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These are the 101 best restaurants in Los Angeles

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Welcome to the 10th annual L.A. Times guide that attempts to answer a delicious, impossible question: What are the 101 restaurants that best embody excellence and convey the essence of our food culture?

No matter what fresh flavors and hot openings the year brings, a guiding premise holds fast: L.A.’s astounding dining scene is a sum of California’s farmlands, the region’s pluralism and the city’s unique shimmer of possibility — the sense that an original personal narrative expressed through noodles or a stew’s secret ingredient is waiting just off the next freeway ramp.

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Restaurants appearing for the first time comprise more than a quarter of the 2022 list. Among them are a Malaysian cafe in Alhambra where the power play is coffee and toast; a streetside taqueria in Highland Park where a quesotaco’s first bite delivers eight flavors at once; and a sprawling bilevel space in downtown L.A.’s Arts District where two chefs, who are married, explore Korean American identity via congee pot pie with roasted abalone and biscuits smothered in curry gravy.

Three other newcomers announce the city’s golden age of pizza, and that’s not counting the label-defying sports bar in Silver Lake where the saucy, cheesy pies can arrive crowned with tandoori onions or chicken tikka.

Some places that previously dropped off have returned. This is a living document. It happens. The occasion is particularly joyful when a favorite like Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown bounces back; it reopened in January after the pandemic forced a 17-month hiatus.

Feeling thirsty? Here are the 10 best places around Los Angeles for drinks.

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And yes, the restaurants are ranked again for the first time since 2019.

Jenn Harris joins me in naming 10 places we’re excited to be drinking right now. After a two-year break we’ve also brought back our Hall of Fame, with 14 new inductees so intrinsic to our dining culture that they deserve their own category.

These restaurants are so defining of what it means to eat and live in Southern California — that they’ve earned a place of honor for all time.

Is that cheating? So be it. This is my fourth year agonizing over the 101, and the fixed number feels shorter every go-round. There’s simply too much to celebrate.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Dishes from Hayato on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Hayato

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
I consider the reasons against naming Brandon Hayato Go’s tiny tasting-menu restaurant No. 1 on this list. The cost is $350 per person, without taking into account the deep, persuasive list of sakes and Champagnes. And Go serves only 35 customers a week; a reservation means phone alarms, compulsive browser refreshing and longed-for cancellation notifications. Few will have the opportunity to enjoy his food. And yet, if I’m asked to pinpoint the single most transcendent dining experience in Los Angeles — the restaurant that meets, even exceeds, its own impossible aspirations — this is the place.

There is no fourth wall at Hayato. With seven diners seated along a cedar counter, Go and his small crew stay in continuous motion for several hours, composing more than a dozen courses. Washoku (a broad term for traditional Japanese cooking) and kappo ryori (in which the chef prepares a series of refined plates in front of the customer) inform his style of cooking. The meal’s structure loosely follows kaiseki, emphasizing varied cooking techniques served in ceremonial order. Whether Go has bound together scallops and corn in the laciest summertime tempura or steamed the sweetest fall Hokkaido crab, whether he’s grilled rockfish and lotus root to a smoky copper sheen or presented a lacquered bowl of dashi with an orb of shrimp that’s equal parts snap and silk, the quality of the seafood is profound.

Go began working at his father’s sushi restaurant in Seal Beach when he was 15. He’s been cooking in front of people for nearly 30 years. He can be at once immersed in his tasks and disarmingly relaxed. He tells funny travel stories; people lob out random questions about his favorite places to eat in Los Angeles. Bottles of wine may be shared among customers who arrived as strangers. By the time there are seconds (or thirds) of black cod and rice, followed by muskmelon and matcha for dessert, the group can be almost slaphappy from elation. It’s happened at each of my handful of meals at Hayato, this dinner-party-of-the-gods moment Go creates without forcing or staging a mood. I drift into the night always with the same feeling: That was some serious food, but that was also a seriously fun evening.

Read the full review of Hayato
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#2: A piece of meat is flipped on a grill
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Anajak Thai

Sherman Oaks Thai $$
In 2019, Justin Pichetrungsi made the life-changing decision to leave a successful career as an art director at Walt Disney Imagineering and take over the Sherman Oaks restaurant his parents founded in 1981. In his hands, Anajak Thai straddles parallel worlds. The mainstay menu preserves the legacy of Ricky Pichetrungsi, Justin’s father, whose recipes coalesce his Thai upbringing and Cantonese heritage. Justin’s creative efforts — the Thai Taco Tuesday phenomenon he introduced in 2020, the omakase meals he serves that use a Japanese format to reexamine Southeast Asian flavors, a wine list that summarizes Angelenos’ disparate tastes — reframe the neighborhood institution as a seat of innovation.

At Thai Taco Tuesday, or #TTT as Justin tags it on Instagram, expect weekly whims — perhaps blue corn tortillas cradling Ora King salmon dressed with purple cabbage, a slick of mayo, chili crisp and nam jim, or tostadas overlaid with rounds of lap cheong, brightened with mint, or lobes of kanpachi dotted with salmon roe. All the while, the restaurant’s primary menu is tighter, truer, stronger. Fried chicken wings have a tauter sour-sweet edge in the tamarind glaze; Massaman brisket curry, lush and aromatic, comforts profoundly. Fried chicken, a newer restaurant staple, is sheathed in rice-flour batter and scattered with fried shallots. The bird is prepared in the style of Nakhon Si Thammarat, a city in Southern Thailand where Rattikorn Pichetrungsi, Justin’s mother, has family. An optional side of caviar is very much Justin’s idea of embellishment.

The cooking, in whichever format you experience it, evinces skill and delight. In July we named Anajak Thai as the L.A. Times’ Restaurant of the Year.

Read more about Anajak Thai:

Why we chose Anajak Thai as Restaurant of the Year

Your next great L.A. meal will probably be a tasting men

What makes an L.A. restaurant?

How this L.A. chef made Thai Taco Tuesday a thing

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#3: Freshwater eel marinated in dried scallop paste with seasoned rice along with the Caviar from Kato
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Kato

Downtown L.A. Taiwanese $$$$
The ambitions of Jon Yao, his skeleton crew and their tasting menu built around the flavors of Taiwan never quite fit in the restaurant’s tiny, curiously angled West L.A. space. A liquor license in the location wasn’t permissible; the team could stretch and dream only so far in the spare quarters. Yao and business partner Nikki Reginaldo scouted for the right new surroundings for years. A fit came at last: the airy, wood-and-concrete-lined space in Row DTLA vacated by Melissa Perello’s short-lived M. Georgina.

Kato 2.0 has grown in every way possible since its move nearly a year ago. With the expansion comes an all-in beverage program, including a 60-page wine list, steered by new partner Ryan Bailey. Bar director Austin Hennelly mixes some of the city’s brainiest cocktails. Even if you don’t spot it on the menu, see if he’ll make you a Bamboo; his martini-like blend of sake and vermouth tinged with tomato brandy and soy nicely readies the palate for the meal ahead.

From the kitchen, scallops or other seasonal seafood will arrive in a fish-fragrant sauce, the perfumes of garlic and ginger blazing like a comet’s twin tails. A hot brown-butter doughnut with uni and Ibérico ham will precede a showstopper of Dungeness crab and spinach in a wild butter sauce that involves mussel liquor, fermented cream and smoked onions. Caviar crowns the dish, of course. The cost is $225 per person. It’s a worthy splurge, however you consider Yao’s food. If you’re looking to parse the almost clinical dissection of nostalgia, identity and luxury, the intellectual fodder is there. If you want simply to savor a beautiful, thoughtful sequence of plates, he can make you feel nourished on many levels.
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#4: Baked Alaska Flambe at Republique
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

République

Hancock Park American $$$
What makes République an unassailable cornerstone of Los Angeles dining? Margarita and Walter Manzke are equally exceptional talents who gave themselves the format — a bakery plus a restaurant serving three meals daily in a spectacularly baroque Hancock Park building — to succeed at what each of them does best. Together they perfected a blueprint for the all-day modern Californian restaurant.

First things first: Margarita and her team lay out one of the country’s finest pastry selections. They fill the counter with cakes, sweet and savory pies, canelés, fruit-filled tarts and laminated doughs so finely structured their layers can be stretched like an accordion. It’s a whirl of gracious plenty. Arrive early and round out the morning with a pale omelet, billowing French toast or the signature kimchi fried rice with short rib and poached eggs. Break away from Zoom for a couple of hours at lunch and meet someone for salads and a dry-aged burger.

At night the restaurant transitions elegantly to formal dinner service. Start by indulging in Normandy butter and pan drippings (imagine gravy distilled from a thousand roasting pans at Thanksgiving) served with one of Margarita’s baguettes. Walter uses meticulous technique, grounded in French tradition, to both comfort and startle. His gifts are as evident in a farmers market salad with precisely vinegared dressing as they are in the deft snap of grilled spot prawns and the goodness of roasted duck among a fall collage of squash, apples, onions and drizzles of peppery cider jus. Wine director Sarah Clarke has just the right Burgundy in mind. Need it even be said that dessert is all but mandatory?
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18, 2022: Zensai (Peking Duck, Ikura + Yamaimo, Shigoku Oyster and Tosazu, Tomato + Lobster Cream, Chesnut Sabayon + Truffle, Persimmon and Shungiku, Cucumber + Kikuno Hana at n/naka (Ron De Angelis / For The Times)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

n/naka

Palms Japanese $$$$
At a late-summer dinner at n/naka, the first plate to arrive — in custom with the ritualized, multicourse form of kaiseki — was sakizuke, a course composed of elements meant to reference the immediate past and future seasons. On this night, a scallop from Hokkaido had been layered into a precise disc with oyster aioli and fermented asparagus gelée. Yellow carrots and beets cut into thin petals encircled the scallop, and a dollop of caviar on top completed the picture: The composition, which resembled a sunflower, was the loveliest food I demolished this year. And in its arc of spring-to-fall contrasts, among the most delicious too.

Niki Nakayama composes her tasting menus around the precepts of kaiseki, which evolved out of Japanese tea ceremony traditions, but she isn’t confined by its structure. Along with Carole Iida-Nakayama, her wife and fellow chef, she follows an Angeleno’s regard for the farmers markets and for her own unmovable individualism. Their plates revise the notion of “what grows together, goes together” into Mary Oliver poems. Forests and seas of vegetables, noodles, seafood and broths appear as distinct habitats. It’s as if they’ve somehow occurred naturally, though the skill involved is also obvious and tremendous.

You will need to fight like hell for a reservation at n/naka. It will be worth it.
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COSTA MESA, CA - OCTOBER 21, 2022: Ensalada Verde (Green Bee Tomato, Emerald Pluot, Burrata, Cilantro, Huacatay) at Taco Maria (Ron De Angelis / For The Times)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Taco Maria

Costa Mesa Mexican $$$
Beef tartare tostada, the first of five courses one recent evening on Carlos Salgado’s mercurial tasting menu, rumbled with tastes and textures. Smoky chile morita saturated the chopped dry-aged meat and charred avocado cooled the palate. What accounted for the nutty, roasted-oat flavors that permeated every bite? Ah, of course, it was the same source as the dish’s thick crunch: the tostada made using exceptional corn.

