16 of Our Favorite L.A. Dishes From 2016
Lobster ramen at Jinya
Courtesy Jinya Ramen Bar
Since L.A. is the best restaurant city in the United States, we are spoiled for choice — but the L.A. Weekly food writers still have their favorites. Here is our list of the best dishes L.A. restaurants had to offer in 2016. These aren't ranked, but it is worth noting that many of our writers wanted to claim the pastrami sandwich at Ugly Drum as one of their most beloved. Read on to see who snagged it and what else made the cut.
Lobster ramen at Jinya
In L.A., making ramen is a competitive sport, and Jinya Ramen Bar is among the heavyweight noodlers in town. Bringing intensely flavorful styles such as Tonkotsu Black and Cha Cha Cha (both heavy on the garlic love), Jinya is famous for bold bowls and a colorful culinary personality. Lobster Me Happy is the name of Jinya’s most recent ramen thrill ride; it's available only at the Studio City location. A stock simmered from Maine lobster meat and heads is reduced down to a concentrated sauce and blended with a 10-hour tonkotsu. Plus-size wontons, bundling meaty chunks of lobster and shrimp, along with crispy Brussels sprouts, seasoned egg, thick curly noodles and a lobster head playing peek-a-boo in the soup, make up this ridiculously rich ramen eating experience. Each slurp and bite of Lobster Me Happy lights up all corners of your taste buds, whether it's from the fragrantly fried, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts or the deep brininess and lobster bisque–ness of the lobster and pork broth. Why a lobster ramen? Jinya founder Tomonori Takahashi was inspired by the lobster roll trend and wanted to work the shellfish into his ramen repertoire. Ramen purists may scoff, but that only leaves more of this epic lobster ramen for the rest of us. And with Lobster Me Happy limited to just 10 bowls per day, that’s saying something. —Eddie Lin
11239 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-3977, jinya-ramenbar.com.
A steak at Gwen
Rib-eye at Gwen
In my review of Gwen, I gave the proprietors a little bit of a hard time about the tasting-menu format and the lack of beef on the regular prix fixe menu. But one of the most memorable meals of my year was a Wagyu rib-eye that I ate sitting at Gwen’s bar with a friend. We split an appetizer, this beautiful steak from Australia’s Blackmore Farms and a couple of vegetable sides. The steak was $185, and the meal cost just about as much as it would have if we’d done the prix fixe and had the insane amount of food that entails. But it was in some ways a far more gratifying a meal, one that I haven’t stopped thinking about since. —Besha Rodell
6600 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 946-7513, gwenla.com.
Courtesy Smorgasburg L.A.
Pastrami sandwich at Ugly Drum
It's easy to get distracted by the dozens of stellar dishes available at Smorgasburg. The Brooklyn-born food market pops up Sundays at ROW DTLA in the Arts District, offering stall after stall of delights, including that Instagrammable Raindrop Cake. But if you have to pick one dish to rule them all, it's Ugly Drum's deceptively simple, pit-smoked pastrami sandwich: thick slabs of hand-cut, juicy pastrami piled on seeded rye bread with a smear of spicy mustard. The pastrami is just the right mix of salty, sweet and savory. It's so tender and fatty, with a smoked, peppery flavor and a texture that just melts. To make this glorious meat, Ugly Drum's Erik Black and Joseph Marcos use prime beef brisket, which is brined for two weeks in a mix of spices, then rubbed and wood-smoked for 12-plus hours. They say it draws from Texas, New York and Montreal flavors, but the end result is simply a carnivore's bliss. It's the only thing the Ugly Drum stall consistently serves (sometimes the papaya slushie machine is fired up) and some diners make the bold assertion that it's a better sandwich than even Langer's. —Juliet Bennett Rylah
746 Market Court, downtown. No phone, uglydrum.com.
The burger is a triumph of greasy American gratification while somehow remaining elegant.
Cheeseburger at E.R.B.
If you’re looking for a place to sit down with a cocktail and have yourself a burger, there’s no better place you can go than Matt Molina’s at E.R.B. The no-frills burger is simple, just a four-ounce patty, a combination of 80 percent prime chuck and 20 percent fat from Huntington Meats, which was originally devised by Molina’s mentor, Nancy Silverton. The patty gets a quick flash on the griddle and is then finished with a fluffy, buttered egg bun and little more than an eggshell layer of mild Tillamook cheese and tangy Dijonnaise. It’s ridiculously good in its simplicity — the straightforward kind of burger you catch yourself craving in the middle of the day. —Hillary Eaton
1936 E. Seventh St., downtown. (213) 335-6166, erbla.com.
Mok pa at AJ Asian Kitchen
Seasoned with coconut milk and rubbed with fennel, lemongrass and other herbs and spices, the mok pa at AJ Asian Kitchen takes a simple fish and turns it into something unique. A Lao dish (rare around these parts), the fish filet is steamed in a banana leaf and held together by a light coating of rice flour. A soft texture reveals a flavor where the coconut milk, lemongrass and spices meld into a perfect blending of sweet and savory, with none of the notes overwhelming the other. Lao cuisine bears similarities to that of its neighbor, Thailand, yet there are distinctive differences. A national dish of Laos, mok pa represents those distinctions and is wholly and uniquely Lao. —Jim Thurman
9805 Garvey Ave., El Monte. (626) 328-8907, ajasiankitchenthailaofood.com.
Isaan Station's gai yang, or charcoal grilled chicken.
Grilled chicken at Isaan Station
It sounds so boring on a menu full of larb and spicy vegetable-and-seafood salads, but Isaan Station's rendition of grilled chicken is pretty perfect. Marinated in a turmeric-based sauce, then grilled over charcoal, the birds are chopped up and served with two sauces, for your dippin' pleasure. The skin is flavorful and crispy in a way that beats even the best fried chicken (take that, trendier poultry), and the meat is full of fat, smoky and a little sweet. —Katherine Spiers
125 Western Ave., Koreatown. (323) 380-5126, isaanstationthaila.com.
Mohinga at Daw Yee Myanmar
Mohinga at Daw Yee Myanmar Corner
Dinner at Daw Yee Myanmar Corner in Silver Lake (or the original location in Monterey Park) can be an exercise in humility. You think you know your stuff, but then your eyes scan the menu and find numerous Burmese dishes you’ve never heard of: kima platha, khao swe thoke, mohinga. The latter, a catfish chowder, is a must, not only for its subtle broth but for the experience of shattering the accompanying lentil cracker into shards, swirling them into the bowl of rice noodles, and then slurping away. —Chelsee Lowe
2837 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (213) 413-0568, dawyeesilverlake.com.
Century-egg tofu salad at Lao Tao Street Food
If you haven’t been initiated into the world of the century egg (aka pidan), trying the century-egg tofu salad at Lao Tao Street Food is a good place to start. For being such a simple appetizer, this Taiwanese staple is a perfect amalgamation of textures and flavors. Don’t let the black-gray colors of the preserved duck egg throw you off; the jellylike exterior and ridiculously creamy yolk work well with pungent and complex flavors. The main attraction is balanced by chilled silken tofu, fluffy rousong (a sweet and savory dried pork floss), house-made hong you (spicy Sichuan red chili oil) and sliced green onions. If you can manage to get all these ingredients into one bite, then you're doing it right. —Jean Trinh
727 N. Broadway, Unit 207, Chinatown; (213) 372-5318, laotaostreetfood.com.
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