Get us in your inbox

Search
Soulmate Seafood Paella
Photograph: Courtesy Katrina Frederick

The 60 best dishes and drinks in Los Angeles in 2021

You'll find meat, seafood, vegetables, desserts and more on your new L.A. destination dining checklist for 2022.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Advertising

Amid widespread vaccination and L.A. County’s gradual reopening, 2021 was a year of thoughtful, innovative and downright great dining and drinks from the city’s best-in-class restaurants and bars. From Michelin-recognized and newly starred spots to the flurry of delayed new restaurant openings, chefs and bartenders across the city have made it their mission to make up for lost time. Starting sporadically in the spring, and with increasing frequency this summer, fall and winter, we ate our way through them all (and made sure to double back on old favorites, too). 

While not every item on this list is available on a regular basis, we’ve only included dishes you could reasonably expect to find—whether at a traditional restaurant, regular pop-ups or a chef’s other restaurants. As a result, this also means we’ve excluded a few standouts, like an outstanding takeout gujeolpan from Naemo we had in February (though as of December 1, you can now find Naemo’s chef Ki Kim at the newly opened Kinn in Koreatown), Shiku’s seafood jajangmyeon special in November, and a chicken thigh ssam plate from Black Sheep All American’s pop-up at Melody in August.  

Whether they’re brand new or just new to you, however, read ahead for the 60 best L.A. dishes and drinks we had in 2021.

From The Sea: bivalves, crustaceans, fish and more

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Beverly Hills

Eaten while dining outdoors in February, this truffle-laden tuna tostada was a welcome delight and distraction amid what was then a ramshackle early vaccine rollout with an uncertain springtime ahead. Lightly dressed bluefin tuna sits atop a bed of avocado on a blue corn tortilla, with shavings of black truffle and a few choice peaches of Santa Barbara sea urchin. Although this exact iteration of this dish isn’t always available, you’ll be sure to find a seasonal truffle tostada on chef Joshua Gil’s market-driven menu at this upscale seafood restaurant in Beverly Hills.

  • Restaurants
  • Hawaiian
  • El Segundo
  • price 2 of 4

After reading The Infatuation’s review of Ali’i Fish Company, I found myself making the trip down to El Segundo multiple times this summer in search of a high-quality poke bowl capable of impressing even Hawaii natives like Infatuation staff writer Kat Hong. Build-your-own bowl, this is not. Instead, you’ll find four or five carefully pre-marinated flavors of poke, each of which are worth trying in their own right on return visits. If it’s your first time or you’re coming from further afield, however, Ali’i Fish Company’s spicy tuna is an excellent first order. Made with just the right amount of mayo and Sriracha, this spicy tuna rice bowl is the perfect antidote to the typical so-so third-party delivery poke bowl. 

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • West Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

Skillet-crisp and artfully dressed with radishes and greens, Soulmate’s chorizo and seafood paella manages to impress both its usual vibey West Hollywood Spanish restaurant clientele as well as diners like me, who’d happily head to a smaller, family-run spot if it means amazing food. The restaurant’s day-to-day culinary team doesn’t skimp on the seafood (which includes shrimp, calamari and mussels), while the harder rice around the edges and generous dollops of garlicky aioli keep every bite of this dish interesting.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

This eye-catching set of six Kyoto-style round sushi pieces is not only cute, it’s goddamn delicious. Individually seasoned with unique blends of salt, each temari is like an art gallery after-party in your mouth (which is to say, subtle and with some amount of panache). Each blend’s flavors bring out the taste of the Hollywood hilltop restaurant’s high-quality fish. Before you know it, they’re gone.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Pan-Asian
  • West Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

Fans of Iron Chef Morimoto’s other restaurants around the world might be familiar with this sizzling hot stone creation, a mash-up between Japanese donburi and Korean bibimbap. At Sa’Moto inside Doheny Room, a server prepares the dish tableside—breaking the raw egg yolk and searing the hamachi slices on the hot stone before dousing the mix in a sweet garlic soy sauce. Bites of crispy rice, seared yellowtail, pickled zenmai and spinach combine in one of the best iterations of nightlife-oriented pan-Asian fare outside of Nobu that L.A. has to offer.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Virgil Village
  • price 4 of 4

