Essentials. Favorites. Bests. There are all kinds of ways to rank restaurants, and we do just about every one of them here at L.A. Weekly. One thing we haven't done, until fairly recently, is rank the best restaurants in L.A., straight up. But we know that's what the people want.
So, as a final bonus round of our Best of L.A. issue, which came out a few weeks back, we're ranking the 20 best restaurants in L.A., straight up. Here are the places that shine brightest, that are not to be missed under any circumstances — culminating in the one we christened L.A.'s very best.
It’s quite a trick that Walter and Margarita Manzke have pulled off at République, a kind of sophisticated elasticity that allows the restaurant to be whatever you need at any given moment. The ambition of the husband-and-wife chef team was to create a modern restaurant that served many functions — a sunny cafe and bakery for breakfast and lunch, a neighborhood spot for a casual dinner and a grand restaurant serving refined French- and Italian-influenced cooking of the highest caliber — and it manages to be all of these things simultaneously. The gorgeous space, carved from the courtyard and façade of the castle-like historic building that housed Campanile for more than 20 years, becomes the staging area for many kinds of meals. On the weekend, stop by for brunch, when the light streams in through the front windows and the bowls of shakshouka and kimchi fried rice are devoured by happy diners at long wooden tables. In the morning, you can grab a fresh juice or a black sesame croissant and make use of the free Wi-Fi. At night, everything from caviar service to chips and dip is available, and you can make a dinner of a $14 rustic Alsatian-style tart or a $125 premium dry-aged côte de bœuf. Accompanying all this is sommelier Taylor Parsons’ incredible wine list, which is a thing of great beauty, and suitable for whichever of République’s many charming personalities you choose to engage. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park. (310) 362-6115. republiquela.com
What is the best ramen in America’s best ramen city? It depends, I suppose, on your mood, on your stylistic preference, on many things. But the consensus among the throngs of diners lining up outside Tsujita is that this is the best ramen in L.A., and we tend to agree. Once inside (the wait is long — it’s worth it), you’ll feast on Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, or perhaps get your dip on with the fantastic tsukemen, its dipping broth thick and silky and rich. With a ramen annex across the street and a new sushi restaurant down the block, the Tokyo-based company is slowly taking over this stretch of Sawtelle, and Tsujita Sushi’s lunchtime offerings are already legendary 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 in line and then slurping on ramen, intensely thankful for our noodle riches. 2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle. 310-231-7373. tsujita-la.com
18. Bäco Mercat
Among the myriad emotional comforts our city has to offer, one of the most crucial to us is the knowledge that you can drop in to Bäco Mercat on any given day (at midday or dinnertime), plonk yourself at the bar and partake in the bright, soulful cooking of Josef Centeno. Centeno has basically laid claim to this couple of historic blocks, with Bar Amá around the corner, Orsa & Winston next door to that, and now Ledlow (né Pete’s) taking up the space beside Bäco. 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 chile spice is tangy, fresh and pert; vegetable dishes such as sugar snap pea and pear salad with grapefruit and burrata remain utterly original in the face of an onslaught of derivative vegetable arrangements elsewhere. Be it a smoky romesco on a veggie-driven flat bread or a whole roasted chicken with saffron honey, something at Bäco Mercat will get you, and get you good. How comforting. 408 S. Main St., downtown. (213) 687-8808; bacomercat.com.
