Advertisement
Filters

Neighborhood

Cuisines

Restaurants

Price

Sort by

Showing Places
Share
Filters
Map
List

Illustration by Luke Lucas / For The Times; photography by Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

These are the 101 best restaurants in L.A.

Presented by

After nearly two brutal years fighting for its survival, the soul of Los Angeles dining remains resilient.

It can be hard to move past the heartbreaking losses, and questions about the future linger unanswered, but the restaurant terrain is feeling familiar again. Reservations for the hottest openings and the long-running blockbusters require planning a month ahead. Lines for tacos piled with al pastor shaved from the trompo trail down otherwise quiet blocks; the same goes for diners seeking boba and smoked brisket and Korean-style hot dogs.

The equation holds: Southern California’s superior agriculture combined with the city’s miraculous pluralism and creative spirit make the region one of the world’s most exciting places to eat.

With apologies to my editors, I don’t really believe in the idea of “bests” when it comes to the 101 project. Yes, this is a guide to excellence. It also is meant to capture, as much as a finite number can, the overall breadth and spirit of dining in L.A. Some well-established names and places appear (consider it a nudge to patronize them if you love them) and so do some fresh entrants: Look for Ammatoli in Long Beach, Flavors From Afar in Little Ethiopia, Sushi Kaneyoshi in Little Tokyo and the roving Los Dorados among them.

The number of stories to tell about L.A.’s food culture is limitless, and to that end three of my favorite writers contributed essays to extend the narrative. Please read Carolina A. Miranda on the designer whose cart may change the way street vendors sell tamales; Donovan X. Ramsey on the evolution of a tasting-menu series, heavy with history, that was featured on Netflix’s “High on the Hog”; and Esther Tseng illuminating an organization that supports restaurant workers who are part of the city’s varied, and often invisible, Indigenous communities.

Jenn Harris joins me in naming some of our very favorite places for imbibing (alcohol and otherwise), and I also highlight several enduring pop-up operators whose indie moxie matches their delicious cooking.

Whether you’re picking up takeout or settling in at a crowded counter, remember to treat those who feed us in these unprecedented times with kindness and patience. And welcome back to the table.

Showing Places
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

All Day Baby

Silver Lake Eclectic $$
Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener reimagined the urban corner diner at a busy intersection of Silver Lake, and they won over the city with breakfast: tall, gutsy biscuit sandwiches; a beast of a burrito gushing jack cheese and burst egg yolks; and a ricotta hotcake as big as a dinner plate, drizzled with smoked maple syrup for savory contrast. The morning indulgences bear up well as takeout — a blessing that helped the pair keep the restaurant alive in its first two unimaginably difficult years in business. Dinner service, it’s important to say, has come into its own. In dishes like crayfish étouffée with the salty punch of lap xuong and escargots over grits with fried shallots, Whitener revives the talent for combining ingredients that made the pair’s Here’s Looking at You (which they plan to reopen in December) a national destination. All Day Baby’s pastry chef, Thessa Diadem, one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs this year, might lead the revival for torched retro desserts with her strawberry baked Alaska.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Alta Adams

West Adams American $$
What defines a great neighborhood restaurant in Los Angeles right now? Look to Daniel Patterson’s community beacon along West Adams Boulevard, open since 2018, as one heartening answer. Over the past year the kitchen — overseen by chef and co-owner Keith Corbin, who crafts a style of cooking he calls “California soul” — has leaned into its strengths. The sheer, crackling fried chicken has always been exceptional; it translates seamlessly into a fried chicken sandwich finished with pickles and hot sauce mayo. (The smoked brisket grilled cheese also ranks high among the sandwiches.) It’s hard to imagine a dinner here without the oxtails braised with miso and soy, served with rice to catch all the goodness, with a side of punchy, unfussy collards. Savor them on the back patio, an oasis of trellised vines, knotty wood fencing and strung lights. Swing by Adams Wine Shop for a bottle or two. Sommelier Ruben Morancy, who ran the store and curated the selection to focus on BIPOC and women vintners, died unexpectedly in September. Many of us will miss his easy cheer and profound knowledge.
More Info
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Ammatoli

Long Beach Middle Eastern $$
On a busy, wide, restaurant-filled block of 3rd Street in Long Beach, Dima and Sam Habibeh set up a sidewalk patio filled with umbrella-covered tables and potted shrubbery. It’s a calm haven for the excellent cooking that emphasizes Dima’s Palestinian, Syrian and Jordanian heritage: canonical mezze dishes, including a particularly wonderful muhammara with its pureed roasted peppers, tahini and pomegranate molasses in precise balance; rotisserie chicken over faintly smoky freekeh; and handsomely speckled mana’eesh pulled straight from the oven. On weekends Dima makes specials like comforting sayadieh — fish over spiced rice topped with almonds and caramelized onions.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Anajak Thai

Sherman Oaks Thai $$
Justin Pichetrungsi, who worked for nearly a decade as an art director at Disney, returned to the hospitality industry two years ago to run the Sherman Oaks restaurant his parents opened in 1981. In its 40th year, it has emerged as one of the most creatively energized restaurants in the Southland. The baseline menu has been winningly edited to about 25 dishes — a handful of curries (zoom in on the custardy haw mok steamed with dry-aged branzino and egg), stir-fries and plates like grilled pork with fiery chile dipping sauce and cooling sticky rice. His Thai fried chicken with frizzled shallots crackles hypnotically.

Then there are Anajak’s Thai Taco Tuesdays. The menu changes weekly and, beyond the namesake dish, he might crank out kampachi tostadas with Hokkaido ikura, spicy drunken noodles and a halloumi salad flickering with mint. He frequently seeks out collaborations; a recent one with Eagle Rock cheese shop Milkfarm witnessed molten raclette being shaved in outrageous globs over the fried chicken. Half the chefs in town show up to eat at these events. And on weekends Pichetrungsi has been creating provocative, reservations-only omakase meals (using the Japanese form to reconsider Thai flavors) set up in the alley behind the restaurant. The man must be exhausted, but he is an inspiration.
More Info
Advertisement
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Angry Egret Dinette

Chinatown Eclectic $$
Wes Avila is too restless a talent to constrain himself to a set-in-stone menu. When he began Guerrilla Tacos as an Arts District pop-up stand a decade ago, he covered tortillas with daily market finds and his latest creative breakthroughs. After departing from Guerrilla’s bricks-and-mortar location last year, he’s come full circle at his 14-month-old setup in the courtyard of Chinatown’s Mandarin Plaza. It began as a carryout window serving sandwich variations (including fried shrimp po’ boys and banh mi lined with duck breast), and you can still consistently expect a righteous breakfast torta full of fried eggs with bursting yolks.

He’s returned to his brilliant ways with tacos as well; they’re canvases for fried fish slicked with habanero aioli or cochinita pibil blasted with chile arbol or bone marrow or … it’s hard to keep up, and the online carryout menu usually doesn’t list all the day’s dishes. Best to show up and see what’s available. Heads up that he’s branched out into dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, with table service under strings of lights, and the menu (maybe oysters with uni, maybe a wild take on a pupu platter) is even more unpredictable and compelling.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Antico Nuovo

Larchmont Italian $$$
Last year many of us gorged ourselves on chef-owner Chad Colby’s focaccia pizzas and pints of former chef de cuisine and pastry chef Brad Ray’s intense, improbably smooth ice creams. Colby had moved fast in March 2020 to close his dining room and double down on to-go foods. The shift was a relative success but it was important for him to return to the deft, unfussy Italian cooking that had propelled him to first open the restaurant in 2019. Tacking on “Nuovo” to the original name, he marked his return to delicate, better-than-ever pastas, beautiful salads and a handful of meaty dishes — among them fragrant roast chicken over focaccia, a dish that somehow summarizes the hardships of the recent past and the pleasures to be found in the present. Still, it was hard to shake the success of the pizzas and ice creams: In a nod to their popularity, the restaurant recently announced it would continue selling those two carryout items for an hour each afternoon pre-service.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A.O.C.

West Hollywood Californian $$$
For years I’ve loved the comfortably sprawling 3rd Street location of A.O.C. — where birthdays have been celebrated at a garden table, where the micro-seasonal salads and crackly-skinned roast chicken and rambling wine list never disappoint. I appreciate its reliable pleasures doubly, though, now that Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin have managed to match the experience with a second A.O.C. in Brentwood, opened this year in the poshly revamped space of their former restaurant Tavern. It’s rare to the point of uncanny that an institution can duplicate its culinary success, not just the cooking style and the systems but its spirit too.

Both menus follow the communal, small-plates ethos that Goin and Styne led the charge to codify in Los Angeles. The bounty is Californian; the oomph in the flavors draws on cuisines from around the continents-spanning Mediterranean Sea. Harissa slashes through the richness of beef cheeks. Za’atar, sumac and preserved-lemon labneh surround lamb chops like a flashing aura. You can trace the calendar months through the desserts: winter apple galette perfumed with the smoke of a wood oven; airy doughnuts with roasted peaches and berries in the summertime.
More Info
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

The Arthur J

Manhattan Beach Steakhouse $$$
Steakhouses tend to flourish as high-end chains, as de facto corporate boardrooms and as slick dens of vice. I favor another model: the steakhouse as swank supper club. The Arthur J delivers Midcentury Modern plushness in Manhattan Beach — tongue-and-groove ceilings, horseshoe-shaped booths and curvy Eames-style chairs, geometrically patterned wooden room dividers — when there’s no time to get away to Palm Springs. Chef and partner David LeFevre updates the chop house blueprint with tweaks that give the classics renewed life. This is the place to delight in shrimp cocktail (fresh and bouncy rather than rubbery) alongside a dirty martini; dry-aged, bone-in Kansas City strip steak; creamed corn sparked with Aleppo pepper; and thick fries cooked in beef fat, with malt vinegar and Dijon aioli. The service is appropriately debonair; that very much includes distinguished L.A. food writer Patric Kuh, who charms the guests these days as the restaurant’s assistant manager.
More Info
Advertisement
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Badmaash

Downtown L.A. Indian $$
If chef Pawan Mahendro and sons Arjun and Nakul ever decide to discontinue takeout, I will very much miss eating their chicken tikka poutine at home. The whole delicious mass retains its heat and its appeal: The fries don’t quite wilt, the cheese curds only begin to melt, the chicken tikka comes in two-bite hunks and there’s enough gravy to unite it all. It made for excellent stress eating while watching “Squid Game.” Badmaash, with its locations downtown and on Fairfax Avenue, has never been about uptight notions of authenticity: Some of its Indian dishes are classic renditions, and plenty of others tinker with tradition. The poutine honors the time the family spent living in Toronto. (A winning vegetarian version swaps in chana masala.) Saag paneer, mulchy and subtle and bright, is possibly the best restaurant version in the metro area. The lamb burger — kindled with fresh mint and cilantro, cumin, garlic and other herbs and spices — sits on a tall bun with aioli running down the patty. It’s a signature only available for dine-in, and I respect that.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Bar Amá

Downtown L.A. Tex-Mex $$
Josef Centeno is a son of San Antonio. At Bar Amá he serves arguably the most joyful and elucidating Tex-Mex cooking west of the Rockies. Fundamental pleasures prevail: tart-sweet margaritas; guacamole with warm chips and nachos during happy hour; tangy, cheesy green chicken enchiladas; and off-the-menu puffy tacos, filled with carne guisado or chicken picadillo, that should be consumed in seconds. Along with his alchemist’s queso — in which unlikely elements of Velveeta and three cheeses, including a Lyonnaise sheep’s milk number, turn to molten gold — these dishes can convince you why this regional cuisine should be a source of national pride.

