. The estofado, made with tomatillos, chilies, raisins and olives, is a worthy alternative — it’s utterly seductive in its sweet and funky depth. You can get goat barbacoa on weekends, swimming in a deeply rich chili sauce and served with giant, homemade tortillas, and there are fruity, smoky mezcal cocktails to toast the restaurant and the celebration happening around you. —Besha Rodell
If you had to show someone what it’s like to live and eat in Los Angeles and had only an hour to accomplish it, you probably could get the job done with a visit to Guerrilla Tacos. Here’s where you come to eat from a truck that parks in front of the city’s best coffee (and sometimes wine) shops, a taco truck that started as a cart but soon will become a restaurant, where you might find gooseberries on your wild boar taco. The tostadas are made with the freshest local seafood, maybe yellowtail tuna poké with cashew chile de valle, or sesame-crusted salmon with sea urchin. These beautifully made creations from chef Wes Avila defy our expectations of what an incredible meal should be made of and where we should find it, mixing street food with fine dining in a way that’s totally uncontrived. It’s as L.A. as a dining experience gets, in all the best possible ways. —Besha Rodell
The little Boyle Heights taco shop that could just never seems to lose steam: After expanding in 2013 to Echo Park, and downtown in 2014, Guisados now qualifies as a bona fide mini chain, with five locations throughout the city. Some detractors say that all this expansion has made Guisados less legit somehow, but the proof is in the pibil … and these tacos are as delicious as ever. The star of the show remains the guisados, and in particular the sampler plate: six smaller tacos, a collection of greatest hits that touches on all the smoky, spicy, saucy goodness this place has to offer. Each vibrant meat (tinga de pollo, cochinita pibil, chicharrón and more) gets its own thoughtful topping — a dab of avocado here, a draping of pickled onion there. It’s a thing of true beauty, and perhaps the world’s cheapest tasting menu. We’d take it over the soignée kind most days of the week. —Besha Rodell
Koreatown is L.A.’s most overwhelming neighborhood, foodwise or otherwise. It’s overwhelming in the number of solid Korean barbecue options (Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong or Park’s BBQ or Ham Ji Park or ... oh my God, just pick something); overwhelming in the amount of people (must everyone travel in herds?); and overwhelming to navigate (you quickly get to know every street because you circle each block 100 times looking for parking). Gwang Yang BBQ slices through all of this, minimizing your K-town anxiety and making everything, well, easy. There’s a dedicated valet for the restaurant in the next-door deck. Gwang Yang accepts reservations, and even without one you won’t have to wait for hours like at some other Korean barbecue spots. The space is modern and sleek to the point of justifying the somewhat pricey menu, but not so modern and sleek that you feel underdressed. And ordering is a cinch: You are here for the Gangnam-style bulgogi. The thin, marinated, much-misunderstood slices of beef rarely take center stage elsewhere, but at Gwang Yang BBQ they hog the spotlight. The meat, cooked and cut by your server, is soft and lacy and singed and perfect; place a mouthful in a lettuce leaf, top it with slivers of garlic and raw jalapeño, and you’ve got the perfect bite. Pro tip: Don’t make the mistake of ordering the L.A.-style bulgogi, or of ordering bulgogi and another protein (in my case, the pork belly) for the sake of variety. You’ll quickly tire of that pork belly and yearn for more bulgogi. —Mara Shalhoup
Many of L.A.’s Korean barbecue joints are large, boisterous places that specialize in grill-your-own dishes, usually of the beef variety. Ham Ji Park, on the other hand, is on its own porky path. The two must-order dishes here are prepared in the kitchen: One is a stew made mostly of pork neck and whole russet potatoes. It is pure comfort, though you will have to wrangle with the bones in this tender cut of pig. The stew’s co-star on the menu is the pork ribs, sweet and spicy and sure to cause a mess. It is a generous portion, but it’s not unheard of to order a double. These are served with the full array of banchan, mostly pickled items that pair perfectly with the rich ribs. The down-home atmosphere matches the food. It’s the perfect place to linger over the bones with a pitcher of beer. —Katherine Spiers
What people outside of the South rarely understand is that the best Southern cooking these days is thoroughly modern and ingredient-driven. If there’s any chef in L.A. who knows how to translate that aesthetic outside of its home region, it’s Hatchet Hall’s Brian Dunsmoor. Hatchet Hall’s menu is long and wide-ranging, and sometimes its Southern-ness is unmistakable: Dunsmoor’s collard greens are funky, his grits creamy. Other dishes are slightly more subtle in their Southern-ness: Spoonbread comes heaped with a cornucopia of mushrooms; hunks of yellowtail are sandwiched with thin-sliced habanero and juicy peach, all wrapped up in a sliver of translucent fat shaved from a Johnston Mangalitsa country ham; wood-grilled octopus is kissed with lemon aioli and salsa verde. This is a long, diverse, ambitious menu, and it is being executed incredibly well. The sprawling building encompasses an appealing series of dining rooms and bars, with a patio that looks like a garden party that’s spilled out of the restaurant. And hidden in back is the Old Man Bar, which opens at 8 p.m. nightly and is one of the city’s best places to sip bourbon in a dark corner. —Besha Rodell
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Southern California is now down to just one location of the Hungry Cat, and as sad as we are to see the Santa Monica and Santa Barbara outposts close, we’re glad it was the Hollywood Hungry Cat — the original Hungry Cat — that survived. Why? Because it’s still our favorite place to eat in Hollywood proper, the place we most heartily recommend to folks looking for a pre-Pantages birthday dinner, the most welcome escape from the tourist mayhem of the neighborhood. Chef/owner David Lentz has been a pioneer of Pacific-focused seafood (as opposed to the odes to New England that have proliferated in recent years) for more than a decade, serving cold oysters on the half-shell, fresh Santa Barbara uni and modern, creative seafood dishes that sometimes hint at Maine or Massachusetts but more often celebrate the bounty and spirit of the California coast. Rather than classic fish-house fare, your Manila clams are more likely to come with merguez, sofrito and garbanzo beans; your barramundi over freekeh, kabocha squash, pea tendrils, yogurt and pumpkin seed pesto. The bright and airy restaurant tucked away in the center of the block is perfect for a brunch of johnny cakes with smoked trout salad, or as a place to drop by the bar for a lobster roll and a very good cocktail. —B.R. —Besha Rodell
Angelenos are discerning when it comes to Thai food. We can tell when pad Thai has been dyed with ketchup. We know that sticky rice goes with crying tiger, the signature grilled beef dish. We acknowledge that Thai salads are bonkers spicy. But a dinner at Isaan Station — located in Koreatown, which has an international array of restaurants but no real Thai presence — will make any diner realize there is still so much to learn. The strip-mall spot specializes in Northeastern Thai dishes, which means a lot of grilled food, a lot of fermentation and a lot of meat. Try the sausages or the beef and pork jerky, which are extremely funky in flavor. They’ve been air-dried and then thrown in the fryer, a method that makes for an animal-forward, bold flavor. The kai yang, chicken that’s been marinated in a turmeric-heavy spice mix and then grilled over charcoal, is a revelation. Most of us simply didn’t know that grilled chicken could be so complex and delicious. You won’t eat just one piece. And as it happens, Isaan Station might also have the best papaya salad in L.A. —Katherine Spiers