Served as part of chef Nan Yimcharoen’s 10-course Thai-Japanese dinner, Kinkan’s teacup full of ikura, sea urchin and toro kicks off what most will find to be an excellent, if not downright outstanding, celebratory meal. Although I loved all of Kinkan’s dishes on a mid-October visit, the elegant simplicity of this dish stood out to me as a singular expression of Yimcharoen’s commitment to the high art of sushi. A smidge of fresh grated wasabi and high-quality soy sauce elevate her signature dashi-marinated ikura, all in one whimsically plated dish.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Pan-Asian
  • West Hollywood
  • price 4 of 4

If you love Japanese omurice, you’ll also love this dish at Merois—Wolfgang Puck’s latest pan-Asian fine-dining spot in West Hollywood. Here, the culinary team tucks long-grain fried rice with bits of Peking duck, garlic chives and crab into a pillowy, bright yellow omelette made with dashi broth. Drizzled with demi-glace sauce and a sprinkle of microgreens, it’s a thoughtful and updated take on the same formula that’s won the veteran chef plenty of critical accolades for Chinois and Spago in decades past.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Asian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Though many dishes at Cobi’s, a newcomer on Santa Monica’s Main Street, will give diners plenty of food for thought, it’s chef Lance Mueller’s dry-aged kampachi that keeps me dreaming of a plate of well-seasoned raw fish. Dressed with lime juice, green chili and a coconut-based sauce reminiscent of a Polynesian ‘ota ‘ika, this dry-aged kampachi dish keeps me coming back here time and time again, even after trying the dozens of fish-based crudos, tartares, and carpaccios available across town.

From The Farm: Beef, pork, chicken and (yes) snails

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Beverly Hills
  • price 3 of 4

Technically, the snails used in French-style escargot are terrestrial. Served in a warm sea of herby French butter, Bicyclette’s escargots are a fun, if slightly hazardous appetizer—each pastry crust-topped ceramic pot comes to your table still hot from the oven. To eat them properly, use a small fork to free the crust, then flip it upside down, placing the snail inside before drizzling the herbed butter all over the thing and popping it whole in your mouth. “Like a mini taco!” the server excitedly told me. Mini snail tacos, escargots en croûte—whatever you choose to call them, they’re mouthwateringly good.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Highland Park
  • price 1 of 4

While most of the meats on hand at Jenny’s Tacos—aside from a rather dry chorizo on the night I went—are delicious, the buche, or beef stomach, remains the best in my eyes for its chewy, almost spongy texture. While the sound of these adjectives may not appeal to every diner, the combination of the Highland Park taco stand’s handmade tortillas and well-made salsas with the cut’s unique texture bring this sometimes polarizing branch of offal to new heights.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 3 of 4

Though there’s plenty to love at Cha Cha Chá—our pick for 2021’s best outdoor dining restaurant—the steak pa’taquear stands out from the rest as an underdog on an otherwise seafood-centric menu. Tender slices of a well-rested New York strip play well against a grilled nopal (prickly pear cactus), charred tomato and green onions and a red wine salsa, especially when folded into a rustic blue corn tortilla. Made to comfortably feed two people, the steak pa’taquear might not pop out amid Cha Cha Chá’s long list of tacos, tostadas and ceviches, but trust me: It’s well worth adding to your order.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Virgil Village

Above all, make sure to order the pastrami taco at Malli, Elizabeth Heitner and Nestor Silva’s weekly Jewish-Mexican pop-up at Melody. In one deceptively simple dish, the pair seamlessly blend their heritage cuisines together to produce a colorful taco with a cornucopia of flavor in every bite. Behold the pastrami taco: a smoky, fatty piece of guajillo spiced brisket, melted Swiss cheese and two types of salsa on an organic blue corn tortilla from La Princesita Tortilleria in Boyle Heights. Topped with hibiscus pickled onions, greens and a squeeze of lime, it’s a uniquely L.A. creation that justifies repeat treks across town to the ever-popular Virgil Village wine bar.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Koreatown
  • price 3 of 4

AYCE maximalists might scoff at Daedo Sikdang’s signature rib-eye trio, to which I simply say: more for me. Ordering the restaurant’s eponymous meat platter completed my full conversion to KBBQ minimalism. When grilled, the distinct marbling of three different ribeye cuts—roll, cap and strip—impart a nuanced triptych of texture and flavor, particularly when paired with the South Korean import’s green onion salad and kimchi radish cubes. After years of eating mostly cheap KBBQ in college, Daedo Sikdang’s original cut has more than convinced me to upgrade to (and budget for) a more premium price tag

