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LudoBites: 99 Essential Restaurants 2011

A pop-up, you think. How ... 2008. Because here we are again, walking through an industrial district with a bottle of Arbois in each hand, a reservation that was harder to get than a spot in the freshman class at Brown, and no actual idea of what you are about to eat — the chef is a guy who distilled his Christmas tree into vivid oil and used it to flavor poached eggs. There is a vague sense that the center of the food world is somewhere else at the moment, maybe at that place in northern Sweden, where the chef refuses to serve anything he didn't kill or grow himself, but it is Ludovic Lefebvre who established the pop-up as an economic model, scuttling like a hermit crab between lunch counters and art spaces, and you know that you will taste things you have not tasted before — that you have not imagined — and you spend the next few months telling anybody who will listen about this crazy Frenchman.

LudoBites will be on version 8.0 when its next run begins. There has been an extended national swing and a reality series, and Lefebvre's glowering good looks and Ricky-and-Lucy banter with wife Krissy are known by hundreds of thousands of people who have never tasted his food. The last version of the pop-up felt a little like a band's fourth world tour in support of a mega-platinum record — great, yes, but maybe time to go back into the studio.

But it's easy to become too meta about this, because there is always that moment in the evening when you realize: Damn, this guy can cook. Because Lefebvre, who would probably be running a two- or three-star restaurant in Burgundy if the dice had bounced a little differently, can channel his mentors Pierre Gagnaire or Marc Meneau as effortlessly as Emeril says "Bam!'' No address or phone. Follow Krissy Lefebvre on Twitter at @French ChefWife for details of the next run.

99 Essential L.A. Restaurants 2011:

Jonathan Gold's Introduction
Anne Fishbein's Photos
The Google Map

The List:

A-Frame
Akasha
Alcazar
Angeli Caffe
Angelini Osteria
Animal
Antojitos Carmen
Attari
Babita
Bludso's
Border Grill
Bottega Louie
Bulgarini Gelato
Cacao
Campanile
Casa Bianca
Chang's Garden
Chego
Chichén Itzá
Chung King
Church & State
Ciro's
Comme Ça
Cut
Dae Bok
Din Tai Fung
Drago Centro
El Huarache Azteca
El Parian
Elvirita's
Euro Pane Bakery
Eva
Fab Hot Dogs
Father's Office
Fig
Gjelina
Golden Deli
Golden State
Good Girl Dinette
The Gorbals
Guelaguetza
Guisados
Huckleberry
Hungry Cat
Ink.
Jar
Jitlada
Kiriko
Kobawoo
La Casita Mexicana
Langer's
Larkin's
Lazy Ox Canteen
Le Comptoir
Little Dom's
Lou
Lucques
LudoBites
Lukshon
Mantee
Marouch
Mayura
Meals by Genet
Mélisse
Mezze
Mo-Chica
Mother Dough
Mozza
Musso & Frank Grill
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant
The Nickel
Night + Market
Oinkster
101 Noodle Express
Palate Food + Wine
Park's Barbecue
Picca
Playa
Pollos a la Brasa
Providence
Ray's
Red Medicine
Rivera
Rustic Canyon
Salt's Cure
Sapp Coffee Shop
Sea Harbour
Son of a Gun
Sotto
Spago
Spice Table
Street
Tacos Baja Ensenada
Tasting Kitchen
Terroni
Tsujita L.A.
Vincenti
Waterloo & City