Since Taco María opened in 2013, Salgado has been working with small farms in Mexico to obtain superior maíz varietals that he and his restaurant staff nixtamalize and grind into masa. In philosophy and practice, masa anchors Taco María’s Alta California cuisine. Somewhere between campechano reimagined with tomato consommé gelee and a block of pork belly served over meaty cocoa beans and grilled nopales strips, you will hold a blue corn tortilla in your hands. Its color will be as inky as the face of a new moon. Inhale its aromas, then tear into it and marvel at the nuances. The tortillas alone are worth the evening traffic from whichever county you may be driving. To experience Salgado’s influential genius and his small, spare indoor-outdoor restaurant, you must navigate through warrens of design stores in a fancy Costa Mesa mall. This is Southern California. No one thinks twice.
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#7: Barbecue meat is chopped into slices
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Moo’s Craft Barbecue

Lincoln Heights Barbecue $$
“Texas style barbecue,” read the window signs by the entrance to Andrew and Michelle Muñoz’s Lincoln Heights restaurant. Those three words only tell the beginning of the story. Forays into barbecue during business trips to Dallas over the last decade sparked Andrew’s interest in smoking meats. In his East Los Angeles backyard, he taught himself to emulate the slowly blackened brisket, caked in coarse pepper and salt, that epitomizes Central Texas barbecue — a once-obscure art that is a global obsession in the new millennium. In 2017 he grew his hobby into an underground pop-up. Matched with Michelle’s sides (creamy, punchy esquites; beans seasoned with stray bits of brisket) and the sausages she perfected using flavor boosts like roasted poblanos and queso Oaxaca, Moo’s Craft Barbecue made a commotion. Their restaurant, with a bar that focuses on local craft beers, opened last year. The line from the ordering counter usually stretches through the dining room and out the door.

So yes, Andrew rightly acknowledges the Lone Star roots of his craftsmanship. He renders brisket nearly to pudding; the meat on his pork ribs, with their barky crust, nicely tugs back a little. But their efforts are not solely about homage. They’ll glaze pork belly burnt ends with gochujang as a special, and the tres leches strawberry bread pudding served on the weekends sells out fast. The thick, campfire-scented burgers have their own cult. On the shoulders of Mexican and Indigenous pit-cooking traditions and the Black barbecuers who arrived in Southern California as part of the Great Migration, the Muñozes are setting the tone for a new school of Los Angeles barbecue.
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#8: Sushi and the matsutake dobinmushi and zensai appetizers at Morihiro
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Morihiro

Atwater Village Japanese $$$$
Most of the top-flight sushi bars in Los Angeles follow a school of omakase involving ornate small dishes that precede the parade of nigiri. It might be a few plates or a half dozen; they will display various culinary techniques (steaming, grilling, frying) and might include a zensai course of seasonal vegetables and seafood distilled into single exquisite bites. Morihiro Onodera, who has been making sushi in Los Angeles off and on for nearly 40 years, helped define this style. At his 2-year-old restaurant in Atwater Village, the first dish is usually homemade tofu: a square of near-custard made with particularly sweet soy milk from Kyoto, crowned with freshly grated wasabi and set in a pool of soy sauce. It arrives in a beautiful ceramic bowl, in a shade of robin’s egg with a speckled brown glaze, that Onodera fashioned himself.

Onodera has a special place in L.A. His splicing of traditions and innovations, his quest for the perfect sushi rice and his talents as a ceramist have made him a legend. Some sushi bars radiate serenity, or gravity. His tiny place exudes a chaotic sort of warmth. Seiichi Daimo, a certified sake sommelier, pours the most compelling pairings of any sushi bar in L.A. When I joked with Onodera once that he serves so many opening omakase courses that maybe some customers could leave satisfied without any nigiri, he bellowed back, “No way. This is a sushi restaurant!” You will leave very full and deeply aware that this is what fine dining in Los Angeles is all about.
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#9: A spread from Bavel
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Bavel

Downtown L.A. Middle Eastern $$
At the top of my wish list for Los Angeles restaurants: more chefs articulating the spice-fragrant, sun-soaked flavors of North Africa and western Asia (a.k.a. the Middle East, a term many friends and peers from the area increasingly reject). Bavel is one booming, energized affirmation of the possibilities. No map can pinpoint the exact geographic influences of Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ second Arts District restaurant. Menashe was raised in Israel and comes from Turkish and Moroccan roots; Gergis’ family is of Egyptian ancestry. With Bavel’s menu they pay respect to their personal lineages, but the food also crisscrosses Southern California and the topography of their imaginations.

From iterations of hummus and baba ghanoush at their silkiest to chicken liver pâté sequined with tarragon leaves and pickled blueberries, the spreads with their sides of hot pita or buckwheat toast are the menu’s nucleus. Anchoring ingredients — roasted cauliflower, grilled prawns, lamb chops both charred and blushing — are canvases for brushstrokes of chile pastes, herbs and many forms of deliciously soured dairy. Of the three restaurants she and Menashe run, Gergis chooses Bavel as the most dazzling showcase for her pastry skills. Finales like licorice root ice cream bonbon (try it to understand) or clove-scented chocolate doughnuts with sherried cream deserve their due attention, even after all the amazing bread. Also, after four years and a pandemic, it’s lovely to see the vines that trail from the dining room rafters looking so healthy.
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#10: Norwegian King Crab from Providence
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Providence

Hollywood Seafood $$$$
Providence is a local and national benchmark of white-tablecloth extravagance, rightly famed for Michael Cimarusti’s luxury coddling of seafood. His cooking is less about fireworks and drama and more about technique in pursuit of clarity: Even if frothy corn sauce and fermented radish surround king crab, or truffles and pancetta scent a Hokkaido scallop, it’s the taste of the ocean that long stays in the memory.

If you desire, white truffles will rain down over risotto or golden scrambled eggs; cocktails can be made tableside; and a sommelier might arrange a parade of wine pairings that costs nearly as much as the tasting menu, which is $295 per person. Go ahead and splurge on the optional uni egg gilded with Champagne beurre blanc. Fanciness without human connection feels vacant, and the warm, alert individuality that Providence’s service team brings to the experience has contributed as much to the restaurant’s longevity as the brilliant food. I recently brought a 30-something Times colleague (who doesn’t work on the Food team) for his first dinner to Providence, and at the end of the evening he said, “If I make it to 80 I’m still going to be thinking about this meal.” I sat with his words for a minute, and then I thought: Same.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 4, 2022: Two Burritos with Grilled Steak at Sonoratown in Los Angeles. (Ron De Angelis / For The Times)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Sonoratown

Downtown L.A. Mexican $
Whenever I bite into one of Sonoratown’s tortillas, my brain flickers on like the downtown skyline at dusk. I flash on the near-impossible thinness of an expert dumpling wrapper and the elusive mastery of pie crusts that are at once flaky and buttery. Never do I forget that this is a union of Sonoran wheat and pork lard, cranked out by master tortillera Julia Guerrero, in a style Teodoro Díaz Rodriguez Jr. learned growing up in San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico. Nearly translucent and handsomely pocked from the griddle, it is the flour tortilla against which to judge all others in Los Angeles. Savor it in the guise of a taco, quesadilla, caramelo, chimichanga — or, best of all, as the famous Burrito 2.0, swollen with pinto beans, mashed guacamole, Monterey Jack and sharply spicy chiltepin salsa. The meat of choice is costilla — a mix of boneless short rib and chuck robed in mesquite smoke. Go for the option to add poblano.

Díaz Rodriguez and partner Jennifer Feltham rose to national prominence at the taqueria they opened in 2016 in DTLA’s Fashion District. This year we gained a second location in Mid-City. Same menu; same brilliance.
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#12: The thon et tomate at Pasjoli
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Pasjoli

Santa Monica French $$$$
Our server at Pasjoli drops off a plate holding a whole tomato. It has been blanched and peeled, as if readied for a canning project. I cut the fruit in two, revealing its surprise viscera of tuna tartare. The fish is cut so finely and precisely that the filigrees suggest grains of basmati on the tongue. That’s intentional; the dish is chef-owner Dave Beran’s remake of a Provençal recipe of tomato stuffed with rice and canned tuna. He adds tomato water gelée to his version to reinforce flavors and textures, and yogurt cream with a vinaigrette made from fermented tomatoes to keep the brain busy. “Thon et tomate” has appeared every year since Pasjoli opened in 2019, and the elements always strike me as the embodiment of Beran’s approach to his profession: part cook, part history buff, part physicist. The names of the dishes are in French, but the cooking can more accurately be called “Beranaise.” A costly temple of high gastronomy in the guise of a design-forward bistro, it serves its audience for a special-occasion date night, a power dinner summit … or even for a bar snack of chicken liver mousse in brioche and an Armagnac-fueled cocktail that’s as erudite and delicious as the food.
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#13: Santa Barbara live urchin and Omega Azul Baja kanpachi from Holbox
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Holbox

Historic South-Central Mexican $$
Gilberto Cetina has earned kudos for his mariscos stand near the entrance of Mercado La Paloma in Historic South-Central, but I’m not sure that praise has been heard broadly or frequently enough. Nearby daytime workers, whether coming from offices or their own homes these days, know what they have in his gently spicy coctel mixto and the smoked kampachi tostada with its two-toned crunch of shattering tortilla and peanut salsa. Baja blood clams in their gory beauty are a clue to the rigor of Cetina’s sourcing. There are also warming dishes, such as sopa de mariscos, buoyant with homemade fish sausage, and octopus grilled over mesquite.

The best news? After a two-year absence Cetina has revived his weekly six-course tasting menu. Holbox’s 10-seat counter takes on the intimacy of a sushi bar as he passes out aguachile in wincingly tart citrus marinade, the better to offset the sweetness of scallops and spot prawns, and a fried taco filled with Dungeness crab and smoked yellowtail. The cost is currently $95 per person. I’ve paid twice as much in Los Angeles for meals half as revelatory.
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#14: Cheese grated over a plate of pasta
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Osteria Mozza

Hancock Park Italian $$$
I showed up early on a Thursday evening to attempt my first dinner at Osteria Mozza, less than a year after the restaurant opened in mid-2007. Reservations were impossible; two friends and I could only pray for a few open seats held for walk-in diners at the mozzarella bar. We snagged them, miraculously. Ribbed garganelli trapping lush ragù Bolognese, the famous raviolo with its self-creating sauce of oozing yolk, braised meats we cut with spoons and a dessert that included fragrant peaches hinting of roses all flicker as memory fragments. What I recall with total clarity is the presence of Nancy Silverton, who stood at the bar’s center. The dining room’s crowd contained famous faces if you looked hard enough, but Silverton was a star in her own right. She kept a force field of concentration around her, smiling enigmatically and staying in constant motion. Her plates of cheese and condiments were notions of Sicilian crudo, or even Nikkei-style sashimi, rendered in dairy. Pairings gave alliums — fried leeks, grilled spring onions, garlic as subtle as a pheromone — center-stage status. She employed peppery olive oil as an acid; no vinegar needed. The variations on mozzarella seemed to defy nature’s laws in their suspension between cream and cheese. Everything was extraordinary.