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Culver City
  • price 3 of 4

Every night is a big night out at Etta in Culver City, and no dish exemplifies the Chicago transplant’s atmosphere of celebratory decadence more than their short rib picnic set. Built to serve a crowd, this whopping 40-ounce bone-in short rib comes nestled on a bed of buttery potato purée, plus lettuce cups, a refreshing yogurt sauce, selection of pickled and fresh vegetables and housemade bread. Similar to David Chang’s famed Momofuku ssam platter, the short rib picnic at Etta is a meat-centric choose-your-own adventure. Don’t like spicy? Skip the spicy peppers. Crisp seasonal greens and bright pickles keep this otherwise heavy meat-and-potato dish interesting—even when you’re taking home leftovers.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Koreatown
  • price 2 of 4

Surprise, surprise: The must-order item on Tokyo Hamburg’s menu is the Koreatown restaurant’s eponymous dish. A simple high-quality ground beef patty served with a bowl of rice and a side of coleslaw might not appeal to everyone, but if you love yoshoku—Western-influenced Japanese cuisine—then you’ll find this sizzle of juicy hamburg, which you cook yourself on hot stone, as mouthwatering as I do. The patty itself doesn’t have much flavor, but dipped in soy and sweet red chili sauce, each bite of meat and rice is cozy, filling and flavorful. Also available plain and with cheese, this homey, budget-friendly dish more than justifies checking out this casual neighborhood sleeper hit.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Though Alex Arutyunyan, the chef behind Todo Bien, told me the cheese-filled tacos and quesadillas are his fast-casual birrieria’s bestsellers, Todo Bien’s simpler traditional birria tacos leave the most indelible imprint in my eyes. Without the richness of queso, Todo Bien’s lighter take on Tijuana-style beef birria shines brighter alongside the restaurant’s housemade pickled red onions, peppers and carrots. If you’ve yet to dip a toe into the great birria boom, a trip to Todo Bien in Hollywood is a good place to start.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Highland Park
  • price 1 of 4

The spicy tomato jam is key on any breakfast sandwich from Belle’s Bagels, the Highland Park bagel shop that draws early morning lines to York Boulevard. However, the pastrami version (pictured left here) is particularly delicious; the smoky, fatty cut of brisket pairs particularly well with the tomato jam, which comes off as more sweet and smoky than true Scoville unit spicy. This ultra-heavy breakfast item is definitely worth getting for yourself, even while ordering a larger box of bagels for a crowd.

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Alhambra
  • price 1 of 4

My nostalgic, somewhat politicized fondness for shengjianbao is well-documented elsewhere, but the enduring excellence of this cash-only San Gabriel Valley restaurant’s shengjianbao justify another highlight this year. Juicy from the teaspoon or so of pork broth inside, these piping hot fried baos are a glorious sight to behold. Nestled eight to a box and flecked with sesame seeds, these hefty, oversized golf ball-sized dumplings are made using a giant imported wok and the expertise of a single mainland Chinese chef hired close to two decades ago. If you already love xiaolongbao (and don’t mind biting into a potential squirting hazard), you’ll love these too.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Century City
  • price 2 of 4

Crispy skirt! Crispy skirt! As unhinged as these words are to some, they’re the only way to describe one of the rarer delights among the various jiaozi, gyoza and mandu available in L.A. Known as a dumpling skirt, this difficult cooking technique results in a thin batter that fuses together all the fried dumplings in the pan—a wonderfully crispy amalgamation that shatters with each bite. Although not always offered (and only if you ask), Ramen Nagi is one of the few spots in town whose tasty, mini-sized gyoza sport this masterful—and entirely unnecessary—fashion accessory.

