It has been a year like no other — a year in which, as with so much of life in Los Angeles and beyond, our food culture was reshaped by tragedy. Restaurants of all types, sizes and ages closed forever. The industry grappled with unemployment and on-the-job safety. Chefs fed pandemic first-responders and bent their business models toward takeout and delivery. Limited dining capacity imperiled a conjoined bio-network of businesses: farms, meat and seafood suppliers, architects, linen services, wine and spirits makers and distributors.
In the face of these realities, our 2020 edition of The Times’ 101 list celebrates resilience.Expand to read more »
In honoring outstanding restaurants that have acclimated and continued to sustain us, it was clear that this year’s 101 project wouldn’t look like previous ones. A ranked list was out, no question. We approached it as less of a “best of” compilation and more as a survey broadly highlighting excellence and tenacity in the blurred, shifting landscape.
Some familiar taco trucks, Thai favorites, Koreatown institutions and all-day Californian restaurants appear; so do brand-new entrants, including a handful of firebrands (Tamales Elena y Antojitos in Bell Gardens, Petite Peso downtown and Heritage BBQ in San Juan Capistrano among them) that opened and connected with their communities in the midst of crisis. In mid-November, as the magazine version of this list went to press, each of these restaurants were in some way open for business; sudden changes in their operation are possible, including fluctuations between takeout and table service.
We complement the group by featuring some incredible pop-ups — mostly finding their audience through social media — in which we glimpse the next generation of L.A. dining talent.
For the first time as part of the 101, it also felt right to acknowledge 10 individuals and organizations whose presence in the food space, through activism and collaboration and cooking, are helping to forge a more equitable future.
Los Angeles remains a remarkable place to eat. We hope this guide leads you to delicious meals and reminds you how restaurants still engender kinship and possibility.« Read less
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Some top-notch blueprinting went into the construction of the ADB biscuit sandwich. A sausage patty rests on a split biscuit’s bottom half. On top are folds of scrambled egg, as thick as a stuffed envelope; white American cheese, melting lazily; and a spoonful of strawberry jam that makes complete, meat-on-sweet sense. Go ahead and add the optional bacon. The biscuit was a treat to enjoy in the restaurant’s sunny, midcentury-cheery dining room. It’s just as gratifying handed to you from a takeout window and consumed while you stroll through Silver Lake. All Day Baby isn’t just for breakfast. Follow the Southern-Americana trails: wedge salad with buttermilk-labneh dressing, hot catfish sandwich, smoked pork ribs caked with a cacao spice rub and whatever pie Thessa Diadem has conjured. This is the second project from chef Jonathan Whitener and business partner Lien Ta; the closure of their first business, Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown, was one of 2020’s most heartbreaking restaurant losses. If you’re longing for some of Whitener’s outside-the-box grafting of cultures — say, burrata entangled with grilled peppers, black garlic and chicharrones — check out the duo’s Helluva Time dinner pop-up on Fridays and Saturdays in the parking lot across from All Day Baby.
Alta Adams’ patio is how many of us imagine an outdoor dining space in Los Angeles should look: trellised vines, stone paving, knotty wood fencing, strings of lights that cast off the darkness with an onion-skin glow. It feels like the right place to be in the world and also a retreat to hide from it. The greatest pleasures on Keith Corbin’s menu remain the magnificent oxtails over rice and the crisp, juicy and just salty enough fried chicken. Entrees are served family-style and a la carte; sides of collard greens and yams candied with restraint will nicely complete the meal. At brunch, gorge on the fried chicken alongside fluffy, lacy cornmeal pancakes gilded with brown butter-maple-salted caramel syrup. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Justin Pichetrungsi is the second-generation owner of Anajak Thai, and he’s transforming his parents’ business in ways that recall Kris Yenbamroong’s metamorphosis of West Hollywood’s Talesai into the Night + Market phenomenon. Pichetrungsi’s eye-catching illustrations denote Anajak’s ace dishes: haw mok, fish curry steamed in coconut milk until it sets into a delicate custard; lab tot, pork and chicken meatballs detonating with citrus and spice and scorched further with Thai chile dipping sauce; and a mild filet of fish, perhaps branzino or cod, splashed in lime and chile sauce with a flavor as fresh as its spring-green color. The dining room currently functions as a wine shop; if Pichetrungsi is around he’ll beam while recommending a dark Austrian rosé or minerally Corsican Vermentino. You watch him at work and feel hopeful for the future of hospitality. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When word of dining room closures came down from Sacramento in March, Chad Colby didn’t hesitate: He veered right away from the handkerchief pasta draping beef cheek-veal tongue Bolognese and the lamb shoulder chop flecked with pistachios and mint he’d been serving in the restaurant. Converting a plancha into a makeshift oven, he began baking focaccia-pizza hybrids big enough to feed a family of four. The flatbread may be Italian in notion, but the ingredients that crown Colby’s summon the neighborhood American pizzeria: pineapple, bacon, pickled jalapeño; a pork fest of a meat lover’s riff; a supreme pizza that actually earns that distinction. For dessert, there is arguably the finest ice cream made in Los Angeles. Chef de cuisine and pastry chef Brad Ray deserves credit for the intense, improbably smooth creations. Honeycomb and cookies and cream have become standards in his repertoire, but scan the takeout menu for simple-seeming variations, such as strawberry or nectarine, spun with fruit from California’s best orchards. They are wonders that freeze the season. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Parmesan-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, into which your teeth bore with specific, gristly relish; cumin-scented fried chicken, arguably just a vehicle for smearing and dipping in smoky romesco aioli; vegetable sides that roll with the farmers markets but that flicker, regardless of the season, with red wine vinegar and harissa and garlic: A.O.C. serves iconic dishes that Angelenos depend on. Opened as a cramped wine bar, it moved 15 years later into a sprawling, indoor-outdoor West Hollywood space and became an even bigger part of our lives.
This was the second restaurant that Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne created together. They’d planned to permanently close Lucques, their legendary first-born, in May but dropped the curtain ahead of schedule in March when the pandemic paralyzed the city.
In A.O.C., they helped classify the communal, eastern Mediterranean-Californian ethos of L.A. dining. It remains a place to cherish. Shout-out to Shannon Swindle, long one of my favorite pastry chefs in the country: Cap a meal with his apple upside-down cake with sherry-soaked raisins and garam masala ice cream and you will know why. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Well before the crises of 2020, chef Niza Hashim and her husband, Lalith Rodrigo, knew how to excel at takeout. Lamprais (pronounced lump-rice) is their most compelling order-ahead item — a Sri Lankan feast designed for portability. In the center of a banana leaf, Hashim bundles boneless chicken or beef curry; melted rounds of eggplant; fried green bananas; seeni sambol, a tangled of fiercely spiced and caramelized onions; a squishy fish croquette; and a bed of short-grained rice. The steam when you unwrap this parcel releases a perfumed cloud of sweet spice and coconut palms. Give her an hour’s notice to prepare it. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The genius of Badmaash is that it keeps you guessing. At a cursory glance, the menu trades in the ubiquitous, broadly northern dishes of most Indian restaurant menus: butter chicken, aloo gobi, Goan-style pork curry that nods to southern India, an aptly named “good ol’ saag paneer.” Chef Pawan Mahendro, who runs the restaurant’s two locations with sons Nakul and Arjun, blessedly cooks them with fresh-minded intent — he gives the classics life. He is also not afraid to be playful: For stress eating, I suggest the gravy-soaked chicken tikka poutine, an homage to the family’s years spent in Canada. Ultimately, the Mahendros toss rocks at the notion of stagnant culinary identity. Curried short rib braised in red wine holds the same merit as the rich, traditional biryanis frequently available on weekends, and in their hands it makes a natural, wholly L.A. sort of sense. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ set menus for takeout, like the foods they serve at their restaurant, hew to no one place on the world map. Their combined heritages trace routes from Morocco to Egypt and Israel to Turkey — and also from Southern California to the realms of their own imaginations. The weekly-changing to-go menu will always involve a smart spin on hummus; a leafy salad glinting with herbs along with other vegetables (perhaps a carrot abstraction involving yogurt, peanut dukkah and dill); and something hefty like duck for two, say, or braised lamb shanks with sour cherries over potato-rice cake. The takeout dinner I had for my 2020 birthday dinner? Its goodness cut straight to the soul. At the DTLA restaurant, outdoor dining space has been expanded and the slowly roasted lamb neck shawarma is as smashing as ever. Prime-time reservations had been near impossible to score since Bavel opened in 2018; they still require planning a couple of weeks out. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Couldn’t we all use a big bowl of matzo ball soup right about now? Jeremy Fox makes the one to beat. The matzo sphere is almost pudding-like; it sits in a moat of concentrated chicken broth sparkling with dill and undulating with sneaky umami from carrot miso. Other dishes that hearken to Fox’s Jewish heritage, including apple-y noodle kugel and a clever corned brisket platter, bring similar solace. Birdie G’s menu as a whole reads like Fox’s autobiography: His Midwestern upbringing and Californian awakening converge in the mesmerizing relish tray with five-onion dip. Most of the food is available for takeout but you’ll need to savor the relish tray on the restaurant’s long, leafy patio. Nearly 100 wines are on offer as half-bottles; sommelier Chloe Miranda, appropriately masked, makes excellent suggestions. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Many who come to the venerable Valley delicatessen do so expressly for the pepper-crusted black pastrami, which regularly comes up in serious discussions of Los Angeles’ best pastrami. The deeply marbled, thin-sliced meat, squeezed between slices of grilled rye bread, thickly cauterized with melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, makes a perfect deli Reuben. There are homey specialties such as the schmaltz-lavished stuffed beef intestine, kishke; to-go containers of chicken matzo ball soup; carrot cake and pistachio bread; and every smoked meat under the sun. The old-line neighborhood deli reportedly is a dying institution, but a pit stop at Brent’s Deli makes you feel hopeful — the business has been in the sprawling Peskin family since the 1960s, and the pandemic only seems to have rooted it deeper in the communities it serves. Pantry staples and household staples were added to the exhaustive menu this year, meaning you can take home a box of mini-latkes with cherry apple dipping sauce, creamy whitefish salad and also a carton of eggs, if you need them. Pastrami, of course, is a given.