One of the fun games to play when dining at Jitlada, outside of celebrity spotting, is to watch as customers around you try to eat the things they’ve ordered after they’ve proclaimed “I love spicy food!” Indeed, it’s become a pilgrimage site for spice seekers, for lovers of Thai food, for those who attach the potency of their manhood to their tolerance of the Scoville scale. The competition for the city’s best Thai food gets fiercer by the day, but Jitlada remains the O.G. of no-holds-barred Southern Thai cooking, and its insanely long menu, colorful dining room and Hollywood clientele make it as good a place as any to start when trying to learn the landscape of L.A.’s deep, vast Thai food scene. There are curries here in myriad varieties, complexly spiced salads made with crispy catfish or morning glory, fragrant soups, fish balls stuffed with salted duck eggs, and around 200 other things on this dizzying menu. People come here for the ebullient company of co-owner Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong as much as for any other reason — once you get in her good graces, there’s hardly a more welcoming place to eat on Earth. —Besha Rodell
At their Italian-American joint across the street from their flagship of awesomeness, Animal, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have declared their intention to create a restaurant like the ones in which they grew up eating. It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to think these two grew up dining in slick blond-wood booths, at places where you could get a $350 bottle of wine to go with your pizza, but who’s quibbling? Jon & Vinny’s is a place where you can bring the kids and where you might also spot Kanye West and entourage, dining on pizza and pasta and soft-serve ice cream. And, man, what great pizza it is. The L.A. Woman is an instant classic; its crust is firm enough that its burrata topping doesn’t collapse your slice, which can be delivered to your mouth with grace and ease. For the most part, the chefs shy away from the kind of creativity you find across the street. Instead, you get meatballs that are an absolute paragon of the form, a blend of short rib and pork shoulder that’s mild and tangy in all the right ways, served with deep-red marinara. There are touches of L.A. modernism as well, in the marinated Calabrian tuna bruschetta with crunchy mirepoix, in the farmers market–driven salads and in a few of the non-meaty pastas, which are downright restrained. There’s plenty in the under-$350 range on that wine list as well, and you can pick up a bottle to take home from the tiny wine shop at the back of the restaurant when you’re done stuffing your face. —Besha Rodell
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There were a few days in early February when it seemed as if everyone we knew was stopping by Kobee Factory, the unassuming Syrian restaurant in Van Nuys. That Angelenos express their solidarity with the immigrant communities of the city by frequenting their restaurants may seem like a self-serving form of activism, but only if you look at it with a particularly cynical eye. The truth is, we form community around tables, and food can be a path to understanding. That understanding is particularly delicious at Kobee Factory, where you can get the namesake meaty patty/pie hybrids in a number of ways. Our favorite is the barbecued version, when the mixture of bulgur and chopped meat gets a grill-marked crust on the outside, yielding to a juicy interior. While not nearly as exciting, the shish taouk is certainly a fantastic deal, delivering two meals’ worth of tender chicken over a heap of rice with hummus and salad on the side. This is a tiny operation, hiding in plain sight between an auto repair shop and a liquor market, with only a few tables and a counter. But its sparse layout is imbued with the warmth of the family who runs the restaurant, and your table may be cleared by a tiny boy, not yet old enough to go to school, wearing an apron and chattering happily to customers. We’re so grateful that he, and Kobee Factory, are here. —Besha Rodell
At this point, Kogi is practically edible academic text, an utterly necessary experience if you want to understand L.A., our food scene and our most visible culinary troubadour, Roy Choi. The fleet of trucks, which daily appear all over the city, are most famously dispensers of the original Korean tacos, a trend that has now swept the globe, for better or worse. At Kogi the existence of the mashup is assuredly for the good of us all, the sweet slightly sour kimchi making beautiful sense nestled against beef short rib or spicy pork and wrapped in a tortilla. The Kogi dog is also a thing of wonder, a snappy hot dog showered in shredded romaine, kimchi and Sriracha. From the burritos to the sliders to the Sriracha candy bar, this is undoubtedly food for the inebriated (booze or weed, pick your poison), but there’s something childishly gleeful about it, too, something that will make you grin and snarf it down even if you’re stone cold sober. As a symbol for our city, its diversity, sense of fun and the talent of our people, we couldn’t ask for a better (or more delicious) emblem. —Besha Rodell
Life is fickle. Things change. There’s not much you can count on. What can you count on? Langer’s Deli. Langer’s will never change, or at least we hope with the fiercest of hopes that it will never change. Because as citizens of L.A. we need to be able to stand in that line, we need to be seated in one of those brown vinyl booths, we need to order that pastrami sandwich and get it on that bread served by these people in this room. Since 1947, Langer’s has been delivering what many believe to be the best pastrami sandwich on Earth. Whether you go for plain pastrami on rye or the famous No. 19 with Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing is between you and your god, but either way, Langer’s gives us all something solid to hold on to in this cruel, unpredictable world. —Besha Rodell
In the world of ever-more-stripped-down, ever-less-luxurious “fine” dining, no operation is more spare than Le Comptoir. Gary Menes’ vegetable-centric tasting menu operation for years roamed L.A. as a pop-up but for two-plus years has been fixed in a small storefront attached to the Hotel Normandie in Koreatown. The restaurant is nothing more than a counter facing a kitchen. Menes’ Long Beach farm and its harvest provide the basis for the eight-course meal he serves, courses that pair a lush purple artichoke velouté with buttery fried bread crumbs and creamy sheep’s yogurt, or lima beans with sweet and sour pear in a pool of red wine reduction. Though veggies are Menes’ main infatuation, optional meat supplements are available for many of the courses. And other obsessions reveal themselves, too: the stretchy, chewy, crusty bread made from a 20-year-old sourdough starter; the single-origin coffee; the optional cheese course with rare cheeses. For all of these items, Menes will give you the rundown during the monologue he delivers ahead of the meal, gushing about the 90-year-old who produced your creamy Roquefort or describing the exact roasting process of his coffee beans. For the right diner, this level of personal ardor will feel superior in every way to the more comfortable but purely transactional experiences available everywhere else. —Besha Rodell
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Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s attempt to bring socially conscious practices to the fast food industry has certainly gotten folks talking — about food and justice and value and values. The original location in Watts certainly seems to be achieving many of the chefs’ stated goals: to bring healthy (or healthier) cooking to a neighborhood that lacks food choices, to create jobs in the community, and to provide a welcoming place to gather and eat. It’s a bright room full of energy, where you can grab a burrito or burger or salad for less than $10, and where the feeling of goodwill permeates everything about the place. When Locol gets really busy, it feels more like a neighborhood party than a fast food restaurant. Who knew the food revolution would be so much fun? —Besha Rodell
