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L.A. Weekly's 99 Essential Restaurants 2013

Indispensable. Necessary. Essential. What makes a restaurant any one of these things?

The L.A. Weekly has been pondering that question for years now — and compiling lists of the city's 99 Essential Restaurants in an attempt to answer it. But this is my first year thinking about it — at least in such a formal way, at least as it pertains to Los Angeles.

What I realized in my months of rumination and exploration is that there's no one path to the title. Does a restaurant anchor its neighborhood? Does it push our boundaries? Does it feel integral to the life of our city?

Most of all: Is it the kind of place you tell newcomers about when trying to help them understand the essence of L.A.? Do you find yourself saying, "You have to go here"?

Since I moved to Los Angeles last year to become the Weekly's food critic, certain places have stood out not as the best places I've eaten — although some certainly were — but as the places that make this city what it is, places that made me deeply aware and grateful that I was eating and living in Los Angeles. They felt, yes, essential.

Up until now, the 99 has been entirely chosen and written by former L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold. It was his list.

This year, it's become a much more collaborative effort, reflecting many voices from our food section. The Weekly's food editor, Amy Scattergood, and I did much of the selecting and writing, but we also solicited contributions from writers Tien Nguyen and Garrett Snyder as well as our new food blogger, Christine Chiao.

And so, over cocktails and macchiatos, over lobster thermidor and wood-grilled eggs, we argued the merits of this taco stand and that ramen joint; we philosophized about usefulness and idiosyncrasy; and we discussed the differences between "best" and "favorite" and "essential."

It's possible that in years to come, this will become more of a one-woman project, a critic's list. But I doubt it. The collaboration has been a gratifying process, and I believe it has resulted in an authoritative list with far more range than any one of us could have come up with alone.

Even as we worked to reinvent this list, some of L.A.'s top restaurants were themselves in a state of reinvention. Some of the most exciting new restaurants on the list this year pioneered new territory. Alma, Bestia, Bäco Mercat and Bar Ama are cementing downtown's status as a major dining destination, even as Superba Snack Bar is helping to redefine Rose Avenue in Venice. Meanwhile, restaurants in more established neighborhoods continued to innovate. John Sedlar's changing passions (a vertical rooftop garden? A Mexican-Chinese menu?) inform his constantly evolving restaurants, Playa and Rivera. Spago has redefined itself completely — and it has never felt more relevant.

Yet there are restaurants that proved themselves essential specifically because they refuse to change. Have a martini at Musso & Frank's, and I think you'll see what I mean. It's frozen in time, and that makes it irreplaceable.

Some things need to change; some things never should. This list is an example of both, a living, breathing, changing testament to everything — new, old and reinvented — that makes L.A. an essential place to eat.

 

Anne Fishbein's Photography

The Google Map

 

The 99 Essential Restaurants List:

A-Frame
Alma
Angelini Osteria
Animal
Attari Sandwich Shop
Bäco Mercat
Bar Amá
The Bazaar
Bestia
BierBeisl
Bludso's
Cacao Mexicatessen
Canelé
La Casita Mexicana
Cemitas Poblanas Elviritas
Chichen Itza
Chung King
Cole's
Coni'Seafood
Cube Cafe & Marketplace
Din Tai Fung
Eva
Father's Office
Fred 62
Gjelina
Golden Deli
Go's Mart
Il Grano
Guelaguetza
Guisados
Hatfield's
Ha Tien Quan
Hawkins House of Burgers
Hayat's Kitchen
El Huarache Azteca
Huckleberry
The Hungry Cat
ink.
Jar
Jitlada
JTYH Heavy Noodle II
Kang Ho Dong Baekjong
Kiriko
Kiyokawa
Kogi Truck
Krua Siri
L&E Oyster Bar
Langer's
Little Dom's
Lucques
Ludo Truck
Lukshon
Mariscos Jalisco
Matsuhisa
Meals by Genet
Mélisse
Milo and Olive
Mo-Chica
Musso & Frank
Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa
Nickel Diner
Night + Market
Oinkster
Osteria Mozza
Pann's
Pa-Ord Noodle
El Parian
Park's BBQ
Philippe the Original
Picca
Pink's
Pizzeria Mozza
Playa
Pollo a la Brasa
Providence
R&R Soul Food
Ración
Red Medicine
Ricky's Fish Tacos
Rivera
Rocio's Moles de los Dioses
Salt's Cure
Sapp Coffee Shop
Savoy Kitchen
Sea Harbour
Shanghai No. 1 Village Seafood
Soban
Son of a Gun
Sotto
Spago
The Spice Table
Superba Snack Bar
Tacos Leo
The Tasting Kitchen
Tavern
Tsujita LA
Vincenti Ristorante
Wurstküche
Zam Zam Market