A mainstay of Orange County’s Little Saigon since the 1990s, Brodard is credited with popularizing nem nuong cuon, sweet-salty barbecued pork spring rolls bundled with herbs and thin wonton strips, every bite crisp and bracing. It is the perfect takeout food. Equally captivating are the gold-brown rice cakes, or banh khot, each one cradling a buoyant shrimp. The deluxe broken rice plate is a gleeful, vibrant jumble of shredded pork, shrimp cakes and spongy egg meatloaf. In trying times — or any time — hunger needs sustenance, and there is succor in the form of steaming bowls of cháo cá, the buttery sole porridge dosed liberally with restorative fresh ginger and scallions. Don’t miss the jackfruit salad, a profound conflagration of chiles, lime and fish sauce that jars all the senses in precisely the right ways. For dessert, rows of house-made macarons, candy-colored and feather-light, flavored with ingredients like pistachio, durian, Earl Grey tea, coconut, chocolate, lychee and strawberry, await in the lobby bakery. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
At its most basic, chirashi-zushi is a bowl of vinegared rice overlaid with sashimi and garnishes. Angelenos are no stranger to the dish, but in a year when we had to forsake the fellowship of sushi bars, chefs channeled their itchy creativity into elaborate tapestries of fish and jewel-toned roe. Some of them were extravagant, reaching into three-digit prices. Mark Okuda tailored an on-point $50 chirashi as a lunch splurge, a pristine rainbow of seafood that included sweet shrimp and uni. (If you’re avoiding bluefin tuna, be sure to let the restaurant know.) Okuda, a longtime chef at Studio City’s Asanebo, took over this Woodland Hills sushi staple in 2018. He kept the name but made the menu entirely his own. He’s forged ahead through the cataclysm, serving patio-side omakase, assembling color wheels of sushi for takeout and devising ways to show off sashimi (one favorite: tai snapper blazed in a triple blast of yuzu). His ambition is bolstering. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
It’s difficult to conjure a more perfect food than the birria de res burrito at Burritos La Palma: a sleek goblet of spiced, long-stewed shredded beef melded to a griddle-crisped flour tortilla. It has a perfected-over-time quality that you can trace back to Jerez, Zacatecas, where the Bañuelos Lugo family opened a flour tortilleria in 1980 that has evolved into what Burritos La Palma represents today: a perfect union of buttery flour tortillas and brazenly lush stewed meats. Today Southern California has four locations of its own, purveyers of those exquisite beef birria burritos but also burritos wrapped tightly around smoldering chicken tinga with potatoes, and a spicy chicharrón en salsa verde that achieves a level of profundity that’s rare outside the Mexican home kitchen. The platillo especial, with two beef birria burritos lavished with chile verde and melted cheese, is more thrilling than you expect it to be. Of course, the natural portability of the burrito, rooted in Mexican working-class ingenuity, is suited for our times. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
At their landmark Mexican restaurant in Bell, chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu are proud emissaries of traditional Mexican cooking. The menu stretches from the highlands of Jalisco (cueritos, beef shank marinated in a vibrant red chile sauce) to the Yucatán (succulent, citrusy, banana-leaf-wrapped cochinita pibil), spotlighting prized national dishes that demonstrate the cuisine’s breadth and rigor. Many dishes are exceptional in takeout form, including mushroom- and herb-stuffed chile rellenos; chicharrón-filled enchiladas striped with cooling crema; and thin-sliced steak served over grilled nopal. Do order the famously baroque chile en nogada, a stuffed poblano chile bulging with a sweet-savory picadillo hash, drowned in a creamy walnut cream sauce stippled with jewel-red pomegranate seeds. The restaurant’s nutty pipián moles, and a dark mole poblano that hints at the bitterness of burnt chiles, are excellent. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Bryant and Kim Ng’s Santa Monica bistro beguiles with its melding of Vietnamese, Singaporean and French flavors and traditions, often refracted through the easygoing lens of modern California bistro cooking. Come for ultra-crunchy papaya salad with peppery watercress; coconut-scented, wantonly buttery kaya toast; and soulful, creamy chickpea curry, wonderful with the kitchen’s herb-spackled, clay oven bread. Spicy Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish noodles — chunky, meaty mouthfuls of tender noodles with a tickle of chile heat — are peak comfort food, as are the fragrant, char siu-topped dry sauce noodles called kon loh mee. Grilled sea bass, a fragrant cacophony of dill, mint and roasted peanuts, may not seem like typical takeout fare but Bryant Ng’s masterfully arranged composition, a take on Vietnamese cha ca la vong, tastes just as comforting at home. Dessert is coffee pudding, smooth and airy as whipped cream, shot through with the sharp, chocolate scent of strong Vietnamese coffee. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
At her second Orange County restaurant, Gabbi Patrick surveys and interprets the culinary terrain of the Yucatán Peninsula. Her cochinita pibil, perhaps the region’s most famous dish, is exceptional — pork stained with achiote, smoked over red oak, pulled into hunky strands and stacked into a tower domed with pickled onions. It is the kind of dish you can’t leave alone until it’s gone, even if you’re already full from mixed-seafood ceviche, custardy tamal colado with wild mushroom ragu and a fantastic bowl of brothy clams with green chorizo. The cuisine is part of Patrick’s family heritage but tradition doesn’t hem in her cooking: A bone-in New York strip with fried potatoes and watercress coulis is a universalist statement of pleasure. The bartenders stand ready for some deep conversation on agave spirits. In a stroke of almost psychic foresight, a portion of the space has a retractable roof. A push of a button and boom: instant outdoor dining. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In the hills of San Pedro, Humberto “the Chori-Man” Raygoza is a fourth-generation chorizo maker who learned the finer points of sausage making at his family’s butcher shop in Zacatecas, Mexico. There he learned the painstaking labor of grinding down pork shoulder to soft flesh, and the requisite devotion to toasting and pounding fresh whole spices until they are less substance than flavor. In his shop next to Colossus Bakery, he makes red chorizo flavored with guajillo chiles, the roasted peppers impossibly deep and smoky. The moss-green chorizo made in the style of Toluca is very popular; it seethes with roasted poblanos and the sharp perfume of coriander. Rounds of his sausages, freshly vacuum-sealed, are available to go from the shop’s refrigerator. Many customers come to eat; in the back, the tiny kitchen dispenses first-rate burritos and tacos until closing. Don’t miss the chile relleno burrito, a doughy behemoth padded thickly with layers of cheese, sausage and fragrant green chile. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The menu includes chicken noodle soup and fried honey-garlic wings but, really, the decision here should be easy: Cluck2Go excels at Hainan chicken rice, one of the most calming dishes on the planet. Owner Qi Yang and his daughter Jenny Yang run locations in Pasadena, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights and Diamond Bar. They use fresh, locally raised chickens poached with lemongrass, ginger and other spices. The essence of the bird resounds through the rice and the broth served alongside. Vinegary chile sauce and a gingery scallion puree add crucial oomph. Another painless decision: Order extra for leftovers. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Michael Cimarusti’s ode to New England seafood houses has always been an architectural statement piece: The food vibes might be East Coast but the building’s swooping, nautical-but-make-it-futurist design would only exist in Southern California. Now the premier feature is its enormous expanded patio, a land grab on which West Hollywood people-watching feels as pandemic-safe as possible. Most of us have probably not been frying clam bellies at home, nor have we been sipping a trio of different chowders, shucking a coast-to-coast selection of oysters or tossing together a New England boiled dinner. The cooking at Connie & Ted’s has always been about pristine simplicity, and its pleasures bring more contentment than ever. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In being drawn this year to the city’s most magnetic pop-ups — brisket smoked by Moo’s, curry goat and channa doubles from Bridgetown Roti, tea leaf salad from Burmese, Please!, fresh pastas by now-disbanded Few for All — culinary seekers were led again and again to the same mysterious Santa Fe Avenue address in the Arts District, a couple of blocks up from Warner Records. The century-old warehouse is home to Crafted Kitchen, a commissary space outfitted with four private kitchens, semiprivate stations, and the gamut of equipment that small-scale food entrepreneurs might need. Cindi Thompson, pictured below, began the business in 2017, in part to provide the kinds of services she’d hoped for when she was a budding chef. For restaurant pros facing unemployment during the pandemic, Crafted Kitchen has become a critical station in the pipeline — an incubator where self-starting talents can prepare food consistently and build their customer base. Thompson, who also donated kitchen space this year to facilitate hunger outreach efforts, doesn’t much seek the spotlight; follow enough threads on Instagram and you’ll find plenty of L.A. restaurant insiders praising her tenacity and generosity. The excellence coming from the unmarked red brick building is now an open secret.
In times of uncertainty, it’s almost reassuring that some departures have been planned: In April 2021, the Dear John’s building (where actor Johnny Harlowe opened the restaurant in 1962) will be razed to make way for a new development. Owners Hans Röckenwagner, Patti Röckenwagner and Josiah Citrin are throwing an extended bash in the meantime. They moved the party outdoors, painting a mural on the outside wall that re-creates some of the 80 paintings from the 1950s and ’60s that Patti culled for the dining room. The menu romps through continental classics: Caesar salad for two (no tableside, alas), New York strip and Salisbury steak (which you can also order as a takeout TV dinner tray), sand dabs, creamed spinach and creamed corn, spaghetti and clams as a tribute to Sinatra. The moment — and the farewell toast — calls for a very dry, very potent martini. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
On Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, where the gleaming new SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park complex rises behind the Forum like a glowing space fortress, there is always a line in front of Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen. With the restaurant’s cafeteria-style service suspended during the pandemic, takeout business has bloomed. Customers come for takeout containers heaving with juicy smothered pork chops; enormous fish filets breaded in a sandy cornmeal crust; long-braised oxtails bathed in gravy; and the smothered chicken platter, a grandly lush preparation that involves fried chicken cooked in light gravy until the meat unbuckles from the bone. You can build a movable feast on sides alone: collard greens cooked until they achieve a tender, sweet state; fluffy cornbread muffins, made to be dunked in the oniony house gravy; and the mac ’n’ cheese, the ultra-creamy, crusty-edged noodles reminiscent of home-baked casseroles and potluck Sundays. The hot, craggy, golden-brown fried chicken is based on the preparation of the late Adolf Dulan, Dulan’s founder and L.A.’s self-proclaimed “King of Soul Food.” The next generation of Dulan men appears to be holding tightly to those family recipes, and to the idea of first-rate soul food made in the heart of Inglewood. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Elvia Huerta and Alex Garcia of the ride-or-die “metal taco” duo named Evil Cooks drive around Los Angeles in a black 1989 Dodge van that looks like the touring wheels of a metal-punk band. They cook in rock T-shirts and bandannas, stamping their fresh-pressed corn tortillas with their sello, or imprint: a smirking, goateed cartoon devil logo that Garcia designed himself. Following their canceled residency at Smorgasburg L.A. this spring, the duo have been cooking under the cover of face masks and a plastic tent they erect every weekend on a quiet street in El Sereno. There they marinate stacks of pork in recado negro chile paste until the flesh turns dark blue on the rotating “goth” trompo, which was inspired in part by a similar “black” al pastor made by Mexican chef Roberto Solis. The spice-rubbed meat, shaved over fresh-pressed corn tortillas, is distinctly earthy and succulent. Lately the Cooks have been making enormous burritos filled with things like chilaquiles and carnitas, and the emerald-green vegan chorizo that Garcia spent all summer perfecting. I’ve grown mildly obsessed with the nopal dish that involves breading and deep-frying a grilled cactus pad until it starts to resemble a pounded-thin chicken fried steak — they call it “nopales a la milanesa.” The menu is always subject to change, but you can count on one or two desserts, including Huerta’s citrus-tinged flan taco made with thin, crepe-like tortillas. Together, Huerta (born and raised in El Sereno) and Garcia (a proud son of Querétaro in central Mexico) cook food that bridges Chicano and Mexican culinary tropes and traditions while also gently rebelling against them with verve, humor and rock music. Theirs is some of the most interesting and exciting cooking in Los Angeles. