One of L.A.'s most iconic diners, Pann's in Inglewood is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Once the last place to grab a bite before LAX, the diner has been run by the Panagopoulos family since it opened in 1958. Matriarch Rena, known as "the queen of hospitality," died at age 100 last year, and son Jim has taken the reins. The family also owned the Hawthorne diner made famous in Pulp Fiction, which has since been torn down. Pann's has had its own share of close-ups and is a regular location for Modern Family. Grab a seat at the counter for quick service or settle into one of the red Naugahyde booths for a comfy breakfast or lunch at the classic Googie-style coffee shop. The burgers are great, but nothing beats the chicken and waffles made with their original fried chicken recipe. Yes, everyone has their favorite around town, but Pann's serves the dish with chicken wings, so it's a sublime mix of crunchy and soft to go with savory and sweet. And ask about the blue plate special, which changes daily. Famous for its fountain, Pann's has milkshakes that come with the can and whatever is left over in Oreo cookie, banana caramel, peanut butter cup, chocolate or double chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors. The root beer float and ice cream sodas will take you back to a bygone era. —Michele Stueven
Located on the 71st floor of the US Bank Tower, 71Above is a landmark restaurant for Los Angeles. Its name is rendered in marble and metal on the floor at the entrance, the ceiling is decorated with hexagonal sculptural forms, the waiters have the suave formality of first-class airline stewards. The dining room circles the inner perimeter of the building, so no matter where you sit you're in range of the floor-to-ceiling windows, beyond which Los Angeles spreads out in all its twinkling glory. Chef Vartan Abgaryan came to 71Above from Silver Lake's Cliff's Edge, where he raised the quality of the food considerably. Abgaryan's cooking never seemed quite right at the neighborhood-centric Cliff's Edge — it was too pretty, too formal for that sprawling space. At 71Above, his penchant for high-end drama on the plate is much more at home. You can have oysters poached in Champagne and topped with uni and caviar, or the popular farm egg, served with crispy potato and chorizo. An old-school foie gras terrine shares menu space with a decidedly modern venison dish, prepared with beet, blackberry, black vinegar and served with charred cabbage. 71Above excels at presenting a menu that might appeal to old-school and new-school luxury tastes alike. In this era of "casual" $200 meals, there's a lot to be said for a place that manages to feel truly special. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
We adored Zach Pollack's small, Cali-Italian Silver Lake restaurant when it opened in 2014. Despite being a little too loud, it was exactly the type of intimate, quality restaurant the neighborhood needed. But Alimento just keeps getting better and better, and now we'd call it one of the best restaurants in the city. Many of the things that were delicious when Alimento opened remain delicious — the mortadella pig-in-a-blanket, the escolar crudo with eggplant and fennel pollen — but Pollack seems to have ramped up his cooking, refined his flavors and taken more unexpected turns, and newer menu additions live up to those early successes' precedent of greatness. There's a bracing, Italian-leaning Caesar salad that makes glorious use of white radicchio's natural bitterness and its compatibility with sharp cheese. Pastas remain flawless; tortellini in brodo "al contrario" is popular. The braised-lettuce bruschetta utilizes the creamy smoosh of burrata in a way you've never experienced, and that's saying something in a town overrun with burrata-on-toast variations. Is it still too loud? Possibly, though Pollack has made an effort to implement sound-absorbing solutions. Either way, you'll be too busy swooning over the food to notice. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
There is hardly a restaurant so ingrained in the life of its neighborhood or its customers as Angelini Osteria, a place that seems as if it has been here for all of civilized history. (In today's restaurant market, 16 years practically is all of civilized history.) That it is such a classic Italian eatery, complete with no-nonsense, charming professional waiters, probably explains much of its timeless feel, as does the room full of older customers, many of whom come here every week and sit at the exact same table. (The people-watching at Angelini is outstanding, made all the easier because the tables are so thoroughly crammed together.) Gino Angelini's exceptional pastas, still — even in this age of handmade pasta bounty — are some of the best in town, whether coated in a simple eggplant and tomato sauce, or laden with uni and seafood funk. In Los Angeles, sometimes extreme quality and extreme popularity do not cohabitate. Angelini is one of the happy examples of the two enjoying a long and fruitful marriage. —Besha Rodell
Animal has 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. That it has barely changed in its decade of existence and yet still seems so current might help explain why owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have been able to spin its success into such a huge platform. They were ahead of their time then, and their more recent projects continue to push L.A.'s dining culture in unexpected and giddily fun directions. If you want to understand our city's dining scene, you still have to eat at Animal. You need to vie for a table in the perpetually packed room; to dive into the ridiculously rich and stupidly enjoyable oxtail poutine; to eat foie gras on a biscuit with maple sausage gravy and wonder how the minds that came up with those delicious obscenities could also deliver delicacy and balance in a hamachi tostada with peanuts and avocado. The duck confit with heirloom beans, collard greens, porchetta spice and bronze fennel is popular these days. We don't know what dining in L.A., or America, would look like had Animal never roared into existence, and we're happy we'll never have to find out. —Besha Rodell
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. Spread the table with meats and cheeses and the farmer's plate, a jumble of roasted veggies and bitter greens and chickpea puree and burrata and hunks of grilled bread. There are beautiful international influences in many of the small plates from chef Adam Cherney's kitchen, such as the devilishly black arroz negro, the slightly firm rice punctuated with soft squid and lush saffron aioli. Over midafternoon drinks at the quiet bar (head barman Christiaan Rollich continues to turn out some of L.A.'s most exciting cocktails), or nibbles at happy hour along the high communal table, over sunny brunches on the patio and wonderful dinners in those booths or under the trees, A.O.C. has become the spot we turn to when we need to be comforted but also pampered. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
If you're looking for a restaurant with a nostalgic flavor, you'll find it in the heart of downtown Culver City, across from the historic Culver Hotel. Akasha Richmond's Italian restaurant AR Cucina is a flourishing favorite. A self-taught chef and former yoga instructor, Richmond's inspiration comes from one of her favorite regions in Italy, Emilia-Romagna. And many of the products on the menu are from her recent trip to Italy, including special imported cheeses and balsamic vinegar. She also has brought in the talents of chef de cuisine and pasta perfectionist Chris Keyser. AR Cucina has special menus for occasions such as Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve and Passover. The pizza oven cranks out one of the city's best Parma versions with mozzarella, fontina, wild arugula and prosciutto di Parma. Also recommended are the fennel pork sausage pizza with tomato, mozzarella, shaved fennel and fennel pollen. Keyser's signature pasta dishes include his lasagna verde made with spinach pasta, short rib ragu, fonduta and Parmesan. AR Cucina has a diverse and great selection of salumi and formaggi boards, and there is plenty of Lambrusco to cleanse the palate. If you have time, take an after-dinner stroll across the street for some (free) live jazz seven nights a week in the Culver Hotel lobby. —Michele Stueven
Baroo is that most wonderful of restaurants, a place that is almost impossible to describe in part because no one would believe it to be true — a modernist, health-focused Korean fantasy inside a sparse room located on a decidedly unglamorous stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, just east of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There's no sign, and the room is tiny and simple: white walls, a communal table, a counter from which you order, a few stools along another counter against the wall, a blackboard menu and some shelving in back holding jars of things in various stages of fermentation. Owner Kwang Uh has returned from his sabbatical to a Buddhist temple in South Korea, and he's back in the kitchen with his capable business partner and co-chef, Matthew Kim. Their cooking is still incredible: Handmade pasta ribbons support a kaleidoscope of celery and celeriac: thinly pureed celeriac, pickled julienned celery, crispy chips made from celeriac and a dusky powder they call "celery ash." The dish takes one flavor profile and layers it over itself with multiple variations in texture and technique. The result is lightly fruity and creamy and utterly beguiling. There are a lot of grains being put to use, including a few dishes with Job's tears, which you may have seen sold as Chinese pearl barley. They're best here in the dish called noorook, which also has farro and kamut, and is mixed with roasted koji beet cream, concentrated kombu dashi, seeds, nuts, finger lime and rose onion pickle. Baroo is a weird, exceptionally personal, only-in-L.A. kind of treat. Is there any better kind? —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Los Angeles County has an abundance of Chinese restaurants, representing perhaps every region of mainland China, and Taiwan too. Beijing Pie House is a great place to learn about food traditionally made and eaten in Northern China. It's heavy on lamb, pastry and noodles, and the vegetables are mostly served cold and sometimes lightly pickled. The cabbage is a great mystery. Served chopped and tossed with oil and Sichuan peppercorn, it is perhaps the best presentation of cabbage I've ever come across, even as the cruciferous vegetable is having a moment at restaurants further west. It's also a great introduction to Sichuan peppercorn, which strikes fear in many hearts (mine included) but in truth offers a complex flavor, not just searing heat. It does make your water taste a little funny for a bit, but it's totally worth it. But the must-get dish is the meat pie. Get the lamb and green onion version. It's about the shape of a hockey puck, and served outrageously hot. Turn it up vertically on your spoon and take a little nibble off the top to let out the steam. Wait a beat, and then get into this dish that was created for cold-weather living but is so good that it's a hit even in L.A. —Katherine Spiers
The Bellwether is the brainchild of co-owners beverage director Ann-Marie Verdi and executive chef Ted Hopson, a journeyman L.A. chef who 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. Hopson is what you might call a chef's chef, and he weaves solid and inventive cooking techniques into even the most commonplace dishes. 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. Popular "Share a Lot" plates include the patty melt, which comes with taleggio, caramelized onions and Calabrian aioli, and the Vietnamese braised pork short ribs, served with yu choy and coriander rice. It's not always useful to read too much into the meaning of a restaurant's name, but in the case of "bellwether" — "one that leads or indicates trends" — the definition seems an apt description of what Hopson has accomplished. The Bellwether takes what we've come to expect from a neighborhood restaurant and adds another layer of delicious polish. —Garrett Snyder
Read our full review.
Five years after opening its industrial-chic doors in the Arts District, Bestia remains one of L.A.'s few true perennial hot spots, and it still thrills trend seekers and serious food nerds alike. The winning formula, concocted by chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, consists of a buzzing warehouse space in the bottom of a loft building down one of the Arts District's darkest streets, aggressively cheffy Italian cooking, and stellar drinks both at the bar and on the wine list. This is a profoundly fun place to eat, the energy in the room matching the gleeful combinations on the plate, such as slow-roasted lamb neck with baby fennel, pickled sunchokes and black sesame, or the perennial favorite of chicken gizzards with roasted beets and Belgian endive. Recent menu additions include a lobster crostini, with squid ink aioli, pickled chilies, opal basil and citrus; and spaghetti rustichella with Dungeness crab, citrus, Calabrian chili and Thai basil. The pastas remain some of the best in town, or if you're looking for simplicity you can stop by for a pizza and a beer. If you can get in, that is — even on a Tuesday night the bar is four deep by 6:30, and reservations are a practical impossibility. It's not hard to see why. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
One of L.A.'s BBQ institutions, Bludso's Bar & Que has moved west to Hollywood and added a bar to its 'cue. Born and raised in Compton, Kevin Bludso opened the original in his hometown in 2008, filling the neighborhood with the intoxicating scent of his Texas-style, slow-smoked meats. The Bludso family BBQ tradition started four generations ago in Corsicana, Texas, and the classics are all here on the expanded menu — brisket, pork and beef ribs, Texas red hot beef links, rib tips. His collard greens and baked beans are some of the best in town, honest and rustic. Bludso's is the go-to for big family celebrations, with trays for a crowd. Dive into the Party Tray: 1½ pounds brisket, 1½ pounds pulled pork, 1½ whole chicken, 1½ racks pork ribs, 1 pound rib tips, four Texas red hots, three quarts of sides, pickles, cornbread and BBQ sauce for $225 (serves 10 to 12). There are large party packages for pickup as well, like the Willie Mae, the All Star, the Super Bowl Package and the Big Kev (it can feed up to 50 people). The desserts from national pie champion Nicole Rucker include peach crisp à la mode, chocolate chess pie and some of the best banana pudding this side of the Mississippi. —Michele Stueven
Read our full review.