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In the two years since Love & Salt opened in the old Cafe Pierre space in Manhattan Beach, chef Michael Fiorelli’s modern Italian restaurant has become a beacon for the neighborhood, serving truly exciting food in a beautiful room that feels fun in a way that’s utterly appropriate to its upscale beachy location. It’s true that you can order a whole pig’s head here (with 48 hours’ advance notice), which comes with condiments and toast, but to me, the value lies in the menu’s slightly less confronting pleasures. Rigatoni — served in Parmesan brodo with wilted escarole, whipped ricotta and chicken meatballs — presents a perfect combination of comfort and intrigue, the bitter edge of the escarole soothed by the generous, creamy ricotta. The rabbit porchetta is disturbingly delicious, the buoyant rabbit meat rolled up with prosciutto and Swiss chard, splayed out over a stewy combination of black rice, farro, pine nuts and currants. Fiorelli used to serve many of his best dishes only as large-format sharable plates, but now most things come in more manageable serving sizes, making it easier to explore more of the menu. Extra kudos to the staff, who provide the kind of friendly, breezy capable service that’s weirdly (and infuriatingly) rare this close to the ocean. —Besha Rodell
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From the comforting fireplace that greets you upon arrival, to the back patio with its vine-covered walls, everything about Lucques oozes calm and refinement. Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s original restaurant hasn’t changed much in the 19 years since opening, and it’s a good place to come if you miss civilized dining, the kind that includes proper wine service, tablecloths, and appetizers and entrees rather than small plates. Here dishes are classics spun on their heads to become something that seems even more classic than the original. Most of the food sticks to the lightly Mediterranean and decidedly Californian style that Goin helped invent: Portuguese stuffed chicken with linguiça, tomato rice and pickled golden raisins; hanger steak with grilled chicories, garlic toast and lemon-anchovy butter. Here is a restaurant for special occasions and romance, for quiet conversation and a fine bottle of wine — it’s a dying breed, but none the less thrilling for being so. —Besha Rodell
Do people give Lukshon enough credit? Does it come to the tip of their tongue when they think of L.A.’s best restaurants, our true originals, our must-visit places? It should. Sang Yoon’s 6-year-old restaurant blazed a path for the type of exciting, bright, modern Asian cooking at which L.A. excels these days, and Yoon still does that kind of cooking far better than most who came after him. Whether it’s his supremely savory and nutty tea leaf salad with blue prawns; his tiny, perfect lobster roll “bánh mì” with papaya slaw and pig ear terrine; his sticky Chinese eggplant with sambal and fennel raita; his Hawaiian butterfish with lime, herbs and coconut; or his Sichuan dumplings with delicate wrappers holding ginger-imbued kurobuta pork, Yoon’s food is so carefully prepared, so thoughtfully executed, that you get to let go of your analytical side and just relax into pleasure. This process is helped along by one of the best wine lists around (particularly if you’re a riesling fan); if wine ain’t your thing, Lukshon could be the place where you become a single-origin tea geek. It’s a thing, and as usual Yoon is on the forefront. —Besha Rodell
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Don’t be fooled by the imitators, the lesser producers, the many other tacos dorado de camaron in L.A. The version at Raul Ortega’s Mariscos Jalisco, the Boyle Heights mariscos truck, is far and away the king of fried tacos, in this city and perhaps in the country. Don’t be confused by the crowds surrounding the other trucks nearby. Go directly to this corner of Olympic Boulevard and wait as they fold the shrimp into a tortilla and fry the whole thing in hot oil, pulling it out at the perfect point of golden crisp, then coat it with creamy slices of avocado and pert red salsa. If you’re in the mood for a feast, the Poseidon tostada, loaded with a jumble of ceviche, octopus and shrimp aguachile, will have you feeling like a god of the sea yourself. For that, and for the crispy tacos, our loyalty will never waver. —Besha Rodell
Not to fog our own monocles here, but it’s a fact: Los Angeles is home to some of the best sushi in the country. But finding a compatible sushi chef is a labor of love; it takes a lot of misses before you can swipe right on a sushi guy. Forget those rarefied sushi chefs who forage for locally grown mushrooms from Vincent Gallo’s beard, or those guys who juggle knives for tourists. Instead, find an understated chef who gets it right every time. Naruki Matsumoto is that maestro. For years he was the head chef of Hirozen, the unassuming, strip-mall sushi spot near the Beverly Center; now he runs the joint. Like a conductor, Matsumoto bows slightly, cracks a coy smile, then the performance begins. He scoops rice with his right hand, hugs it in his palm and rolls it between his fingers. After a swift horizontal knife slice through sea bream, he lays the flesh on the pillow of rice over a tuft of watercress. He snows a flake or two of coarse salt, then plates his creations. He pauses, then, like winding a watch, turns the sculptural sushi to exactly the 1:35 clock position on the circular plate. It’s as perfect as the ikebana flower arrangements adorning the room. And Matsumoto knows it, politely suggesting “no soy sauce please” as he places the pieces on the bartop. The omakase puts your night in his control, as he delivers dish after dish; perhaps a pile of tiny salmon roe, which pop like briny flavor grenades; or maybe some bright orange uni that melts with richness; or the kamasu seared barracuda, which balances the textures of its cool center with the blowtorched exterior. At a recent omakase session, after we'd devoured countless plates, Matsumoto politely informed us that we had eaten everything. As in, every-freaking-thing, we reached the event horizon at the end of edible existence, where time — and a bit of your bank account — disappears in what seems like a minute or an hour. It doesn’t matter, because a meal with Matsumoto is a moment you never want to end. —Drew Tewksbury
To hear its stats, you’d think Maude is probably the most uptight upscale restaurant in town. An ultra-famous celebrity chef, a Beverly Hills address, a reservation system that makes it extremely hard to get into, a tasting-menu format that sometimes revolves entirely around white truffles — all of this would have you believe this is the type of place that could replace Tavern on the Green in one of those ’80s movies where a funny guy crashes the rich-person party. So it’s kind of wonderful to visit Maude and discover that it’s just a very nice family restaurant. Which is appropriate, given that it’s named after chef Curtis Stone’s grandmother. But beyond that, Stone is often there chatting to customers at one of the tiny place’s 13 tables, or delivering the food, which comes on old, flowered plates. That the food is quietly astonishing, that it’s centered every month around a seasonal ingredient, and that on non-truffle months these nine-course tasting menus are a relative bargain (at around $130 per person, service included) — these things only add to the charm of the place. Maude is an intensely personal, unpretentious restaurant. It’s also one of the loveliest dining experiences in the city. —Besha Rodell
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MB Post, David LeFevre’s large, loud, perpetually packed New American restaurant, went a long way toward redefining the center of Manhattan Beach when it opened in 2011. Six years later, with two sister restaurants now open on the same strip, MB Post feels as if it is the center of Manhattan Beach, its high ceiling and long wooden communal tables serving as the new, youthful soul of this neighborhood. The menu is an international hodgepodge, with everything from charcuterie to barbecued Moroccan lamb belly to tuna tataki with leche de tigre. But whether it’s a cauldron of mussels swimming in a deep green curry with Chinese sausage and sticky coriander rice, or classic chicken pot pie, everything LeFevre cooks here is done with an eye toward bold, balanced flavor. It’s a great place for a casual dinner with lots of wine, a great place to meet at the bar for a cocktail, a fun way to bookend a weekend beach day (brunch is killer, too), a great symbol of what this neighborhood has become. —Besha Rodell
