Best of L.A.

Best Of 2013

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best New Southern Restaurant
The Hart and the Hunter
Photo by Photo: Anne Fishbein

Chefs Kris Tominaga and Brian Dunsmoor are serving up what they call "country food," though the country they're presenting has a very Southern twang. Biscuits, pimiento cheese, and shrimp and grits share the menu with nods to other simple, European, country cooking, like steak tartare and venison carpaccio. They're following in the tradition of the kitchens Dunsmoor came up in, namely the New Southern of Georgia and Charleston, S.C., where Dunsmoor grew up and attended culinary school. Whereas Southern food outside of the South often takes on an uncomfortable cartoonishness, the Hart and the Hunter is presenting fresh, creative food underpinned by technique and soul. This is an example of a couple of young chefs achieving pretty much exactly what they are trying to — that is, a quality, personal-feeling restaurant that feels as much like a hipster dinner party. The surprising part is that the food is almost universally excellent, far better than what you might expect from an enterprise like this. No matter what you do, do not miss those biscuits, which are some of the best you'll taste anywhere in or outside the South. 7950 Melrose Ave., Hlywd. (323) 424-3055, thehartandthehunter.com. —Besha Rodell

7950 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 90048
MAP
323-424-3055
Best Toddler Excursion
The Trails Cafe
Photo by Photo: The Trails Cafe

The food at the Trails Cafe in Griffith Park is scrumptious enough to satisfy Los Angeles gourmets: The avocado sandwich — full of sprouts and soy "bacon bits" — is particularly yummy, and the cookies are, without fail, amazing. But the spot is best utilized by parents of young kids, particularly those whose offspring tend to cause chaos at restaurants. That's because, for one thing, the seating is outdoors — on picnic benches and hay bales — so you don't have to worry about the kids' noise or the mess, and there's plenty of room to run around. Once you're done eating, simply cross the street, where you'll find a full kids' playground on a sandy floor, as well as the trails, which weave through the woods and alongside a brook. Overall, it's an environment in which you won't encounter a single angry eyebrow from another adult, and one that ensures your rugrats will later go down for a solid nap. 2333 Fern Dell Drive, Los Feliz. (323) 871-2102, thetrailslosfeliz.com. —Ben Westhoff

2333 Fern Dell Dr., Los Angeles, 90068
MAP
323-871-2101
Best Food-Crafting in a Nonfood Environment
Poketo
Photo by Photo: J Swann

Cooking classes aren't hard to come by in Los Angeles. But as long as sanitary requirements are followed, why should food education always mean endless, stainless-steel surfaces and the whirring of exhaust fans? Poketo, Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan's design firm/shop in the downtown Arts District, is about creativity of all stripes. So the husband-and-wife team puts the bright, airy square footage to work by hosting a series of hands-on food-making classes, with no demo mirrors or headset mics involved. Recent sessions have included mustard and other condiment-making with Zach Negin of SoNo Trading Company; a lesson on traditional kimchi techniques taught by Myung's mother; and summer sodas and vinegar-based shrubs with Emily Ho, an L.A. maven of food-swapping (the sharing of handmade food — Poketo has served as a venue for the swaps). Workshops aren't limited to food; eager crafters also have tried their hand at calligraphy, floral design, wreaths and holiday decor. 820 E. Third St., dwntwn. (213) 537-0751, poketo.com. —Jessica Ritz

820 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, 90013
MAP
Best Valley Liquor Store
Circus Liquor
Photo by Photo: J Swann

What the Hollywood Sign is to Hollywood, Circus Liquor' 32-foot-tall, neon-clown mascot is to North Hollywood. The nightmare-inducing liquor store clown towers over Burbank Boulevard and has been seen in just about as many movies as the Hollywood Sign itself, although its connotation isn't always positive: Cher got held up in its parking lot in Clueless, and the liquor store serves as a crime scene in Snoop Dogg's video for "Murder Was the Case." On-screen reputation aside, Circus Liquor doesn't clown around with its impressive selection of hard-to-find craft beer from Europe, Asia and North and South America and its nearly two dozen American beers offered in quarter and half kegs for all your Valley rager needs. Like any reputable liquor store, Circus Liquor even stocks its own branded T-shirts, trucker hats and baby apparel, so you can always be sure to represent. 5600 Vineland Ave., N. Hlywd. (818) 769-1500, circusliquor.com. —Jennifer Swann

5600 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, 91601
MAP
818-769-1500
Best Drive-Thru Giant Doughnut Sculpture
The Donut Hole

Got a hankering for some high-calorie, sugary, fried dough and want to make an adventure of it? Load up the car with your grooviest friends and drive to La Puente, where you will find an incomparably odd 1968 architectural landmark called the Donut Hole. Drive in through a 26-foot fiberglass doughnut, do your ordering in the center, and drive out through another matching doughnut armed with a boxful of glazed deliciousness. It's a campy example of programmatic architecture, in which a building mimics the product it sells. Come for the apple fritters, stay for the photo ops. 15300 Amar Road, La Puente, 91744. (626) 968-2912, facebook.com/pages/The-Donut-Hole/103952482982355. —Nikki Kreuzer

15300 Amar Rd., La Puente, 91744
MAP
626-968-2912
Best Fast-Casual Concept
ShopHouse
Photo by Photo: Besha Rodell

From the owners of Chipotle — yes, Chipotle — comes a new Southeast Asian chain. ShopHouse shares many of Chipotle's best attributes: fresh ingredients, "sustainable" meats and quick, choose-your-own-adventure, assembly-line service. But we'd argue that ShopHouse's food is actually better than Chipotle's. You choose from cold rice noodles, or brown or white rice, then one topping from each category: protein, vegetable, sauce, topping and garnish. You end up with a bowl piled high with food, a pretty substantial serving for less than $8. But the most surprising thing about ShopHouse is how bold this food is. It's possible to get a low-heat meal, but most of this food is aggressively and appropriately spiced. The curry sauces are thicker than many Thai curries, and pretty intense. The green beans are cooked with chile jam, and pack quite a kick. The eggplant is full of Thai basil and appropriately smooshed and delicious. If ShopHouse's dreams are realized and it takes over the nation, as Steve Ells' other venture did, then this is a chain restaurant we'd gladly pull off the interstate to frequent. 6333 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 462-2856, shophousekitchen.com. —Besha Rodell

6333 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90028
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Best New Southern Restaurant: The Hart and the Hunter

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