Brent's as we know it has been in business since 1969, when Ron Peskin purchased a struggling deli and turned it around. Close to 50 years later (and still operated by the Peskin family), the Jewish-style deli in the same Northridge location continues to do brisk business. It's not only a local favorite but has been at the top of Los Angeles' best deli lists for years. Brent's has the homey, warm feel of delis you may remember from your youth. The hot pastrami, piled high on double-seeded rye, is well-marbled and melts in your mouth the way great pastrami should. The majority of Brent's customers seem to gravitate toward the Black Pastrami Reuben, a unique creation. Pastrami, strongly seasoned with black pepper, is piled on that same grilled rye and topped with melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a piquant house-made Russian dressing. It's the Reuben of your dreams. It may not be kosher, but it sure tastes wonderful. The encyclopedic menu includes everything from smoked fish appetizing plates to drippy cheeseburgers to grilled liver and sautéed onions. But the pastrami is truly the thing here. And for the perfect pastrami accompaniment: the curiously named yet utterly refreshing Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda. —Kayvan Gabbay
There are many Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles that will deliver traditional tastes of the culinary treasures of Latin America. Broken Spanish is not one of them. Instead, Broken Spanish provides a sampling of the thrilling approach to contemporary Mexican cooking, and it wouldn't be out of place in Mexico City in the high-roller neighborhood of Polanco or in Mexico's remote cocinas de campos or even the farm-to-table outposts of Baja's Valle de Guadalupe wine region. It was Mayor Eric Garcetti who once suggested that L.A. was the northern capital of Latin America (sorry Miami!), and Broken Spanish makes his theory truer than ever. Chef Ray Garcia is a lifelong Angeleno and an Eastsider trained in fine kitchens around the city, including a long stint running Santa Monica's Fig. At Broken Spanish, Garcia's intensely flavorful dishes push the limits of the food's Mexican lineage. There are tamales with umami flavors of lamb neck and king oyster mushroom; yellow beet pibil, dusted with ochre achiote spices; and chile relleno coated with a creamy soubise sauce (perhaps a subtle reminder of France's escapades in Mexico long ago). Then there's the unmissable red snapper, fried and encrusted with salt — an almost Paleolithic specimen baring its teeth — laid upon leeks and green clamato. Pair your dinner with Mexican wines, including selections from Baja's earthship-shaped winery Alximia and Las Nubes' hillside vineyards, or maybe a mezcal cocktail, and experience the full breadth of the modern Mexican movement. —Drew Tewksbury
Read our full review.
Ray Garcia's B.S. Taqueria is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach. Located on Seventh Street downtown, which has become L.A.'s new restaurant row, the convenient taqueria combines established traditions with contemporary flair. Try the spicy mushroom and garlic tacos — sometimes they come on blue corn tortillas, sometimes yellow corn. Chomp on lemon-pepper chicken chicharrones or house-made duritos (puffed wheat cracker with chili-lime and habanero hot sauce) while you sip one of the many margarita choices. My favorite is a healthy dose of Pinacillin, made with reposado tequila, pineapple, lemon, agave, ginger and mezcal. The "rice and beans," one of the most popular items on the menu, is made with toasted rice, garbanzos, cannellini beans, cotija and Fresno chilies. A native Eastside Angeleno, Garcia graduated from UCLA and went on to elevate the kitchens at FIG and the Peninsula Beverly Hills. In addition to B.S. Taqueria, Garcia is also chef and owner of his flagship Broken Spanish downtown. He's also active with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. B.S. Taqueria also has a stand in Staples Center for a quick bite. —Michele Stueven
What differentiates a burrito and a taco? It's a question that has launched a thousand food-nerd fights, but the unsatisfying answer is: It depends. The burritos at El Monte's Burritos La Palma have won taco awards, and they are about the same size as Texas breakfast tacos. Maybe the reason these particular burritos are so beloved in L.A. is their size — after all, this is a taco town. The signature burrito here is stuffed with birria — the beef version, not goat, even though the restaurant originated in the state of Zacatecas, where they do use the more traditional goat meat. Order two or three at a time, either all filled with birria or with a combo of chicken tinga, carne deshebrada with potatoes, or gelatinous chicharrones. They can be ordered topped with sauce and melted cheese, too, at which point we have to circle back and ask, what's the difference between a burrito and an enchilada? —Katherine Spiers
Hidden in the middle of Marina del Rey, surrounded by seagulls and sailboats, Café del Rey is the perfect spot for dinner at sunset or brunch on a lazy Sunday. Just about every table in the restaurant enjoys relaxing harbor and marina views. The Mediterranean coastal–inspired cuisine comes from executive chef David Vilchez, who began his culinary career as a cook in the U.S. Navy before going on to become a classically trained French chef at Le Cordon Bleu. Known for seafood dishes, Café del Rey favorites include wild sea bream with sunchoke confit, fennel, walnuts and ginger lemongrass sauce and squid ink pasta. The Caesar salad is among the best in town, with plenty of whole briny anchovies. There are choices for carnivores, too, like the New Zealand lamb chops with baby turnips, celery root puree, coffee and currant demi-glace, or the lamb burger. If the Laura Chenel goat cheese cake with pistachio crust, Bing cherry compote, caramel sauce and Chantilly sets it over the top for dessert, you can always walk it off with a stroll through the marina. —Michele Stueven
Famed as a Kardashian hangout and low-key celebrity hot spot, this perennial Valley favorite for more than six decades serves filling Mexican-American combination plates that perfectly complement its generous margaritas. With its dark, clubby atmosphere, Casa Vega feels like a throwback to the 1950s. It has a classic bar with tuxedoed bartenders, comfy Naugahyde booths and old-school hospitality, serving made-to-order classic margaritas. The overstuffed bean-and-cheese burritos topped with more gooey Monterey Jack cheese and slathered in piquant Spanish sauce are as deeply soothing as comfort food gets. This is the truest definition of the proverbial fork-and-knife burrito. The fried halibut tacos topped with guacamole and shredded cabbage are a slightly healthier option. (In fact, over the years the extensive menu has been updated, with soy beef and a vegetarian enchilada sauce.) And the classic Vega combination — an enormous plate that includes mini chimichangas, quesadillas, chicken flautas and shredded beef taquitos, plus red avocado salsa, sour cream and fresh guacamole — is not only a veritable feast but also a definitive survey of the menu. You can order a full meal here until 1:30 a.m. It's a fun time warp to a classic era when Dean Martin still headlined Las Vegas, the Rat Pack were at the height of their fame and a night out was composed of boozy margaritas and gargantuan No. 2 combination plates. —Kayvan Gabbay
Rooftop restaurants are the rage right now, and it's about time. WeHo is the epicenter of dining under and among the stars, and Catch L.A. in the design district is ground zero for the best convergence of atmosphere and aliment. The design masterpiece under a retractable roof is officially an outdoor restaurant, offering views from the Hollywood Hills to downtown. The interior is warm and rustic, with tables, booths and alcoves perfect for stargazing and hiding out. Get yourself a cozy spot and settle in for seafood that's as spectacular as the view. Start with a One Too Many, strawberry-infused Absolut Elyx with Lillet Rose, coconut, avocado and lime, topped with an orchid garnish. Move on to the famed truffle sashimi made with tuna, hamachi, chili oil, ponzu, caviar and black truffle, served on its own, well-deserved little altar. The Japanese Miyazaki Wagyu beef is cooked tableside on Catch L.A.'s signature hot stone — a mouthwatering performance. It's served with yuzu soy, garlic oil, Maldon sea salt and sesame, and it melts in your mouth. And there are delightful vegan options, such as the hearts of palm "crab" cakes with jicama mango slaw, and non-fish options such as the mushroom spaghetti with wild mushrooms, snap peas, tomatoes and Parmesan, as well as the pillowy, crispy chicken bao buns. Good luck finding room for dessert, but if you do, I'd recommend the sticky coconut cake. —Michele Stueven
Josiah Citrin's latest hot concept is in Venice. Inspired by the Michelin-starred chef's backyard barbecues for friends and family, everything at Charcoal is cooked indoors over live fire. Even the drinks are charred. The Midnight Margarita comes pitch black and smoky on the outside, tangy and fruity to the taste. Citrin brought on as chef de cuisine Joseph Johnson, who was Chopped's Grill Master Champion and StarChefs' Rising Star 2017. Lit cases of proteins in the aging process are on display, lining the back walls of this casual neighborhood restaurant. Menu items include a 35-day aged Sonoma lamb shoulder with coriander and honey, a 21-day aged half Liberty duck and an 18-ounce prime rib-eye. Vegetables include Yukon potato baked in coals with salted butter, crème fraiche, aged Gouda and chives. The tartare selection is the largest you will find anywhere — venison with charred parsnips and smoked egg yolk, smoked mushroom and beet; lamb with fermented turnips, juniper, pine nuts and dried figs; and beef, with charred buttermilk-soaked flatbread, chili oil, pepitas and puffed quinoa. There are plenty of dessert wines and cocktails as well as a banana s'mores panna cotta with McConnell's Dutchman Chocolate ice cream. This place is on fire. —Michele Stueven
Read our full review.
The Chengdu Taste empire just keeps growing, with four restaurants now under the same ownership (including noodle house Miàn), all thanks to the public's hunger for this particular brand of spicy, numbing, complex, alluring Sichuan food. We prefer the original Valley Boulevard location, for toothpick lamb bristling with cumin, wontons that have an almost floral undertone (if you can taste anything under the extreme chili oil heat), slick jelly noodles, and water boiled fish with green chilies. You can order a whole pork shank cooked in a deep, sweet braise and slathered with red chilies, or chopped rabbit in Younger Sister's Secret Sauce. What's in that secret sauce? Peanuts, and — you guessed it — chili. Yes, this is a pilgrimage spot for spice masochists, but focusing on that alone takes away from the nuance in this cooking, the layering of flavors that makes this food so much more complex and satisfying than places where heat is the primary characteristic. Expect to wait a long time for a table, expect to order far too many things, expect to fall into a kind of Sichuan peppercorn–induced stupor for the rest of the afternoon or evening. —Besha Rodell
There's a lot of Mediterranean going on in town right now, a logical trend for California and its wealth of fresh ingredients. The new Cleo on Third in the old Churchill space inside the Orlando Hotel has a seemingly endless supply of shared plates, including shwarma and Mediterranean mezze. The flatbreads here are arguably the best in town — try the mushroom with caramelized onions and truffle as well as the popular potato with arugula. Executive chef Danny Elmaleh's cross-cultural background touches every dish, including the green falafel with a different twist of beet-pickled fennel, and a stellar crispy artichoke hummus. The duck matzo ball soup is pure comfort. The restaurant's vibe is warm, with mosaics dotting the walls, and it's a perfect spot to people-watch and share a sticky toffee pudding dessert, made with Medjool dates, butterscotch and a walnut tuile and vanilla bean ice cream. —Michele Stueven
Like many of its surrounding neighborhoods, Eagle Rock has had a slew of trendy eateries open in recent years, with varying degrees of success. But if you want a glimpse into the real heart and soul of the neighborhood, there's no better place to find it than at Colombo's Italian Steakhouse & Jazz Club, a restaurant that has been serving this community since 1954. People of all ages and all walks of life gather in the big circular booths and dine on old-school, upscale Italian cooking while listening to live jazz, which begins at 4:30 or 5:30 p.m. nightly. The bar is always packed with regulars, and the atmosphere is always joyful. The music's pretty damn good, too. What should you eat? The steaks are the best bet, though if you're in the mood for sauce-slathered pasta, or chicken piccata, there's plenty of that type of thing to be had. But this isn't a place for serious food snobs. It's a place for reveling in the type of community — and the type of fun — that hasn't been commonplace in L.A. restaurants for decades. Let's pray it's here for decades to come. —Besha Rodell
The debate over the fate of Coni'Seafood since chef Sergio Peñuelas left dissipated years ago, and proof came in the form of a brand-new brick-and-mortar that opened in January in Del Rey. The Inglewood original (since 1987) was left in the hands of owners Vicente Cossio and his daughter Connie Cossio, and it continued turning out some of the best Mexican seafood in town. It's not surprising — Vicente Cossio was the originator of almost all the dishes that garnered Coni'Seafood so much attention in the first place. A family affair, Connie's daughter Bianka is leading the charge at the Del Rey location. The menu offers all manner of cocteles, such as the ceviche marinero, a jumble of shrimp marinated in lemon, cucumber, cilantro and tomato, topped with hunks of sweet mango and bathed in a wicked, dusky "black sauce." Then there are the camarones, giant, head-on shrimp that come in many different variations of sauce: diablo for the spice lovers; borrachos — in a broth made from tequila, lime, cilantro and crushed peppers — for the hungover. You can still get the pescado zarandeado, the whole split, grilled, tender white fish that came to be Coni'Seafood's signature dish. And yes, it's still as thrillingly delicious as ever. —Besha Rodell
If you grew up, as Michael Cimarusti did, fishing in the Atlantic and dining on the bounty of the great Northeast, you'll understand the chef's nostalgia for the brine and comfort of that type of seafood. Connie & Ted's is Cimarusti's ode to New England, and he's created a restaurant that would be utterly at home on Boston Harbor but also feels exactly right for West Hollywood. The large dining room is an immensely convivial place to scarf down chowder and lobster rolls and fried clams, and the bar is one of the best places in town to watch the Dodgers while slurping on oysters from the massive raw bar. On top of all this is Cimarusti's dedication to only the freshest, most sustainable seafood, so you can rest assured that not only is your meal enjoyable but it's also entirely ethical. Executive chef Sam Baxter's menu includes the popular Hokkaido (scallop) hot dog. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Los Angeles has more plant-based restaurant options than ever before. Crossroads, one of the first and most elegant, celebrates its five-year anniversary this month. Dimly lit and classic Old Hollywood style, it's the first plant-based restaurant with an inspired full bar. If you pick the right night, you just might spy Mick Jagger sneaking in through the kitchen while you're sipping your Cause for Alarm cocktail, which incorporates tequila and dry curacao. Inspired from day one by chef-owner Tal Ronnen, the diverse and imaginative menu is "defined not by what's missing but what it is," he says. Signature dishes include his famous artichoke oysters — a delicate, crispy oyster mushroom nestled on top of artichoke puree with yellow tomato béarnaise, topped with a dab of kelp caviar and served on an artichoke leaf. The impossible cigars wrapped in brick dough, a North African pastry sheet, are served with almond yogurt and are a must-order. Ronnen makes his own impossible (vegan) burger meat. One of the more dramatic items is the romanesco en croute with fonduta and cabernet. A perfect little cauliflower triangle is encased in a plant-based pastry crust that oozes a cashew cheese sauce when cracked open, commingling in perfect harmony with the demi-glace. The pasta selection is great — try the fettuccine carbonara with a yellow tomato egg that melts into the noodles when broken. —Michele Stueven
