The 12 most loved restaurant dishes of 2022
The thing about observing the multitudes of dining cultures in a city as boundless as Los Angeles is that every axiom can hold true at once.
Was it a year when hotel restaurants and new concepts from corporatized groups advanced on the landscape with middle-of-the-road, something-for-everyone cooking? Yes.
Are we more saturated than ever with pizza and burgers?
Did enterprising chefs who scraped through 2020 with shoestring pop-ups find the footing to open some of 2022’s most promising new restaurants?
Did some of our finest established players launch second or third places that show off fresh, exciting aspects of their talent?
Very much so, in all cases.
Few operators, I imagine, would call 2022 a return to “normal,” given labor challenges, food-cost inflation and an ongoing pandemic that can bring calamity to a small business at any moment. When I zero in on these 12 dishes from a year full of eating and writing, I don’t think only about excellence. I feel esteem for those who dare to express their honest selves in their cooking. They have confidence that we’ll eat what they make and see who they are; they take pride in where they come from; and they enrich the communities that together make Los Angeles a culinary marvel.
Focaccia ebraica at Bacetti
The eyes feast first at Bacetti. Owners Jason Goldman and Christian Stayner stripped a circa-1928 building in Echo Park down to its structural beams. Stayner, who leads an architecture firm, retained an exposed bowstring truss ceiling overhead, installed a partially glassed-in roof and created a soaring space divided into sections by interior wood-framed windows. The stunning room — framed by a centerpiece of twin brass art installations from photographer Matt Lipps — gives the effect of a Shaker meetinghouse deconsecrated into a Modernist set piece.
As you’re taking in the elegant design details, you’ll likely notice that on most tables there is an order of the restaurant’s star-turn focaccia. Chef Joel Stovall reimagines pizza ebraica, the cakey-crackery confection enfolded with raisins, candied fruits and nuts that’s a specialty of Rome’s Jewish bakeries. Bacetti’s version is a broad, deeply pleasurable interpretation, a savory-sweet spiral of dough rolled with chopped black olives, currants and rosemary and baked into individual rounds. Its caramelized crust shatters gratifyingly as you yank off soft layers; save some to swipe up the last of the gratin of greens or the short rib ragù clinging to ridged mafaldine pasta as dinner rolls along.
1509 Echo Park Ave., (213) 995-6090, bacetti-la.com
Winter melon soup at Henry’s Cuisine
The Alhambra restaurant run by Henry Tu and Henry Chau blends Hong Kong-esque banquet seafood luxuries with a genre of dining, derived from diner-like teahouses called cha chaan teng, which my Cantonese friends describe as the kind of place you’d eat homier style dishes made with restaurant-level skill. Its setting is ideal for groups, as evidenced by the winter melon soup that requires ordering a day ahead. Half of a massive fruit — also known as ash gourd and grown for the restaurant by a family member of one of the owners — arrives with pageantry in a silver tureen. A server ladles out the rich poultry stock, nicking off a bit of the melon in which it simmered for each bowl. Other treasures swirl in the soup: chicken, dried scallops, fresh and cured pork, black mushrooms and dried longan fruit. As with many Cantonese specialties, the focus is on the pure, clear flavors. There is enough to easily serve eight to 10 people; a smaller party, as I know from experience, might end up freezing quarts of leftovers.
301 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 576-1288, henryscuisine.com
Caviar course at Kato
In terms of the year’s overt luxuries, my thoughts keep drifting back to Kato — which, in its new Arts District location, has expanded in every possible way a restaurant can — and to a dish on Jon Yao’s 12-or-so-course tasting menu identified with understatement as “caviar.” Its delights are not unlike Beyoncé’s lush “Virgo’s Groove” from “Renaissance:” It can be inhaled in a euphoric blur or studied intently to dissect its intricacies, or both. Yao and his team start by cooking mussels with shallots, ginger and rice wine; they strain the resulting liquor and mix in shio koji and butter. Separately, onions are smoked over almond wood, cooked down and combined with fermented cream. The elements come together in a stemmed glass dish with layers of spinach, Dungeness crab and the caviar capstone.
It’s rich but never monotonously so, and I’m not even listing all the ingredients. After Yao spent five minutes detailing the dish’s steps during a phone conversation in the spring, I muttered my awe at all its moving parts.
“Yeah,” Yao responded in his signature self-effacing deadpan. “I don’t mind having it on the menu.”
777 S. Alameda St., Building 1, katorestaurant.com
Xian rou cai fan at WangJia
If you ask for guidance to help narrow down the almost 150 choices at WangJia, owner Lulu Luo and her son Kevin Ma will first point you toward the dishes of Shanghai, where the family is from, and then specifically to xian rou cai fan, fried rice with salt pork and greens.