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Mo Alam was as prepared for the moment as a restaurateur could be: His bakery-cafe has been churning out to-go orders from Anaheim’s surrounding “Little Arabia” community for nearly 20 years. Alam specializes in manakeesh, the thin, softly golden flatbreads that Lebanon relies on for on-the-fly morning meals. Start with one spread with the dusky green, sesame-speckled mix of za’atar and olive, the most traditional option, and then branch out to nearly three dozen ingredient combinations. A manakeesh with eggs and soujouk (cured, cumin-scented beef sausage that manages to be both crumbly and lush) makes for a substantial breakfast, as does lahm bi ajeen, a version spread with spiced ground beef given the faintest tart edge from pomegranate molasses. Buy some fatayer — billowy triangular pastries filled with spinach zinged by lemon and sumac — for later. Ensconced in the nook of a shopping center that Alam partly owns, Forn Al Hara is no secret: As much as a business can safely bustle right now, this one does. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Before we talk about Found Oyster’s seafood, let’s discuss the amazing fried chicken. In the last decade, during a professional detour from the West Coast, chef and co-owner Ari Kolender led the kitchen at Leon’s Oyster Shop in Charleston, S.C. His fried chicken, encased in rippling crust and zinged with Old Bay, was as vital to a meal as the restaurant’s buttery char-grilled bivalves. When he shifted his 26-seat East Hollywood space into takeout mode this year, Kolender revived his star recipe, and his frying skills remain impressive. Pimento cheese and a wedge salad make for excellent companions. This doesn’t even address the scallop tostada, heady with shrimp and yuzu, or the lobster roll bathed with a sauce that teeters somewhere between bisque and mayo. The restaurant also doubles as a seafood market: fresh razor clams, maybe, or a pound of Dungeness crab meat? For such a tiny place, its feats are many. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Downtown Los Angeles’ 103-year-old landmark stands at many crossroads: continuity and change, preservation and gentrification, the American Dream and capitalist reality, even (of current significance) shelter and open air. Arriving in its ecosystem is exhilarating. Follow one trail of neon signs to pupusas revueltas with crunchy, chile-freckled curtido at Sarita’s Pupuseria and to Wexler Deli’s pastrami, sliced thick as dominoes and stacked between slices of rye. Turn a tight corner for a hand pie filled with curried greens at Fat & Flour; spin 180 degrees to pick up a dreamily runny Winnimere, aged in spruce bark, at DTLA Cheese. However socially distanced, lines still wind — most consistently for breakfast sandwiches at Eggslut and for Jim Nakano’s coveted strawberry doughnuts at the Donut Man, a new tenant in 2020. If the market is a junction of the past and the future, one feature firmly embodies the present: You can bundle delivery orders from over two dozen of Grand Central Market’s vendors via ChowNow. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
There is so much meaning packed into the word “Guelaguetza” that it would take a graduate-level course to unravel its various signifiers. The Zapotec word refers to Oaxaca’s annual summer festival but also to the principles of reciprocity and community that have guided traditional Oaxacan life for centuries. For the daughters and son of founder Fernando Lopez, who took over from their father in 2013, their stewardship of the restaurant, through good times and bad, is a form of Guelaguetza to Los Angeles: an offering to the city where they have built a home and business, and where the singular culinary traditions of their native southern Mexico state have been allowed to take root. And though the menu was never intended for takeout, the restaurant’s signature dishes travel exceptionally well. Take home tamales de mole negro; chorizo-spackled tlayudas; hot, crisp potato-stuffed molotes; and a couple flagons of the smoke-tinged coloradito, a spoonful of which improves almost any dish on your table. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Days after Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered dine-in service suspended at Los Angeles restaurants, Guerrilla Tacos introduced an emergency taco kit — 10 pounds of prepared meats with a flotilla of sides, supplemented with toilet paper and eggs. It was a potent reminder of a truth held tightly by many Angelenos: In times of crisis, good tacos are necessary for both pleasure and survival. Amid the chaos wrought by the pandemic — the maelstrom of forced shutdowns and abrupt reopenings — Guerrilla Tacos emerged this year as an impassioned advocate for independent restaurants (owner Brittney Valles has written in favor of the grassroots Restaurants Act), and an innovator of COVID-era takeout. The departure of founder and chef Wes Avila in late summer, and the addition of Guerrilla Cafecito next door — a temple to breakfast burritos, fresh doughnuts and coffee — were dramatic turns in a year full of them. But the Arts District taquería’s reputation as a touchstone of L.A. food culture has only deepened, and Avila’s culinary vision lives on under the stewardship of chefs Jason Beberman and Steven Londono, who on most nights are cooking in a new backyard patio bejeweled with strings of light and original art. It’s still easy to be swept off your feet by the tacos: Flatiron carne asada is a savory juggernaut of charred beef and tangy nopales; pork char siu tacos are improbably sinewy and meaty; and the sweet potato taco swabbed with almond chile and dappled with feta cheese is lavishly flavorful, an exquisite emblem of what Los Angeles has given the world. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
There’s possibly no greater joy than huddling around a taco truck late at night, in close proximity to friends and strangers, eating freshly prepared tacos. This ritual has been greatly diminished by the pandemic. At Guisados, Los Angeles’ stalwart taco micro-chain, thoughtful takeout packaging goes a long way toward sustaining the warmth, texture and instant gratification of eating fresh tacos. The popular taco sampler is contained neatly inside a domed plastic platter, a painter’s palette of braised meats and toppings chosen and prepared for vibrant, delicious juxtaposition: bacon-infused steak picado humming with the bright, cascading heat of green serrano chiles; smoky, luscious mounds of scarlet-red chicken tinga; mole poblano anointed with curdles of queso fresco; and the magnificently soupy chicharrón taco, the melty irresistibly tender cueritos (skins) served in a medium-spicy chile verde sauce that numbs your lips for a few precious seconds before it fizzles out like a comet streaking the darkness. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Every Sunday morning on Long Beach’s Retro Row, two doors down from the Page Against the Machine bookstore and a couple of blocks south from Holé Molé’s Ensenada fish tacos, a line forms outside Gusto Bread, the popular bakery that Arturo Enciso and Ana Salatino started as a cottage food operation in 2018. Gusto successfully made the leap this year into a commercial space on 4th Street, specializing in breads and pan dulce made with whole grains and masa madre, the bakery’s natural levain. Behind the window display, there are baskets of huesos, baguettes with thin crusty shells and soft, chewy middles; hefty, lustrous California loaves built from grains grown in-state and milled by Enciso himself; and gorgeously tapered loaves encrusted in sunflower, pumpkin and poppy seeds. Lately, the bakery team has been playing with galettes made with farmers market fruits; in late summer, filled with the nectar sweetness of peaches, the delicate pastries were admirably buttery and sweet. If you are lucky, there will be conchas; trays of the iconic Mexican sweet bread sell out before noon on most weekends. Flavored with cacao and vanilla, with a top layer of sugar-cookie frosting, the round, pillowy bread is earthy and not too sweet, ideal for dipping into your morning cup of coffee. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
“Fortune favors the brave” might as well have been written about David Wilcox, who formerly operated the ambitious but ill-fated Atwater Village restaurant Journeyman. In 2018, as a last-ditch effort to save the restaurant, Wilcox converted it into a pizzeria. The gamble paid off. Hail Mary Pizza specializes in funky, char-edged pies with blistery, chewy, easily digestible crusts built from natural levain and whole grains.
The Pep Pep, with pork chorizo, peppers and honey, is a sophisticated and lush constellation of sweet and spicy flavors. The Westside-inspired Giust-oh is brilliantly paved with feta and Mornay sauce and soft, starchy bites of potato, chard and lemon zest, while the anchovy-plus-jalapeño combo of the Frederick is a gleeful smack of cheesy, briny heat. Salads are built from the best farmers market produce — recently there was a lovely autumnal blend of ultra-fresh dandelion greens tossed with squash and pomegranate seeds. Desserts, including the house brownies and the almond-crusted Basque cake with pastry cream on the side, are reason enough to call for takeout.
Outside the kitchen, Wilcox is a fervent advocate for independent restaurants, and has experimented with profit-sharing models in an effort to counter the industrywide pay disparities between front- and back-of-house roles. But you don’t need to know any of this to savor the pizza, which is some of the most distinctive and enjoyable in Los Angeles.
On a busy industrial strip in South Los Angeles, Lauren Halsey moves easily between the two buildings that contain her life’s work: the cavernous, well-lit, community-oriented warehouse space that she has dubbed Summaeverythang, and the private art studio next door, filled with a library’s worth of paper ephemera, Black Americana art objects, and mixed-media masterworks in the making.
One of America’s leading young contemporary artists, Halsey’s work is animated by a passion for place and community (her best-known work is probably “The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project,” a series of sculptures, monuments and art installations that will eventually double as a space for concerts and community events). So it was not surprising earlier this year when Halsey transformed Summaeverythang, the community center she was in the process of developing when the pandemic hit, into a serious distribution hub for free organic produce in South L.A.
Every week, Halsey purchases produce from more than a dozen Southern California farms, all of which ends up at the Summaeverythang warehouse by Thursdays. A small army of volunteers assembles and distributes boxes filled with food at designated spots across South L.A. every Friday.
Halsey, a natural collaborator with a penchant for pursuing big projects, plans to help establish a community garden next.
“All these programs have to do with community sustainability and helping to advance the lives of folks here, and our nourishment,” she told me earlier this year.
“We’re going to donate a ton of seedlings and equipment to get things going.
“And then I have a few more tricks up my sleeve after that.”
It’s difficult to overstate the virtues of kalguksu, hand-cut noodle soup, especially the seafood version at Koreatown’s long-running kalguksu specialist, Hangari Kalguksu. The delicately seasoned broth is light and herbaceous, thickened with clams, mussels, shrimp, crab and a fresh skein of thin yet firm house-made noodles that seem engineered to resist sogginess. It’s what you want to eat when you feel the first nascent chills of a cold move through your body, or any occasion that demands hot, nourishing sustenance. The oyster and rice soup called gul-gukbap, flavored with seaweed, is similarly delicate and nourishing. Milmyeon, the famed cold wheat noodles of Busan, are especially wonderful, paired with daeji kalbi, grilled pork spareribs. You eat the tender, spicy meat between slurps of noodles, in one or two glorious and meaty bites. There are many excellent bossam renditions in Los Angeles, but Hangari’s is especially good, a pillar of sliced pork belly flanked by sliced jalapeños and thickets of kimchi; it easily carries you through two or three full meals. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Next door to the historic Willowbrook neighborhood market founded by James and Elsie Hawkins in 1939, this landmark burger restaurant, opened by the original owners’ daughter, Cynthia, in the early 1980s, specializes in baroque Angus beef burgers bursting with char-edged patties and wagging tongues of thick apple-smoked bacon. The signature Whipper burger, a double-patty burger padded with pastrami and a hot link, rouses every pleasure center in your brain. The secret is the coarse ground beef, lightly seasoned and hand-packed into loose patties, charred so that, even in the depths of winter, it tastes freshly plucked off a summer backyard grill. Wholesome veggie burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and salmon croquettes fill out the menu, but the thing to order at least once in your life is the Leaning Tower of Watts burger, a sculptural, multitiered colossus bursting with no less than three beef patties; crinkly slips of pastrami and bacon; shatteringly crisp onion rings; and at least three meals’ worth of condiments. It costs $27 and comes with fries and two drinks; a gold-brown chicken wing is pinned to the top like a star decorating the top of a Christmas tree. It is one of Los Angeles’ finest burgers, and surely also its tallest. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In a year when many Japanese chefs shifted to elaborate boxed meals to feed their customers, Brandon Hayato Go had already set an impossible standard: His $52 bentos, arranged with 16 bite-size components and enough rice to leave you full but not overstuffed, distill his gifts for beauty and concentration. You taste the sweetness of ground white shrimp in the spheres called shinjo; inhale the smoke off grilled scallops; wince with pleasure at the tart sudachi juice spritzing the chrysanthemum greens; and generally marvel at the detail and contrast and balance packed into a simple blond-wood container. Ordering Hayato’s bento is a competitive sport. Reservations go live at 10 a.m. on the first day of every month; Go makes about 70 bentos a week to be picked up on Saturdays or Sundays. They sell out in minutes. At year’s end Go introduced an even more extravagant opus — his orizume bento for two or more, with packaging and compartments you unwrap and uncover that make you feel as if you’re running through a mansion, opening door after door. The treasures inside are something to behold. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When they opened Heritage last summer, pitmaster Daniel Castillo and his wife, Brenda, made San Juan Capistrano the latest Southern California pilgrimage site for Texas-style barbecue. Meats smoke over California white oak in twin 1,000-gallon pits on display in the restaurant’s outdoor dining space. The brisket is textbook, blackened and meandering in its textures, with a ruby, well-defined smoke ring. Props to the lush pulled pork and the mighty, weekends-only beef rib whose meat you can practically eat with a spoon. Following the example of groundbreakers like 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio, Castillo weaves Mexican American flavors into the menu. Sausages may be stuffed with chorizo verde and Oaxaca cheese; borracho beans have depth from dried chiles and jalapeños; and chorizo, guajillo chiles and queso fresco detonate mac and cheese. Along with barbecue fanaticism come long lines (extra-lengthy in times of social distancing) and unpredictable hours; the Castillos close when the day’s product runs out. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Hippo won a new level of devotion from me during the darkest days of the spring quarantine. A delivery order I’d placed from the Highland Park restaurant included fettuccine with pork ragù. The strands sprang from a small container like a dozen clowns climbing out of a compact car; they mystically filled a bowl, precisely al dente and almost too hot to eat. A truly stellar experience with takeout pasta is rare, though Matt Molina is one of the city’s deftest masters of the genre. The restaurant’s semicovered patio has since opened, and it’s possible to enjoy Molina’s butternut squash cappellacci and buttery celery-root triangoli dashed straight from the kitchen, alongside hamachi crudo flashing with lime and a porcini-rubbed hanger steak with Molina’s take on mole coloradito. General manager David Rosoff is one of our most astute sommeliers (it helps that the restaurant shares space with Highland Park Wine); his tightly constructed list beautifully frames the California cooking. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The Baja blood clams prepared by Gilberto Cetina Jr. at his destination seafood stand live up to their name: They look mortally wounded, though their flavor, teased out by a few drops of lime juice, tastes only lightly, crisply briny. A place at Holbox’s 10-seat counter evokes the intimacy of a sushi bar, with Cetina passing you yellowtail and uni tostadas and aguachile made from wild-caught Mexican shrimp. While indoor seating at Mercado La Paloma in Historic South-Central remains barred, there is one silver lining to eating instead at the tiled tables outside: It is less awkward to run to the Cetina family’s other Mercado stall, Chichén Itzá, and weave its bistec a la Yucateca and torta de cochinita pibil into the seafood spread. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The Tex-Mex restaurant, with locations in Hollywood, Highland Park and Playa Vista, is an antidote to pandemic gloom, a cheerful, buoyant, woman-powered kitchen dispensing fresh-made breakfast tacos heaped with ingredients like hard-fried bacon, shredded brisket, spicy chorizo and crisp potatoes. It’s no wonder both Austin and San Antonio claim it as their own: The genius of the breakfast taco is its profound flexibility and economy. A very good one is wildly flavorful yet also quotidian, to be downed as quickly as a morning shot of espresso. HomeState has a pretty broad array: The Trinity is a voluptuous confluence of bacon, potatoes, eggs and cheese; chorizo adds zing and spice to the girthy Guadalupe taco; and the Pecos is a sumptuous, beefy meld of scrambled eggs and shredded brisket. Owner Brianna Valdez, a native Texan and lifelong devotee of the breakfast taco genre, runs the swelling micro-chain with a team that includes her sister, Andy. A few years ago, the sisters founded the restaurant’s “band taco” program, which is an off-menu taco developed in collaboration with musical artists, with proceeds going to nonprofit community groups. It’s just one more reason to love HomeState. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Excellent fried chicken is the baseline at Hotville. The skin crackles and the flesh yields; it has the kind of rounded saltiness that only brining can impart. But most of us have come for more than crunchy bird: We’re here to burn. Kim Prince grew up in the first family of Nashville-style hot chicken. Her aunt is André Prince Jeffries, owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken in Music City, and Prince transports the dish’s rich sense of place to Southern California. She serves the hot chicken in three intensities: mild, medium and hot. The staff will plead with first-timers to order mild; customers have regularly insisted on medium and then sent it back claiming it’s inedibly spicy. Soft white bread and pickles are the classic accompaniments to hot chicken. Hotville expands the repertoire with mac and cheese possessing a dense, slippery creaminess — and in the spirit of the way hot chicken has evolved in the national spotlight, there’s also the Shaw, a slaw-topped sandwich. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When L.A. dining rooms went dark in March, Johnny Ray Zone and Amanda Zone’s Nashville-style hot chicken restaurant found itself threatened, paradoxically, by its own success. The restaurant’s famously long lines — huddles of hot-chicken fanatics waiting upwards of three hours in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza — proved unsustainable in the era of social distancing. The restaurant closed for several weeks before eventually popping up on Postmates for delivery only. One thing that hasn’t changed in 2020: Tracking down Howlin’ Ray’s’ cayenne-blasted fried chicken still requires a measure of luck, or ample planning. Currently, the restaurant’s abbreviated menu is available only for delivery to downtown L.A. and Pasadena (one enterprising acquaintance is in the habit of visiting his brother in Pasadena every time he craves the restaurant’s chicken wings). If you do manage to get your hands on it, the sando is a marvel of engineering, a massive fried chicken breast squeezed into a buttery bun, generously accessorized with pickles and the creamy-spicy mayonnaise called comeback sauce. The medium-hot version is preternaturally crisp yet juicy, a delirium of crunch, salt and heat that rewires your brain, albeit only briefly, pointing you closer to the inscrutable pleasures of Howlin’ Ray’s’ palate-roiling chile heat. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Jitlada is the standard-bearer for southern Thai cooking in Los Angeles, home to shrieking chile heat; intricate, multilayered spice blends; and one of the city’s most beloved culinary personalities, Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong, the restaurant’s faithful steward. Even a half-dozen visits aren’t enough to make a serious dent on the exhaustive menu, but regulars will rightly recommend the mussels steamed in spicy lemongrass broth; the fragrant, tangy morning glory salad with deep-fried Chinese watercress; and the excellent fried rice with tender nubs of soft-shell crab. Refreshing herbs and cooling carrot sticks are dispensed freely for good reason: You will need any succor in sight when you eat some variation of the restaurant’s famed jungle curry, a roiling stew thickened with vegetables, haunting aromatics and a Thai chile blend whose pronounced, fast-acting heat is almost cleansing in its sandblasting intensity. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Kevin Meehan’s cooking beguiles with its near-pointillistic attention to detail — shaggy wreaths of nasturtium and mustard frills arranged around burrata, chunky heirloom tomato sprouting from black garlic “soil,” and a meringue gelato dish whose premise involves egg yolk cured for two weeks in salt and sugar. The weekly-changing, family-style to-go meals that the chef and his team have cooked throughout the shutdown are engaging in a different way — less concerned with form, even more seemingly obsessed with California growing seasons, and utterly comforting. In late summer, there was exceptionally good cornbread; griddled dry-aged steak; and a succotash salad that read like a celebration of everything in season: baby lima beans, sweet corn, voluptuously ripe tomatoes. From the a la carte menu, the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich is a hulking, batter-fried phenomenon whose fragrant, craggy skin shatters gorgeously under your teeth. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
We ranked Kato as our No. 1 restaurant in 2019, riveted by Jon Yao’s tasting menus that roam through the flavors of his Taiwanese heritage and Southern California upbringing. The way Yao has steered his tiny Sawtelle business through the crisis encapsulates the survivalist tactics so many restaurateurs and chefs had to adopt. He temporarily closed the restaurant in March out of safety concerns. In May he began experimenting with takeout family-style menus, veered to ornate chirashi boxes and then took a sharp turn toward casual foods (most memorably, scallion pancake wraps). In September, on a makeshift patio in front of the restaurant, Yao and his team began inching back toward Kato’s signature brand of dishes: whipped chicken liver with five-spice and shallot; loamy cabbage sporting a curly wig of grated Compté. As of late fall, Kato has gone full circle, returning to 11-course, $118 tasting menus; reservations are booked a month out. The cooking has continued to be remarkable. We will keep bearing witness. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Sandos — the convenience-store sandwiches (and the heady, often meticulously sculpted spinoffs inspired by them) that fall in the category of yōshoku, or Japanese foods inspired by Western dishes — are appearing around Los Angeles with increasing, welcome momentum. Daniel Son built an audience for his sandos through pop-ups at his now-closed West Hollywood restaurant Kura and a stall at Smorgasburg L.A. Then in July he opened his storefront in Chinatown, giving his mastery a standalone platform. Pork katsu is the foundational sando, built (as are all the sandwiches) on honey milk bread, baked in-house. The clincher, though, is the honey walnut shrimp variant, a witty feat of architecture that fuses battered nobashi shrimp with shrimp tartare emulsion. Its crunch and creaminess winks at the Panda Express favorite but is ultimately far, far superior. Order it with a side of the curry cheese crinkle fries. If you’re passing by in a hurry, grab a cold sando from the fridge. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Evan Kleiman is the motherboard of culinary Los Angeles: our connector, our spine, our drive, our center of communications. It’s hard to conceive of life without “Good Food,” her weekly radio show on KCRW. With intellectual rigor, epicurean glee and occasionally the glint of devil’s advocate in her instantly recognizable voice, she tells local and national stories that shed light and urge conversation. Often, they also help us feel less alone. Her segments blend emerging and established voices from all possible facets of the food world (including, it should be noted, generations of editors and writers at The Times).
The city came to know their native daughter first as a chef, most enduringly as the owner of Fairfax restaurant Angeli Caffe, open from 1984 to 2012. Even with a menu of Italian comforts, her definition of food was never narrow: Sri Lankan string hoppers might appear on a Monday-night series highlighting global street foods.
Kleiman’s love of Americana baking, especially pie, helped empower L.A.’s thriving bakery culture. She’s a singular brand of Instagram influencer: Follow her stories for unknown but outstanding pop-ups and, just as meaningfully, for nudges to revisit laudable and perhaps overlooked institutions. Check out her roster of favorite cookbooks on Now Serving’s website. She is knee-deep in conversations around equity and systemic realignments in America’s restaurant model; she amplifies the salient agents of change.
Her contributions have never been more needed. She sees us. And it’s important to say: We see her too.
