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The best restaurant and bar openings of 2016

Paley
Photograph: Courtesy Paley

Every 365 days, we seem to hear that this was the penultimate year for L.A.'s dining scene, that 2013, 2014, 2015 was the very best time to eat out in our fair city. There's room for debate, of course, but I feel that, compared to last year, 2016 was a bit lackluster when it came to outstanding restaurants opening. Many hyped-up restaurants seemed to fall short, while others that deserved praise were generally ignored. Still, there were a few restaurants and bars that left an impression this year. Here are a few favorites—what were some of yours?

Paley 

It could be said that Paley is too ostentatious, too pretty, too whatever, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's home to the best new raw bar in town (order the scallops), incredible cocktails and one of the most talked-about desserts from this year—popcorn ice cream.

Howlin' Ray's

Howlin' Ray's stole our hearts in food truck form before 2016, but this year they opened a brick-and-mortar in Far East Plaza—and mayhem promptly ensued. Lines for their Nashville hot chicken have wait times that are hours, not minutes, but after a bite of chicken, a scoop of collard greens and a couple pickles thrown in for good measure, you'll be glad you waited.

 

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

 

 

Baran's 2239

This small restaurant in a Hermosa Beach strip mall opened with little fanfare this year, but it deserves to be on everyone's radar. From the little things—homemade focaccia with umami butter, an incredible cheese board and a shaved Brussels sprouts salad—to bigger items, like smoked fried chicken and fantastic fennel sausage tortellini, Baran's has made a name for itself in the South Bay and beyond.

Room 31

Didn't hear about this one either? That's because it's Eagle Rock's first and only cocktail bar, hidden in the back of a sports bar. It's tiny, nondescript and casual, but Marcos Menendez from bar consulting and design firm Alchemy & Stone is serving some phenomenal cocktails here, like the ultra-boozy Saint Charles and the entirely refreshing Blackberry Smash.

Salazar

The success of Salazar is an accumulation of many things: the really, really good steak that chef Esdras Ochoa grills out back, a relaxing patio that embodies the California spirit, the palomas that will have you feeling dizzy after just one drink. It's a restaurant that L.A. deserved, and one that we hope sticks around for a while.

 

Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

 

 

Gwen

Curtis Stone's sophomore project lived up to its hype, and those who were waiting for the follow-up to Maude found themselves fawning over the restaurant's meat-heavy tasting menu. House-made charcuterie gives way to lamb three-ways, cured salmon and more, and ends with an impeccable dessert like celery sorbet. 

Good Housekeeping

One of the best bars to emerge this year was Good Housekeeping, a Highland Park cocktail bar from a couple of Bestia alumns. Located behind newcomer Café Birdie, Good Housekeeping has the vibe of a liquor-obsessed friend's living room. You'll find plenty of classic cocktails here, plus a couple with some modern twists, like a daiquiri made with chartreuse syrup.

Unit 120 

Alvin Cailan opened Unit 120 in Far East Plaza at the beginning of this year, but it seems like a countless number of restaurants, pop-ups and collaborations have emerged from the space since then. Unit 120 has given us LASA, Amboy and Isa Fabro's pastries, all of which contributed toward the popularization of Filipino food in L.A.; as well as Detroit pizza nights, Easy's burgers and Here's Looking at You. We can't wait to see what 2017 brings for this one-of-a-kind culinary incubator.

Westbound

The location of this bar might be a little awkward—it's in the One Santa Fe space, a curious corner of the Arts District—but step inside the cocktail bar and you'll be treated to some unbelievably talented bar skills. Try the Santa Fe De Luxe, a medley of brown butter Cimarrón Reposado tequila, mezcal, thyme sage syrup, pecan bitters and apple bitters. 

 

Photograph: Dylan + Jeni

 

 

Kali

Formerly known as the supper club pop-up Kali Dining, chefs Kevin Meehan and Drew Langley turned their sporadic dining experience into a neighborhood brick and mortar in Larchmont Village, offering fresh and simple Californian cuisine in a casual setting. It made for one of the most successful tasting menu concepts in 2016, with dishes like wheat berry risotto, cavatelli pasta and charred avocado. 

Horse's Mouth

Another sleeper this year, Horse's Mouth replaced IOTA Brew Cafe with an expansive oyster bar and a menu filled with dishes like duck pancakes, curry mussels and lobster bucatini. But it's the little things here that made it stand out even more: the availability of Hitachino Nest beer on tap, the dessert wontons filled with cream cheese and cookie dough and dusted with five spice, and the casualness of the space that make it's fantastic food all the more surprising. 

Erven

Chef Nick Erven has created a beautiful vegan restaurant in Santa Monica. Erven is a marketplace and eatery housed in a modern, airy space, and offers dishes like sunchoke bread pudding, a beer-battered tofu sandwich and a cookie sandwich with toasted "marshmallow" (chickpea) sauce. The restaurants is, miraculously, a place that both vegans and non-vegans will emerge from saying, "That was something special."

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