Also, the menu is rife with vegetables. Salads of tomato and plum, or figs and nectarines sprinkled with feta and salsa seca, signaled the end of summer during a meal in September. Shishito peppers pinged with za’atar and roasted cauliflower flecked with cilantro pesto are mainstays. In the midst of the city’s birria craze, Bar Amá puts forth an herbaceous mushroom variation. Partly these dishes channel aspects of two Centeno restaurants, Amá•cita and Bäco Mercat, that closed during the pandemic. They also express his overall shift toward more plant-based recipes. The evolving Tex-Cal-Mex equation reckons where he came from with finding a fresh way forward. Who among us can’t relate?
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Bavel

Downtown L.A. Middle Eastern $$
On June 15, the day that restaurants reopened for indoor dining in Los Angeles, my partner and I happened to be driving by Bavel in the Arts District around dinnertime. Spontaneously I pulled over and raced up to the host stand. Might there be a couple of open seats at the bar? We squeezed into the remaining two spots. Being back in a packed dining room came with a rush of mixed feelings, but what a return. We reacquainted ourselves with Bavel’s greatest triumphs: airy hummus swirling around a well of spicy duck ’nduja; the flaky malawach, neatly sliced, with its sides of dill crème fraîche, egg and ingenious strawberry zhoug; the wondrous lamb neck shawarma you wrap in laffa with tahini and pickles. Bartenders stirred Lillet rosé spritzes scented with orange blossom water. Sommeliers poured wines from the Levant. Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ flavors ping from Morocco to Egypt and Turkey to Georgia, and Gergis had slipped a properly Gallic cherry clafoutis into the dessert mix. In many small ways I felt the world opening back up that night.
More Info
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Bestia

Downtown L.A. Italian $$$
Loud voices and hip-hop bass lines ricochet off red brick and metal piping. People swarm the host stand, checking in for a hard-won reservation or adding their names to the waitlist for bar seating. Scents of garlic, sharp herbs and fat crisping over flames stoke hunger. More than for any other restaurant in Los Angeles, the revival of Bestia’s raucous scene in a converted warehouse feels like rewinding to the time before the world changed. Returning to Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ Arts District flagship, I understand why the crowds have come back like homing pigeons: Bestia’s ball-of-fire Californian-Italian flavors delight as fiercely as ever. They hit you when you gulp scallop crudo, bathed in Meyer lemon cream slicked with rosemary-chile oil, from its shell in one take. The elation continues through yogurt pici (a thick noodle) in lamb ragù; the infamous roasted bone marrow over spinach gnocchetti; and a fearlessly salted and beautifully grilled pork chop perfumed with fennel. Are you considering skipping Gergis’ astonishing fruit desserts? Would you duck out of a World Series game before the bottom of the ninth with the Dodgers ahead?
More Info
Advertisement
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Birdie G’s

Santa Monica American $$$
Jeremy Fox opened Birdie G’s in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station in 2019, in partnership with Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, owners of the Rustic Canyon Family restaurant group; he’d been a chef and partner at the company’s namesake restaurant for six years. His first menus at Birdie G’s — zigging and zagging through twists on Eastern European Jewish foods, Italian-leaning dishes, odes to West Coast seafood and desserts that winked at a 1950s sort of nostalgia — lobbed a whole lot at diners. Much of it was smart and gratifying, but in its rush to convey his culinary autobiography the cooking could sometimes have a scattered, fevered quality to it.

Time, and the sobering work of keeping a new restaurant afloat through a pandemic, have brought Fox and his dream project some hard-won clarity. Birdie G’s has quietly become a community treasure. The side-street location in a former train depot turned out to be the ideal place for an inviting patio lined with young palm trees and other greenery. Some artful editing has kept the menu’s heart intact, though its slimmer size now feels manageable for the kitchen and the customers. Always order the relish tray, with its tour of seasonal vegetables and its slyly complex onion dip. Persian-inspired lamb over a scattering of crisp rice is better than ever. Look for inspired ideas like tomato-burrata oreganata and trust sommelier Chloe Miranda to guide you through the ebullient wine list. If you haven’t been to Birdie G’s since its earliest, buzziest days, it’s time to return.
More Info
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Burritos La Palma

El Monte Mexican $
Overstuffed burritos, with their nap-inducing surge of big flavors and lulling textures, have obvious pleasures. But equal beauty lies in the compact burritos you can easily wrap the fingers of one hand around — bundles filled with stews, or complementary pairs like frijoles and cheese, in which you can taste the quality and care in spicing. The Bañuelos Lugo family are masters of the tightly packaged burrito. They began their business in Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1980. At each of their four Southern California locations, handmade tortillas crisp on the griddle; they parcel one of a half-dozen options for fillings, including deshebrada (shredded beef in bright, tangy green chile) or duskier chicken tinga with potato. If you are looking to be satiated to the point of stupor, there is always the platillo especial, two birria-packed burritos in a swirl of green chile and stringy cheese.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Cassia

Santa Monica Vietnamese French $$$
Bryant Ng has synthesized myriad influences into a cuisine that is entirely his own. He unites his Chinese-Singaporean heritage, his wife and business partner Kim Luu-Ng’s Vietnamese background, his Parisian culinary training and his time at places like Pizzeria Mozza, where he was the opening chef. In the pandemic era he’s streamlined Cassia’s menu without gutting its essence: The extravagant, anise-scented pot au feu is gone for now, but the coconut-rich beef rendang, garlicky chopped escargot with lemongrass and bacon, and the crisp-edged seabass with turmeric and dill (an ode to Hanoi’s famous cha ca la vong) remain. A Vietnamese-Cajun-inspired dip of crab and crawfish showered with salted egg crumble was introduced forever ago in early 2020; start a meal there if you haven’t tried it yet. Socially distanced tables have dialed back the once-crushing decibels in the dining room, and the expanded outdoor space is a sea of heat lamps in the cooler months. If Cassia roared onto Santa Monica’s scene in 2015, it’s now quietly settling in as a haven for the community.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Chifa

Eagle Rock Chinese/Peruvian $$
After a year of gazing into Chifa’s empty dining room like it’s an untouchable museum display, usually while picking up takeout or heading to a tented outdoor table behind the building, the restaurant is finally open for a meal inside. You need to be standing in the space to fully absorb its details. T-back velvet seats in deep emerald; zebra stripes racing over one wall, seafoam-speckled tables with scalloped edges on brass legs: It looks like an ’80s set piece from a futuristic “Dynasty” dream sequence. It’s the work of Humberto Leon, who co-founded the fashion brand Opening Ceremony, and his family.

Food-wise, Chifa pays homage to his mother, Wendy Leon, who returns to the kitchen here, having run her own place in Lima, Peru, four decades ago. The menu is most strongly informed by the deep influence of Chinese immigrants on Peruvian cuisine: sticky spare ribs caramelized in soy sauce and Shaoxing wine, zongzi (steamed sticky rice with meats, vegetables and duck egg yolk bundled in a bamboo leaf, also available in a vegan version), excellent prawns crusted with black peppercorns that pop hot and gritty against your teeth. A sleeper favorite: Popo’s Wellness Soup, a delicious herbal broth that changes with the seasons but whose nutrients you can almost feel rippling through your bloodstream.
More Info
Advertisement
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Chi Spacca

Hancock Park Italian $$$
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost nine years since the “Italian meat restaurant” emerged from the catering and cooking-class space on Nancy Silverton’s corner of Melrose and Highland avenues. Chi Spacca still feels like the audacious younger sibling to Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza around the corner. The two Florentine-style steaks, each cooked masterfully to show off the beef’s mineral tang and melting fat, cost more than $200 apiece these days. That said, they easily feed four as part of a full meal and even then there might be leftovers. And though charcuterie, meat pies, lamb chops with minted yogurt and milk-roasted pork loin dominate the menu, the superb vegetable sides flow with the farmers markets and could be meals unto themselves. Also, I will never skip the focaccia di Recco, a crackery flatbread Silverton obsessed over for two years to perfect, which is frankly better than most versions I’ve had at the recipe’s Ligurian origins.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Connie & Ted’s

West Hollywood Seafood $$
Only at this upside-down moment in the world could Connie & Ted’s curvy, Atomic Age building — an ode to the Googie-esque coffee shops and drive-throughs of midcentury Los Angeles — be upstaged by a new patio enclosure out front. Its swooping, windowed canopy resembles a design-forward plane hangar. As ever, the simplicity of the restaurant’s New England-style seafood stands on its own merits. When I unplug myself from automatically ordering clam bellies or fish and chips, I have recently admired the freshness of the New England clam boil; grilled Rhode Island swordfish with only a lacquer of herbed oil; and the Portuguese fish stew redolent of garlic and paprika from the crucial addition of linguiça.
More Info
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Crossroads Kitchen

Beverly Grove Vegan $$
I stand neutral on the subject of plant-based foods that mimic meat, dairy and eggs. I prefer vegan cooking that centers on vegetables and grains, but I also remember from my own long-ago vegetarian days just how sating approximated beefy textures could be. Crossroads (true to its name) navigates these junctions of veganism with considerable thought. Its signature take on carbonara centers around a wobbling modernist “yolk” fashioned from vegan yellow tomato Béarnaise. It pops and runs, melding with house-made spaghetti or fettuccine into a creamy tangle. Tal Ronnen and Scot Jones are equally adept at turning the season’s harvest into visual stunners. The fall menu, for instance, features rutabaga carved into a swirling vortex, roasted with sherry and maple syrup until its edges are blackened, and set on mustard cream sauce. It pairs nicely with a dry martini while you casually study the patio crowd — surely you’ll spy at least one entertainment industry heavy.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Los Dorados

Mexican $
From a sky-blue trailer painted with overlapping murals and occasionally sporting a disco ball, Steven Orozco Torres serves tacos dorados (a.k.a. flautas) in four variations. Chicken tinga hums with chipotle; lamb barbacoa nestles under a sauce that resembles mole negro and tastes distinctly of beer; chorizo con papa balances spicy, meaty and creamy; and a vegetarian mashed potato dissolves into soft, cumulous textures. No matter which you choose — and you probably should try them all — the effect is the same: The rolled, fried tortilla crackles satisfyingly against the teeth, cuing an endorphin rush. Crema twangs on the palate, and the finishing touch of crumbled cotija whips around like a salty snow flurry. It’s all a masterclass in flauta engineering. Los Dorados lists its locations (mostly Friday through Sunday) on Instagram weekly. Torres, a former bartender, often parks in front of bars and breweries. Needless to say, dorados make for excellent drinking food.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen

Inglewood American $$
Native and longtime Angelenos occasionally mention to me how much they still miss Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch, a Marina del Rey institution that served fried chicken, cornbread muffins, collards and cinnamon-scented “Sock-it-to-me” cake for nearly 15 years. Adolf and Mary Dulan opened the restaurant in 1985. Adolf was the chef. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Los Angeles as part of the second wave of African Americans’ Great Migration out of the South. He died in 2017 after a long career in hospitality, but his family carries on his legacy at the two locations of Dulan’s, originally opened by Adolf in 1999. The cooking remains bedrock sustenance for L.A. I frequently enjoy the crackling fried chicken and smothered pork chops, but mostly I order the long-simmered oxtails in gravy with sides of vinegared collards and near-molten mac and cheese.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Evil Cooks

El Sereno Mexican $
On Friday and Saturday nights in El Sereno, and on Sunday mornings at Smorgasburg in Row DTLA, Alex Garcia and Elvia Huerta arrive in their onyx-colored van and set up tents from which to serve their rowdily themed “hell menu.” In collaborations like the dessert flan taco — in which a tortilla with the delicate texture of a thin johnnycake cradles a citrusy slab of custard — the pair bring unceasing imagination to their mobile taqueria. Their chilaquiles breakfast burrito also makes an excellent dinner. The centerpiece of the operation, though, is three trompos stacked with pork, beef or octopus, each rubbed with “black pastor,” their rendering of an inky paste of charred chiles called recado negro. Garcia and Huerta nicknamed the novel octopus al pastor “Poseidon.” It looks sentient, like something from one of the more demonic scenes on “Lovecraft Country.” But carved into corn tortillas, dressed with pickled onions, red salsa and guacamole and sweetened with a sliver of charred pineapple, the taste is holy.
More Info
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Felix

Venice Italian $$$
This past February, when Felix began taking dine-in reservations again, Evan Funke posted the news on Instagram along with a photo of his pasta tools: mattarello (the crucial long, thin rolling pin), scrapers, brushes, pronged cutters and other medieval-looking instruments. They had been spread out on a dark wood table powdered with flour. The image felt declarative, an affirmation of Funke’s still-absolute devotion to his craft. His meticulousness translates to abject pleasure on the plate. By all means, indulge in his renditions of the most beloved regional pastas (ragù Bolognese clinging to satiny pappardelle, rigatoni all’Amatriciana with its whiff of barnyard from guanciale), but don’t miss out on his linguine al limone, fragrant from the sauce’s infusion of lemon leaf. The cocktails, the brainy all-Italian wine list and the Sicilian focaccia called sfincione are as splendid as ever — and a new, rambling outdoor dining space in the back has the right pastoral feel for the Funke aesthetic.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

5 Stars Hue

El Monte Vietnamese $
Among the abundance of Vietnamese glories in the San Gabriel Valley — the many options for pho, banh mi, crepes, rolls and broken rice plates — I’ve been fixated on bánh ít kẹp bánh ram (also seen on menus as bánh ít ram or bánh ram ít). It’s a two-part dumpling of glutinous rice dough filled with shrimp and pork and then set on a disc of lacy fried dough. It crackles, it squishes, it bursts; it’s awesome. Kim Dao and Hong Pham, the married pair behind the Ravenous Couple blog, urged me to try the version at 5 Stars Hue, a small but growing chain of restaurants located throughout the SGV. Sure enough, the bánh ram ít were powerful in their crisp-soft contrasts, and liberal splashes of nuoc mam took the flavors to fresh, pungent extremes.