Kibbeh, a key dish among the cuisines of the Levant, takes on as many shapes as the hands that form it can create. At Kobee Factory, Syrian native Waha Ghreir presents four variations. Fried kibbeh may be the most familiar: tapered spheroids of spiced ground beef and bulgur, the shell of which gives way to a filling that’s riddled with pine nuts. The barbecued version, branded with grill marks that lend a smokiness to the flavors, resembles a stuffed pancake and springs pleasantly against the teeth. Baked, the silhouette takes on the more streamlined shape of a ringless flying saucer; the layers alternate between supple and crisp. There’s also a meatless fried version restyled into small flattened discs. Served with hummus and salad, each kibbeh version is a sustaining meal. For early in the day, the breakfast of choice is fatteh hummus, collapsing chickpeas mingled with yogurt, tahini and fried wedges of pita. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Kogi BBQ was born during the golden age of L.A. food trucks, when the tattooed dude obsessively laboring inside the tiny, hot kitchen could turn out to be the chef guest-hosting your favorite Food Network game show. More than an emblem of L.A.’s cultural cross-pollination, Kogi’s laidback food-truck ethos has helped shape a whole generation of chefs. Closer in spirit to the glories of the venerable L.A. burger stand or taco truck than a high-toned restaurant kitchen, Kogi is perhaps more relevant than ever, reflecting the way many of us eat in 2020 — spicy kimchi folded into an exuberantly cheesy quesadilla, hot dogs spiked with Sriracha — while also presaging the rise of L.A.’s vital pop-up and ghost kitchen scene. The menu still surprises with its extravagance: A meaty burrito stuffed with spicy pork and lavished with glossy, brick-red mole was a standout from a recent specials menu, and a late-night “Pac Man” burger stuffed with chorizo and green chiles tastes gloriously of Los Angeles. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
What I’ve missed most about eating at Konbi’s 10-seat counter in Echo Park is watching Nick Montgomery attend to cooking dashimaki tamago, a rolled omelet that fills a Japanese-inspired sando, with devotion akin to prayer. Using chopsticks, he would turn a mixture of beaten eggs and dashi until it was canary golden and barely firm. Setting the omelet between toasted slices of milk bread, he used a wooden press to level the sando into even rectangles and divided it into thirds. Watching his care made every shift in texture and rush of umami taste more lucid. Happily, the omelet holds up beautifully in takeout form — and there’s a recent omelet variation with frilly Jonah crab sheathed in nori that might be even more compelling. Complete breakfast or lunch with reviving vegetable salads and, if you manage to snag one, papery chocolate croissants sold hot. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Tucked at the edge of an anodyne Corona strip mall (a smaller satellite location recently opened at the Rodeo 39 Public Market in Orange County), Kra Z Kai specializes in the aromatic, umami-intensive qualities of Lao-style grilled meats. Owner and chef Musky Bilavarn revels in the bold, intense flavors of traditional Laotian party food such as beef dip, boneless slips of beef grilled to the point of caramelization and served with a fragrant herbal chile-cilantro lime sauce. (Swish the meat in the sauce for a flavorful whomp of citrus and garlic.) Barbecued chicken wings, thickly lacquered in a sweetish oyster sauce, are maddeningly flavorful, and thin-sliced beef short ribs steeped for 48 hours in a garlicky oyster sauce taste wonderful with mouthfuls of sticky rice and crisp, pungent papaya salad. For Angelenos who venture into Riverside County only for expeditions to Joshua Tree or Palm Springs, Kra Z Kai’s house-made sausage, a crusty-edged link of ground pork, onions and leeks punctuated by the bright, sour perfume of lemongrass, is fresh incentive to travel east. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When dining rooms are open, owner Tenagne Belachew and her staff create beautiful, muted rainbows of spiced pulses, gentle salads and stew meats on injera-covered trays. Wherever you’re eating her cooking, build a meal around the 14-dish “veggie utopia.” Supplement it with special kitfo, a red-on-red palette of beef tartare glowing with butter stained by mitmita (one of Ethiopia’s core spice blends) and eaten with soft, fresh cheese and pureed collards. Lalibela opens in the late morning but forays rewardingly into Ethiopian breakfast traditions. Cardamom-scented porridges ease the tastebuds awake; I lean toward torn injera sauteed with spiced dried beef and scrambled eggs thwacked with sliced jalapeños that set the day ablaze. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The “Quarantine Kitchen” menu at Lasa is an extraordinary distillation of the Filipino-Californian cooking for which brothers Chad and Chase Valencia (the former is the chef, the latter front-of-house) are known at their groundbreaking Chinatown restaurant. Lechon kawali is essential, the ultra-fatty tranches of pork belly masterfully rendered with thin, crackly edges. Pancit made with Canton noodles, the frilly, chewy strands glossed in butter, then tossed in calamansi lime juice and chili crisp, gets at the heart of comfort food. Valencia’s cooking is intelligent and accomplished but also witty: Tamarind-dusted chicken wings are meant to evoke the powerfully sour properties of sinigang, and kinilaw, often referred to as the Filipino version of ceviche, is served in a poke-style bowl streaked with fish sauce. The whole fried pompano padded in matis butter, bronzed and crisp around the edges, is one of the best takeout meals I enjoyed this strange and destabilizing year. And it should be noted that Lasa is increasingly a source for interesting and hard-to-find natural wines. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The Culver City bread outfit helped popularize whole-grain sourdough baking in Los Angeles long before the quarantine baking phenomenon, and it remains a Westside destination for first-rate loaves, pastries and sandwiches. The bread and pastry case yields several marvels, including finely burnished country loaves with thick, dark crusts and light, chewy middles; sturdy German-style breads boldly flavored with rye berries and beer; and one of the most indulgent cinnamon buns in the city, a dense, hubcap-size rolled pastry lavished with puffs of ethereally light whipped cream frosting. The kitchen produces exquisite sandwiches, including a terrific open-faced pastrami melt oozing with ribbons of fontina cheese. The pizza menu features dense yet chewy personal-size pizzas topped sparingly with bright herbs, sharp cheeses and plum tomatoes cooked down to a soft, sweet slurry. Don’t leave without a bag of fresh pita bread — the thick, puffy spheres, wholesome and chewy, are among the best in the city, possibly even the country. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Two thoughts converged to bring Lucky Boy to the roster: a conviction that we should be supporting our beloved institutions more than ever, and the profoundest gratitude for breakfast burritos, an L.A. essential that leaves us in a happy stupor so we can weather the madness. The shingled, carob-brown outpost of Lucky Boy on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena makes the breakfast burrito adored by pretty much everyone. A sheath of egg splattered and scrambled on the grill, home fries, wispy slicks of melted orange cheddar and a choice of sausage, bacon or chorizo, all wrapped in a crisped tortilla: That’s the recipe for fortitude. Add avocado to mine, please.
One can always lean opulent when selecting dim sum at Lunasia: open-face dumplings dotted with black truffle or caviar, say, or cheong fun with a side of whole steamed lobster. But circling back to basics — which seems an apt move at this moment in the world — is a reminder of the restaurant’s primacy. Shrimp glow pink through the har gow’s taut, translucent wrapper. Siu mai show off unusual lightness, down to the effervescent pop of the tiny orange roe on top. The glazed baked pork barbecue bao crunch and gush; cheong fun are pleasure enough rolled with beef or shrimp. Eat them as fast as you can out of their takeout packages. A car picnic is encouraged. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The Highland Park food truck specializes in Sinaloa-style seafood, raw fish preparations remarkable in their freshness and searing heat. Aguachile tostadas are at the heart of the menu, the plump shrimp, cucumber, wispy purple onion and avocado briefly cured in a voluptuously spicy citrus brine and a dusting of chiltepin (almost every dish gets blasted with the bright, lacerating heat of the wild pepper). Callo de lobina, salt-cured sea bass, tastes wonderful with the smoky, salty, house-made salsa negra. Mazatlán-style shrimp tacos, deep-fried specimens filled with springy shrimp, are half crunch, half suppleness, with tender, creamy middles. Don’t leave without trying shrimp-stuffed empanadas, crispy-edged with a hot molten center.
When I hear any mention of Olympic Boulevard, my mind immediately leaps to the Mariscos Jalisco food truck, the all-white lonchera that has been parked more or less in the same spot on an industrial strip for a decade, and whose tacos dorados de camarón and chile-blistered seafood tostadas are widely considered the best in Los Angeles. Sitting there on the low brick stoop in front of the lonchera, among parents wrangling kids and teenagers laughing loudly, it might be the most visceral two or three bites in the city. The fresh-fried, perfect half-moon taco shatters into salty morsels between your teeth. Somehow the shrimp are impossibly springy, creamier than you remember, and the crisp shell dampened by rough-chopped tomatoes, onions and slivers of ripe avocado. There is more to Mariscos Jalisco than crunchy shrimp tacos, of course — the aguachile is bracingly fresh and spicy, and the Poseidon, an ultra-spicy conflagration of octopus, ceviche and shrimp aguachile, is equally legendary. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When it opened in 2006, Mayura became instantly associated with Kerala, the coastal state in southern India recognized for its robust pantheon of culinary spices. If you have spent any time at the restaurant in the past decade, you may have learned this fact directly from owners Padmini Aniyan and Aniyan Puthenpurayil, whose warming presence in the dining room has always been one of the restaurant’s central attractions. This year, perhaps for the first time in its 16-year history, Mayura shut down its well-arrayed lunchtime buffet. It also joined all the major delivery apps, shuttling tightly sealed containers of fish curry braised in garlic and tamarind; coconut-steeped vegetable curry soups; and the springy, crisp-edged, rice-flour pancakes called appam. One thing that hasn’t changed is the ravishing dosas — thin, tangy pancakes, more burnished than armor, filled with things like spiced potatoes, and smeared with chutney or gloriously doused in ghee.
When dining rooms are in service, Genet Agonafer presides over hers with a shy warmth — sitting or standing behind the restaurant’s counter, scanning for contented faces, occasionally venturing from her perch to say hello. Sincerity comes through in her cooking no matter where it’s consumed. Her doro wat takes three days to prepare: In the chicken stew’s gradations of spice and heat, you taste Ethiopia’s precise location on the ancient trade routes. Agonafer is vegan, and her collages of collards, multicolored lentils and turmeric-stained carrots and cabbage uplift moods and taste buds. More than once recently I made a meditation out of unfolding a lacy roll of injera across a platter and carefully arranging the vegetables in a circle, with the doro wat piled in the center. If Agonafer could have seen my face, she would have known how happy I was. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
I had lunch at Tony Xu’s Sichuan noodle shop with two new friends a few weeks before the March shutdown. The shopping center that houses Mian was quieter than usual, though the restaurant still had a short wait for a table and that somehow felt heartening. So did the blur of dishes served in sleek black bowls: zhajiangmian, the taut noodles twisting among the thumping funk of ground pork, bean sauce and Sichuan peppercorn; minced pork wontons slippery in chile oil; pickles as bright as a spring lightning storm over the Pacific. I’ve returned a couple of times since then for takeout: The electric qualities of the food hold their charge in to-go containers. The wontons never make it out of the parking lot but the spicy-tangy beef noodle soup tastes superb back home, even in a boring off-white bowl. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
A table for pickup orders barricades the entrance to the 299-square-foot restaurant. Passersby can smell the meat grilling just inside, though, and imagine Ovakim Martirosyan or his wife, Alvard, presiding over the rack of metal skewers. Their son, Armen (whose pop-up Mid East Tacos was a regular at Smorgasburg L.A. until the March shutdown), takes my order over the phone. “Weirdly specific, I know,” he says, “but your food will be ready at 1:08 p.m.” And it is. Martirosyan’s cooking reminds me how sublime kebabs can be, particularly the luleh kebab — richly seasoned ground beef imprinted onto skewers and cooked just to the point of smoky juiciness. Smash the charred vegetables that come with the luleh plate into the snowbank of basmati rice, and ask for a side of jajik (dilled cucumber and yogurt dip) that will give fresh life to leftovers. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Even in a wildly uncertain time, this was inevitable: The city’s toughest reservation became its most-sought-after takeout obsession. Niki Nakayama and her wife, Carole Iida-Nakayama, took the core elements of their quietly rebellious kaiseki menus and edited them down to bento form. Orders go live every Saturday at 10 a.m. on Tock, and they sell out in seconds. The physical style of the bentos (each order usually includes two) have changed over the months, in large part because of swings in the supply chain, and the array of sashimi and mini-dishes inside continuously shifts with the micro-seasons. Soft-shell crab tempura came and went; uni replaced lobster in the chawanmushi. A soup of udon noodles and clams has become a winning staple. Whatever Nakayama and Iida-Nakayama prepare, and however they arrange the morsels, the experience is like sifting through an inherited jewelry box: You regard each piece slowly and consider the story it tells. It all adds up to an epic tale. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Aaron Melendrez, Othón Nolasco (pictured above on the right) and Damian Diaz (above left) of the bar consulting group Va’La Hospitality found themselves suddenly unemployed when the pandemic effectively shut down the restaurant industry in early spring. Rather than relax into an extended hiatus, the trio pooled their savings and focused on providing emergency relief for undocumented restaurant workers, who make up an estimated 10% of the industry workforce but are ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Calling their group No Us Without You, the trio started with a handful of food boxes assembled in a Boyle Heights warehouse; months later, No Us Without You is a full-fledged nonprofit group committed to feeding undocumented restaurant workers and their families into the future.
“We often get messages from people in New York or Miami asking us: ‘How are you guys doing it? Do you have a chapter in other cities?’” Damian Diaz told me earlier this year.
“Helping doesn’t have to be rocket science. If you’re a server or bartender, call up your restaurant friends and ask for a dollar from everyone. Before you know it, you have $60 to put together a grocery box,” he said.
