2016 has been an exceptional year for food in Los Angeles. The city may finally, universally be recognized as the culinary leader it is, and chefs and restaurateurs around town have made good on making sure we live up to, and can continue to claim, the honor. From the artisanal doughnut trend to fermented everything to Filipino flavors and more, Los Angeles is at the heart of some of the country's most delicious and inspiring food and restaurant trends. (It's not all good, of course. To see the worst food trends, click here.) So to celebrate all the great ideas L.A. chefs have put out into the world this year, we've compiled a list of our favorite food and restaurant trends of 2016.
The Filipino food movement has taken L.A. by storm this year. Unit 120, which houses Chad and Chase Valencia’s critically acclaimed modern cuisine at LASA and Alvin Cailan’s reimagined comfort food at Amboy, as well as visiting Filipino-influenced pop ups, is a hotbed of activity as more and more Filipino chefs look to their grandparents for inspiration. And it’s not just for lunch and dinner: Charles Olalia’s RiceBar may have the best savory breakfast bowl in the city and pastry chef Isa Fabro has been turning us on to Filipino-inspired desserts, one delicious cheese-, taro- and/or guava-filled pastry at a time.
Fermentation and pickling
Ancient preservation methods are on the upswing thanks to restaurants like Baroo, the jewel in L.A.’s crown of strip-mall restaurants. Fermenting and pickling have never been more popular, from fermented grains in bowls and homemade fermented fish sauce to house-made pickles at every other restaurant — it’s never been more on trend to add some aggressively tangy flavors to a dish.
If you’re a fan of the doughnut, then 2016 has been good to you. From the surge of artisanal donuts by the likes of Blue Star and Sidecar to Fantastic Donuts’ delightfully gimmicky animal-shaped pastries and the doughnuts worthy of any Westsider’s trek eastward at Donut Friend and Donut Man, the city's longtime love for deep-fried dough went upscale this year. They are also Instagram stalwarts, which frankly is half the battle, these days.
Ethics in the kitchen
This year we’ve seen chefs really act on their ethical convictions. Last year Michael Cimarusti’s Dock to Dish program supporting locally caught, sustainable seafood in L.A. restaurants launched and this year Roy Choi opened LocoL, showing that chefs are considering both the ethics behind their products and the employee structure and pay scales at their restaurants. Whether it’s deciding to include a service charge to help provide medical insurance to staff, refusing to serve endangered bluefin tuna or choosing drought-resistant produce, chefs are using their positions more and more to make a difference in their industry.
Weed in your food
While the relationship between weed and food isn’t anything new, L.A. chefs have taken cannabis to a whole new level this year. Forget about hash brownies — you can now have a cannabis-infused fine-dining experience with weed-based dinner parties from classically trained chefs. And it’s not just in food — mixologists like Gracias Madre’s Jason Eisner are making the most of the ingredient with cannabis-infused and bong-smoked cocktails. And with the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana, we’re sure this is only the beginning.
Popups and takeout windows
Whether a chef is unable to afford rent or wants to test a concept before asking for investments, the road to establishing a restaurant has changed a lot over this past year. Instead of going all in, a chef can test out a concept at a culinary incubator such as Unit 120 or Feastly to find his footing, rather than panicking and choosing the wrong partners or bleeding out all his cash; opening a small takeout window is also an increasingly popular option. Chefs also are using spaces for multiple “restaurants,” such as the lunchtime Cento pasta bar service at Birch that resets to Birch for dinner — meaning there’s even more room for experimenting than ever before.
Bigger (and more delicious) fish selection
The average L.A. menu has finally begun to wean itself off of the omnipresent branzino and open itself up to all the other fish in the sea. Sardines, mackerel and other previously disregarded fish are having their moment on menus around the city. Considering so much of the ocean is overfished, this move toward oily little bottom-feeders is great for our hearts and our souls. And our futures.
Mexican food gets its due
After learning the ropes in culinary schools and famed kitchens around the country, a number of L.A.'s Mexican-American chefs are choosing to cook the food of their culture and experience as opposed to places with European-derived menus. The results are restaurants such as Ray Garcia's Broken Spanish, Carlos Salgado's Taco Maria and Wes Avila's Guerrilla Tacos. The mixture of their culinary experience with their cultural heritage and L.A.'s great produce results in something truly unique, a facet of Mexican cooking that L.A. hasn't much seen before. L.A. Weekly even wrote a huge feature on it. And just think, if they had stuck to what was safe, we'd never have Ray Garcia's chicharron or Wes Avila's foie gras taco.