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Arcadia
  • price 2 of 4

While some people might stubbornly believe “upscale” and “dim sum” don’t belong in the same sentence, the black truffle shrimp and pork shumai at Tony He’s relatively new Arcadia restaurant serves as a solid testament to the Cantonese subcuisine’s fine-dining iterations. Here, the luxury topping complements the juicy ground pork and shrimp, each dumpling delicately nestled in a steamed wonton wrapper. Though not exactly a supporter of truffle-on-everything, even I have to admit that Chef Tony Dim Sum’s application of the often fraudulent ingredient here is, in a word, perfect.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Culver City
  • price 2 of 4

To be frank, your mileage may vary service-wise at Iron Teapot Dim Sum in Palms. It’s a scrappy first-time restaurant venture by owner Sally Chan, a San Gabriel Valley native who hopes to make high-quality dim sum a regular fixture of the Westside’s Chinese food scene. Despite the kitchen’s inconsistent pacing, several dim sum dishes at Iron Teapot still manage to impress, none more than the charcoal and squid ink-dyed xiaolongbao with Sichuan chili oil-infused pork inside. The distinctive numbing, spicy sensation of mala purrs in the jet black dumpling’s meat filling—a satisfying fusion of two distinctive regional cuisines well-loved by Angelenos who appreciate Chinese food.

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Westlake
  • price 2 of 4

At this self-described “not so Korean” restaurant on Koreatown’s eastern end, the menu is full of unique flavor bombs, from an Italian ragu sauced tteokbokki to kimchi tagliatelle topped with sous vide chicken. However, the simpler dweji dubbap is what brings me back to this strip mall restaurant with a nightmarish double-parked lot. Made from delectably seasoned rice, spicy ground pork, egg yolk, dried seaweed, Korean chives and pickled vegetables, it’s the perfect solo afternoon meal and a must-order sharing dish if you’re eating with others.  

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Culver City
  • price 2 of 4

Available on this downtown Culver City restaurant’s happy hour and dinner menus, this dish is literally one of the best fatty pork dishes in all of L.A. Seared pieces of miso-marinated pork jowl rest in a shallow pool of bright ponzu sauce, while slices of mildly spicy jalapeno peppers and a cilantro-based tiger salad garnish play well against the richness of the meat. Enough said.

  • Restaurants
  • Brazilian
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 3 of 4

Several layers, from the crispy skin used in Filipino and Mexican chicharron crisps to pork belly’s usual lean and fatty sections, make up the torresmo at Caboco, one of the best new restaurants this year. While the hyper-regional Downtown Brazilian spot’s fried tapioca bites and seafood items blew me away, the intensive cooking technique behind this deceptively plain dish left the longest lasting impression. Crunchy, crispy, fatty and meaty all in one, this dish is the must-order appetizer here.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Palms

Made with ginger and minced pork, this punnily named porridge dish at this Palms neighborhood Thai spot is warm and comforting. The nest of crispy rice noodles, soft-poached egg and green onions on top play well against the jook’s thick consistency and mild background notes of fragrant ginger. Only available on weekends, when the restaurant and café serves its breakfast menu, the Good Day’s Joke is the perfect way to enjoy a simple, savory breakfast, Thai style.

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

The (temporarily closed) restaurant’s Hainan chicken plate and pork chop pineapple bun-topped sandwich might be other people’s PRD favorites, but it was Johnny Lee’s glossy slices of Cantonese-style barbecue pork belly that left an indelible mark when I first visited Pearl River Deli in June of this year. Served with fresh white rice and steamed gai lan, PRD’s beautifully lacquered pieces of rich char siu are perfectly tender, slightly sweet and a welcome deviation from my typical preferred way of eating pork belly: Korean barbecue. While only time will tell if Lee chooses to regularly offer this dish when PRD’s new Hill Street location opens in 2022, I’m sure some iteration of its signature char siu will at least make its way into PRD 2.0’s rotating list of specials.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 2 of 4

Made with masa chips and topped with herbs, radishes and pickled onions, the goat curry at Girl and the Goat tastes like a mash-up between Mexican chilaquiles and Indonesian gulai kambing in the best way possible. The curry itself– gamey, milky and well-spiced–softens up the corn chips, paving the way for deeply satisfying, saucy forkfuls of meat and masa. Some might decry chef Stephanie Izard’s global pantry approach to cooking as dated, but I think some of her dishes, including this goat curry, are well on their way to becoming timeless.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Koreatown
  • price 3 of 4

A cross between Peking duck and a traditional French preparation, the dry-aged duck at this nightlife-oriented Koreatown restaurant and lounge is far better than it needs to be. The fatty duck skin’s slightly crispy outside, the tender, medium rare-cooked meat, the garlicky duck jus: all of it just sings, particularly with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and a side of mustard frill greens.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

In a city rich in tonkotsu specialists, Menya Tigre’s refreshingly different chicken-based curry broth is a welcome respite from unctuous, pork-based broth. While most versions of curry ramen around town generally leave one craving an actual plate of Japanese curry, this Sawtelle spot’s housemade roux is rich and flavorful—not an easy task, given the Japanese comfort dish’s inherent subtlety. Altogether, Tigre’s well-made slices of chashu pork and the bowl’s thick noodles (with just the right amount of bite) would convince even diehard tonkotsu fans to switch it up every so often.