“Reach out to your staff, because odds are there’s at least one individual who is undocumented and desperately needs your help.”
It’s odd to see the menu of “Nancy” Amphai Dunne’s 12-seat Thai Town restaurant spelled out online. The ritual of dining at Northern Thai Food Club involved a conversation with Dunne as she stood behind her steam table, talking about what she had available. Scents of meats, citrus and herbs hovered and collided; sometimes she’d hold up a ladle so you could peer at the latest stew she’d brought from the kitchen. Sai ua, pork sausage coils packed with minced lemongrass, are a specialty of Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province, where Dunne grew up. They set the stage for gaeng hung lay (pork belly curry zigzagging with chiles, sour-sweet tamarind and julienned ginger), garlicky green mango salad with salted crab, and a mild, sweet khao soi that’s meant to be offset with chile oil and lime juice. The good news is that Dunne’s food holds up splendidly as takeout. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
It seems long, long ago, that cool Sunday night in November 2019, when I sardined myself among dozens of other bodies into Now Serving’s 450-square-foot space. I was there to hear Henrietta Lovell speak on her memoir, “Infused,” but I walked away feeling like I’d been at a good party where the food-obsessed souls had huddled together in the overcrowded kitchen the whole night. For camaraderie and access to ideas, cities need bookstores devoted to cooking. Los Angeles has one, opened in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza in 2017 by Ken Concepcion (formerly chef de cuisine at Cut, Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse) and Michelle Mungcal; their young daughter, Frankie, can often be spotted through the window as well. For now, the shop’s conviviality exists online — in the curated selections the couple compile for shopping (be sure to browse the collection of small-scale print magazines that includes Whetstone and Dill) and in the Zoom events they host for just-published authors, often in conversation with L.A.’s brightest food minds.
What did it mean to be an exceptional Los Angeles restaurant in 2020? Josef Centeno’s relentless pursuit of an adaptive, graceful answer to that question has inspired many of us. His hard choices were also heartbreaking: Centeno closed both his game-changing Bäco Mercat in downtown and his Tex-Cal-Mex charmer Amacita in Culver City.
At Orsa & Winston, his approach to feeding customers is manifold. Casual takeout? The cheeseburger sando and a grain bowl brightly dressed in ever-changing greens bring elemental cheer. Something more elaborate? His weekly “cibo e vino” tasting menus designed to eat at home revel in the market bounty and, in centerpieces such as lobster diavolo with shiso and yuzu kosho, keep the restaurant’s Italian-meets-Japanese sensibility alive with possibility. Looking for a special-occasion meal out? Book a safely distanced table for two set up in the adjacent alley, encircled by planters that create an improbable oasis. A multicourse dinner might be created for you on the spot; Centeno is one of our most skilled kitchen improvisers.
For the important ways it continues to reflect our city’s cultural mosaics — and for the paradigm of warmth and ingenuity its chef-owner sets, even in the face of loss — my Food section colleagues and I named Orsa & Winston as Restaurant of the Year. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When we look back on the ways restaurants survived in 2020, we’ll note the impromptu dining rooms that mushroomed overnight on city sidewalks, the shiny topiary, folding tables and plastic tents decorating parking lots and alleyways, and the way many Korean barbecue restaurants, including the stalwart Park’s BBQ, endured the pandemic by moving their tabletop grills outdoors. The distinctly intoxicating scent of kalbi-marinated short ribs fills the parking lot outside Park’s, a reminder that even in the worst of times, there is Korean barbecue. While it’s difficult to replicate the thrill of watching thin flaps of beef and pork belly crumple and caramelize on the grill right in front of you, Park’s takeout game is first-rate: richly marbled ggot sal, sheathed in carryout sheets of aluminum foil, is extremely tender. Beyond-prime beef short rib, marinated in Park’s garlicky, house-blend soy sauce, and scored by hand in places to ensure tenderness, is the kind of high-toned comfort food that makes any day a special occasion. Banchan, impeccably packaged in small to-go containers, is bright and fresh, and nonbarbecue dishes such as scarlet-colored kimchi jjigae, filled with jiggly cubes of tofu, are delicious and deftly prepared. If you prefer to replicate the Park’s BBQ experience at home, two doors down from the restaurant, the Parks 2 Go butcher shop sells a varied selection of superb USDA prime beef and sometimes even rare-breed pork belly.
A temple of high gastronomy in the guise of a design-forward bistro, Pasjoli’s arrival in late 2019 capped a decade-long, nationwide renaissance in French dining. This is the Gallic oeuvre reassembled through Dave Beran’s modernist American braininess. The restaurant’s early commotion centered around pressed duck, a gruesome and glamorous bit of theater performed by Beran or chef de cuisine Matthew Kim. It remains on the menu though sans tableside drama, perhaps giving other dishes some room for recognition. Lean into starters: an heirloom tomato filled with tuna and lit up with fermented tomato vinaigrette; a sumptuous scallop quenelle with caviar in beurre blanc; and a caramelized onion tart with Gruyère that inspired Kim’s volume-all-the-way-up grilled cheese sandwich at the beginning of the March 2020 shutdown. It mellowed into the posh “croque-matthieu” on the brunch menu. If you’re dining at the restaurant, plan ahead and request a table on the quiet, isolated patio out back. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The uncanny talent scouts behind Chinatown’s Far East Plaza struck paydirt again in early 2020 when they installed Johnny Lee in the space formerly occupied by Baohaus. Pearl River Deli is his love letter to Cantonese cooking: His family has roots in Taishan, Guangdong, an area from which many of California’s earliest, 19th century Chinese immigrants arrived. Lee keeps his menu short and mercurial. Count on the Macau-style pineapple bao, a sugared bun named for its crunchy, cross-hatched crown that resembles the fruit. He plops a pork chop on the split bun and revs the sandwich with mayo and sofrito. Instagram accounts aren’t quite as barraged by images of the sticky-blistered char siu, wonton soup in resonant chicken and pork broth, and silky scrambles with shrimp, but they should be. Lee is most famous for the Hainan chicken and rice he served at now-closed Side Chick in the Westfield Santa Anita mall. He obliges frequent requests for the dish by occasionally making it a weekend special available only for pre-order. One senses he wishes to concentrate on his current repertoire. It’s a fair stance that ultimately rewards the diner. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When news broke over the summer that Ludo Lefebvre’s influential tasting-menu restaurant, Trois Mec, had closed permanently, our eyes turned to its sister restaurant, Petit Trois, the tiny bistro next door beloved in part for its conviviality and intimacy, the way the room could sometimes feel like an escape hatch leading straight to Saint Germain. So, what to make of Petit Trois in the age of curbside pickup? The Bordelaise-soaked Big Mec, for one, travels surprisingly well, and the Béchamel-rich croque-monsieur is delicious no matter where you devour it. Customers carry out boxes of the impossibly creamy Boursin-steeped omelets; voluptuous fried chicken legs with brittle, crisp skins; and trout almondine swollen with brown butter. And for dessert, chocolate mousse topped with foamy clouds of whipped cream. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Petite Peso’s chicken adobo is engineered to withstand the culinary indignities of takeout. Garlicky and vinegary, flecked with crisped chicken skin and mustard greens, smoothed out by coconut milk and served over rice, the dish tastes delicious at any temperature and in any setting. Its counterpart, an adobo riff on a French dip sandwich (jus included) that perfectly encompasses Los Angeles, is best picked up and eaten the moment you can find a quiet spot. Scan its Instagram account — or call the restaurant for some human interaction — to learn about the always compelling specials. There might be sinigang, a soup of pork belly and shoulder depth-charged with fish sauce, or flaky-soft ensaymadas enriched with kabocha butter and snow-capped with pecorino. Chef Ria Dolly Barbosa opened her Filipino restaurant with partners Tiffany Tanaka and Robert Villanueva in the tiny downtown space that once housed Charles Olalia’s pioneering Ricebar; the torch could not have been passed more brilliantly.
The story of the 2020 restaurant crisis is as much about a call to action from its inner ranks as it is about the pandemic’s consequences. How does the industry support itself when the government provides no safety net for the low-wage, often undocumented workers upon whose labor it runs? Restaurant have long been run on the hierarchical brigade system: In what ways does the model enable abuse of workers, and how can it change for the better? How do BIPOC chefs and restaurant owners create more sustainable models of success?
Questions outnumber answers, but Minh Phan is a leader who is transparent about her search for solutions. “I am constantly torn between sinking deep into my art and finding ways to sustain and be of service to the community,” Phan wrote in October on the website for her restaurant Porridge + Puffs. The number of efforts in which Phan had a recent hand can make the eyes water: collaboration dinners with n/naka and Alta Adams and (with other women chefs) Cochon555; partnerships that feed seniors and that support underserved communities through Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement, Food Forward, SEE-LA and Miry’s List.
Not to be overlooked: Phan is an extraordinary chef. Her medium is transformation, be it through activism or in a laboratory kitchen full of fruits and vegetables preserved, pickled and otherwise fermented. Her viewpoint leans global and she favors complexly constructed plates; a layered chicken and turkey porridge or a Santa Barbara prawn fried into a spindly fritter can challenge as much as comfort.
Phan has a new project in Phenakite, a weekly tasting menu pop-up at Second Home, a Hollywood workshare space set among startlingly lush vegetation. Of course, her aim is to generate revenue at Phenakite that helps support Porridge + Puffs’ community involvement. But this is also a deserved showcase for Phan as an artist in residence, allowing space to dwell in her creativity and spark revolutions.
Long Beach’s landmark Cambodian noodle restaurant specializes in kuy teav, a traditional breakfast soup layered with springy noodles, aromatics and various porky odds and ends. The clear, wholesome broth is lovely, vaguely sweet and vivid with cilantro, green onions and the deep musk of garlic. For ballast, order the seafood version laden with shrimp, fish cake, squid, scallops and mussels; the chluy bowl, furnished with chewy flaps of beef intestine and pork rinds, is particularly lush. Perhaps the most comforting thing on the menu is the terrific chicken porridge, which tastes wonderful with the airy, baton-like donut called cha quai. You dip it in the fragrant creamy whorl and the fried dough dissolves as naturally as snow melting in sunshine. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Los Angeles has needed all shapes and styles of pizza to see us through. Daniele Uditi comes from a family of bakers in Naples, Italy; in California, he finds the optimum point between tradition and innovation. His pizza-topping combinations that riff off of pasta sauces — the cacio e pepe being the hardest to resist — have become part of the local canon, deservingly. Looking at the takeout menu, I laughed out loud at the pie nicknamed Sacrilegio, crowned with roasted pork, cubed Spam, jalapeños, smoked fior di latte cheese and a side of pineapple jam to dollop on top. Wit and humor will sustain us. (The sacrilege was delicious too.) Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When Post & Beam founder Brad Johnson sold the restaurant this year to executive chef John Cleveland, the sale represented a changing of the guard but also a renewed commitment to building a restaurant by and for South L.A.’s Black community. Since taking over in late 2019, Cleveland has been putting his own stamp on the restaurant, adding more vegan options but keeping the heart of the menu unchanged. At dinnertime, you can still order the marvelous cornbread with whipped honey butter; the charred, succulent cast-iron chicken with garlic confit; and the breaded jerk catfish draped over dirty rice, the flavors even more vivid dunked in chimichurri sauce. The small pizza menu is wonderful, especially the hand-stretched pie mottled with crushed tomatoes, glossy lumps of mozzarella and snippets of basil. Tucked in the back of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw plaza, in a section of the parking lot shaded with orange trees and mantled with strings of lights, Post & Beam is the neighborhood restaurant you don’t expect to find in the shadow of a soaring mega-mall. But once you find it, you’re glad to be there. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Jocelyn Ramirez has been a fixture at Smorgasburg L.A., best known for her wonderful jackfruit carnitas. Her growing catering company, Todo Verde, serves plant-based dishes grounded in the Mexican and Ecuadorean flavors of her heritage. She was zeroing in on signing a lease for a restaurant in Lincoln Heights when the pandemic derailed her plans.