When folks come to town and ask where to eat, the first place we send them is usually Guisados. The little Boyle Heights taco shop that could just never seems to lose steam: After expanding in 2013 to Echo Park, Guisados also has opened a storefront downtown on the Spring Street side of the Spring Arcade Building and on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, serving beautiful tacos on handmade tortillas. It also has added Sunday breakfast to its first three locations, and is perhaps in the process of perfecting a truly L.A.-style breakfast taco. But the star of the show at any time of day remains the guisados, and in particular the sampler plate, on which you get six mini tacos, each with a different meat — tinga de pollo, cochinita pibil, chicharrón and more — and each adorned with the perfect garnish. It is perhaps the world’s cheapest tasting menu, and we’d take it over the soignée kind most days of the week. 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights. (323) 264-7201; guisados.co
16. Rustic Canyon
Jeremy Fox is one of those chefs whom other chefs gush about, and Rustic Canyon is the restaurant you'll find many of those other chefs when there's cause for celebration or need of inspiration. Since Fox teamed with Rustic Canyon's owners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, 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 olive oil–poached sturgeon with bok choy, chickpea panisse and smoked bone broth had us clutching our pearls in delight. If you don't believe us, check out Fox's gorgeous Instagram account for visual proof. 1119 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica. (310) 393-7050. rusticcanyonwinebar.com
Bestia remains one of L.A.’s few true perennial hot spots. Three years in, the restaurant is still thrilling trend seekers and serious food nerds alike. The winning formula, concocted by restaurateur Bill Chait and chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, consists of an industrial-chic space in the bottom of a loft building on the edge of the Arts District, 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 grilled beef tongue with marinated lentils and pickled Jerusalem artichokes, or the perennial favorite of chicken gizzards with roasted beets and Belgian endive. There are big chunks of meat for mains, or whole roasted fish. Or you can come in and get a simple pasta or pizza. 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. 2121 E. Seventh Place, downtown; (213) 514-5724; bestiala.com.
14. Mozza Group
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. Co-owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, Silverton’s Mozza Group includes Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and now Chi Spacca, and there’s so much to love between the three of these spots that it’s hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with the pizza at Pizzeria Mozza, which 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. Next door at Osteria Mozza, the grandest of the bunch, you can dine on cheese from the mozzarella bar (sometimes flown in from Italy that day), sip on amaro from the amaro bar, and indulge in gorgeous pastas and deeply flavored meat dishes. Around the corner at the intimate Chi Spacca, meanwhile, the immensely talented Chad Colby raised L.A.’s meat game one salumi plate and bistecca Fiorentina porterhouse at a time (Zach Allen has since replaced him). Individually, these restaurants are breathtakingly good — as a whole, they’re an achievement worthy of awe. Consider us agape. Osteria: 6602 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 297-0100. Pizzeria: 641 N. Highland Ave., Hancock Park. (323) 297-0101. Chi Spacca: 6610 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park. (323) 297-1133. mozzarestaurantgroup.com.
13. Night + Market
All restaurants reflect to some extent the personality and passions of their owners and chefs, but Night + Market and Night + Market Song are extreme examples, in the best possible way. Chef-owner Kris Yenbamroong has created two spaces that are all him, combining a passion for the food of his Northern Thai heritage, his love of funky wines and his somewhat wonky art-house sensibilities. At the original West Hollywood location, Night + Market still feels a little like a pop-up more than four years after opening, the sparseness of the space allowing you to concentrate fully on the blazingly spicy, gorgeously complex food coming out of the kitchen. At the newer location in Silver Lake, the room is anything but sparse — orange walls compete with garish flowered tabletops, beads hang from the doorways, Cindy Crawford stares alluringly over her shoulder from the large poster that overlooks the dining room. Here, Yenbamroong gets even bolder with his food (we didn’t know it was possible), serving fried chicken with mashed water bugs as relish. Don’t be fooled by the bluster of these choices — what makes the food here so exceptional is the extreme care taken, the roasting of chilies, the layering of flavors. Behind the bravado is a thoughtful, delicate touch with even the spiciest, stinkiest dish. 9041 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 275-9724; and 3322 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 665-5899. nightmarketsong.com.
