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Photograph: Courtesy The Ingalls

The 20 best new L.A. restaurants of 2021

Despite it all, these new L.A. standouts made us fall in love with dining out again.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
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Let’s be real: In 2021, every restaurant was a new restaurant, in one shape or another. As we round out the second year of a global pandemic, the term “best” largely fails to capture all the hard work, ingenuity and creativity of the new eateries that opened in Los Angeles this year. After the entire industry started the year in survival mode, at least 75 new  restaurants opened (and in some cases, reopened) that had local media buzzing this year, plus dozens of smaller neighborhood spots. 

We think these 20 newcomers in particular deserve widespread recognition for exceptional cuisine, ambience and service in the face of industry-wide supply chain issues, a nationwide staffing crisis and the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic. From takeout to fine dining, these standout L.A. restaurants have created delicious, creative and inspiring food (and dining experiences) while we all found ourselves adjusting to the new normal.

We also invite you to check our list of best new restaurants from 2020, many of whom spent their first months in existence operating entirely as takeout operations last fall and winter. Aside from the now-shuttered Valle, all of them are still open, and still excellent, and while you may not see them on this year’s list, Gigi’s and Mírame were some of the hardest reservations to snag during our brief hot vax summer. A few have already joined our list of the best restaurants in L.A., and we also named Pearl River Deli our Best Restaurant of 2021.

Now that that’s settled, we present our favorite new restaurants from 2021. We don’t think it would be fair to hold this year’s new restaurants to the same standards of the world before March 2020, so instead of ranking our picks this year, we’ve listed them chronologically by opening date. On here you’ll find affordable takeout, big-ticket fine dining and everything in between—just like the collective food scene of Los Angeles itself.

Time Out L.A.’s best new restaurant of 2021

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

Opened in: June

Though chef-owners Walter and Margarita Manzke have yet to open the upstairs portion of their two-story traditional French restaurant on Pico Boulevard, their downstairs concept, Bicyclette, has already won our eyes, hearts, minds and stomachs with its charming all-wood interiors, excellent service and Parisian bistro fare. Unlike sister spot République, the menu at our pick for the Best New Restaurant of 2021 hews quite close to the annals of old French cooking. In practice, this means lots of wine, garlic, herbs, butter—including the must-order escargots en croûte. While Bicyclette’s reservations book out weeks in advance, solo diners or parties of two can typically find room at the bar. Don’t forget about dessert either: Margarita’s James Beard-nominated tarts and pastries are unforgettable.

The rest of L.A.’s best new restaurants of 2021, in order of opening date

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

Opened in: January

A love letter to homestyle Korean food inside Grand Central Market, Shiku is the sophomore project of Kwang Uh and Mina Park, the same chefs who started the nationally acclaimed, fermentation-obsessed Baroo, which closed in 2018. We love Shiku’s perfectly portioned dosirak (Korean lunch boxes). They’re beautifully presented takeout lunches with three types of house-made banchan and a choice of L.A.-style galbi, kimchi-braised pork belly or doenjang-marinated chicken. Plus, they also make fried shiitake mushrooms, which happen to be vegan. With Uh and Park’s fermentation skills, Shiku’s take-home, larger portioned banchan are equally mouthwatering and include their signature kimchi yellow corn from Baroo.

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

Opened in: January

Top Chef’s Mei Lin wowed diners in 2019 with her elegant Arts District restaurant, Nightshade, and while her new, fast-casual fried chicken concept also wields Asian ingredients in innovative ways, Daybird really sets itself apart—both from its predecessor, and from the rest of L.A.’s booming fried chicken scene. Dusting tenders and massive planks of breaded Jidori chicken thighs with a hot-and-numbing Sichuan spice blend, Daybird is unique in a sea of Nashville-style hot chicken operations, providing heat from a different part of the globe. Sandwiches get topped with a tangy, refreshing cabbage slaw that’s rife with pickled chilies (unless you’re looking for less heat, in which case it can be made without) and can get dunked into house-made sauces such as a habanero ranch, hot honey and the namesake Daybird sauce. Even with dine-in restaurants open again, one bite of Daybird fried chicken is enough to make you almost want to have a parking lot car picnic again. Almost.

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  • Restaurants
  • Filipino
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

Opened in: February

Since our review of Lasita in October, the second iteration of this thoughtful Filipino restaurant in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza has found its groove as a reservation-free fast-casual spot with excellent natural wine. Focused on two essential Filipino staple dishes, chicken inasal and pork belly lechon, the latter being the standard by which most Filipino restaurants are judged, Lasita is a showcase in why, oftentimes, simpler is just better. Its spectacular atchara (pickled vegetables) pairs beautifully with either the flavorful, moist inasal and crispy, crackly pork belly, available by the half-pound or in a combo plate. Each of Lasita’s well-made sauces—particularly the coconut green goddess—tastes so delicious and distinctive you’ll likely want to order a trio, and Lasita’s weekend-only calamansi cream pie from nearby Laroolou is out-of-this-world good.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Pasadena Playhouse District
  • price 3 of 4

Opened in: February

Sporting a little bit of Basque flavor, plenty of Pacific Northwest style and a wealth of gorgeous seafood, Pasadena’s Saso has brought Basque-inspired seafood to the space adjoining the serene Pasadena Playhouse. Chef and Oregon native Dominique Crisp’s light, bright and seasonal menu includes a raw bar, where you might find succulent grilled oysters under miso butter and scallions, as well as pintxos for more small bites. As for the entrées, expect seared salmon, whole grilled Dungeness crab and a revolving door of weekly and daily specials. It’s also—when the Playhouse isn’t using it—home to one of the most charming new restaurant patios in L.A.

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

Opened in: March

This plant-filled, mostly outdoor rooftop restaurant hailing from Mexico City may have only opened in March, but it already feels like a regular fixture of the Arts District’s date night-friendly dining scene. The indoor-outdoor space’s stunning design (and our Best Outdoor Dining Spot of 2021) plays host to meals with impeccable cocktails and, of course, great food, all while fielding high-volume weekend crowds. Here, you’ll find Cha Cha Chá’s addicting house-made tortilla chips, thicker than most in this city, which make an order of guacamole an essential for any table. Though its bluefin and charred octopus tostadas are the crowd-pleasers, Cha Cha Chá also wows with its grilled mushroom tacos—which we’d order over the meat ones any day of the week. Just be sure to bring a jacket; even with heaters, some tables on the patio can get chilly in L.A.’s cooler months.

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

Opened in: March

This community-driven takeout spot in Silver Lake serves fresh, bright and comforting Vietnamese food that’s so affordable and delicious, you’d be wise to order the whole menu—especially if it’s your first time there. Snacks like fried shallot-topped grilled street corn and verdant rice paper rolls feel light but still packed with flavor, while dishes like the chicken rice porridge and the bánh mì are substantial and fulfilling. What’s more, every dish runs under $11: a feat in L.A.’s dining scene, especially considering chef and owner Uyên Lê’s business model that pays above-average restaurant wages, plus health benefits and pooled tips. Bé Ù is a testament to the simple fact that good food can be both affordable for the community and made ethically—something we certainly hope to see more of in the future.

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

Opened in: May

Soulmate opened its doors—and breathtakingly gorgeous open-air patio—in May, bringing its well-designed interiors, delicious craft cocktails and upscale Spanish Mediterranean cuisine to West Hollywood. With its mood lighting and nightlife-adjacent location, a primetime dinner slot at Soulmate was one of the most sought-after reservations this summer, and it’s still tough to snag one even now. The restaurant’s seafood paella skillet, meant to serve two, is a must-order menu item, while its fun, tapas-style starters like croquetas de pollo, eggplant hummus and spicy paella bites skillfully blend traditional Spanish small plates with other globally inspired dishes Angelenos know and love.

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

Opened in: May

With its glittering views of the L.A. skyline and flawlessly executed cuisine, Wolfgang Puck’s newest fine-dining eatery puts all the other new upscale WeHo hotel restaurants to shame. Located on the roof of the Pendry, Merois (pronounced “mehr-wha”) also features colorful furniture and luxurious, drape-lined chandelier lighting. Head chef Matt Dahlkemper and chef de cuisine Nicole Abisror, a longtime Spago and CUT kitchen veteran, keep the well-executed menu fresh and relevant with newer dishes like a crispy rice crab salad and stir-fried flat noodles with short rib. While Puck’s fine-dining formula may no longer feel novel in today’s sea of L.A. restaurants hawking pan-Asian seasonal Californian cuisine, formulas exist for a reason: because they work.

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  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Koreatown
  • price 3 of 4

Opened: June

Originally from Seoul, Daedo Sikdang is a pared-down homage to South Korea’s hanu beef. Having drawn crowds since opening, this experience is upscale Korean barbecue minimalism at its finest. Unlike other KBBQ spots that put the diner in the driver’s seat, the staff at Daedo plays chauffeur, expertly cutting your rib eye and ensuring each diner gets perfectly grilled bite-sized pieces of meat, and while wait times on weekends can stretch into the hour-plus range, a round of soju-based mojitos at Daedo’s stunning bar makes that time disappear into thin air. To round out your meal, order their signature fried rice, meant to be eaten after you finish grilling. Made with imported South Korean kkakdugi, or fermented radish, it’s a perfect penultimate course when topped with a fried egg before ending with their refreshingly mild milky soft-serve ice cream for dessert.

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

Opened in: July

After a long awaited, pandemic-delayed L.A. debut, this high-profile Midwestern import from Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard opened with all-around high praise in the Arts District this summer. Bringing some of the restaurant’s signature dishes from Chicago, like goat empanadas and sautéed green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews, Izard’s new L.A. location has also made quick work of Southern California’s abundant high-quality produce. Against the 200-seat restaurant’s airy, plant-heavy backdrop, a meal at Girl & the Goat is the pinnacle of the bustling, buzzy dine-in restaurant experience we’ve missed for so long.

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

Opened in: August

In the realm of ultra-pricey sushi omakase, a focus on painstakingly sourced ingredients can sometimes almost eclipse a chef’s individual artisanship. At Kinkan, a buzzy pandemic era pop-up turned brick-and-mortar Virgil Village restaurant, however, Nan Yimcharoen deftly balances high-quality raw seafood with uniquely Thai flourishes, including a deep-fried baby crab atop butterfly pea noodles and delicately cut-out vegetable flowers nestled against slices of salmon sashimi. No one dish truly stands out, because Kinkan is the rare restaurant where this distinction means consistency, all-around excellence and pure delight. The phrase “casual fine dining” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s simply the most accurate description for Kinkan, where the cozy meets the connoisseurial.

 

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

Opened in: September

Located in the new Shay Hotel complex in Culver City, Etta is the first West Coast outpost of an Italian-ish Chicago restaurant known for its house-made pasta, large-format roasted meats and, last but not least, its noteworthy “porron and a Polaroid.” Using a Spanish-style wine decanter, diners can spend an entire evening pouring wine down each others’ throats while snapping photos with a provided Fujifilm Instax Mini—the ultimate way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or job promotion. With Brad Ray (of Antico and L.A.’s Nomad) on hand as executive chef, the party keeps going all the way through the dessert menu, which includes a vegan-friendly coconut sorbet or their mint chip semifreddo, a grown-ups’ version of grasshopper pie, the frozen mid-century treat.

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

Opened in: September

Lomo saltado, juicy rotisserie chicken and a dreamy Peruvian ceviche with leche de tigre: Culver City’s CevicheStop is cooking some of the best Peruvian food in town, plus a few signature dishes from its chef, Walther Adrianzen, who’s been cooking similar fare at nearby Lonzo’s for years. In spite of its location at the gridlock-prone corner of La Cienega and Washington, this isn’t run-of-the-mill roadside takeout. Whether you’re opting for the eye-catching Hangover ceviche, made with fresh fish, calamari and huge Peruvian corn kernels, or their rotisserie chicken, served by the quarters, halves or whole, there’s simply no wrong order here. Combined with its small patio and even a few parking spaces, CevicheStop is a fast-casual roadside eatery worth stopping for.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Century City
  • price 3 of 4

Opened in: September

Beautifully decorated with an eclectic mix of French antiques, Century City’s Lumière is a French-Californian brasserie in the lobby of the Fairmont Century Plaza. Since opening in late September, it’s been readily embraced by the hotel’s clientele and the nearby Hollywood talent agent set. However, Lumière’s carefully executed bistro fare—including an excellent salad niçoise at lunch—and five-star service is worth a visit for anyone in search of a brief, luxurious respite from regular life. The restaurant’s greenery-lined outdoor patio features an herb garden, stone fountain and repurposed spires from a French cathedral charmed us on a recent lunchtime visit, while its indoor seating and bar areas (including an airy, sun-lit solarium) cater to a variety of moods.

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

Opened in: October

Run by São Paulo culinary veteran Rodrigo Oliveira, Caboco might confuse most L.A. diners used to churrascarias on first blush. However, the end result at this colorful, high-ceiling Brazilian restaurant in the Arts District is worth deciphering its menu full of rare ingredients from the nation’s southeastern Amazonian region. In terms of drinks, Caboco also offers an extensive selection of cachaças, a sugarcane-based spirit, as well as an array of caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail. While the menu is full of seafood-centric surprises, the torresmo, a crispy seven-layer pork belly served with lime wedges, and the crispy tapioca bites are must-orders. Look out for dishes containing jambú flowers: Also known as buzzbuttons, they impart a slightly tingly sensation—a slow-burning delight for the tongue.

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

Opened in: October

After over two years, A.O.C.’s Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne have finally opened Caldo Verde at the Downtown L.A. Proper Hotel (as well as Cara Cara, the upstairs rooftop bar and lounge). Taking the lion’s share of the hotel’s impeccably designed, Moorish-leaning ground floor, the all-day Caldo Verde skillfully melds Spanish and Portuguese flavors with market-driven Californian cuisine. The end result is an elegant symphony that’ll leave you in anticipation with every passing dish, from the addicting fried sunchokes to the namesake caldo verde: a big-ticket kale, potato and seafood soup that comfortably serves two, or three with other small plates. Other highlights: A.O.C.’s rustic boule alongside Portuguese cheese, pillow-tender beef cheeks and a delicious banana tarte tatin. Goin and Styne might be well-seasoned L.A. hospitality veterans, but a meal at Caldo Verde will more than affirm that they haven’t lost their touch.

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

Opened in: October

Offering broadly Southeast Asian cuisine and natural wines in a cozy, chic setting, Cobi’s is the newest addition to the nightlife coterie along Santa Monica’s Main Street. Run by the eponymous Cobi Marsh, along with former E.P. & L.P. chef Lance Mueller, the space once occupied by Dhaba—a longtime area Indian spot—is decked out with houseplants, floral wallpaper and antique furniture. Beyond its extremely en vogue grandma aesthetic, however, Cobi’s all-around excellent Southeast Asian-inspired dishes set the restaurant apart by far. A raw kampachi in coconut dressing imparts the richness of an Indonesian gulai kambing, while a jungle curry arrives at the table full of baby corn, miniscule Thai eggplant and green peppercorns. If you please: Save room for the black sugar boba-topped Thai tea pudding.

  • Restaurants
  • Bistros
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

Opened in: October

Horses isn’t the first restaurant and bar serving European-style bistro fare with California influences, nor is it likely it will be the last. Nonetheless, the food, ambience and history make this Sunset Boulevard restaurant stand out from the rest of the pack. A 21st-century revival of Ye Coach & Horses—a Hollywood hideout dating back to the ‘30s—Horses takes a blended preservationist approach to its three-room interior while offering top-notch cocktails and lavish dishes, like fried veal sweetbreads, a cheesy, all-endive Caesar salad and a Cornish game hen dressed with dandelion panzanella. Both drinks and desserts, including a must-order dark chocolate tart with milk sorbet, are executed with razor-sharp precision, lifting the upscale Hollywood bistro from “pretty good” to the ranks of “great.”

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  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • Koreatown
  • price 3 of 4

Opened in: October

At the far end of Koreatown’s crowded Chapman Plaza you’ll find Tokki, a dimly-lit, ultra-modern Korean restaurant selling rice spirit-based cocktails and a small menu of luxurious takes on traditional Korean drinking fare. A whimsical neon bunny sign will greet you at the door (“tokki” means rabbit in Korean) at this already-popular spot, which opened quietly this fall. Each artfully arranged dish by NYC Atomix veteran and head chef Sunny Jang manages to expertly meld familiar Korean flavors with fine-dining flourishes and ingredients, from a tteokbokki in rosé gochujang sauce to a kimchi fried rice with truffle-infused bulgogi and supplemental A5 Wagyu. Hungry already? Be sure to make a reservation—even on weeknights, you’ll very likely need one.

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