As the restaurant’s name suggests, its menu focuses on dishes native to Hue, the city in central Vietnam with a long imperial history. Round out the meal with bún bò hue, the spicy beef noodle soup with scarlet broth and ruby blood cakes as soft as tofu, designed to be customized with herbs and lime and tangles of fresh and fried onions.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Flavors From Afar

Little Ethiopia International $$
A unique and rewardingly daunting mission guides Flavors From Afar in Little Ethiopia. Co-founder Christian Davis describes it this way: “We highlight cooks and chefs who are refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants making cuisines from around the world.” Each month features a menu from a different cook who works with in-house chefs, led by program instructor Kenna Copes, to translate the home-cooked dishes of their culture to a professional kitchen setting. Copes and the restaurant staff prepare the meal. The key is to present food that feels true to the showcased chefs but also appeals to restaurant customers, and the translation process can be a delicate dance.

They have the moves to pull it off. In September, for example, Copes and her team eloquently re-created a handful of Lebanese signatures from chef Lina Georges of Mama Lina Cooks, including ouze (cinnamon-scented lamb shanks tumbling over rice scattered with pine nuts and slivered almonds) and siyadiyeh (spice-rubbed fish with tahini sauce). Other menus have featured Guatemalan taquitos, Palestinian musakhan (spiced chicken and caramelized onions over flatbread), Kenyan-style tilapia cooked in coconut milk and an Eritrean recipe for goat marinated in herbs and chiles. The restaurant is an arm of co-founder Meymuna Hussein-Cattan’s Tiyya Foundation, which assists families of refugees, immigrants and displaced indigenous communities. Nearly half of the profits from Flavors From Afar go to Tiyya’s support programs, and diners might gain delicious insight into cuisines that are otherwise rare even in Los Angeles.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Forn Al Hara

Anaheim Lebanese $
Manakeesh, or man’oushé in its singular form, is one of the world’s great flatbread traditions — discs of thin, speckled dough cranked out by corner bakeries for breakfast all over Lebanon. Mo Alam, a native of Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, has been serving Southern California’s finest manakeesh to Anaheim’s Little Arabia community for 20 years. The version spread with the pine-green, sesame-speckled mix of za’atar and olive is the traditional baseline; diverge from there to nearly three dozen ingredient combinations. A man’oushé with eggs and soujouk (cured, cumin-scented beef sausage) makes for an ample morning meal, as does lahm bi ajeen overlaid with spiced ground beef flavored with pomegranate molasses. Buy some fatayer (triangular pastries filled with lemony spinach) and ma’amoul (crumbly cookies filled with dates or nuts) for later.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

For the Win

Hollywood Hills Burgers $
The procession of new burgers in Los Angeles marches onward tirelessly; I keep pace with the latest entrants but find myself lately circling back to For the Win. In summer 2020 Santos Uy made the decision to convert his edge-of-Hollywood-Hills bistro Papilles to a smashburger joint. He built a timeless model that purrs from fine-tuning: flattened, crisped patties on a Martin’s potato roll with American cheese and Thousand Island-ish sauce melting into oneness. Griddled onions dangle off the side like commas, reminding you to pause between bites. I ask for a double, sometimes with crackly bacon added, but its presence doesn’t feel crucial. There is the option of a patty melt, and skinny fries or frizzled Brussels sprouts as sides, but the smashburger’s the thing. If you’re really hungry, make it a triple.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Found Oyster

East Hollywood Seafood $$
One of my happiest recent weekend afternoons was spent perched at Found Oyster’s bar with a visiting friend. We drank sparkling white and wild, peachy Georgian orange wine. We worked our way slowly through the short menu: a platter of oysters (a couple of them “Moscow” style, beaded with caviar and a little crème fraîche) and prawns; roasted scallops on the half-shell caught in a downpour of butter; a wedge salad pounded with Stilton and crisp, cubed bacon; the compact but potent lobster bisque roll. Time blurred. The restaurant squeezes into a narrow, 26-seat East Hollywood space along a tight block of businesses on Fountain Avenue. Its knotty bar and pale blue crown molding on the shelves behind the bar might suggest a locals’ hangout somewhere in the coastal South. (Chef and co-owner Ari Kolender worked for a while in Charleston, S.C.) But then L.A.’s rose-gold light saturates the room before the sun disappears, and you never forget where you are.
More Info
Advertisement
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Gish Bac

Arlington Heights Mexican $$
Dozens of Los Angeles restaurants serve the regional specialties of Oaxaca — Southern California is home to the biggest Oaxacan population outside Mexico. I return again and again to Maria Ramos and David Padilla’s restaurant in Arlington Heights for two cornerstone dishes. The tlayuda Gish Bac is a circle of life layered with pureed black beans, lacy Oaxacan string cheese, grilled steak and chicken, the chile-marinated pork called cecina, slices of tomato, avocado and slivers of rajas arranged like spokes radiating from a wheel’s center. It more than holds its own in debates over the best tlayuda in town. Ramos comes from a family of barbacoa masters and wields her finesse over two distinctly Oaxacan variations: barbacoa enchilada, goat long-simmered with guajillo chiles and served in its ruddy broth, and barbacoa blanco, a less saucy version of steamed lamb permeated with cumin and oregano. Both are wonderful.
More Info
(Trip Davis / Gjelina)

Gjelina

Venice Italian $$
Have you been to Gjelina lately? In the decade I’ve been having meals at Venice’s main culinary attraction, the food has never been better. The format hasn’t changed: a dozen front-and-center vegetable dishes (not including the salads rowdy with herbs), pastas, pizzas, the obligatory pan-seared salmon and butterscotch pot de crème. Everything tastes sharper somehow. The romesco atop gorgeous dragon tongue beans has extra nutty, vinegary depth; the mushroom toast glossed with crème fraîche is richer than ever. Juan Hernandez, the executive chef for the Gjelina Group, is responsible for the boost in excellence. He’s spending more time in the mothership’s kitchen while he waits to reopen Valle, the group’s Oaxacan-inspired restaurant he conceived with fellow chef Pedro Aquino.

Gjelina’s patio has always been magnetic, and never more so than over the last two years. I’d never noticed until this year that a nook along the building’s right side, paneled with rustic mixed woods and just big enough to fit four tables comfortably, is one of the city’s loveliest outdoor dining spaces.
More Info
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Grand Central Market

Downtown L.A. Eclectic $$
The name of downtown Los Angeles’ 104-year-old landmark, which has stood now through two global pandemics, feels entirely fitting again. On weekends especially, you’re not so much walking among the vendors and neon signs as being swept along, like the surge through exits at the end of a Lakers game. It can make you high on humanity or trigger a panic attack, but it is one sure sign of the world reopening. As ever, the market stands at the crossroads of what the city has been and what it is becoming. Grab a gordita filled with cabeza from Roast to Go, in operation since 1952, and pair it with crisp-creamy pupusas revueltas from Sarita’s Pupuseria. Prawn Coastal continues on without its founder, Mark Peel, the groundbreaking co-chef behind legendary Campanile, who died suddenly in June.

As to the future, I direct you to the southeast corner of the building and two of GCM’s newest tenants. Shiku, meaning “family” in Korean, comes from Baroo Canteen’s Kwang Uh and Mina Park. Their new project revolves around an ever-changing selection of banchan and to-go meals like fried rice with spicy and citrusy “kimchi’d corn,” fried egg and potato chips. Next door to them is the freshly tiled stand for Fat and Flour, the pie shop (but also cookies!) from superstar baker Nicole Rucker.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Guelaguetza

Harvard Heights Mexican $$
A recent lunch at America’s most famous Oaxacan restaurant, founded by Fernando Lopez and now run by his family, made for a reassuring couple of hours. The sense of community had returned to the sprawling, color-splotched dining room; multigenerational families were as deep into conversations as they were into the tlayudas wreathed with strings of oval sausages. The agua del día was tamarindo, taut and puckery. Queso fresco and epazote gushed from crackling quesadillas fritas; the chapulines gently crunched. And Guelagetza’s mole negro was as miraculous as ever — a composite of chiles, nuts, plantains, raisins, herbs and sweet and peppery spices fused into a hauntingly delicious substance. At the end of the meal I walked out into the sunshine, thought for a moment, and went back in to buy some of the first-rate packaged mole negro paste the restaurant now sells.
More Info
Advertisement
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Hawkins House of Burgers

Watts Burgers $
A land dispute between the California Department of Transportation and Cynthia Hawkins — the youngest of 14 siblings who runs Hawkins House of Burgers, a Watts business operated by five generations of her family — went public in July. The immediate surge of support for Hawkins reminded everyone (officials included) how valued the 82-year-old restaurant is in the community. The burgers at the heart of the civic affection are thick brutes with charred edges. The classic toppings that complete them recall park barbecues on holiday weekends. Some formidable concoctions have become signatures over the years, including the Leaning Tower of Watts: 1 ½ pounds of burger impaled on a skewer with hot links, pastrami and bacon, dressed with egg and chili. I gravitate to the relatively modest Fat Burger, or maybe the Colossal Burger, crowned with a wad of pastrami as thick as a deck of cards.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Hayato

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
Five nights a week, seven customers gather around a cedar counter in a restaurant all but concealed among retail storefronts and offices in the Row DTLA complex. For the next several hours, aided by a few gifted chefs who dash in and out of sight, Brandon Hayato Go will stay in near constant motion to compose a meal of intense beauty. He follows the form of kaiseki, emphasizing different cooking techniques (fried, simmered, grilled and so on) in a specific order, but he also breaks from tradition when it serves his intellect and instincts.

The intimate theater of the meal gives the experience heart. Go always begins the evening quiet and focused, but halfway through 10 to 12 courses — in July it was between the corn and scallop tempura and a sumptuous mound of Dungeness crab in a broth electric with umami — he grows chattier. “Okra is more important to Japanese people than to American people,” he might remark when pairing the vegetable with roasted Santa Barbara prawns. And soon you’re learning that Go was dorm mates with Broken Spanish’s Ray Garcia at UCLA, who was pre-law while Go was studying molecular biology.

By the time you’ve had seconds (or thirds) of the king mackerel with rice and Harry’s Berries strawberries with cream for dessert alongside green tea, the city outside feels very far away. Scoring a reservation for Hayato is an ugly competitive sport; comparisons to finding a golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory aren’t far off the mark. The winners score one of the most remarkable experiences in Los Angeles — in America, really. Set your alarm for 10 a.m. on the first of the month and good luck.
More Info
(John Troxell / For The Times)

Heritage Barbecue

San Juan Capistrano Barbecue $$
The future of barbecue in California — and probably America — will doubtless look and taste very much like the cross-cultural connectivity that pitmaster Daniel Castillo is forging in San Juan Capistrano. Smoking meats over California white oak in twin 1,000-gallon pits, he takes cues from modern groundbreakers like 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio, weaving Mexican American flavors into dishes and then pushing the ideas even further. Corn-stuffed sausages evoke the flavors of elotes; borracho beans derive depth from dried chiles and jalapeños; and mac and cheese jumps with chorizo, guajillo chiles and queso fresco. At the center of it all, in the way of modern barbecue, is brisket silken from slowly rendered fat, with a ruby, well-defined smoke ring. Savor it plain in lush slices, folded into a taco using tortillas from Burritos La Palma, or layered on banh mi stuffed in a telera roll. Heritage Barbecue became an instant pilgrimage site for barbecue devotees: Expect a line, no matter the time or day.
More Info
(Andrea D’Agosto / For The Times)

Hippo

Highland Park Italian $$$
Hippo is the kind of place where you have pasta in mind when you make a reservation. Matt Molina is a Nancy Silverton protégé, after all, who won a James Beard Award a decade ago for his cooking at Osteria Mozza. And he delivers, especially with the ravioli variation called triangoli (filled with celery-root purée in a buttered shallot sauce) and the al dente fettuccine presented in a twirled snarl with pork ragù. But once you’re eating at the restaurant, perhaps on its much-expanded patio, your appetite is likely to stray into all sorts of other territories: hamachi crudo surrounded by sliced plum, lime and mint; shaved Brussels sprouts with almonds that amp the nuttiness of Parmigiano-Reggiano; and a fire-kissed pork rib often served with fennel sausage and herbed, half-melted cranberry beans. Hippo pulls the term “California-Mediterranean” into the most likable modern context. End the night sipping on an amaro — maybe a citrusy one from Campania made with arugula.
More Info
Advertisement
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Holbox

