Best of L.A.

Best Of 2010


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Food & Drink

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Breakfast in a Cup
Yummy Cupcakes

Bacon jumped the shark. Cupcakes are passé. But put them together, and now you've got something. Something good, that tastes a lot like breakfast. Yummy Cupcakes, one of the first bakeries to enter into the city's long-running cupcake wars, presents the atomic bomb of cupcakery: the sweet and salty "Pancakes 'n' Bacon." Vanilla maple cake is frosted with maple buttercream, then topped with chunks of real bacon. Just when you think you can't bear the sweetness — boom! Bacon. "It's definitely in our top five most popular cupcakes," says Executive Chef Tiffini Soforenko. Recently, though, another, newer Yummy bacon cupcake has been making inroads. Called "The King," it has a peanut-butter cake base and fresh-banana-buttercream icing sprinkled with chopped nuts and crumbled bacon. Yummy's extensive cupcake arsenal rotates, so call ahead to make sure these two glorious weapons of bacon distraction are on the menu. 220 26th St., Brentwood. (424) 238-6330; 313 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 393-8283; 2918 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. (818) 558-1080; —Gendy Alimurung

2918 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 91505
Best Place for a Martini With a View (1914)

Want to feel like the King of Hollywood? More specifically, want to feel like the Japanese King of Hollywood? Technically that would make you emperor. Or do you just want to chill out in one of L.A.'s most opulent and fortuitously situated restaurant/lounges? Do all of the above at Yamashiro, a decent Japanese restaurant and drinking establishment blessed with an absolutely incredible setting. In 1914 the Bernheimer brothers finished their wacky dream of building a Japanese mansion on a hill high up above Hollywood, and filled it with their Asian treasures. Today you can get a martini or a rare sake in the lounge or a truffle hamachi in the Cal-Asian-style restaurant, and take in the incredible minipalace, with its gold-lacquered, bronze dragon–tipped rafters, ornate woodwork and silk wallpaper, and outdoor grounds featuring a 600-year-old pagoda, thousands of specially planted trees and shrubs, Japanese gardens, a koi-filled pond and an inner courtyard. Just watch the extremely steep drive going up and down. 1999 N. Sycamore Ave., Hlywd. (323) 466-5125, —Adam Gropman

1999 N. Sycamore Ave., Los Angeles, 90068
Aroma Coffee and Tea Company
Orly Olivier

Let 'em have Larchmont. Never mind Melrose. Who needs Montana? Folks who live or hang in the Southeast San Fernando Valley have their own small, fairly well-hidden enclave right near where Tujunga meets Moorpark, a stretch that's leafy, quiet and upscale enough to attract the well-heeled professionals, yoga moms and working screenwriters you might find in those other areas. And the crown jewel of Tujunga is the Aroma Coffee and Tea Company, a former house converted into a very special sort of coffee-tea-and-food place, where the interior feels like a nicely decorated, new-agey bed and breakfast — different cozy rooms, each full of atmospheric well being — and the spacious outdoor grounds feel like some magical garden, surrounded as they are by large trees and tastefully lush patio landscaping. The food — ranging from breakfast quesadilla to New York steak salad with gorgonzola to red velvet cake — is thoughtfully prepared and fairly healthy and the coffee, tea, chai, lattes and smoothies are superb. Aroma's a great place for solo hanging, writing or reading or for any sort of social rendezvous. 4360 Tujunga Ave, Studio City. (818) 508-0677, —Adam Gropman

4360 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, 91604
Best New Versions of Old-Time Relishes

There's nothing that says "Hollywood cocktail party" quite like mango chutney and corn relish. Or so it was in the '30s and '40s, when pillows of cream cheese were piled on top of just about every appetizer, and cocktail hour wasn't complete without canapé trays from the best private chefs and caterers. Viola Rowland's mango chutney and corn relish were among those that regularly made the rounds at parties hosted by Doris Day, Dan Duryea and Max Factor. Her granddaughter, Nancy, has been carrying on that tradition since the 1980s by bottling her own versions of her grandmother's relishes using local ingredients. Under her Viola's Gourmet Goodies label, that mango chutney morphed into an orange-apple-tomatillo version now called California relish (still a sweet chutney). Viola's corn version, now known as Baja relish, became a tomatillo relish with jalapeños and cilantro that does double duty as a spicy-sweet salsa for tortilla chips. Viola's Baja and California relishes are available at Vicente Foods in Brentwood, Irvine Ranch Market and at; —Jenn Garbee

Laurel's Heirloom Tomato Plants

Every spring, Angelenos enter into that sweet madness known as tomato mania: They want tomatoes, they need tomatoes — the fruit, the plant, the seeds, in as many varieties as possible. The savviest of those who have survived the frenzy and lived to tell about it rely on a woman named Laurel Garza to see them through. Garza runs Laurel's Heirloom Tomato Plants. It's primarily a shipping business. People call in with orders in September, she starts seedlings in December, then begins shipping by end of March. But Southern California locals can pick up their plants in person at Garza's nursery in Torrance. Better yet, they can attend her Sunday plant sales in the months of April and May and behold the tomato wonderland firsthand. From Japanese Black Trifeles to Striped Germans, Bloody Butchers, Chocolate Amazons and Azoychkas, Garza's got tomatoes for every application (sauces, capreses, sandwiches) and location (humble balcony containers to plantation plots the size of Tara). For 2011, Garza is offering 92 varieties. Though other years, depending on her mood, that number can rocket to 150. Always included are her favorites, the Paul Robeson — a black tomato with a sweet, smoky earthiness named for the famous opera singer and civil rights activist — and the old-fashioned Clint Eastwood's Rowdy Red. Says Garza, "They have an unruly, rich flavor that's just mind-blowing." 1725 257th St., Lomita. (310) 534-8611, —Gendy Alimurung

1725 257th St., Lomita, 90717
Best Bar in a 100-Year-Old Building (1910)
The Edison

Visionary and renovator extraordinaire Andrew Meieran is responsible for giving a wake-up call to Los Angeles. "I fell madly in love with the Higgins building the day it won the award for ugliest, dirtiest building by the L.A. Times in 1995," he says. "I saw a mixture of the future and the past. Inside there was so much detail worth saving. It is the ultimate in adaptive reuse." Built in 1910 by copper baron Thomas Higgins, the building once housed Occidental Petroleum, Clarence Darrow's office, the Temperance Society and the city's first private power plant. But by 1995, the dilapidated, vacated shell was partially underwater (Meieran toured it by raft) and discarded like much of L.A.'s past. The building now bustles with restaurants, an art gallery, 135 lofts, and the Edison, an ultraswanky art deco "gin joint" so reminiscent of the Golden Age that every element of the décor — down to the preservation of the boiler room and original generators — gives guests an opportunity to walk back in time. On October 10 at 7 p.m., raise a glass at the Edison for the Higgins Building Centennial Celebration. It's what paved the way for L.A.'s historic downtown redevelopment. In other words, it's why you go downtown again. 108 W. 2nd St., dwntwn. (213) 613-0000, —Heidi Dvorak

108 W. Second St., Los Angeles, 90012
Best Banana Cream Pie
The Apple Pan Critics' Pick

A good piece of pie often will remind you of your childhood or, at the very least, give you a glimpse into a childhood you wish you'd had. Apple pie tends to get a lot of credit in this arena, and despite an old, popular saying, blueberry pie may actually be the most American. But when it's all said and done, a properly made banana cream pie might be the most deeply comforting of them all. Los Angeles has many different versions, and they're available year-round. But as much as we enjoy a modern take on a classic — like the individually portioned one on the dessert menu at Suzanne Tracht's Jar , sweet, mellow and drizzled with a light caramel sauce — we most enjoy an actual classic. So when it comes to true satisfaction, it is seemingly impossible to look beyond the one at a 63-year-old institution: The Apple Pan. A tender crust, firm slices of fresh banana, sweet yellow custard and a thin layer of soft cream. Their apple pies and hamburgers do appear to be more popular, but sometimes it really feels like they shouldn't be. 10801 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 475-3585. —Noah Galuten

10801 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 90064
Best Chocolate Milk
Norwalk Dairy

As much as our daydreams may run toward the coffee milk you find in Rhode Island and the root-beer milk popular in the greater Wichita area, we have nothing against chocolate milk, really we don't. The sticky concoctions in most supermarket dairy cases don't do much for us, but we remember fondly Alta Dena's brief flirtation with Guittard, and we are always happy to see the thick glass bottles of chocolate milk from Broguiere's. The chocolate milk at the diner Milk up on Beverly Boulevard? Not so bad! Yet the urge for the ambrosial, cocoa-colored fluid is always at its peak when we drive up to the teetering Norwalk Dairy, one of the last remaining dairy farms in a part of the county that used to be thick with them, and peek in at the contented-looking cows that live in back of the stand. The milk here may not be flavored with fancy chocolate, and this corner of a Santa Fe Springs industrial area is not the scenery that shows up in the dairy-board commercials, but the chocolate milk is rich, gently flavored and first-rate. If all of this is too wholesome for you, the dairy is next door to the excellent Thai restaurant Renu Nakorn, where you can blow the top of your head off with an order of catfish larb. 13101 Rosecrans Ave., Santa Fe Springs. (562) 921-5712. —Jonathan Gold

13101 Rosecrans Ave., Santa Fe Springs, 90670

It's not easy to find an authentic Argentine empanada in L.A.: a baked savory pastry filled with seasoned ground beef (the O.G. Argentine empanada por excelencia), or ham and cheese, creamed corn, cheese and onions, chicken, tuna or, only very occasionally, vegetarian-friendly fare. Some stores, even bona fide Argentine restaurants run by people who should know better, will sell you the fried version, but those are not the droids you're looking for. If you want the real thing you can get anywhere on the streets of Buenos Aires, go to Robertino Cucina at the Silver Lake Farmers Market every Saturday. Robertino Giovannelli ran the Larchmont Italian restaurant La Luna for many years, and now is a much-in-demand cooking instructor specializing in high-quality, pesticide-free, hormone-free cucina. Besides delicious, healthy basic ingredients, Robertino's secret weapon is wife Paula Carlotto, your typically stunning Argentine beauty who can bake a mean empanada de carne. Other flavors (and Robertino's pizza) are also available at their stand, right across from the great books-and-vinyl stall. 3700 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. —Gustavo Turner

3700 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90026
Best Wartime Cookbook (1942)

The late 1930s and early 1940s were kind of a grim time in Southern California. The Great Depression hit Los Angeles as hard as it hit practically anywhere in the country, and the vast influx of penniless retirees from cold states put an unusual burden on the state. Although the agricultural bounty was still unmatched in the world, a huge portion of it was swallowed by the war effort starting in 1942, and food, as elsewhere in the country, was rationed. M.F.K. Fisher, a glamorous Whittier-born sybarite who wrote for Hollywood and had spent her formative gastronomic years in France, was probably not the most obvious candidate to write a masterpiece about privation. She had become well-known for writing about dishes that few Americans would ever have a chance to taste, not about dishes that most Americans would soon be forced to eat. Yet as with Elizabeth David in England, the cincture of wartime rations touched something in her that was deep and true. And it can be argued that How to Cook a Wolf, her third cookbook, is the finest thing she ever wrote about food — not just recipes, but a thrifty worldview that brings out the best in a cook. In the midst of even our limited abundance, few of us are likely to follow her directions for war cake made with bacon fat, a grand hash made from the wilting weekend contents of an icebox, or poverty sludge; but read as literature, the book is superb. "The natural progression from boiling water to boiling water with something in it can hardly be avoided, and in most cases is heartily to be wished for." How to Cook a Wolf, by M.F.K. Fisher. —Jonathan Gold

Best Place to Stalk Celebs

When out-of-towners are in for the weekend and request to see movie stars, you want to make them think you're tapped into the Hollywood scene, don't you? So you get in your Ford Focus and sputter by the Ivy, which is too pricey to eat at and way too swamped by the paparazzi to actually discern whether it's Maria Shriver or Keira Knightley who's not eating her lunch. You could take your chances at Mr. Chow's, but that's a crapshoot. And supplying tickets to The Price Is Right to see Drew Carey should only be considered as a last resort. What to do? Go to Mo's. This comfortably casual eatery with stellar burgers is where filmdom's famous like to hang after, before or during a meeting at nearby Disney Studios, Warner Bros., NBC or Universal. Recently spotted: Sandra Bullock, Steve Carell, Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, James Franco, Jake Gyllenhaal, George Clooney, Shia LaBeouf, Jay Leno, Matthew McConaughey, Julie Andrews, Robert Downey Jr., Paula Abdul, Clint Eastwood, Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci, William Shatner and John Stamos, to mention but a handful. As general manager Mark Harrison puts it, "On any given day, it's like the Warner Bros. commissary." 4301 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 845-3009, —Heidi Dvorak

Best After-Dinner Goodwill

On your way out of Corina Weibel's Atwater Village restaurant, Canelé, after a dinner of lamb stew and pissaladière, maybe, you will be given a little gift, in the tradition of mignardise: a smaller-than-usual canelé, one of the pretty bordelaise cakes from which the restaurant takes its name. Weibel will be the first to admit that her canelés are not a perfect example of the form: They are not made in the traditional method, copper tins painted with beeswax, and they are certainly not on par with Sumi Chang's outstanding canelés at Euro Pane. But, as Weibel will also tell you, that is not really the point. Because Canelé's canelés are metaphorical cakes as much as they are actual pastries. They represent the goodwill and neighborliness of the restaurant, which does not take reservations, which is built around the large, wooden communal table, and which regularly lets nonprofessionals cook dinner during Friends Cook nights. Weibel's canelés can be a bit leathery, often misshapen, sometimes listing one way or the other, like dinner companions after a few hours at the bar. And as such they represent the beautiful qualities of the restaurant far more than repeated rows of perfectly formed cakes ever would. They are also just the thing to eat while you're trying to find your car. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 666-7133, —Amy Scattergood


Best Breakfast in a Cup: Yummy Cupcakes


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