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You need to visit Otoño, Highland Park’s new modern-Spanish gem

Otoño new Spanish restaurant in Highland Park
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Otoño

There’s Japanese dashi in the paella, there’s miso with the vegetable stock. There’s the influence of Italian grandmothers in the anchovy-scented goat butter, and that jamón ibérico sauce over your buttery local cod? It’s tonkatsu broth.

As a Spanish restaurant, Otoño hits all the staples from the Iberian Peninsula, filling tabletops with tapas and communal pans of paella, and goblets with gin and tonics sprouting theatrical botanical stems. But chef-owner Teresa Montaño would never let tradition get in the way of Otoño’s creativity—she thinks of the classics as more of an inspiration than a restriction, and it's what makes Highland Park’s latest one of L.A.’s most exciting new restaurants.

As the chef of Pasadena’s now-shuttered but long-running Basque tapas destination, RaciónMontaño already knew her way around a Spanish menu. But at her newest—a lively spot split between an inviting bar and moody dining area—Montaño can finally push the boundaries of the cuisine in ways she’d hoped to for years.

“I wanted to do all new things, but I also had a lot of dishes at Ración that kind of fell on deaf ears,” she says. “Mostly we didn’t have the audience in Pasadena, so I would just play with things. I kind of used Ración as my laboratory to throw something out there and see what happens.” The result? Otoño’s rundown of Spanish classics that feel fresh thanks to country-crossing touches, some of which were inspired by Montaño’s two months of travel through Spain, Italy and Denmark in preparation for the new restaurant.

While she reveres time spent picking up recipes from Italian nonnas and hand-molding pasta during her travels, don’t look for orecchiette on Montaño’s menu anytime soon. Instead, her afternoons at Pugliese fish markets or meals in Copenhagen manifest more subtly, perhaps only as much as that hidden undertone of white miso in the veggie paella. “Any kind of food influence like that, even of just a basic tomato sauce and how simple things like that can be, brought me full circle to how simple this food should be,” she says. It’s a simplicity that works with her restaurant’s more local influence: like with so many L.A. chefs, California produce.

Inspired by Southern California’s rotating bounty, the restaurant’s menu changes sometimes as frequently as daily, swapping out an item or two on the happy hour menu, here dubbed “Siesta Hour,” where tapas are as inexpensive as $3. This is where Montaño toys with hyper-seasonal bites, sometimes prepared as simply as the charcoal-grilled cherry tomatoes topped with nothing but an in-house prawn-and-tomato salt. She lets ingredients shine, keeping a spotlight on quality without sacrificing creativity.

The beverage front is just as inventive, with bar director Josh Suchan tackling Spanish mainstays such as vermouth, gin and tonics and sherry by reimagining the classics. The Tinto de Verano, a sangria-adjacent beverage, is typically made with Sprite and rosé or white wine; behind Suchan’s bar, it’s made with rosé, a Spanish-style rum and some Pellegrino lemon soda before it gets bottled in-house.

The wine list, helmed by Katie Putterlik, keeps its focus primarily on Spain but diverges into California, Greece and Portugal, picking up boutique, natural-wine and newer producers along the way. In keeping with the restaurant’s flare for modernization, you can even expect some sakes alongside the menu’s Old World wines and sherries—because at Otoño, it’s the cultural blending that makes this spot special, and the team is thankfully more than willing to blow up borders. 

Otoño is now open at 5715 N Figueroa St, serving from 4pm to midnight Sunday and Tuesday to Thursday, and 4pm to 2am Friday and Saturday.

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