The term “New American,” while widely used, is a little hard to define, and it covers a whole lot of ground. Generally, I take it to mean serious, at least slightly upscale cooking with an American point of view. There's an argument to be made that Italian and Mexican and Asian-influenced restaurants from American-trained chefs (such as Alimento or Broken Spanish or Cassia, for instance) might fall under the New American umbrella as well — America is, after all, a melting pot above all else. But at that point the category becomes too broad, and ceases to mean much beyond “a place with fancy cocktails.” (I know, Alimento doesn't have cocktails, but you get what I'm saying.)
Recently, we published our annual 99 Essential Restaurants in Los Angeles issue, along with its new sister list, the Freshmen 15 (for the newbie restaurants too young to be “essential” but that we love nonetheless). Because Los Angeles excels at New American cooking, a lot of those two lists are made up of establishments that fall into the broad category. I thought it would be useful to highlight them.
Here (arranged in alphabetical order) are the essential New American restaurants of 2017, with a couple of newbies from the Freshmen 15 thrown in for good measure.
Now that its owners, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, are bona fide restaurant czars, Animal can be examined from a sociological viewpoint. It is the organism that spawned an empire but also a way of thinking and cooking and serving and being that barely existed in the restaurant world before its arrival. Pull-no-punches, meat-driven, casual and fun restaurants — which are nonetheless quality-focused above all else — are ubiquitous now, and you can thank Animal in large part for that fact. —Besha Rodell
Read Animal's full 99 Essentials listing here.
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. —B.R.
Read A.O.C.'s full 99 Essentials listing here.
On most nights at Baran's 2239 in Hermosa Beach, you'll find first-time restaurateurs and brothers Jonathan and Jason Baran pouring drinks or greeting diners while their collaborator, chef Tyler Gugliotta, runs the kitchen. Though the waitstaff at Baran's 2239 is quick to point out that much of the menu's produce hails from the chef's family farm, it soon becomes apparent that Gugliotta's inventive global cooking doesn't need to hang its hat on the farm-to-fork ethos alone. —Garrett Snyder
Read the full Baran's 2239 listing on the Freshmen 15 list.
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. 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. —B.R.
The Bellwether is the brainchild of Ted Hopson, a journeyman L.A. chef who most recently worked under Sang Yoon at Father’s Office and Lukshon. The Studio City restaurant might seem to have the DNA of half the gastropubs in town, but it nails the small details most places overlook. The french fries here are brined, steamed, frozen and fried, part of a three-day process that yields long, crispy batons as fluffy as a baked potato inside yet shatteringly crunchy outside. Ruby-red squares of bigeye tuna sashimi arrive crowned with a raw caper-and-olive relish and confit fennel with Calabrian chilies, a small meditation on puttanesca. —G.S.
Read the Bellwether's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
Jordan Kahn's new restaurant is a far cry from his most recent project — the much-missed Red Medicine — in almost every way. Where that was a big, flashy, trendy restaurant, this is a sparse place with most of its seating outdoors, where you order from a counter and take a number to your table. What hasn't changed is Kahn's modern-artist's eye for presentation, his sense of drama on the plate and on the tongue, and his penchant for making incredibly delicious food. —B.R.
Read the full Destroyer listing on the Freshmen 15 list.
Despite how much we here in L.A. covet the Father’s Office burger, chef Sang Yoon’s pair of gastropubs probably don’t get the props they deserve. Did you know, for instance, that the FO burger was the first truly chef-driven, gourmet burger in the country? (Yes, it came before Daniel Boulud’s DB Burger in New York.) Did you know that before Yoon took over the original Father’s Office in 2000, the word “gastropub” wasn’t really a part of the American vernacular? —B.R.
Read the full Father's Office 99 Essentials blurb here.
There may be no restaurant as emblematic of the breezy, stylish Venice lifestyle as Travis Lett’s Gjelina, no place where the people are more beautiful, the vibe more Cali-chic, the food more true to our gourmet/carefree aspirations. The pizzas have crispy edges and are topped with ingredients such as burrata and wild nettles; the vegetable dishes might include roasted fennel with white wine, blood orange and fennel pollen; the rib-eye is from Niman Ranch; the wine list is long and engrossing. The magic trick of Gjelina is that food this serious (and it is, seriously good) can be served in a room so effortlessly casual, the brick back patio all leafy and twinkly, the crowded dining room looking like a wood cabin met the beach and they fell in love. —B.R.
Read Gjelina's full 99 Essentials blurb here.
What people outside of the South rarely understand is that the best Southern cooking these days is thoroughly modern and ingredient-driven. If there’s any chef in L.A. who knows how to translate that aesthetic outside of its home region, it’s Hatchet Hall’s Brian Dunsmoor. Hatchet Hall’s menu is long and wide-ranging, and sometimes its Southern-ness is unmistakable: Dunsmoor’s collard greens are funky, his grits creamy. Other dishes are slightly more subtle in their Southern-ness: Spoonbread comes heaped with a cornucopia of mushrooms; hunks of yellowtail are sandwiched with thin-sliced habanero and juicy peach, all wrapped up in a sliver of translucent fat shaved from a Johnston Mangalitsa country ham. —B.R.
Read Hatchet Hall's full 99 Essentials listing here.