Osteria Mozza, under the current guidance of culinary director Liz Hong, heralded the decade when Los Angeles became one of the world’s most exciting dining cultures. Silverton is a global culinary ambassador these days. I haven’t seen her behind the bar in years. Still, when mozzarella di bufala meets the papery cruschi peppers that almost rustle against the teeth, and the yolk bleeds into the brown butter under the raviolo, I feel the same Mozza excitement. More than 15 years since its debut, a little is lost but a whole lot remains.
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#15: Plate from Orsa
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Orsa & Winston

Downtown L.A. Italian Japanese $$$$
On the five-course tasting menu at his tiny, 9-year-old downtown den of creativity, Josef Centeno will always serve the restaurant’s North Star dish: rice porridge, the short grains nearly as translucent as tapioca pearls, steeped in Parmesan cream; glittered with yuzu zest or similar citrus; and garnished with seafood, usually uni or abalone. From there — who knows? A premise of Orsa & Winston is to mine connections between Japanese and Italian flavors, but Centeno never stoops to shenanigans to oversell the thesis. He follows the seasons and his inspirations. In the spring, brown butter and a few shavings of black truffle may gild an English pea raviolo. In the fall, the same pasta shape will arrive filled with sweet potato and ricotta and dressed in duck sugo. A bright, taut combination like scallop crudo with passion fruit vinaigrette and yuzu kosho often kicks off dinner; a chocolate tart with just-ripe peaches or sake-poached pears may conclude it. At any moment, though, one senses Centeno could scrap this outline and start fresh. His remarkable balance between improvisation and self-discipline is what makes him one of L.A.’s vital chefs.
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#16: Steak tartar from Here's Looking at You
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Here's Looking at You

Koreatown American $$
Here’s Looking at You, Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener’s Koreatown restaurant, could have vanished forever as one of the pandemic’s countless casualties. Its reopening in January after a 17-month hiatus felt like an act of grace to its enthusiasts, me among them. A reductive description like “global small plates plus brainy cocktails” doesn’t convey the improbable combinations that Whitener, who leads the kitchen, and bar director Danny Rubenstein graft with skill and imagination. Sip a mai tai given unexpected depth from house-aged Jamaican rum before disappearing into salt-and-pepper frog’s legs splattered with salsa negra; whipped duck liver swiped with crusty bread and a few drops of smoked maple syrup; and steak tartare channeling Korean galbi, potent with chile and tamari and mellowed with egg yolk. Whitener has an ideal counterpart in pastry chef Thessa Diadem. Her desserts, including chewy chestnut mochi bathed in muscovado caramel and coconut cream, stretch notions of spice and texture without tipping into absurdity. Like most everything at HLAY (as it’s called by nearly everyone who knows the place), these sweet endings come off as unorthodox, sating and perfectly Los Angeles.
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#17: Three pizzas from Pizzeria Bianco
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Pizzeria Bianco

Downtown L.A. Pizza $
Pizzeria Bianco’s arrival in Los Angeles, the first location outside Arizona, has been long in coming. Its first months in downtown’s Row DTLA complex coincided with a pizza-themed season of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” series, which includes a moving episode about Chris Bianco. Dinner reservations went berserk, booking up for literal months, though a handful of tables have been set aside for walk-ins.

When you do finally inhale these pizzas, with their balanced restraint and structured crust, you understand why Bianco is the most revered pizzaiolo in the United States. The Wise Guy (a pie with rough hunks of fennel sausage covered in smoked mozzarella) and the Rosa (slivered red onion, Parmesan, rosemary, crushed pistachios) brought me the same heart-pounding joy as the first time I ate them in 1997, half my lifetime ago. Head chef Marco Angeles ably translates Bianco’s genius at the pizza ovens, and right now the man himself is spending much of his week in town. Keep checking for chance availability. We have a living master in our midst.
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#18: Kohada (Gizzard Shad) Sushi at Sushi Kaneyoshi
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Sushi Kaneyoshi

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
The elevator descends toward the basement of Little Tokyo’s Kajima Building. The doors open onto a waiting area. Soon the evening’s congregants will be led to a softly lit room of clean lines and blond woods, where Yoshiyuki Inoue presides over a 12-seat sushi bar. A veteran of local sushi restaurants — Mori and Sushi Ginza Onodera among them — Inoue was primed for his star turn. Two-year-old Kaneyoshi instantly became one of the city’s most coveted omakase reservations.

A few preambles might include grouper karaage; citrusy chawanmushi laced with matsutake mushrooms; and ankimo (monkfish liver) dressed in sweet miso and paired with a tiny log of green onion. Then Inoue and his assistants launch into a procession of edomae-style nigiri, each seasonal seafood aged (or perhaps cured or marinated) and lightly seasoned to magnify its flavors. At one point he’ll likely hand each person pressed sushi folded into a sheet of nori that crunches like a potato chip. By the final piece you’re in the master’s trance. This is sushi for connoisseurs, many of whom, at $300 per person, are already regulars.
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ORANGE COUNTY, CA - OCTOBER 1, 2022: A bounteous BBQ platter of meats, hearty sides and seasonal weekly specials such tacos, nachos and burgers at Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Capistrano. (Ron De Angelis / For The Times)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Heritage Barbecue

San Juan Capistrano Barbecue $$
The future of barbecue in California — and America — probably will read and taste very much like the cross-cultural connectivity that pitmaster Daniel Castillo is shaping in San Juan Capistrano. As with many savants of the new generation, Castillo looked to Central Texas to master technique; he perfumes meats over California white oak in four 1,000-gallon pits. Yet as he grows more assured in his own smoky arts, he casts a wider spell. The brisket, beef ribs and chorizo links may share the menu with pastrami, striated blocks of pork belly glazed in the manner of char siu and perhaps a special of smoked shrimp in green curry. On the side? Beans beefed up with brisket and guajillo chiles, jalapeño cornbread and potato salad that in the day’s mix of flavor may conjure the American South or Hawaii. The array changes ceaselessly, but there is one constant at Heritage: the line, which you’ll encounter no matter the time or day.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 13 : Amuse board Shigoku oyster, smoked vinegar & kombu creme fraiche from Melisse on Thursday Oct. 13, 2022 in Los Angeles , CA. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Mélisse

Santa Monica American $$$$
Late in 2019, a few months before the shutdowns, Josiah Citrin debuted a new two-in-one direction for his Santa Monica bastion of French-ish, American-ish haute cuisine: The main dining room became Citrin, serving a la carte crudos; pastas like his signature lobster Bolognese; and Wagyu sirloins. Mélisse contracted into a windowless modernist theater for tasting menus with an open kitchen inches away from the room’s five tables.

For this venture, Citrin recruited two talents who make Mélisse’s price of admission — currently $325 per person— worthwhile for celebratory occasions. Chef de cuisine Ian Scaramuzza has fine-dining credits that include In Situ, the now-closed restaurant in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that rotated the masterwork dishes of 80 chefs like a gallery collection. I recognize a similar range of his virtuosity at Mélisse. It’s there in the parade of luxury ingredients; in its one- or two-bite wonders displayed on textured plates and mini pedestals; and in the leaps in perspective, from crab intensified with finger limes and house-made XO sauce to smoked quail arranged among ripe pluots, matsutakes and bacon gastrique.

Scaramuzza has a fitting counterpart in wine director Matthew Luczy, a showman, at turns serious and playful, who is a blur of motion making everyone in the room feel special at once. He orchestrates a brainy wine pairing of side-by-side glasses per course for comparative tasting, though he’s equally game to help you choose a spot-on bottle. He’ll uncork it as soon as he flips the Sade LP playing on the restaurant’s sterling sound system.
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#21: Ebi Sumibi-Yaki in the dining room at Tsubaki
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Tsubaki

Echo Park Japanese $$$
Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan’s Echo Park gem exists at the intersection of Japanese pub, neighborhood restaurant and tiny atelier — the kind of place where the owners present their latest fixations on the plate and in the cup, so that you too become rapt. Namba crafts a distinct California izakaya repertoire, honing two dozen or so raw, steamed, fried and grilled dishes with a native Angeleno’s intuition for seasonality. His salads are some of the most compelling in the city; I’m thinking in particular of a patchwork of tomatoes and shaved corn mingled with pickled cucumbers and brined tofu in a balsamic-ginger vinaigrette that tasted of summer but reached beyond the needs-no-adornment clichés. Double down on yakitori (including skewers of prized chicken oysters with yuzu kosho) and splurge on the fried rice with Dungeness crab.

Kaplan’s selection of sake is one of the deepest and most exciting on the West Coast. I brought a visiting friend here after he gave an incredible performance in a staging of Haydn’s “The Creation” at Disney Hall. I asked Kaplan if she could recommend a sake that felt as celebratory as Champagne. When she poured a golden sparkling liquid that tasted of melon, my friend’s eyes popped with joy, and I was reminded why I often bring out-of-towners here. An even more immersive imbibing experience awaits next door at the couple’s sake bar, Ototo, where the finesse of the okonomiyaki and other drinking foods has all but caught up to the cooking at Tsubaki.
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#22: Raw spicy scallops from Cassia
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Cassia

Santa Monica Vietnamese French $$$
There is no other cuisine in the Los Angeles area, or arguably anywhere, like Bryant Ng’s. He culls his Chinese-Singaporean heritage, wife and business partner Kim Luu-Ng’s Vietnamese background, his Parisian culinary training and his work at places like Pizzeria Mozza. His is reclamation cooking, rich in cultural connections and potent with fresh herbs, sambal and pickled shallots. Cassia, a blockbuster when it roared into existence in 2015, now models balance. The dining room has returned to punishing decibels, though plenty of well-heated outdoor space provides a quieter option. Menu standards like handsomely charred pig’s tail splashed with fish sauce or spice-suffused beef rendang deliver as deliciously as ever, and newer dishes keep the kitchen’s energy high: Look for raw scallops with a garnish of dried shrimp, slivered ham and chile oil, suggesting a deconstructed XO sauce, and steak frites served over a reduction zapped with unusually aromatic peppercorns grown on Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island.

Ace sommelier Marianna Caldwell leads her wine list with a section labeled “What I’m Drinking Now.” Let it direct you to offbeat options — like a Hungarian orange or a lemony Alpine white from Switzerland — that meet the food in all its superb complexities.
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#23: The Macau-style pork chop at Pearl River Deli
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Pearl River Deli

Chinatown Chinese $$
Any chance you tried Johnny Lee’s stir-fried pork jowl chow mein, or his lemon-scented fried chicken, or the silky crab omelet over onion-laced fried rice with crab gravy? They were flashes of inspiration, available anywhere from a few months to a single weekend and then abruptly retired, never to return. Or maybe they will? Check the restaurant’s Instagram account for its latest concise menu. Lee once wrote there, “We’re gonna continue the ethos of what’s driven us since the beginning: We cook whatever we want and feel like.”