Historic South-Central Mexican $$
The starting point for a meal at Gilberto Cetina Jr.’s sublime mariscos stand has always been the kanpachi and uni tostada. The shattering tortilla, the heat of arbol-guajillo sauce and the cooling squiggles of avocado puree serve to magnify the seafood. Cetina scaled his menu way back during the takeout-only months of the pandemic. Having some of his more substantial dishes return to the rotation — sopa de mariscos bobbing with homemade fish sausage, octopus grilled over almond wood, a frequent special of smoky kanpachi collars — makes the world feel a little more right again. Seating inside Mercado La Paloma also has returned, meaning it’s easier than ever to pair a spread from Holbox with the magnificent cochinita pibil from its sister counter, Chichén Itzá, just down the aisle.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Holy Basil

Downtown L.A. Thai $$
Chef Wedchayan “Deau” Arpapornnopparat and beverage ace Tongkamal “Joy” Yuon met nearly 15 years ago while working at Chan Dara. They first joined forces to create a line of natural sweeteners made from fruits and herbs, but their partnership peaks in this downtown takeout window serving beautifully rendered versions of classic Bangkok street foods. Tom yum goong is pure tonic: The herbs in the soup (lemongrass, galangal, a smattering of makrut leaves) waft in a woodsy-limey perfume. It lingers while you relish the snap of shrimp and oyster mushrooms and the pow of roasted chile paste. When ordering, click “yes” to the suggestion of double pork for the pad see ew, which is permeated with basil and the smoky breath of the wok.

Traffic is hell on Holy Basil’s block of Los Angeles Street. A few minutes of illegal parking may be in order. The food merits the risk.
More Info
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Hotville Chicken

Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw American $
Credit is unquestionably due to Johnny Ray Zone and Amanda Zone for stoking L.A.’s Nashville-style hot chicken zeitgeist with Howlin’ Ray’s, and for maintaining their excellence (and popularity) through the dozens of restaurants and pop-ups that followed their lead. When Kim Prince opened her restaurant at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall in December 2019, though, she brought us a taste of the dish’s true lineage. Her aunt is André Prince Jeffries, owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville; their family began selling hot chicken to Music City customers in the 1940s. Come to Hotville to understand why this torturous pleasure became a national phenomenon. The staff begs first-timers to order mild; with medium and certainly spicy you cross into the territory of tingling, maybe even an all-over prickling sensation, and sweats. You will want more. For hot chicken sandwich seekers, Price makes a slaw-crowned version she calls the Shaw, and on weekends the kitchen sends out buttery waffles to quell the bird’s burn.
More Info
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Jiang Nan Spring

Alhambra Chinese $$
Jiangnan — a region of China defined by the Yangtze River Delta, where cuisines include the cooking of Shanghai and neighboring cities of Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing — is the geography through which to best map your order at Jiang Nan Spring. The restaurant’s menu comprises nearly 150 items; it can require focused navigation. Kick off the journey with yan du xian, double pork soup in a cloudy, soothing broth also bobbing with bamboo shoots, bok choy and sheets of tofu skin tied in knots.

Dishes like “Shanghai leek rice cake” stir-fried with greens and julienned pork; tilapia fried in a batter striated with seaweed; and dong po rou, the Hangzhou masterpiece of pork belly slowly braised in rice wine, soy sauce, ginger and sugar, usher diners into Jiangnan’s culinary affinity for restrained seasonings and flickers of sweetness. Chef Henry Chang, a native of Taiwan, has cooked the specialties of Shanghai for 30-some years and has more than earned his mastery.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Jitlada

East Hollywood Thai $$
I had eaten takeout from Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong’s mainstay a handful of times over the last two years. In late summer, I drove to Jitlada’s longtime home in a Sunset Boulevard strip mall and snagged a table in the dining room right by the entrance. The famous untranslated back page full of radically spicy Southern Thai specialties has been incorporated into its 14-page English menu for a while now. There are no subpar dishes here, but there are superior ones: khua kling phat lung, the turmeric-stained beef curry; a salad of fried morning glories, plated so they look like they’re creeping over the edge of the bowl; and beautiful green-lipped mussels splashing in lemongrass broth. The jungle curry with lamb remains so forceful with the capsicums that the experience borders on supernatural possession. All is right at Jitlada.
More Info
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Jon & Vinny’s

Fairfax Italian $$
If you’ve been at least twice to one of Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s eponymous restaurants — which are at once meta-commentaries on red-sauce joints and actual feel-good neighborhood restaurants — you can probably name your go-to dishes. I have mine: the herb-flecked mozzarella sticks, which stretch rather than ooze; the chicken Parm, a model of balance; and whatever salad is showing off the season (perhaps white peach, burrata, tomatoes and basil, all covered with a handful of arugula). I’ll never say no to the famous L.A. Woman pizza, but I’ll argue more for the porky Ham & Yeezy smoothed with vodka sauce and smoked mozzarella. It’s an open secret that breakfast (textbook buttermilk pancakes, eggs and bacon-y meats on pies and in glossy pasta carbonara) is as terrific as lunch and dinner … and far easier to book.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Joy

Highland Park Taiwanese $
Vivian Ku’s two restaurants, Pine & Crane in Silver Lake and Joy in Highland Park, have become neighborhood fixtures through their fast-casual airiness and the lightness of the Taiwanese dishes they serve. The subtle flavors and emphasis on vegetables have never been a play at oversimplifying the cuisine; those traits specifically channel the cooking style of Ku’s maternal grandmother, Fang Chiu Chen, a constant muse in her approach to food. Both places feature a changing array of cold salads (inky wood ear mushrooms, crunchy-soft braised peanuts) and serve lu rou fan, a classic comfort dish of nubbly, sweetly spiced pork over rice with tea egg and crisp pickled daikon. Joy’s menu is ingeniously concise: a few soups and bowls of noodles, a couple of other wonderful rice dishes, half a dozen riffs on sandwiches. I love the shallot-spiked chicken rice that’s popular in Chiayi, a city in southwestern Taiwan. Take a couple of bites to appreciate its purity, and then douse it with chile oil. A final notch for Joy: mochi rolled in crushed peanut and black sesame, a dessert that’s a Hakka specialty and a favorite of Ku’s father.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Kali

Larchmont Californian $$$
The first dish on Kevin Meehan’s seasonal tasting menu is called “crowded beach,” a tray filled with pebbles and arranged with sea specimens: oysters, uni, maybe limpets in pearly shells or a whelk or a blood clam sitting in its sanguine juices. It establishes the best of the kitchen’s efforts: cooking that stays close to home, that feels special but not too precious. Later the menu dips into dry-aged steak and concludes with one of L.A.’s oddest, greatest desserts: a meringue gelato showered with grated egg yolk cured for two weeks in sugar and salt. It’s nutty and fluffy and nearly weightless. If you prefer a la carte, steer toward the black garlic barley risotto, with its trace of cheddar as subtle as a pheromone, and the always excellent duck breast surrounded by the micro-season’s fruits or vegetables. The cozy back dining room now competes for appeal with the spacious back deck.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Kato

Downtown L.A. Taiwanese $$$$
It is exceptionally hard to imagine Jon Yao’s tasting menu restaurant existing anywhere else but Los Angeles. He roams through the flavors of his Taiwanese heritage and Southern California upbringing and arrives somewhere untrodden. Big-eye tuna might star in a remake of Taiwan’s emblematic three-cup chicken; Thai basil, sweetened soy and sesame oil are present but so subtle there’s an impulse to bend closer over the presentation, which resembles a plate of carpaccio, to catch their essence. His interpretive skills, down to the warming signature dessert that channels boba, are quiet but piercing. Yao and his close-knit team built an international reputation over five years in a two-story West L.A. strip mall, their bare-bones dining room all but hidden among restaurants serving tlayudas, pupusas and tonkatsu. In November Kato announced it was moving to the space in Row DTLA previously occupied by Melissa Perello’s wonderful and short-lived M. Georgina. Kato’s 2.0 reboot is scheduled to debut in early 2022. Among the possibilities a new home brings is a liquor license for beverage pairings — a first for the restaurant.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Katsu Sando

Chinatown Japanese $
Daniel Son and his partners are aiming to open a second, larger location of Katsu Sando in San Gabriel in 2022. The frequent weekend specials at the Chinatown original, detailed on the takeout shop’s Instagram account, likely foreshadow what the team has in the works. Their riffs on kakigori, the Japanese style of shaved ice that’s having a moment across America, lean into seasonal produce and charming themes; spiced kabocha syrup, chocolate and candy corn graced a Halloween-inspired version. We should collectively lobby to make the pork katsu sando variation with shiso and stretchy mozzarella a menu mainstay. Meanwhile, there is always the honey walnut shrimp sando, a marvel of design that’s often creamy and crisp in the same bite. Speaking of studies in texture: Grab an onigiri from the to-go case and, for a buck extra, ask the staff to fry it katsu-style and then dunk it in a side of curry dip.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Kismet

Los Feliz Californian $$$
Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson’s Los Feliz restaurant epitomizes an aesthetic that emerged last decade — one that cherrypicked lighter aspects of Levantine and Western Asian cuisines and grafted them to California’s abundance. It resulted in persuasive dishes like the mosaic “Turkish-ish breakfast” with its marinated vegetables, dates, jammy egg and half a dozen other elements, and pitch-perfect snacks like the phyllo hand pies filled with lemony chicken and pine nuts.

The pies are still around (and great), though breakfast is on hold while Kramer and Hymanson focus on dinner. A quieter spirit has been stirring through the menu: Dishes such as clams in Meyer lemon and fig leaf broth and a lovely black cod arranged around sweet peppers, braised leeks and preserved mandarins join the long-standing lamb meatballs and fried cauliflower with caper yogurt. Pastry chef Meadow Ramsey nails a ricotta cheesecake with tart-sweet passion fruit caramel. Kismet is evolving subtly and meaningfully.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Knife Pleat

Costa Mesa French $$$$
An opulent outfit appropriately housed in the haute couture wing of Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, Knife Pleat continues where chef Tony Esnault and his wife, Yassmin Sarmadi, left off with their now-closed French restaurant Spring in downtown Los Angeles. Esnault was previously the chef at Patina, and he spent years cooking with Alain Ducasse. Which is to say: He performs a rigorous, meticulous form of fine dining that’s nearly extinct in America. Regard his escargot, with its perfectly diced tomato concassé and refined swirls of persillade, and taste its detailed interplays of garlic and herbs and acid, and you’ll understand why this approach to cuisine had a heyday.