If Jessica Koslow’s East Hollywood cafe were just a little less inventive, just a smidge less delicious, perhaps it would have gone unnoticed by everyone except the coffee- and toast-hungry surrounding neighborhood. But despite Sqirl’s guise as an unremarkable hipster coffee shop, Koslow’s cooking tells a different story. It tells of her experience in stellar restaurants and bakeries all over the world, from Atlanta to Melbourne. It tells of someone deeply invested in her city and her region, and the ingredients native to both. Mostly, it tells of a chef who combines an urge to cook for her neighborhood with a keen sense of creativity and flavor — where else in L.A. (or America) could you get a smoked whitefish and cured salmon salad, alongside seared turnips and shishito peppers with mojo picón and garlic greens, or a Beecher’s cheddar sandwich with kale and house-made tomato/coriander jam? (Koslow’s line of Sqirl jams is perhaps our favorite gift for out-of-towners when we want to show off our local bounty.) 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. Sqirl proves, again and again, just how far a little inventiveness, deliciousness and skill can go. 720 N. Virgil Ave., East Hollywood; (323) 284-8147. squirlla.com
The Beverly Hills restaurant that launched Wolfgang Puck’s empire is still among L.A.’s most iconic dining experiences, despite (and perhaps because of) a revamp that modernized its look and feel a couple of years back. With its sleek white-and-black dining room and glassed-in patio, Spago remains one of the best spots in town not only for celebrity sightings and spying on Hollywood dealmaking but also for luxury dining. Chef Lee Hefter and chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi are presenting a menu that straddles the line between tradition and invention, fulfilling the wishes of a diner wanting a prime côte de boeuf for two with Armagnac peppercorn sauce, or the type who might wish for a bincho-grilled black cod with hijiki rice salad, avocado, kimchi endive and gochujyang aioli. Take advantage of one of the country’s greatest wine cellars, with 30,000-plus bottles including an astonishing selection of Austrian wines. This is a place for Champagne, for celebrations, for remembering the excesses of the city we live in and how exhilarating those excesses can be. 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 385-0880. wolfgangpuck.com
If you were to trace our city’s current boom of exciting, highly regarded restaurants garnering national attention, almost all roads would lead back to Animal, the O.G. of cheffy, meaty, creative New American cooking in L.A. In fact, it’s hard to believe the restaurant is 8 years old, as it seems completely of-the-moment in 2015, despite barely having changed since opening. Other things that haven’t changed: There’s still no sign, it’s still hard to get a reservation, and it still has the best playlist in town, especially if you’re looking for karaoke inspiration. The menu takes its cues from all over the map yet somehow seems utterly cohesive: Spicy larb is made with jackrabbit and Thai chilies; a tostada comes showered with herbs and peanuts and hides silky slices of hamachi under its leafy topping; a smoked turkey leg with “white barbeque” shows off the subtle Southern roots of the whole endeavor. The menu is full of combinations that sound discordant (veal tongue with salmon roe and black mustard?) but you basically can’t go wrong ordering, which is astounding given the range and breadth of the thing. There are only a handful of restaurants that consistently carry the mantle of our dining reputation, and Animal is still near the top of that list. 435 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District (323) 782-9225. animalrestaurant.com
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 Japanese scallop with bell pepper gelee, golden kiwi and dill, 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. 3455 S. Overland Ave., Palms. (310) 836-6252. n-naka.com
It’s easy in this brave new world of eating 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 from your memory, it really is worth a trip to Mélisse, Josiah Citrin’s modern French restaurant in Santa Monica, to refresh your memory. Here, you can revel in extravagances such as caviar service, or a table-side filleting of Dover sole or carving of truffle-stuffed chicken, or Citrin’s “carte blanche” menu, which spans 15 courses and will cost you a cool $275 per person. But even if you don’t have quite that much cash to throw around, it’s worth coming here for one of the less extravagant tasting menus on a special occasion, to see what Citrin can do — his soups so much silkier than anyone else’s, his sauces so much more refined. For being one of the most expensive restaurants in, well, the country, 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 more trendy 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. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 395-0881. melisse.com.
See also: BEST WINE LIST: Mélisse
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 steps away 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 omelette 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) 521 W. Seventh St., downtown. (213) 225-6285. qsushila.com.
After picking up visitors coming into LAX on midday flights, my plan of attack of late on introducing them to the pleasures of L.A. has been to plonk them down for lunch on the patio of Lukshon in Culver City’s Helms Bakery complex. There I treat them to Sang Yoon’s 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, his intense dan dan noodles with Sichuan peppercorns and peanuts. If we’re in celebration mode, we’ll order from the stellar wine list, or perhaps try an exotic tea from the best-sourced tea list in town. No restaurant is a better ambassador for the kind of exciting, bright, modern Asian cooking at which L.A. excels these days, and the downright sexy dining room lets visitors know they’re not in Kansas anymore. Then I sit back and beam with pride at all Lukshon — and Los Angeles — has to offer. 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 202-6808. lukshon.com.