True to those words, no single label neatly defines Pearl River Deli, though Lee devised it foremost as a personal expression of Cantonese cooking. There will likely be char siu, the rendered slices of pork belly glossy with five-spice glaze on a plate of either rice (ideal for soaking up the meat’s juices) or egg noodles (pleasing in their tangled, textural contrast). Legions of us will be bereft if the extraordinary pork-chop bun, slicked with tomato-onion relish and mayo umami-boosted with Maggi seasoning, disappears for long. Otherwise, we embrace the creative anarchies of Lee and chef de cuisine Laura Hoang, who is responsible for the case full of pandan chiffon cake and char siu bao. They are two of her most masterful creations. Will she still be baking them by the time you read this? I wish I could tell you.
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#24: Vegetarian tlayuda from Poncho's Tlayudas
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Poncho’s Tlayudas

Historic South-Central Mexican $
When Alfonso “Poncho” Martinez’s Friday night pop-up in South L.A. returned in March after two long years, so too did one of the city’s defining dishes. Home to the largest Oaxacan population outside Mexico, Los Angeles knows tlayudas: Our restaurants usually serve them as open-faced discs, their crackling, foot-wide tortillas showered with quesillo and crumbled chorizo Oaxaqueño or sliced avocado and nopales like spokes on a bicycle tire. Martinez grew up eating tlayudas grilled and folded by cooks in Oaxaca’s Central Valleys, where he was raised, so that’s how he prepares his as well. He begins by painting his masa canvas with asiento, a toasted lard he renders himself, before spreading over frijoles refritos, cheese pulled into short strings and shredded cabbage. His masterwork is the tlayuda mixta with three meats: crumbled chorizo; tasajo, a thin cut of flank steak salt-cured for a few hours before grilling; and moronga, a billowy, herb-laced blood sausage made from a recipe that was a wedding gift to Martinez from the father of his wife and business partner, Odilia Romero. Warmed over mesquite, Martinez’s tlayuda is astounding with its density of tastes and textures; you won’t forget your first bite, or your 100th.
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#25: Shawarma is shaved from a spit
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Saffy's

East Hollywood Middle Eastern $$$
Of the two hummus plates on Saffy’s menu, one is an advanced course in subtle contrasts: chickpeas blitzed to weightlessness; a dollop of lemony, long-simmered fava beans; and a pool of good olive oil to unite them. But then there is the hummus tahini. A quenelle-shaped garnish of green zhoug, the Yemeni hot sauce, brings in acidic jolt, but the real clincher is the handful of Lebanese pine nuts. The cost of exquisite pine nuts — long and tapered, buttery and hinting of resin — has lately skyrocketed. I’d rather eat three of these than a handful of the short, squat, tasteless variety. The same details uplift grilled lobster brushed with green harissa; wood-fire-kissed shawarma shaved from the spit to order; and skewered lamb herbed with dried mint and marjoram, then lightened by minced sweet peppers.

Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ third restaurant, in an Art Deco space across from the big blue Church of Scientology building in East Hollywood, follows their downtown successes with Bestia and Bavel. Given Saffy’s focus on kebabs and a dozen or so California-inflected small plates, it may have appeared that the couple was striving for something more casual. One can argue how “casual” may be best defined these days; I certainly wouldn’t label Saffy’s as inexpensive. And really, given the ambition on display, Menashe and Gergis don’t quite seem capable of a stripped-down, laid-back style of restaurateuring. It’s largely to our benefit. Check out their small daytime bakery next door for excellent ham and cheese biscuits.
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#26: The Sooner Smash burger at Chi Spacca
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Chi Spacca

Hancock Park Italian $$$
It’s been a decade since Nancy Silverton’s “Italian meat restaurant” emerged from the catering and cooking-class space at the corner of Melrose and Highland avenues, though Chi Spacca still feels like the unruly younger sibling to the adjacent Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza. The 36-ounce Florentine-style bone-in New York strip, cooked exactingly to showcase the beef’s mineral tang and melting fat, costs just over $200 these days. It feeds at least three people; I don’t know of a better steak in Los Angeles. The potato, Comte and caramelized onion pie makes a superb accompaniment. I will always order the focaccia di Recco, a crackery, stretchy-cheesy flatbread with Ligurian origins that Silverton obsessed over for years to perfect. You’re most likely to see the woman herself in action for the lunchtime burger event held the first Saturday of every month. There is Silverton, flipping burgers and stacking them on sesame-crusted buns with the single-mindedness of a neurosurgeon.
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#27: Shakshouka at Ammatoli
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Ammatolí

Long Beach Middle Eastern $$
With a soaring, plant-filled extension to her dining room and a remodel of her open kitchen, Dima Habibeh’s Long Beach restaurant feels all the more like a hub of community. In her food, Habibeh — born to a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother and raised in Jordan — embodies her origins and beyond. Pleasantries like a Moroccan spiced salmon salad over arugula dot the menu, but the tradition-minded dishes are the reason Ammatolí is a destination. Look for rotisserie chicken over faintly smoky freekeh; handsomely speckled mana’eesh, the flatbread pulled straight from the oven; knafeh, its crust of shredded, orange blossom syrup-soaked pastry giving way to the cheese pull of life; and weekend specials like mansef, lamb shank with spiced yogurt sauce over rice and flatbread. This is arguably the most accomplished classical Levantine cooking in a Southern California restaurant.
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#28: Pasta spins on a fork
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Felix Trattoria

Venice Italian $$$
Evan Funke has necessarily funneled his attention into Mother Wolf, his new Roman restaurant in Hollywood, and his hands are deep into planning future projects. Felix, though? Paradoxically or not, it’s better than ever. The Venice pasta laboratory he started five years ago with Janet Zuccarini has mellowed in temperament; it reached a contented midpoint between the trattoria Funke wanted for us and the one we hoped for from him. The cocktails spiked with citrus and amaro; the sharp chicory salad and roasted meats; and the Sicilian focaccia called sfincione are, under the nightly leadership of chef de cuisine Viktoriya Campos, as splendid as ever. Still, we know why we’re here — for spaghettoni ensnaring anchovies and herbs, for linguine so light with lemon it’s always the first empty plate, for the chew and snap of orecchiette bumping against the textures of sausage and spigarello. The tagliatelle with ragù that Funke studied at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese has crept up to $45 a bowl. Even in times of inflation and crippling labor costs that’s an extreme sum. If I’m being honest, it was also the single most enjoyable pasta I had in Los Angeles this year.
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#29: Mac & Cheese from Bridgetown Roti
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Bridgetown Roti

Arts District Caribbean $
In 2020, Rashida Holmes moved from cooking at restaurants like Botanica and Rustic Canyon to running a pop-up selling roti and other dishes of her Bajan heritage. In a town where Caribbean cuisines often go overlooked in the zeitgeist sightlines, the excellence of her cooking shows many of us what we’ve been missing. Operating on weekends from the Crafted Kitchen commissary in the Arts District, Holmes fills her tidy bundles of roti with her mom’s recipe for chicken curry, a patchwork of sweet potatoes and fried cauliflower or, best of all, soft, ropy hunks of goat meat she buys from Jimenez Family Farms. The crust of her savory patties is improbably delicate, even when bulging with green curry shrimp or shredded oxtail meat with peppers. Start a meal with smashed cucumber salad jolted by jerk seasonings. Sometimes as a special Holmes makes chana doubles — palm-sized rounds of fried bread cradling curried chickpeas with mango relish, cilantro-ginger chutney and other garnishes that pop like flashbulbs. Treat them like tacos from a sidewalk stall; doubles were never meant to wilt in takeout containers.
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#30: Venison from Knife Pleat
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Knife Pleat

Costa Mesa French $$$$
Chef Tony Esnault and front-of-house whiz Yassmin Sarmadi, who are married, left Los Angeles a few years ago to take up residence in the haute couture Penthouse wing of Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza. The location suits their ambitions. Esnault performs a rigorous, meticulous form of fine dining that’s nearly extinct in America. The cooking is high craftsmanship and the plating is art; you stare, as in a gallery, considering vegetable geometries and the deliberate white space between wheels of chicken roulade and spears of asparagus. The restaurant has one Michelin star, and since the couple has switched to prix fixe at dinner, one senses they want more of them. Tasting menus are occasionally themed around, say, game meats, but the most elegant and uplifting annual meal in Orange County may be the spring dinner at Knife Pleat celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
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#31: The spicy braised cod dish is photographed with a side of rice at Soban
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Soban

Koreatown Korean $$
Koreatown: annex of Seoul (where a generation of Oaxacans and Salvadorans have also made a home); city within a city; civic treasure. Among dozens of restaurants and bars, there’s a strong argument for starting with a seat in Jennifer Pak’s small, welcoming dining room to begin delving into Koreatown’s food culture. The banchan is first-rate. A server will set down a dozen-plus plates — likely among them rolled egg, myeolchi bokkeum (stir-fried anchovies with peanuts) and kimchi that fizzes lightly on the tongue — arranging them with the efficiency of a blackjack croupier. Three vital dishes keep Soban’s reputation intact year after year. Ganjang gaejang, a speckled raw crab marinated in house-made soy sauce and dressed with green chiles and a sliced clove of garlic, reigns supreme. Extracting its sweet flesh is a full-sensory pleasure. Follow it with eundaegu jorim, the gochujang-spiced braise of black cod and daikon, and galbi jjim hearty with short ribs and root vegetables. The sense of place they engender is palpable.
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#32: Vegetarian combo with dorowot from Meals By Genet
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Meals by Genet

Little Ethiopia Ethiopian $$
Last year Genet Agonafer announced her semi-retirement — she’d prepare meals to-go from her Little Ethiopia stalwart Thursday through Sunday, and open her once-bustling dining room only for private events. The decision has meant less cashflow but also less stress for Agonafer. And, as L.A. Times Food General Manager Laurie Ochoa wrote in her selection of Meals by Genet for this year’s Gold Award, “Her customers have adapted as well, grateful that they can still get her cooking through takeout and re-create the shared feast experience in their own homes.” The colors of Agonafer’s vegetarian combination platter, spread over injera, look like an image of California’s shifting geography captured from space: forest-green collards segue to earth tones of spiced lentils and split peas and the soft shades of turmeric-stained cabbage. Lately I’ve been crushing on yebegsisga alitcha, a buttery lamb stew with a mellow thrum of garlic, but let’s never envision a day without Agonafer’s doro wat: She spends two days melting onions and simmering chicken with dusky berbere spices until every flavor fuses into a new, indivisible whole.
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Bicyclette
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Bicyclette

Pico-Robertson French $$$
Before Walter Manzke opened République with his pastry chef extraordinaire wife, Margarita, he sealed his reputation for French-California cooking with cassoulets, bouillabaisse and fried pig’s ear during his run at Church & State, and with tenures at Bastide and Patina before that. With Bicyclette (which shares a space with their tasting-menu restaurant, Manzke), the couple lay claim to their own stylish take on a bistro. The canonical dishes may be refracted through the sensibilities of American chefs, but never in ways that derail their essence. Beef Bourguignonne is full of short rib hunks and chewy lardons and especially satisfying over potato mousseline. The bouillabaisse has been resurrected, its broth again distilled into a seafood liqueur. I love the electric current of nutmeg flowing through the textbook boudin blanc, which comes and goes from the menu. Start the meal with savory tarte tatin with caramelized onions arranged in a swirl over goat cheese, and return to the form at the end for one of Margarita’s seasonal fruit tarts; the precision of the patterns suggests rulers were involved.
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#34: Heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, beans, alorenas & paprika from AOC
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

A.O.C.