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Koreatown
  • price 2 of 4

Also known as Mapo Galbi, Mapo Chicken’s signature dish has made this no-frills ajumma-run restaurant a beloved favorite among Korean food lovers for years. Meant to be eaten in groups of two or four, this bubbling red family-style dish full of chicken, rice cakes, perilla leaves and other vegetables can be spiced to your liking and modded out with cheese, udon noodles and extra vegetables. Make sure to save room for the fried rice, which your server will make at the end with the last of the skillet’s leftovers.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Westlake
  • price 1 of 4

Made with cayenne and two kinds of Sichuan peppercorns, even the mild version of chef Mei Lin’s fried chicken sandwich imparts a noticeable smidge of distinctive, mouth-numbing Sichuan mala. The deeply craggy, well-battered tender, more than half of which peaks out of the Martin’s potato roll, shatters on first bite. The sandwich’s pickled cabbage slaw, full of jalapeño slices, provides a refreshing balance against the richness of fried chicken, even as it adds more heat. In short, it’s sheer culinary genius, all in the palm of one hand.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Brentwood
  • price 3 of 4

Pan-fried to a deep golden brown, Imari’s chicken gyoza come topped with a fragrant sesame oil that imparts a new level of aroma and flavor to a simple pan-fried dumpling. The chicken filling’s white miso and garlic chives further add the dish’s overall umami, and while this Brentwood Japanese spot’s high-end sushi and A5 Wagyu selections might draw your eye, the dish I’d recommend above all remains the washoku restaurant’s extraordinary take on gyoza.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Peruvian
  • Culver City
  • price 2 of 4

A dozen rotating birds in a multi-level rotisserie oven line the back of CevicheStop’s small kitchen, churning out a mouthwateringly well-seasoned, ultra-moist chicken plate that gives classic standbys like Zankou and newer shops like Kismet a solid run for their money. Stripped off the bone, each bite is fragment and nicely cooked—even easily dried out breast meat. Gently priced, each chicken plate comes with rice, choice of side and an addicting black mint and parsley mayo-based green sauce.

From The Soil: Vegetable and grain-centric dishes

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Downtown Historic Core
  • price 1 of 4

While essentially the entire menu shines at Mina Park and Kwang Uh’s newest Korean takeout shop in Grand Central Market, the kimchi’d corn banchan from their now-closed, critically acclaimed Baroo stays in the forefront of my mind above all else. The stir-fried, fermented corn kernels pack a hefty amount of spicy, smoky flavor with just a few spoonfuls, making this vegan-friendly side dish a great ingredient for jazzing up simple meat and vegetable bowls at home and a must-order supplement to the three daily banchan included in Shiku’s dosirak meals.

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Koreatown
  • price 3 of 4

Forgo the usual Korean fried chicken in favor of this ultra-modern Koreatown drinking lounge’s luxurious tteokbokki. Made with rosé gochujang sauce, this version pairs a milder red pepper paste-based sauce with oyster mushrooms. Garnished perilla leaf and manchego cheese garnishes add a bit of pizzazz both in terms of presentation and flavor. Although the rest of Tokki’s menu features uni, truffles and other typical hallmarks of L.A. ine dining, their more gently priced rosé tteokbokki shows that five-star cooking doesn’t always have a five-star price tag.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Long Beach
  • price 1 of 4

When I ate one curbside outside Culver City’s Hi-Lo Liquor Market this August, Jason Winters’s white sourdough-based pie came topped with slices of purple Amarosa potato, red onion sofrito and grated pecorino cheese. The pizza’s rosemary cream base melded seamlessly with two types of cheese: shredded mozzarella and Point Reyes Toma, a semi-hard, tangy farmers’ cheese from Northern California. Although the Speak Cheezy van primarily operates as a private caterer and its market-driven menu changes regularly, you’ll likely find some version of this delectable personal-sized pizza at Winters’s upcoming Speak Cheezy brick-and-mortar in Long Beach, slated to open next year.