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It’s easy to become jaded about luxury fine dining, to forget the pleasures of eating in an elegant room with formal service (Captains! Sommeliers and assistant sommeliers! Runners who swoop in to drop food or bus your tables as if they’re performing ballet!). If what’s so great about dining in this manner has slipped your mind, it really is worth a trip to Mélisse, Josiah Citrin’s modern French restaurant in Santa Monica, to refresh your memory. Revel in extravagances such as caviar service, or a tableside filleting of Dover sole or carving of truffle-stuffed chicken, or Citrin’s “10” menu, which spans 10 courses and will cost you a cool $185 per person. It’s an investment, but it’s worth using the excuse of a special occasion to see what Citrin is capable of — his soups so much silkier than anyone else’s, his sauces so much more refined. For being one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, Mélisse has an exceedingly reasonable wine list — don’t get me wrong, you can easily spend a month’s salary on booze here if you want, but there’s treasure to be found on the lower end as well, and a staff that’s happy to guide you. For about double what you’d spend at many of our trendier eateries, you’ll leave with the warm glow of a rare experience, one that has been perfectly calibrated from the second you stepped through the door and finishing with the gorgeous plate of petit fours delivered with your check. —Besha Rodell
While Los Angeles is a coastal city, it’s not particularly known for seafood, and really excellent ceviche can be hard to find. To discover the best, one must travel to Misky Misky in West Covina, deep in the inland reaches of L.A. County (“misky” is the Quechua word for “delicious”). The Peruvian restaurant has a full menu of cooked dishes, such as Andean anticuchos (skewered beef hearts), saltados (beef, chicken or shrimp stir-fried with french fries) and pastas, but the soul of the restaurant is in its ceviches. The menu honors the country’s culinary traditions by serving all ceviches with boiled potatoes and huge kernels of Peruvian corn. A good starter dish is the ceviche crocante, which pairs marinated fish with fried calamari. Another classic is a mix of seafood in a cilantro-flecked spicy marinade. Try the tiradito, which bathes sashimi in a yellow pepper sauce; it may inspire you to become an expert in the complicated, delicious history of Peru-Japan relations. —Katherine Spiers
When you’re in the realm of ultra-expensive meals, the ones that hit well over three figures before you’ve even considered a glass of wine let alone tax and tip, it can be hard to discern true value. Of course, it depends what’s important to you: Luxurious surroundings? Obsequious service? If your main interest is in food, in particular gorgeously plated, highly fussed over, brightly seasonal, modern Japanese cuisine, we recommend n/naka, the quiet Palms kaiseki restaurant run by Niki Nakayama. Nakayama says she may be the only female kaiseki chef in the world — kaiseki being the formal, multicourse, seasonal style of Japanese dining. Regardless of whether she is unique in that regard, her restaurant and food (much of it grown in the restaurant’s garden) are certainly singular in Los Angeles. The 13 courses will take you through different aspects of the season, be it a “modern interpretation of sashimi” composed of kanpachi with bell pepper gelee, jalapeño gelee and avocado sauce, or her “chef’s choice dish,” which is usually a stunning spaghettini with shaved black abalone, pickled cod roe and Burgundian truffles. The quiet room and humble service have a calming effect, allowing you to fully concentrate on the meal before you. As a way to blow a couple hundred bucks, you could do a lot worse. —Besha Rodell
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Thai food in Los Angeles is evolving in ways other cities could only dream about, and the most exciting evolution is the rise of Kris Yenbamroong and his Night + Market projects. What started as an experiment of sorts, a food and art space attached to the Yenbamroong family’s long-standing Talesai in West Hollywood, has now morphed into two full-fledged powerhouse restaurants, places it’s hard to imagine Los Angeles without. Night + Market Song, which opened in 2014, brought Yenbamroong’s funky, deeply personal Northern Thai cooking to Silver Lake, where the neighborhood rejoiced in the colorful room with its plastic beads and topless Cindy Crawford poster and list of affordable, mainly natural wines. Here, along with the spicy larb and khao soi and pad kee mao he was known for, Yenbamroong debuted a fantastic fried chicken sandwich topped with papaya and jalapeño, and “Bangkok mall pasta” spicy spaghetti, showcasing the direction he’s going in as a cook — Thai-based but increasingly borderless. You’ll hear this food is blisteringly spicy; you’ll hear all about the (currently unavailable) blood and MSG soup and the (currently delicious) smashed water bugs. Don’t be fooled into believing this is gimmickry — what makes the food here so exceptional is the extreme care taken, the roasting of chilies, the layering of flavors. In 2015, Night + Market quietly took over the Talesai space from which it originally sprouted, signaling the end of an era and also the cementing of a new age, one that’s thrilling in its delicious unpredictability. —Besha Rodell
Los Angeles has a sweet tooth. Everywhere you turn, there are ice cream shops, self-serve fro-yo spots and brightly colored macarons. Then there’s Oh My Pan, a youthful, contemporary interpretation of the tea shop, offering highly sweetened boba teas as the main liquid refreshment, with the menu delivering sugar bombs of varying sizes. There are little bags of cookies and pastries available, as well as morning buns, tiramisu, tarts and slices of colorful cake topped with piles of glazed fruit. It also offers a couple of savory buns filled with things like corn and sausage or shredded pork and green onion. The main thing to order is brick toast, which is a hollowed-out half a loaf of bread that’s filled back up again with fingers of bread soaked in butter, and topped with various syrups, ice cream, honey, whipped cream, fruit or sweetened beans. There’s no end to what you can do with brick toast. Bring a crowd, just like all the rowdy, ravenous teenagers who come here for an Asian-inspired, Instagram-friendly after-school meal. —Katherine Spiers
Enthusiasts will debate the merits of the vast array of L.A.’s Koreatown Korean barbecue establishments with a fervor similar to the way Texas barbecue partisans will duel to the death with St. Louis–style lovers. Which is part of what makes Park’s BBQ so remarkable — for the most part, the consensus is that Park’s is the king. The difference is in the meat, which is meticulously sourced. That upgrade in quality shows even if you don’t opt for the pricy American Wagyu, but even more so if you do. Like the meat, everything here is extremely high-grade, from the banchan to the savory pancakes to the fantastic steak tartare, which comes with juicy slivers of Asian pear. For K-pop fans, there’s probably no place in town you’re more likely to run across a beloved pop star, and even if you don’t, the walls are crammed with enough celebrity photos to make up for it. If you have time for only one Korean barbecue outing this year, well, we feel bad for you. But you probably should make it Park’s. —Besha Rodell
At least half of the items on Petit Trois’ menu already qualify as iconic L.A. dishes, a mere three years into the restaurant’s existence. There’s the omelet: the egg itself presented as pure texture, a lightly frothy yellow solid, with absolutely no visual or tactile clue that it has ever touched a pan, its interior gloriously creamy. And there’s the burger: a mashup of cultures, taking inspiration from the classic American cheeseburger as well as chef Ludo Lefebvre’s homeland in the form of Bordelaise sauce with a smidge of foie gras, and piles of caramelized onions. There’s the escargot, drenched in butter; like everything here, better than the actual Parisian food it aims to parrot. But it’s worth straying from these beloved dishes to try some of the newer additions and specials: light-as-air Parisian gnocchi showered in cheese, or a lobster thermidor that’s as decadent a throwback as you could ever wish for. We’re looking forward to the larger San Fernando Valley outpost that’s slated to open later this year, but in the meantime this tiny slot of a restaurant remains one of the best — and, yes, most iconic — dining experiences in the city. —Besha Rodell