West Hollywood Californian $$$
In the arc of A.O.C.’s two-decade evolution, from cramped wine bar to modern institution with beautiful locations in West Hollywood and Brentwood, Suzanne Goin essentially codified an entire branch of L.A.’s dining culture. She concentrates the tastes of the California seasons, intensifying them with flavors gleaned from North Africa, western Asia and the Mediterranean coasts of Spain, Italy and France. Dates stuffed with Parmesan and wrapped in bacon; fried chicken drizzled with chile-cumin butter with a side of romesco aioli; the “ode to Zuni” roasted chicken with bread salad: They are constants in a chaotic world. The menu never feels stale, though. There’s an innate synchrony with the farmers market — roasted peaches will flank duck breast in the summer, while duck sausage stuffing with apples, dates and walnuts signals fall — but also flashes of imagination like green quinoa dumplings, the grains popping on the tongue, smoothed with sumac-flecked yogurt. Would a Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes region or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape with some age pair nicely with those flavors? That’s the domain of co-owner and wine director Caroline Styne.
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Fish tartare tostada from Damian.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Damian

Downtown L.A. Mexican $$$
Damian began as Mexico City-based chef Enrique Olvera’s grandly announced entrance to the L.A. market but has settled into a restaurant that feels intentionally engaged with the city, with progressively delicious results. In a region already rich in Mexican food culture, Damian’s leadership team, led by Jesús “Chuy” Cervantes, seems to ask through its cooking: What can we bring to the conversation? Answers come in the forms of a modernist tlayuda tiled with squash and huitlacoche; elegant duck “al pastor” served with caramelized pineapple butter and hand-formed corn tortillas that taste as if they’re made of sunshine; plus a masterpiece centered around a meaty bulb of celery root that has been nixtamalized, baked, then braised in garlic, lemon and butter. At brunch, don’t book a reservation expecting a rundown of egg dishes. Go for pastry chef Josh Ulmer’s crunchy-soft blue corn conchas and the Korean-inspired fried chicken, sheathed in a batter of rice and white corn flours.

Housed in a former Arts District warehouse, the interior is mod and moody, though the terrace is especially stunning. Architect Alonso de Garay and designer Micaela de Bernardí have turned the area — amid industrial decay, offset with fresh planters built above winding banquettes — into something exhilarating: part art installation, part urban haven.
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#36: The omakase appetizer plate at Shin Sushi
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Shin Sushi

Encino Japanese $$$
The San Fernando Valley claims its share of top-tier sushi counters: I’d direct you to Brothers Sushi in Woodland Hills, Go’s Mart in Canoga Park or, for a glass of grand cru Chablis alongside your aji and hirame, Sushi Note in Sherman Oaks. I particularly admire Shin Sushi in Encino, an experience of the genre stripped to its essence. Chef-owner Taketoshi Azumi doesn’t pad his omakase with farmers market finds, vegan derivations, A5 Wagyu or truffle salt. Dinner will start with an appetizer plate of rotating seafood and vegetables that frequently includes one sawagani — a tiny fried crab that is entirely crunch. Then Azumi channels his energies solely into nigiri. His focus is a reminder that unions of fish and rice can be riveting in their gradations of texture, with minimal embellishment needed. Pray that he receives his shipment of menegi, needle-thin Japanese chives. He binds a bundle of them to rice with a band of nori and a finishing sprinkle of bonito flakes. This is often a finale piece, and its resonant sharpness doesn’t dim until after a spoonful or two of tofu mousse with black sugar syrup for dessert.
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#7: Gnocchi from Causita
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Causita

Silver Lake Peruvian $$
Ricardo Zarate’s expression of Nikkei cuisine, the style of Peruvian cooking created over the last century by Japanese immigrants, lights up the palate with citrus and bright-tasting herbs. A ceviche mixto of shrimp, scallops and slices of sea bass is bracing in leche de tigre and dotted with fried rings of calamari for clever crunch. Minced chocolate clams, paired with finely diced apple, is presented in a manner similar to choros a la chalaca, a Peruvian classic of steamed mussels served in their shells and covered with a limey onion relish. There is an exceptional vegetarian homage to rockfish tempura, a Nikkei-inspired creation made famous by Nobu Matsuhisa; Zarate uses ricotta gnocchi that he fries and tosses in a creamy sauce built around tobanjan, a Japanese chile paste laced with fermented broad beans. This goes over a lime-green pool of pureed cilantro, spinach and basil. My table usually orders two.

Causita — an airy room with two-story ceilings, exposed brick and light woods, with a beautifully tiled terrace out back — is part of a three-in-one Silver Lake project by David Rosoff, one of L.A.’s great wine savants, who launched a hospitality group last year. Start at Causita but keep in mind his two other side-by-side ventures at Sunset Triangle Plaza: Rápido, a tiny market great for bread and tinned seafood, and Bar Moruno, a restaurant themed loosely around Spanish bar food that’s fantastic for chef Chris Feldmeier’s tortilla española, martinis and whatever obscure red wine from the Canary Islands Rosoff is crushing on.
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#38: A feast of foods from Found Oyster
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Found Oyster

East Hollywood Seafood $$
“There’s no wait at 4 p.m.,” the Found Oyster team has lately taken to posting on Instagram with glamour shots of its namesake bivalves. The message is clear and, in my experience, true: At most any other hour of service, patience for seats (inside or along a semi-enclosed sidewalk patio) will be necessary. The 3-year-old East Hollywood seafood bar feels in essence like a neighborhood hangout, but the wit and consistency of its bicoastal dishes makes it a citywide destination. From the Pacific, count on Santa Barbara uni lacquered with wasabi and soy sauce, as well as spot prawn sashimi and Dungeness crab salad in season. The Atlantic inspires the brilliant lobster roll bathed in bisque; porky chowder; and small, crisply saline oysters, often from Maine or Massachusetts. Ask for a couple of oysters “Moscow style,” gilded with crème fraîche, vodka and a few beads of caviar. The “wedge” salad is more of a half-circle than a sliver, with the iceberg lettuce cut to model its concentric beauty even beneath fistfuls of Stilton, bacon and popping cherry tomatoes. It’s my favorite in Los Angeles.
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Fried chicken from Alta Adams.
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Alta Adams

West Adams American $$
At the 4-year-old West Adams community beacon, chef and co-owner Keith Corbin continues to perfect the style of light-handed cooking he calls “California soul.” His lacy, crackling fried chicken has always been outstanding; it translates seamlessly into a fried chicken sandwich stacked with pickles and hot sauce mayo. It’s hard to imagine a dinner without the oxtails braised with miso and soy, served with rice to capture all the saucy goodness. Corbin employs similar flavoring techniques for his vegan gombo (an alternate spelling for gumbo that hews closer to the word for okra in several West African languages); he uses red miso, rather than roux, for rich base notes among an ensemble of seasonal vegetables.

“California Soul” is also the name of Corbin’s powerful memoir, published this year, about growing up in Watts, surviving the drug economy and finding his way in the kitchen. A highly recommended read.
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#40: The relish tray at Birdie G's
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Birdie G’s

Santa Monica American $$$
Matzo ball soup, pecan kugel, Caesar salad dotted with fried oysters, an avant-garde jellied berry pie: On his ever-evolving menu of comfort foods, Jeremy Fox traces his zigzagging roots through Eastern Europe, the South, the Midwest and California. After following Fox’s career through his cerebral vegetable-based innovations at long-gone Ubuntu in Napa, and the tightrope between earthy and heady cooking he navigated at nearby Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, it’s wonderful to see him settled into a more lighthearted sort of creativity. One great example: “pickle chick,” in which Fox seemingly imagines the flavor possibilities of Southern fried chicken crossed with the brine from a jar of kosher dill spears. A coating of rice flour and potato flakes gives the bird an unusually fine crumb; fresh dill, dill pickle powder, hot sauce sharpened with pickle brine and a few slices of dill pickle drive home the theme. Blasting salty twang and dry wit, this is excellent fried chicken.
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#41: Chef Chad Colby plating plin dell' alta langa at Antico Nuovo
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Antico Nuovo

Larchmont Italian $$$
Given how time has distorted lately, it feels remarkable that Chad Colby’s solo venture — his first after a star-making turn as chef of Nancy Silverton’s meat-immersive restaurant Chi Spacca — has been open three years already. Pastas, rather than salumi or steaks, steal the focus, though the best of them incorporate the carnivore’s secrets that Colby acquired at his previous gig. I’m thinking of his take on agnolotti del plin, the pinched bundles with crimped edges that he fills with rabbit and then sauces in braising juices with a downpour of Parmigiano. And also the marvelously chunky beef cheek and veal tongue ragù he twirls among strands of pappardelle cut with a clothier’s precision. Bet on his seasonal salads — he splashed Marsala on stone fruit this summer to gorgeous effect — and the ice creams he crafts with flavors dense and intense enough to slow conversation.

The place is not inexpensive, and it resides in a nondescript strip mall on a stretch of Beverly Boulevard that doesn’t exactly stick in the brain. Point being: If you need to make last-minute reservations for a dinner that leans special occasion, this is an excellent option.
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#42: A plate of food is placed on the table
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Henry's Cuisine

Alhambra Cantonese $$
An exchange with David R. Chan, the Los Angeles native who has eaten at almost 8,000 Chinese restaurants across the United States, led me recently to the Alhambra restaurant run by Henry Tu and Henry Chau. It was a superb recommendation. Their menu blends Hong Kong-esque banquet seafood luxuries with a genre of dining that my Cantonese friends describe as the kind of place you’d eat homier-style dishes executed at restaurant-level skill. On Sunday nights, Henry’s booked-out dining room is a joyful cacophony of families sharing platters like whole lobster pummeled with fried garlic; a delicate mix of mushrooms sauteed with dried shrimp, pieces of dried fish and chives; beef chow fun; and the must-order dish, pig’s feet cured to the texture of greaseless ham and draped with near-sizzling squares of crisped skin. Come with a group too, and call a day ahead to order the winter melon soup, presented with pageantry in a silver tureen and swirling with chicken, dried scallops, fresh and cured pork, black mushrooms and dried longan fruit. The measure of the soup is the stock; it should have a clear, resounding richness … and this one very much does.
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#43: Tacos de Camaron at Mariscos Jalisco
(Carter Hiyama / For The Times)

Mariscos Jalisco

Boyle Heights Mexican $
It’s more than 20 years now that Raul Ortega has been parking his white lonchera at a curb along Olympic Boulevard in Boyle Heights, serving fish ceviches, octopus cocteles and the crowning dish he credits to his hometown of San Juan de los Lagos: tacos dorados de camarón. Corn tortillas clutch a mixture of spiced, chopped shrimp that’s nearly a paste; Ortega and his team don’t quite seal the tortilla, so in the fryer the filling sizzles around its edges. Then they slice avocado over the top and ladle on a thin red salsa with roughly minced onions and cilantro. The first bite is the textural equivalent of your life flashing before your eyes: It’s every possible experience all at once.

I am one in a lineage of restaurant critics declaring Mariscos Jalisco to be a worthy first meal in Los Angeles if you want to understand the city’s culinary culture. I’m still amazed at how many people ask me for taco recommendations and have never heard of the place. Maybe this will help: Ortega operates three additional outposts, including a counter restaurant in Pomona, with the same menu, and a lonchera on the Westside. If none of them quite reaches the summits of the Boyle Heights truck, it still might be the most amazing seafood taco you’ve ever had.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 6: Jewel City from Quarter Sheets Pizza Club on Monday, Oct. 6, 2022 in Los Angeles , CA. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Quarter Sheets Pizza

Echo Park Pizza $
Quarter Sheets began as a pandemic pop-up from the home that Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin, both accomplished chefs, share in Glendale. He made Detroit-style pizzas — the craggy, lacy borders of his rectangular creations approached blackened without ever tasting burnt — paved with classic red-sauce-based toppings or sometimes wild but amazingly cohesive creations. She composed layer cakes bordering on otherworldly in their deliciousness.