As with many defining comforts in the global canon, its ingredients number a handful and the technique is everything. Chopped greens (usually tatsoi in this case) and diced pork sizzle with short-grained rice, precooked and tossed in the wok just long enough to absorb its smoky exhalations. A few grains char here and there, but the texture as a whole remains fluffy rather than crisped.
What’s most remarkable is the elegance of its seasoning: The rice tastes amplified, as if its sweet flavor has been piped through surround sound. No matter what else you’ve requested — a selection of the cold meats that are so much a part of the Shanghainese repertoire, variations on shrimp or eel specialties, the regional braised beef and pork signatures — the xian rou cai fan gives a meal its mooring.
800 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 872-0618, wangjiarestaurant.com
Laing at Kuya Lord
With the height-of-the-pandemic pop-up he ran out of his home in La Cañada Flintridge, Lord Maynard Llera stepped into the arena as a gripping new expressionist of Filipino cooking — a talent whose time had arrived. The finesse of Llera’s cooking has transitioned seamlessly to his 28-seat restaurant in the Melrose Hill section of Hollywood.
Laing was a dish I’d missed during Kuya Lord’s pop-up era. It’s a delicious mulch of taro leaves braised in coconut cream. An addition of shrimp paste is common; Llera instead uses katsuobushi to up the umami.
Its texture reminds me of North Indian saag, though the taste calls to mind patra, a Gujarati snack I love made of spiced and fried taro leaves. Llera experimented with serving laing in puff pastry as a spin on vol-au-vent; I prefer it in this presentation, unadorned, alongside prawns in garlic crab sauce over rice, pancit chami and the glorious “lucenachon,” Llera’s nickname for a Filipino-inspired version of porchetta fragrant with lemongrass.
5003 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, kuyalord.com
“East Coast-style” pizza at Secret Pizza
In the sweep of regional and subregional styles that have appeared during the city’s golden era of pizza, it can be easy to discount the rightness of a generous, floppy slice from an evenly bronzed pie — the ubiquitous image of “pizza” that many Americans held in their minds for decades. Sean Lango reminds us of its beauty. A New Jersey transplant who moved to Los Angeles in 2019, he began selling pizzas from his apartment via Instagram in September 2020. He tapped into an immediate audience for what he broadly labeled “East Coast-style pizza” — thin, 18-inch pies with pliable crusts, over which tomato sauce and a blend of mozzarella and pecorino Romano baked into a beautiful mottle.
In July, Lango moved his business into a small space in Montecito Heights that has previously housed pizzerias and a wing shop. Customers continue to book time slots for weekend pickups through Instagram links. The topping options are basic by design: I like half pepperoni and half fresh mushroom, or maybe half with extra cheese. The pie — in its overlap of sweet, salty, crisp and magnificently droopy — is too great to let steam for long in a box. I suggest settling immediately at one of the scattered tables set up in the patio space in front of Lango’s glassed-in kitchen.
3501 Monterey Road, Los Angeles, instagram.com/secretpizzala
Chaas dumplings at Pijja Palace
Avish Naran’s Silver Lake sports bar and its menu of Indian American dishes found an instant audience when it opened midyear; the nature of the place pushes back on entrenched notions of identity and conformity with disarming chill. Also it’s plain fun.
There are early hits from executive chef Miles Shorey: “green” wings dressed in a cilantro-mint-chive chutney; malai rigatoni, its sauce a gentle mixture of cream and tomato masala; thin, chewy-crisp pizzas overlaid with combinations like vindaloo sauce, chicken tikka and tandoori onions. But don’t overlook the chaas dumplings — doughy oblongs, lightened slightly with yogurt, set over softly textured dal and showered with frizzled onions and dill. The key to the dish is chhonk — also called takda, a technique of frying spices in ghee or oil and pouring them over a dish as a final layer of flavor — warm with pepper and cumin. Plenty about Pijja Palace quickens the heart rate, but this is the soothing collage of tastes and textures that brings the calm.
2711 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, pijjapalace.com
Shawarma sandwich at Saffy’s
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ third restaurant — a reimagined kebab house in an Art Deco space in East Hollywood — follows their downtown triumphs with Bestia and Bavel. Walking in you can’t help but notice the open kitchen’s center-stage vertical spit, slowly revolving as glowing logs baptize shawarma in smoke and fire. Chefs shave off the strips of beef and lamb to order, presenting them either free-form on a platter with bread and condiments, or, my choice, as a perfectly constructed mega-wrap. The meat is folded into thin laffa spread with tahini and red ajika (a mildly spicy Georgian bell pepper jam) and layered with tomato, sumac onions and a single, unobtrusive leaf of lettuce. The ingredients sing in unison. In a very L.A. move, you can request a cup of chili crisp alongside for dunking.
