2017 has surely been a stellar year for L.A.'s restaurants, with the high-profile openings of not one but two tasting-menu-only restaurants, Vespertine and Dialogue, from acclaimed, trailblazing chefs. The year also has seen the rise of some wonderful trends affecting the diverse dining scene that makes up Los Angeles.
For instance, 2017 saw the precipitous increase in quality Chinese restaurants in the Westside, which amounts to an incredible sea change from years before. The proliferation of gourmet Middle Eastern food is something that restaurant patrons were truly looking forward, as proved by the huge crowds flocking to upscale new restaurants such as Kismet and Mh Zh. Die-hard fans were waiting years for the buoyant resurrection of NFL tailgating — we thought we would never see that in our lifetime. And this year chefs came up with the brilliant yet novel idea to make the pastas they serve from scratch on their restaurant premises. And who can forget the resurgence of classic slices of pie, which curiously no one had thought of in previous years.
For decades, it truly seemed as if a craving for authentic Chinese cuisine meant an arduous pilgrimage (in interminable Los Angeles traffic, no less) to the San Gabriel Valley, the true Chinatown of Los Angeles, situated roughly 15 miles east of downtown. The Westside was littered with saccharinely sweet kung pao chicken and gloppy moo shu pork, but authenticity was clearly missing. However, this year saw a tidal change for Chinese food on the Westside. Many SGV-based chains finally made it out West. Popcorn Chicken in West L.A. opened, serving a fine Taiwanese beef noodle soup with a deeply soulful, mahogany-hued broth in addition to a variety of Taiwanese bar snacks. The nearby Tasty Noodle House in Sawtelle (also with a number of existing SGV locations) quietly opened recently, doling out super flaky scallion pancakes, greaseless fried pork buns and the eponymous homemade noodles. In tony Beverly Hills, Little Highness Bao has been serving steamed pork bao (overstuffed buns) as well as juicy yet delicate xiao long bao — the soup dumplings prized by diehard connoisseurs of the genre. These days Chinese on the Westside is no longer merely a laughable afterthought.
Popcorn Chicken, 2224 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle; (424) 832-3076, popcornchickentasteoftaiwan.com
Tasty Noodle House, 2117 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle; (424) 248-3232
Little Highness Bao, 9677 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 246-5144, littlehighnessbao.com
Without a professional football team to call their own for more than two decades (the sheer horror!), Los Angeles' avid sports fans might have truly missed watching their games live. But for us hearty eaters, we missed just one thing: tailgating. Now that L.A. is the proud owner of not one but two NFL teams — the Chargers and the Rams — tailgating is officially back in the cards. Who can resist a quarter-pound bratwurst fresh off the Weber grill, or maybe four, while pounding down a six-pack of Budweiser on a warm, buoyant, all too leisurely Sunday afternoon in the height of fall football? Or perhaps a platter of griddled cheeseburgers passed among some of your closest friends, speaking to the true communal connection of why you're there in the first place? Devouring some hearty, stick-to-your-ribs grub while leaning against the back of your battered F-550 must surely be as American as apple pie (though truth to tell, you're more likely to be leaning against the trunk of your late-model Lexus). We have gone without an NFL tailgate for far too long.
Artisanal handmade pasta
In years past, even the top-echelon temples to Italian cuisine would import their pasta from Italy. These days preeminent chefs have taken to making their pasta the painstaking, laborious way: from scratch. At his immensely popular Felix, chef Evan Funke (late of Rustic Canyon and the now-defunct Bucato) pays artisanal devotion to handcrafting fresh pasta evocative of Italy on a daily basis in his on-site pasta laboratory. The Lilliputian, homespun, no-frills Pasta Sisters offers wonderful pasta made in-house by the owner's mother (they hail from Padua) at more than reasonable prices, from simple tagliatelle Bolognese to the luxurious spaghetti bottarga (dried mullet roe). Uovo (by the successful proprietors of the Sugarfish/Kazunori empire) serves up a well-curated list of outstanding handmade pasta in simple counter-service digs. These chefs/proprietors are definitely onto something — for decades we've been hankering and hungering for fresh handmade pastas made with fresh ingredients firmly situated in the locavore movement. And they delivered deliciously.
