Spanish mackerel sushi at n/naka
Spanish mackerel sushi at n/naka
Anne Fishbein

L.A.'s Best Restaurants, No. 1: Lyrical Musings on the Meeting of California and Japan

L.A. Weekly's Best of Los Angeles issue landed today with a celebratory thud, online and in print. As part of that issue, as always, we name the Best Restaurant in Los Angeles. But why go for just one? Why not name 20 best restaurants in L.A.?

In anticipation of our biggest issue of the year, we counted down those 20 restaurants, adding a new one each weekday for the past 20 days until today, when the best restaurant in L.A. is revealed, along with all our other fantastic honorees.

But first, a couple of notes:

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Maude, which has made it to the No. 1 spot in the past, is not on this list at all. That’s not because we don’t love Maude — we do! But it is in the midst of a major transition, and the restaurant it is now is not the restaurant it will be within a few weeks. (We’re sure it will still be amazing; you should absolutely go to Maude.)

Second, some restaurants that might deserve to be on this list were just too new at press time to include. Vespertine, for instance, and Dialogue are obvious contenders. Perhaps you'll find them on next year’s list.

Today? No. 1!

1. n/naka

Sometimes I take notes on my phone while dining out, in order to remember later how something tasted or how it made me feel. From my last meal at n/naka, I have only one entry. It reads, "Sushi course: This is what fairies eat. On their birthday." In addition to feeling like Tinkerbell at her most celebratory, I had multiple other giddy moments during the course of the meal, as well as the persistent thought: This is the best restaurant in Los Angeles. That wasn't always true of n/naka — chef Niki Nakayama's kaiseki restaurant in Palms was wonderful from the moment it opened, but it's taken her a few years to grow into her full potential, and if I were to guess I'd say the difference now is that she trusts her instincts more fully. Meals made by Nakayama and team are lyrical musings on season, tradition, newness and the meeting of California and Japan, both culturally and in terms of ingredients. Seafood and seasonality are prized above all else, and occasionally a dish arrives — a spiny sea urchin, for instance, filled with its own creamy roe, plus snow crab and dashi gelée — that redefines your feelings about the limits of textural pleasure. If you opt for a sake pairing, you'll find yourself delighted by some of the most intelligent, passionate beverage professionals around, who mix no snobbery with their enthusiasm. That's the beauty of this restaurant — it is practically perfect while exuding humbleness and hospitality at every turn. —Besha Rodell

3455 S. Overland Ave., Palms; (310) 836-6252, n-naka.com.

The "ugly bunch" at ProvidenceEXPAND
The "ugly bunch" at Providence
Courtesy Providence

2. Providence

There are only a handful of restaurants in Los Angeles that aim for the same heights that Providence does, and perhaps none that achieve 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. The flurry of amuse-bouches, from a darling taco made with a nasturtium leaf to cigars made from Wagyu beef that come presented in a cigar box, are the best in town. Ultra-fresh (and always sustainable) seafood, such as Santa Barbara spot prawns or Norwegian red king 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 they weren’t so very rare. —Besha Rodell

5955 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; (323) 460-4170, providencela.com.

Tuna tartare, with Hokkaido scallop and Santa Barbara uni, at MélisseEXPAND
Tuna tartare, with Hokkaido scallop and Santa Barbara uni, at Mélisse
Courtesy Mélisse

3. Mélisse

It’s become trendy in recent years to cast a heavy side-eye toward the style of dining found at Mélisse, Josiah Citrin’s modern French restaurant in Santa Monica. And it’s true that of all the special-occasion spots in town, Mélisse is the most formal and luxurious and true to an era of fine dining that has mainly slipped away or become stodgy and obsolete. But Mélisse is neither of those things. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, the room is hushed and the service is formal. (Captains! Sommeliers and assistant sommeliers! Runners who swoop in to drop food or bus your tables as if they’re performing ballet!) Perhaps we've forgotten how hard that style of service is, or how wonderful it can be when done with true hospitality in mind. Where many other restaurants in this class tend to cater to their older, more moneyed regulars, Mélisse extends its brand of extremely professional welcome to everyone who walks through the door, even if it’s obviously your one big fancy dinner of the year. And 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 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 step through the door until the gorgeous plate of petit fours is delivered with your check. —Besha Rodell

1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-0881, melisse.com.