In March I had an unforgettable dinner at Knife Pleat celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The kuku sabzi (its closest Western equivalent is a frittata, but it’s in a category of egg dishes all its own) was dense with herbs but nearly as light as mousse; it preceded braised lamb shank over pilaf sweetened with dates and raisins. Sarmadi’s mother oversaw the meal, as she did when the couple hosted the feast at Spring. I can’t help hoping, though, that the glories of Iranian cuisine might occasionally carry over to the regular menu as well? A guy can dream.
More Info
Advertisement
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Kobee Factory

Van Nuys Syrian $
At the Lebanese and Armenian-Lebanese restaurants in Los Angeles you may have tried fried kibbeh, the football-shaped spheroids of spiced ground beef and bulgur that, when cracked open, reveal a filling riddled with pine nuts. At her Syrian restaurant in Van Nuys, Waha Ghreir serves a barbecued version, patties branded with grill marks that take on a pleasantly bouncy texture. She also makes kibbeh bil saniyeh — a baked version, sharper in its contrasts between soft and crackling, that’s a favorite comfort food of my Lebanese friends. The menu opens a few more windows into Syrian cuisine, a woefully underrepresented cuisine in Southern California: mujadara (bulgur and lentil pilaf scattered with deeply caramelized onions); frankly delicious intestines stuffed with ground beef and rice, presented in a broth scented with allspice, cinnamon and bay leaf; and fava beans creamy with garlicky tahini for breakfast.
More Info
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Konbi

Echo Park Japanese $$
I miss slipping solo into one of Konbi’s 10 counter seats, but Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery have smoothly redirected their Echo Park sensation into a takeout enterprise. From morning into afternoon, a small crowd swarms around the walk-up window, waiting for their riffs on Japanese convenience-store sandos (pork or eggplant katsu, the Instagram-hogging egg salad, the even better rolled omelet sandwich). Ever-changing salads deserve just as much love; yuba sparked with pickles and chile oil vinaigrette or root vegetables and Asian pear in miso dressing have a sly, earthy sort of umami. It helps that the owners employ some commanding talent: That include Miles Thompson, who gave the cooking at Michael’s in Santa Monica fresh life last decade, and pastry chef Kiyoshi Tsukamoto, who is fashioning mind-benders like twice-baked almond croissants filled with roasted figs and frangipane laced with blue corn.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Lalibela

Little Ethiopia Ethiopian $$
What a joy to return to Lalibela’s calm warren of rooms in the Little Ethiopia district. Owner Tenagne Belachew and her staff use injera-covered trays like painter’s palettes, arranging spiced pulses, salads and complex meat stews in vivid pigments. The colors and flavors will bleed together; your fingertips are the brushstrokes. Think of the 14-dish “veggie utopia” as the base for a meal, and then add something like yebeg alicha wot, a mild and creamy lamb sauté. In the past I’ve recommended the special kitfo, beef tartare glowing with butter stained by mitmita (a staple Ethiopian spice blend with a clear note of cardamom) and eaten with soft, fresh cheese and pureed collards. Currently I’m enamored with the restaurant’s Somali-style kitfo, which roars with fiercer spicing and the direct heat of jalapeños.
More Info
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Langer’s

Westlake American $$
A recent midweek lunch at L.A.’s most celebrated deli was unsettlingly quiet (not too long ago the waits for a booth to open up could stretch to 20 minutes or more). A reminder, then, not to take for granted the No. 19, an unorthodox but nonetheless holy union of hand-carved pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. It should be named the official sandwich of Los Angeles. I’ve been experimenting with a new hack: Ordering the No. 54 (pastrami and corned beef combo) and asking for it dressed like the No. 19. I worry the request will be taken as heresy, but the server never flinches.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Lunasia

Alhambra Chinese $$
The question as to which restaurant makes the best dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley will never have a fixed, everlasting answer; making the rounds to update opinions is part of the fun. Lunasia is my current favorite. The har gow look almost worrisomely large each time they arrive. Will they be gluey masses? They never are: The delicate, translucent wrappers give way to pieces of shrimp with actual snap to them. Lo mai gai, the sticky, meaty rice bundles wrapped in lotus leaves, are particularly fragrant and balanced, and the layer of lap cheong over taro cakes adds a porky dimension. The dining room in Alhambra (the superior of the three locations, as the endless weekend crowds will attest) has become a handsome labyrinth of plexiglass partitions. Since Lunasia never relied on carts for service, the setup feels safe and snug and could stay up indefinitely.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Macheen at Milpa Grille

Boyle Heights Mexican $
In September 2020 Jonathan Perez settled his roving taquería into an open-ended breakfast and lunch residency at Milpa Grille in Boyle Heights. His inventive tacos tend to follow a winning outline: complex, saucy and blasted with acid. One example: A plank of pork belly, its crisped edges tingling with red chile and vinegar, flops over its tortilla. Refried black beans billow around the pork in churning clouds; avocado salsa and grilled cactus lighten the landscape.

His breakfast burritos are among my favorites in the city (and I’ve eaten my share). Perez lines flour tortillas with creamy scrambled eggs enriched with nutty Swiss cheese and then piles on spiced, deep-fried Tater Tots. Meaty options include birria with chipotle aioli, pork belly with avocado salsa and (the standout) Filipino longanisa with salsa macha. For vegetarians, there are Brussels sprouts frizzled to papery curls and glossed with chipotle aioli.

Milpa Grille still serves owner Deysi Serrano’s Mesoamerican-inspired bowls, built on beans and corn, and enchiladas bathed in guajillo chile sauce. She also hosts baristas Xuan Carlos Espinoza and Joel Espinoza — they call their pop-up Cafe Cafe Mobile and make espressos or pour-overs with beans from places like Puebla and Oaxaca. The crisis has challenged the restaurant industry to reconsider its entrenched models of business; this kind of under-one-roof symbiosis might be a blueprint to help lead the way forward.
More Info
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Majordomo

Chinatown American $$$
Any restaurant that even vaguely heeds the Southern California seasons winds up with a tomato and stone fruit salad on its summertime menu. Executive chef Jude Parra-Sickels and his team make the one I most anticipate every year — meltingly ripe fruit splashed with a nutty sherry vinaigrette that brightens the sweetness of peaches and teases extra umami out of tomatoes. Plus, it clicks with every other starter on the table: soft flatbreads to be smeared with good butter and folded around kerchiefs of Allan Benton’s country ham; sausage-stuffed peppers that nod to Korean pan-fried gochu jeon; small fried oxtails buried in salsa seca.

This being the strongest West Coast arm of David Chang’s vast empire, Majordomo will always accommodate groups of diners who demand the gargantuan short rib ssam. But also consider the boiled chicken served in two courses: masterclass-level poached breast meat sliced and served over rice with two sauces (ginger-scallion and a heady red chile paste), followed by soup made from double-rich stock and teeming with hand-cut noodles. It might not have the swagger of the ssam, but I’d argue that it’s even more delicious.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Mariscos Jalisco

Boyle Heights Mexican $
When a friend who’s a native Angeleno came to town in May to see family and friends for the first time since the pandemic began, she had a request: Can we go to Mariscos Jalisco? Absolutely. Since 2002, Raul Ortega has been parking his shiny lonchera on Olympic Boulevard, serving what has become one of the city’s canonic dishes: tacos dorados de camaron. Two fried corn tortillas grip spiced shrimp that maintain a mysterious creaminess (Ortega gives away no secrets) even as their edges crisp a bit in hot oil. A thin tomato salsa, its juices already soaking into the hot masa, blankets the top with avocado slices. Don’t delay, don’t take them elsewhere: Wolf them down right there, perched on the short, painted brick wall in front of the truck. For variety’s sake order the Poseidon, an aguachile-ceviche mashup of shrimp, octopus, cucumber, avocado and tomato finished in a scorching salsa. My friend and I? We asked for another round of tacos.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Mayura

Palms Indian $$
Why, among all the Indian restaurants in the vast metro area, has Mayura been a mainstay on the 101 list for so long? In a word: Kerala. Owner Padmini Aniyan grew up in the coastal southwestern state of India, where millennia of global influences via maritime trade routes and a lush climate (it’s a global center of spice production) created one of the world’s most distinctive cuisines. You taste its uniqueness immediately in the smoky red fish curry flavored with kudampuli, a dried tamarind-like fruit unique to Southeast Asia. The uses of rice in Kerala extend far beyond boiling. As one example: Puttu, steamed cylinders of ground rice and grated coconut with a texture somewhere between lacy and fluffy, are a breakfast staple. Try them here, served with chana masala, as part of a lunch or dinner meal. Mayura’s menu is huge, admittedly, and veers through chicken tikka, gobi Manchurian and other restaurant ubiquities. Flip straight to the “Mayura Specials” section, where most of the Kerala-specific dishes are listed.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Meals by Genet

Little Ethiopia Ethiopian $$
In May, Genet Agonafer announced her semi-retirement — she’d prepare takeout from her Little Ethiopia institution Thursday through Sunday, and open her dining room for private events only. While part of me wishes mightily to bask in the warmth and bustle of her restaurant as it once was, mostly I’m grateful that Angelenos can still be nourished by her cooking. Her vegetarian combination platter still reigns among the city’s supreme meat-free pleasures, a color wheel of bright green collards, ruddy lentils and orange-tinted split peas, turmeric-stained cabbage and carrots, tomato salad and lemony beets. And it’s hard to envision L.A. dining culture without her doro wat, chicken simmered with sharp, earthy berbere spices for two days until every flavor blends into indivisible harmony. Thankfully, that day need not yet be imagined.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Mini Kabob

Glendale Armenian $$
Chef Alvard Martirosyan, her husband, Ovakim, and their talented and social media-savvy son Armen achieve near-perfection with skewered meats: The kebabs are highly seasoned (but not overly so), smoky, juicy and consistent. The steady acclaim for their eight-seat Glendale restaurant with its fading sign and quirky stone veneer feels like cultural counterbalance to the characterless Americana at Brand complex two blocks away. The Martirosyans’ operation remains takeout for now. For a glimpse inside, head to Instagram or TikTok to watch Armen shaping meat onto saber-like skewers for luleh kebabs, their specialty. Order both the beef and chicken luleh, don’t forget the side of jajik (dilled cucumber and yogurt dip), and for a vegetarian option consider the Egyptian-style falafel. It’s made with foul (dried favas) rather than chickpeas, and its interior is strikingly chartreuse.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Mi Ranchito Veracruz

Panorama City Mexican $$
Handwritten under a wall-size menu, owners Pedro Barrientos, Roberto Gamboa and Marcos Ramirez post a running tally of how many Veracruz-style tamales they’ve wrapped in banana leaves since opening in 2016. Last time I checked the number was approaching 80,000. Tamale fillings vary but three stay in heavy rotation: chicken with mole negro, chicken with tomatillo sauce and a standout jalapeño-and-cheese version that lights up when sluiced with softly spicy red salsa. Even among the big flavors you can detect the sweet, herbaceous aroma imbued by the leaves. The North Hollywood-area restaurant, a gem on an otherwise forlorn industrial stretch, concentrates on breakfast and lunch. In the morning, go for a breakfast burrito swelling with three scrambled eggs and, for an unusual spin that works, mashed potatoes. Birria de res is among the meat options and pairs winningly with the spuds; carnitas would be a close second.
More Info
Advertisement
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Mizlala

Sherman Oaks Israeli North African $$
Danny and Justine Elmaleh operate two casual, dialed-back outposts of Mizlala in West Adams and Hollywood’s Media District, where the focus is sandwiches and salads centered around falafel and kebabs. I’m keenest on the original Sherman Oaks location, where Danny delves rewardingly into the Moroccan repertoire. His tagines in particular are superb. A lamb version ratchets up the tension between sweet and savory, with apricots and silan (date syrup) taming the meat’s more feral qualities. Preserved lemon, olives and almonds brighten chicken tagine, while a short rib variation braised in red wine veers into the comforts of boeuf Bourguignon. Stay on theme by starting with harira, the Moroccan lentil soup laced with lemon and tomato.
More Info
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Moo’s Craft Barbecue

Lincoln Heights Barbecue $$
Four years after Andrew and Michelle Muñoz began hosting pop-ups in their East L.A. backyard, translating Central Texas barbecue traditions to Southern California, they opened their first restaurant in March 2021. The transition in quality has been seamless. Your senses know it before you reach Moo’s block of North Broadway in Lincoln Heights: The air is humid with the essence of smoked meats. Witness the parade of trays with the meats and sides arranged in photogenic collages: slices of brisket rendered nearly to pudding, scattered with hunks of tar-black bark; pork ribs crusted with coarse black pepper; Michelle’s magnificent sausages filled with chiles and cheese; dilled potato salad; mac and cheese dusted with toasted bread crumbs; and sunny, limey esquites. It’s important to somehow make room for the smoked brisket burger if it happens to be the day’s special. Customers have figured out an early power move: Order draft beers separately from the bar while waiting in the queue. To blast through the food’s richness I favor a pint of Snugglebug, the tart, medium-funky fruited kettle sour from Smog City Brewing in Torrance.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Morihiro

Atwater Village Japanese $$$$
Morihiro Onodera stands behind the sushi counter of his Atwater Village restaurant, equally present to his work and his customers. One minute he’s as serious as a jeweler perfecting a ring for his own dearest. The next he’s as casually jokey as your coolest uncle. Even among our city’s almost boggling glut of sushi masters, Onodera, wearing the hat of chef-owner again for the first time in a decade, has a special place in L.A. His splicing of traditions and innovations, his quest for the perfect sushi rice and his talents as a ceramicist have made him a legend.

Diners choose from among three tiers at the restaurant. Four-course meals, served at one of the room’s seven tables, range from $45 to $100 (depending on the amount and style of sushi) and include small appetizers with miso soup and a small dessert. Omakase, an investment of appetite and funds, costs $250 per person at a table and starts at $350 per person in front of Onodera at the sushi bar. This obvious extravagance — after courses of small plates as rich in texture as flavor, followed by a dazzling procession of nigiri — will leave you very full and deeply aware that this is what fine dining in Los Angeles is all about.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Needle

Silver Lake Cantonese $$$
Two weeks before the March 2020 shutdown, I was sitting on Needle’s small patio in Silver Lake, eating Ryan Wong’s excellent Cantonese-inspired dishes: pork chop bao with spicy relish, sticky-smoky char siu and the deep-fried, peanut-butter-stuffed sandwich known as “Hong Kong French toast.” He’d been open four months then, cooking to connect more deeply with his family’s culture after working at places like Trois Mec and Otium.

