Best Of :: Food & Drink
At Rivera, you can dial a phone number listed on the menu to hear chef John Sedlar describe some of the dishes. "Most people think of tamales as the embodiment of Mexican cuisine's earthiness," he says in the recording, before launching into an explanation of "Clams Tamalli." The dish is supposed to "join together earth and sea" with its corn masa and chopped clam meat. The tamale is steamed in large clam shells, then served with a French-style butter sauce flavored with green chiles. The other Rivera tamale — a thin rectangle of masa with braised pork short rib inside and mushrooms on top, served on a banana leaf — also could challenge the notion of earthy Mexican food. The masa is fluffy, moist and buttery, almost like a pancake. Rivera serves three different menus, one for each room. If you don't see the tamales on your menu, and you've become a tamale fan by now, do not panic! You can, and should, order them anyway. Visit Sedlar's other restaurant, Playa, for the tamale with filet mignon, wild mushrooms and chipotle béarnaise, or a Thai-inspired version with shrimp, lemongrass and chiles. These are not your abuela's tamales. 1050 S. Flower St., #102, dwntwn. (213) 749-1460, riverarestaurant.com. —Daina Beth Solomon
In this era of gastropubs and fusion bistros, it comes as a welcome relief to enter a place that still calls itself a "chophouse," as does Suzanne Tracht's 11-year-old West Hollywood restaurant, Jar. The moniker is a signal to other beautifully atavistic traits: a maitre d' in a suit and tie, white tablecloths, an iceberg wedge on the menu, a playlist of Sinatra and Armstrong and Nina Simone — and some of the best steaks in Los Angeles. Not only will your dry-aged Kansas City steak or your filet of beef or your prime rib-eye arrive perfectly cooked and presented, it will be served with a little white ceramic boat of sauce like the perfect accessory (a cufflink, a pocket square). The beef is so tender that it hardly needs the lobster béarnaise in the first place, but you are not here for restraint. (Think to yourself: What would Frank do?) Order a martini or two, then the stellar chocolate pudding for dessert. 8225 Beverly Blvd. (323) 655-6566, thejar.com.
Michael Cimarusti's seafood palace on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood earlier this summer celebrated its seventh birthday, a suitably biblical number for a fish restaurant with an excellent pastry kitchen. In those seven years, Providence has neither plateaued nor reversed direction: It has gotten better, kind of a stunning achievement for a restaurant that was worth 2 Michelin stars back when they gave them out in this town. Cimarusti and his crew manage something rare: a combination of technical mastery and playfulness, and a willingness to change things up instead of resting on their considerable laurels. The menu transforms as frequently as the fish swim in and out of their seasonal waters, the staff forages for local greenery, and the plates emerge from the kitchen like small epiphanies. Maybe you can credit it all to the fact that the chef and the general manager like to go fishing out of San Pedro on their few days off. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hlywd. (323) 460-4170, providencela.com.
Back in 2007, when Judy Ornstein first opened her neighborhood café FOOD, she had a recycling brainstorm: Why not install a plastic, serve-yourself, all-you-can-drink dispenser and fill it with filtered H20, ice cubes and whatever fruity odds and ends she found in the kitchen? Sometimes there are hunks of pineapple sweetly infusing the cold water; other times it's a mind-bendingly thirst-quenching day spa mainstay of cucumber slices and handfuls of fresh mint. Often they go refreshingly tropical with floating orange, lime and lemon slices. Ornstein's light, rejuvenating, bright idea also doubles as an art installation that changes daily: Some have compared the dispenser, sitting in a far corner next to a stack of glasses, to wallpaper in a ladies' restroom circa 1968 or a freeze-frame from a Trix cereal commercial. But we think it recalls a dreamy, zero-gravity fruit salad experiment at NASA — and what's not to like about that? 10571 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 441-7770, food-la.com.
Four dollars for a cup of coffee? Before you spit out your Starbucks, hear us out: There's a revolution going on in the java world that has little to do with the over-barbecued cafe loco you're used to and everything to do with small organic farms in South America that are churning out product with the kind of terroir previously associated only with wine. Now, we're not so sure about hints of chocolate and pomegranate in our perfect, 195-degree cup of Commissary joe, but it is super smooth and low on acid. Props to Intelligentsia Coffee for kickstarting this thing in L.A. But what we like about the 2-year-old Coffee Commissary in West Hollywood is that it's simple, casual and gimmick-free. Nobody's slurping and "cupping" this stuff, and you won't be huffed on if you don't know your Coava from your Victrola. Hot water is swirled over a cone of precious grinds, with the resulting brew transferred to a thick mug. That's it. 801 N. Fairfax Ave., #106, W. Hlywd. (323) 782- 1465, coffeecommissary.com.
On a chic strip of shops near a leafy Sherman Oaks neighborhood filled with film-industry types, Sweet Butter is designed to feel as if you've stumbled into a sidewalk pastry shop in Paris. Fleur de sel caramel brownies, butter-rich croissants, bread pudding with brioche (in coconut-lemon and chocolate versions), cinnamon muffins filled with homemade peach or strawberry jam, plum-lemon bars and savory bacon-cheddar scones are churned out by three in-house pastry chefs. Founder Leslie Danelian, a former food stylist and longtime caterer, keeps the charm factor high but the prices low: Mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies are $2, muffins and scones $2.75. The pastry items rotate, so each day Sweet Butter's glass case is filled with surprises. The French county–style restaurant offers full breakfast and lunch menus, with items such as grilled turkey, fig jam and bleu cheese sandwiches. 13824 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-2832, sweetbutterkitchen.com.