Thing is, Ramirez doesn’t need a permanent space to reach people. She has become an engaged, galvanizing voice at the intersection of food, politics and culture. She’s as likely to be teaching her pistachio-laced pipián verde sauce in an online class as she is to be hosting an Instagram discussion on criminal justice reform. An advocate for a healthier planet, she puts forth the persuasive philosophy that the fundamental deliciousness of Mexican cooking never relied on meat. It’s embedded in the pages of her first cookbook, “La Vida Verde,” published in April. In vegan dishes like ensalada de nopales con fruta and mushroom-filled enmoladas blanketed in spicy-sweet mole colorado, she codifies a cogent branch of L.A. flavors that nourishes body and community — and continues to grow in relevance.
At their Hancock Park mothership, Walter and Margarita Manzke perfected the template for the all-day modern California restaurant. They used the insight to blueprint their 2020 strategy; République would make an absorbing case study in how a multipronged business like theirs survives a pandemic. Margarita and her team continued to fill the morning pastry case with the croissants, crostatas, danishes and canelés that have brought her national acclaim. Sometimes they were served only through the existing takeout window; sometimes they needed to be reserved a day in advance via Tock. The Manzkes experimented with coursed, comfort-food takeout meals. Their breakfast and lunch menus — the signature kimchi fried rice, carnitas sopes, rolled omelet, saucy shakshouka, a baller dry-aged burger after 11 a.m. — remain available as to-go options.
In summer the couple converted a section of the restaurant’s parking area into outdoor seating. I had dinner at République after several months away from dining out. The staff, in masks and protective headgear, were well shielded. A salad of tomatoes, basil, watermelon, burrata and vivid olive oil looked like Christmas and tasted like the Fourth of July. I’d almost forgotten about the lucid possibilities of fresh fruits and vegetables in professional hands. From a plate of peppery duck confit and sliced breast meat arranged among thick slices of oven-dried peaches to the mafaldine clutching lobster meat in its coils and hot doughnuts for dessert, the meal achieved the thing that restaurants were invented to do: It restored me. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Rossoblu occupies a cavernous space at the City Market South complex, a once-bustling tableau of fast-moving servers and tastefully dressed customers sitting in the ambient warmth of the open kitchen’s wood fire. The scene was pleasant and cosmopolitan. But the heart and soul of Rossoblu lies not in that glowing space but in chef Steve Samson’s Bologna-focused Italian cooking. His most revered dishes include exemplary tortelloni stuffed with ricotta and chard; ribbon-smooth tagliatelle served in a Bolognese sauce, more meaty than saucy; and down-home minestra nel sacco, plump, squarish dumplings in fortifying chicken broth. The restaurant focused its efforts on carryout meals this year, affordable, sophisticated, seven-course dinners packed with Rossoblu hits. Recently there were tiny coal-roasted turnips salted with bottarga; lamb meatballs with ricotta; and potato and cheese raviolini tossed in butter, thyme and Parmigiano, its richness lovely and fathomless. Even in dark times, Rossoblu knows how to feed us well. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Julia Silva and Walter Soto are new to the taco limelight but not to their trade: They’ve popped up around L.A. for the last several years, and they’ve been perfecting their techniques together for two decades. Combining culinary traditions from Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California, their Boyle Heights operation is made for the moment in tacos. Silva transmutes flour into masterful tortillas. On days when she isn’t slammed she’ll make sobaqueras — the nickname for supple, thin tortillas the size of an 18-wheeler’s hubcap — best filled with birria de res or satiny chile Colorado. Soto is the boss taquero. The business expanded into a larger trailer this year, giving him room to add handmade corn tortillas to the rotation several days a week: Try one as a vampiro welded with melted Monterey Jack cheese and pummeled with carne asada. Hours and menu items change often; El Ruso updates its Instagram account daily with the latest info. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
David Schlosser’s downtown L.A. restaurant is a shrine to salt-cured fish, house-aged miso, Japanese whisky and the rigors of Kappo-style cuisine. Roughly translated, kappo refers to the cutting and preparing of food for a small audience, a traditional Japanese format that today runs counter to COVID safety regulations. Schlosser and his team have been channeling the spirit of Shibumi into remarkable bento boxes that evince the same degree of meticulous, technique-driven cooking. The menchi katsu set is furnished with two meaty pork-beef cutlets coated in an impossibly light and prickly panko crust. Chicken katsu is alternately chewy and crisp, served with a superb potato salad and spinach in a light dashi soy. Grilled unagi tastes wonderful over koshihikari rice, and marinated black cod with a pumpkin croquette and marinated shiitake mushroom is a moody, delicate tableau that startles with its precise and clean flavors. It may not be the Shibumi you remember but the cooking is as honest and meticulous as ever. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Shunji Nakao’s premium sushi box is a still-life of luxurious and immaculately prepared raw fish — buttery mackerel; firm, sweet kanpachi; the hard-to-find and beguilingly fatty blackthroat seaperch; springy sweet shrimp; sea urchin with the briny smack of the ocean; and medium-fatty tuna followed by even glossier, fattier, richer tuna. Most pieces are lightly daubed with freshly grated wasabi to enhance the fish’s natural flavor. The chef also offers an omakase-inspired bento box that features a daily-changing array of sashimi; Miyazaki A5 Wagyu beef, richer even than Kobe; and a tidy constellation of chirashi. In more normal times, the omakase restaurant on Pico Boulevard is a spendy altar to rarefied fish, good sake and chef Nakao behind the bar, calmly channeling centuries of technique into tiny, transcendent bites. For now, the bar remains closed but the bites keep coming. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
At Sichuan Impression, gingery, sautéed dry pot of diced rabbit is powerfully scented with chiles and garlic, seething in its scarlet-red intensity. Eating it is at once a flogging and a benediction, pain and pleasure conflated in a delicious spectacle of numbing and ferociously spicy flavors. Many dishes at Sichuan Impression come from the less spicy end of the spectrum, including the chewy sliced pig’s ears, which have a pleasing smack of smoked bacon. A good place to start is with the “impressive cold noodles” in chile oil and vinegar, cleansing and bright. A plate of steamed pork belly is intensely succulent and impossible to stop eating. The chile-laden toothpick mutton is reliably excellent, but the dish that felt most essential to me this year was the boiled fish in rattan pepper, the broth expressing the heart of the Sichuan kitchen, comforting and vivid at once. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
When director Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English-language film in Oscar history to win Best Picture, cast and crew celebrated the groundbreaking victory with a private, predawn meal at Soban. Already beloved for its exceptional banchan, its indulgently braised short ribs and its famed ganjang gejang — raw blue crab marinated in a pungent, herb-infused soy sauce — the historic dinner further cemented the restaurant’s reputation as a Koreatown icon. Did the “Parasite” crew feast on seafood pancakes paved with soft, springy shrimp and crabmeat, or Soban’s famed braised cod stewed in red peppers? Hopefully there was thin-sliced pork bulgogi heaped with grilled onions, and platters of the chile-lavished octopus stir-fry called nakji-bokkeum. The dinner can be easily replicated at home; Soban’s menu translates to takeout form without losing any of the qualities that make the restaurant great: exacting yet soulful cooking that requires not even a tiny bit of fame or cinematic genius to be enjoyed.
When chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger opened Border Grill more than three decades ago, they nudged forward the conversation about Mexican cooking in America by showcasing the cuisine’s sheer vastness and regionality. Socalo, their newest restaurant in Santa Monica, feels like an elegant and understated distillation of their culinary wanderings across Mexico. You can get chunky, beautifully charred carne asada tacos anointed with slow-burning salsa quemada; a very good and succulent shrimp and steak vampiro coated in griddled cheese; and crunchy chicken dorado tacos that shatter neatly between your teeth. I love the chicken poblano enchiladas awash in spicy crema, and the slow-braised lamb birria achieves depths that are only possible with immense skill and patience. For dessert, there’s an excellent tres leches cake with fresh strawberries. It should be noted that Socalo has one of the most comprehensive and thrilling collections of Mexican wines on the Westside, which is reason enough to stop in.
Named after one of the first established Mexican neighborhoods in Los Angeles — the “lost barrio” of Sonoratown that once stood near L.A.’s present-day Chinatown — Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez Jr.’s influential downtown taquería has helped spread the gospel of mesquite grilled steak and finely honed flour tortillas far and wide. The restaurant has been a vital takeout staple throughout 2020, bundling carne asada, grilled chicken and the house chorizo by the pound with the restaurant’s famed flour tortillas, which are still made using soft Sonoran wheat flour produced in Diaz-Rodriguez’s hometown of San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora. There is succor to be found in a take-home tray of the char-tinged, finely chopped beef, gloriously accessorized with all the requisite trimmings, including shredded cabbage, earthy-sweet grilled green onions and the taqueria’s silken guacamole salsa. For a single bite that reminds you why the cooking at Sonoratown is essential, consider the Burrito 2.0, a sumptuously meaty parcel of chunky guacamole, Monterey jack cheese, pinto beans and your choice of meat. It is arguably the most perfect lunch in downtown Los Angeles. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
There may be no more opulent pork dish in Silver Lake than the patita at Spoon & Pork, a 15-hour braised shank, glazed in a sticky sweet chile sauce and dusted with dried garlic crumbles. Its brittle crust splinters neatly under the teeth, and meat rolls off the bone easily in thick flakes. The patita is equally succulent in takeout form, a not-small consolation for fans of chefs Ray Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas, who in 2017 launched Spoon & Pork as a food truck. Now they reimagine the classic Filipino dishes of their youth from a sunny space on Sunset Boulevard, where the takeout menu has been active throughout most of the pandemic. There are various renditions of pork adobo, but try the gloriously crisp and garlicky fried chicken adobo, and the adobo belly nigiri, a photogenic slab of sweet-spicy pork draped over a block of sushi rice. A gingery rendition of the jackfruit and coconut milk dish called ginataang langka is improbably creamy, and suitable for dessert. If you see it on the menu, try the thrillingly irreverent banh mi, stuffed with pork belly, pâté and chicharron swabbed with homemade tocino glaze made from cured ham and pineapple. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Yoonjin Hwang has a knack for creating dishes that stir buzz. In spring, when dining rooms went dark, she unveiled her version of a dosirak, the Korean lunch box served in cafes and carried by generations of elementary school students and families on picnics. A dosirak can be simple. Hwang’s was a Lite-Brite sketch of more than two dozen small dishes — galbijjim, chicken leg, fish cake japchae, several revolving salads, garlicky pickled peppers, pineapple salsa — assembled in a tray with six compartments. The hype got a bit much, and now Hwang offers them only occasionally: Watch her Instagram stories for the day’s menu. Dishes such as kimchi fried rice or ramen with oxtail and beef short rib may not be as kaleidoscopic but they gratify just as deeply. I admire that Hwang discontinued making her signature rice cake and pork dumpling soup during the catastrophe: Some things were meant to be savored in her cheering, communal dining room. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Open since 1996, Sunnin has become an institution known for the most familiar Lebanese foods: falafel, hummus, shawarma, kebabs and so forth. But to understand what makes the Chammaa family’s enduring presence so valuable, scroll down the takeout menu to the section labeled “Em Tony’s Specials.” This is the term of endearment for the Chammaa matriarch, Fayeza, who presides over these dishes that best represent the depths of Lebanese cuisine. You’ll find kibbeh maklieh (beef and bulgur croquettes in garlicky yogurt sauce sparked with dried mint) and molokhia, the soup of pureed jute leaves bolstered with chicken. Call and ask if the kitchen made koussa, the thin-skinned summer squash stuffed with mint and rice and served in herbed tomato sauce, which is in frequent rotation and always terrific. Sunnin’s Santa Monica outpost sadly closed after being vandalized in June, but the Westwood location remains a dynamic force in the community.
