Since L.A. is the best restaurant city in the United States, we are spoiled for choice — but the L.A. Weekly food writers still have their favorites. Here is our list of the best dishes L.A. restaurants had to offer in 2016. These aren't ranked, but it is worth noting that many of our writers wanted to claim the pastrami sandwich at Ugly Drum as one of their most beloved. Read on to see who snagged it and what else made the cut.
Lobster ramen at Jinya
In L.A., making ramen is a competitive sport, and Jinya Ramen Bar is among the heavyweight noodlers in town. Bringing intensely flavorful styles such as Tonkotsu Black and Cha Cha Cha (both heavy on the garlic love), Jinya is famous for bold bowls and a colorful culinary personality. Lobster Me Happy is the name of Jinya’s most recent ramen thrill ride; it's available only at the Studio City location. A stock simmered from Maine lobster meat and heads is reduced down to a concentrated sauce and blended with a 10-hour tonkotsu. Plus-size wontons, bundling meaty chunks of lobster and shrimp, along with crispy Brussels sprouts, seasoned egg, thick curly noodles and a lobster head playing peek-a-boo in the soup, make up this ridiculously rich ramen eating experience. Each slurp and bite of Lobster Me Happy lights up all corners of your taste buds, whether it's from the fragrantly fried, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts or the deep brininess and lobster bisque–ness of the lobster and pork broth. Why a lobster ramen? Jinya founder Tomonori Takahashi was inspired by the lobster roll trend and wanted to work the shellfish into his ramen repertoire. Ramen purists may scoff, but that only leaves more of this epic lobster ramen for the rest of us. And with Lobster Me Happy limited to just 10 bowls per day, that’s saying something. —Eddie Lin
11239 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-3977, jinya-ramenbar.com. Rib-eye at Gwen
In my review of Gwen, I gave the proprietors a little bit of a hard time about the tasting-menu format and the lack of beef on the regular prix fixe menu. But one of the most memorable meals of my year was a Wagyu rib-eye that I ate sitting at Gwen’s bar with a friend. We split an appetizer, this beautiful steak from Australia’s Blackmore Farms and a couple of vegetable sides. The steak was $185, and the meal cost just about as much as it would have if we’d done the prix fixe and had the insane amount of food that entails. But it was in some ways a far more gratifying a meal, one that I haven’t stopped thinking about since. —Besha Rodell
6600 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 946-7513, gwenla.com.Pastrami sandwich at Ugly Drum
It's easy to get distracted by the dozens of stellar dishes available at Smorgasburg. The Brooklyn-born food market pops up Sundays at ROW DTLA in the Arts District, offering stall after stall of delights, including that Instagrammable Raindrop Cake. But if you have to pick one dish to rule them all, it's Ugly Drum's deceptively simple, pit-smoked pastrami sandwich: thick slabs of hand-cut, juicy pastrami piled on seeded rye bread with a smear of spicy mustard. The pastrami is just the right mix of salty, sweet and savory. It's so tender and fatty, with a smoked, peppery flavor and a texture that just melts. To make this glorious meat, Ugly Drum's Erik Black and Joseph Marcos use prime beef brisket, which is brined for two weeks in a mix of spices, then rubbed and wood-smoked for 12-plus hours. They say it draws from Texas, New York and Montreal flavors, but the end result is simply a carnivore's bliss. It's the only thing the Ugly Drum stall consistently serves (sometimes the papaya slushie machine is fired up) and some diners make the bold assertion that it's a better sandwich than even Langer's. —Juliet Bennett Rylah
746 Market Court, downtown. No phone, uglydrum.com.
Cheeseburger at E.R.B.
If you’re looking for a place to sit down with a cocktail and have yourself a burger, there’s no better place you can go than Matt Molina’s at E.R.B. The no-frills burger is simple, just a four-ounce patty, a combination of 80 percent prime chuck and 20 percent fat from Huntington Meats, which was originally devised by Molina’s mentor, Nancy Silverton. The patty gets a quick flash on the griddle and is then finished with a fluffy, buttered egg bun and little more than an eggshell layer of mild Tillamook cheese and tangy Dijonnaise. It’s ridiculously good in its simplicity — the straightforward kind of burger you catch yourself craving in the middle of the day. —Hillary Eaton
