16 of Our Favorite L.A. Dishes From 2016
Charcuterie at Cassia
Cassia became an official Big Deal this year when The New York Times made it the subject of its first non–New York restaurant review, so I am not alone in extolling Cassia's virtues. The restaurant's charcuterie is all made in-house and is, in keeping with Cassia's entire menu, at its core French-Vietnamese. If you've become immune to the charms of the standard charcuterie plate, try this one. It includes salted pork, served with grilled bread; smoked red sausage; Yunnan pork; Singaporean candied pork (it's like bacon, but more); lamb ham (that's lamb done in the style of ham); and "Vietnamese meatloaf," with a cabbage relish. It will throw everything you know about meat plates out of whack, and you'll be better for it. —Katherine Spiers
1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.
Boiled fish with rattan pepper at Szechuan Impression
The Sichuan peppercorns in this soup create a numbing, vibrating sensation in your mouth, while the chili peppers create heat. Tender hunks of white fish in a gently spicy broth are enhanced by the lemony, electric charge of the Sichuan peppercorns so that the soup practically hums. The flavors are exciting but don't overwhelm; the result is delicate and balanced. Part of the fun at Szechuan Impression is ordering a spread of decadent dishes such as spicy bean jelly and tea-smoked ribs, but even among such riches this simple soup is a standout. —Sara Rashkin
1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 283-4622, szechuanimpressioninc.com.
Chicken confit at Destroyer
Almost everything at Destroyer, Jordan Khan’s new breakfast and lunch restaurant in Culver City, is built on the premise of layers of flavors, and oftentimes those layers are literal. In the case of his chicken confit, everything comes in a wide bowl under a blanket of cabbage leaves and a flurry of cheese. The bottom layer is a mix of yogurt and hazelnuts, and the meaty, oily chicken (oily in the best way possible) combines with the cabbage funk and the luxury of dairy and the nuttiness of the hazelnuts for a dish that’s just straight up delicious, as well as being thrilling on a creative level. —Besha Rodell
3578 Hayden Ave., Culver City. No phone, destroyer.la.
Grilled heritage pork, koji rice, pickled daikon and leek at Shibumi
Grilled pork at Shibumi
How is it that a small, misshapen plate of grilled pork chunks is the most memorable dish of 2016? If we have learned anything from Shibumi chef David Schlosser this year, it is that there is power in simplicity. And nowhere is his less-is-more message stronger than in the case of his koji-marinated pork. Schlosser grills heritage pork in a way that exhibits just the right amount of char that frames a tender juicy interior. He then garnishes it with delicate pickled daikon and leeks, whose acid cuts through the slightly sweet, umami-laden pork. It is a revelation in texture, clarity and subtlety of flavor. —Heather Platt
815 S. Hill St., downtown. (213) 265-7923, shibumidtla.com.
Biang biang noodles, Xi An Tasty
Biang biang noodles at Xi An Tasty
If you were to describe your ideal noodle, “wide” probably isn’t on the short list of adjectives. And unless you are a pretty serious lasagna fan, it probably isn’t on the long list, either. But a visit to Xi An Tasty, a Shaanxi-style Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park, will put noodle width at the front of your mind. Its biang biang noodles, a signature Shaanxi dish, are wide like a prefab home on the 99 freeway, like an honest smile, like the racing stripes on your mom’s boyfriend’s ’65 ’Stang. And the good people at Xi An Tasty don’t waste that extra real estate – the sauce that comes with the biang biang noodles is outstanding, sharply vinegary with a pop of chili oil, pooled mostly at the bottom of the bowl such that a good stir and a swish-through before serving yields a noodle coated in the stuff, all that acreage slick and oily, with a deeply satisfying chew. You can get them with meat on top if you want, but it isn’t really necessary; it’s the noodles themselves that are so fun, so delicious. It's the kind of dish that mends fences, bandages wounds, and bridges gaps – metaphorically, and probably literally, too. —Ben Mesirow
127 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park. (626) 802-5966.
Chicken dinner at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
If you didn’t board the fried chicken train bellowing through Los Angeles this year, it’s time you jumped on, and the premier place to do so is the new Mid-City outlet of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. Forget spice levels. All pieces of bird come out the same here, wearing a crisp coat of batter and delivering a crescendo of heat. Most folks claim it is best to eat your thighs and wings right in the shop, but we found that the pieces are just as extraordinary when ripped out of a brown paper to-go bag and accompanied by Styrofoam cups brimming with coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad. —Chelsee Lowe
1262 Crenshaw Blvd., Arlington Heights. (323) 402-0232, gusfriedchicken.com.
Al pastor tacos at Santa Cecilia
A lot has changed this year, but thank goodness some things never do. Chef Armando Salazar's al pastor tacos have been a Mariachi Plaza institution for 20 years, and still today mariachi players congregate outside the tiny storefront on weekends between sets. Salazar doesn’t use a trompo to rotisserie his pork, per tradition, but you'd be hard-pressed to find more flavorful al pastor. He marinates the meat with California chili, cumin and a dash of vinegar before stewing it into tender chunks. They’re served on extra-large, chewy tortillas that are hand-pressed to order: Two are a meal and eating more than three is a challenge. The most restrained squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of onion and cilantro will do; the salsas are drinkable, but go easy on them — the flavors here are that good. —Gowri Chandra
1707 Mariachi Plaza, Boyle Heights. (323) 980-0716, mariachi-plaza.com/santa-cecilia-rest.
Chawanmushi at Michael’s Santa Monica
The legendary Santa Monica restaurant has taken a wild turn toward modernism by hiring chef Miles Thompson, who many might remember from Allumette. Thompson’s cooking was always assertively modern, but in the two years he’s been gone from L.A. it’s also become more refined, cleverer and more umami-driven. My favorite dish during a recent meal was a crab chawanmushi, which is built on a base of savory egg custard so creamy and delicate it made me swoon. The custard was topped by big hunks of Dungeness crab and super-fresh uni, punctuated by delicately floral ginger sprout. The flavors were balanced, the textures were downright sexy, and the whole thing felt generous in spirit, as if Thompson thought hard about how much fun he wanted the diner to have while eating. —Besha Rodell
1147 Third St., Santa Monica. (310) 451-0843, michaelssantamonica.com.
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