Felix Trattoria, 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (424) 387-8622, felixla.com
Pasta Sisters, 3343 W. Pico Blvd., Arlington Heights; (323) 870-5271, pastasisters.com
Uovo, 1320 Second St. Ste. A, Santa Monica; (310) 425-0064, uovo.la
Perhaps nothing is as deeply satisfying and comforting as a slice of pie. Iconic West L.A. institution the Apple Pan (c. 1947) has been serving its justly famous banana cream pie and homey apple pie at its old-fashioned U-shaped counter for going on a half-century. (Caveat emptor: The pies are even better than the cheeseburgers.) Pasadena's Pie n' Burger also serves up comforting pies, including a stellar butterscotch pie. It's only now, decades later, that we have a resurgent influx of classic pies in novel surroundings. The modern, minimalistic Hi Ho Cheeseburger in Santa Monica (once again by the Sugarfish proprietors) offers a refreshingly light slice of blissfully not too sweet banana cream pie topped with what must be an quarter-inch-thick layer of softly whipped cream. This pie slice would not be out of place in the platonic ideal of a Midwestern diner of your gastronomic dreams. Across town, the Filipino-influenced Sari Sari Store, a humble food stall located in historic Grand Central Market, came up with its rendition of buko pie: suave coconut custard loaded with chips of real, young coconut layered on top of a fiendishly buttery crust. It's just about the best thing on the menu and quite possibly even more satisfying than a slab of old-fashioned coconut cream pie.
The Apple Pan, 10801 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 475-3585
Pie n' Burger, 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 795-1123, pienburger.com
Hi Ho Cheeseburger, 1320 Second St., Ste. B, Santa Monica; (310) 469-7250, hiho.la
Sari Sari Store, 317 S. Broadway, downtown; (323) 320-4020, sarisaristorela.com
Middle Eastern cuisine
When you think of Middle Eastern food, usually what comes to mind are the prosaic falafel, hummus and shwarma. But there's so much more to the cuisine than its most accessible eats. How could a culture going back thousands upon thousands of years not contain a bounty of culinary riches? Fast-forward to 2017, and L.A. has become a perpetual hot bed of gourmet Middle Eastern cuisine. Mh Zh (pronounced “meh meh”) has taken a predominantly Yotam Ottolenghi–inspired spin on primarily Israeli vegetarian food, with a heavy emphasis on organic, fresh herbs including a simply roasted potato, split in half, slicked with olive oil, salt and pepper. The successful innovation, laid-back atmosphere and reasonable prices have drawn hordes of passionate, adventurous diners to this nondescript corner of Silver Lake. Suffice to say, hourlong waits are the norm. The aesthetically minimalist Kismet takes an upscale spin on the cuisine, with a lavish $80 rabbit spread for two in addition to sesame-inflected, fluffy Persian barbari bread served with tart house-made labneh (a dip that finds itself somewhere between yogurt and cheese). Farmers market produce dots most of the menu. With its warm, solicitous service and comfy surroundings you can see why Kismet is one of the toughest reservations around. Mizlala (formerly Simon's Cafe) continues the fine tradition of home-style Moroccan cuisine with contemporary touches. Highlights include braised lamb tajine in a rustic earthenware pot or “Simon's Famous,” coarsely ground beef and lamb merguez sausages tinged bright red with chili. These restaurants are merely a few examples of the continuous strides made in developing and innovating delicious updates to an ancient though no less vital cuisine.
Mh Zh, 3536 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 636-7598
Kismet, 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 409-0404, kismetlosangeles.com
Mizlala, 4515 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 783-6698