On a chilly day in Los Angeles, there’s nothing better than galbi jjim, braised beef short ribs stewed in a spiced gravy of vegetables, dried fruit and nuts until the meat begins to shrug off the bone. Sun Nong Dan, the 24-hour Koreatown seolleongtang specialist, offers what is perhaps the most over-the-top galbi jjim preparation in the city. The dish’s dramatic coda involves a server taking a blowtorch to the ribs to melt down fistfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese. In takeout form, the galbi jjim is more modest-looking, a disheveled mountain of beef and gravy squeezed into a carryout chafing dish. But it’s still a knockout of a dish, and it’s worth paying the extra $5 for cheese, which is already melted over the beef ribs — no blowtorch required. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In takeout mode, Carlos Salgado has directed his innovationist energies into Cortez the Killer, a compact but lavish burger built of three thin Wagyu beef patties robed with caramelized onions, blue cheese and date ketchup on a brioche bun. Veal jus comes on the side for baptizing the beast. Is he still selling tacos? A couple — most memorably a chewy-crisp grilled variation of pescadillas fashioned from blue corn masa, filled with sturgeon and served with a smoky, peanut-riddled salsa morita. The dinnertime tasting menus at his indoor-outdoor Costa Mesa dining room have always been communions of soul and intellect — so quell yearnings with his carryout family-style meals. Beef barbacoa or pork braised in roasted green chile may anchor the feast, and there is always the stack of Salgado’s tortillas smelling of sweet, sun-warmed fields. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
Maria Elena Lorenzo and her husband, Juan Irra, have been fixtures in the Watts community for three decades, selling Lorenzo’s sustaining tamales to students and neighbors, first from carts and then from a food truck they continue to operate. Six months ago, the couple fulfilled a dream nearly 30 years in the making: They opened a freestanding restaurant in Bell Gardens with their daughters, Nayeli Irra, Judepth Irra, Heidi Irra, Maria Irra and Teresa Irra, all of whom have cooked in marquee restaurants around L.A. Their menu illuminates the Afro-Mexican cuisine of Costa Chica, part of the southern coastal state of Guerrero. Try the Guerrero-style tamale — thin layers of masa steamed in banana leaves filled with pork in red salsa or chicken in green salsa. Delve further by ordering dusky-sweet mole costeño, lengua in plantain sauce, aporreadillo (a Guerrerense pairing of salted, crisped beef with eggs) and, most gloriously, pozole verde, whose flavors bound in every possible direction. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
The menus at Iranian kebab houses tend to have a reassuring sameness: the grilled meats, served with drifts of rice, along with stews like moss-toned ghormeh sabzi or sweet-and-sour fesenjan and dips of eggplant and yogurt for appetizers. Chef and owner Saghar Fanisalek stays close to the basics at her small restaurant, but the intimate scale may account for the extra care that sets her cooking apart. The attention prevails even in takeout: It comes through in the exacting amount of grated onion kneaded into the grilled beef koobideh, in the tahdig’s crackling (but not teeth-cracking) sheen and in the just-right smoothness of her mast-o-khiar (yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber and mint) and mast-o-mousir (yogurt with shallot; perfect with kebabs and fluffy rice). Read the Los Angeles Times review »
On a sweeping hillside in City Terrace, Sara and Steve Valdes’ bright-pink convenience store is an influential showcase for fledgling Los Angeles pop-up restaurants, food trucks and local chefs armed with more ambition than hard capital. No local vendors or purveyors seem to be too small or big for Sara’s. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the flauta specialists of Los Dorados L.A. were turning out crisp, beefy rolled tacos in front of the storefront. Wednesday afternoons belong to Bootleg Pizza, a food truck known for its blistery, square-shaped pies. Inside the 800-square-foot market, endcap displays feature Kernel of Truth tortillas, locally roasted coffees and chilled containers of Tijuana Freddy’s salsa; the display fridge along the wall inevitably veers toward local beers. The couple regularly broadcast what’s new at the shop over Instagram, but it’s nice to drop in on a whim, just to see who and what is cooking, and say hello to Sara and Steve, whose good-humored, steadfast presence behind the counter harks back to a time when the neighborhood market was tied to the very fabric of daily life.
Venice’s Gjelina Group closed its Japanese restaurant MTN in March. By May it had reenvisioned the space as a pop-up called Valle; the neighborhood took to it so fervently that the placeholder idea became permanent. The talent in evidence from Pedro Aquino and Juan Hernandez, two longtime chefs for the company, makes it clear that their starring platforms were overdue. They call upon their Oaxacan roots for delicate squash-blossom-filled quesadillas, tlayudas con cecina (pork collar marinated in ruddy chile), lamb barbacoa and a vegan take on mole amarillo. Eating pork belly tacos set over freshly made, inky-blue corn tortillas basically equates to a therapy session. The partially open-air dining room qualifies enough as “outside” to allow seating for customers, and a multilevel back patio regularly fills to a distanced capacity. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In March, the Los Angeles City Council voted to crack down on unpermitted street vendors during the coronavirus shutdown, a move many feared would undo the gains of a decade-long movement to decriminalize sidewalk vending in the city.
Caridad Vasquez, a vendor turned activist, expressed the fears and frustrations of many street vendors when I interviewed her in April: “When I realized we couldn’t sell, I felt like the world was falling apart. I got really depressed,” she said.
“It’s not that we got our hours cut back. We lost our livelihoods.”
Street vendors, and the foods they prepare, are an essential part of Los Angeles’ cultural life, important drivers of commerce, creativity and community. In late 2018, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 946 into law, providing vendors with legal protections against fines, merchandise confiscation and possible jail time.
But for street vendors, the law has proved mostly symbolic; thwarted by a convoluted and expensive multi-agency permitting process, most of the city’s estimated 15,000 to 20,000 street vendors still do not have vending licenses.
Rudy Espinoza of the nonprofit Inclusive Action, a group that launched an emergency fund to help out-of-work street vendors, says vendors will need widespread public support to continue making strides in a post-coronavirus political landscape.
“It took us 10 years to get to this point. Political will was not always there,” he said.
A newly formed group called Vendedores en Acción (Vendors in Action), or VEA, aims to keep the momentum going.
The group was designed by and for vendors; its leaders meet about once a week over Zoom to work toward a future where it’s safe and legal to sell food on the sidewalks of Los Angeles.
Vespertine describes its ambitions as “a gastronomical experience seeking to disrupt the course of the modern restaurant.” COVID-19 accomplished this goal more swiftly and terribly than any of us could have imagined. When fully operational, Jordan Kahn’s waffle-shaped Culver City tower was one of the most polarizing indulgences on the planet. Kahn addressed the moment by shifting his approach to food from abstract to personal. He spent the year conceiving takeout menus with themes that explored his family’s sundry roots: Cuban, Yucatecan, Southern American, Sicilian. He explored homages to the French Laundry (where he once worked) and Japan. The presentations were almobrost absurdly beautiful. Best of all, whether he’d made Frogmore stew or ropa vieja or arancini filled with eggplant ragu, the cooking has been accessible and nourishing. This isn’t permanent: Kahn’s next move is a tasting-menu pop-up in the serene Melrose Avenue space vacated by Auburn. It’s called Ephemera. I’m not expecting shrimp and grits, at least not in any recognizable form. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
On Rose Avenue in Venice, the Win-Dow dispenses one of SoCal’s new burger stars: a thick, loosely packed, char-edged burger glossed thickly in American cheese and heaped with soft grilled onions and pickles, barely containable inside its shiny bun. The French fries are the thin-cut variety, well-seasoned and hot, tucked into a brown paper box, to be scarfed down immediately. There is a very good chicken sandwich, hot and crisp, along with serviceable grain bowls, kale salads and a version of the Impossible burger. But the cheeseburger is the marquee star of the Win-dow, an unfussy, delicious, wildly affordable burger in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Southern California. The beachy burger stand is attached to the hip Venice steakhouse American Beauty, where lavish dry-aged steaks go for more than $100. What does this $4 burger reveal, if anything, about the fluctuating demographics of Rose Avenue, or economies of scale in the restaurant industry? Does this burger telegraph the future for Venice Beach, or is it an accident of time, space and circumstances that you find yourself here, eating a burger on the beach, like so many before you?
The gateway dish into Natalia Pereira’s Brazilian cooking is empadão de frango; she translates it on her menu as “chicken pot pie.” Take refuge in its comforts: A crust with the texture of a thin, crisp biscuit yields to a creamed mix of poultry, olives, hearts of palm and corn. If churrascarias, the all-you-can-eat meat-sweat palaces, are your only exposure to Brazilian cuisine, it’s time to know downtown’s Woodspoon. From Pereira’s hands you taste Brazil’s slow meld of indigenous, African and Portuguese cultures. Fried snacks — spheres filled with shrimp and coconut or chicken, a cigar-shaped variation on kibbeh — precede artful stews such as costelinha com canjiquinha, boneless pork rib meat over coarse but utterly tender grits. More comfort: porky tropeiro beans, entwined with collards and served with yucca fries. Occasionally Pereira makes Brazil’s most famous union of meat and beans, feijoada, but it might be better that it’s not always available. Getting to know her fuller repertoire gives us precious insight into her homeland and her talents.
At their Boyle Heights restaurant, brothers Felipe and Ignacio Santiago merge the flavors of their native Oaxaca with classic Lebanese mezze to brilliant effect. “Oaxacan” hummus made with whipped black beans and a dusting of cayenne pepper is earthy and rich. Their take on tabbouleh salad cleverly swaps out bulgur in favor of nopales tossed with chopped onions, tomatoes and extravagant quantities of fresh parsley. The adaptation is so elegant, bright and refreshing, you wonder why you haven’t been eating it all your life. Falafel is bolstered by lavish quantities of garlic and cilantro, but the dish to try is the chicken shawarma taco: spice-rubbed, spit-roasted chicken shaved over a corn tortilla, anointed generously with the house-made “arabesque salsa,” a creamy blend of extra-garlicky tahini and salsa verde. The taco, in turn creamy and savory, succeeds by the steady accretion of flavors, its garlicky richness snapped into balance by the bright, vinegary smack of fuchsia-pink pickled turnips, a staple of the Lebanese table that is right at home at X’tiosu Kitchen. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In nonpandemic times the praise for Chris Yang’s cooking centers on his beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese-inspired recipe of collagen-rich broth rumbling with coriander and Sichuan peppercorn. The soup has been on hold during the takeout era; attention turns instead to the feel-good rice bowl crowned with stir-fried tomato and eggs with garlicky cabbage and scatterings of scallions and pickled daikon. Plan ahead for specials such as the Thursdays-only pork chop bake, a family-style dish smothered in tomato sauce, spread over fried rice and covered with cheese to melt in the home oven. For immediate gratification: soft-serve made from Straus milk, speckled with cornflakes, which tastes like sugary cereal in the most soothing possible ways. Read the Los Angeles Times review »
In late 2019 Vresh Osipian and his family opened a branch of their Armenian bakery that focuses almost solely on the namesake flatbread, alternately spelled “jingalov hats,” stuffed with 15 herbs. (The specialty comes from Nagorno-Karabakh, the region at the center of the ongoing Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict.) Freshly chopped sorrel, dill, scallions, spinach, beet greens and other herbage merge into a delicious mulch. A pat of butter comes on the side. Smear it quickly over the hot, freckled dough. The only complement possibly needed to this balanced marvel, perfect as lunch or a substantial snack, is tea steeped with thyme and mint; its flavors strike the same tonic chord as the flatbread.
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