Read about this year's Best of L.A. Food & Drink issue here.
Best Creative California Cuisine: Baran's 2239
Small and unobtrusive, the intimate Baran's 2239 makes a big statement with its eclectic menu, house-made provisions and warm, professional service. Starting with fresh-from-the-oven focaccia, extensive charcuterie and cheese choices, or exquisitely presented crudo, dinner proceeds with seasonal dishes from the kitchen of executive chef Tyler Gugliotta. Vegetables are treated with unique spices and techniques, making each one, from kale to broccolini to green beans, more than just a side dish. The Smoked & Fried Chicken is a favorite; beef, pork, pasta and seafood dishes are all accompanied by uniquely flavorful sauces. A simple spaghetti aglio e olio is elevated to perfection with baby heirloom tomatoes and delicate house-made pasta. An excellent selection of wines by the glass and local beers makes choosing the right beverage a pleasure. —Patricia Doherty
502 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach; (424) 247-8468, barans2239.com.
Best Oysters: Fishbar
Fresh oysters are delivered daily and served by the half-dozen at $1.95 each during Happy Hour Hookup weekdays from 2:30 until 5:30 p.m. Specials, in addition to an extensive menu, are presented alliteratively each day — Monday Margarita Madness, Taco Tuesday, Wine (and Crab) Wednesday — you get the picture. A popular spot for weekend brunch, neighborhood regulars stream in for fried lobster and waffles, shrimp scramble and other specialties. Fishbar serves mesquite grilled fresh fish, and its chowder, both New England and Manhattan style, also gets high marks. The space is large, and often filled, from the lively bar to high tables, with sports on TV and friendly background chatter. Local breweries are well represented, and a selection of wines by the glass and cocktails rounds out the beverage options. —Patricia Doherty
3801 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach; (310) 796-0200, fishbarmb.com.
Best Brunch: Panxa Cocina
To celebrate the year of the dog in the Chinese lunar calendar, Panxa Cocina presents its Mimosas & Mutts brunch the third Saturday of every month. Diners are encouraged to bring their four-legged friends for a custom canine menu that includes sweet potato, brown rice or vegan black beans, or the Hungry Puppy Combo, which offers all three. All doggie dishes come with free, triple-filtered Vero water. For two-legged companions, chef Arthur Gonzalez offers New Mexico–style stacked enchiladas, chilaquiles roja, blue corn pinion pancakes and the Broadway Bloody Mary, made with house-made Hatch green chile–infused vodka. The monthly mutt meet-up also includes a free juice flight to accompany bottles of Champagne. Brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (doggie brunch only on Saturday). —Michele Stueven
3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 433-7999, panxacocina.com.
Best Soul Food: Dulan's Inglewood
It's no wonder Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen is always packed; its generous portions of meatloaf, short ribs and cornbread are loved by all. And everything smells so good as you walk in the door! Diners have their choice of chicken prepared three ways: fried, baked or home-style smothered. For lunch, in addition to your entree, you can get Dulan's delicious assortment of side vegetable dishes: collard greens, steamed cabbage, macaroni & cheese or candied yams. Dulan's best deal of the week is available every day except Sunday: Get a whole chicken, three large sides and four cornbread muffins for only $26.95. —Susan Hornik
202 E. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood; (310) 671-3345, dulans-sfk.com.
Best Butcher Shop: Alpine Village Market
Butchers at the Alpine Village Market, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, stuff 10,000 pounds of authentic German sausages each week. In addition to a huge selection of cheeses and bread baked on-site, they have more than 30 varieties of artisan, European and German sausages. There are six different versions of bratwurst alone, including Polish, German and Hungarian. The cold cut selection goes on forever with smoked hams, mortadellas, jagdwurst, headcheese and aspics. If you love blood sausage, this is the place. The fresh liverwurst comes in coarse and fein (smooth). Grab a loaf of fresh-baked bauernbrot, located in front of two rows of German pickles. —Michele Stueven
Alpine Village Market, 833 W. Torrance Blvd., Torrance; (310) 327-4384.
Best Barefoot Margarita: Descanso Beach Club
Tucked in the small cove behind the Casino on Catalina Island, the Descanso Beach Club has an open-air restaurant that serves lunch and two beachside bars where you can sip on a spicy cucumber or blood orange margarita while you wiggle your toes in the sand (skinny versions are available, too). Or have the Chief delivered to your beach towel — sip the cool mixture of Herradura tequila and blue curaçao with a Grand Marnier float as you watch the parasailers and sailboats float by. —Michele Stueven
1 St. Catherine Way, Avalon; (310) 510-7410, visitcatalinaisland.com/activities-adventures/descanso-beach-club.
Best Pizza: Il Romanista
A rare find in Los Angeles, Il Romanista offers the Roman-style pizza al taglio, the traditional square pizza baked in huge rectangular baking sheets. Owner Luigi Roditis allows his dough to mature and ferment for 36 to 72 hours using cold fermentation before stretching it out onto the baking sheets. There are rossa pizzas (tomato sauce–based) and bianca (white) with no tomato sauce. Toppings range from roasted kale and artichokes, prosciutto, sausage, potatoes and pancetta to roasted zucchini and squash blossoms. Be a square and try the potato pizza. A half tray feeds three to five, a full tray five to eight. —Michele Stueven
829 N. Douglas St., El Segundo; (310) 616-3111, pizzailromanista.com.
Best Speakeasy: The Exhibition Room
A reservation and a secret password gain you access to this speakeasy with a strict dress code. Once inside the Exhibition Room, you'll be treated to well-made cocktails, old-time brass bands and tasteful burlesque performances. The ER is a great place to impress your date as well as out-of-town city dwellers who decry bars in the 'burbs. —Janelle Bennet
1117 E. Wardlow Road, Long Beach; (562) 826-2940, theexhibitionroom.com.