It's a good problem for Los Angeles to have: too many great restaurants.
Yet our task for this issue is to make a list of 99 essential restaurants – just 99 restaurants. How do you do that in a city full of great dining options? We could easily write a list of 199.
Beginning in October, L.A. Weekly Food Editor Amy Scattergood and I started combing last year's list, obsessing over what would stay, what would go, what should be added. From those early days, it became clear that if we were going to whittle the possibilities down to 99, we'd need some guiding principles. A few things had to change.
Which ultimately is good. If it's done right, this list should reflect the mood of the city. And this year, L.A. feels vibrant not for its excesses but for its pockets of weirdness and wonder.
99 Essential Restaurants, 2014
So we made a conscious decision to veer a little cheaper, a little less expected. There are certainly some upscale, special-occasion and well-established restaurants on this list. But we also left off some of those places to make room for more tacos and ramen and dong chi mi gook su, as well as some of our favorite new young chefs. You already know the fanciest places in town – why publish the same list that's already out there?
We made a rule that only two restaurants from any one chef could appear on the list, which made for some painful cuts. Damn you, Josef Centeno and Suzanne Goin and Roy Choi and the Shook/Dotolo crew for having so many great restaurants. (And OK, we kind of cheated with Nancy Silverton; you'll see what I mean.)
We also let go of some beloved places that have held spots on this list year after year. Yes, we love them ferociously, but our devotion often stems from nostalgia more than the food. This year, being iconic wasn't enough. Iconic and delicious? That's another bowl of pho.
What did we gain? So much. This was a year in which an incredible number of exciting new restaurants opened in L.A., places that make this list and this city all the more vibrant. Within these 99, you'll find a place to slurp noodles surrounded by stacks of groceries in Gardena. You'll find some of the world's best tacos served in the open Los Angeles air. Avant-garde cuisine tucked into a weird building in Echo Park. Islamic Uyghur cooking, Gujarati restaurants and enough variations of Northern Thai to keep your tongue on fire for weeks.
We tapped seasoned contributors Tien Nguyen and Barbara Hansen to help us, and they brought expertise that led to new discoveries, new flavors, new reasons to gobble through this list. And if nothing else makes you hungry, Anne Fishbein's glorious photography will.
As with anytime we stop to take stock of L.A.'s riches, the process of choosing this year's list of 99 Essential Restaurants mainly makes us grateful and proud. It's a wonderful thing to live in a city where there's just too much to love.