  • Restaurants
  • Ethiopian
  • Downtown Santa Monica

Flavorful and filling, Berbere’s hefty, multi-colored veggie plate is one of this fully vegan Ethiopian restaurant’s most popular items for good reason: It’s extremely delicious, full stop. Served with traditional Ethiopian injera, Eat the Rainbow features two colorful stews, red lentil and turmeric chickpea, as well as purple cabbage with potato and sautéed greens. Unwind each roll of injera to sponge up some stew. From there, it’s the start of a glorious build-your-own-bite lunchtime adventure.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • South Park
  • price 3 of 4

Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, these sunchokes at Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s new Downtown hotel lobby restaurant, Caldo Verde, are tender, flavorful and extremely addicting. Each plate of the crisp-fried root vegetable comes dressed in a sherry-based bright green scallion sauce and sunflower sides. Eaten with a side of Caldo Verde’s bright, creamy aioli, it’s a decadent way to get your daily dose of veggies in.

  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Downtown Fashion District
  • price 2 of 4

Fragrant with Thai basil and spiced with bird’s eye chili, this deeply satisfying vegetarian main contains soft pieces of orange kalabasa squash, wok-fried eggplant, scallions and plenty of garlic. Served over purple rice and topped with a locally sourced fried egg, Holy Basil’s gra pow eggplant might not catch your eye on a delivery app or when ordering ahead online, but one bite of this meaty eggplant dish will more than ensure it’s added to your usual Thai takeout roster.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Hot Tacos’ breakfast migas taco may get most of the love, but their vegan cauliflower taco on a beet-pink corn tortilla captured my heart with its perfect blend of al pastor spices and tender (not mushy) chunks of cauliflower. Topped with refried black beans, juicy grilled pineapple, cilantro and pickled habanero red onions, it’s an explosion of flavor and textures in your mouth with none of the usual taco meat involved. If you have the time, forgo a takeout order and eat it fresh en plein air outside the Line Hotel, where the Hot Tacos truck is currently parked.

  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Venice
  • price 2 of 4

Of all the imitation meat versions of the humble cauliflower I’ve eaten this year, Gran Blanco’s vegan-friendly, buffalo-sauced take is the best-tasting among them, even if it doesn’t entirely taste like the real deal. The zing of a red medium-heat buffalo sauce, the sprinkle of nutritional yeast and the tender chunks of vegetable combine to form a savory, saucy dish in a league all of its own. Unlike regular wings, you’ll likely want to eat these with a fork and knife.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Hollywood

While the summer pop-up of Ray Garcia’s now-closed, award-winning restaurant has since ended its run at NeueHouse, you’re likely to find some version of this mouthwatering appetizer at his upcoming spot anchored to Downtown’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, slated to open in early 2022. Made with crispy bits of fingerling potatoes, the papas at Broken Spanish at NeueHouse came dressed with San Marzano vinegar, cotija cheese and avocado salsa when I visited over the summer—the perfect start to a breathtakingly good meal on a warm summer evening in Hollywood.

 

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • East Hollywood

Lolo Wine Bar’s food menu is ever-changing, so don’t hate me if these candy-sweet roasted heirloom carrots aren’t available on your next visit. When I visited in June, they came nestled in labneh whipped with garlic and feta cheese and topped with chili oil, walnuts, parsley and a dukkah spice blend. As fleeting and ephemeral as jacaranda season, this Middle Eastern-inspired dish was a true showcase of seasonal California cuisine—and I hope you’ll find something similar on a visit to Lolo Wine Bar quite soon.

Just Desserts: Cakes, sweets and icy things

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary Asian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Creamy, dreamy and entirely vegan, this Thai tea pudding at Cobi’s in Santa Monica is a boba lover’s delight. The black pearls swim in a sea of lemongrass brown sugar syrup, all atop a plush, agar-based pudding. If you are the type of person who can’t get your hands on Tiger Sugar popsicles and enjoyed Wanderlust Creamery’s limited-edition boba milk tea ice cream last year, this is the must-order dessert for you—and it happens to be fully plant-based.

