LA Weekly's Best of L.A. 2016 recently went live, and when looking though the food section, we had a thought: Does L.A. finally love seafood? Sure, the city was a sushi front-runner in the last century, but for a coastal town we've had a relative dearth of seafood options for quite some time. Until this year, when restaurants are creating high-quality fish dishes at an unprecedented pace and small fishmongers are making a go of it around town.
Our Best Chef this year is Michael Cimarusti, the fish king of L.A. He's long been running the kitchen at Providence, a culinary temple dedicated to the sea. With the addition of second restaurant Connie & Ted's and food market Cape Seafood & Provisions, Cimarusti is a godfather of ocean delights. Here are the best seafood dishes around L.A., all worthy of his approval.
Seafood platter at Cassia
Chef Bryant Ng has brought to some of the sensibility that made his now-shuttered Spice Table such a favorite, but the context here is slightly different: 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. Cassia is part grand brasserie and part modern Asian eating house. The menu, too, is huge and follows the laws of a brasserie, with offerings from the raw bar, a charcuterie section, small plates and larger plates. You must order a chilled seafood platter, which comes in various sizes. 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. At $45 for the small platter, which also comes with six raw oysters, this is an incredible treat. —Besha Rodell
1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica; (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.
Fish tacos at Cheko El Rey del Sarandeado
Chef Sergio Peñuelas, who gained a devoted following at Coni'Seafood and, before that, at Mariscos Chente, recently moved to Long Beach's . Peñuelas is justly famous for his pescado zarandeado, the Sinaloan specialty of whole grilled snook. But equally worth driving for are his marlin tacos, beautifully salty, cheesy and almost austere, topped with one perfect slice of avocado. Peñuelas' marlin tacos here seem a little more substantial than I remember from Coni'Seafood, the marlin meatier and the cheese less overwhelming. I've heard these tacos compared to a tuna melt, and while it's true that the two preparations share some spiritual DNA, to me the current version is much more elemental — it has more brawn and less smoosh. If you're a marlin taco newbie, these will make you rethink the whole concept of a fish taco, in the best possible way. —Besha Rodell
343 E. Market St., Long Beach; (562) 422-4888, facebook.com/cheko.
Sushi at Shunji
There's more expensive sushi than and there is certainly cheaper. But this Westside favorite falls somewhere in the middle, in a perfect sweet-spot where melt-in-your-mouth fish meets unpretentious service and spending a little extra on dinner is actually worth it. Shunji charms with easy parking in the adjacent lot and a welcome so warm you feel as if you've arrived at your best friend's house. Only this time your best friend is chef Shunji Nakao, who, after opening Matsuhisa and Asanebo, opened this endearing sushi spot in an oddly circular building (it was originally a restaurant named the Chili Bowl). Scan the room and notice guests' eyebrows lift as they place pieces of raw fish such as halibut, black snapper, beltfish, Scottish salmon, mackerel and scallop in their mouths. Order the live spot prawns and you will be served the tail raw, and offered the head fried or in miso soup — choose fried and finish with a blue crab hand roll. At the end of the meal, before the chef politely says goodnight to his guests, you might see him stretching his arms as though he just played a tennis match. If that were to be the case, he definitely won. —Heather Platt
12244 W. Pico Blvd., Sawtelle; (310) 826-4737, shunji-ns.com.
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Crab curry at Luv2Eat
In a seemingly unremarkable strip-mall restaurant, three blocks south of the tourist-mobbed clusterfuck that is Hollywood and Highland, sits a hypnotizing, Phuket-style curry brimming with blue crab. Adapted from a recipe by co-owner Noree Pla's mother and ladled into generous-sized soup bowls, is murky, earthy and stained with turmeric, as wonderfully complex as it is searingly spicy. You pick apart the poached meat from the bisected crab body and toss in a few sprigs of herbs, chopped long beans and daikon pickles. The bouncy rice noodles called kanom jeen are meant to be pulled from a tangled bundle, as you would with one of those packaged mozzarella sticks, and soak up as much liquid as possible. Some assembly is required — quite a bit, actually — but if you're willing to sniff out oddball Thai cooking in the middle of Hollywood, you probably won't mind getting your fingers a little messy. —Garrett Snyder
6660 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 498-5835, luv2eatthai.com.
Poke at Sweetfin
Few recent food trends have reached the scale of the explosion of poké, the Hawaiian-inspired diced raw fish bowl. What once was limited to South Bay diners and delis has spread like wildfire across L.A. Even with so many options — from chef-affiliated restaurants to beach takeout windows — Sweetfin Poké stands out. With its gorgeous blond-wood interior, celebrity chef affiliation (Top Chef alum Dakota Weiss) and stylish clientele, this Santa Monica poké restaurant would be as much at home in the pages of Vogue as Bon Appétit. It's not all about looks, though. Sweetfin takes the toppings game to another level with additions such as wasabi-toasted coconut, pickled shiitake mushrooms and blistered shishito peppers. There's usually a chef's special on the board, which might include seasonal flourishes such as pomegranate ponzu or shaved black radish. Prices are a touch higher than most, but what you receive feels and tastes as if it was designed by a chef, rather than tossed together via checklist. —Garrett Snyder
829 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 395-1097, sweetfinpoke.com.