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How we made our 101 restaurant list in a year like no other

2020 101 cover image
This year’s 101 restaurant list goes live online on Monday, Dec. 7, at 5 p.m. PST.
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; photo by Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

As COVID cases crest in yet another dangerous wave, with hospitalizations spiking and a statewide record number of coronavirus-positive patients currently in intensive care, outdoor dining has again been barred. Once more, restaurant workers and their employers are not receiving the financial relief from the government needed to endure the shutdowns. We’re back to staying home, back to doubling down on takeout and delivery as one small way to support the businesses that help sustain us.

It couldn’t be a bleaker moment to release this year’s 101 list, the project celebrating essential restaurants in Los Angeles (and surrounding areas) that Patricia Escárcega and I spent all year planning.

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Patricia and I knew the 101, which publishes each December, might arrive at a moment like this: Epidemiologists have been predicting a fall-winter surge in the virus since March.

And yet it seemed unthinkable to forgo the project this year. Haven’t restaurant meals literally restored us during some of our darkest days? Among ceaseless tragedies, haven’t we witnessed profound displays of heart, innovation and grit?

Researching, debating, rethinking and writing the guide also felt like a way to celebrate the industry’s resilience, and to declare a statement of intent for the day when we can all be eating together again.

Jonathan Gold inaugurated the annual list in 2013; the 2020 edition is perhaps the least like a “best of” collection that it’s ever been. A spoiler that’s hardly a surprise: We ditched the idea of ranking this year. Yes, the list is full of restaurants where Patricia and I have had wonderful and quintessentially Los Angeles experiences. Your favorite celebrated restaurant may or may not be present, though. We strove even harder this year to fully express the city’s pluralism, in every sense of the word that food can express, and we included a handful of surprises that go beyond the established structure of the list.

The 101 goes live on latimes.com on Monday, Dec. 7, at 5 p.m. Print subscribers will find a gorgeously designed magazine version in their paper on Sunday, Dec. 13.

Even in an awful, unprecedented time, we’re proud to share the project, which in many respects culminates our year’s work. We hope you find it useful, and maybe even uplifting.

Grand Central Market Takeout Menus

Another 101 spoiler: Grand Central Market remains part of the lineup, and Patricia and I were asked to come up with menus featuring some of our favorite GCM vendors; they’re available for takeout via Chow Now. If you’ve ever glanced at my Instagram, you already know that pie from Nicole Rucker’s Fat & Flour is on my list. But there’s plenty more goodness: Check them both out.

Have a question for the critics?

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Our stories

— I have a roundup of the 11 best new food books (nine cookbooks, a memoir and a hard-to-define philosophical manifesto) to add to your collection, or to give as gifts!

Ben Mims outdid himself with this year’s holiday cookie recipe roundup. He reached out to L.A. pastry chefs for their favorite seasonal treats. From Kim Prince’s buttermilk tea cakes and Justine Hernandez’s teddy bear biscotti to Brad Ray’s giant molasses cookies and Mei Lin’s brown butter espresso cookies (and more!), “We offer a batch of simple but delicious cookies that require the barest of equipment or skill, reflecting the simplicity of passed-down family recipes,” says Ben.

A selection of Ben Mims' 2020 holiday cookies recipes
A selection from Ben Mims’ 2020 holiday cookies package, featuring recipes from local pastry chefs.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)


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