Danny Liao

4. Q

In a city with a fabulous wealth of sushi options, from the more affordable on up to the astronomical, it can be hard to choose a favorite or “best” (some days, if you asked me to rank the 20 best restaurants in L.A., I’d give you 10 sushi joints, a bunch of tacos and forget the Western-style fine dining altogether). Hiroyuki Naruke’s Q is undoubtedly one of the most wonderful dining experiences in town and has been since he opened it in 2013. The quiet, minimalist restaurant is where Naruke showcases his Edo-style sushi, using seasonal fish that is sometimes aged or cured in order to bring out specific flavors and textures. The restaurant only serves omakase, and it’s not cheap (though at lunch there is a slightly less exorbitant option), but if you’re looking to discover the best of what L.A. offers, sushi-wise, it’s worth placing that large bet on Q. —Besha Rodell

521 W. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 225-6285, qsushila.com.

Strawberry, almond ice cream, rhubarb, rose ice, olive oil cake at Trois MecEXPAND
Strawberry, almond ice cream, rhubarb, rose ice, olive oil cake at Trois Mec
Anne Fishbein

5. Trois Mec

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 Ludo Levebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo first won our hearts 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 plump root-vegetable dumplings bobbing in a Parmesan broth, or pineapple sushi with burrata. Supplemental courses often are available — a recent Parisian gnocchi over Tahitian vanilla mousseline with black truffles was worth every one of its extra 29 dollars. With no supplements, the experience will cost you not much more than $100 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

716 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; troismec.com.

Anne Fishbein

6. A.O.C.

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, such as the devilishly black arroz negro, the slightly firm rice punctuated with soft squid and lush saffron aioli. Over mid-afternoon drinks at the quiet bar (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

8700 W. Third St., Beverly Grove; (310) 859-9859, aocwinebar.com.

Chicken liver crostone, black plum mostarda at Alimento
Chicken liver crostone, black plum mostarda at Alimento
Anne Fishbein

7. Alimento

When I originally reviewed Alimento in September 2014, I could tell that Zach Pollack had created something special. But I also had a few complaints. The room was deafeningly loud, and the food was in some instances searingly salty. It certainly didn't strike me as one of the best restaurants in the city. Today, however, Alimento can absolutely bear the weight of that distinction. The meals I've had more recently there have been head-spinningly, stunningly great, so much so that at first I wondered if I'd stumbled into a fluke of lucky ordering and high kitchen morale. But subsequent meals have had the same magical quality. The mortadella pig in a blanket and the escolar dishes have lost none of their shine, 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. 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 I didn't notice; I was too busy being thrilled by the food. —Besha Rodell

1710 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 928-2888, alimentola.com.

Charcuterie platter at Cassia
Charcuterie platter at Cassia
Anne Fishbein

8. Cassia

The collaboration between Zoe Nathan, Josh Loeb and Bryant and Kim Ng may look and feel like just another trendy restaurant, and certainly there is a sense of taking all that's fun about big, loud, fashionable places and pouring those elements on thickly. But Cassia delivers so much more in the substance of the cuisine, so much more heart and flavor and ingenuity. Chef Bryant Ng has brought some of the sensibility that made his now-departed Spice Table a favorite, but the context is slightly different. Here, he's riffing on the interplay between French and Vietnamese cuisines, both the influences that are born of the historical French occupation of Vietnam and crossovers born of Ng's imagination and training. Cassia is part grand brasserie and part modern Asian eating house. You can order a chilled seafood platter in various sizes, but rather than the tower of chilled crustacean bits that's customary, you get a sampling of Ng's cooked and raw cold seafood creations: a bowl of large prawns bathed in an aromatic Vietnamese hot sauce; smoked salmon dip topped with fresh salmon roe and served with grilled country bread; hunks of raw scallop in chili oil with tiny bits of ham and corn and gobs of fresh herbs; long spindly king crab legs cut lengthwise so the sweet meat is easy to access, topped with a lemongrass fish sauce and a flurry of shiso leaves. Other French/Vietnamese mashups, such as the pho-influenced pot-au-feu, are striking in their cleverness but also in just how well they sum up the aim of this restaurant: an elegant ode to what both Europe and Asia have taught us about deliciousness. —Besha Rodell

1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica; (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.

Fiori di zucca at FelixEXPAND
Fiori di zucca at Felix
Anne Fishbein

9. Felix

Felix, the new Venice restaurant from pasta maestro Evan Funke, has it all. The space is wonderful in the way that only restaurants built in old houses can be, outfitted in warm brown leather booths and green botanical wallpaper that feels both modern and vintage-tinged. The service is lovely. The cocktails are fantastic. The wine list is deep and smart. You could easily make a beautiful meal from the 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. But you're here for the pastas, which are made in a glassed-in, climate-controlled room that faces the front dining room, where Funke and his cooks roll and cut and extrude with care and precision, a showcase of the handmade techniques the chef learned on his travels and proof that he's serious with his oft-used social media hashtag #fuckyourpastamachine. It would take weeks to eat through all these pastas, from saffron-tinged malloreddus (tiny Sardinian gnocchi) and multiple variations of spaghetti to hearty ragus and lovely little orecchiette with sausage and broccoli. Every table seems to have a plate of the pappardelle – bathed in a mellow Bolognese, the pasta is practically silky, making the pappardelle of your past seem rough and clumsy by comparison. Taken as a whole, Felix is a stunningly great restaurant: personal, beautiful and with some of the most goddamned delicious pasta Los Angeles has ever seen. —Besha Rodell

1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (424) 387-8622, felixla.com.