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Philippe the Original is billed as the birthplace of the French dip sandwich, and there’s no doubt that’s quite an achievement (though if you ask the folks over at Cole’s, they’ll claim the honor for themselves). But what we find so endearing about Philippe’s, so wonderful, so essential, is the sensation of wandering, through some kind of time warp, into L.A. circa 1910. Philippe’s opened in 1908 and has added some modern amenities in its 109 years: There are a few neon signs behind the counter along with the wooden ones, and in late 2014 it even started accepting credit cards. But the experience of standing in line, ordering your sandwich and having the meat carved in front of you (go for lamb, double-dipped, and add a magenta pickled egg on the side for fun), then finding a place to sit in the massive dining room, is unchanged. Early in the morning this is a great place to find a kind of club for old-timers and municipal workers, and the breakfast is unbelievably cheap. The whole place oozes a down-and-dirty charm, the true vintage soul of Los Angeles. —Besha Rodell
Pine & Crane has become the go-to restaurant for diners who want the pleasures of great Taiwanese cooking without a trek to the San Gabriel Valley. At least that’s the dominant narrative — people who love Pine & Crane know it’s much more than simple convenience that brings them to this sunny Silver Lake dining room. Yes, there’s the option to get your scallion pancakes, mapo tofu and dan dan noodles without getting on the I-10 freeway, and the beef noodle soup is as warming and comforting as any version in town. But the real draw here is the super fresh veggies sourced from owner Vivian Ku’s family farm. Take a look in the cold case next to the counter, where you’ll find dishes such as wood ear mushroom salad flecked with sweet red pepper, or grassy, fresh pea shoots scented with garlic. There’s a lovely selection of loose-leaf teas for those who care about such things, and delicious passion fruit iced tea for those who don’t. —Besha Rodell
It’s hard to overstate the import and influence of Nancy Silverton in the grand story of L.A. dining, and you needn’t look farther than her three restaurants on the corner of Highland and Melrose to understand why her cooking is so admired and imitated. Pizzeria Mozza, which was the first of the three to open, remains one of the best pizzerias in the country, each pie lovingly crafted from Silverton’s now-famous dough and topped with the best Italian and Californian ingredients. This is a great restaurant to bring a large group, and a great place for a first date, and a can’t-miss destination for out-of-town eaters. You come here for the pizza, but there’s so much more to love: the boisterous, convivial room, the fantastic antipasti and pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez’s now-iconic butterscotch budino — the budino that launched a thousand budinos. —Besha Rodell
There are only a handful of restaurants in Los Angeles that aim for the same heights as Providence does, and perhaps none that achieve those lofty aims quite so well. Michael Cimarusti’s seafood-focused, fine-dining standard-bearer excels at the formal service that much of the restaurant world has abandoned. There’s a lot of joy to be found on the plate as well. No kitchen does the flurry of amuse-bouches as well as Cimarusti and crew, from a darling taco made with a nasturtium leaf to cigars made from Wagyu beef that come presented in a cigar box. Ultra-fresh (and always sustainable) seafood, such as Santa Barbara spot prawns or Norwegian red king crab, is presented elegantly and simply. During the winter, you can get perfectly cooked soft eggs (or risotto, or pasta — we prefer the eggs) showered in an obscene amount of black truffle. You could come here for all kinds of reasons — for the cheese cart, for the wine list, for the opulence of the room. The pleasures of this type of beauty and professionalism will have you wishing it wasn’t so very rare. —Besha Rodell
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The manner in which Hiroyuki Naruke arrived in Los Angeles is a tale unto itself, coaxed as he was by three downtown lawyers who saw the opportunity to entice the revered sushi master into a minimalist, comforting restaurant space mere steps from their office building. The real story, however, is what the chef of Q has done since, introducing diners to an intricate style of Edo-era omakase dining, which prizes the delicate curing of halibut wrapped in kelp, briny translucent shrimp from Toyama Bay swaddled in nori or a gentle brush of miso over a pat of uni. Each meal ends with a simple square of tamago presented on a ceramic plate. Humble in appearance, the sweet egg omelet bursts with the deep oceanic flavors of scallop and shrimp it’s made with — at Q, nothing is quite as humble as it appears. —Garrett Snyder
There’s a woman working in Echo Park who is creating some of the most soulful food in Los Angeles. Some may know her by her first name, Alejandra, but to weekend warriors, farmers market visitors and local residents out for a stroll, she’s known as “the quesadilla lady.” She’s a true L.A. story, a woman who has created a name for herself based on the strength of her one specialty. She’s the quesadilla lady, because there can be no other. Fridays through Mondays, her rolling grill is usually perched on the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue, where she offers her small menu. The blue corn tortillas are semi-homemade — she uses a store-bought base — and they are perfectly griddled while you wait. Don’t miss the huitlacoche filling, the fungus that grows on corn and is sought after by gourmands around the world. Here, it’s been sautéed with onions and spices to create a guisado that’s rich and a little spicy. If you’re nervous about diving wholesale into corn smut, cut it with one of the meat options. You’ll eat standing up. —Katherine Spiers
In the last year, Ración has changed chefs, changed formats and, in many ways, changed objectives — where it used to be a celebration of Basque and Spanish cooking beyond tapas, it now adheres more closely to the tapas format, and the modernist twists that had been the foundation of the enterprise are hidden a little deeper. Original chef Teresa Montaño stepped down in mid-2016, and Shane Alvord, who has worked at the restaurant since its opening, stepped into the role. But founder Loretta Peng is still very much involved, and the hidden-gem soul of the place remains intact. The elegant but friendly room that faces leafy Green Street in Pasadena should be used as a model for upscale neighborhood eateries everywhere. The wine list has all kinds of Spanish gems you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. And, yes, there are now tapas on the menu, such as creamy chicken croquettes with membrillo honey, and salt cod fritters with lemon cream. But there’s still a selection of larger raciones, such as saffron-imbued pasta sitting in a pool of rich braised lamb with dollops of fresh cheese, or beer-braised octopus with dandelion salsa verde. In other words, despite the changes, Ración is still pretty great. —Besha Rodell
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When Redbird opened in December 2014, it felt like a necessary addition; downtown needed a major shiny new restaurant to anchor its burgeoning dining scene. It needed a place where the well-heeled would be happy to flock pre-theater, a restaurant for business or pleasure, a one-stop-pleases-all kind of place that nonetheless feels special. A couple of years later, Redbird is still a restaurant for when the mood strikes to live high on the hog, a place for eating in a decadent but sturdy fashion. Chef Neal Fraser excels at big hunks of protein, be it an extravagant slab of seared foie gras served with braised cabbage and cider jelly, or a rack of red wattle pork — the fat crisped just so at the edges, the interior juicy and piggy — accompanied by hazelnuts, spaetzle and calvados blood sauce. The $128, 32-ounce porterhouse could feed a table of four and provides some deeply gratifying bites of beef, tangy and charred and bloody. Built in the former rectory and courtyard of the now-deconsecrated cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles known as Vibiana, the space is a glorious ode to the past and present of downtown Los Angeles. —Besha Rodell