1936 E. Seventh St., downtown. (213) 335-6166, erbla.com.
Mok pa at AJ Asian Kitchen
Seasoned with coconut milk and rubbed with fennel, lemongrass and other herbs and spices, the mok pa at AJ Asian Kitchen takes a simple fish and turns it into something unique. A Lao dish (rare around these parts), the fish filet is steamed in a banana leaf and held together by a light coating of rice flour. A soft texture reveals a flavor where the coconut milk, lemongrass and spices meld into a perfect blending of sweet and savory, with none of the notes overwhelming the other. Lao cuisine bears similarities to that of its neighbor, Thailand, yet there are distinctive differences. A national dish of Laos, mok pa represents those distinctions and is wholly and uniquely Lao. —Jim Thurman
9805 Garvey Ave., El Monte. (626) 328-8907, ajasiankitchenthailaofood.com.
Grilled chicken at Isaan Station
It sounds so boring on a menu full of larb and spicy vegetable-and-seafood salads, but Isaan Station's rendition of grilled chicken is pretty perfect. Marinated in a turmeric-based sauce, then grilled over charcoal, the birds are chopped up and served with two sauces, for your dippin' pleasure. The skin is flavorful and crispy in a way that beats even the best fried chicken (take that, trendier poultry), and the meat is full of fat, smoky and a little sweet. —Katherine Spiers
125 Western Ave., Koreatown. (323) 380-5126, isaanstationthaila.com.
Mohinga at Daw Yee Myanmar Corner
Dinner at Daw Yee Myanmar Corner in Silver Lake (or the original location in Monterey Park) can be an exercise in humility. You think you know your stuff, but then your eyes scan the menu and find numerous Burmese dishes you’ve never heard of: kima platha, khao swe thoke, mohinga. The latter, a catfish chowder, is a must, not only for its subtle broth but for the experience of shattering the accompanying lentil cracker into shards, swirling them into the bowl of rice noodles, and then slurping away. —Chelsee Lowe
2837 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (213) 413-0568, dawyeesilverlake.com.
Century-egg tofu salad at Lao Tao Street Food
If you haven’t been initiated into the world of the century egg (aka pidan), trying the century-egg tofu salad at Lao Tao Street Food is a good place to start. For being such a simple appetizer, this Taiwanese staple is a perfect amalgamation of textures and flavors. Don’t let the black-gray colors of the preserved duck egg throw you off; the jellylike exterior and ridiculously creamy yolk work well with pungent and complex flavors. The main attraction is balanced by chilled silken tofu, fluffy rousong (a sweet and savory dried pork floss), house-made hong you (spicy Sichuan red chili oil) and sliced green onions. If you can manage to get all these ingredients into one bite, then you're doing it right. —Jean Trinh
727 N. Broadway, Unit 207, Chinatown; (213) 372-5318, laotaostreetfood.com.
Charcuterie at Cassia
Cassia became an official Big Deal this year when The New York Times made it the subject of its first non–New York restaurant review, so I am not alone in extolling Cassia's virtues. The restaurant's charcuterie is all made in-house and is, in keeping with Cassia's entire menu, at its core French-Vietnamese. If you've become immune to the charms of the standard charcuterie plate, try this one. It includes salted pork, served with grilled bread; smoked red sausage; Yunnan pork; Singaporean candied pork (it's like bacon, but more); lamb ham (that's lamb done in the style of ham); and “Vietnamese meatloaf,” with a cabbage relish. It will throw everything you know about meat plates out of whack, and you'll be better for it. —Katherine Spiers
1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.
Boiled fish with rattan pepper at Szechuan Impression
The Sichuan peppercorns in this soup create a numbing, vibrating sensation in your mouth, while the chili peppers create heat. Tender hunks of white fish in a gently spicy broth are enhanced by the lemony, electric charge of the Sichuan peppercorns so that the soup practically hums. The flavors are exciting but don't overwhelm; the result is delicate and balanced. Part of the fun at Szechuan Impression is ordering a spread of decadent dishes such as spicy bean jelly and tea-smoked ribs, but even among such riches this simple soup is a standout. —Sara Rashkin
1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 283-4622, szechuanimpressioninc.com.
