The 20 Essential New American Restaurants in Los Angeles

Vegetable crudo at Redbird
Vegetable crudo at Redbird
Anne Fishbein

The term "New American," while widely used, is a little hard to define, and it covers a whole lot of ground. Generally, I take it to mean serious, at least slightly upscale cooking with an American point of view. There's an argument to be made that Italian and Mexican and Asian-influenced restaurants from American-trained chefs (such as Alimento or Broken Spanish or Cassia, for instance) might fall under the New American umbrella as well — America is, after all, a melting pot above all else. But at that point the category becomes too broad, and ceases to mean much beyond "a place with fancy cocktails." (I know, Alimento doesn't have cocktails, but you get what I'm saying.)

Recently, we published our annual 99 Essential Restaurants in Los Angeles issue, along with its new sister list, the Freshmen 15 (for the newbie restaurants too young to be "essential" but that we love nonetheless). Because Los Angeles excels at New American cooking, a lot of those two lists are made up of establishments that fall into the broad category. I thought it would be useful to highlight them.

Here (arranged in alphabetical order) are the essential New American restaurants of 2017, with a couple of newbies from the Freshmen 15 thrown in for good measure.

Animal
Animal
Anne Fishbein

Animal

Now that its owners, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, are bona fide restaurant czars, Animal can be examined from a sociological viewpoint. It is the organism that spawned an empire but also a way of thinking and cooking and serving and being that barely existed in the restaurant world before its arrival. Pull-no-punches, meat-driven, casual and fun restaurants — which are nonetheless quality-focused above all else — are ubiquitous now, and you can thank Animal in large part for that fact. —Besha Rodell

Read Animal's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Arroz negro, squid & saffron aioli at A.O.C.
Arroz negro, squid & saffron aioli at A.O.C.
Anne Fishbein

A.O.C.

Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s A.O.C. has always been representative of everything great about the mashup of local cuisine and European influence. This was apparent in its original location, which opened in 2002, and it’s even more apparent in the spot it moved to in 2012, which is an utter dream of a restaurant: a cozy dining room with circular corner booths; the leafy, bricked-in magic of the patio, anchored by a candle-festooned fireplace. The feeling is of stepping into an enchanted space where everything might be taken care of. What should you eat? You can barely go wrong. —B.R.

Read A.O.C.'s full 99 Essentials listing here.

Baran's 2239's cheeky take on a Scotch egg is made with peppery lamb sausage, drizzled with an aromatic curry jus and served with a yogurt and cucumber salad.
Baran's 2239's cheeky take on a Scotch egg is made with peppery lamb sausage, drizzled with an aromatic curry jus and served with a yogurt and cucumber salad.
Anne Fishbein

Baran's 2239

On most nights at Baran's 2239 in Hermosa Beach, you'll find first-time restaurateurs and brothers Jonathan and Jason Baran pouring drinks or greeting diners while their collaborator, chef Tyler Gugliotta, runs the kitchen. Though the waitstaff at Baran's 2239 is quick to point out that much of the menu's produce hails from the chef's family farm, it soon becomes apparent that Gugliotta's inventive global cooking doesn't need to hang its hat on the farm-to-fork ethos alone. —Garrett Snyder

Read the full Baran's 2239 listing on the Freshmen 15 list.

Okra at Bäco MercatEXPAND
Okra at Bäco Mercat
Anne Fishbein

Bäco Mercat

One day the city of Los Angeles may well rename this part of downtown “Centenoville” for the delicious influence chef Josef Centeno has brought to the couple of blocks where his five restaurants reside. 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. —B.R.

Read Baco Mercat's full 99 Essentials blurb here.

Beef tartare with house-made ssamjang and crudité at the Bellwether
Beef tartare with house-made ssamjang and crudité at the Bellwether
Anne Fishbein

The Bellwether

The Bellwether is the brainchild of Ted Hopson, a journeyman L.A. chef who most recently worked under Sang Yoon at Father’s Office and Lukshon. The Studio City restaurant might seem to have the DNA of half the gastropubs in town, but it nails the small details most places overlook. The french fries here are brined, steamed, frozen and fried, part of a three-day process that yields long, crispy batons as fluffy as a baked potato inside yet shatteringly crunchy outside. Ruby-red squares of bigeye tuna sashimi arrive crowned with a raw caper-and-olive relish and confit fennel with Calabrian chilies, a small meditation on puttanesca. —G.S.

