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Hop Woo BBQ pork wonton noodle soup
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

These are the 25 L.A. dishes that got us through 2020

We laughed, we cried, we got through it thanks to these dishes from across Los Angeles.

Michael Juliano
Written by
Stephanie Breijo
&
Michael Juliano
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As Shania Twain once sang: looks like we made it. We’ve persevered through everything 2020 had to throw at us and we couldn’t have done it without the help of Los Angeles restaurants. As always, they’ve been there for us when we needed comfort, when we were too lazy or overwhelmed to cook and needed delivery, when we needed to force ourselves to eat a vegetable or when we simply required a tray of gelato to the face. 

We reflected on 2020 and all the meals that helped us get through it, whether it was a new underground pizza pop-up so good we ordered it twice in one week or the stalwart sushi that never lets us down. Here are the dishes that helped keep us sane and fed through it all.

So long and thanks for the memories, 2020. (Just kidding—the real thanks go to the restaurants, this year’s real MVPs.)

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in L.A.

These are the meals that helped save our 2020

  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • Sherman Oaks
  • price 2 of 4

The Pichetrungsi family built a truly special Thai restaurant, and the founders’ son, Justin Pichetrungsi, takes it into the next level and generation with rotating specials, collabs and a killer natural wine list. This year he added something else that I—and what feels like the rest of L.A.—can’t get enough of: Thai Taco Tuesday, a weekly pop-up in the restaurant’s alleyway where uni, albacore, carnitas, and dry-aged striped bass from nearby the Joint Eatery find their way into tostadas and soft La Princesita tortillas drizzled with Thai chilies and buried under papaya salad.

Almost every week sees some exciting new taco or collab or special, which gives us all something to look forward to (a must in this terror year). The hospitality positively radiates from the staff, even if you’re just there to grab tacos and some Thai fried chicken to-go. A socially-distanced party, a bite-by-bite escape, a bright and lively new cast of dishes I never want to end. Eternal thanks to Anajak for offering it all, in 2020 especially. —Stephanie Breijo

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Malibu
  • price 2 of 4

In the spring I laid a blanket (more of a spare sheet) on a median in the Malibu Village parking lot and sat there, on top of uncomfortable wood chips, and didn’t bat an eye because when you’re eating Broad Street Oyster Co. all you can think about is Broad Street Oyster Co.

I’ve yet to be let down by Broad Street, which is without question one of L.A.’s finest seafood spots. Even if it weren’t in Malibu it’d be a transportive food experience, but it just so happens to also be worth the mini road trip Angelenos deserve in a year when we’ve all been in and out of lockdown.

While everything is worth an order here, the now-iconic item is the lobster roll. Whether you opt for the chilled New England-style take or the warm version soaked with butter is up to you (just get both), you need to order at least one, ideally with some fried clams, some raw oysters, a calamari steak, some potato chips with caviar, a Budweiser and maybe a bottle of natural wine to round things out. A guaranteed delight no matter where you sit. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Downtown
  • price 2 of 4

What’s in a name? Soul food is the ultimate comfort food and this was the ultimate year for it, and when it comes to the kind of comfort you can only find in collards, mac and cheese and fried chicken, Comfort LA is, unsurprisingly, right at the top of the food chain. So when it felt necessary to faceplant directly into a comforting feast fit for a king (or just one very overwhelmed food writer), ordering a combo plate with a little of everything was a no-brainer. Another no-brainer? Ordering extra portions of “that sauce,” Comfort LA’s craveable spicy-sweet wing dipping sauce that brings a perfect tabasco-y heat with every dunk. –SB

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • East Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

Along with what feels like the rest of the world, I tried baking bread this year but it only took four or five times before throwing in the towel and leaving it to the pros. I decided if I couldn’t improve my bread skills during quarantine, I might as well try improving another: shucking oysters.

Found Oyster flipped its seafood-forward wine bar to serving as a fish market on select days, and a cool two dozen Little Namskaket oysters out of Cape Cod not only provided an activity that took my mind off the world’s doom—it also provided a phenomenally fresh meal (oysters can be a whole meal) that far surpassed any other seafood I’d been preparing in my own kitchen.