In the hardest months of the pandemic he cycled through various carryout strategies, including takeout kits for char siu and outdoor family-style feasts. Lately Wong and his team are orchestrating reservation-only dinners that riff on siu yeh, Hong Kong’s late-night street-food snack traditions. Customers sit at patio tables or along a counter directly on the sidewalk, eating skewered meats (pork meatballs, chicken thighs dressed with ginger and scallions) that Wong pulls from the flames of a nearby grill. At a time when many of our once-grand Cantonese restaurants are closing or narrowing their scope, Needle’s fresh and pleasure-filled regard for the cuisine feels especially meaningful.
More Info
Advertisement
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

n/naka

Palms Japanese $$$$
I’ve had four meals at n/naka over the last decade, and each time I’ve shared a moment with the person across from me that’s hard to describe without resorting to an overblown word like “awakening.” Most recently it was with my colleague Stephanie Breijo, during the seventh of the evening’s 12 courses. The dish was mushimono, a kabocha mochi dumpling submerged in dashi underneath a shinjo (ball) of compressed shrimp and uni. A zap of yuzu raced across each bite like the leaping waveform on an EKG. The two main components were comments on texture, pleasurably chewy and bouncy, but the extreme care in preparing each element came through almost like a separate flavor. Stephanie and I blinked at each other with amazed, lopsided smiles.

When Helen Rosner wrote a profile of chef-owner Niki Nakayama for the New Yorker a couple of years back, Nakayama told her she thought of her approach as “California kaiseki.” There’s no more apt description. She and Carole Iida, her wife and fellow chef, begin from the ritualized, multicourse form of kaiseki, which evolved out of foods served with the Japanese tea ceremony and emphasizes a mastery of many cooking techniques. They adapt the structure to an Angeleno’s regard for the seasons (Nakayama was raised here) and to her staunch sense of individualism.

The most amazing thing about dining at n/naka may be the wide-open serenity you feel after a few hours in the 26-seat dining room, a sensation not unlike easing into the ninth day of a rare two-week vacation. Like, actually relaxed. And similar to carving out that kind of time off, you will have to fight like hell for a reservation at the restaurant. It will be worth it.
More Info
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Northern Thai Food Club

East Hollywood Thai $
Pre-pandemic, a big part of the pleasure of eating at “Nancy” Amphai Dunne’s 12-seat restaurant in Thai Town was interacting with her over the steam table. You’d converse about the daily specials inspired by the cooking of Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province, where Dunne grew up. She standardized the menu for online ordering last year. The dishes on which she made her reputation are easy to identify: sai ua, rough-textured pork sausages packed with minced lemongrass; garlicky green mango salad; gaeng hung lay, pork belly curry with the attuned sour-sweetness of tamarind and julienned ginger. It’s also easier to choose something new to try — say, gaeng kanoon, a soup with lobes of jackfruit, pork ribs and cha-om, an herb that resembles dill and, when cooked, has a vegetable earthiness that almost veers almondy.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Orsa & Winston

Downtown L.A. Italian Japanese $$$$
No one cooking tradition or style could satisfy Josef Centeno’s hyperdrive creativity; his bio includes the poshest temples as well as hidden bare-bones pubs. The tasting menu at his tiny, 8-year-old downtown destination successfully bridges Japanese and Italian flavors. Centeno constantly parses ingredient pairings to find the connections between the two cuisines, though he never contorts food into bizarre conflations in service of the restaurant’s premise. Count on rice porridge steeping in Parmesan cream with seafood (perhaps uni or abalone) as the one ever-present dish. Who knows what else may show up: A trio of baby corn, peach and caviar? Kanpachi sashimi scattered with tiny flowers and set in chilled tomato brodo? A trilateral slice of duck breast over carrot puree zinged with ume? Sometimes a summery aguachile or a coddled egg with a snow crab claw plunged into its shell may be on offer too. A certain fluidity feels organic to Centeno’s cooking and to the pluralism of Los Angeles.
More Info
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Osteria Mozza

Hancock Park Italian $$$
Nancy Silverton is in global expansion mode: She just launched an outpost of Pizzeria Mozza at the Four Seasons in Los Cabos, Mexico; she’s taking Osteria Mozza to Singapore next year; and her most recent corporate partnerships involve children’s meals, bakeware and filmed cooking demos with a vertical farming company.

What’s important for Los Angeles is that her Hancock Park flagship remains one of the city’s great celebration restaurants, a place for locals and visitors to savor Angeleno-Italian cooking that set the bar. Overseen by executive chef Elizabeth Hong (whose mother, Jenee Kim, is chef-owner of Park’s BBQ), the menu is both familiar and sometimes gently mind-opening. A small knot of burrata strewn with dusky, sun-dried peppers with peppery olive oil and garlic toast is so simple and so special — which is to say, so Mozza. Go heavy on the pastas, save room for Dahlia Narvaez’s torta della nonna rich with pine nuts … and, if you have the room or the ambition, try to slip into the pizzeria next door for the iconic squash blossom pie.
More Info
Advertisement
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Otium

Downtown L.A. American $$$
The Otium I experienced around the time of its 2016 opening and the Otium I’m enamored with in 2021 feel like two different restaurants.Then: pandemonium, apparent favoritism toward VIPs over absolutely everyone else, ambitious but uneven cooking from an overwhelmed crew. Now: a humming but overall calm dining room (the better to admire the building’s modernist grandeur by architect Osvaldo Maiozzi) and some of the most informed service I’ve enjoyed in L.A. Best of all, Tim Hollingsworth’s wielding of global flavors is coherent and consistent and smashingly delicious. He impresses with familiar tropes: salmon tartare with pickled ginger, shiso and wasabi in tight harmonies; Japanese sweet potato agnolotti, comforting in its gloss of brown butter with sage and chestnuts. Even more compelling is dilled lamb neck cooked with trahana, a wheat-and-yogurt “pasta” shaped like tiny pebbles (originating from the eastern Mediterranean) that soaks up the meat’s cooking juices and takes on the consistency of a savory pudding.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Park’s BBQ

Koreatown Korean $$$
Jenee Kim sustained her marquee Korean barbecue restaurant through the most difficult months of the pandemic by selling galbi, banchan and short rib soups to go; amping up her online shop with freshly butchered and marinated meats for home cooking; and, like many other area businesses, setting up grills with propane tanks in the parking lot, the scent of sizzling beef wafting down the block. Diners have returned inside to preside over their own tabletop cooking again, searing and turning cuts like ggot sal (a boneless short-rib specialty of Park’s with mesmerizing marbling patterns), prime beef tongue and, for a splurge, Wagyu rib-eye cap. Barbecue specialists are rife in Koreatown — showcasing duck or dry-aged steaks, in swank dining rooms and themed atmospheres — but to revel foremost in the quality of the meat, the first choice remains Park’s.
More Info
(Allison Zaucha / For The Times)

Pasjoli

Santa Monica French $$$$
Dave Beran’s Santa Monica haute bistro opened only six months before March 2020. Its two rooms, after shutdowns and months of sidewalk dining, still gleam like new. While sipping a cocktail made with persimmon puree or walnut milk, take in the hand-painted silk wallpaper depicting flowers swaying in a springtime breeze, the mossy-green velvet fabrics, the mix of marble, shiny woods and red brick. It’s one of the loveliest spaces in Southern California.

During the pandemic, Beran closed his tiny, cerebral tasting-menu restaurant, Dialogue, so he can be spied in Pasjoli’s open kitchen almost every night. As a chef he’s always been a precisionist brainiac, geeking out on laborious technique and symbolist presentations. The autumn season finds orange and brown micro-flora scattered like fall foliage over a buttery crab crêpe, and loamy duck rillettes in a tart shaped like a leaf and surrounded by black-green lettuces.

The food is evolving. Initially the restaurant aimed to re-create canonical Gallic dishes: steak tartare, a trembling onion tart that subbed for soupe a l’oignon, the gory and glamorous pressed duck that was, at first, tableside theater and now is prepared in the kitchen. Now there are dishes like a pork chop in a reduction sauce made from trotters and ham hocks and finished with a hazelnut vinaigrette, or gorgeously seared halibut over yuzu beurre blanc and a tumble of sautéed broccoli, spinach and pine nuts. It comes off as less controlled and more pleasure-centered. French is still the default shorthand for the cooking. “Beranaise” would be more accurate.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Pearl River Deli

Chinatown Chinese $$
Johnny Lee excels at being a wild card. He opened the tiny Pearl River Deli in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza weeks before the March 2020 shutdown, aiming to reanimate the city’s appetite for Cantonese cuisine. Even in calamitous times, his wok-smoky beef chow fun, silky scrambles with shrimp or char siu and bone-in pork chop bun found a deserving audience. Lee is known for his Hainan chicken and rice but doesn’t want it to overrun his business: He usually makes a finite number of orders as a weekend special. And in no way does he feel tethered to the Cantonese lexicon. You might scroll through his Instagram feed to find he’s running specials of Hawaiian loco moco and guava cake, or Vietnamese bánh khọt, or Taiwanese turkey rice. His fans know to roll with the unexpected.

As deadlines for this project neared, Lee threw out a new curveball: He announced he’s closing the Far East Plaza location and moving 2 ½ blocks up the street, to a larger space in the building that houses the wonderful market Sesame L.A. Will the new Pearl River Deli be open by year’s end? You’ll need to check Instagram.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Perle

Pasadena French $$$
Dean Yasharian’s soupe a l’oignon checks all the boxes: deeply caramelized onions, beef broth reinforced by paleron (a less common shoulder cut), white wine and crisp-chewy sourdough, crowned by a magnificent, molten wad of Gruyère. It exemplifies technique, and its warming goodness seeps into my marrow every time. So much of his bistro cooking does. Yasharian has been on a ride since opening Perle on a hectic block of Old Town Pasadena. He was originally slated to begin service the week of the March 2020 shutdown. After crafting takeout menus inspired by regions and cities in France early this year, he’s making up for lost time with restaurant service. He gently tinkers with classics on the a la carte menu — pistachios lightening the herbed topping for garlicky escargot, a chicken liver mousse crouton slipped into the frisée Lyonnaise — but as his correct and wholly comforting coq au vin reveals, he knows when some dishes need no derivations. He also creates two weekly changing three-course meals, including a vegetarian version (featuring, say, a heady ratatouille gilded with fried squash blossoms) that shows the same level of rigor and inspiration as the omnivorous option.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Petite Peso

Downtown L.A. Filipino $$
From her 500-square-foot downtown storefront, Ria Dolly Barbosa propels modern Filipino cooking forward with her grounded and often playfully adaptive style. Her chicken adobo is garlicky and piercing, silky with coconut milk but also trip-wired with chicken skin for surprise crunch. Reconfigured into her version of a French dip, adobo jus included, it is the DTLA sandwich for a new millennium. Check in regularly on the restaurant’s Instagram feed: You’ll learn about lechon kawali depth-charged with smoked liver sauce and pickled daikon, or tiger prawns floodlit with the flavors of taba ng talangka (crab paste) and preserved calamansi. These are fleeting specials you want to rip into immediately, though keep in mind that Petite Peso is primarily takeout with only a couple of sidewalk tables. A car picnic may be in order, with an ensaymada (a sweet bun crowned with a wig of curly cheddar) for dessert.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Petit Trois

Hollywood French $$$
The last decade saw America’s return to interest in French dining of all styles. The spark can be persuasively traced to the tiny, brilliant Hollywood bar that Ludo Lefebvre opened in 2014 next door to his genre-reshaping tasting-menu restaurant, Trois Mec (which closed during the pandemic). Petit Trois is Lefebvre’s reverie of Parisian bistros and bars. His omelet cheekily rolled with Boursin, the steak tartare showered with fried shallots and elderberries, and his insane Big Mec burger — which originally included foie gras among the deluge of cheese and bordelaise — were individualist spins that Americans could embrace. They are still wildly compelling, as are the more traditional presentations of trout almondine and steak frites. The original location will forever have my heart, even if I’m dining under an umbrella on its parking lot patio, whereas the larger, brassier Sherman Oaks outpost is fun for canelés and smoked salmon tartine at brunch.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Phenakite

Hollywood Eclectic $$$$
The story goes like this: Minh Phan, one of the city’s most beloved chefs, accepts a weekend residency to serve tasting menus in the courtyard of Second Home, an unusually beautiful work-share space in a garden setting in Hollywood. This happens in November 2020, as a terrible wave of COVID-19 cases begins to crest in Southern California. She’s struggling with how best to operate Porridge + Puffs, her neighborhood restaurant in Historic Filipinotown, and she sees the Second Home opportunity as a chance to be the culinary artist she’d never yet had the bandwidth to be. Phan names the project after a rare, very hard gemstone known for its high degree of clarity.