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If you were to ask about our favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, République might not be top of mind. Yet it’s amazing how many smaller “favorites” are wrapped up in the layers of this place. Favorite room? Absolutely — carved from the courtyard and façade of the castlelike historic building once owned by Charlie Chaplin, the Moroccan-tiled space is breathtaking in its beauty. Favorite wine list? It’s certainly up there. Favorite croissants, favorite bread accompaniment (in the form of pan drippings served in a cast-iron pot), favorite place to linger at the table on a weekday afternoon over a burger and a glass of wine? Check, check, check. Walter and Margarita Manzke’s incredibly ambitious restaurant and bakery and cafe and bar is one of Los Angeles’ great places to celebrate over a slab of prime beef filet with foie gras and black winter truffles, just as it is a lovely venue for a casual cocktail and platter of oysters at the bar. You can do whatever you want with this restaurant, as long as you can get a reservation — it turns out half the city considers République a favorite of one sort or another. —Besha Rodell
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Revolutionario is further proof that you can put anything in a taco — in this case smoked lamb, chickpea tagine or the Middle Eastern egg dish shakshouka — and it will taste even better. The tiny, low-on-frills-but-high-on-charm Northern Africa taco joint (from classically trained French-Algerian chef Farid Zadi) also deserves bonus points for its location: Situated just west of USC, Revolutionario is a harissa-slicked oasis in something of a restaurant desert. You can’t go wrong with any of the 10 taco options (though I’d suggest you start with the beef brisket barbacoa, or the chickpea-spinach–sweet potato tagine if you’re vegetarian). In case North African tacos don’t provide enough culture collision, Revolutionario serves three varieties of Japanese-Peruvian ceviche as well. And whatever you do, don’t walk out of there without ordering the fried cauliflower, which can stand up to any of the fried cauli that has proliferated on menus across the city. Here it’s dressed with spiced salt, smoked pepper, Aleppo pepper, sumac, toasted wheat, sesame seeds and dried lime. At $3.75 apiece, go ahead and order three. —Mara Shalhoup
We use the term “hole-in-the-wall” as a folksy cliché, but RiceBar truly is a hole-in-the-wall, a teeny kitchen with a door on downtown’s Seventh Street. The entire space — kitchen, storage, fridges, dining area — is 275 square feet. The master of those 275 square feet is chef Charles Olalia, an exceedingly friendly dude who often looks kind of happily stunned to find himself here. It is quite amazing to find him here, given that his last job was executive chef at Patina in Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the ritziest restaurants in California. Before that, he worked at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Guy Savoy in Las Vegas. At RiceBar, the focus is not on fine dining but rather heirloom, fair-trade Filipino rice bowls in a variety of flavors. The menu is built around the four large steamers in the front window, each holding a different kind of rice. Kalinga Unoy is a rust-colored red rice, grown on ancient terraced fields in Kalinga in the Philippines, then sun-dried. The flavor is lightly nutty and sweet, and it delicately complements RiceBar’s suggested topping, bistek tagalog: tender, pan-seared, soy-marinated beef. There’s black rice covered in hunks of lush avocado, crisp radish, sweet pops of marinated grape tomatoes and tiny, pointy, salty, crunchy fried anchovies. Pork longganisa, a sausage that’s made in-house, comes sliced and accompanied by pickled veggies and has an almost floral and aromatic yet funky flavor that leaves a light, fatty sweetness behind. Olalia will recommend you order this over garlic fried rice and also that you add a fried egg. He’s a wise man in both regards. —Besha Rodell
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Ricky Piña’s Baja-style tacos are the stuff of legend, the delicate white fish cooked to an ideal golden brown, topped with chopped cabbage and pico de gallo and folded into a warm flour tortilla. Ricky’s Fish Tacos started as a makeshift parking-lot taco party and then morphed into a truck (thanks to pesky laws about how and where you can sell food); these days he’s usually parked on Riverside Drive near the entrance to Griffith Park, serving up the best lunch $3 can buy. There’s creamy white sauce and spicy red salsa to drizzle at your discretion, there are shrimp tacos if you want to mix it up, and there’s Piña himself, one of the friendliest taqueros around. Follow his jubilant Twitter feed for info about what he’s serving and when, as well as the occasional buy-three-get-one-free deal. —Besha Rodell
The Rose Cafe, which had been a Venice staple since 1979, reopened its doors in November 2015 after a revamp by Sprout restaurant group, which included bringing on Jason Neroni as chef. The new Rose is a breezy fantasy of California living and eating: a bakery and café and bar and restaurant with multiple seating areas and patios. It all feels effortless and beautiful and so very, very Venice. (New Venice, that is.) As for Neroni, the Rose is more evidence of his talent as a chef, which we already knew about thanks to his time at Superba Snack Bar just up the street. There’s a level of ambition in the pure scale of this place that’s new for Neroni, but what’s not new is the ways in which he continues to shine. Neroni’s pastas are up there with the best in the city, and many diners who ate at Superba will recognize his decadent smoked buccatini carbonara, as well as his particularly deft hand with the more pungent ocean creatures and their rightful relationship to noodles. Neroni has gotten better at charcuterie (and he was pretty good at it to begin with), and there are some dishes on the dinner menu that are stunning in their creativity and execution. —Besha Rodell
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Ruen Pair has long enjoyed a certain status among the food literati of L.A.: The Thai restaurant is open until 3 a.m., and it’s known as the place where chefs go to eat after their own shifts are over. Remarkably, Ruen Pair doesn’t rest on its insider accolades. The cooks are still taking care with the food, from the fried noodle dishes to the truly excellent soups, especially the coconut-based tom kha gai. Try the salty turnip omelet. It is unusual for a multipage menu to do everything so consistently well, but this menu is full of hits, and it is big enough to keep eating there interesting, even if you’re a regular Thai Town denizen. The restaurant is packed at any given time, and the postmidnight crowd tends to be tattooed and foul-mouthed. During dinner, this is a truly family-friendly place. Just don’t let your kids knock over the soup pots. —Katherine Spiers
Jeremy Fox is one of those chefs whom other chefs gush about, and Rustic Canyon is the restaurant where you’ll find many of those other chefs when there’s cause for celebration or need for inspiration. Since Fox teamed with Rustic Canyon’s owners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb in 2013, the restaurant has just gotten better and better, and Fox’s ideas seem to be more distilled than ever. There are longtime favorite dishes, such as the bright shellfish pozole verde, which is both soothing and exciting. But with each new visit you’re bound to find something that spends only a few days on the menu and is as delightful as it is fleeting. A recent porchetta with kumquats and bitter greens had us clutching our pearls in delight. If you don’t believe us, check out Fox’s gorgeous Instagram account for visual proof. —Besha Rodell
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The original Salt’s Cure in West Hollywood was an odd kind of restaurant, one that tended to slip your mind when recalling favorite places to eat but one that — if you did happen to find yourself there — made you wonder why you didn’t think of it more often. The sparse restaurant from chefs Chris Phelps and Zak Walters never lost the feel that it could just up and vanish one day, despite its status as a trendsetter in a number of realms (restaurants built around the idea of butchery; natural wines). Rather than vanish, Salt’s Cure moved a few miles east in 2015, into a more conventional space with a bar and a proper dining room and about double the seating capacity. There’s a blackboard that resides beside the front door, and on it you’ll find the day’s steaks and chops, offerings from the whole-animal butchering that is the heart of this restaurant. The regular menu tends to focus on the byproducts of the butchery, as well as seafood and salads. The brunch is still one of the best in town, and those oatmeal griddle cakes are as good as ever, hearty yet light and crisped at the edges. If you ever stumble over the question, “Where should I eat in Hollywood?” try to remember Salt’s Cure. It won’t be that hard. —Besha Rodell