Here's Looking at You
Here's Looking at You, like an increasing number of compelling places to eat in Koreatown, is not a Korean restaurant. It's the brainchild of two Animal veterans: Jonathan Whitener, the former chef de cuisine, and Lien Ta, a former manager. If you're familiar with the food served at Animal, it's easy to see the Dotolo-Shook fingerprints on Whitener's cerebral, postcultural cooking: an easy fluency in mashing together international flavors, a flair for turning lowbrow into highbrow, a penchant for balancing richness with judicious splashes of acid. But Whitener's style is distinct, too. —B.R.
Read the full Here's Looking at You listing on the Freshmen 15 list.
At Kali, which comes to us courtesy of former Patina chef Kevin Meehan and former Providence wine director Drew Langley, part of the conceit is that the restaurant features only ingredients sourced from California. As you'd imagine from a kitchen whose boundaries lie at the state line, Kali's roster of dishes changes often. If you were to judge it from your Instagram feed alone, Meehan's cooking would seem more avant-garde than it actually is — much of the food here aims for comfort rather than shock. —G.S.
Read Kali's full listing on the Freshmen 15 list.
Love & Salt
In the two years since Love & Salt opened in the old Cafe Pierre space in Manhattan Beach, chef Michael Fiorelli’s modern Italian restaurant has become a beacon for the neighborhood, serving truly exciting food in a beautiful room that feels fun in a way that’s utterly appropriate to its upscale beachy location. It’s true that you can order a whole pig’s head here (with 48 hours’ advance notice), which comes with condiments and toast, but to me, the value lies in the menu’s slightly less confronting pleasures. —B.R.
Read Love & Salt's full 99 Essentials listing here.
MB Post, David LeFevre’s large, loud, perpetually packed New American restaurant, went a long way toward redefining the center of Manhattan Beach when it opened in 2011. Six years later, with two sister restaurants now open on the same strip, MB Post feels as if it is the center of Manhattan Beach, its high ceiling and long wooden communal tables serving as the new, youthful soul of this neighborhood. The menu is an international hodgepodge, with everything from charcuterie to barbecued Moroccan lamb belly to tuna tataki with leche de tigre. —B.R.
Read M.B Post's full 99 Essentials listing here.
The radical reinvention of this 38-year-old restaurant rests mainly on the hiring of Miles Thompson, the young chef who used to run Allumette in Echo Park and then left town for a couple of years. Thompson's cooking was always assertively modern, but in the time he's been gone from L.A. it's also become more refined, more clever and more umami-driven. This is food that's cool to look at (in some cases for reasons that are almost subversive), but it isn't so cerebral that it becomes a killjoy. —B.R.
Read the full Michael's listing on the Freshmen 15 list.
When Redbird opened in December 2014, it felt like a necessary addition; downtown needed a major shiny new restaurant to anchor its burgeoning dining scene. It needed a place where the well-heeled would be happy to flock pre-theater, a restaurant for business or pleasure, a one-stop-pleases-all kind of place that nonetheless feels special. A couple of years later, Redbird is still a restaurant for when the mood strikes to live high on the hog, a place for eating in a decadent but sturdy fashion. —B.R.
If you were to ask about our favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, République might not be top of mind. Yet it’s amazing how many smaller “favorites” are wrapped up in the layers of this place. Favorite room? Absolutely — carved from the courtyard and façade of the castlelike historic building once owned by Charlie Chaplin, the Moroccan-tiled space is breathtaking in its beauty. Favorite wine list? It’s certainly up there. Favorite croissants, favorite bread accompaniment (in the form of pan drippings served in a cast-iron pot), favorite place to linger at the table on a weekday afternoon over a burger and a glass of wine? Check, check, check. —B.R.
Read République's full 99 Essentials listing here.
The Rose Cafe, which had been a Venice staple since 1979, reopened its doors in November 2015 after a revamp by Sprout restaurant group, which included bringing on Jason Neroni as chef. The new Rose is a breezy fantasy of California living and eating: a bakery and café and bar and restaurant with multiple seating areas and patios. It all feels effortless and beautiful and so very, very Venice. (New Venice, that is.) As for Neroni, the Rose is more evidence of his talent as a chef, which we already knew about thanks to his time at Superba Snack Bar just up the street. —B.R.
Read Rose Cafe's full 99 Essentials listing here.
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 just gotten better and better, and Fox’s ideas seem to be more distilled than ever. 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. —B.R.
The original Salt’s Cure in West Hollywood was an odd kind of restaurant, one that tended to slip your mind when recalling favorite places to eat but one that — if you did happen to find yourself there — made you wonder why you didn’t think of it more often. The sparse restaurant from chefs Chris Phelps and Zak Walters never lost the feel that it could just up and vanish one day, despite its status as a trendsetter in a number of realms (restaurants built around the idea of butchery; natural wines). Rather than vanish, Salt’s Cure moved a few miles east in 2015, into a more conventional space with a bar and a proper dining room and about double the seating capacity —B.R.
The story of Sqirl has been told so many times over, its little-toast-shop-that-could narrative is practically a fable these days. Articles have been written that make Jessica Koslow’s East Hollywood cafe a symbol for the entire L.A. lifestyle, a place where beautiful people eat beautiful things out of bowls in the white sunlight. In fact, if you focus on what Sqirl has come to represent rather than what Sqirl actually is, you might forget the fact that Koslow and crew are still cooking some of the city’s most delicious food. —B.R.
Read Sqirl's full 99 Essentials listing here.