The cooking is astounding, and it defies easy labeling. Black sesame vichyssoise, lardon-stuffed mochi and porridge gilded with brown butter and smoked abalone liver ignite under Phan’s signature touches: savory jams made from scraps of fruits and vegetables that might otherwise go to waste, pickles and other acidic sparks. Of equal importance: A spirit of kindness animates the project. Phan comes to the table and sets up a fish course for each guest. Her eyes dance and crinkle at the corners while she chats; you know she is smiling behind her mask. She embodies welcome.

Phenakite is the Times’ 2021 Restaurant of the Year.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Phnom Penh Noodle Shack

Long Beach Cambodian $
Any conversation about the dining culture in Long Beach’s Cambodian community (the largest in America) begins with Phnom Penh Noodle Shack, run by the second generation of the Tan family, which opened the restaurant in 1985. The patient crowds have reappeared in the mornings and afternoons, waiting for a table inside and for their bowls of kuy teav — highly customizable breakfast soup built around various shapes of rice or egg noodles and pork broth. Wade in with the multitextured house special(it includes several cuts of pork and shrimp), given even more nuance with the optional mixed noodles. Be lavish when adding garnishes of fried garlic and scallions and squeezes of lime. Nom sa-kieu, a savory turnover reminiscent of an empanada filled with a peppery tangle of onions and pork, makes an excellent side snack. And if this is indeed the day’s first meal, the iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk will jolt you into lucid consciousness.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Pho 79

Garden Grove Vietnamese $
Pho 79 is on the eve of its 40th anniversary: Liễu Trần and Thọ Trần opened the Garden Grove restaurant in 1982, and members of the same family continue to run the business. Among the hundreds of places in Little Saigon that have opened in the ensuing decades to express the breadth of Vietnamese culinary culture, the cornerstone dish at Pho 79 is still outstanding. Star anise and richly browned onions sweeten and balance the broth. No matter how you personalize it — whether you prefer tripe or meatballs or ask for the ribbons of round steak rare or well done — the addition of long-simmered oxtail meat pulled easily from the bone is clutch. Each day’s quantity is finite; plan to arrive before 12:30 p.m.
More Info
(Andrea D’Agosto / For The Times)

Pizzana

Brentwood Pizza $$
Over the last decade Los Angeles leapt from being meager on great pizza to becoming a booming clearinghouse for nearly every style of pizza ever conceived. Daniele Uditi’s bona fides hearken to the dish’s origins: He comes from a family of bakers in Caserta, Italy, just 20 miles north of Naples. In California, his pies — tangy from the dough’s two-day fermentation, speckled and lightly puffed along its fringes — toggle between tradition and artistic license. His neo-Margherita steers away from the soupy center of many classic Neapolitan pizzas, and his cacio e pepe has become part of the local canon, deservingly. He needs to revisit his lemony, briny ode to the New Haven clam pizza more often.
More Info
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Post & Beam

Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw American $$$
John Cleveland smoothly began helming the kitchen at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw’s crown-jewel restaurant more than two years ago, and last year he and his wife, Roni, bought it from founder Brad Johnson. During these unsettled times they’ve streamlined the menu to concentrate on community favorites: shrimp and grits deepened with shrimp butter and beef bacon, short ribs under a flurry of fresh horseradish, a fantastic grilled cheese rich with oxtail meat and smoked mozzarella. For brunch? Pecan-pie-inspired French toast or chicken with a buttermilk waffle, please. Since its inception a decade ago, part of Post & Beam’s mission has been to nurture Black culinary talent. To that end, the Clevelands hired Martin Draluck as chef de cuisine and have been regularly hosting the Hemings & Hercules dinners he co-created and that were featured on the Netflix series “High on the Hog.” My colleague Donovan X. Ramsey has an essay about Draluck and the evolution of the dinners.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Providence

Hollywood Seafood $$$$
When my partner and I first settled into our chairs for dinner, a dozen or so servers, food runners and sommeliers glided by our table, dropping off small first tastes and glasses of wine. The staffers we struck up a bit of rapport with? We began to see them more often and others subtly less so. I saw it wasn’t a coincidence —the opposite, in fact — when I noticed it happening with other groups. Providence is the seat of white-tablecloth extravagance in L.A. dining, justly famous for chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti’s luxury coddling of seafood, including local catches through a sustainable fishing program he helped found. If you so desire, there will be showers of white truffles over lingotti with box crab and uni; there can be a parade of wine pairings that cost as much as the tasting menu (which is $250 per person). Fanciness without human connection feels empty, though, maybe now more than ever, and the warm, alert individuality that Providence’s front-of-house team bring to their jobs is as much the key to the restaurant’s longevity as the brilliant cooking.
More Info
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

République

Hancock Park American $$$
“Where should I go for exceptional pastries?” “Who has a lunch menu that will make people with very different tastes happy but is also really, really good?” “Where can I take out-of-town friends for a special-occasion dinner that also feels quintessentially L.A.?” Walter and Margarita Manzke’s all-day modern California restaurant in Hancock Park is the answer to many of the questions people ask about restaurants in Los Angeles.

Some notes: The line for breakfast usually trails out the door, but if you plan ahead you can order Margarita’s croissants, crostatas, danishes and savory hand pies for next-day pickup. Kimchi fried rice, mushroom toast with ham and eggs and an excellent vegetarian pupusa are available all morning (as are definitive omelets and French toast); the dry-aged burger is available after 11 a.m. And a few months ago I had dinner with a former colleague visiting from Charleston, S.C. She was turning 40. After République’s baguette with Normandy butter and pan drippings (imagine Thanksgiving gravy reduced to meat syrup), tomato and nectarine salad, sweet corn agnolotti, roasted duck breast and confit leg in blackberry-peppercorn sauce and at least half a dozen other dishes, she said, “I understand why people say L.A. has the best dining scene in America.” My work was done.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Rossoblu

Downtown L.A. Italian $$$
In a town overrun with pizza and pasta, Steve Samson distinguishes his sprawling restaurant in downtown’s City Market South complex with recipes that drop a precise pin on a map: He retraces parts of his childhood spent in food-obsessed Bologna, the capital of Italy’s fertile northern Emilia-Romagna region. The menu isn’t doctrinaire; polished efforts like hanger steak with red wine jus and anchovy butter over cauliflower mash fall squarely in the Cal-Ital lexicon. But the Bolognese dishes vibrate on their own specific frequency.

Topping the list: minestra nel sacco, square-ish Parmigiano-Reggiano dumplings cooked in a cloth bag and served in chicken and beef broth. Sometimes for a soup variation there’s sfoglia lorda (mini ridged ravioli, literally “dirty dough”) en brodo. Among the pastas handmade by dough maestro Francesco Allegro, the supple, restrained tagliatelle al ragù Bolognese holds sway. Pair it with maltagliati (“badly cut”; the name is a misnomer in this exacting kitchen) tangled with mushrooms and sharp dandelion greens. Nights have grown chillier, so the light-handed, utterly correct lasagna should be reappearing anytime now.
More Info
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

El Ruso

Silver Lake Mexican $
The twin talents of taquero Walter Soto and tortilla master Julia Silva — who combine culinary traditions from Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California — have made El Ruso a crucial stop on the Los Angeles taco circuit. Recently they relocated their silver taco trailer from Boyle Heights to the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Descanso Drive in Silver Lake. The tacos are at their height when Soto is at the helm: soldering shredded cheese to tortillas on the griddle, overseeing the signature carne asada grilling amid plumes of mesquite smoke, and toying with specials like smoky-chewy tacos made with agujas (bone-in beef rib). Still, El Ruso’s greatest contribution to L.A. has arguably been thesobaquera, a specialty of Silva’s native Sonora. Her flour tortilla is stretched to the size of a dinner plate and then folded like a burrito around various meats. Ask for chile colorado, a bright red stew of beef infused with chiles and cooked to feathery shreds. The color bleeds through the tortilla and stains your mouth after every bite. It’s glorious.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Rustic Canyon

Santa Monica American $$$
When the seafood pozole verde rotated off Rustic Canyon’s menu, it signaled a quiet changing of the guard. The dish was a marquee opus for Jeremy Fox, who remains chef/partner but also focuses on Birdie G’s (within the same restaurant group) a couple of miles away. Rustic Canyon’s kitchen is in the able hands of executive chef Andy Doubrava. His direct link to the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market results in visions like twice-cooked honeynut squash, brined as a pork chop might be for six hours and then served in a pool of vadouvan curry sauce thickened with the squash’s fermented seeds. Speaking of pork chops: He serves them swathed in a smoked trout roe sauce that’s almost grassy with chives and herbs. The whole thing is an essay on umami, and you’ll want to follow it with the caramelized apple crêpe and buttermilk yogurt from breakout-star pastry chef Erika Chan.
More Info
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Shin Sushi

Encino Japanese $$$
Taketoshi Azumi was practically born into sushi culture. Before honing his craft locally behind the bars of Asanebo, Mori and the now-closed Sushi of Gari, he grew up with a father who ran a business in Tokyo also called Shin Sushi. Behind his own eight-seat counter in an Encino mini-mall, Azumi directs his energies into omakase focused almost solely on nigiri. Meals kick off with an appetizer that usually involves a cooked element or two — conch grilled in its own shell, or a trio of oyster, simmered maitakes and steamed ankimo — and then quickly settle into the processions of fish (much of it from Japan’s waters and slightly aged, Edomae-style) pressed into vinegared rice. Azumi is a smiling figure behind the bar, always concentrating on the next task but bantering easily in English or Japanese. The overall experience, though, is a meditation on textures and subtleties. Even in a land already crowded with sushi shrines, Azumi’s level of dedication makes Shin a destination.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Sichuan Impression

Alhambra Chinese $$
It’s been nearly a decade since Chengdu Taste opened in Alhambra, marking the ascent of Sichuan cuisine in Los Angeles and beyond. Its popularity only increased with the surge of Sichuan hot pot specialists that have arrived in the last few years. Sichuan Impression was launched in 2014 by Lynn Liu and Kelly Xiao, both natives of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. The menu most eloquently conveys the range in heat and flavor of the cuisine. Begin with cold dishes: pickled cucumbers, bamboo shoots and the famous fuqi feipian, or “couple’s dish,” with sliced beef shank and tripe in a broth prominently scented with ginger and star anise. Boiled fish with rattan pepper, the broth rippling with Sichuan peppercorns, will soon have your lips pulsating like a strobe light. At my last meal I noticed every other table had ordered the wobbling hill of pork steamed with rice flour and pumpkin. The flagship in Alhambra has maintained its excellence (and now has a small patio), and the additional locations in Tustin and West Los Angeles uphold Liu and Xiao’s nuanced approach.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Skaf’s

Glendale Lebanese $$
To understand what makes the Skaf family’s two locations, in North Hollywood and Glendale, stand out among the metro area’s Lebanese restaurants, start with the kibbeh. Its raw form, kibbeh nayeh, traditionally meant ground lamb pounded with fine bulgur and spices into a silken gloss. Most of the Lebanese chefs and restaurants I’ve talked with in America (the cuisine ranks high among my obsessions) feel the lamb is too gamey stateside for nayeh, so they use beef instead. Skaf’s follows that thinking, though the velvety texture is as close to the original lamb form as is possible to re-create; it’s the most spot-on introduction to one of Lebanon’s national dishes that I’ve found here. Kibbeh labanieh — tapered and fried spheres in minted yogurt soup with rice — calls for ritual. Ask for a small bowl or a large cup, spoon in a piece of kibbeh and crumble it a bit with your fork, and then add as much rice and yogurt as appeals. This is food to ease a soul’s burdens.