Over the past year they slowly moved into a magnetically eccentric Echo Park space, selling takeout while building a pizza parlor that ended up looking like an early-’80s rec room, complete with both record and cassette players. Their respective specialties are now even better, and also more unpredictable in their imaginings. Maybe potatoes, pistachio pesto and cured lemon will crown a pie, or perhaps there will be a meatball sub reimagined as a pizza, or sambal goreng tingling under a veil of mozzarella. Ziskin dreams up fantasies like olive oil chiffon with tiers of bay leaf-vanilla custard, passion fruit curd and salted Chantilly. Lately there’s been an incredible butter bean salad dotted with feta. No one can guess what L.A.’s first couple of carbs will devise next, but I feel pulled to show up every week and find out.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 27, 2022: Mezze Meal for Two at Kismet on Tuesday, Sep. 27, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Ron De Angelis / Los Angeles Times)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Kismet

Los Feliz Californian $$$
Some particulars around Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson’s nearly 6-year-old restaurant can be debated. Is the rabbit for two, spread over a garden bed of perfect lettuces, overpriced at $92? I’d argue yes. Do many of us miss Kae Whalen’s deep, wild, surprise-there’s-something-for-everyone natural wine list, and the Turkish-ish breakfast platter from the Before Times when the restaurant served lunch? Big yeses. But here’s a clincher: While not being a restaurant that serves strictly plant-based meals, Kismet is the finest place I know in Los Angeles for a vegetable-focused dinner. Whenever I have vegetarian friends visiting town, we come for a feast of small plates. It might involve fried cauliflower, the florets frizzled to an ideal pecan shade, dipped in capered yogurt; the Persian crispy rice that hides in its center an egg yolk set somewhere between oozy and jammy; and seasonal wonders like squash and chevre salad heady with the musk of marjoram, or the amazing stone fruit salad dressed in a savory sort of icing made from whey and lemon balm. “This is the California dinner we dreamed about,” they say. Discussion over.
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#46: A spoon dips into a bowl of french onion soup
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Petit Trois

Hollywood French $$$
When Petit Trois opened in 2014, the narrow bar was a portal to chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Paris. Partnering with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, he poured his Gallic Angeleno spirit into the blond rolled omelet, filled ironically but perfectly with Boursin; escargots saturated in butter and garlic; and the Big Mec burger, drenched in excesses that included foie gras before its ban. The tone, space-wise, was curated for scruffy, appealing indifference, though it never felt like a stage set. Past its doors you disappeared so far from California that you expected to inhale cigarette smoke from the person sitting two inches away.

These days most of us eat on a patio set up in the restaurant’s parking lot. The cooking retains its spirit, though its notions of bar food give way more each year to a conventional restaurant menu. In late summer a magenta slab of duck breast shared its plate with a ripe quarter-moon of peach and a lopsided square of bloomy-rind cheese teetering between solid and liquid. The same entree was served at the restaurant’s larger, brassier Sherman Oaks outpost, and it was a perfect trio. Something about the combination’s indulgent genius made me miss Trois Mec, the closed tasting-menu restaurant in the same strip mall as the original Petit Trois that once rewired ideas about fine dining in America. I still hold out hope for its revival. In the meantime, I’m here for Petit Trois’ evolving synthesis of Lefebvre’s styles.
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#47: The crispy imperial rolls, the wedding cake, the fried whole huachinango, and the bar's take on a Singapore Spling at All Day Baby,
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

All Day Baby

Silver Lake Eclectic $$
One of the most effective tools that Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener employ in their arsenal of talents is an element of surprise. Exhibit A: At All Day Baby, their daydream of a corner diner in Silver Lake, they found their approach to breakfast and lunch — biscuits, salads, sandwiches, righteously smoked chicken — wasn’t drawing as fervid an audience at dinnertime. Their solution? In late summer they introduced Tet-a-Tet, a Vietnamese-inspired menu interwoven with occasional Mexican flavors. Chicken liver pâté with lemongrass chile crunch and baguette circles the notion of a deconstructed banh mi; a whole fish is bathed in green curry and fish sauce coconut caramel. Oxtail stew over hominy with pickled jalapeño and salsa macha fits in seamlessly. The dishes have deservedly clicked with customers. During the day, Whitener is crushing it with his loco moco using teriyaki-glazed Spam and breakfast sausage. In an alternate universe, pastry chef Thessa Diadem has the staff and bandwidth to make her marshmallow-capped sweet potato sticky buns every weekend; in this world, keep an eye on Instagram for their infrequent appearance.
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#48: Hiramasa collar from Kuya Lord
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Kuya Lord

Hollywood Filipino $$
Carving into a spiral slice of “lucenachon” — Lord Maynard Llera’s nickname for his version of Filipino-style roast pork belly, its skin crackling and its rolled center stuffed with lemongrass stalks, red onion and fennel fronds — is a full-circle moment at Kuya Lord. In 2019, after stints as sous chef at Bestia and as culinary director for the h.wood group, Llera planned to open a restaurant serving food that bridged the flavors of Lucena City, a port town in the Philippines’ agriculturally abundant Quezon province where he grew up, and his professional experience in American kitchens. When the pandemic delayed his plans, he held near-weekly pop-ups out of his home in La Cañada Flintridge. Combinations of roasted chicken, fried pork belly stacked in neat rectangles, garlic rice and pancit arrayed on trays channeled the spirit of kamayan, the communal meals spread on banana leaves and eaten by hand. In June Llera realized his dream: He welcomed customers to his sunlit 28-seater in the Melrose Hill section of Hollywood. The finesse and potency of his cooking have transitioned seamlessly. You taste these qualities most thrillingly in the prawns simmered in garlicky crab paste with calamansi juice and fish sauce; the flavors swell in a sour, salty, umami-booming crescendo.
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#49: Pear salad at Yangban Society
(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

Yangban Society

Downtown L.A. Korean $$
Katianna and John Hong met working at Mélisse in Santa Monica. After years in the fine-dining realm, the couple opened their first restaurant with a retuned philosophy; they’ve mined their personal narratives as a reclamation of their Korean American identities. So much of the cooking lands in the sweet spot of smart, surprising combinations and abject pleasure. A rippling, flaky square biscuit covered in curried gravy with ground beef and pork has been an early signature; same with the avocado and Shinko pear salad with its head-clearing hot mustard vinaigrette. The congee pot pie is incredible: Its chicken stock porridge hints of ginger and its pastry cap brings to mind crackling youtiao. Add roasted abalone to the pot pie and you have one of the city’s great new luxury dishes.

The flow of Yangban Society’s tiered Arts District space has been a work in progress. Should the restaurant and its separate upstairs market area that the Hongs call the “Super” — where customers purchase beverages separately and maybe shop for Korean snacks — eventually merge into an easier-to-navigate experience? Probably. Most significantly, the food is immediately accomplished and, in its freshness and individualism, beautifully of Los Angeles.
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#50: Kimchi Pork Belly Doshirak and Mandu from SHIKU
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Grand Central Market

Downtown L.A. Eclectic $$
There is no rush of sensation quite like entering the halls of downtown Los Angeles’ 105-year-old landmark, long a juncture of what the city has been, what it is becoming and what we’re hungry for right now. Life cycles play out among its daily throngs. The latest outpost of Broad Street Oyster Co., tidily replicating the warm lobster roll that made the Malibu original famous, replaces Prawn Coastal, the seafood stand run by legendary Campanile co-chef Mark Peel, who died suddenly in 2021. Follow one trail of neon signs for vegan tonkatsu at Ramen Hood, beef panang at Sticky Rice and a lengua taco from Roast to Go, which has been in operation since 1952. Turn nearby corners to find kimchi-braised pork belly at Shiku or a statuesque chicken katsu sando from Moon Rabbit. I have two habitual stops for manna to enjoy later: DTLA Cheese and Kitchen, for whatever the latest pungent rarity Lydia Clarke has in her case, and Nicole Rucker’s peerless Fat + Flour, for a slice of pie mounded with fruit from the best farmers in California.
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#51: A smorgasbord of meals at Smorgasburg
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Smorgasburg L.A.

Downtown L.A. Eclectic $$
Smorgasburg L.A. is the city’s great incubator of culinary talent. We convene on Sundays in Row DTLA’s back lot to plug in, to mingle, to eat our faces off. The lineup of vendors revolves continually, guided by general manager Zach Brooks’ curatorial mastermind. This year some of my favorite pop-ups and food trucks showed up regularly. Friends and I would split up, order and reconvene to share pork belly breakfast burritos from Jonathan Perez’s Macheen, lamb barbacoa flautas from Steven Orozco Torres’ Los Dorados, bundles of chicken curry and rice from Celene and Tara Carrara’s Bungkus Bagus and a couple of dessert flan tacos from Evil Cooks. And there’s so much more to try. Having a presence at Smorgasburg empowers a vital continuum. We fall in love with what we taste. We follow these chefs beyond the market as they grow their businesses. And then we return, hungry to see who and what is happening next.
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#52: Tomatoes and Cherries from Bestia
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Bestia

Downtown L.A. Italian $$$
Filed in the life-moves-too-fast category: Bestia turned 10 this year. In the decade since Ori Menashe took California-Italian cooking by the scruff and clobbered it with fermented chiles, smoked anchovies and frizzled breadcrumbs, Los Angeles and the world have changed profoundly. The restaurant has matured in pace. An early emphasis on charcuterie gave way to antipasti like scallop crudo arrayed with cured cucumbers, olives and fresh mint; the pizza crust is tangier and less doughy; and Genevieve Gergis’ tarts and other kinetic sculptures are more experimental, successfully so. Two things haven’t changed. Pastas, their flavors darting every which direction from supporting ingredients that always manage to mingle well, remain the menu’s core strength. And the concrete bunker of a dining room, housed in a converted Arts District warehouse, is as rambunctious and loud as ever.

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#53: An array of ice cream flavors from Konbi
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Konbi

Echo Park Japanese $$
Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery hatched their tiny Echo Park business out of its takeout chrysalis this year, and it took off in two new directions. In the summer they debuted their second location at Culver City’s Sony Pictures Plaza, where their riffs on Japanese convenience-store sandos — pork or eggplant katsu, the egg salad that cornered Instagram — remain at the center of the menu. In addition to salads brightened with shiso dressing or miso vinaigrette and Kiyoshi Tsukamoto’s magnificent pastries (including the famous chocolate croissant, best consumed hot), they’ve introduced ice creams to the mix. Try the houjicha flavor, with its swirl of smoky honey caramel.

Back in Echo Park, Akuto and Montgomery relaunched indoor dining at year’s end, renaming the restaurant Konbi Ni. They’re serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at the eight-seat counter; based on a recent Japanese-style preset morning meal involving fish, jeweled fruit and vegetables in various forms, I’m wondering if reservations are about to be as in demand here as for our top-flight sushi bars.
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#54: One of the many piijja combinations at Pijja Palace
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Pijja Palace

Silver Lake Indian $$
Have you recently driven by the Silver Lake strip mall where the legendary Happy Foot Sad Foot sign spun for 30-plus years? During dinner hours, crowds swarm the parking lot for one of the year’s breakout sensations — a sports bar that serves Indian American dishes. Owner Avish Naran crisscrosses influences with a we-do-what-we-want irreverence that feels innate to the city, though there is nothing else quite like Pijja Palace in Los Angeles.