Inconspicuous amid the glut of Persian restaurants in Westwood's Persian Square, Delphi Greek has been quietly serving up rustic Greek cuisine since 1985. The long, cavernous space has the look of a humble joint you might just stumble upon along the cobblestone streets of Molyvos. Delphi's extensive menu lists all your favorites, including the show-stopping flambéed cheese appetizer known as saganaki. The beef and lamb gyro carved from the vertical spit is deeply comforting when paired with tart tzatziki (cucumber- and garlic-inflected yogurt sauce). Just like in Greece, the souvlaki (marinated skewers of meat) can be had in both pork and lamb varieties. This is one of the few Greek restaurants where you can get a gyro and feta cheese omelette for a filling breakfast. If you're slightly adventurous, the taramasalata, briny red caviar whipped with lemon juice and loads of garlic, is the delicious seafaring cousin to your standard, humdrum hummus. The hearty pastitsio, composed of toothsome pasta layered with seasoned ground beef and topped with a pungent feta cheese and béchamel mixture, is the Greek take on lasagna. Delphi is a wonderful change of pace from the litany of Persian kebab joints in Westwood. The Greek coffee is strong and bitter with a welcome, subtle earthiness, which pairs perfectly with a bite, or three, of baklava packed with minced walnuts and drenched in honey syrup. —Kayvan Gabbay
The critically acclaimed Ración in Pasadena, which closed in January, has moved from Spain to California in concept and reopened as Dérive, with an American menu focused on small local farms and wineries. Under the same ownership of chefs Loretta Peng and Shane Alvord, Dérive's new menu is partly inspired by Peng's travels and exploration of local ingredients around the world, a spontaneous journey guided by landscape and nature. Which brings me to the kelp steamed potatoes with Meyer lemon cream and seaweed salt on the new menu. Two Yukon gold potatoes are nestled in a warm kelp bed with a side of seaweed salt that's worth cleaning up with your fingers as if it was pixie dust. A great starter is the pig's head toast with mustard and pickled jalapeño on crunchy toast, and the green beans with avocado, kiwi, pistachio and citrus are nice for the table to share. One of the most popular items on the new menu is the bowl of toasted grains, kale, anchovy aioli, cabbage and black rice chips. The other is Dérive's cavatelli pasta with early spring vegetables in roasted onion broth with goat Gouda. The rich broth cooks for 48 hours and is combined with dashi to create a flavor that is onion soup on steroids. For the carnivore, there's a hefty pork shoulder with celery root, Basque cider and apple. The breads — sourdough, fig and seeded — are all still made in-house by Peng, as is the cultured butter. In addition to California wines, there are plenty of Spanish, Italian and French selections as well. —Michele Stueven
Restaurant concepts are getting bigger and bigger in L.A., and the grandest of them all is the Eataly megastore in the renovated Westfield Century City mall. It's Disneyland for foodies. The 67,000-square-foot Italian paradise houses three restaurants — La Piazza, Il Pesce Cucina and La Pizza & La Pasta. Tables are on a first-come, first-served basis; they don't take reservations. There are separate counters for fresh pasta, cheese, produce, pizza, chocolate and butchery, and stations devoted to meatballs, mozzarella, lasagna, frito misto, salumi and cheese. On the second floor, Italian chef and Eataly partner Lidia Bastianich is dean of La Scuola di Eataly by Valcucine cooking school, where you can learn how to shape gnocchi and cook regional Italian dishes. Jason Neroni, chef and owner of Rose Café, curates the menu at L'Orto dello Chef, the mind-boggling salad bar. If it all seems too overwhelming, you can get the lay of the land on one of the walking tours held Thursday through Sunday, which include a taste of everything. The first Eataly opened in Turin, Italy, in 2007. Since then the franchise has grown to a total of 39, with four in the United States. —Michele Stueven
Inspired by the pan-Asian cooking prevalent for years in the sophisticated cuisine of Australia, the two-level E.P & L.P serves up everything from tasty Filipino-influenced ceviche napped in coconut milk to the distinctively Thai larb, which is essentially a salad of grilled duck showered with Thai herbs. The fusion-style menu here runs the gamut from Vietnamese to Chinese to Thai to Fijian. The food is tasty, or rather better than you expect it to be considering this is more of a supper club where the cuisine might normally play second fiddle to the various cocktail concoctions. The see-and-be-seen rooftop bar, the L.P. portion of the endeavor, is a wonderful perch from which to take in a panoramic view of sprawling Los Angeles and hobnob with patrons dressed to the nines. You can get an old-fashioned or a simple Manhattan with a vivid Luxardo cherry. But the bartenders here excel at drinks such as the rose-based California Love and the Bittersweet Symphony, which uses gin and house-made Pimm's. There are even alcoholic versions of the tea drinks loaded with chewy boba pearls. And it goes without saying that the view can't be beat. —Kayvan Gabbay
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? In fact, so many food and drink trends were spawned by this chef and this place, it deserves a plaque, a holiday, a parade. Even without its historical import, either location of Father's Office (or the new one opening downtown this summer) offers a great place to eat and drink, with fantastic beer selections and a menu of modern bar food that will knock your socks off even if you avoid the burger completely. All you have to do is obey the rules: no kids, no table service, no substitutions, no ketchup. Got it? Good, now go pay homage to a piece of American food heritage. —Besha Rodell
You could easily make a beautiful meal from Felix's antipasti section alone: delicately fried squash blossoms stuffed with fior di latte; a crudo of raw ridgeback prawns with a gloriously creamy texture; pork meatballs that have been quickly fried and burst with porky flavor. If the panzanella is available, you should absolutely order it, because it means chef Evan Funke has come across enough beautiful summer produce to create the perfect bright and snappy salad, set off by the grounding pleasure of crispy bread. But you're here for the pastas. Every table seems to have a plate of the pappardelle, which means Funke is often in the pasta room early in the evening rolling out rounds of dough and cutting the thick noodles, knowing he'll run out by mid-evening if he doesn't get ahead. Bathed in a mellow Bolognese, the pasta is practically silky, making the pappardelle of your past seem rough and clumsy by comparison. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
We all associate Susan Feniger with the Border Grill brand and Mexican food. But her new concept with partner Kajsa Alger, Freshwater Dumpling and Noodle House in the Chinese Garden of the Huntington Library, pays homage to her trips to China. The new cuisine and locale are just another example of Feniger's exciting evolution. Inspired by her breakfasts and strolls through the market in Fuzhou, the lunch-only café in the serene Freshwater Pavilion offers authentic dumpling and noodle dishes from China, Nepal and Mongolia. Because much of the menu is locally crafted and contains products raised by small, locally owned food businesses using environmentally responsible practices, items are seasonal. Some favorites are pork and water cabbage dumplings, crispy Shanghai-style mushroom spring rolls and Tianjin noodles. Vegan and gluten-free items are clearly marked. If you get the black pepper shrimp with broccoli and jasmine rice, be sure to order a lychee lemonade or Huntington signature iced tea to wash it down. The cafe is family-friendly and doesn't require reservations. —Michele Stueven.
Inspired by the diverse cuisines of Los Angeles, Uli Nasibova has created Gelateria Uli in the Spring Arcade building downtown and on Third Street in Beverly Grove. Her flavors are an interpretation and reflection of her adopted city — from ube jam–filled pastries in Historic Filipinotown, to black sesame buns in the San Gabriel Valley, to the abundance of Mexican food at every corner that inspired her best-selling jamaica agua fresca sorbet. Originally from Baku, Azerbaijan, Nasibova came to L.A. after graduating from college in Colorado. She embedded herself with local farmers like her favorite, Murray Family Farms, securing locally sourced ingredients to produce her mostly water-based gelati daily. Using spreadsheets to perfect her seasonal recipes, her small batches made from scratch include such flavors as grapefruit (my favorite), coconut lemongrass (inspired by years of dinners at Jitlada), Thai iced tea, California pistachio and persimmon sorbet. The textures are smooth without a hint of ice crystals. —Michele Stueven
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 lamb sausage and mixed mushroom versions also are popular. 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. You only have to walk past this restaurant and see the crowds of people waiting outside, and peek through the windows at the people snacking on charcuterie and bowls of house-made pasta, and you'll find yourself thinking, "I want to be them. I want to be there." You're going to have to wait a long time for a table, but the good news is that you, too, can be part of the fantasy. —Besha Rodell
Gracias Madre is the definitive example of L.A. living and dining: It offers vegan Mexican cuisine under a California pepper tree on its outdoor patio in WeHo. The airy and open indoor dining area next to the bar is bathed in sunlight at lunch and in romantic candlelight at dinner. The stunning, huge courtyard is rustic and comfy, with communal seating and smaller tables, perfect for celebrity spotting. Veteran chef Chandra Gilbert's brunch selections include chilaquiles made with tortilla chips, spicy tomato salsa, avocado, cashew crème and black beans. The tofu ranchero scramble is a mixture of broccoli, spinach, onion, mushroom, pesto cashew crème, avocado, salsa ranchero, black beans and tortillas. The biscuits and gravy are made with tempeh "bacon," caramelized onion and cracked pepper. Top it off with a tropical smoothie with mango, spinach, coconut milk, lime, pineapple, ginger and agave, or try the sangria adorned with a chocolate-dipped strawberry. Plant-based dinner selections include flautas de camote made with sweet potatoes, caramelized onion, guacamole, black beans and cashew nacho cheese. The tacos are a pocketful of barbecue jackfruit carnitas, cashew crema, pickled cabbage, crispy onion and black beans. The escabeche is made fresh daily and a tangy accompaniment to anything. One of the most popular items on the menu is the spicy coliflór frito, great for sharing — cauliflower, cashew nacho cheese and lemon. —Michele Stueven
There's so much to love about Guelaguetza, the long-standing Oaxacan restaurant in Koreatown, that it's hard to know where to begin. The restaurant was honored by the James Beard committee in 2015 as part of its America's Classics awards, which should give you some idea of how important this place is to its neighborhood, its community, our city and the country. The thing we love most, though, is the feel of the place on weekend evenings, when the sprawling restaurant fills with families, mainly sharing the giant platters of memelas, chorizo, tasajo and cecina, fried pork ribs and more. An ancient-looking man may be playing the xylophone onstage with his band, with kids and grandparents bouncing appreciatively in their seats to the music. There's a lot of bang for the buck in those platters, but you'd be remiss to leave without trying the mole. Order the negro, and you'll be rewarded with a dark, bitter, gloriously slick mole — get it with chicken or chorizo. The estofado, made with tomatillos, chilies, raisins and olives, is a worthy alternative — it's utterly seductive in its sweet and funky depth. You can get goat barbacoa on weekends, swimming in a deeply rich chili sauce and served with giant, homemade tortillas, and there are fruity, smoky mezcal cocktails to toast the restaurant and the celebration happening around you. —Besha Rodell
If you had to show someone what it's like to live and eat in Los Angeles and had only an hour to accomplish it, you probably could get the job done with a visit to Guerrilla Tacos. Here's where you come to eat from a truck that parks in front of the city's best coffee (and sometimes wine) shops, where you might find gooseberries on your wild boar taco. The tostadas are made with the freshest local seafood, maybe yellowtail tuna poké with cashew chile de valle, or sesame-crusted salmon with sea urchin. These beautifully made creations from chef Wes Avila defy our expectations of what an incredible meal should be made of and where we should find it, mixing street food with fine dining in a way that's totally uncontrived. It's as L.A. as a dining experience gets, in all the best possible ways. —Besha Rodell
Gus's originated in Mason, Tennessee, as a family business that dates back to the 1960s, but it's now a bona fide national chain, with 24 restaurants across the South and Midwest. The L.A. location, which opened in June 2016 at the corner of Crenshaw and Pico in Mid-City, was the first Gus's west of Texas. (It has since been joined by locations in Burbank and Long Beach.) Unlike the Nashville-style hot-chicken joints, Gus's does not have different categories of spiciness. There's only one level: "hot & spicy." Plates come with two or three pieces of chicken, white or dark meat, atop a slice of white bread and with baked beans and coleslaw as sides. The coating on the chicken is thin and shattery. It seems as if they have somehow taken the skin of the chicken, imbued it with a slow-burning heat and lots of salt, and crisped it to the point where the fat has liquefied and re-fused and created a perfect amalgamation of crackling schmaltz and cayenne. Yes, the interior is juicy, even on the white meat, and if you order the three-piece dark meat plate, you may find yourself dazed and covered in red and brown grease and wondering where all that chicken went when you had planned to take at least one piece home with you. And maybe you want another piece. Maybe you could just sit here and eat this chicken indefinitely. - Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Gwen, the Hollywood restaurant from chef Curtis Stone and his brother, Luke Stone, is striving for greatness in so many ways that it's a little head-spinning. It's a meat importer, a butcher shop, a cocktail bar, a chop house of sorts and a return to serious, glitzy Hollywood dining the likes of which we haven't seen in decades. Unlike Stone's other restaurant, the exceedingly intimate Maude, Gwen is large and brash, with one of the most breathtaking dining rooms in the city. Where Maude trades in delicate luxury, Stone's rallying cry here is "primitive elegance." The 10-course prix fixe, for those who prefer to leave it all up to the chef, is more like an insanely over-the-top picnic than a formal meal. Courses come in great flurries of dishes, all served on little plates that spread across your table like puzzle pieces, and many of those dishes are stunning. Otherwise, take your pick from the à la carte menu, which ranges from salumi and crudo to the Blackmore Wagyu beef cooked in the asador (fire pit). Whichever way you go, it's incredibly fun to take part in this monument to one guy's glorious, meaty Hollywood dream. —Besha Rodell
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; wood-grilled octopus is kissed with lemon aioli and salsa verde. This is a diverse, ambitious menu, and it is being executed incredibly well. The sprawling building encompasses an appealing series of dining rooms and bars, with a patio that looks like a garden party that's spilled out of the restaurant. And hidden in back is the Old Man Bar, which opens at 8 p.m. nightly and is one of the city's best places to sip bourbon in a dark corner. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
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; his food has a lighter, more subdued touch, with less of that smash-mouth decadence that defines many of Animal's greatest hits. His ground brisket tartare, crowned with egg yolk, toasted chili powder, shaved turnips and sprigs of watercress, is so ethereal that it turns a dish associated with luxuriousness into something that feels downright healthful. Whitener shows a keen understanding of textures, especially when it comes to his gorgeously complex salads. The dish combining Momotaro tomato, bagna cauda, lap xuong and crème fraiche is a popular choice. Though not without its idiosyncrasies, Here's Looking at You is overflowing with as much raw creative potential as any restaurant in the city. —Garrett Snyder
Read our full review.