Chicken confit at Destroyer
Almost everything at Destroyer, Jordan Khan’s new breakfast and lunch restaurant in Culver City, is built on the premise of layers of flavors, and oftentimes those layers are literal. In the case of his chicken confit, everything comes in a wide bowl under a blanket of cabbage leaves and a flurry of cheese. The bottom layer is a mix of yogurt and hazelnuts, and the meaty, oily chicken (oily in the best way possible) combines with the cabbage funk and the luxury of dairy and the nuttiness of the hazelnuts for a dish that’s just straight up delicious, as well as being thrilling on a creative level. —Besha Rodell
3578 Hayden Ave., Culver City. No phone, destroyer.la.
Grilled pork at Shibumi
How is it that a small, misshapen plate of grilled pork chunks is the most memorable dish of 2016? If we have learned anything from Shibumi chef David Schlosser this year, it is that there is power in simplicity. And nowhere is his less-is-more message stronger than in the case of his koji-marinated pork. Schlosser grills heritage pork in a way that exhibits just the right amount of char that frames a tender juicy interior. He then garnishes it with delicate pickled daikon and leeks, whose acid cuts through the slightly sweet, umami-laden pork. It is a revelation in texture, clarity and subtlety of flavor. —Heather Platt
815 S. Hill St., downtown. (213) 265-7923, shibumidtla.com.
Biang biang noodles at Xi An Tasty
If you were to describe your ideal noodle, “wide” probably isn’t on the short list of adjectives. And unless you are a pretty serious lasagna fan, it probably isn’t on the long list, either. But a visit to Xi An Tasty, a Shaanxi-style Chinese restaurant in Monterey Park, will put noodle width at the front of your mind. Its biang biang noodles, a signature Shaanxi dish, are wide like a prefab home on the 99 freeway, like an honest smile, like the racing stripes on your mom’s boyfriend’s ’65 ’Stang. And the good people at Xi An Tasty don’t waste that extra real estate – the sauce that comes with the biang biang noodles is outstanding, sharply vinegary with a pop of chili oil, pooled mostly at the bottom of the bowl such that a good stir and a swish-through before serving yields a noodle coated in the stuff, all that acreage slick and oily, with a deeply satisfying chew. You can get them with meat on top if you want, but it isn’t really necessary; it’s the noodles themselves that are so fun, so delicious. It's the kind of dish that mends fences, bandages wounds, and bridges gaps – metaphorically, and probably literally, too. —Ben Mesirow
127 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park. (626) 802-5966.
Chicken dinner at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
If you didn’t board the fried chicken train bellowing through Los Angeles this year, it’s time you jumped on, and the premier place to do so is the new Mid-City outlet of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. Forget spice levels. All pieces of bird come out the same here, wearing a crisp coat of batter and delivering a crescendo of heat. Most folks claim it is best to eat your thighs and wings right in the shop, but we found that the pieces are just as extraordinary when ripped out of a brown paper to-go bag and accompanied by Styrofoam cups brimming with coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad. —Chelsee Lowe
1262 Crenshaw Blvd., Arlington Heights. (323) 402-0232, gusfriedchicken.com. Al pastor tacos at Santa Cecilia
A lot has changed this year, but thank goodness some things never do. Chef Armando Salazar's al pastor tacos have been a Mariachi Plaza institution for 20 years, and still today mariachi players congregate outside the tiny storefront on weekends between sets. Salazar doesn’t use a trompo to rotisserie his pork, per tradition, but you'd be hard-pressed to find more flavorful al pastor. He marinates the meat with California chili, cumin and a dash of vinegar before stewing it into tender chunks. They’re served on extra-large, chewy tortillas that are hand-pressed to order: Two are a meal and eating more than three is a challenge. The most restrained squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of onion and cilantro will do; the salsas are drinkable, but go easy on them — the flavors here are that good. —Gowri Chandra
1707 Mariachi Plaza, Boyle Heights. (323) 980-0716, mariachi-plaza.com/santa-cecilia-rest.
Chawanmushi at Michael’s Santa Monica
The legendary Santa Monica restaurant has taken a wild turn toward modernism by hiring chef Miles Thompson, who many might remember from Allumette. Thompson’s cooking was always assertively modern, but in the two years he’s been gone from L.A. it’s also become more refined, cleverer and more umami-driven. My favorite dish during a recent meal was a crab chawanmushi, which is built on a base of savory egg custard so creamy and delicate it made me swoon. The custard was topped by big hunks of Dungeness crab and super-fresh uni, punctuated by delicately floral ginger sprout. The flavors were balanced, the textures were downright sexy, and the whole thing felt generous in spirit, as if Thompson thought hard about how much fun he wanted the diner to have while eating. —Besha Rodell
1147 Third St., Santa Monica. (310) 451-0843, michaelssantamonica.com.
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