Falafel has infinite variations. Skaf’s conjures the fluffy-crisp, cumin-scented versions you’d find in Beirut, where you watch cooks frying spheres in small vats, batch after batch, through storefront windows. Be liberal with the tahini sauce.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Soban

Koreatown Korean $$
A server sets down 13 small, square, white plates of banchan — the contents include rolled egg, a tuft of bitter greens, myeolchi bokkeum (stir-fried anchovies with peanuts) and kimchi that fizzes a bit on the tongue — arranging them with the precision and efficiency of a poker dealer. A few happy moments of grazing pass, and then the ganjang gejang arrives — a mottled, super-fresh raw crab cut into pieces, marinated in house-made soy sauce and dressed with green chiles and a sliced clove of garlic. Eating it is hands-on, full-sensory business. Daegu jorim, the gochujang-flamed braise of black cod and radish, comes next, followed (should more be needed) by galbi jjim hearty with vegetables and dotted with gingko nuts. The kitchen produces other dishes, but these are the imperatives. It is life-affirming to sit again in Jennifer Pak’s snug, orderly dining room.
More Info
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Sonoratown

Downtown L.A. Mexican $
I don’t need to direct you to pause when you bite into one of Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez Jr.’s flour tortillas to consider its merits. It happens almost involuntarily. The brain says, this is different. You might flash on the most expertly stretchy dumpling wrapper you’ve ever tasted, or the rare pie crust that is at once flaky and buttery, but you’ll also never forget this is a tortilla. Diaz-Rodriguez brought the style from his hometown of San Rio Luis Colorado in Sonora, Mexico. A marriage of Sonoran wheat and pork lard, it is basically perfect. Carne asada, the smoke and fire of the grill having seeped into the beef’s molecules, is the meat of choice. Which form do you prefer: taco, quesadilla, a folded caramelo, the mini-bundle of a chimichanga? I enjoy them all but return most to the famous Burrito 2.0, filled out with roughly mashed guacamole, Monterey Jack, sharply spicy chiltepin salsa and pinto beans.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Spoon & Pork

Silver Lake Filipino $$
To enter the minds of Raymond Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas and the ways they articulate Filipino flavors, consider their caldereta batata. In the Philippines the dish (sometimes spelled kaldereta) is a meaty stew with myriad variations, often accented with green olives and cheese. Yaptinchay and Tugas use beef short ribs, dial back the soupiness and add an onsen egg and crisp potatoes. Some versions use goat meat; they add goat cheese and also keep the olives. No two forkfuls from the sharp, rich, salt-forward jumble are alike. Their restaurant, which started as a food truck in 2017 before they opened in Silver Lake in 2019, also stays true to its name: They serve forth the pig in at least a half dozen forms, including a smoky take on sisig, several studies of pork belly (try the tocino glinting with pickled green papaya) and the bombastic patita, or pork shank, braised and then deep fried until the meat falls off in ropy hunks. The Spoon & Pork model has obvious reach: A second location opened in October in Sawtelle.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Sun Nong Dan

Koreatown Korean $$
Additional locations operate in San Gabriel and Rowland Heights, but the fluorescent-lighted space open 24 hours in the center of a Koreatown strip mall will always be the truest spiritual home of Sun Nong Dan. The throngs descend day and night for galbi jjim, the seething short rib and vegetable stew (even better with the optional oxtail) served in a well-worn metal pot. It would be a fundamental L.A. dish as is, but three-quarters of the customers have come for the big flourish — the white curls of cheese a server spreads over the dish tableside and melts with a small blowtorch. A really invested staffer will wield the flame until the overlay is browned, but mostly, in restrained hands, the cheese settles over the meat in an even white blanket. It’s not unlike the sight of Mt. Baldy freshly snow-capped.
More Info
Advertisement
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Surawon Tofu House

Koreatown Korean $
Even through a constant barrage of bad news, when Beverly Soon Tofu announced it was closing in September 2020, the loss of such a community anchor felt freshly jarring. Monica Lee opened the Koreatown restaurant in 1986, breaking new ground as a specialist in soondubu jjigae. Nothing (or no one) ever quite replaces a loss, but if you’re in need of the comfort of soft tofu stew, eating at Surawon Tofu House is good medicine. The restaurant makes its own tofu, and the menu presents over a dozen options for customization, including additions of vegetarian dumplings, kimchi, oxbone, oysters, intestines and an assorted mix of beef or pork with seafood. Choose among five levels of heat, from “plain” to “extra spicy”; I find “spicy” to be pulse-quickening but not brutal. The cauldron of stew arrives, boiling volcanically. You can pretty much intuit the moment when the jjigae is cool enough to sip. The chile stings your lips. The tofu melts on the tongue. And soon the bowl is empty.
More Info
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Sushi Kaneyoshi

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
Even with an address and some broadly directive signage, you might still turn a couple of wrong corners in the basement of Little Tokyo’s Kajima Building before finding the right door: On the other side is a softly lit room of clean lines and blond woods, where Yoshiyuki Inoue presides over a 10-seat sushi bar. Sushi Yaneyoshi opened mid-2020. The restaurant focused mostly on takeout until April, when it began steadily booking dine-in omakase for $250 per person. Inoue has worked in local restaurants (Mori, Sushi Zo and Sushi Ginza Onodera among them) for over two decades. Nevertheless, his solo debut is a star-is-born moment in L.A.’s sushi culture.

A few preambles might include citrusy chawanmushi laced with hairy crab from Hokkaido, tachiuo (beltfish) tempura dotted with caviar, and smoked bonito with pickled onions and ponzu. Then Inoue and his assistant chef, Anthony Nguyen, launch into a procession of edomae-style nigiri, each seasonal seafood aged (or perhaps cured or marinated) and lightly seasoned to maximize its flavors. By the finale — Inoue’s version of futomaki, a roll filled with the evening’s exquisite scraps of seafood — you’re in the master’s trance. This is sushi for connoisseurs, many of whom are already leaping on the monthly release of reservations the nanosecond they’re made available.
More Info
(Allison Zaucha / For The Times)

Taco Maria

Costa Mesa Mexican $$$
How Carlos Salgado has steered his tiny, vital Costa Mesa restaurant through nearly two years of crisis encapsulates the survivalist tactics so many chefs and restaurateurs had to adopt. Takeout mode cycled through carne asada burritos, fish tacos and an incredible blue cheese burger he called Cortez the Killer. Places like Now Serving in Far East Plaza sold his crimson salsas smoky with chile morita. In the summer he reopened for patio dining — a homecoming for his personal-narrative cooking designed around corn varietals grown by small, independent farms in Mexico. Rather than the tasting menus he previously served, the menu is currently a la carte and the tacos are in your hands: Fold meats like hanger steak glossed with bone marrow vinaigrette into Salgado’s sunshine-sweet, midnight-blue corn tortillas.

Begin with prawns fragrant with smoked chile and citrus; wind down with a red corn tamale stained with burnt strawberry and finished with vanilla cream. It has never felt more of a pleasure to navigate the South Coast Collection mall complex and find Taco Maria as the prize in the center of the maze.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Tamales Elena y Antojitos

Bell Gardens Mexican $
Before discussing the namesake tamales, the pozole verde must be extolled. Maria Elena Lorenzo, the matriarch of the family that runs the restaurant, adds both pork and chicken to the stock before stirring in a puree of tomatillos, serranos, pumpkin seeds, cilantro and other herbs. It tints the soup the pale green of Haas avocado flesh. A dizzying number of condiments follows, including customizations like fried tortillas that you break into shards and scatter with chicharrones. Each varied bite urges you to the next; the last teaspoons of broth hum with citrus and heat and musk. The style of the pozole, as with the rest of the menu, is specific to the Afro-Mexican cuisine of Costa Chica, part of the southern coastal state of Guerrero. The Guerrero-style tamales — which Lorenzo, husband Juan Irra and their five daughters began selling in Watts from carts and then a truck almost 15 years ago — are delicate masa rectangles, filled with pork in red salsa or chicken in green salsa and steamed in banana leaves. Eat several of them on the Bell Garden restaurant’s small, beautifully tiled patio (although drive-through service is also an option). I’d also recommend a plate of sliced lengua and plantains in serrano-tomato sauce alongside them.
More Info
Advertisement
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Taste of Tehran

West Los Angeles Persian $$
A comforting repetition tends to define the selection at most Iranian kebab houses. To experience the fuller glories of the Persian table in L.A. — pistachio-laced omelets, herbed sweet and sour grape leaves, a summertime peach and lamb koresh golden with saffron — you’ll need an invitation to a private home or a copy of Najmieh Batmanglij’s indispensable cookbook “Food of Life.” Out in the world, we have Taste of Tehran. Chef and owner Saghar Fanisalek’s soulful attention to the basics gives them fresh life. An ideal amount of grated onion animates the beef koobideh (handsome with its expertly undulating shape on the skewer), her tahdig shatters like stained glass, and dried mint adds intriguing dimension to creamy kashk bademjan. For a lighter lunch, look for nicely singed grilled trout, a perpetual special on the tiny restaurant’s blackboard menu.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Tsubaki

Echo Park Japanese $$$
Every local food writer I know loves Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan’s Echo Park izakaya, and it’s an ideal place to take out-of-town friends. The couple’s combined gifts, and the way the community has embraced their 35-seat restaurant, embody the sense of possibility in Los Angeles. Namba nails the Japanese pub repertoire, honing two dozen or so raw, steamed, fried and grilled dishes with a native Angeleno’s instinct for shifting with the seasons. Double down on yakitori (including skewers of prized chicken oysters with yuzu kosho) and splurge on the Wagyu sukiyaki. Kaplan caught the zeal for sake while working in New York, but we benefit from her advanced expertise; her selection is one of the deepest and most exciting on the West Coast. Recommendations from Kaplan or another staffer are probably easier — and more fun — than studying a list. An even more immersive imbibing experience awaits next door at the couple’s sake bar, Ototo, where the finesse of the okonomiyaki and other drinking foods is catching up to the cooking at Tsubaki.
More Info
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Tsujita

Sawtelle Japanese $$
Several months ago I made a spontaneous midafternoon stop at Tsujita; it had been a while, I realized, since I’d slurped down its first-rate ramen. There’s never not a crowd at Tsujita, but the number of congregants was certainly lighter than at prime lunch or dinner hours. The first spoonful of tonkotsu ramen and its creamy, pork-on-pork-on-pork intensity brought back the last decade’s countrywide obsession with the subject — the endless debates over the gradations of oink-y richness in a broth, and how springy or tensile a proper noodle should be. Local deliberations often and rightly led back to Tsujita’s caloric joyride. A bowl, particularly when it’s finished, registers somewhere between a restorative and an intoxicant. In an exhausted world, I was happy to be reminded that it warrants a short wait in line.
More Info
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Woodspoon

Downtown L.A. Brazilian $$
You might feel your shoulders noticeably relax with the first bite of Natalia Pereira’s empadão de frango, the dish she translates on her menu as “chicken pot pie.” The bronzed pastry, with a tender crunch not unlike a biscuit’s top layer, gives way to a creamy well of shredded poultry, olives, corn and hearts of palm. Pereira’s calm, personal style of cooking is a reflection of the Indigenous, African and Portuguese flavors she knew growing up in Minas Gerais, a large landlocked state in southeastern Brazil. Start with a mix of fried street snacks (you might end up ordering another round of pastels filled with shrimp and coconut) and then concentrate on regional specialties: frango com quiabo, a gently garlicky, chewy stew dotted with cubed okra, and the porky “cowboy style” beans generously sprinkled with farofa (toasted manioc flour) alongside julienned collards and yucca fries. The recent shutdowns made me appreciate more than ever the free-spirited charms of Woodspoon’s enveloping downtown dining room and the joys of sitting among its urbane and devoted clientele.
More Info
Advertisement
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Yang’s Kitchen

Alhambra Chinese $$
Even when Chris Yang, Maggie Ho and Joseph Marcos opened their Alhambra restaurant a thousand lifetimes ago in 2019, the menu was hard to categorize. Taiwanese-inspired beef noodle soup was an early draw, though dishes also dipped into Italian, Japanese and Californian influences. These days Yang’s Kitchen serves breakfast and lunch, and the cooking is even less concerned with province or labels. Expect morning jumpstarts like steelhead trout, marinated in yuzu miso and then grilled, alongside soft-scrambled eggs, hash browns and a plumage of salad — a plate that’s even better with sides of avocado and sausage. Throw in the jumbo cornmeal mochi pancake and you have a meal to share. Or maybe you lean to a calming Japanese-style breakfast set, complete with miso soup, rice, soy egg, pickles and protein options that span the food chain (including braised tofu and grilled steak). The owners constructed the sweetest backyard dining space, decked out with a patch of Astroturf and a thoughtful network of tarps and umbrellas to provide shade from every angle.
More Info