Found’s selection is stellar, hyper-curated and offers just about everything, including live lobster. Their ready-made clam chowder, by the way, is also a must-order, perfectly creamy and with smokiness from the bacon. –SB

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This was a year of pivots and ghost kitchens, and one of my favorite new concepts to help offset restaurant closures came from Hinoki & the Bird’s Brandon Kida, whose dumpling delivery service is like a little ray of sunshine one gyoza at a time. Through Go Go Gyoza he’s been bringing hand-folded dumplings by the dozen all over Los Angeles (and even to Orange County on weekends). Because you cook them at home yourself—fry, boil, steam, etc.—they’re fresh as can be, and you’re getting restaurant-quality dumplings stuffed with stellar local and organic produce and meats. Perfect on those days you want a quick meal and lack the energy to cook. –SB

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

In a year full of so much bad news it’s been a full on break-out-the-champagne occasion whenever good news arrives. For burger lovers, some came in the form of a permanent home for one of the best pop-ups in L.A.: Goldburger, formerly a stand, then a residency and now a restaurant with roots, landed in Highland Park to stay. That means a reliable spot to grab Allen Yelent’s perfectly crisped patties smothered in cheese and options like pastrami, chopped chilies, and grilled onions. I’ve been taking full advantage of this good news, and there’s even more goodness to share: Goldburger serves pie at its new home, along with a longer burger menu and new merch. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • South Pasadena
  • price 2 of 4

Normally this plate of pulled-pork–topped nachos, piled high with a four-cheese sauce, beans, BBQ sauce and a half-dozen other trimmings, would feel like a guilty pleasure. But getting this South Pasadena staple to-go was just a straight-up pleasure this year. Gus’s also typically keeps the locally-brewed Craftsman 1903 on tap, and being able to take home a growler of one of my favorite beers that otherwise can’t be found in stores felt like even more of a treat. –Michael Juliano

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Orange County
  • price 2 of 4

While this one’s not in Los Angeles, there’s something to be said about a nearby destination restaurant in a year we’ve all spent cooped up and thirsting for adventure. Food lovers can—and in my opinion should—sate that thirst with a cold, crushable beer and pounds of brisket from San Juan Capistrano’s new Texas-style BBQ mecca, Heritage Barbecue. In-house butchery makes for wildly fresh sausages in fun flavors that get smoked slow and low, while pitmaster Daniel Castillo’s briskets, ribs and birds are phenomenally succulent after, in some cases, 14 hours in the smoker. But the Latin-inspired sides are just as necessary, so if you’re tempted by chorizo mac and cheese and the regular mac and cheese (which comes topped with chicharrones), I say get both. Get the jalapeño cornbread, get the brisket borracho beans, get the potato salad. Make the journey south and get it all. –SB

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

A true weekend breakfast MVP for my 2020, this was a go-to all year long. That’s not to say that HomeState’s glorious Tex-Mex tacos haven’t always been a mainstay, but this year I especially woke up wanting a great weekend brunch but didn’t want to even crack an egg. My order? I’m team neches forever: organic scrambled eggs, refried charro beans, and cheddar all loaded onto a flour tortilla, add a mountain of both green and red salsas. Order a side of queso, obviously. –SB

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

I’ve been calling this my “comfort soup” the last few years, and it was never truer than in 2020. Chinatown gem Hop Woo does it all, and while I’m also partial to their spicy salt shrimp and some of the other flashy dishes from the massive menu, this cauldron of BBQ pork, wontons, a tangle of noodles and juuuust a few greens always feels like a hug in food form, and boy did I need that this year. I ordered it multiple times! One time I set out a blanket in my tiny side yard just to force myself to see the outdoors and it really helped comfort me. Hop Woo soup in the yard for president. –SB

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

I ate this pizza on a beach. I ate it on my couch. I ate it on a patio. I ate a slice in my car, driving back from Long Beach to L.A. and wondering if I should have maybe bought just one more pizza to live off of for the week. Little Coyote is one of the year’s best pizza newcomers because its New York-style pizza—topped with old-school combos and flashy, wild weekend specials alike—is genuinely and consistently and technically executed for maximum flavor and foldability. It’s always worth the drive, no matter where you end up downing a slice, and it’s helped keep me sane through just about the entirety of this shitshow of a year. –SB

