Everyone is moving to L.A. It’s a sentence you might be tired of hearing, but it appears to be true for a certain subset of the nation’s culinary elite. This year, an impressive group of celebrated chefs and restaurateurs from New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Phoenix will be putting down roots in Los Angeles. They come decorated with James Beard Awards (the culinary equivalent of Academy Awards, if you need civic context), Michelin stars, a bookshelf worth of cookbook titles and a near-universal enthusiasm for Southern California’s lifestyle.
“L.A. is the hottest and best food city in the world right now,” Ken Friedman said recently by phone from New York, where he and chef-partner April Bloomfield have six restaurants, including the popular pub the Spotted Pig. “All the best ideas are coming out of Los Angeles.”
------------ For the Record, Jan. 23, 10:37 a.m.: This post incorrectly says Chris Bianco is the author of many cookbooks. His first cookbook, “Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like,” is scheduled for a July release. ------------
Friedman and Bloomfield are among a long, impressive, highly publicized and rapidly growing list of out-of-towners scheduled to open L.A. projects this year, joining those who got a bit of a jump-start on this new wave.
In November, Eddie Huang — writer, television personality and chef and co-owner of New York’s Baohaus — opened his first restaurant outside of New York, in the Far East Plaza of L.A.’s Chinatown. (Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker has, of course, been open in Chinatown for a while: Huang’s Baohaus actually went into the former location of Ricker’s first short-lived noodle shop, and Ricker’s flagship is now open up the street.) Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, the team behind Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad in New York, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose restaurant empire stretches from New York to Dubai, will both open restaurants later this year.
L.A. is the hottest and best food city in the world right now
— Ken Friedman
San Francisco’s Charles Phan will open Slanted Door LA in downtown’s Fashion District this year. Not far from there, Chad Robertson, the baker behind San Francisco’s Tartine, will open a bakery and marketplace, as well as a collaborative restaurant with renowned Phoenix pizzaiolo Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco. (How noteworthy is this? It’s the baking equivalent of Beyoncé and Rihanna dropping a joint album.) Also coming: Jessica Largey, who hails from the three-Michelin starred Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif., and Dave Beran, who most recently was executive chef at Grant Achatz’s Next in Chicago. Both chefs have chosen Los Angeles for their first solo ventures.
It is exciting to witness your city amid a dining renaissance. So what’s been happening?
Farmers markets have triumphed. Ride-sharing apps and an ongoing Metro expansion have narrowed L.A.’s transportation gap. Downtown Los Angeles has been reborn. And seemingly everybody has embraced casual dining. It’s a perfect storm of opportunity — and it comes with a free side of palm trees and sunshine.
It may be a cliché, but don’t underestimate the weather. In a time when salt-baked turnips and charred heads of cabbage have usurped the center of the plate, access to exceptional produce year-round is an enormous part of the city’s appeal. “It’s the best product in the country,” says Largey, whose first restaurant, Simone, will open this summer.
“I see chefs from other parts of the country at the market, and they’re like, ‘I can’t believe this is here!’ ”
One of those chefs is Beran, who spent his career cooking in Chicago before decamping to Los Angeles last year. His circuitous path to L.A. began in New York, where he envisioned opening a fine dining restaurant in an ivy-covered East Village brownstone, but the numbers didn’t add up. Luxury dining requires more square footage, which means serving lunch to make ends meet, which requires an extra prep kitchen, which means more labor.
Five years ago, a night out in Los Angeles required a car and enough sobriety to drive home.
“Basically,” Beran says, “every time you get the economics to work, you need something you don’t have.”
So the chef pivoted to San Francisco, where the average one-bedroom apartment rents for nearly $4,000 a month, an impossible expense for his staff to manage on a cook’s salary. Los Angeles, and specifically downtown, where the going rate is $2,300 a month, looks affordable by comparison.
How Angelenos spend in restaurants has also shifted, thanks to ride-sharing apps. Five years ago, a night out in Los Angeles required a car and enough sobriety to drive home. Now, thanks to Uber and Lyft, diners have been unburdened from what has long been considered the biggest nuisance in Los Angeles — driving. For Friedman, whose Sunset Boulevard restaurant will serve until 2 a.m., hacking L.A.’s transportation game was a crucial paradigm shift.
“We might not even be opening a place in L.A. if it weren't for Uber.”
This migration of top talent doesn’t surprise Wolfgang Puck.
“When you look back at the ’80s, when I opened Spago, there were very few restaurants owned by chefs,” Puck says, citing Paul Prudhomme, Alice Waters and André Soltner as some of the few exceptions.
“In the 1980s, L.A. had Thomas Keller and Lydia Shire, but they left for other opportunities. Now, just look downtown; it’s like a whole city being reborn.” Talent, Puck adds, goes where the opportunity is.
With opportunity comes risk, though, and some of the early adopters have struggled to find a niche in the city. Gordon Ramsay came and went. So did Norman Van Aken. Ricker, whose Pok Pok empire is beloved in Portland, Ore., and New York, is still trying to find his voice in a city rich in delicious Thai food.
“L.A. is not as easy it looks,” Puck warns.
The most common reason many chefs give for coming to L.A. now may be the simplest, and one that has been given for generations. As Humm and Guidara put it: “We just really like it here.”
Friedman shared that sentiment. “We decided to open restaurants in places we wanted to spend time,” he says, noting that he and Bloomfield turned down opportunities in Las Vegas and Philadelphia.
Tartine-Bianco project at Tartine Manufactory at ROW DTLA, coming this year
Chef-owner of Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco, Bar Bianco and Tratto in Phoenix. Bianco was the first pizzaiolo to win a James Beard Award, when he was awarded best chef Southwest in 2003, and he is the author of many cookbooks.
Chad Robertson (San Francisco)
Tartine Manufactory at ROW DTLA, coming this year
Baker and co-owner, with his wife, Elisabeth Prueitt, of Tartine Bakery & Cafe and Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco. Three cookbooks have come from the Tartine restaurant family. Robertson and Prueitt jointly won the James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef in 2008.
Charles Phan (San Francisco)
Restaurant at City Market in the Fashion District, coming late this year
Owner and executive chef of the Slanted Door and Out the Door in San Francisco. He also owns the whiskey bar Hard Water and is the author of two cookbooks. Phan has won three James Beard Awards: best chef Pacific, outstanding restaurant and the foundation's award for Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America.
Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (New York City)
The NoMad Los Angeles, in the Giannini Place complex in downtown, coming fall; the food truck is now running
The chef and restaurateur behind the three-Michelin-star Eleven Madison Park in New York City and the NoMad in New York City. The two have written three cookbooks . Humm has two James Beard Awards, for best chef New York City and outstanding chef.
Dave Beran (Chicago)
Currently looking for a space in DTLA
Former executive chef at Next in Chicago, where he won a James Beard Award for best chef Great Lakes in 2014. His Los Angeles restaurant will be his first solo project.
Jessica Largey (Los Gatos, Calif.)
Simone in the Arts District, coming this summer
Former chef de cuisine at the three-Michelin-star Manresa in Los Gatos. She won the James Beard Award for rising star chef of the year in 2015. Simone will be her first solo project.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten (the world)
Jean-Georges Beverly Hills at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, coming this spring
French chef behind restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Chicago. Jean-Georges, in New York's Trump Hotel, has three Michelin stars. Vongerichten has also published many cookbooks and won eight James Beard Awards, including best chef New York City, best new restaurant, outstanding chef and outstanding restaurant.