In a room that gives off the air of a business-class lounge in a Scandinavian airport, surrounded by 13 screens playing whatever game happens to be on that night, you might start with the “green” wings dressed in a cilantro-mint-chive chutney. The early hit is malai rigatoni, its sauce a gentle mixture of cream and tomato masala carrying the reedy twang of coriander seed. Naran and executive chef Miles Shorey do their best to eschew labels, but I’d couch their pies in the vein of East Coast-style bar or tavern pizzas — thin, chewy-crisp crusts with plenty of sauce and cheese all the way to their blackened edges. Don’t go too crazy with the build-your-own combinations: A relatively mild vindaloo sauce topped with chicken tikka and tandoori onions is plenty.
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#55: Pouring Mole Oaxaqueno at Rocio's Mexican Kitchen
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Rocio's Mexican Kitchen

Bell Gardens Mexican $
“La diosa de los moles,” “mole queen,” “mother of moles”: Each of the nicknames that Rocío Camacho has earned over the years honors her command of laborious, symphonic moles. Camacho has worked in kitchens throughout the region for decades and partnered on projects in Sun Valley and Paramount, but currently she makes the restaurant she opened in Bell Gardens in 2015 her sole professional home. The menu details a dozen moles. Some are tenets; others are fantasias. Her mole Oaxaqueño, its dozens of ingredients alchemized into a substance as glossy as fresh-churned earth, is as distinctive as an autograph. From there, dabble in her moles made with pistachio and mint or cranberry and rose. When I peered through the open kitchen window at dinner to catch a glimpse of Camacho, a staffer caught on and said, “She’s here in the mornings, making moles, because all the recipes are her secrets.” I returned for chilaquiles blanketed in dusky-bright pipian rojo during breakfast hours a couple of days later, and there she was.
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#56: Hokkaido Scallop Sashimi from n/soto
(Carter Hiyama / For The Times)

n/soto

Mid-City Japanese $$$
“Accessible” can be an overused and twisty word in food writing, but in its most basic definition it aptly describes the new Mid-City restaurant from Niki Nakayama and her wife, Carole Iida-Nakayama. While their tiny flagship n/naka never stops showing up on listicles about the world’s hardest reservations, at n/soto prime-time seating can be secured by planning only a week out, sometimes less. Its izakaya model — small to midsize plates that incorporate myriad culinary techniques, matched with a thoughtful beverage program — is familiar as a universal template for dining in Los Angeles. The couple knew they’d need to give n/naka their nightly attention, so Yoji Tajima, whose Beverly Hills sushi restaurant Yojisan closed in 2020, leads n/soto’s kitchen. Among the 50-plus items on the menu, much of it micro-seasonal and changing by the week if not the day, look for a constant: a bowl of freshly made oboro tofu. The soothing, savory custard seasoned with tosa joyu, a soy-based sauce enriched with shaved bonito, sets the mood for the sculptural plates of sashimi, smoky chicken thigh skewers and the exceptional shrimp-stuffed agedashi mochi ahead.
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#57: Diavola Pizza from Pizzeria Sei
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Pizzeria Sei

Pico-Robertson Pizza $$
Through a plexiglass window, from a seat at the counter in a tiny Pico-Robertson dining room, watch how William Joo crimps the edges on his neo-Neapolitan pizzas. When they emerge from the black-tiled oven, smoldered by burning almond wood, the corniciones will have flared into jagged starburst patterns. Ripping into the crust, however scorching, becomes irresistible. An alumnus of Daniele Uditi’s Pizzana — a brand in national expansion mode that arguably ushered in L.A.’s current golden age of pizza — Joo is a meticulous craftsperson forging his own style, pie by pie. He fully sidesteps the soupy centers often associated with Neapolitan pizzas; his creations slide from the paddle to the plate bubbling in the middle. Start with a Margherita to appreciate its essential character: the exact sweetness of the tomato sauce, the pleasing ratio of fior di latte, the head-clearing basil leaves and the sprinkle of sea salt that heightens it all. I’m also fond of the Bismarck, with its egg in the center bleeding yolk over the surrounding slices of prosciutto cotto.

Reserve as far ahead as you can and expect prime slots to be booked; I’ve made peace with savoring Joo’s handiwork in the middle of the afternoon.
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#58: A takeout plate from Villa's Tacos
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Villa's Tacos

Highland Park Mexican $
When I’m lifting one of Victor Villa’s queso tacos out of a takeout container, I have an inkling of how an alien god might feel plucking a landmass right out of the ocean. This thing looks like a continent; curls of cheese have seized along its borders into a craggy coastline. The blue corn tortilla, pressed to order, forms thick, soft ground for layers of grilled chopped steak or chicken leg meat with onion, cilantro, crema, flurries of cotija and a cloud of guacamole. It’s unwieldy and overwhelmingly delicious, and it’s vital to splotch the top with salsa (there are at least seven to try) to tame the richness. Villa and his crew form an efficient assembly line of tacos under tents set up outside Block Party bar in Highland Park. Ivy Queen and Megan Thee Stallion blast from the speakers. “Tacos Estilo Los Angeles” reads the motto splashed across the setup’s canopy. Indeed. In a city fueled by tacos, Villa’s maximalist style feels particularly born of this place and time.
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#59: Tender Bamboo Shoots in Chili Sauce, served at Sichuan Impression
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles)

Sichuan Impression

Alhambra Chinese $$
Restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley are far from monolithic, but Sichuan cuisine has plainly dominated the region’s culinary narrative in the last decade. In the years since Chengdu Taste taught us that the cooking traditions of the Sichuan province are about far more than Scoville meltdowns and tingling ma la, we can debate the nuances of spicy cumin lamb and dan dan noodles from various menus. We can name our favorite hot pot chain. (My hand is raised for Xiao Long Kan.) When the question arises of where to start, or which menu most eloquently conveys the range in heat and flavor of the cuisine, my answer is Sichuan Impression.

Lynn Liu and Kelly Xiao, both natives of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, opened their first restaurant in Alhambra in 2014. Start with a round of cold dishes — including pickled cucumbers, bamboo shoots and the famous fuqi feipian, or “couple’s dish,” with sliced beef shank and tripe in a broth prominently scented with ginger and star anise — followed by the boiled fish with rattan pepper, which is at once subtle and potent, and the wobbling hill of pork steamed with rice flour and pumpkin.
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LOS ANGELES , CA - OCTOBER 5: The oxtail grilled cheese at Post & Beam on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Shelby Moore / For The Times)
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Post & Beam

Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw American $$$
At the crown-jewel restaurant of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw shopping plaza, John and Roni Cleveland serve cheering dishes inflected with the flavors of the American South: shrimp and grits with shrimp butter and beef bacon, jerk catfish over dirty rice, a scarf-it-down grilled cheese rich with braised oxtail meat and smoked mozzarella. For brunch? More oxtail, in the form of hash with poached eggs and mustard hollandaise, and pecan-pie-inspired French toast with bourbon caramel. Since its inception in 2011 — when founder Brad Johnson opened the restaurant with L.A. native chef Govind Armstrong leading the kitchen — part of Post & Beam’s mission has been to nurture Black culinary talent. To that end, the Clevelands regularly host Martin Draluck (formerly the restaurant’s chef de cuisine) and his Black Pot Supper Club. The event, inspired by the culinary legacy of enslaved chefs James Hemings and Hercules Posey, builds on the Hemings & Hercules dinners Draluck co-created with Brian Dunsmoor that were featured on the Netflix series “High on the Hog.” The menu might include head cheese or rabbit braised in Madeira, and the table conversations sparked by the historical dishes could be occasionally difficult and very meaningful.
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#61: The chicken and beef combo from Mini Kabob
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Mini Kabob

Glendale Armenian $$
Chef Alvard Martirosyan, her husband, Ovakim, and their gifted, social-media-savvy son Armen have been achieving near perfection with skewered meats for 27 years. Their Armenian-style kebabs, marinated thoroughly so the seasonings seep down to a cellular level, emerge from the flames smoky and always juicy. The Martirosyans’ tiny Glendale restaurant remains a takeout operation; a family member meets you at the door behind a folding table to hand over your order. For a glimpse inside, watch Armen on Instagram or TikTok shaping meat onto saber-like skewers for luleh kebabs, the restaurant’s specialty. My favorites rotate: Lately I’ve been pairing a beef luleh with the chicken thigh shish imbued with spiced yogurt and flecked with Aleppo pepper. If you’re making your meal a car picnic — it’s the move, honestly — ask for a side of the off-menu fried potatoes. They’re best hot, swiped generously through garlic sauce.
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#62: The hand-sliced smoked salmon bagel (left) and roe-topped bagel at Courage Bagels
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Courage Bagels

East Hollywood Bagels $
I understand that I might be ruining this hack as I type, but I have found the line is shortest at Courage Bagels around 9:15 a.m. on weekdays. The wait to reach the ordering window is often no more than 10 minutes, and usually I can find a seat under an umbrella at one of the tables arranged along the sidewalk. A staffer calls out customers’ names as he rushes through the restaurant’s door; it has no outside handle, so he aims to pass off takeout boxes and dash back inside before the door swings fully shut again. My carton will contain Winter in Sardinia — a sandwich layered with sardines, herbs, lemon and a literal fistful of capers — and also half of a purposely burnt bagel pounded with everything seasoning and draped with smoked salmon.

Arielle Skye began selling her compact, smoky-crisp, Montreal-inspired bagels from the back of a bicycle nearly six years ago. She expanded to the Silver Lake farmers market, and then in October 2020 she and her now-husband, Chris Moss, moved into the Virgil Village space previously occupied by Super Pan bakery. So Courage Bagels isn’t an overnight success story, but it has blossomed into an undeniable phenomenon. They really are worth the wait, no matter when you show up.
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#63: The Carbonara dish is seen at Mother Wolf
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Mother Wolf

Hollywood Italian $$$
For Mother Wolf, Evan Funke went Hollywood in every sense. His loud, posh, 200-seat spectacle in a 1930s-era Art Deco building rages nightly with a Negroni-clutching who’s-who crowd. Funke, an L.A. native who learned from Wolfgang Puck at Spago and whose father is an Academy Award-winning special effects photographer, has an insider’s instinct for coddling the Tinseltown elite. Angeleno restaurant obsessives also know he’s a perfectionist in the kitchen. The challenge he’s given himself with Mother Wolf is a rich one: Can he manage the vortex of power and glamour he’s created while maintaining the culinary ambitions of his Rome-inspired menu?