4845 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, (424) 699-4845, saffysla.com
Carrot and fennel tartare at n/soto
For their second restaurant, n/naka luminary Niki Nakayama and her wife, Carole Iida-Nakayama, tap into the spirit of izakaya, with a cocktail list that leans savory and seasonal and a 50-plus-item menu that covers lots of ground. Among snow crab sunomono, lobster tempura, scallop sashimi and nearly a dozen options for kushiyaki, it’s easy to read right past the carrot and fennel tartare listed among the appetizers. Loop back to it. Yoji Tajima, who leads the kitchen at n/soto, variously pickles, roasts and freshly chops the vegetables, binds them in carrot cream and arranges the whole affair into a study of circles. A dollop of hummus-like chickpea miso comes alongside, with a basket of root vegetable chips for dipping, but they don’t much distract from the tartare. Beyond its obvious beauty, the chameleon flavors change colors on the palate — a smooth, almost vanilla sweetness veers to earthy and then vinegary sharp and around again.
4566 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 879-9455, n-soto.com
Tlayuda mixta at Poncho’s Tlayudas
Los Angeles knows tlayudas, one specialty among many local expressions of Oaxacan cuisine. Restaurants in L.A. usually serve tlayudas open-faced, in the photogenic guise of hubcap-size corn tortillas showered with quesillo and arranged with sliced avocado and nopal strips circling concentrically, like spokes around a bicycle tire. Alfonso “Poncho” Martinez grew up eating tlayudas grilled and folded by cooks in Oaxaca’s Central Valleys, where he was raised, so that’s how he began serving them as a backyard project around 2010. Odilia Romero, his wife and business partner, established Poncho’s Tlayudas as a regular pop-up in 2016.
Poncho’s Tlayudas resumed steady hours in the spring after months of sporadic pandemic-related closures and Plan B experiments. Martinez paints his masa canvas with asiento, a toasted lard he renders himself and then spreads over frijoles refritos, cheese pulled into lacy strings and shredded cabbage. His showpiece 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 Romero’s father. I’d devoured Martinez’s tlayudas a few times pre-shutdown and appreciated them immensely, but their reappearance reminds me how vital they are to the city.
4318 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 359-0264, ponchostlayudas.com
Super-perro at Selva
Over the last century, cultures across South America have adapted the hot dog and made it their own. As with the Chilean completo Italiano — a national favorite in which the frank disappears underneath flag-like stripes of chopped tomato, mashed avocado and rivers of mayo — Colombians tend to enjoy their hot dogs, called super-perros, with toppings as speckled and florid as a mound of confetti.
The one that Carlos Jurado constructs at Selva in Long Beach calls to mind an enormous mouth stuffed with potato chips. I mean that in the most appetizing sort of way. A link of chorizo peeks out from its roll beneath crumbled cotija, charred onions and peppers, jalapeño jam, aioli mixed with ají (the Colombian version of salsa verde) and, finally, the smashed Lay’s potato chips dusted with chile powder. This, as you might imagine, is a two-handed joyride. The hot dog is a staple among the restaurant’s weekend brunch items; at dinner, when smoky meats cooked over a hearth command center stage, it can be requested as an off-the-menu special you have to know to ask for.
4137 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 343-5630, selvalbc.com
Cake at Quarter Sheets
I loved the desserts that Hannah Ziskin was making at the sadly short-lived M Georgina in Row DTLA: fig leaf-infused custard splashed with sherry and served with a coconut tuile; spiced quince paired with buttermilk sorbet; a fudgy chocolate tart jeweled with preserved lemon, pistachio and tiny pipes of tarragon meringue. In the thick of 2020, out of a job, she began House of Gluten, a pop-up in which she channeled all of her pastry know-how into extraordinary cakes layered with custards and creams and brilliant, left-of-center flavor combinations. She developed a slab cake version she could sell as tall, square slices — “little self-contained plated desserts,” in her words — alongside the Detroit-inspired pizzas that her partner, Aaron Lindell, was baking in their Glendale home as another pop-up, Quarter Sheets.
Fast-forward two years: The couple built Quarter Sheets into an Echo Park pizza parlor that ended up looking like an early-’80s rec room, complete with both record and cassette players. Their respective specialties are even better and also wilder in their imaginings. Ziskin’s cakes change weekly. One recent seasonal stunner: spiced graham chiffon cake, including a bit of cornmeal in the batter for texture, tiered with labneh mousse, slow-roasted quince and mascarpone and pomegranate seeds. The cakes are served chilled at the restaurant, but they’re ideal nearer to room temperature; save some to take home and savor later.
1305 Portia St., Los Angeles, instagram.com/quartersheets
Eat your way across L.A.
Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter for reviews, news and more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.