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In the competition for best hangover cure, or most comforting bowl of steaming goodness, or best dish for a rainy day, Los Angeles has a lot of contenders, and many of them exist in the strip malls of Thai Town. But during this past abnormally cold and rainy winter, the thing we craved most often was Sapp Coffee Shop’s boat noodles, the bowl’s broth a deep brown, sweet and rich and a little sour, flecked with the chewy crunch of fried pork skin. We’re not alone in this craving, of course — Sapp has been satisfying people’s boat noodle needs since the 1980s — and the sparse restaurant is beloved in part because there’s so much comfort in its consistency. In warmer weather, the cold jade noodles present a lovely jumble of green noodles, roasted pork, crab meat, peanuts and chili, and honestly any time of year is a good time to try the many fantastic dishes that aren’t quite so iconic as the noodles here. But when food becomes an emotional need rather than a cerebral pursuit, other options can’t compete with the warmth and pleasure of those boat noodles. —Besha Rodell
Los Angeles has long enjoyed some of the world’s best Chinese food, but in the last decade, many restaurants have mastered the ins and outs of China’s varied regional cuisines. So it’s easy to overlook Cantonese food, that saucy, sweet, pork- and fish-heavy Southeastern Chinese specialty that the first Chinese immigrants brought with them to the West Coast. But though it might seem old-school, it shouldn’t be forgotten. After all, dim sum is Cantonese. And it’s un-American to not love dim sum. Sea Harbour in particular is still innovating, moving the menu items around to make room for things like the shrimp paste–stuffed eggplant, the salty egg buns and the shu mai with truffles. The restaurant does not offer cart service, which is a disappointment to some diners. But think of it this way: The food is fresher if it’s made to order. —Katherine Spiers
Once you’ve entered Shunji’s odd, round building on Pico Boulevard and made your way to your seat inside the sparse, circular room, turn your attention to the blackboard on the wall. You’ll need some time to ponder — the daily specials list can be a tad overwhelming. A waiter will bring you a menu board and prop it on a chair so you can peruse the tiny handwriting that crams every corner of the board’s surface. Your mind will swim, trying to take in all the sushi and sashimi options, as well as numerous creative Japanese small plates. Don’t sweat it — instead, go ahead and order the omakase, which is the clearest expression of chef Shunji Nakao’s vision, and which will include much of the best of what’s on the board anyway. In the winter, that means soft persimmon in tofu paste; in summer the chef’s famed agedashi tomato tofu, which is not tofu at all but compressed tomato turned to a tofu-like texture, lightly fried and set in a dashi broth. And always, it means luxuries such as monkfish liver topped with caviar, and pristine, glistening raw fish, draped across barely warm rice. —Besha Rodell
Sotto is one of those restaurants that I fear does not get the ongoing credit it deserves. And it deserves a whole lot of credit. Much was made of the Stefano Ferrara pizza oven when Sotto opened, and Sotto still turns out some of the best pizza in the city. That's no small feat — but there's much to laud in chef Steve Samson's nonpizza, hyper-regional Southern Italian cooking as well. He's quietly executing an exceedingly thoughtful range of vegetable antipasti, focusing less on unexpected flavors and more on the cooking method that best suits each individual ingredient, be it a marinated trumpet mushroom or a delicata squash. On the meaty opposite of the spectrum, a warm pork terrine pulls no punches in its loose, fatty funk. It's topped with a bracing citrus and fennel salad, which contrasts starkly with the terrine — you get lush fat and also opposing bright, palate-cleansing acid in each bite. Perhaps my favorite thing about Sotto is its wildly affordable wine list. In an era where the most casual restaurants often have very little below $60 by the bottle, a big portion of Sotto's list sits a good $15 to $20 cheaper than that, for wines that will delight you and also teach you things — things you wish you'd understood for years — about lesser-known Italian regions and producers. —Besha Rodell
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There are other places in town you could go for Old Hollywood glamour — Spago has never dealt in nostalgia, really, and if it started to do so, a menu revamp and sleek renovation a few years back nixed any fantasies that the restaurant would slip into Grand Old Dame territory. But Spago is a place to go if you want to be treated as a movie star might have been back in the good old days when service and pomp still mattered. Everyone here is treated like a VIP, whether you booked the table months ago to celebrate a special occasion, or because you felt like stopping by on a Tuesday night to perch at a cocktail table and snack on veal filet mignon tartare tucked into a marrow bone and topped with a layer of smoked mascarpone. Chef Lee Hefter and chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi present an elegant, sometimes extravagant menu with touches of Italy, Japan and China (one of the best dinner items is a whole roasted Cantonese duck for two), as well as classic California cooking of the sort chef/owner Wolfgang Puck helped to invent when he opened Spago. Yes, this is a great place for spotting celebrities, but with its gracious service and wonderful wine list and decadent dining, Spago is also a great place to feel like a celebrity yourself. —Besha Rodell
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The story of Sqirl has been told so many times over, its little-toast-shop-that-could narrative is practically a fable these days. Articles have been written that make Jessica Koslow’s East Hollywood cafe a symbol for the entire L.A. lifestyle, a place where beautiful people eat beautiful things out of bowls in the white sunlight. In fact, if you focus on what Sqirl has come to represent rather than what Sqirl actually is, you might forget the fact that Koslow and crew are still cooking some of the city’s most delicious food. It’s hard to resist just ordering the sorrel pesto rice bowl every time you eat there, for its utterly perfect combination of Kokuho Rose brown rice, French sheep feta, preserved Meyer lemon, sorrel pesto and a poached egg. But if you can tear yourself away from the rice and venture into the daily specials, you’ll be heartily rewarded. There are breakfast hash dishes made with the season’s best veggies, served in mini cast-iron skillets. There are delicate daily pastas after 11 a.m., along with creative lunch dishes such as Passmore Ranch sturgeon au poivre with nasturtium capers and poached cardoon. The avocado toast is actually a version that makes the current avocado toast craze seem sane. The lines to order at the counter are long (particularly on weekends), the parking is difficult, the seating scarce. The hassle is worth it, always. —Besha Rodell
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Summer Rolls, which used to be called Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa, is mainly known, unsurprisingly, for its summer rolls. How you do them is up to you: you can get them pre-rolled, or order the nem nuong ninh hoa platter, which will give you a large tray of charcoal-grilled sausage, meatballs and super-thin and crispy fried shrimp egg rolls. Rice paper, herbs and cooling lettuce comes alongside so you can wrap up all this goodness yourself, to your own liking. If you have kids who like to play with their food, there’s hardly a more enjoyable lunch outing around. But Summer Rolls is also a place to come for Central Vietnamese specialties such as bánh bèo, tiny steamed rice cakes with ground shrimp, scallions and croutons, which are almost as fun to scoop out of their individual saucers as the namesake dish is to roll. —Besha Rodell