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

Restaurant dine-in service has been shut down in various phases most of the year, but you cannot stop the food truck meander. I’m fortunate enough to have a regular Los Dorados stop in my neighborhood, and this year it proved essential: I could walk to its colorful truck for some fresh air, order those massive fried corn-tortilla flautas (always with at least one pair of lamb barbacoa involved) and huddle over them on the sidewalk, in an alley or anywhere else outdoors and not around humans—for safety, but also for their own well-being, you know, so they don’t have to witness me shoving some of the best fried tacos in the city into my face. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • Old Pasadena
  • price 2 of 4

I stocked up early and sipped relatively slowly in the spring so I wasn’t overly eager to get cocktails delivered. But then I found out that this white sangria—a boozed-up wine recipe that’s so good it demands to be ordered by the pitcher—was available in to-go quarts and I was converted. Downing it was easy, but fishing all of the fruit out of the narrow-mouthed plastic bottle—especially a few glasses in—was a little more difficult. –MJ

  • Restaurants
  • Delis
  • Burbank
  • price 1 of 4

I’ve been going to this Italian deli for quite literally my entire life and yet only in 2020 did I figure out that you can buy a freezer tray of gelato for around $14, but what a year to hit the gelato jackpot. If this year taught me anything, it’s always have ice cream on hand. But whether I’m buying a styrofoam tub or a solo cup from this glorious throwback deli—complete with its own red-sauce cafeteria—I always opt for the spumoni: maybe the second-holiest trinity in Italian iconography, it features layers of flavors, typically chocolate, pistachio and cherry, comes studded with nuts and dried fruit, and always hits the spot. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

It’s impossible to narrow down a single dish from PRD as a sort of savior because the pan-fried noodles, the pork chop bun, the clams with black beans and everything else—really, everything Johnny Lee cooks—have felt like respite from this year. His char siu, though, is a dish I’ve ordered time and again: Sweet, savory, smoky, tender, sticky and gloriously fatty, his Cantonese BBQ pork is a hallmark of both PRD’s menu and just how hard and how long Lee has worked to perfect some of the most iconic Chinese dishes that always scream “comfort.” –SB

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Burbank
  • price 2 of 4

Eternal favorite, a true light-at-the-end-of-any-trip-near-the-bakeries bite, a quick hit of endorphins and an item so iconic I’m shocked I haven’t met anyone in L.A. with a tattoo of it yet, the Porto’s potato ball is always a good idea, but in 2020 I ordered a dozen of these massive picadillo-stuffed fried mashed-potato spheres and stress-ate them all by myself over the course of a single day and regret nothing. –SB

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Los Angeles is truly a pizza-loving town, and in a year of new pizza shops and pop-ups one found its way to my home multiple times—in fact, twice in one week; a double-up I try to avoid in an effort to try more restaurants, but I just couldn’t resist. Quarter Sheets really is that good. Aaron Lindell crafts perfectly crusted edges around the sides of his Detroit-style square pies, which come topped with the classics or some insane flavor combinations.

My favorite thus far is the first I ever tried: the Pimento Grove, laden with vodka sauce and green olives and ’nduja. Here I am, writing about it now, mad at myself I didn’t order one for last weekend and planning my attack for the next drop. He works out of his Glendale home, so spots are extremely limited. Order through Instagram DM on Wednesdays as soon as the week’s menu drops, and move quickly—slots for these bad boys (and the desserts from Hannah Ziskin) disappear fast. –SB

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

One of the first things I ate in lockdown was a strawberry mini pie from Sibling Rival, a large but still individual-sized treat for Pi Day which, as it wound up, was just about the start of everything. Restaurants began closing that weekend in mid-March, with more to follow that week, and I sat on my couch hanging on to what sweetness I could while everything went sideways. I didn’t even bother with a fork.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving when I canceled my meal with family and instead ordered out from local restaurants, including a decadent and truly beautiful honey tart from Sibling Rival baked, of course, by Mallory Cayon, the same talented pastry chef who helped ease me into whatever this year wound up being. She threw in another mini pie at Thanksgiving which, like “old times” in March, I wound up eating with my hands. Again. I’m fine, everything’s fine. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Fashion District
  • price 1 of 4

If there’s one bit of kitchen quarantine advice I can give you all, it’s this: Always keep your freezer stocked with Sonoratown tortillas. L.A.’s quintessential Sonora-style Mexican restaurant makes some of the most pliant, flavorful, handmade flour tortillas in town and they often sell them by the dozen if their supply allows. While you’re there picking up tacos, chivis and—my forever go-to—some caramelos (costilla, always add poblano), ask if they’ve got any packs of their house tortillas to sell. If you can stop yourself from devouring them in the first day, they freeze beautifully and are exactly what you want on hand for taco night, breakfast tacos, quesadillas, or really anything. –SB

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

I don’t live anywhere near West Hollywood’s chipper new Aussie café and yet somehow I found myself sucked into its lamington-loving gravitational pull multiple times in 2020. Some of that has to do with its ultra-fun series of sausage roll collabs, but really it’s just an all-around flawless coffee shop with a surprisingly large menu of quality bites from an everything-seasoning potato cake snack to full-on pasta dinners—not fully a surprise, given it’s from the creative E.P./L.P. crew. But especially between the sausage rolls and the savory pies (pronounce it “pohys” for fun), plus the full espresso menu, it’s kept me fueled and delighted and has become a must-visit any time I’m even remotely near it. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Hollywood

For those few occasions where 2020 offered something worth celebrating, having dinner arrive in a taped-up paper bag just wouldn’t cut it. So props to Sugarfish on their packaging alone: The local sushi chain’s sturdy boxes separate courses and clearly label which fish should take a bath in which sauce. And thankfully, the go-to sushi flight tastes just as good as it looks, with the rice still arriving warm even on the busiest evenings. –MJ

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Southeast Cities
  • price 1 of 4

There was one day this year I learned I might have to pay quite an unfortunate amount in car repairs, not including the damage from the stray traffic cone in the middle of the freeway I saw too late when en route to the mechanic, and on that day, after hearing that news, I decided to divert to Bell Gardens for what wound up being one of my best meals of 2020.

This Afro-Mexican restaurant serves pozoles, tamales and phenomenal tacos from Mexico’s Guerrero region, and the heat and the flavor and especially its long-simmered pozole verde washed away all the stress because when you’re eating Tamales Elena it’s impossible to focus on anything but how delicious and singular this cooking is. Order the large portion and bring some back—it keeps beautifully—if you can stop yourself from licking the bowl on day one. Would recommend to everyone, especially those who’ve just received bad news from their mechanic. –SB

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  • Restaurants
  • Bubble tea
  • Pasadena
  • price 1 of 4

Is it weird to be the lone thirtysomething dude standing in line with a bunch of teenagers? You bet. But the persistent line at this popular Pasadena boba spot felt like an oddly comforting sort of community this year: The queue along the sidewalk was always properly spaced, and the staff flipped the storefront into a stress-free, Plexiglas-divided walk-up window with all things contactless. As for the drinks themselves, it’s dessert in a cup, a perfect pick-me-up of cold tea and pumps of soda syrup (my go-to: iced green milk tea with light-sweetness pumps of caramel, coconut and almond). –MJ

  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Old Pasadena
  • price 3 of 4

A much-anticipated birthday meal in the Before Times, this bowl of black pasta had a lot riding on it for this year’s couchbound celebration. It absolutely delivered: The lobster survived (well, not literally) the trip in the takeout box without getting rubbery, and I lapped up every last bit of lemon and truffle butter with a loaf of bread. (Also pictured here: an essential side order of pork meatballs.) –MJ

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  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Everyone knows the rotisserie chicken at one of best and most garlicky regional chains to ever grace Southern California is a great move, but I’m here to tell you the falafel plate—more humble, to be sure—also makes for a perfect meal. It’s especially perfect when you’ve been loading up on gelato and deep-fried mashed potato balls for comfort and you need something, anything, green to enter your system. Zankou’s falafel plate eschews rice for salad and a heap of pickles and chopped tomatoes, but don’t worry—you still get the fantastic hummus and a pool of tahini. On nights when I need something delicious, delivered and a little bit light, this is a go-to. –SB

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