Escargot at Petit Trois
Escargot at Petit Trois
Anne Fishbein

10. Petit Trois

At least half of the items on Petit Trois’ menu already qualify as iconic L.A. dishes, a mere three years into the restaurant’s existence. There’s the omelet: the egg itself presented as pure texture, a lightly frothy yellow solid, with absolutely no visual or tactile clue that it has ever touched a pan, its interior gloriously creamy. And there’s the burger: a mashup of cultures, taking inspiration from the classic American cheeseburger as well as chef Ludo Lefebvre’s homeland in the form of Bordelaise sauce with a smidge of foie gras and piles of caramelized onions. There’s the escargot, drenched in butter — like everything here, better than the actual Parisian food it aims to parrot. But it’s worth straying from these beloved dishes to try some of the newer additions and specials: light-as-air Parisian gnocchi showered in cheese, or a lobster thermidor that’s as decadent a throwback as you could ever wish for. We’re looking forward to the larger San Fernando Valley outpost that’s slated to open later this year, but in the meantime this tiny slot of a restaurant remains one of the best — and, yes, most iconic — dining experiences in the city. —Besha Rodell

718 N. Highland Ave, Hollywood; (323) 468-8916, petittrois.com.

Garlic pork belly at LukshonEXPAND
Garlic pork belly at Lukshon
Anne Fishbein

11. Lukshon

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. From the time it opened in 2011, Sang Yoon’s 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 blue prawns; his tiny, perfect lobster roll “bánh mì” with papaya slaw and pig ear terrine; his sticky Chinese eggplant with sambal and fennel raita; his Hawaiian butterfish with lime, herbs and coconut; or his Sichuan dumplings with delicate wrappers holding ginger-imbued Kurobuta pork, Yoon’s food is so carefully prepared and 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

3239 Helms Ave., Culver City; (310) 202-6808, lukshon.com.

Bistecca Fiorentina at Chi Spacca
Bistecca Fiorentina at Chi Spacca
Anne Fishbein

12. Chi Spacca

For meat lovers, there is hardly a restaurant in L.A. more geared toward delivering maximum carnivorous joy than Chi Spacca, the charcuterie- and butchery-focused wing of the Mozza compound in Hancock Park. Originally the passion project of chef Chad Colby (who has since moved on), Chi Spacca is now in the able hands of Ryan DeNicola, with the help — of course — of Mozza queen Nancy Silverton. Chi Spacca still delivers what is probably the best charcuterie in town, offering daily selections of salumi, pâté and aged whole-muscle cured meats that just might deliver the most fragrant, ethereal form of fat you’ve ever tasted. There’s the insanely decadent beef and bone marrow pie and the serious (and seriously expensive) Fiorentina steaks. These steaks are some of L.A.’s great special-occasion dishes, the char and blood and tang of them so memorable that the sense memory of eating them lasts for months. And, of course, you can’t miss the focaccia di Recco, the crispy, cheesy, crackly wonder that resulted from Silverton's years-long quest to re-create a focaccia she ate in the dish’s namesake Italian town. At $18 it’s maybe the most expensive order of bread you’re likely to find, and — like everything at Chi Spacca — it is totally, absolutely, thrillingly worth every cent. —Besha Rodell

6610 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park; (323) 297-1133, chispacca.com.

Luu suk (pork blood soup) at Night + Market Song
Luu suk (pork blood soup) at Night + Market Song
Anne Fishbein

13. Night + Market

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, has now morphed into two full-fledged powerhouse restaurants, places it’s hard to imagine Los Angeles without. 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,” showcasing the direction he’s going in as a cook — Thai-based but increasingly borderless. You’ll hear this food is blisteringly spicy; you’ll hear all about the (currently unavailable) blood and MSG soup and the (currently delicious) smashed water bugs. Don’t be fooled into believing this is gimmickry — what makes the food here so exceptional is the extreme care taken, the roasting of chilies, the layering of flavors. In 2015, Night + Market quietly took over the Talesai space from which it originally sprouted, signaling the end of an era and also cementing a new age, one that’s thrilling in its delicious unpredictability. —Besha Rodell

9043 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 275-9724, nightmarketla.com.
Night + Market Song: 3322 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 665-5899, nightmarketsong.com.

Rustic CanyonEXPAND
Rustic Canyon
Anne Fishbein

14. Rustic Canyon

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 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 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

1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 393-7050, rusticcanyonwinebar.com.