Read the Bellwether's full 99 Essentials blurb here.

Fresh peas, Job’s tears, gooseberries, frozen cream at Destroyer
Fresh peas, Job’s tears, gooseberries, frozen cream at Destroyer
Anne Fishbein

Destroyer

Jordan Kahn's new restaurant is a far cry from his most recent project — the much-missed Red Medicine — in almost every way. Where that was a big, flashy, trendy restaurant, this is a sparse place with most of its seating outdoors, where you order from a counter and take a number to your table. What hasn't changed is Kahn's modern-artist's eye for presentation, his sense of drama on the plate and on the tongue, and his penchant for making incredibly delicious food. —B.R.

Read the full Destroyer listing on the Freshmen 15 list.

Father's Office burger
Father's Office burger
Anne Fishbein

Father's Office

Despite how much we here in L.A. covet the Father’s Office burger, chef Sang Yoon’s pair of gastropubs probably don’t get the props they deserve. Did you know, for instance, that the FO burger was the first truly chef-driven, gourmet burger in the country? (Yes, it came before Daniel Boulud’s DB Burger in New York.) Did you know that before Yoon took over the original Father’s Office in 2000, the word “gastropub” wasn’t really a part of the American vernacular? —B.R.

Read the full Father's Office 99 Essentials blurb here.

Squash blossom pizza at Gjelina
Squash blossom pizza at Gjelina
Anne Fishbein

Gjelina

There may be no restaurant as emblematic of the breezy, stylish Venice lifestyle as Travis Lett’s Gjelina, no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations. The pizzas have crispy edges and are topped with ingredients such as burrata and wild nettles; the vegetable dishes might include roasted fennel with white wine, blood orange and fennel pollen; the rib-eye is from Niman Ranch; the wine list is long and engrossing. The magic trick of Gjelina is that food this serious (and it is, seriously good) can be served in a room so effortlessly casual, the brick back patio all leafy and twinkly, the crowded dining room looking like a wood cabin met the beach and they fell in love. —B.R.

Read Gjelina's full 99 Essentials blurb here.

Wood-grilled octopus with corona bean, treviso, lemon aioli and salsa verde at Hatchet Hall
Wood-grilled octopus with corona bean, treviso, lemon aioli and salsa verde at Hatchet Hall
Anne Fishbein

Hatchet Hall

What people outside of the South rarely understand is that the best Southern cooking these days is thoroughly modern and ingredient-driven. If there’s any chef in L.A. who knows how to translate that aesthetic outside of its home region, it’s Hatchet Hall’s Brian Dunsmoor. Hatchet Hall’s menu is long and wide-ranging, and sometimes its Southern-ness is unmistakable: Dunsmoor’s collard greens are funky, his grits creamy. Other dishes are slightly more subtle in their Southern-ness: Spoonbread comes heaped with a cornucopia of mushrooms; hunks of yellowtail are sandwiched with thin-sliced habanero and juicy peach, all wrapped up in a sliver of translucent fat shaved from a Johnston Mangalitsa country ham. —B.R.

Read Hatchet Hall's full 99 Essentials listing here.

Nectarine at Here's Looking at YouEXPAND
Nectarine at Here's Looking at You
Anne Fishbein

Here's Looking at You

Here's Looking at You, like an increasing number of compelling places to eat in Koreatown, is not a Korean restaurant. It's the brainchild of two Animal veterans: Jonathan Whitener, the former chef de cuisine, and Lien Ta, a former manager. If you're familiar with the food served at Animal, it's easy to see the Dotolo-Shook fingerprints on Whitener's cerebral, postcultural cooking: an easy fluency in mashing together international flavors, a flair for turning lowbrow into highbrow, a penchant for balancing richness with judicious splashes of acid. But Whitener's style is distinct, too. —B.R.

Read the full Here's Looking at You listing on the Freshmen 15 list.



Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >