Best Of :: Food & Drink
For a coastal city, L.A.'s seafood options — outside of the sushi, which has always been stellar — have been oddly limited, falling mainly to high-end treatments (Water Grill, Providence) and a few cutesy tourist spots (Blue Plate Oysterette). But over the past year or so, Los Angeles has suddenly become serious about seafood. We now have a glut of new places to indulge in the bounty of the ocean — thank God. From Hollywood's littlefork and Manhattan Beach's Fishing With Dynamite to Michael Cimarusti's Connie and Ted's, all of a sudden there's a whole new generation of restaurants where you can get your oyster or seafood tower fix. While we owe a great thanks to the few folks who were ahead of the game (thanks, Hungry Cat), we're thrilled to have so many new options. More oysters = more good.
The food at the Trails Cafe in Griffith Park is scrumptious enough to satisfy Los Angeles gourmets: The avocado sandwich — full of sprouts and soy "bacon bits" — is particularly yummy, and the cookies are, without fail, amazing. But the spot is best utilized by parents of young kids, particularly those whose offspring tend to cause chaos at restaurants. That's because, for one thing, the seating is outdoors — on picnic benches and hay bales — so you don't have to worry about the kids' noise or the mess, and there's plenty of room to run around. Once you're done eating, simply cross the street, where you'll find a full kids' playground on a sandy floor, as well as the trails, which weave through the woods and alongside a brook. Overall, it's an environment in which you won't encounter a single angry eyebrow from another adult, and one that ensures your rugrats will later go down for a solid nap. 2333 Fern Dell Drive, Los Feliz. (323) 871-2102, thetrailslosfeliz.com. —Ben Westhoff
Cooking classes aren't hard to come by in Los Angeles. But as long as sanitary requirements are followed, why should food education always mean endless, stainless-steel surfaces and the whirring of exhaust fans? Poketo, Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan's design firm/shop in the downtown Arts District, is about creativity of all stripes. So the husband-and-wife team puts the bright, airy square footage to work by hosting a series of hands-on food-making classes, with no demo mirrors or headset mics involved. Recent sessions have included mustard and other condiment-making with Zach Negin of SoNo Trading Company; a lesson on traditional kimchi techniques taught by Myung's mother; and summer sodas and vinegar-based shrubs with Emily Ho, an L.A. maven of food-swapping (the sharing of handmade food — Poketo has served as a venue for the swaps). Workshops aren't limited to food; eager crafters also have tried their hand at calligraphy, floral design, wreaths and holiday decor. 820 E. Third St., dwntwn. (213) 537-0751, poketo.com. —Jessica Ritz
What the Hollywood Sign is to Hollywood, Circus Liquor' 32-foot-tall, neon-clown mascot is to North Hollywood. The nightmare-inducing liquor store clown towers over Burbank Boulevard and has been seen in just about as many movies as the Hollywood Sign itself, although its connotation isn't always positive: Cher got held up in its parking lot in Clueless, and the liquor store serves as a crime scene in Snoop Dogg's video for "Murder Was the Case." On-screen reputation aside, Circus Liquor doesn't clown around with its impressive selection of hard-to-find craft beer from Europe, Asia and North and South America and its nearly two dozen American beers offered in quarter and half kegs for all your Valley rager needs. Like any reputable liquor store, Circus Liquor even stocks its own branded T-shirts, trucker hats and baby apparel, so you can always be sure to represent. 5600 Vineland Ave., N. Hlywd. (818) 769-1500, circusliquor.com. —Jennifer Swann
Got a hankering for some high-calorie, sugary, fried dough and want to make an adventure of it? Load up the car with your grooviest friends and drive to La Puente, where you will find an incomparably odd 1968 architectural landmark called the Donut Hole. Drive in through a 26-foot fiberglass doughnut, do your ordering in the center, and drive out through another matching doughnut armed with a boxful of glazed deliciousness. It's a campy example of programmatic architecture, in which a building mimics the product it sells. Come for the apple fritters, stay for the photo ops. 15300 Amar Road, La Puente, 91744. (626) 968-2912, facebook.com/pages/The-Donut-Hole/103952482982355. —Nikki Kreuzer
From the owners of Chipotle — yes, Chipotle — comes a new Southeast Asian chain. ShopHouse shares many of Chipotle's best attributes: fresh ingredients, "sustainable" meats and quick, choose-your-own-adventure, assembly-line service. But we'd argue that ShopHouse's food is actually better than Chipotle's. You choose from cold rice noodles, or brown or white rice, then one topping from each category: protein, vegetable, sauce, topping and garnish. You end up with a bowl piled high with food, a pretty substantial serving for less than $8. But the most surprising thing about ShopHouse is how bold this food is. It's possible to get a low-heat meal, but most of this food is aggressively and appropriately spiced. The curry sauces are thicker than many Thai curries, and pretty intense. The green beans are cooked with chile jam, and pack quite a kick. The eggplant is full of Thai basil and appropriately smooshed and delicious. If ShopHouse's dreams are realized and it takes over the nation, as Steve Ells' other venture did, then this is a chain restaurant we'd gladly pull off the interstate to frequent. 6333 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 462-2856, shophousekitchen.com. —Besha Rodell
At the Larder at Burton Way, chef-owner Suzanne Goin (Lucques, A.O.C.) was inspired to update the go-to brunch dish eggs Benedict for her Tavern Benedict, riffing on the classic dish with both favorite ingredients and a twist, she says. The classic hollandaise sauce over poached eggs is there. The twist? A toasted slice of house-made brioche loaf, topped with Gruyère. Goin's favorite ingredients? A choice of either house-cured salmon or prosciutto (the most popular). On the side is a simple frisee salad with scallions, lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Goin's business partner and wine guru, Caroline Styne, recommends a crisp sauvignon blanc or a mimosa made with a mix of orange and Meyer lemon juice — though nothing beats one of the Larder's rocking cappuccinos. 8500 Burton Way, Beverly Grove. (310) 278-8060, larderatburtonway.com. —Kathy A. McDonald
For those who have Champagne tastes but a beer budget, Petrossian West Hollywood's $49 weekday happy hour is a relatively affordable way to indulge in the ultimate briny delicacy of the caviar for which the small West Hollywood café and boutique is known. Like wine, there are different varieties, and this is a fantastic place to expand your palate. Flavors veer from slightly salty seawater to the brown-butter finish of pricey Osetra. At happy hour, it's farm-raised American sturgeon (nutty Transmontanus) that's paired with either two glasses of Champagne or two vodka flutes. Or leave all the effort to executive chef Giselle Wellman, whose caviar flatbread is layered with creme fraiche, onions, eggs, capers, chives and caviar. Wellman recommends the caviar-tini: a dirty vodka martini that's finished with a caviar-stuffed olive, cocktail onion and a caviar cube, all on a stick. Decadent? It's just L.A.'s version of a budget-minded happy hour. 321 N. Robertson Blvd., W. Hlywd.; (310) 271-6300. petrossian.com. —Kathy A. McDonald
The term "daily catch" has real meaning at Catalina Island's Lobster Trap restaurant, owned by commercial lobster fisherman Caleb Lins since 2008. Lins plies the fertile waters off the Channel Islands in his 40-foot boat, Money Matters, bringing in local fish and California spiny lobster to his casual eatery in Avalon, the island's main town. When it's in season — October through March — you can order up the spiny lobster plate, a split, whole Pacific lobster served with all-American sides such as baked potato and coleslaw. (Unlike North Atlantic lobsters, spinys have no front claws, so most of the edible briny meat comes from the tail.) Or try the ceviche made from local white seabass, traditionally prepared and incredibly fresh. Look for other indigenous eats such as sand dabs and yellowtail — and wash it all down with some Lost Coast Brewery pale ale, retro-priced at $2 per draft during daily (2-4 p.m.) happy hour. 128 Catalina St., Avalon; (310) 510-8585. catalinalobstertrap.com. —Kathy A. McDonald
Although it's one of the purest expressions of the bartender's art, it's still surprisingly easy to screw up an old-fashioned. That's why Seven Grand's no-bullshit take on the classic drink stands out. There's no flaming orange peel, no bacon-infused simple syrup, nothing called a "shrub" — just carefully muddled sugar and Angostura bitters, a splash of soda water, some citrus for aromatics and a generous helping of the Maker's Mark that is, as it damn well should be, the star of the show. You can try a variation by calling for nearly any of the bar's 400-plus whiskeys (but please God, no single-malt Scotch), so long as you leave the other ingredients alone. As general manager Andrew Abrahamson puts it: "The beauty of the cocktail itself is that it really highlights the whiskey." Amen. 515 W. Seventh St., 2nd floor, dwntwn.; (213) 614-0737. sevengrandbars.com. —Andy Hermann
The humble cucumber, always the bridesmaid (never the bride), finally gets its day in the spotlight at Goldie's — but it undergoes a makeover akin to a full-body wax and scrub at a Korean spa. Chef Thomas Lin, inspired by the braised cucumbers of Julia Child's day, takes whole cucumbers and chars them on a wood and charcoal grill until the skin blisters and burns. Then Lin roughly chops them, tosses them in vinaigrette made with spring garlic oil, burned leek tops and cornhusks, and finally serves them in a bowl with a swipe of cool avocado mousse. To this pile of green goodness he adds shaved celery and garlic flowers. It's salty, sweet, charry, sour — and the best thing to happen to cucumbers since gin. 8422 W. Third St., Beverly Grove. (323) 677-2470, goldiesla.com. —Erin Lyall
No need for a flux capacitor or malfunctioning hot tub: Soda Jerks, the old-fashioned soda fountain at the Santa Monica Pier, takes you back to your childhood — and then some. A throwback to the '20s and '30s, the counter features sundaes, shakes, malts, phosphates and more, all made by hand. Decor, fixtures, fountain and mixers are all vintage, and uniforms are true to the era. And with the fountain right beside the pier's original 1916 carousel, you can sit at the counter and enjoy your egg cream while the painted ponies fly by. Treats feature locally famous Fosselman's ice cream, so go ahead, order something whimsical — like The Whimsical, a doubly devilish sundae, or better yet, a Dipsy Doodle Phosphate with made-to-order orange, cherry, lemon and lime soda, for no more than it would cost you to get a Vitamin Water at the gas station. Or if you want the experience without the calories, get a simple soda water: the Two Cents Plain. Yes, you can actually buy something for two cents in 2013. 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (310) 393-7632, sodajerksusa.com.