Chef Brandon Kida is still knocking it out of the park at the serene Hinoki & the Bird with his seasonal ingredient–driven, modern Asian/American fare. Popular with the power-lunch crowd, the restaurant also serves dinner, which is more of a zen experience and nice for date night. Favorites from the raw bar include sashimi, beef tartare with pickled jalapeño and Parmesan, and a delightful uni baguette with ricotta and honey. The wild boar ribs are good for sharing, and everybody loves the roasted yam, which makes the perfect side to the roast duck with tamarind jus. The bar is friendly and great for happy hour. The $20 early-bird special offers a hefty okonomiyaki burger stuffed with hot peppers, tonkatsu sauce and sharp cheddar on a honey potato bun and your choice of draft beer or house wine. Or try a Miyagi mule, made with lemongrass-and-ginger–steeped vodka and cucumber wasabi boba. —Michele Stueven
This new kid on the block is the brainchild of owners Kat Hu and Justin Yi. Hu grew up in Nanjing, China, where she learned to make traditional noodles and bao with her two grandmothers. Yi learned to make traditional Korean food at home and Mexican food in the food-court kitchen of his parents' swap meet in Las Vegas. Located downtown on bustling Spring Street, Hock + Hoof was inspired by the couple's travels through Vietnam, Cambodia and China, which resulted in such menu items as chicken liver mousse in a can with maraschino cherries, bacalao Scotch eggs with potatoes and scallion aioli, and beef heart tartare with egg yolk, apple pear, sesame, radish and rice cracker. Some items come as large plates, meant to be shared family style and serving two to four people. The brunch items are diverse — Chinese doughnut with osmanthus honey, mascarpone cheese and pine nuts or braised beef tongue with jalapeño hash, balsamic onions and a 63-degree egg are two. Soju cocktails come in categories – Smoke, Citrus, Delicate, Texture, Refresh. The smoke option features juniper soju, sweet vermouth, orange bitters and white oak smoke. The juniper-infused soju with osmanthus honey, lemon juice and egg whites with a granola garnish is getting a lot of buzz. —Michele Stueven
Part of the allure of Howlin' Ray's is undoubtedly the dare that lies at the end of its infamous, hours-long wait in line: How hot can you handle? There are six levels of heat, and anything above the third level, called "medium," is hot enough that it comes with a warning. "Do not touch your face after eating the chicken," the guy at the cash register warns if you order anything "hot" or higher: "You will burn your skin." Yet there's something about the sting of cayenne (as well as a ton of other kinds of peppers, including ghost peppers) that creates a similar endorphin rush to jumping into a freezing river or being initiated into Fight Club. Even if you order the "country"-style chicken — that is, level one, no heat at all — you'll find that this is incredible chicken, with or without the heat: The way the skin shatters and gives way, the utterly perfect spicing of the batter, the way it's indistinguishable from the skin of the bird, the juicy flesh underneath, all goes to show that there are far worse things you could do than spend half a day with your fellow weirdos, waiting in line for chicken so good it's made us all lose our collective minds. (And if you're looking for a lot of food, considering placing a pre-order online, to avoid the wait.) —Besha Rodell
The original Hungry Cat is still our favorite place to eat in Hollywood proper, the place we most heartily recommend to folks looking for a pre-Pantages birthday dinner, the most welcome escape from the tourist mayhem of the neighborhood. Chef-owner David Lentz has been a pioneer of Pacific-focused seafood (as opposed to the odes to New England that have proliferated in recent years) for more than a decade, serving cold oysters on the half-shell, fresh Santa Barbara uni and modern, creative seafood dishes that sometimes hint at Maine or Massachusetts but more often celebrate the bounty and spirit of the California coast. Rather than classic fish-house fare, your Manila clams come with house-made chorizo, sofrito and shell beans; your raw kampachi with tangerine, shiso, Fresno chili and peanuts in a sweet chili sauce. The bright and airy restaurant tucked away in the center of the block is perfect to enjoy a brunch of crab cake Benedict, or as a place to drop by the bar for a lobster roll and a very good cocktail. —Besha Rodell
If you have a hankering for some upscale comfort food, Jar Beverly Grove is still one of the best chop houses in town. Retro specialties from acclaimed chef-owner Suzanne Tracht and Bangkok native Preech Narkthong include the signature pot roast, the 16-ounce dry aged Kansas City steak, and black mussels with lobster béarnaise and fennel salt. There's also a pan-roasted wild king salmon. With any beef or fish, there's a choice of sauce; options include the standard béarnaise, lobster béarnaise, tamarind, green peppercorn, creamy horseradish, lemon caper-berry relish with extra virgin olive oil, spicy mustard and thyme butter. Tracht's thin garlic-parsley french fries are legendary, as are the sautéed pea tendrils with garlic. Start the evening in the elegant dining room with a Hendricks' Gibson infused with rose and cucumber and finish it off with the sublime butterscotch pudding with salted caramel or a classic banana cream pie with caramel sauce. —Michele Stueven
There's a lot going on at the newly remodeled Westfield Century City mall in the dining space. Javier's has opened its latest outpost here, in the old Houston's spot, adding to its stable of locations in Mexico, Las Vegas and Southern California, and it's at the other end of the spectrum from the food court choices. The upscale, multiregion Mexican restaurant on the ground level is dotted with fireplaces and palms throughout the main dining room; there are also al fresco patios, intimate private dining rooms and a sprawling bar. Javier's offers an extensive ceviche menu and seafood specialties such as the popular shrimp, crab and lobster enchiladas. There's a 14-ounce tomahawk pork chop topped with chile negro and guajillo sauce served with esquite-style fresh corn. For smaller appetites, there's the filete antiguo, an 8-ounce filet mignon topped with chipotle cream sauce, sautéed onion and mushroom. For dessert, try the mocha tres leches, made with Patron tequila and coffee, or deep-fried ice cream rolled in corn flakes, nuts and honey served in a buñuelos basket. —Michele Stueven
The casually elegant Jean-Georges Beverly Hills in the brand-new Waldorf Astoria on Wilshire Boulevard may be one of the priciest places in town but it's nonetheless essential to Los Angeles and its ever-changing skyline. Famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has finally added an L.A. outpost to his empire, which includes restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Paris, London and Tokyo. There are three dining space options at the Waldorf, including the Rooftop by JG, which has panoramic views of Beverly Hills, Hollywood and downtown on a clear day. Vongerichten's French-American menu includes caviar creations such as a softly poached organic egg with Oscetra caviar, yogurt and herbs as well as egg caviar, served with softly scrambled organic eggs and vodka whipped cream — and that's the dinner menu. There's also pizza and pasta, including a spring pea and smoked mozzarella pizza with pickled chili. Choices from the wood-burning grill include Ora king salmon, grilled California lamb chops, Snake River Farms Wagyu skirt steak or beef tenderloin, which are served with blistered shishito peppers and citrus chili sauce. Executive chef Steve Benjamin offers a variety of prix fixe menus, with the Lunch in Sixty the best deal at three courses for $58: choice of an organic kale Caesar or creamy tomato soup; creamy mushroom tagliatelle or Snake River Farms grilled skirt steak with mashed potatoes and broccoli; and chocolate cake or a salted caramel sundae with peanuts, popcorn and hot fudge. —Michele Stueven
One of the fun games to play when dining at Jitlada, outside of celebrity spotting, is to watch as customers around you try to eat the things they've ordered after they've proclaimed, "I love spicy food!" Indeed, it's become a pilgrimage site for spice seekers, for lovers of Thai food, for those who attach the potency of their manhood to their tolerance of the Scoville scale. The competition for the city's best Thai food gets fiercer by the day, but Jitlada remains the O.G. of no-holds-barred Southern Thai cooking, and its insanely long menu, colorful dining room and Hollywood clientele make it as good a place as any to start when trying to learn the landscape of L.A.'s deep, vast Thai food scene. There are curries here in myriad varieties, complexly spiced salads made with crispy catfish or morning glory, fragrant soups, fish balls stuffed with salted duck eggs, and around 200 other things on this dizzying menu. People come here for the ebullient company of co-owner Sarintip "Jazz" Singsanong as much as for any other reason — once you get in her good graces, there's hardly a more welcoming place to eat on Earth. —Besha Rodell
At their Italian-American joint across the street from their flagship of awesomeness, Animal, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have declared their intention to create a restaurant like the ones in which they grew up eating. It's perhaps a bit of a stretch to think these two grew up dining in slick blond-wood booths, at places where you could get a $350 bottle of wine to go with your pizza, but who's quibbling? Jon & Vinny's is a place where you can bring the kids and where you might also spot Kanye West and entourage, dining on pizza and pasta and soft-serve ice cream. And, man, what great pizza it is. The L.A. Woman is an instant classic; its crust is firm enough that its burrata topping doesn't collapse your slice, which can be delivered to your mouth with grace and ease. The meaty Roman Gladiator — bacon, Italian sausage pepperoni and smoked ham — is popular these days. For the most part, the chefs shy away from the kind of creativity you find across the street. Instead, you get meatballs that are an absolute paragon of the form, a blend of short rib and pork shoulder that's mild and tangy in all the right ways, served with deep-red marinara. There are touches of L.A. modernism as well, in the marinated Calabrian tuna bruschetta with crunchy mirepoix, in the farmers market–driven salads and in a few of the non-meaty pastas, which are downright restrained. There's plenty in the under-$350 range on that wine list as well, and you can pick up a bottle to take home from the tiny wine shop at the back of the restaurant when you're done stuffing your face. —Besha Rodell.
Read our full review.
At Kali, which comes to us courtesy of former Patina chef Kevin Meehan and former Providence wine director Drew Langley, part of the conceit is that the restaurant features only ingredients sourced from California. As you'd imagine from a kitchen whose boundaries lie at the state line, Kali's roster of dishes changes often. If you were to judge it from the Instagram feed alone, Meehan's cooking would seem more avant-garde than it actually is — much of the food here aims for comfort rather than shock. A tasting menu offers "sea urchin/yellowtail/black barley/cod/rib-eye/gelato" for $85 ($115 with wine pairing), or there's a 10-course chef's menu for $100 ($150 with wine). It's tempting to find a label that applies to Meehan and Langley's very personal project — the laid-back neighborhood gem, the freewheeling chef's counter, or maybe the ambitious temple of haute cuisine — but it's probably more accurate to simply call it a well-polished restaurant. —Garrett Snyder
Read our full review.
With a name loosely translated as "fate," the East Hollywood restaurant from Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson (proprietors of the Madcapra falafel stand in downtown's Grand Central Market) is one of the toughest reservations in town. The big-ticket item is the $80 rabbit feast for two, featuring a pair of rabbit legs, a rabbit stew and skewered rabbit kebabs. Despite the hefty price tag, the feast is a deliciously rustic preparation that perfectly encapsulates the ethos of the restaurant. The distinctive salads, loaded with fresh produce and laced with aromatic herbs, are the type of cuisine health-conscious Californians love. The menu is full of ingredients such as harissa, rosewater and za'atar. Kramer and Hymanson take exotic Middle Eastern cuisine and put their idiosyncratic stamp on it. The jeweled crispy rice, laced with a runny egg yolk that coats the rice as you plunge your fork in, will remind you of Persian tahdig. The freekeh fritters (looking awfully similar to expertly fried falafel balls) are paired with a bright green sauce surely inspired by Israeli zhug, an addictive dressing based on fiery hot chili peppers. The talented duo, who previously worked at a groundbreaking restaurant in Brooklyn, have reimagined humble Middle Eastern cuisine, meticulously attuning it to urbane, contemporary L.A. tastes. And Kismet serves a refreshingly killer rosewater lemonade spritzer to boot. —Kayvan Gabbay
Read our full review.
Venezuelan-born Nathan Dakdouk's passion for baking started at an early age. Raised with his siblings by nuns at boarding school, he would sneak out of his room at night to watch the nuns bake in the kitchen. By age 12, Dakdouk had already mastered his own starter made from local grapes. He brought that "mother" with him to the United States and started Larder Baking Company with Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne. His sweet and savory artisan breads and pastries are handmade every day in the 10,000-square-foot facility in Culver City and are available at the Larder at Tavern, Maple Drive and Burton Way, and the Larder at LAX in the Tom Bradley Terminal. You can also find the breads at some Whole Foods stores. There are 25 varieties of breads, including the signature blueberry boule, which makes a wonderful last-minute dessert toasted and topped with cream cheese and a drizzle of honey. That also works great for the date walnut or the cranberry pecan boules. The olive loaf is perfect with an afternoon cheese platter. And the pastries! The line includes a huge selection of cookies (ginger date molasses, peanut butter sandwich, white chocolate cashew) and croissants (ham and Gruyère) as well as muffins (pumpkin with pepitas), brownies, blondies, monkey bread and pecan sticky buns. Best scones: apricot pistachio and maple fleur de sel. —Michele Stueven
If you want a friendly Hellenic experience near Hancock Park, family-owned Le Petit Greek in Larchmont Village is still going strong after 30 years. With some of the best Mediterranean cuisine in Los Angeles, its signature baby rack of lamb with garlic and rosemary is perfection, as is the arnisio kotsi, lamb shank braised in Dionysian wine sauce. A personal favorite is the gyro pizza — gyro meat, tomatoes, mozzarella, feta, red onion and oregano on flatbread — and there's a huge selection of Greek wine to go with it. Perfect pairing for dessert: house-made baklava and an Achaia Clauss moscato. For lunch we love the incredible gyro selection and the Elliniko piato, or Greek plate, a combination of moussaka, lemon chicken, spanakopita, hummus, tzatziki and house-made pita. Owners Tom and Dimitri Houndalas have created a beautiful white and green dining room dotted with baskets of lemons reminiscent of the Greek Isles. The walls are covered with black-and-white photos of Greece. Opa! —Michele Stueven
In the three years since Love & Salt opened in the old Cafe Pierre space in Manhattan Beach, chef Michael Fiorelli's modern Italian restaurant has become a beacon for the neighborhood, serving truly exciting food in a beautiful room that feels fun in a way that's utterly appropriate to its upscale beachy location. It's true that you can order a whole pig's head here (with 48 hours' advance notice), which comes with condiments and toast, but to me, the value lies in the menu's slightly less confronting pleasures. Popular dishes include the duck egg pizza, with pancetta, panna, potato, rosemary, mozzarella and Parmesan; and the bucatini pasta, with fennel sausage, black kale, Parmesan and bread crumbs. Fiorelli used to serve many of his best dishes only as large-format sharable plates, but now most things come in more manageable serving sizes, making it easier to explore more of the menu. Extra kudos to the staff, who provide the kind of friendly, breezy capable service that's weirdly (and infuriatingly) rare this close to the ocean. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
One of L.A.'s most iconic restaurants celebrates its 20th anniversary in September. Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne transformed the rustic old carriage house of the Harold Lloyd estate into a cozy WeHo neighborhood spot with ever-changing seasonal menus and cocktails. The Sunday Suppers at Lucques are legendary, thanks to chef Javier Espinoza's imagination, and the menu changes every week. There's cassoulet night, which includes salad of young greens and Saint Agur blue cheese with local walnuts, Banyuls and wildflower honey; cassoulet de maison, made of duck confit, pork confit, garlic sausage and white beans; and for dessert, gâteau Basque with prune-armagnac ice cream and almonds. Master mixologist Christiaan Rollich creates most of his own spirits, bitters and liqueurs for such signature drinks as the Lucques negroni with gin, sweet vermouth and house-made Italian-style bitter liqueur. Try the house specialty, Christiaan's G 'n' T, a floral concoction of house-made gin and tonic with lemongrass and aromatics. Ribfest is an annual event featuring smoked lamb, beef and pork ribs, with scents wafting up and down Melrose for two days. Special drinks for the annual event include the longhorn lemonade and a pistolero. This James Beard Award winner never gets old. —Michele Stueven
Do people give Lukshon enough credit? Does it come to the tip of their tongue when they think of L.A.'s best restaurants, our true originals, our must-visit places? It should. Sang Yoon's 7-year-old restaurant blazed a path for the type of exciting, bright, modern Asian cooking at which L.A. excels these days, and Yoon still does that kind of cooking far better than most who came after him. Whether it's his supremely savory and nutty tea leaf salad with crispy chana dal; his tiny, perfect lobster roll "bánh mì" with spicy green papaya slaw and pig ear terrine; his sticky Chinese eggplant with sambal and fennel raita; his Hawaiian butterfish with lime, herbs and coconut snow; or his Sichuan dumplings with delicate wrappers holding ginger-imbued kurobuta pork, Yoon's food is so carefully prepared, so thoughtfully executed, that you get to let go of your analytical side and just relax into pleasure. This process is helped along by one of the best wine lists around (particularly if you're a riesling fan); if wine ain't your thing, Lukshon could be the place where you become a single-origin tea geek. It's a thing, and as usual Yoon is on the forefront. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Every night there's something going on at Food Network star chef Jill Davies' Mar Vista. Sunday brunch comes with music, beet chips, homemade sangria, bottomless mimosas and such seasonal specialties as the smoked salmon–loaded potato with trout roe and the gooey mushroom toast with sunny-side-up eggs. Tuesday night is burger night, featuring a chorizo burger, and Thursday is an uni lover's dream, with live Santa Barbara sea urchins arriving in mounds. The cranked bowls here are legendary, made with frozen fruit hand-cranked through an old sausage machine and then combined with mint, basil, Nutella, pomegranate and vanilla meringue. Same goes for the sizzling hot pots — black rice and farro with corn, black-eyed peas, eggplant, kale and shiitake broth topped with house-made beet chips; or the pork pot, with korubuta shoulder, rice, squash and noodles. You never know what to expect in live music, anything from jazz to banjos to DJs. Sometimes an artist may be onstage, painting to the music. Mutts are welcome on the dog-friendly patio, and if you want takeout for lunch during the week, MV Grab & Go is right across the street. —Michele Stueven
MB Post, David LeFevre's large, loud, perpetually packed New American restaurant, went a long way toward redefining the center of Manhattan Beach when it opened in 2011. Now, with LeFevre's Fishing With Dynamite and the Arthur J open on the same strip, MB Post feels as if it is the center of Manhattan Beach, its high ceiling and long wooden communal tables serving as the youthful soul of this neighborhood. The menu is an international hodgepodge, with everything from charcuterie to char-siu lamb belly to Japanese hamachi sashimi with kimchi pineapple and Fuji apple. But whether it's a cauldron of mussels swimming in a deep green curry with Chinese sausage and sticky coriander rice, or classic chicken pot pie, everything LeFevre cooks here is done with an eye toward bold, balanced flavor. It's a great place for a casual dinner with lots of wine, a great place to meet at the bar for a cocktail, a fun way to bookend a weekend beach day (brunch is killer, too), a great symbol of what this neighborhood has become. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
It's easy to become jaded about luxury fine dining, to forget the pleasures of eating in an elegant room with formal service (Captains! Sommeliers and assistant sommeliers! Runners who swoop in to drop food or bus your tables as if they're performing ballet!). If what's so great about dining in this manner has slipped your mind, it really is worth a trip to Mélisse, Josiah Citrin's modern French restaurant in Santa Monica, to refresh your memory. Revel in extravagances such as caviar service, or a tableside filleting of Dover sole or carving of truffle-stuffed chicken, or Citrin's "10" menu, which spans 10 courses and will cost you a cool $195 per person. It's an investment, but it's worth using the excuse of a special occasion to see what Citrin is capable of — his soups so much silkier than anyone else's, his sauces so much more refined. For being one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, Mélisse has an exceedingly reasonable wine list — don't get me wrong, you can easily spend a month's salary on booze here if you want, but there's treasure to be found on the lower end as well, and a staff that's happy to guide you. For about double what you'd spend at many of our trendier eateries, you'll leave with the warm glow of a rare experience, one that has been perfectly calibrated from the second you stepped through the door and finishing with the gorgeous plate of petit fours delivered with your check.—Besha Rodell
The well-established Michael's has recently undergone a radical reinvention at the hands of Miles Thompson, the young chef who used to run Allumette in Echo Park and then left town for a couple of years. Thompson's cooking was always assertively modern, but in the time he was gone from L.A. it became more refined, more clever and more umami-driven. This is food that's cool to look at (in some cases for reasons that are almost subversive), but it isn't so cerebral that it becomes a killjoy. Pure pleasure appears to be the base ingredient in all of Thompson's cooking. Burrata comes lolling in its bowl with tangerine, marinated cauliflower and sour plum, a lovely contrast to the milky cheese. Thompson's arrival at Michael's offers hope that, rather than shut down our venerated institutions, we might honor them by moving steadily forward, keeping the components that are worthy of preservation (in this case, the iconic, irreplaceable glamour of the restaurant's leafy patio) and installing youth and vitality where it's needed. —Besha Rodell
MTN in Venice is one of L.A.'s essentials on the Westside for izakaya. Travis Lett's fourth restaurant has ironed out the bugs and is chugging away after almost a year in business on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The classic California style of seamless indoor/outdoor dining is walk-in–friendly, with communal and bar-style seating; reservations are taken as well. The Wagyu beef–wrapped enoki mushrooms with shoyu tare, scallion and myoga ginger might change your life, and the Peads & Barnetts pork bone ramen with black pepper chashu, pickled Fresno chili and black bean paste with noodles made on the premises is a close second. No matter what you get, be sure to order at least one Erika's Pickle Plate of seasonal veggies. And since it's a gastropub, it's worth ordering the chicken wings or the grilled pork cheek to go with your Concord grape fizz (Concord shochu, cremant and yuzu). Ginger lemon cake is a good finish. —Michele Stueven
Thai food in Los Angeles is evolving in ways other cities could only dream about, and the most exciting evolution is the rise of Kris Yenbamroong and his Night + Market projects. What started as an experiment of sorts, a food and art space attached to the Yenbamroong family's long-standing Talesai in West Hollywood, continues to expand with the addition in February of Night + Market Sahm in Venice. It's hard to imagine Los Angeles without these powerhouse restaurants. Night + Market Song, which opened in 2014, brought Yenbamroong's funky, deeply personal Northern Thai cooking to Silver Lake, where the neighborhood rejoiced in the colorful room with its plastic beads and topless Cindy Crawford poster and list of affordable, mainly natural wines. Here, along with the spicy larb and khao soi and pad kee mao he was known for, Yenbamroong debuted a fantastic fried chicken sandwich topped with papaya and jalapeño, and "Bangkok mall pasta" spicy spaghetti, showcasing the direction he's going in as a cook — Thai-based but increasingly borderless. What makes the food here so exceptional is the extreme care taken, the roasting of chilies, the layering of flavors. —Besha Rodell
If you're in the mood for a trip to New York but don't want to fly, you can check into NoMad Los Angeles for a multilevel experience. Restaurateur Will Guidara and the Sydell Group, which owns NoMad New York, have meticulously restored the elegant downtown landmark Giannini Building at Seventh and Olive and turned it into a 241-room hotel with two stories' worth of drinking and dining possibilities. Swiss chef and co-owner Daniel Humm is at the helm. On the ground floor you'll find a variety of options, including the coffee bar, modeled after the 300-year-old Caffe Florian in Venice, Italy. The library is dark and mirrors the vibe of its New York sister. There are anterooms and quiet corners to sip and talk, including the low-lit parlor off the library. The all-day Lobby Restaurant serves new American dishes such as chickpea panisse and looks like a spot you might find Hannah and her sisters having lunch. It's a colorful, French-inspired cross between the Polo Lounge and the Palm Court at the Plaza in New York. Off the main lobby you'll find the Giannini Bar, named after Bank of Italy founder Amadeo Giannini, who originally commissioned the building for his corporate headquarters in 1922. Overlooking the bustling and regimented scene on the ground floor, and at eye level of the fully restored intricate gold and blue Italianate ceiling, is the elegant and very sophisticated Mezzanine, which has a formal dining area and bar. While the ingredients are local, the menu has a definite New York taste (and price tag) to it. The foie gras torchon appetizer is surely one of the best this side of the Mississippi and looks more like a dessert, served with pears, red walnuts and black onion. Served in a square with no visual hint of its origin, the roast suckling pig is a crispy layer of skin resting on tender and juicy confit flesh, with persimmons, wild spinach and bacon marmalade. The scallops are perfectly seared and delicate, served with hen of the woods mushrooms. Finish it all off with a baked Alaska flamed at your table. —Michele Stueven
We all know the Venice Boardwalk is riddled with hot dog and pizza stands. But if you make a quick turn off the beaten path onto Dudley Avenue, you'll discover Osteria Venice West in a landmark 1922 brick building and think you've landed in Venice, Italy. The open kitchen encourages interaction and is designed for social gathering. The walls are a warm orange and dotted with playful art by versatile Japanese artist Moe Notsu, known for her murals, portraits and chalk art. Michelin star chef Luigi Fineo combines his Puglian roots with American ingredients in his smooth tomato gazpacho with king crab and basil oil, pappa pomodoro ravioli with Maine lobster and burrata, grilled marinated langoustines and profiteroles for dessert. All the wines are Italian. The big sister to Fineo's upscale Luigi al Teatro, Osteria Venice West's dishes are more rustic and the vibe more casual. A good deal at $49 per person is a monthly four-course tasting menu. Depending on seasonal items, starters can be a choice of burrata with blood orange and pistachios or tuna tartare; pasta choices include pumpkin ravioli, traditional Bolognese or truffle. Main course is pan-seared Ora king salmon with broccolini or New York steak with sautéed spinach. Dessert is chocolate mousse or tiramisu. My favorite is the chef's specialty, grilled Spanish octopus salad with potato, olives and arugula. Shaped in a perfect circle, it's a well-rounded combination of crisp, tender, peppery, briny and light. And yes, there's pizza. The Vegetariana pizza, with a paper-thin crust, is infused with matcha, topped with robiola cheese, mushrooms and squash blossoms. —Michele Stueven
Fresh off the French Laundry, chef Timothy Hollingsworth has brought his vibrant and seasonal talents to the sophisticated and rustic airy space next to the Broad Museum downtown at Otium. A combination of steel, glass, copper, stone and ceramics with a stunning view, it's an inspirational stop before or after the Broad. A member of the Dock to Dish program, Otium receives about 50 pounds of fresh fish from local fishermen every week. The daily grilled fish selections vary and come served with tamarind, tomato and fennel. The midday big-eye tuna is served with avocado, cara cara oranges, radish and blue corn. Off the menu but available if you ask for it: Chef's smoked French toast with bacon is served in its own individual smoker for brunch. The lid is lifted with a dramatic sizzle and waft of smoke. There's also smoky brisket and biscuits with peach jam on the side. The funnel cake with foie gras, strawberries, fennel and balsamic is a favorite. The pasta is made in-house: Try the spinach bucatini with bacon, egg and clams. Bar director Chris Amirault has just added a CBD oil cocktail to the bar menu for gin lovers. The Pineapple Express is a mix of Sipsmith and Farmer's gins, pineapple-infused Campari, vanilla syrup, one dasher full of coconut CBD oil and an orange twist. —Michele Stueven
Enthusiasts will debate the merits of the vast array of L.A.'s Korean barbecue establishments with a fervor similar to the way Texas barbecue partisans will duel to the death with St. Louis–style lovers. Which is part of what makes Park's BBQ so remarkable — for the most part, the consensus is that Park's is the king. The difference is in the meat, which is meticulously sourced. That upgrade in quality shows even if you don't opt for the pricy American Wagyu, but even more so if you do. Like the meat, everything here is extremely high-grade, from the banchan to the savory pancakes to the fantastic steak tartare, which comes with juicy slivers of Asian pear. For K-pop fans, there's probably no place in town you're more likely to run across a beloved pop star, and even if you don't, the walls are crammed with enough celebrity photos to make up for it. If you have time for only one Korean barbecue outing this year, well, we feel bad for you. But you probably should make it Park's. —Besha Rodell
You will find the epitome of the California indoor/outdoor lifestyle at Pedalers Fork in Old Town Calabasas near the historic Leonis Adobe. It's a combination boutique bike shop, restaurant, bar and coffee shop all under one roof — dedicated to the local cycling culture. You can ride in on your tandem, drop it off for a tune-up and stay for lunch or brunch. The menu offers a huge selection of breakfast fare, including blueberry banana Johnny cakes; popular healthy items for cyclists include the zucchini bread French toast and chia seed porridge with dried fruits. For dinner, the restaurant offers selections for carnivores à la carte by weight or by piece; meats come with house-made barbecue sauce and pickled onions, and can also be ordered as a sandwich. Choose from Watkins Ranch grass-fed beef brisket, pulled pork shoulder, ribs or Mary's free-range chicken. Or just get the sampler platter. There are also pizza and taco choices and messy burgers on the menu. For lunch, try a Forbidden salad — shiitake mushroom, marinated tofu, carrot, radish, cucumber kimchi, mizuna, arugula, sesame, kale chips, warm black rice and miso vinaigrette. There are 30 beers on tap in the bar as well as a large selection of rye whiskey. The 10 Speed Coffee Shop opens at 6 a.m. for early riders and offers fresh baked scones, muffins and donuts. —Michele Stueven
Images of Johnny Cash hang adjacent to walls laden with the iconic script of street artist extraordinaire Retna at Petty Cash Taqueria. The restaurant's name hints at a take on Latin street food, but don't be fooled! Back in May 2013, Walter Manzke (of République) and Bill Chait (formerly of Sprout) implored local "tacorazzo" Bill Esparza and Guillermo "Oso" Campos Moreno (of Tacos Kokopelli in Baja) to help them craft a menu that caters to the tastes of the city, while not ignoring the indulgent appetite of Tinseltown, just two tequila shots and a snort down the street. Petty Cash's famed guacamole with sea urchin no longer appears on the menu, but you can adventure through a plethora of taco varieties, from traditional takes on al pastor and carne asada to more contemporary combinations such as Sonoma duck with almond sauce or grilled octopus with peanuts. Be sure to notify your server of any food allergies, as they use peanut oil in many of their dishes. —Jacob BlackoffRead our full review.
Philippe the Original is billed as the birthplace of the French dip sandwich, and there's no doubt that's quite an achievement (though if you ask the folks over at Cole's, they'll claim the honor for themselves). But what we find so endearing about Philippe's, so wonderful, so essential, is the sensation of wandering, through some kind of time warp, into L.A. circa 1910. Philippe's opened in 1908 and has added some modern amenities in its 109 years: There are a few neon signs behind the counter along with the wooden ones, and in late 2014 it even started accepting credit cards. But the experience of standing in line, ordering your sandwich and having the meat carved in front of you (go for lamb, double-dipped, and add a magenta pickled egg on the side for fun), then finding a place to sit in the massive dining room, is unchanged. Early in the morning this is a great place to find a kind of club for old-timers and municipal workers, and the breakfast is unbelievably cheap. The whole place oozes a down-and-dirty charm, the true vintage soul of Los Angeles. —Besha Rodell
The iconic Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena (mere blocks from Caltech) has the cheeseburger most reminiscent of the old-fashioned, idyllic lunchroom cheeseburger of the '40s and '50s. Each ground beef burger is grilled to perfection in the open kitchen by longtime cooks, topped with a sheaf of iceberg lettuce and lacquered with a piquant Thousand Island dressing. Not much has changed in the 5½ decades since Pie 'n Burger opened in 1963. Unwavering consistency is a virtue here. There's the same Formica-topped counter, the same recipes. And one of the waitresses has been there since the place opened, which really gives it the feel of a time warp. Even the Cokes here are made the old-fashioned way, by mixing Coke syrup with soda water to order. The menu did add a veggie burger (a sign of the times) and spinach and mushroom quiche. The pies are some of the best anywhere and still made fresh daily. The suave butterscotch meringue pie and coconut meringue can only be improved by having your no-nonsense waitress scrape the meringue off and layer it with a solid inch of homemade whipped cream (trust us). It may look somewhat disheveled, but it makes up for that in the custard-to–whipped cream ratio. And despite the small seasonal window for the fresh peach pie, it's worth the pilgrimage for a slab of pie that can transport you to a Midwestern grandma's house for a fleeting gustatory moment. —Kayvan Gabbay
On the beach in Playa del Rey, Playa Provisions is four restaurant concepts in one 7,000-square-foot space, inspired by L.A.’s country marts. There’s a Small Batch ice cream shop, a casual market counter serving breakfast and lunch, a backroom whiskey bar and the more high-end dining space called Dockside, dedicated to seasonal seafood. Playa Provisions is the brainchild of Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson and her husband, Nick Roberts. The cozy outdoor patio along the bike path in the heart of Silicon Beach is a great place to get a relaxing, healthy weekend brunch that can help you lose track of time. Try the coconut chia seed pudding made with fresh fruit, honey and hemp seeds. It will fill you up for the bike ride back or a nice long walk in the sand. Dinner by the fire pit at Dockside is the ultimate L.A. experience, with seafood specialties that include lobster, calamari, Alaskan king crab legs, herb and oil poached salmon niçoise and tropical ceviche. Happy hour is great for watching the sunset and sipping on a Del Rey — blanco tequila, St. George green chili, cucumber, jalapeño, lime, agave and cayenne salt. —Michele Stueven
There are only a handful of restaurants in Los Angeles that aim for the same heights as Providence does, and perhaps none that achieves those lofty aims quite so well. Michael Cimarusti's seafood-focused, fine-dining standard-bearer excels at the formal service that much of the restaurant world has abandoned. There's a lot of joy to be found on the plate as well. No kitchen does the flurry of amuse-bouches as well as Cimarusti and crew, from a darling taco made with a nasturtium leaf to cigars made from Wagyu beef that come presented in a cigar box. Ultra-fresh (and always sustainable) seafood, such as Santa Barbara spot prawns or Dungeness crab, is presented elegantly and simply. During the winter, you can get perfectly cooked soft eggs (or risotto, or pasta — we prefer the eggs) showered in an obscene amount of black truffle. You could come here for all kinds of reasons — for the cheese cart, for the wine list, for the opulence of the room. The pleasures of this type of beauty and professionalism will have you wishing it wasn't so very rare. —Besha Rodell
When Redbird opened in December 2014, it felt like a necessary addition; downtown needed a major shiny new restaurant to anchor its burgeoning dining scene. It needed a place where the well-heeled would be happy to flock pre-theater, a restaurant for business or pleasure, a one-stop-pleases-all kind of place that nonetheless feels special. A few years later, Redbird is still a restaurant for when the mood strikes to live high on the hog, a place for eating in a decadent but sturdy fashion. Chef Neal Fraser excels at big hunks of protein, be it an extravagant slab of foie gras served with green curry, forbidden rice and gooseberries, or a rack of red wattle pork — the fat crisped just so at the edges, the interior juicy and piggy — accompanied by hazelnuts, fruit mostarda and Tehachapi farro. The $128, 32-ounce Colorado porterhouse says it's for two but could feed a table of four, and it provides some deeply gratifying bites of beef, tangy and charred and bloody. Built in the former rectory and courtyard of the now-deconsecrated cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles known as Vibiana, the space is a glorious ode to the past and present of downtown L.A. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