I find rewarding answers in his fried squash blossoms; the supplì al telefono stretchy with buffalo mozzarella; a pizza covered with prosciutto and artichokes; and a correct, barnyard-y spaghettone alla gricia, the unjust underdog of the Roman pasta repertoire. A restaurant of such glamorous scale needs a strong third act, and Funke wisely hired Shannon Swindle, one of L.A.’s most gifted pastry pros. Among other seasonal desserts, order the maritozzo, a fluffy sweet bun filled with cream in a shape that resembles Pac-Man with his mouth full, hiding a surprise of ripe, macerated strawberries that lightens the whole affair.
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#64: Breakfast dishes at Pine & Crane.
(Stephanie Breijo/Los Angeles Times)

Pine & Crane

Downtown L.A. Taiwanese $$
In June, Vivian Ku opened her second location of Pine & Crane, in downtown L.A. It’s larger and sleeker than the beloved Silver Lake flagship, with a calming indoor-outdoor design adjacent to a small park. Most important, the new outpost serves breakfast. Its morning menu revives many of the Taiwanese staples that Ku and her crew mastered at Today Starts Here, the takeout pop-up they operated for nine months recently in Chinatown. If you’re in a pre-workday rush, the “thousand-layer” pancake folded with egg, chile sauce, basil and melted American cheese binding the crisp-soft pastry is ideal on-the-go fuel. Or settle in for a bowl of savory soy milk garnished with youtiao (batons of fried dough snipped into crisp squares), daikon rice cakes freckled with diced shiitake and hand pies stuffed with scrambled egg, chives and vermicelli noodles. Dinner options of three-cup chicken fragrant with basil, lu rou fan (minced pork over rice with soy egg) and nourishing wonton soup? As strong as ever.
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#65: Kua kling sikrong moo (Souther Thai dried pork curry) from Jitlada
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times/Silvia Razgova)

Jitlada

East Hollywood Thai $$
Few modern restaurant legends have endured like the story behind Jitlada: Chef Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee, who died in 2017, and his sister Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong took over the long-running restaurant and introduced a then-untranslated back page full of radically spicy Southern Thai specialties. Those dishes have been incorporated into its 10-page English menu for a while now, but their written accessibility doesn’t mean the kitchen has diminished their incandescence. As a masterclass on regional Thai cooking, Jitlada is indispensable. The choices can overwhelm, true, though reconnecting with an old favorite can feel like rediscovering a beloved novel. It happened for me recently after ordering kaeng kung yawt khaam awn, shrimp and young tamarind pods in a soupy curry lit up with turmeric. There were shadings in its fiery, fruity-sour intricacy I’d missed before. I never forget the effect of the herbaceous jungle curry with lamb; it’s so visceral with capsicums that its ingestion borders on supernatural possession.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 7: Duck ragu orcchiette from Rossoblu on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Katrina Frederick / For The Times)
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Rossoblu

Downtown L.A. Italian $$$
Steve Samson’s restaurant in downtown’s City Market South complex, now in its sixth year, has been slowly moving away from its original premise as a reclamation of his childhood spent in food-obsessed Bologna. The menu of blended Italian-Californian sensibilities was never doctrinaire, but in a town teeming with pasta and pizza restaurants I valued the regional specificity. Traces of Bologna remain in two staple dishes: the wonderful minestra nel sacco, a soup of Parmigiano-Reggiano dumplings cooked in a cloth bag and served in chicken and beef broth; and tagliatelle al ragù, in which the sauce clings to the strands without smothering them. Dough maestro Francesco Allegro, a native of Puglia, ensures that the concise, seasonally shifting pasta options continue to be a focal point. Share two or three of them, followed by the grigliata — a duet of bone-in pork chop and sausage that sings of char and salt and succulence.
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#67: One of Gish Bac's specialities, Barbacoa Roja, slow-cooked goat, with handmade tortillas, limes, and cabbage.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Gish Bac

Arlington Heights Mexican $$
Southern California is home to the largest Oaxacan population outside Mexico. Among dozens of restaurants that serve absorbing surveys of Oaxaca’s regional specialties, I am continually drawn back to Maria Ramos and David Padilla’s restaurant in Arlington Heights. Ramos comes from a family of barbacoa masters and she honors her heritage in two glorious Oaxacan variations: barbacoa roja, which is goat stained with guajillo chiles and served in its ruddy, head-clearing broth; and barbacoa blanco, a less saucy version of steamed lamb fragrant with oregano and cumin. Come with a group for weekend breakfast and try both of them along with an order of enmoladas dipped in Ramos’ mole negro; the sauce is nearly sentient in its intricate flavors and glossy, determined ooze across the plate. In a town more crowded than ever with excellent tlayudas, Gish Bac’s signature still stands out. It’s a circle of life layered with pureed black beans, shredded cabbage covering half-melted threads of Oaxacan string cheese, grilled steak and chicken, the chile-marinated pork called cecina, avocado, tomato rounds and slivers of nopales arranged like spokes radiating from a wheel’s center. Note: The restaurant is cash only.

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#68: An assortment of dishes flash on screen
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Northern Thai Food Club

East Hollywood Thai $
The strategy at “Nancy” Amphai Dunne’s 12-seat restaurant in Thai Town has always been to interact with her over the steam table, surveying the dishes inspired by the cooking of Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province. Point and choose sai ua, rough-textured pork sausages packed with minced lemongrass; gaeng kanoon, a soup of jackfruit, pork ribs and cha-om, an herb that resembles dill and tastes almondy; and nam prik ong, a warm ground-pork dip with flavors that race with tomato and shrimp paste. A few months ago Dunne introduced a separate menu of soupy rice porridge available during dinner hours. It’s comfort food with a sneak attack: The broth tingles with makhwaen seeds grown in Northern Thailand that have a similar but gentler spicy-numbing effect as Sichuan peppercorns. Among options to add pork meatballs, squid or scallops, try the porridge scattered with hunks of mild fish.
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Los Angeles, CA - October 20: A combination Ajebush plate and Enqulal Fir-Fir are photographed at Lalibela restaurant on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. The restaurant is named as Los Angeles Times' best 101 restaurants of the year. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Lalibela

Little Ethiopia Ethiopian $$
In Little Ethiopia I seek out the dulet (raw minced beef liver, tripe and other cuts in spiced butter) at Messob; a vegetarian platter followed by a cup of strong, freshly roasted coffee at Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine; and the turmeric-stained alicha tibs or garlicky chicken cutlet over spaghetti at Awash just a half-mile outside the neighborhood. Most frequently, though, I return to Lalibela. Tenagne Belachew worked in several of the area’s restaurants before opening her own place with her seven children. Lunch is my favorite time of day, when the dining room is quiet and I order one dish from the breakfast menu — say, quanta fir-fir, a combination of shredded injera and dried beef simmered in spiced tomato sauce. If I’m with friends, we build our meal around the 11-dish “veggie utopia” spread over injera; usually we add yebeg alicha wot, a mild and creamy lamb sauté, and the special kitfo, beef tartare glossed with mitmita (a staple Ethiopian spice blend here ringing with cardamom) and eaten with fluffy curds of fresh cheese and pureed collards.
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#70: 1/2 smoked pollo from Selva
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Selva

Long Beach Colombian $$
Carlos Jurado — a veteran chef of Los Angeles restaurants, including stints at Vespertine and Border Grill — had drifted toward consulting and recipe development before partnering with restaurateurs Geoff and Karna Rau. In leading his first kitchen, Jurado returns to foods he’d loved growing up; his parents relocated from Colombia to Long Beach when he was 3, and he started making regular trips to see family in South America when he was a teenager.

The quickest route to happiness at Selva is via the bandeja paisa, a one-platter feast synonymous with Colombia. Thick, ruddy slices of steak fan across one edge of the plate. A spiral of other meats and sides — grilled chorizo or morcilla, extra-crisp hunks of pork belly, golden lobes of plantain, smoky beans, white rice, a griddled arepa filled with corn and queso, a fried egg, sliced avocado — ends with a tuft of pickled onions arranged in the center like a bull’s-eye. Colombians tend to enjoy their hot dogs, called super-perros, with toppings as layered as geological strata. For Jurado’s joyride version, a link of taut, paprika-stained Colombian chorizo peeks out from beneath a topsoil of crumbled cotija, charred onions and peppers, jalapeño jam, aioli mixed with salsa verde (a mulchy, punchy Colombian version called ají) and, finally, smashed Lay’s chips dusted with chile powder. This is, as you might imagine, a two-handed, face-planting commitment to polish off.
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#71: Flavors From Afar
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Flavors From Afar

Little Ethiopia International $$
Co-founder Christian Davis describes the mission of Flavors From Afar this way: “We highlight cooks and chefs who are refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants making cuisines from around the world.” Each month features a new chef who works with the in-house team, led by program instructor Kenna Copes, to translate the home-cooked dishes of their culture to a professional kitchen setting. In the past year chefs in residence have served soup joumou, a bright, brothy beef and squash dish eaten to commemorate the end of French colonial rule in Haiti; gorgeously pleated Afghan mantu swathed in tomato sauce and mint yogurt; and individually sized variations on maqluba, the Palestinian rice dish flipped upside-down on the plate to reveal its layers. There’s also a steady “classics menu” featuring potato-and-cheese flautas, Somali-style chicken fried rice and other favorite dishes from past contributors.

The restaurant is an arm of co-founderMeymuna Hussein-Cattan’sTiyya Foundation, which assists families of refugees, immigrants and displaced Indigenous communities. Nearly half of the profits from Flavors From Afar go to Tiyya’s support programs. To keep up with the featured cuisines, many of which are otherwise uncommon even in L.A.’s vast dining landscape, the plant-filled dining room in Little Ethiopia warrants monthly visits — and an Instagram follow.

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#72: The Baja Shrimp po boy from the Angry Egret Dinette
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Angry Egret Dinette

Chinatown Eclectic $$
Wes Avila never stays still. When he’s not overseeing the menu at Yucatán-themed Ka’teen at the Tommie Hollywood hotel, he’s devising the day’s out-of-left-field specials at Angry Egret Dinette, his project in Chinatown’s Mandarin Plaza. Maybe one afternoon will bring a teetering burger that calls forth backyard barbecues; the next day he’ll pile a tostada with surf clam, halibut and uni and spackle them with salsa negra and salsa macha so the seafood is downright gritty with texture and spice. Waffles with mascarpone cream and breakfast burritos like Hey Porky’s (roasted and shredded pork shoulder with scrambled eggs, black beans, queso Oaxaca and salsa verde) are mainstays for breakfast, which is my favorite meal at Angry Egret Dinette. The shaded courtyard setting has been a draw since the darkest days of 2020; now there’s a cozy indoor dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows too.
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#73: A steaming hot pot
(Shelby Moore/For The Times)

Sun Nong Dan

Koreatown Korean $$
It’s good to remember now and then that Sun Nong Dan’s initial focus was seolleongtang (the restaurant spells it “sulung tang” on the menu), a silvery-milky beef broth known as a curative and designed to be seasoned to taste at the table. But then word spread about the galbi jjim — a crimson mass of short ribs, gochugaru-flecked potatoes and chewy rice cakes that can easily feed four — and the cheese option. A server brings the stew in a stone pot on a wooden platter, sprinkles over a few fistfuls of white shreds, pulls out what is essentially a welding blowtorch and takes aim until the cheese melts. The staffer performs this task with the straightest face; everyone else in the restaurant gapes. Sun Nong Dan, first housed in a strip mall on Sixth Street in Koreatown, now has four locations across the region. The ubiquity of the flambé moment has all but transcended Instagram. I love the original but note the outposts stay busy; the galbi jjim in takeout form doesn’t come with cheese, and no one wants to miss out.
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