Stepping into an unfamiliar restaurant can be a little intimidating. The experience is even more so if the restaurant is counter service and packed to the rafters. Surati Farsan is just such a venue, but it comes with the bonus of extremely kind and patient employees. It’s located in Artesia, a town known for its Indian food. The ostensible focus of Surati Farsan is the dessert selection, which features bite-sized treats such as sesame brittle, rose-flavored coconut balls covered in chocolate, barfi — a milk and sugar combo with various toppings — and different sweetened bars made of pistachio and cashew flours. But as long as you’re there, get a full thali lunch, a vegetarian sampler platter with pickles, lentil soup, spiced vegetable curries, savory yogurt, papadam, samosa, rice and more. And try a dosa here, even though they’re comically large — whether stuffed with masala or cheese and onions, or nothing at all, this huge flatbread made of ground rice and lentils is the tangiest, most delicious way to ponder the wonder of fermentation. Grab some chickpea snacks on the way out. —Katherine Spiers
There are many reasons to stand outside Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo to wait your turn for a table or a spot at the sushi bar. In a city full of sushi — rarefied sushi, expensive sushi, crappy sushi — Sushi Gen bridges the gap between quality and affordability. And it’s a pretty cool experience, to boot. Request a seat at the sushi bar and marvel as the line of sushi chefs doles out some of the highest-quality, lowest-cost raw fish in America. Rumor has it that it’s the restaurant’s buying power and 37-year longevity that affords it this miracle, a long-standing relationship with purveyors that gives Sushi Gen first choice of the fish coming into L.A. The lunch specials and dinner plates (not available at the sushi bar) deliver the best bang for your buck, but we prefer to sit and talk to the chefs, seek out the best of the day and order à la carte. It’s no wonder half the chefs in town name Sushi Gen as a favorite hangout, a place where you can revel in L.A.’s sushi wealth without needing to have a ton of wealth yourself. —Besha Rodell
There are times when browsing the menu at Szechuan Impression — the acclaimed Alhambra restaurant most often compared to the San Gabriel Valley’s other temple of Sichuan cooking, Chengdu Taste — that the non-Chinese diner can feel as if he’s reading a list of inside jokes rather than dishes: “Potato Strips on Street Corner,” “Big Mouth Ginger Frog,” “Fiery Temper Goose Intestine” and, perhaps most famously, “Cinderella’s Pumpkin Rides.” What these signify, though, is Szechuan Impression’s home-style cooking, which invokes serious nostalgia for those well-versed in the food of Sichuan. No translation is need for soft-skinned wontons bobbing in a pool of lip-numbing chili oil, thin sheets of garlic-braised pork belly or cumin-blasted bits of lamb impaled on individual toothpicks. In proper Sichuan fashion, many dishes here will leave your mouth smoldering, but there are plenty of others that showcase the more subtle, aromatic side of China’s famously fiery province. —Garrett Snyder
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It’s 2 a.m. You’re hungry. You might not be totally sober. You crave tacos. In these situations, many people would settle for whatever floppy tortillas and dry meat happen their way. But in Los Angeles, there is Tacos Leo, the shining beacon of al pastor. There are few taco trucks in existence that offer such consistent and reliable comfort. It would be worthwhile to break down all the admirable components of Leo’s $1 tacos: the warm and pliable tortillas, the char-kissed marinated pork freshly trimmed from the spit and dripping with juice, the soothing avocado sauce and musky salsa roja, and the dudes who wield long knifes and flick shards of pineapple into the air like they’re part of a Benihana performance. You barely notice the low, thunderous drone of butane burners filling the night air while you destroy your taco in a few bites and order another. —Garrett Snyder
Have we tired of Trois Mec? Has the novelty of eating in a tiny room behind the guise of a Raffalo’s Pizza sign worn off? Does the food seem less thrilling, the concept less fresh? Not in the slightest. If anything, recent meals have been more exciting, more innovative than when Ludo Levebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo first won our hearts four years ago with their weird experiment of a restaurant. After a flurry of “snacks” that might include foie gras beignets and a tiny, tangy mustard crème brûlée, you’ll be served five courses of delicious oddities such as plump vegetable-root dumplings bobbing in a Parmesan broth, or pineapple sushi with burrata. Supplemental courses often are available — a recent Parisian gnocchi over Tahitian vanilla mousseline with black truffles was worth every one of its extra 29 dollars. With no supplements, the experience will cost you not much more than $100 per person including tax and tip (bought ahead of time as a nonrefundable ticket). The music will be loud, and the wine pairings, should you choose to go that route, will be wonderful. It all feels as vital and riveting as it did from the get-go. —Besha Rodell
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There are now Tsujita locations in New Jersey and Hawaii, and also at a mall in Glendale. The Tokyo-based company deserves its success, and we’re just happy to have more options for that stellar Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, as well as the fantastic tsukemen, its dipping broth thick and silky. With a ramen annex across the street from the original Sawtelle location and a sushi restaurant down the block, there’s a whole lot of ways to give these folks your money, and Tsujita Sushi’s lunchtime offerings are outstanding in terms of raw-fish value. Perhaps once in a while we’ll make that detour, but for the most part, you can find us up the street waiting outside for a prized spot at that original bar, where we’ll slurp on ramen while being intensely thankful for our ever-expanding noodle riches. —Besha Rodell
There are few restaurants as tiny, bustling and convivial as Union, Bruce Kalman’s 3-year-old Cali-Italian restaurant in Pasadena. Large family groups commune at long tables, the babies among them happily gobbling pasta as their parents drink interesting Italian red wines. It’s the type of place where people stop in for a quick plate of pasta and a drink at the bar, a perfect first-date spot, a perfect 100th-date spot. Starters, such as beautifully executed pork meatballs with a bracing kick of chili, are inventive but comforting above all else. The handmade pastas are the star of the show, however, from the simplest, tomato sauce–dressed spaghetti chittara to heavier ragus. This is the type of restaurant we all wish we had within walking distance of our homes: laid-back, friendly, relatively affordable, and with food you could eat happily over and over again. With Kalman having opened a stall at Grand Central Market, and planning a restaurant in the former Bucato space in Culver City, it’s a wish that will be coming true for more and more of us. —Besha Rodell
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From just about the day Wexler’s Deli opened in Grand Central Market, L.A.’s food obsessives started asking, “Is this now the best pastrami sandwich in town?” In light of our city’s devotion to Langer’s, the question seemed to be heresy, yet it isn’t unreasonable. At its best, the pastrami at Wexler’s rivals any in this city or any other: deeply rich, slightly smoky, sweet at its edges with a prickle of pepper and clove. The deli, which has expanded to include a second location in Santa Monica, is highly traditional: an old-school Jewish deli, pure and simple. Chef Micah Wexler smokes his own fish and cures his own pastrami, makes his own pickles and generally obsesses over the quality of every last detail. There may be no better outcome of all that obsessing than Wexler’s lox: Slick, supple and delicate, the cured salmon tastes like a rushing mountain river in the same way an ultra-fresh oyster tastes like the soul of the ocean. —Besha Rodell
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