In celebration of our 99 Essential L.A. Restaurants issue, we're breaking out entries from the big list into handy, cuisine-centric guides. Right now, we're all about Italian. Check out L.A.'s essential spots for handmade pasta, salumi platters and crispy pizza below, then head over to the full list of our 99 Essentials to see what other restaurants rise to the level of "essential."
We adored Zach Pollack's small Cali-Italian Silver Lake restaurant when it opened in 2014. It was exactly the type of intimate, quality restaurant the neighborhood needed. But over the last year, something remarkable has happened. Alimento has gotten better. And better. To the point where we now 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, taken more unexpected turns. We've all had burrata on bruschetta, but Pollack tops his with a pile of juicy, bitter-at-the-edge, braised lettuce, which interacts magically with the creamy cheese. A 40-ounce rib-eye comes with potato fonduta, smoked and roasted mushrooms, and a gloriously funky salsa verde that brings the whole dish into brilliant, umami-rich focus. This is a chef at the very top of his game. —Besha Rodell
1710 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 928-2888, alimentola.com.
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 despite being only 14 years old. 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 dining room full of older customers, many of whom come here every week and sit at the same table. (The people-watching here is outstanding, made all the easier because the tables are so thoroughly crammed together.) The exceptional pastas — even in this age of handmade pasta bounty — are still 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 in a long and fruitful marriage. -B.R.
7313 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax; (323) 297-0070, angeliniosteria.com.
Bestia remains one of L.A.'s few true perennial hot spots. Three years in, the restaurant is still thrilling trend seekers and serious food nerds alike. The winning formula, concocted by Sprout restaurant group and chefs Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, consists of an industrial-chic space in the bottom of a loft building on the edge of the Arts District, aggressively cheffy Italian cooking and a stellar cocktail menu and wine list. This is a profoundly fun place to eat, the energy in the room matching the gleeful combinations on the plate, the latter of which include slow-roasted lamb neck with hazelnuts and salsa verde, and the perennial favorite of chicken gizzards with roasted beets and Belgian endive. The pastas remain some of the best in town, and 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 practically impossible. It's not hard to see why. -B.R.
2121 E. Seventh Place, downtown; (213) 514-5724, bestiala.com.
Jon & Vinny's
So much of pop culture is the filtering of nostalgia through a current sensibility, and no L.A. restaurant currently epitomizes the fun of food and nostalgia and pop culture better than Jon & Vinny's. 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 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. 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. The thing that shines through is the chefs' sense of joy, which makes Jon & Vinny's irresistible. -B.R.
412 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax; (323) 334-3369, jonandvinnys.com.
It's hard to overstate the import and influence of Nancy Silverton in the grand story of L.A. dining, and you needn't look farther than her three restaurants on the corner of Highland and Melrose to understand why her cooking is so admired and imitated. Co-owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, Silverton's Mozza Group includes Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca, and there's so much to love between these three spots that it's hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with the pizza at Pizzeria Mozza, which remains one of the best pizzerias in the country, each pie lovingly crafted from Silverton's now-famous dough and topped with the best Italian and Californian ingredients. Next door at Osteria Mozza, the grandest of the bunch, you can dine on cheese from the mozzarella bar (sometimes flown in from Italy that day), sip on amaro from the amaro bar and indulge in gorgeous pastas and deeply flavored meat dishes. And while Chi Spacca's immensely talented chef, Chad Colby, has left to pursue other meaty dreams, the salumi plates and bistecca Fiorentina porterhouses are still being delivered beautifully. Individually, these restaurants are breathtakingly good. As a whole, they're an achievement worthy of awe. -B.R.
6602 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park; mozzarestaurantgroup.com.
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Is it possible that Sotto has been open for five years? That's usually the age at which a heavily decorated restaurant begins to advance from the realm of really, really good to damn-near-legendary status, a restaurant where trends and upstart chefs can be traced back to and mapped out like a sprawling family-tree diagram. Even in its earliest days, Sotto was much more than a Neapolitan pizza restaurant, though it was and is making some of the finest pies in the city. You could find interesting wines from overlooked regions of Italy, cocktails that captivated even the geekiest of amaro nerds and beautiful renditions of both hearty handmade pastas and wood-grilled meats before both of those became de facto requirements in L.A.'s rustic-Italian scene. Steve Samson and his team of chefs offer both classic standbys, such as grilled pork meatballs, and seasonal dishes, like risotto stewed with squash and roasted chestnuts. It's not easy for restaurants to balance consistency with creativity year after year. Sotto pulls off that feat with ease. -Garrett Snyder
9575 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson; (310) 277-0210, sottorestaurant.com.
There are few restaurants as tiny, bustling and convivial as Union, Bruce Kalman's 2-year-old Cali-Italian restaurant in Pasadena. Large family groups commune at long tables, the babies among them happily gobbling meatballs 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 glass of wine at the bar, a perfect first-date spot, a perfect 100th-date spot. Starters, such as a beautifully spiced cotechino sausage served with braised collard greens and a soft poached egg, are inventive but comforting above all else. The handmade pastas are the star of the show, however, from the simplest tomato sauce-dressed spaghetti chitarra 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. -B.R.
37 E. Union St., Pasadena; (626) 795-5841, unionpasadena.com.