Most years are pretty chaotic for a city's restaurant scene, even more so since 2008, but this past year proved to be a particularly excellent one for restaurant openings here in Los Angeles. Among the very best? A few fantastic mezcal- and beer-fueled taco joints, a glorious seafood emporium, a pasta palace and a much-loved location reincarnated as maybe our version of Les Halles. This year also marked a new wave of something beyond fine dining, with a few notable chefs ditching (again) the white tablecloths for loud playlists, yet returning an elevated cuisine to their plates. In short, it's been kind of an awesome year.10. République
Despite having been open for only a few weeks, République already is proving itself to be worthy of the insane amount of anticipation it garnered. The former Campanile space is resplendent in its new incarnation. For folks who adored chef Walter Manzke's work at Church & State, there's a lot at République to be happy about. Many of the same bistro classics that made Manzke's time at that downtown restaurant so successful show up on the large menu here. There are escargots en croute, three wee porcelain cups bearing garlicky, buttery escargot and topped with puff pastry. You can get steak or moules frites, bouillabaisse, or a pig's-head fritter served with lentils and topped with a fried egg. Already, the charcuterie at République is up there with some of the best in the city, particularly the more rustic pâtés. It seems as though Walter and Margarita Manzke and company are looking to create a restaurant with multiple uses, appropriate for almost any dining need beyond fast food. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; 310-361-6115.9. Petty Cash Taqueria
Helmed by chef Walter Manzke and restaurateur Bill Chait, Petty Cash takes the city's most iconic food and turns it relentlessly trendy. If you worship at the church of street food, you ought to hate this place. Yet it's hard to argue with this colorful, boisterous room, and damn hard to argue with Petty Cash's mezcal old-fashioned, a cocktail that pairs uncommonly well with tacos, and which you certainly won't find on any street corner anytime soon. The truth is that Petty Cash works. It works partly because of its components, and partly in spite of them. For all its trendiness, the restaurant has a lot of thoughtful underpinnings, and that thoughtfulness raises it above any other fancy taco joint I can think of. Each taco filling has its own, thoughtfully calibrated accompaniments; tacos arrive at the table like diminutive sculptures wrought from pig (or cow, or sea creature), masa and bright toppings. The charcoal-grilled octopus, for example, comes bathed in chile de arbol and topped with peanuts, jack cheese and avocado. Petty Cash is aiming for a middle ground, somewhere between tradition and creativity, with all the trappings and fun of an of-the-moment Hollywood restaurant. In that regard, the place has succeeded mightily. 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-933-5300.8. Colonia Taco Lounge
At Colonia Taco Lounge, Ricardo Diaz (of Guisados fame) is bringing together two factions that have long been destined to share an intimate relationship: very good tacos and very good beer. Colonia might teach you a lot of things: the possibilities of cauliflower, how to fall head over heels in love with a flour tortilla, how to eat far too much and somehow still want more. Would it be blasphemy to say that the corn tortillas here may be better than at Guisados? Slightly more delicate, slightly more musky with corn? And the flour tortillas, imported from Mexicali, taste comfortingly familiar but so much softer and more soulful than any cardboardlike disk you may have discovered alongside your platter of sizzling fajitas over the years. The taco estofado -- Oaxacan beef stew -- was so rife with fragrant spices as to taste like fall itself. The barbacoa offers hunks of soft lamb, and comes with a small ramekin of chipotle-rich braising liquid for dipping (although unfortunately this dish tends to sell out pretty often). On top of all this bounty is the immeasurable fun of pairing these tacos with some seriously stellar beer. La Puente is a trek for most Angelenos, but I'd remind you that Colonia is right off the freeway, that the food is delicious and quick, and that you'd be hard-pressed to find beer and booze this good anywhere nearby. 13030 Valley Blvd., La Puente; 626-363-4691.