If you were to ask about our favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, République might not be top of mind. Yet it's amazing how many smaller "favorites" are wrapped up in the layers of this place. Favorite room? Absolutely — carved from the courtyard and façade of the castlelike historic building once owned by Charlie Chaplin, the Moroccan-tiled space is breathtaking in its beauty. Favorite wine list? It's certainly up there. Favorite croissants, favorite bread accompaniment (in the form of pan drippings served in a cast-iron pot), favorite place to linger at the table on a weekday afternoon over a burger and a glass of wine? Check, check, check. Walter and Margarita Manzke's incredibly ambitious restaurant and bakery and cafe and bar is one of Los Angeles' great places to celebrate over a slab of prime beef filet with foie gras and black winter truffles, just as it is a lovely venue for a casual cocktail and a black and white salad — black winter truffles, endive, hearts of palm, sunchokes, crème fraiche, hazelnuts and Parmesan — at the bar. You can do whatever you want with this restaurant, as long as you can get a reservation — it turns out half the city considers République a favorite of one sort or another. (Margarita Manzke has a new venue to express some of her own ambitions, the Filipino concept Sari Sari Store in Grand Central Market.) —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
The Rose, which had been a Venice staple since 1979, reopened its doors in November 2015 after a revamp, which included bringing on Jason Neroni as chef. The Rose now is a breezy fantasy of California living and eating: a bakery and cafe and bar and restaurant with multiple seating areas and patios. It all feels effortless and beautiful and so very, very Venice. (New Venice, that is — it's a hangout for the Google crowd, whose headquarters is next door.) As for Neroni, the Rose is more evidence of his talent as a chef, which we already knew about thanks to his time at Superba Snack Bar just up the street. There's a level of ambition in the pure scale of this place that's new for Neroni, but what's not new is the ways in which he continues to shine. Neroni's pastas are up there with the best in the city, and many diners who ate at Superba will recognize his decadent smoked radiatore carbonara (served with poached egg, braised bacon and Parmesan), as well as his particularly deft hand with the more pungent ocean creatures and their rightful relationship to noodles. Neroni has gotten better at charcuterie (and he was pretty good at it to begin with), and there are some dishes on the dinner menu that are stunning in their creativity and execution. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Jeremy Fox is one of those chefs whom other chefs gush about, and Rustic Canyon is the restaurant where you'll find many of those other chefs when there's cause for celebration or need for inspiration. Since Fox teamed with Rustic Canyon's owners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb in 2013, the restaurant has just gotten better and better, and Fox's ideas seem to be more distilled than ever. There are longtime favorite dishes, such as the bright shellfish pozole verde, which is both soothing and exciting. But with each new visit you're bound to find something that spends only a few days on the menu and is as delightful as it is fleeting. A recent porchetta with kumquats and bitter greens had us clutching our pearls in delight. If you don't believe us, check out Fox's gorgeous Instagram account for visual proof. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
For two decades, Sea Harbour Seafood has been the San Gabriel Valley’s premier fine-dining Chinese restaurant. Lavish chandeliers decorate the expansive dining room, masking the fact that it was formerly a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. The glossy leather–bound dinner menu is filled with aesthetically pleasing gastronomic delights: lacquered, mahogany-hued deep-fried squab, braised sea cucumber in a sprightly XO sauce, whole Dungeness crab pulled fresh from the tank and fried with preserved thousand-year-old egg yolk and a deceptively simple steamed live red cod. The meticulous preparation of these intricate dishes is second to none. The restaurant was one of the first of its kind in the Valley to do away with dim sum carts; simply check off the dim sum you want on a paper menu and each dish arrives fresh from the kitchen. Har gow pop with the sweet essence of shrimp. Egg custard tarts are not too sweet, with the vibrant flavor of pure egg yolk. The purple taro cake is the lighter-than-air pound cake of your gastronomic dreams. Year after year, Sea Harbour continues to serve up Cantonese cuisine of surprising quality. —Kayvan Gabbay
Once you’ve entered Shunji’s odd, round building on Pico Boulevard and made your way to your seat inside the sparse, circular room, turn your attention to the blackboard on the wall. You’ll need some time to ponder — the daily specials list can be a tad overwhelming. A waiter will bring you a menu board and prop it on a chair so you can peruse the tiny handwriting that crams every corner of the board’s surface. Your mind will swim, trying to take in all the sushi and sashimi options, as well as numerous creative Japanese small plates. Don’t sweat it — instead, go ahead and order the omakase, which is the clearest expression of chef Shunji Nakao’s vision, and which will include much of the best of what’s on the board anyway. In the winter, that means soft persimmon in tofu paste; in summer the chef’s famed agedashi tomato tofu, which is not tofu at all but compressed tomato turned to a tofu-like texture, lightly fried and set in a dashi broth. And always, it means luxuries such as monkfish liver topped with caviar, and pristine, glistening raw fish, draped across barely warm rice. —Besha Rodell
There are times when browsing the menu at Sichuan Impression — formerly Szechuan Impression, and the acclaimed Alhambra restaurant most often compared to the San Gabriel Valley’s other temple of Sichuan cooking, Chengdu Taste — that the non-Chinese diner can feel as if he’s reading a list of inside jokes rather than dishes: “Potato Strips on Street Corner,” “Big Mouth Ginger Frog,” “Fiery Temper Goose Intestine” and, perhaps most famously, “Cinderella’s Pumpkin Rides.” What these signify is Sichuan Impression’s home-style cooking, which invokes serious nostalgia for those well-versed in the food of Sichuan. No translation is need for soft-skinned wontons bobbing in a pool of lip-numbing chili oil, thin sheets of garlic-braised pork belly or cumin-blasted bits of lamb on individual toothpicks. In proper Sichuan fashion, many dishes will leave your mouth smoldering, but there are plenty of others that showcase the more subtle, aromatic side of China’s famously fiery province. —Garrett Snyder
Read our full review.
Sotto is one of those restaurants that I fear does not get the ongoing credit it deserves. And it deserves a whole lot of credit. Much was made of the Stefano Ferrara pizza oven when Sotto opened, and it turns out some of the best pizza in the city (the funghi pizza, with oyster mushrooms, roasted onions, scamorza, garlic and chives, is popular). That’s no small feat — but there’s much to laud in chef Steve Samson and chef de cuisine Craig Towe's nonpizza, hyper-regional Southern Italian cooking as well. He’s quietly executing an exceedingly thoughtful range of vegetable antipasti, focusing less on unexpected flavors and more on the cooking method that best suits each individual ingredient, be it wood-roasted baby carrots with Fresno chilies or blistered snap peas, served with green garlic, mint, pistachios and ricotta salata. Perhaps my favorite thing about Sotto is its wildly affordable wine list. In an era where the most casual restaurants often have very little below $60 by the bottle, a big portion of Sotto’s list sits a good $15 to $20 cheaper than that, for wines that will delight you and also teach you things — things you wish you’d understood for years — about lesser-known Italian regions and producers. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
There are other places in town you could go for Old Hollywood glamour — Spago has never dealt in nostalgia, really, and if it started to do so, a menu revamp and sleek renovation a few years back nixed any fantasies that the restaurant would slip into Grand Old Dame territory. Spago is a place to go if you want to be treated as a movie star might have been back in the good old days when service and pomp still mattered. Everyone here is treated like a VIP, whether you booked the table months ago to celebrate a special occasion, or because you felt like stopping by on a Tuesday night to perch at a cocktail table and snack on veal filet mignon tartare tucked into a marrow bone and topped with a layer of smoked mascarpone. Chef Lee Hefter and chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi present an elegant, sometimes extravagant menu with touches of Italy, Japan and China (one of the best dinner items is a whole roasted Cantonese duck for two), as well as classic California cooking of the sort chef-owner Wolfgang Puck helped to invent when he opened Spago. Yes, this is a great place for spotting celebrities, but with its gracious service and wonderful wine list and decadent dining, Spago is also a great place to feel like a celebrity yourself. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
The story of Sqirl has been told so many times over, its little-toast-shop-that-could narrative is practically a fable these days. Articles have been written that make Jessica Koslow’s East Hollywood cafe a symbol for the entire L.A. lifestyle, a place where beautiful people eat beautiful things out of bowls in the white sunlight. In fact, if you focus on what Sqirl has come to represent rather than what Sqirl actually is, you might forget the fact that Koslow and crew are still cooking some of the city’s most delicious food. It’s hard to resist just ordering the sorrel pesto rice bowl every time you eat there, for its utterly perfect combination of Kokuho Rose brown rice, French sheep feta, preserved Meyer lemon, sorrel pesto and a poached egg. But if you can tear yourself away from the rice and venture into the daily specials, you’ll be heartily rewarded. There are breakfast hash dishes made with the season’s best veggies, served in mini cast-iron skillets. There are delicate daily pastas after 11 a.m., along with creative lunch dishes such as “kabbouleh,” a fried rice-tabbouleh hybrid. The avocado toast is actually a version that makes the current avocado toast craze seem sane. The lines to order at the counter are long (particularly on weekends), the parking is difficult, the seating scarce. The hassle is worth it, always. (And maybe the crowds will head west when Koslow opens her pan-Jewish restaurant Tel in Sawtelle Japantown this spring.) —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Just off the beaten track from North Hollywood’s Thai Town on Vanowen Street, the tiny Sri Siam Cafe has been serving its authentic renditions of Northern Thai dishes for more than 30 years. The extensive menu does include more pedestrian dishes, such as pad thai and even (shudder) crab Rangoon. But you’re here primarily for authenticity — the deep-fried, butterflied trout topped with a thinly sliced apple salad. The crisp coating enrobing the mild fish within is the paragon of whole-fish preparations. Crispy rice salad in a spicy lime-inflected chili sauce is laced with puckery, sour Thai sausage. Khao soi (curry soup) packs a wallop of flavor, loaded with pliant egg noodles, fresh shrimp and the deep soulfulness of authentic Thai curry. The specials menu is where the more esoteric treasures reside, such as fried soft shell crab in green curry sauce, tiny blue crabs stir-fried in a deeply flavored dry curry powder, and a pungent pork hock soup loaded with ambrosial lemongrass and straw mushrooms. Another round of creamy Thai iced tea works well as a coolant to the spice, or try slices of ripe Thai mango paired with warm, sticky rice drenched with sweet coconut milk. Rest assured that you will be having just about the best lunch imaginable anywhere in North Hollywood. —Kayvan Gabbay
The Voltaggio brothers, Michael and Bryan, have teamed up on STRFSH, their latest venture located on the second floor of the recently remodeled and refurbished Gallery Food Hall on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade (its next-door neighbor is David Beran’s incredible tasting-menu-only Dialogue). The STRFSH menu is simplicity itself: fish sandwiches, french fries and drinks. Each piece of fish, whether salmon or swordfish (there are only two options, to keep prices down, and it’s all “responsibly harvested”), is grilled to order with a variety of spice-rub options, from the recommended Old Bay to curry; it’s then smeared with one of nearly a dozen sauces (including ocean ranch and Cajun remoulade) and topped with veggies, cheese, even kimchi, on a soft potato roll. Think of these sandwiches as a healthier option to your usual cheeseburger. Perfectly grilled salmon in Old Bay seasoning (referencing perhaps Bryan’s Maryland home base) topped with ripe avocado, oozing cheddar cheese, pickles and caramelized onions is greater than the sum of its individual parts, making for one tasty sandwich. —Kayvan Gabbay
Owner Marlene Samaniego presides over this sub shop–cum–beer haven. The plain but quirky sandwich shop houses an extensive inventory of more than 1,000 beers by the bottle. You can try a couple of new beers each and every day and still not make a dent in the voluminous list. Samaniego opened the local favorite with her husband, Sam, back in 1976, predating the craft beer craze by more than two decades. In addition to catering to beer connoisseurs, Stuffed Sandwich is a restaurant where families for decades could dig into what else but hearty, overstuffed sandwiches. (There’s a prohibition against profanity of any sort, to preserve that family atmosphere.) Samaniego continues the tradition, offering a puckery sour Hansen’s dried strawberry beer or maybe a triple-hopped Ballast Point IPA, depending on your mood. Every month the shop has a well-curated, rotating tap list of roughly half a dozen beers, from IPAs to sours/lambics to porters/stouts. The hefty pastrami dip on a French roll spread with yellow mustard and sliced pickles goes curiously well with a tripel Karmeliet Belgian beer. The walls are adorned with signs that say, “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay now,” along with caricatures of the late Sam Samaniego as the original “beer Nazi.” It’s a happy place to partake in an incendiary Polish sausage or bowl of beefy chili and a great beer, or two. —Kayvan Gabbay
