The 2021 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. is here

101 Best Restaurants in L.A.
(Photo by Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; Typography by Luke Lucas / For The Times)

The 2021 edition of the 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. is here. Read it online now, look for it as part of this Sunday’s print edition if you’re a subscriber, or buy the beautifully photographed and designed version in The Times’ online store.

Every year this tentpole project is a colossal task that takes many hands to create, and for each of my three years now as a critic at The Times, the guide has required a different strategy. This one came together amid the restaurants industry’s evident nuances and challenges of reopening dining rooms during an ongoing pandemic. I ate at each of the restaurants (and then some, of course; it’s an ever-more painful process to whittle down the list to a mere 101) between July and October. The talent and resilience and heart in the cooking I experienced floored me again and again.

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From early in the planning process, it felt important to weave in some other voices illuminating the city’s culinary culture. While you’re plotting your next meal, please read Carolina A. Miranda on the designer whose cart may change the way street vendors sell tamales; Donovan X. Ramsey on the evolution of a tasting-menu series, weighty with history, that was featured on Netflix’s “High on the Hog”; and Esther Tseng on an organization that supports restaurant workers who are part of the city’s varied, and often unseen, Indigenous communities.

My ride-or-die colleague Jenn Harris named some of our very favorite places for imbibing (alcohol and otherwise), and I slipped in 11 of my favorite pop-up operators whose ingenuity and outside-the-box approach point to the future of how we’ll be eating in Los Angeles.

A few behind-the-scenes names you should know, without whom this beast wouldn’t exist: acting Food editor Alice Short, lead designer Kay Scanlon (take a second look at the gorgeous cover image of a dish from Minh Phan’s Phenakite, our restaurant of the year), director of photography Kate Kuo and her team (including photographer Mariah Tauger, who shot the lead image, among many others), lead copy editor Lisa Horowitz (who also steers the Food section weekly) and digital editor Kelly Corrigan, who oversaw the daunting online build.

I hope the guide leads you to many excellent meals and helps frame the city’s profound culinary wonders. I’m already thinking about next year’s list. And look for weekly reviews to resume soon.

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It’s holiday tamale season. Daniel Hernandez and I tore through the city, together and separately, to freshly name some sources for standout tamales.

Ben Mims’ Week of Meals series returns with recipes from Susan Vu, a recipe developer, food stylist and culinary producer based in Los Feliz. The mix includes sheet pan shrimp boil, suon ram man (Vietnamese caramelized spare ribs, prepared in a pressure cooker) and nori wraps with baked spicy peanut tofu.

Stephanie Breijo looks at the new Blossom Market Hall in San Gabriel, with stands such as Yonette Alleyne’s Caribbean Gourmet and Kyu Yi’s Burnt Belly barbecue, and also reports on how a spate of vandalism around the city has affected restaurants.

Finally, James Rainey writes about Senate Bill 1383, effective Jan. 1, which “mandates that Californians toss unused food, coffee grounds, egg shells, banana peels and other leftovers into bins they use for other ‘green’ waste, such as garden trimmings, lawn clippings and leaves.”

Dishes from Susan Vu's recipes from the Week of Meals series.
(Lindsay Kreighbaum / For The Times)