Moronga at Broken Spanish: blood sausage, peach, arugula
Moronga at Broken Spanish: blood sausage, peach, arugula
Anne Fishbein

15. Broken Spanish

Broken Spanish provides a sampling of the thrilling approach to contemporary Mexican cooking; it wouldn’t be out of place in Mexico City's 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. But why travel when Broken Spanish brings together Latin America’s up-to-the-millisecond food scene. Chef Ray Garcia is a lifelong Angeleno and an Eastsider trained in fine kitchens around the city. At Broken Spanish, there are tamales with umami flavors of lamb neck and king oyster mushroom; yellow beet pibil, dusted with ochre achiote spices; and a 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 a wide array of Mexican wines or a mezcal cocktail, and experience the full breadth of the modern Mexican movement. —Drew Tewksbury

1050 S. Flower St., downtown; (213) 749-1460, brokenspanish.com.

Mariscos Jalisco: One of the world's greatest single bites of food
Mariscos Jalisco: One of the world's greatest single bites of food
Anne Fishbein

16. Mariscos Jalisco

In a city jam-packed with life-changing taco trucks, figuring out which ones to feature on a list like this is insanely difficult. On the one hand, I could make an entire list of tacos that compete with the finest restaurants in town in terms of pure enjoyment. On the other hand, without the trappings of a dining room, a bar and everything else that goes along with the word “restaurant,” how can you argue that a truck is one of the best restaurants in town? But dammit, Raul Ortega’s Mariscos Jalisco, the Boyle Heights mariscos truck, serves perhaps the most perfect food item in all of Los Angeles. Don’t be confused by the crowds surrounding the other trucks nearby. Go directly to this corner of Olympic Boulevard and wait as they fold the shrimp into a tortilla and fry the whole thing in hot oil, pulling it out when it reaches peak golden crispiness, then cover it with slices of avocado and pert red salsa. The crunch of the fried tortilla, the sweet hunks of shrimp, the creamy avocado, the perfectly spicy, acidic tang of the salsa — it’s one of the world’s greatest single bites of food. —Besha Rodell

3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 528-6701.

Items from Gwen's "Feast" menu
Items from Gwen's "Feast" menu
Anne Fishbein

17. Gwen

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 chophouse 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 regular nightly prix fixe 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. You will see easily 20 or more dishes cross your table by the end of the evening, and many of those dishes are stunning. A recent change in format allows diners now to go for a much more affordable, pared-back three-course meal, or an even more extravagant tasting that includes caviar and foie gras and Wagyu and is downright bonkers. Whichever way you go, it's incredibly fun to take part in this monument to one guy's glorious, meaty Hollywood dream. —Besha Rodell

6600 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 946-7513, gwenla.com.

Banchan at Park's BBQ
Banchan at Park's BBQ
Anne Fishbein

18. Park's BBQ

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

955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown; (213) 380-1717, parksbbq.com.

Guerrilla Tacos: tacos with wild boar and roasted Anaheim chilies, and tacos with local beans and fried eggEXPAND
Guerrilla Tacos: tacos with wild boar and roasted Anaheim chilies, and tacos with local beans and fried egg

19. Guerrilla Tacos

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, a taco truck that started as a cart but soon will become a restaurant, 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

Various locations (truck); (323) 388-5340, guerrillatacos.com.

Okra at Bäco MercatEXPAND
Okra at Bäco Mercat
Anne Fishbein

20. Bäco Mercat

One day the city of Los Angeles may well rename this part of downtown “Centenoville” for the delicious influence chef Josef Centeno has brought to the couple of blocks where his five restaurants reside. Bar Amá, his ode to Tex-Mex, is as fun a place to eat and drink as any in town. Orsa & Winston delivers one of the most interesting, thoughtful tasting-menu experiences around. Ledlow is a model for the modern neighborhood cafe. And PYT, his newer ode to vegetables, will show you how to appreciate a turnip as you’ve never appreciated a turnip before. But Bäco Mercat stands resplendent as Centeno’s original vision for what downtown needed: a place that reinvented the sandwich (or is it a taco? A wrap?) in the form of a bäco, a flatbread/pita arrangement that smooshes soft bread with tangy sauce with meaty meat, whether it be beef tongue schnitzel or oxtail hash. The rest of the menu darts all over the globe and reveals more about Centeno’s point of view than it adheres to any particular trend or style. Hamachi crudo with Abkhazian chili spice is tangy, fresh and pert; vegetable dishes such as roasted romanesco with treviso and pea tendrils remain utterly original in the face of an onslaught of derivative vegetable arrangements elsewhere. Be it yam, pea and pomegranate on a spiced beef flatbread or a yellowtail collar with yuzu kosho and walnut vinaigrette, something at Bäco Mercat will get you, and get you good. —Besha Rodell

408 S. Main St., downtown; (213) 687-8808, bacomercat.com.


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