Here a beer, there a beer, everywhere a beer (beer)! Southern California is getting a well-deserved reputation for making its own excellent beer, and serving the suds from other places that are hard to find. Here are our favorite places to drink the hoppy delight.
Best Craft Michelada
Micheladas — the savory, often spicy beer cocktails that originated in Mexico — have become increasingly over-the-top in L.A., where you now can find them garnished with shellfish or sticks of candy. Yet given that craft beer is booming in L.A., it's surprising that so few places actually use craft beer in their micheladas — most versions dress fancy but still rely on bland, mass-market Mexican lagers. The Bellwether chef Ted Hopson and his partner/beverage director Ann-Marie Verdi both worked at Father's Office, so they clearly know their way around craft beer. At their seasonal restaurant in Studio City, the beer offerings are a bit more freewheeling. For instance, Verdi's Easy Like Sunday Michelada ($10) combines tomato juice, A1 Steak Sauce, lime juice, Ballast Point Longfin Lager and house carrot-habanero hot sauce, which leaves a lingering spice on the tongue. Each pint comes with a salted rim and lime wedge garnish. Add a float of house-infused habanero vodka for $5 to really bring the heat. —Joshua Lurie
13251 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 285-8184, thebellwetherla.com.
Best Deli Turned Beer Bar
The first thing you notice when you open the door to tiny Uncle Henry's Deli in Downey is the hypnotizing wall of taps along the back wall. With three rows of more than 30 handles each closely stacked on top of one another, it's hard for beer lovers not to be drawn to the absurdly dense selection of local and rare brews from some of the industry's most hyped names. That the taps — as well as shelves and refrigerators stocked with equally rare bottles — were all installed over the last six years inside a fully functioning 1950s-era deli is just a nostalgic bonus. Before George Gaul Jr. (the 20-something grandnephew of the real Uncle Henry) got his hands on it, this local institution was a liverwurst and Budweiser kind of place, a sandwich-slinging holdover from the days when European immigrants brought their penchant for salty animal parts straight into the American suburbs. But just as craft beer landed in L.A., Gaul decided to add his own touch to the deli's offerings, converting the family legacy (which still served stacked-high sammies) into a craft beer destination in the spirit of San Gabriel's longtime import-focused Stuffed Sandwich, with a youthful twist. —Sarah Bennett
7400 Florence Ave., Downey; (562) 927-0114.
Best New Brewery
With new breweries opening in L.A. County at the same rate as taco trucks, it's hard not to get jaded by the onslaught of above-average pale ales and West Coast IPAs. But when a local, Belgian-loving contract brewery that's had bottles on shelves since before #LAbeer was even a thing finally gets a 72-year-old decommissioned Port of Los Angeles warehouse to call its own, it's enough to perk up even the weariest of palates. Enter San Pedro's Brouwerij West, which, in addition to having a breathtaking space to park its brewhouse and tasting room (think: exposed wood beams in an airplane hangar), also makes some of the most exciting mixed-fermentation Belgian-style beers around. The Brilliant but Lazy, Get Back and My First Rodeo are made by mixing multiple microorganisms — usually the ever-evolving house yeast and some tart-making bacteria — into an otherwise “clean” brew. The end results are sour, funky, fruity and highly nuanced creations, many of them made with specialty grains from small farms, that pair well with the three things Brouwerij West offers every weekend: food, punk shows and fresh ocean air. —Sarah Bennett
110 E 22nd St, San Pedro; (310) 833-9330, brouwerijwest.com.
Best Cider and Mead Selection
Craft beer might be getting all the attention right now, but it's all cider all the time at Great Society Cider & Mead, the first bar in Southern California dedicated to sourcing and serving America's historic boozy beverage in all its modern-day glory. The long-awaited bar and eatery opened in Long Beach over the summer with a 20-deep tap list that reads more like a craft beer lineup from a beautiful, alternate gluten-free universe than like those liquid Jolly Ranchers we've become accustomed to: Hard apple ciders dry-hopped with Centennial, Cascade and Columbus hops; wine barrel–aged and wild-fermented varietals; dry, crisp, unfiltered ciders; and fermented apples and pears infused with adjuncts such as charcoal, ginger, basil and agave nectar, among others. Then there are the meads, the other slice of Great Cider's uncommon focus, made from fermented honey and available on tap or as ultra-rare bottle pours — meads made from sage and wildflower honey, blended with apricots and hops; and fermented with Brettanomyces and Belgian ale yeast like your favorite Trappist beer. It's a selection you can't find anywhere else right now, making Great Society the only place in L.A. to get a taste of America's growing craft cider revolution. —Sarah Bennett
601 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 270-5625 greatsocietycider.com.
Best Restaurant Arcade
There's something about Button Mash and its dinging, ringing energy, about the mix of customers, old and young and hip and dorky and unpredictably diverse in the best possible way, that is massively appealing, even if you're not here for the impressive collection of old-school video games. The restaurant/arcade is a collaboration between owners Jordan Weiss, Gabe Fowlkes, and chefs Nguyen and Thi Tran, who for years have been known for their nomadic pop-up project, Starry Kitchen. The involvement of Starry Kitchen is an obvious draw, though this food isn't an exact replica of what was served at any of the pop-up's iterations. Instead, the menu is more like a greatest-hits album of Asian and American drunk food: crispy tofu balls, appropriately lacquered double-fried chicken wings, and a cheeseburger that is — like the games — pure old-school nostalgia. When your burgers and beer come wrapped in such original, joyful revelry (with tofu balls and galanga thrown in for good measure) it somehow feels fresher than half the serious restaurants in town. —Besha Rodell
1391 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 250-9903, buttonmashla.com.