5. Petit Trois
Yes, there's the omelette: 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 mash-up 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. The croque-monsieur, like everything here, better than the actual Parisian food it aims to parrot. In this tiny slot of a space, Lefebvre has created a slice of his home in a former Thai restaurant in a strip mall in L.A. It is simultaneously one of the most modest and most ambitious restaurants L.A. can claim. It's a love letter to another city, written in food, by one of our greatest culinary poets. 718 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; (323) 468-8916. petittrois.com
See also: BEST BURGER: Petit Trois
Since moving up the street to a larger, more festive location, Suzanne Goin and Carolyn Styne’s A.O.C. has become a kind of archetype for the modern Californian restaurant. What does that mean, exactly? It means big, flavorful seasonal salads; crispy focaccia topped with goodies such as chevre and house-made lamb bacon; beautifully balanced and inventive vegetable sides; and big, generous platters of Euro-Cali cuisine to share with the table. It means one of the best wine lists on the coast, inclusive of our state’s viniferous bounty but with a focus on France and fun asides, like selections from Slovenia and Hungary. It means a gorgeous indoor-outdoor dining room that positively thrums with good energy, and plenty of bar seating for the casual diners and serious drinkers among us. Oh, and behind that bar is Christiaan Rollich, one of the country’s most promising up-and-coming crafters of cocktails. It means an utterly homegrown restaurant we can be immensely proud to call our own. 8700 W. Third St., Beverly Grove. (310) 859-9859. aocwinebar.com.
See also: BEST BRUNCH: A.O.C.
Chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti will challenge anyone who trots out the tired “fine dining is dead” trope with the fact that Providence, perhaps the finest of fine-dining restaurants in Los Angeles, had its best year on record last year. That could have to do with a spring freshening, which gave not only the dining room but also the menu a subtle rejiggering, but probably not. The things that were always great about Providence remain great: the dedication to sustainable seafood; Cimarusti’s ability to coax the purest pleasure from each piece of fish and shellfish that goes through his kitchen; the outstanding formal but personable service; the showers of truffle over your soft-cooked eggs; the utter beauty of a dish ironically named “the Ugly Bunch” (there’s gold leaf and geoduck involved, and it’s astounding). Hooray for luxury. May it never, ever die. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hlywd. (323) 460-4170. providencela.com.
See also: BEST SERVICE: Providence
2. Trois Mec
The little strip mall at the corner of Melrose and Highland is perhaps one of the least likely locations for a serious hub of modernist French-influenced gastronomy, yet Trois Mec, the restaurant from Ludo Lefebvre (along with investors/co-masterminds Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo), is more charming partially because of its behind-a-gas-station disguise. Two and a half years in, Trois Mec remains a thrilling place to dine, the tiny room — in what looks like a Raffalo’s Pizza — the staging area for tasting menus as inventive and umami-focused as food can be. Over your five courses you’re likely to find delicious oddities such as roasted eel atop a white chocolate mousseline and Granny Smith apples, or Carolina Gold rice pudding topped with a shower of matcha green tea powder with a cured golden egg yolk nestled at its center. It will cost you around $100 per person including tax and tip (bought ahead of time as a nonrefundable ticket), the music will be loud, there are no menu choices. It’s a total blast. 716 N. Highland Ave., Hancock Park; troismec.com.
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See also: BEST CHEF: Ludovic Lefebvre
It seems almost sacrilegious to name such a newcomer as Best Restaurant in Los Angeles when there are so many long-standing amazing eateries to choose from. And yet, over the last year, no place has walked the line between thrilling creativity and technical brilliance as well as Curtis Stone's Maude. It seems the chef, who has spent much of the last 20 years dabbling more in reality television and lucrative spokesman deals than in the actual kitchen, was just saving up all his energy and talent to funnel into this tiny labor of love. The menu, built monthly around a seasonal ingredient, exudes playfulness and is perfectly executed. Meals turn into symphonic musings on a season and an ingredient, and it's pure joy to watch Stone's train of thought meander through the courses. Impeccable service and a wonderful wine list only add to the charm, as does the set price (around $100 per person, more for months when luxury ingredients such as truffles take center stage), which would be three times as much in New York or London. 212 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 859-3418; mauderestaurant.com.