Eagle Rock’s original coffee bar, Swork, is a kid-, pet-, and computer-friendly spot for coffee, tea, breakfast and lunch. Right at the corner of Colorado and Eagle Rock boulevards, the recently remodeled neighborhood spot has a great selection of teas and wellness blends in addition to java. The Rise & Shine is a combo of hemp milk, banana, kale, greens boost, lemon, chia, flax and agave. The Immunity Boost is a mix of fresh-squeezed orange juice, pineapple, immune boost, lemon, fresh ginger, turmeric and bee pollen. Swork may be a coffee bar, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more varied collection of hot teas. The Fleur de Geisha is green tea sprinkled with cherry blossoms, wonderfully aromatic. The Tropical Garden is a sweet mix of mango, papaya and peach and the Du Hammon blends green tea, rose, dates, berries and orange flower. For noshing, there are house-baked muffins, croissants, house-made granola and blueberry oatmeal, as well as a selection of bagel sandwiches; try the vegetarian farmhouse bagel, toasted with cream cheese, baby greens, red onions, tomato, cucumber, radish and mint-parsley-infused vinaigrette. If you bring your pooch, there are free doggie treats and water bowls, and for kids there’s a dedicated space with books, magnet board, mini chairs and table. —Michele Stueven
Tallula’s is a great neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica Canyon, steps from the beach. The kitchen is overseen by Rustic Canyon chef/co-owner Jeremy Fox. The ingredients don’t travel far to get there — most are sourced from the Santa Monica farmers markets throughout the week. Taco selections include grilled swordfish with red sauerkraut, dill, epazote and malt aioli; and the vegetarian, with fried yam, black beans, charred salsa, crema and shiso. If you can’t decide, leave it to the chef and go for the single XL taco, created daily. Try the signature potato enchiladas with salsa verde, peas, green garlic and pistachios. House-made tortillas are the perfect vehicle for the grilled carne asada made with grass-fed hanger steak, shaved vegetables and chipotle steak sauce. There are plenty of Mexican beers on tap, and margaritas, of course. Try the Westsider, made with Reposada tequila, elderflower liqueur, fresh lime, mint, cucumber and jalapeño. If you’re just going for happy hour, get the nachos sencillo to share. —Michele Stueven
Tavern is a Brentwood neighborhood staple that’s always got something going on in addition to the seasonal Suzanne Goin menu. Winemaker Wednesday features a different sampling of California wineries each month. For $25 you get four 2-ounce tastings and light snacks, including a selection of cheese, salumi and fresh artisanal breads. There are special menus for Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving that include vegan options. On the last Saturday of every month you can indulge in one of Christiaan Rollich’s latest concoctions at “Christiaan’s Bar” in the larder section of the restaurant. In the summer, chef de cuisine Amy Deaderik brings her annual low-country boil to the table: Southern potluck board with pimento cheese, Benton’s country ham, confit chicken rillettes, pickled okra, chow-chow, potato salad and triscuits; and a second course of radish and corn salad with scallions, house-made buttermilk cheese, cornbread croutons and lime. The main event is the abundant Carolina seafood boil with Gulf shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, potatoes and sweet corn served in an overflowing tin bucket with Deaderik’s house-fermented “hawt” sauce. Dessert is Southern cornmeal cobbler with peaches and buttermilk ice cream. For everyday, the Little Gem salad with Dungeness crab, avocado, cucumber and radish with green goddess dressing is a lunch classic. A dinner favorite is the short rib with sunchoke puree, spinach and crème fraiche. —Michele Stueven
Tosai Sushi In the food court of the newly remodeled Westfield Century City mall, Tosai Sushi is the latest concept from Kikka Sushi’s Tonny Soesanto — an easily accessible, eco-conscious restaurant serving high-quality sushi and sashimi. The Tosai concept is based on serving affordable sushi and inventive menu items that are made from sustainable ingredients free of hormones, antibiotics or any artificial colors or flavors. Selections include vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Tosai sources all-natural salmon from Iceland or Scotland. It is cut and prepared daily, and then frozen per FDA safety rules. Tosai is certified by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Because eel ranks among the worst seafood choices and is on the Monterey Aquarium’s “Avoid” list, you won’t find unagi on Tosai’s menu. What you will find are such unique selections as the spicy and crunchy sriracha roll that comes with either brown or white rice, and the vegan orchid roll made with forbidden black rice, avocado, Napa cabbage, carrots and spiced pink orchid sauce. The sushi burrito is about as filling as the Mexican version, with a fraction of the calories; it’s made with tuna. And for dessert, there’s a seasonal aloha fruit salad roll with sweet dipping sauce. Specials include rolls that are fleshy and crunchy, like kaffir lime shrimp and spicy shrimp tempura. —Michele Stueven
Nestled into an office building at San Vicente Boulevard and Darlington Avenue, Toscana is one of L.A.’s most desirable spots for Tuscan cuisine. Whether it’s lunch or dinner, the small restaurant is packed with a full house of patrons, many of whom are regulars from the surrounding community. It’s the friendliness of the servers, chefs and host staff that will make you feel as if you are visiting a family villa in Tuscany, but it’s the house-made pasta that will keep you at your table exclaiming “grazie.” Even the simplest items on the menu are an experience — such as the spaghetti pomodoro or the bucatini pasta with pecorino and black pepper. Not to mention the pizza. Or, if you are in the mood for something from the wood-burning oven, try the pollo al mattone with fresh rosemary. Mexican-born chef Hugo Vasquez curates rotating prix fixe menus for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day as well as periodic dinners with guest Italian winemakers. And when white truffle season hits in the fall, Toscana celebrates with selections like the 14-ounce dry-aged New York steak, roasted in the wood-burning oven and served with celery root puree and shaved white truffles. —Michele Stueven
Have we tired of Trois Mec? Has the novelty of eating in a tiny room behind the guise of a Raffalo’s Pizza sign worn off? Does the food seem less thrilling, the concept less fresh? Not in the slightest. If anything, recent meals have been more exciting, more innovative than when the trio of Ludo Levebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo first won our hearts more than four years ago with their weird experiment of a restaurant. After a flurry of “snacks” that might include foie gras beignets and a tiny, tangy mustard crème brûlée, you’ll be served five courses of delicious oddities such as sesame tofu with smoked strawberry, eggplant and olive; or roasted lobster in carrot juice with charred pineapple and house-made vadouvan spice butter. Supplemental courses often are available — recent examples include charred sweet potato with onion cream and caviar. With no supplements, the experience will cost you $110 per person including tax and tip (bought ahead of time as a nonrefundable ticket). The music will be loud, and the wine pairings, should you choose to go that route, will be wonderful. It all feels as vital and riveting as it did from the get-go. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
There are now Tsujita locations in New Jersey and Hawaii, and also at a mall in Glendale. The Tokyo-based company deserves its success, and we’re just happy to have more options for that stellar Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, as well as the fantastic tsukemen, its dipping broth thick and silky. With a ramen annex across the street from the original Sawtelle location and a noodle bar and a sushi restaurant nearby, there are numerous ways to give these folks your money, and Tsujita Sushi’s lunchtime offerings are outstanding in terms of raw-fish value. Perhaps once in a while we’ll make that detour, but for the most part, you can find us up the street waiting outside for a prized spot at that original bar, where we’ll slurp on ramen while being intensely thankful for our ever-expanding noodle riches. —Besha Rodell
There are few restaurants as tiny, bustling and convivial as Union, Bruce Kalman’s 4-year-old Cali-Italian restaurant in Pasadena. Large family groups commune at long tables, the babies among them happily gobbling pasta as their parents drink interesting Italian red wines. It’s the type of place where people stop in for a quick plate of pasta and a drink at the bar, a perfect first-date spot, a perfect 100th-date spot. Starters, such as beautifully executed pork meatballs with a bracing kick of chili, are inventive but comforting above all else. The handmade pastas are the star of the show, however, from the simplest, tomato sauce–dressed spaghetti alla chittara to heavier ragus. This is the type of restaurant we all wish we had within walking distance of our homes: laid-back, friendly, relatively affordable, and with food you could eat happily over and over again. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.
Founded by members of the Drago family (Giacomino Drago and his brother, Tanino) more than two decades ago, this Southern Italian restaurant in the heart of Beverly Hills’ Golden Triangle shopping district has been a mainstay with a focus on outdoor dining. It’s a unique, leisurely vantage point from which to people watch and dine on rustic classics such as grilled langostino brushed simply with olive oil and lemon juice or perhaps pounded veal chop parmigiana (on the bone) topped with a piquant tomato sauce and lots of milky fresh mozzarella. Since this is health-conscious Beverly Hills, there is an emphasis on fresh salads (the one loaded with olive oil–poached tuna and cannellini beans in a restrained lemon vinaigrette is good) as well as fish dishes, including a light baked Dover sole (deboned at the table) and grilled Mediterranean branzino. In season, white truffles are generously shaved over pappardelle or risotto. The name of the cavernous, lively restaurant stems from the street in Southern Italy where many of the Drago family members grew up, in the tiny village of Galati Mamertino in picturesque Messina, Sicily. The homey feel of this small town–inspired cuisine reverberates generations later in tony Beverly Hills. —Kayvan Gabbay
Angelenos can’t get enough of their Italian cousins. A cozy spot for authentic Italian is Vincenti Ristorante on San Vicente’s Italian row in Brentwood. Owner Maureen Vincenti greets every guest at the door as if they were family and works the room to make sure all is well. Chef Nicola Mastronardi’s seasonal menu includes fiori, lightly fried zucchini blossoms with burrata and ricotta in a fresh tomato sauce. Follow that with a pasta course of bucatini all’amatriciana with cherry tomatoes and pecorino. The rotisserie porchetta with braised red cabbage with balsamic is legendary. Monday nights are pizza night, with all pies cooked in the wood-burning oven. Try the tomato-less bianca with artichokes, burrata, zucchini flowers and prosciutto. All desserts are made in-house, including the panna cotta and a classic ciambella — extra virgin olive oil cake with blueberry sauce and stracciatella gelato. Finish off the evening with a candlelight tour of the Grappa Garden, a cart with arguably the largest grappa selection in town. —Michele Stueven
We’ve got more oyster choices in L.A. than ever before, but the greatest selection is at one of L.A.’s seafood institutions, the Water Grill. You can order from about 20 different varieties according to size, brininess, coast or town. The raw bar and iced shellfish platter selections of Peruvian bay scallops, lobster, mussels, clams, crab and wild jumbo brown shrimp are extensive and can be customized to size and preference. And try the generous crudo sampler of big eye tuna, wild Nantucket Bay scallops and New Zealand king salmon. The original old-school location is downtown in the art deco Pac Mutual building, complete with carved ceilings, brass doors and leather booths. By contrast, the newer Santa Monica outpost is a breezier version on Ocean Avenue, perfect for watching people and sunsets. Both menus vary but are always seasonal. Pacific halibut season begins this month and runs through summer. During that time you can live out your mermaid dreams with Water Grill’s roasted Alaskan halibut tail tacos with roasted tomato salsa and pickled mango. The tail is served whole and makes a fantastic mess as you dissect the tender flesh from the bones and crunchy skin. The martinis are top-notch and come with a blue cheese–stuffed olive upon request. —Michele Stueven
Winsome would make a great set for a fashion shoot, especially in the daytime, when light streams in and illuminates the blond-wood ceilings and booths, and the long counter that curves around the bar and open kitchen. The hanging plants are draped just so; the wallpaper against the back wall is printed with a scene of fat-bottomed figures picnicking in a lush, green park. Winsome is put together by Marc Rose and Med Abrous, the guys behind the Roosevelt Hotel’s lauded Spare Room cocktail bar. The chef is Jeremy Strubel, and his menu includes such culture-melding, border-crossing dishes as shelling bean and whipped feta spread served with rustic toast and herb pistou; mussels in green curry; and bone marrow street corn. That’s the thing about Winsome: Even if you’d like to resist the hipster fantasy it perpetuates, the food — and the drinks! — are likely to seduce you anyway. —Besha Rodell