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

Sasha Pilgian’s Glendale cottage bakery and occasional pop-up has many whimsical, fruit-forward baked goods, but this cake slice from a May Microbakery’s pastry box at a Platform pop-up this spring stood out for me above all else. Piligian uses a Sonoran wheat passion fruit chiffon cake base, which she layers with passion fruit lime curd and a lightweight cream cheese mousse. Paired with salted white chocolate buttercream and colorful flowers, this cake (also available to order whole) tastes like a tropical L.A. spring—as impossible in nature as the floral still-life paintings by 17th-century Dutch painter Rachel Ruysch, and just as beautiful.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Westwood
  • price 2 of 4

If you loved licking brownie batter out of the bowl as a child, the chocolate pave at Lulu is more than worth going out of your way for. Covered in powdered sugar, this small, fudge-like slab (whose original recipe comes from Chez Panisse) evoked fond childhood memories of baking with my mother. It’s moist, chocolatey and topped with whipped cream—a winning formula in most cases, but particularly elegant here. After a bite of this simple brown square, even diehard Chez Panisse haters might soften their hearts at the thought of this delicious chocolate pave.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • West Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Crispy, almost crepe thin and laced all over from a well-greased griddle, Salt’s Cure’s buckwheat pancakes have inspired its owners to give them a full-on spinoff where they can shine all on their own. Topped with a bit of butter and syrup, they’re good in any flavor and light enough that you don’t want to roll back into bed after you invariably inhale the whole plate. Available in plain, blueberry, apple, banana nut and dark chocolate chip, Salt’s Cure buckwheat pancakes are available in West Hollywood and Santa Monica (and NYC’s West Village, if you find yourself on the other side of the country).

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • La Brea
  • price 3 of 4

Basque cheesecake went mainstream this year, and while you can now find this crustless burnt cheesecake on many restaurant and bakery menus across the city, the version by République’s Margarita Manzke remains the most impressive in my eyes. Jiggly in the middle, with an artfully cracked deep brown top, République’s Basque cheesecake inspires oohs and aahs and “what is that” when ordered whole for any special occasion. Milder in flavor and softer than a New York-style cheesecake, it can also be ordered by the slice while dining in at the Hancock Park restaurant during the day.

  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Fans of the newest Rustic Canyon restaurant in Santa Monica typically gravitate towards its retro rose petal pie, but don’t sleep on Birdie G’s rice pudding topped with seasonal accoutrements either. Chef Jeremy Fox turns what might seem like a humdrum cafeteria dessert into a blank palate for toppings like pistachios, peach and basil, or more recently, roasted apple and hazelnuts. The dessert also happens to be fully vegan and gluten-free.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Bistros
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

The devil’s in the details at Horses, whose cocoa-dusted torte, pictured here, might look like any other old crowd-pleasing rich chocolate dessert paired with vanilla ice cream. Instead, a wonderfully light milk sorbet, made without cream, plays particularly well with the newly opened European brasserie’s fluffy, slightly bittersweet chocolate cake. Decadent yet nuanced, like essentially all of the fare at this revitalized Sunset Strip restaurant, the dark chocolate torte at Horses is a must-order for anyone craving a grown-up version of their frosting-rich chocolate cake.

  • Restaurants
  • Pan-Asian
  • West Hollywood
  • price 4 of 4

By far, the most eye-catching dessert at Wolfgang Puck’s newest restaurant is the Spikey Lemon—a veritable piece of edible modern art that Merois’s pastry team manages to skillfully reproduce over and over each night of dinner service. A calamansi-flavored cake sphere filled with a molten core of yuzu curd, the confection bombards your tongue with citrus in the best way possible. Dotted with edible gold and crunchy swirls of meringue, it’s a special occasion show-stopper worth ordering each time you visit.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Patisseries
  • Downtown Financial District
  • price 2 of 4

When you’re attempting to pick up cute dessert at Bottega Louie's West Hollywood location, the part that doesn’t make it into the end-result picture is this: The parking is downright impossible there. To secure this purple-iced red velvet cake that was topped with an adorable skull over Halloweekend, I was jettisoned by their third-party valet (dine-in customers only), yelled at by a parking lot security guard with a power complex and then hoofed it in heels from a block away from a metered spot 20 minutes later. This entire journey might be worth it for you, however, after you’ve tasted one of Bottega Louie’s confectioneries, which are as delicious as they are pretty—this one was made with raspberry jam. (It’s probably better to just head Downtown now that it’s open again.)

