Contrary to popular belief, not every new restaurant that popped up in 2015 was a poke spot. Throughout the year, I was blown away by fiery bites of Nashville hot chicken, inventive kimchi fried rice, an unbelievable pork chop and some of the best falafel I've had in a long time. It was a tumultuous time in the industry, as more restaurants introduced set service charges, with varying success, and one of LA's most revered restaurants, Alma, shuttered. But LA is a city that embraces change, and with it, outstanding restaurants that help to define a neighborhood, whether it's a Spanish triumph near L.A. Live or a fusion star in Santa Monica. Check out these phenomenal restaurant openings of 2015, and start making your reservations.
RECOMMENDED: Our 100 best dishes and drinks of 2015
The best restaurant openings of 2015
This hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a Hollywood strip mall is what LA dining is all about: inventive, understated and world-class. Chef and owner Kwang Uh, who worked at the acclaimed Noma, and his friend Matthew Kim are the only two employees here, and they're cooking up some pretty incredible stuff. A bowl of kimchi fried rice (gluten-free and vegetarian, as are most of Baroo’s dishes) is a beautiful mess of pineapple fermented kimchi, basmati rice and a wobbling sous vide egg, while Baroo’s ragu style, tangle of homemade pappardelle topped with oxtail ragu and cherry tomatoes is accompanied by airy tendon puffs. Finish with a passion fruit tart for good measure.
It's not easy opening a restaurant in the Cahuenga Corridor, a stretch of Hollywood where restaurants and bars seem to shutter as soon as the neighbors become used to their presence. But chef Brendan Collins nailed it with the opening of Birch, a simple and ethereal eatery that serves things like bone marrow, rabbit and soft shell crab. With its sleek, minimalist design and blond wood tables, it feels more like a restaurant you'd find in San Francisco or New York. You won't go wrong ordering the corn on the cob doused in brown butter truffle sauce and truffle mascarpone, or the rabbit baklava with its strips of rabbit wrapped in dough and topped with bing cherries and white beans. You won't go wrong ordering anything here, actually.
When Bryant and Kim Ng closed their popular restaurant Spice Table in 2013, fans mourned the loss of Little Tokyo’s Southeast Asian star. Our consolation: Cassia, their follow-up project that opened this year. A beautiful mashup between French and Vietnamese cuisine, Cassia’s menu—and space, with its birdcage light fixtures and marbled counter—embodies the best of both worlds. A charcuterie plate will call to you as strongly as spicy wontons or, even better, homemade tandoori bread with chickpea curry. The restaurant's standout dish is a Vietnamese pot au feu, which seamlessly combines the properties of French stew and Vietnamese pho, and is worth a visit here alone—no matter where you live in LA.
Chef Brian Dunsmoor created a love letter to rustic American cuisine at Hatchet Hall, which opened in Culver City this past July. The menu here channels a relaxed, beautifully curated Southern vibe—case in point, the benne yeast rolls, which arrive four to an order and come with luxurious honey butter that could be eaten by the spoonful. Not to mention, the pork chop here is an absolute marvel: a quality slab from Peads & Barnetts combined with a blackened peach, everything drizzled with fig and brown butter maple jus. After your meal, head to the Old Man Bar in back that opens at 8pm.
From the successful trifecta that is Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo comes Trois Familia, a French and Mexican café that opened a couple of months ago. The cozy Silver Lake eatery serves breakfast and lunch daily, though on weekends you'll have to brave a substantial wait to order anything. Still, it's worth it. Trois Familia already has a hardcore fan base that raves about the churro French toast, beet tartare tostada and hash brown chilaquiles, along with a poached egg that comes buried in potato mousseline and chorizo jam.
Howlin' Ray's is in limbo at the moment—after a successful run as a food truck, they're busy opening their first brick and mortar in Chinatown—but when they showed up on the scene this year, all other fried chicken in LA seemed to fade before our eyes. Chef Johnny Zone has spent time in the kitchen with some of the best chefs in the world, but he's really found his calling in Nashville hot chicken, which ranges in heat from "Country Fried" to "Howlin' Hot." You're supposed to be sweating. You're supposed to get messy. And we'll be first in line when their Chinatown shop opens.
Cheese lovers—myself included—fell head over heels for Forma, a small Italian restaurant in Santa Monica that has dedicated not only its name but almost its entire menu to cheese. Small refrigerators behind the bar hold shelves of various formaggio, while at the back of the restaurant pasta is tossed in giant cheese wheels in the dalla forma style. A heavenly plate of cacio e pepe is enough to make any diner swoon, but the Nutella bread pudding is memorable in its own right. A night here filled with cheese, wine, pasta and incredible desserts leaves the most incredible impression.
The whole city seemed to collectively freak out with the arrival of Dune, a small falafel joint from Scott Zwiezen of Elf Cafe. Dune's menu is small; sandwiches include falafel wrapped in house flatbread, lamb with lemon turmeric yogurt, and pickled beets and feta on ciabatta, all around $8-$10 and all made with unbelievably fresh ingredients. There are plates available with hummus, and sides that include tabbouleh. To drink, a killer kombucha fizzles with fragrant rosewater notes. Oh, and the falafel? Crisp on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside—yup, it's pretty much perfection.
Chef Ray Garcia opened both B.S. Taqueria and Broken Spanish this year, and while I enjoyed some of the tacos at Taqueria (and definitely enjoyed the churros), Broken Spanish was the standout project. The restaurant near L.A. Live is bright and colorful with tables boasting hand-woven doilies and Mexican pottery, while the food is decidedly down to earth. Garcia may be cooking things like lamb neck and oxtail, but they are wrapped in tamales and quesadillas, hearty and elevated at the same time. A fiery shrimp dish with cascabel chili, pequin peppers and pineapple may leave your mouth tingling for a good 5 minutes, and a cellophane-shrouded rabbit stew emits the most incredible smell when unwrapped. Finish with a chile mango panna cotta, which balances sweet and spicy with passion fruit curd and habanero caramel, diced mangos and cayenne meringue.
After closing Hatfield's at the end of 2014, chefs Karen and Quinn Hatfield wasted no time starting a new chapter. Down the street from their other successful restaurant and bakery, Sycamore Kitchen, they opened Odys + Penelope, a churrasco located in an old printing press. A smoker and grill form how most of Quinn Hatfield’s dishes are cooked—grilled line-caught swordfish, Wagyu tri-tip that melts under house-made bérnaise sauce—but what really blew me away at O+P was the goat milk custard brûlée that Karen Hatfield makes, a dessert that turns crème brûlée into something almost rural.
Redbird technically soft opened at the tail end of 2014, but it's worth including on this list. The DTLA restaurant resides in the old rectory of Vibiana, a Roman Catholic cathedral turned events space. Chef Neal Fraser’s menu moves from small plates to group portions; the Florida rock shrimp is an excellent place to start. There's a rabbitchetta that features rabbit saddle wrapped in bacon, stuffed with rabbit sausage and cut into medallions that put each layer on display; it’s one of my favorite dishes here and an incredible display of technique. Plus the cocktails? Definitely worth a trip on their own.
Ostrich Farm also opened at the very end of last year, but it flew quietly under the radar for a while. We're not sure why: the pot pie here is extraordinary, as are the flatbreads, rustic vegetable dishes and every other item on the menu. Homey and devoid of pretense, the Echo Park eatery is a place for family but also for friends, a date, or a solitary post-work drink at the bar, where fantastic wines are served in the most darling glasses. And when it started serving brunch earlier this year, it became a great place to start the day, too.