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Los Feliz

Refreshing, light and topped in chunks of pineapple, Atrium’s coconut sorbet initially might not sway you from the restaurant’s heavier desserts, like its Basque-style cheesecake or dark chocolate tart, but this icy, seasonal delight is like a tropical getaway for the tongue. With a taste reminiscent of a virgin piña colada, head chef James LaLonde manages to evoke all the escapist joy of a Margaritaville-style drink with a mini umbrella, without all the headache-inducing rum.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Santa Monica
  • price 3 of 4

Salted caramel, mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of olive oil round out this crowd-pleasing chocolate treat at Santa Monica’s Élephante—a sceney, upscale date spot with a Cal-Italian menu that is surprisingly delicious, consistent and well-executed. Amid a busy Time Out schedule of new openings, I made time to go back here a second time this fall, mostly to have this dessert again with their only Cabernet Sauvignon offered by the glass. It’s that good—and the views, particularly at sunset, are even better.

  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Silver Lake
  • price 2 of 4

Rosewater custard, hibiscus syrup, shredded coconut and pistachios make up this ultra-creamy Middle Eastern dessert, a sweet tribute to the Israeli version that head chef Lior Hillel ate with his late father. Available at all Bacari locations, the malabi arrives at your table in an unassuming Mason jar, carrying a unique, memorable blend of Middle Eastern ingredients like rose and pistachio with the mini-chain’s now widely imitated arsenal of global and Mediterranean flavors. Instead of bombarding diners with sugar, like similarly flavored scoops from Persian ice cream shops around town, Hillel’s malabi imparts a more nuanced, milder sweetness, making this dish the perfect way to round out the range of diverse flavors that accompany every meal at this beloved local mini-chain.

Drinks: Wine, cocktails and juice

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 3 of 4

The strawberry milk punch is by far the most popular cocktail on Cha Cha Chá’s dinner menu for both visual and gustatory appeal. Made with tequila blanco, this pretty cocktail contains depths thanks to amaretto liqueur, strawberry juice and a sprinkle of a sumac spice blend on a single giant ice cube. It’s strong, with just a hint of sweet, and perfect for anyone trying to branch out from their usual margarita while dining on the restaurant’s gorgeous patio, which we named the Best Outdoor Dining Spot of 2021.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

Devised by the Hollywood bar’s new drinks director Tess Anne Sawyer, the Tannic at the Disco is a playful riff on a traditional cosmo. Freshly made, the drink comes in two distinct red and white layers, the top being made of Lambrusco and the bottom of Grey Goose La Poire, Cointreau, white cranberry juice and lime. The flavors of this drink, which runs on the sweeter side, blend together as you sip it, in a surprisingly good combination of red wine and vodka.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • South Park
  • price 3 of 4

The powdered sugar-rimmed Basilicata at Hotel Figueroa’s new dinnertime eatery arrives at the table on a plate covered with flowers—a grand and fitting entrance for a bright Aperol orange drink that contains something called “strawberry air.” Thanks to amaro lucano (an Italian herbal liqueur) and Campari bitters, the fruity sweetness of this cocktail, named for the most mountainous region in Southern Italy, surprisingly doesn’t overpower you over the course of a meal. Instead, the premium priced cocktail more than justifies its cost while complementing the restaurant’s excellent takes on regional Italian dishes.

  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • East Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Though Bé Ù also offers Vietnamese coffee and sparkling limeade, I’d recommend the harder-to-find rau má over either of them anyday. Made from the leaves and stems of the pennywort plant, this iced dark green drink has an herbal, almost green juice-like flavor that’s perfect on a hot day or after a hike. While it won’t make you think “I’m definitely drinking vegetables'' like a pure cold-pressed green juice, the version offered by Bé Ù definitely tastes almost medicinal in nature. (The fact it’s sweetened helps stave off any strong comparisons to actual medicine.)

Advertising
  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Venice
  • price 3 of 4

While the price-to-satiety ratio of the food at this new Argentine natural wine bar in Venice didn’t quite fit the bill for me on a recent fall visit, Varro’s house-made pinot noir was so fun, light and drinkable I bought a bottle to enjoy elsewhere. (Since the restaurant receives the wine by the barrel in the interest of sustainability, this request initially poised an issue.) Served chilled, it’s the highly sippable in-house extension of the restaurant’s fully organic, small producer and majority-natural wine list. 

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising