You could say that Netflix’s Chef’s Table helped shine a spotlight on n/naka, but the Palms restaurant was already on the map, front and center. Chef-owner Niki Nakayama is a former protégé of the legendary Morihiro Onodera (formerly of Mori Sushi, more on that spot later), though Nakayama focuses her talent on kaiseki: a classical style of Japanese cooking that dictates a specific progression of textures, temperatures, tastes and seasonal ingredients. À la carte is not an option, and when every dish is this good, that’s OK by us. n/naka offers either a 13-course modern kaiseki ($225) or a 13-course vegetarian tasting menu ($200), and both can be paired with wine and sake for $125. The menus change daily and seasonally, but there is always something to delight in: a glass filled with sea urchin and lobster in a bath of chilled dashi, maybe, or a seared diver-harvested scallop cuddled next to a warm okra pod. It can take two or three hours to get through a meal here, but it’s well worth it; Nakayama is one of L.A.’s best talents, and scoring a meal at her restaurant is money and time well spent.
For serving a city next to the Pacific, Michael Cimarusti’s Providence somehow still manages to surprise and reinterpret seafood. His mostly-aquatic menu deftly showcases the bounty of the West Coast, as well as the globe: Big Island abalone, Santa Barbara spot prawns and steelhead trout from the Quinault River in Washington are among the varied choices, though the menus change seasonally. Cimarusti may not always earn locavore points, but his knack for finding the best product will make you focus only on the perfect bite hanging from your fork, and nothing else. Multicourse options run the gamut, including a $95 lunch-only tasting menu, but for the truly adventurous—and deep-pocketed—there’s the 10-plus–course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($240) where luxury fare including caviar, truffles and A5 wagyu beef are the catch of the day.
José Andrés and his restaurant group’s culinary ambassador, Aitor Zabala, rebuilt Somni on the ashes of Saam—creating an entirely new fine-dining concept from what came before. And when we say “entirely new,” we mean it: A tasting menu that’s inspired by the flavors of Spain, Somni is an ambitious dive into familiar flavors that wind their way through dry-aged Iberico ham and other Andrés ingredients, with detours into Asia, South America, France and beyond. Shiso tartare lies hidden under blossoms, while potatoes formed into croissant sculptures confit in butter. It’s whimsical, stylish and seasonal, with such extreme attention to detail that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. It’s modern but fun, elegant but unpretentious.
Edomae-style sushi isn’t especially hard to come by in Los Angeles, but it’s hard to find at a level that rivals Sushi Ginza’s. The nigiri-forward omakase climbs past 20 courses, each bite focused on incredibly high-quality fish that’s been brushed with soy, lightly tempura-battered or served in a pool of ponzu. Chef Yohei Matsuki’s light hand and mastery don’t come cheap: An omakase here will set you back around $300, but it’s a splurge worth making for some of the finest sushi in L.A.
Urasawa belongs squarely at the top of L.A.’s sushi catalogue, though it’ll cost you a pretty penny to dine here. Flown in daily, the fish is prepared by chef Hiroyuki Urasawa—who studied under the great Masa Takayama—and one assistant. Meals stretch to 25 artfully prepared courses, and the experience is incredible—and incredibly expensive (prices vary, but expect to spend around $500 per person). Edible gold flakes, foie gras, wagyu beef, truffled sesame ice cream: This is high-end sushi at its finest. Booking is imperative (there are no walk-ins), and an early-evening slot is best.
Now known the world over as one of the most inspired and perhaps bizarre tasting menus ever conceived, Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine is otherworldly—or at least that’s where it lifts its artistic vision. Part sci-fi dreamscape, part fine-dining theatrics, the tasting menu here sits in a wavy obelisk of a building and is designed to make you feel as though you’re dining on another planet. Radish and buttercream appear dotted and almost sprouting from the plate, more funghi than their traditional form and pairing, while redwood ice and almond praline come served out of a stone ring that looks like a contraption from Prometheus. It’s unlike anything else—but note: You’ll pay quite a sum (upwards of $250) for that uniqueness.
Bistro Na’s specializes in Imperial Cuisine, which means you’re going to want to bring some friends: Platters of ornate Chinese classics like crispy shrimp or the showy steamed king crab are just as delicious as they are eye-catching and enormous, so come with a crew to make a dent in the massive menu. Desserts are equally impressive, whether it’s pudding in a fish-shaped mold or a desert platter of mochi and cakes. What’s more, the setting itself is regal, what with the red-and-gold touches throughout the dining room and the intricate, warm wood moldings—and note: Just like a restaurant fit for royalty, you’re going to need to make a reservation.
Beverly Hills is home to more than a few steakhouses, but since opening its doors inside the Beverly-Wilshire hotel in 2006, Wolfgang Puck’s shrine to beef has been the chicest in town. How does it stand out? A stellar art collection, for one; a bright dining room that skews more Brat Pack than Rat Pack, secondly; and a globally-influenced menu that takes you far beyond the usual steak and sides. Here, diners not only choose the type of steak, but also where it came from: The selection features multiple farms, including dry-aged USDA Prime beef from Nebraska, grass-fed Angus from outside of San Diego, and purebred wagyu beef from the Miyazaki prefecture in Japan.
You have to buy a non-refundable—but transferable—ticket to dine at Dialogue. When you finally recover from the sticker shock of committing to about $220 per dinner (plus tax), alongside a beverage pairing that can add another $175 per person, you have to deal with Dialogue’s refusal to bend to dietary preferences or requirements. And finally, you have to find your way to a tiny location hidden away in a Santa Monica food court, where access is only revealed by email on the day of your booking. Any sane person might shake their head and look for somewhere else to dine, but that would mean missing one of the city’s most engaging dinner experiences at this intricate kaiseki-style spot.
L.A.’s seen its fair share of haute Japanese cuisine, but there’s something special happening at Hayato. Tucked behind traditional noren that hang over the door, chef-owner Brandon Go artfully tweezers boutique bento boxes by day, and a multicourse, traditional kaiseki dinner by night. The space is intimate, the ceramics are handcrafted and imported from Japan, and Go’s precision and technique come by way of training under Michelin-starred Japanese chefs. Artful simplicity by way of dishes like steamed abalone with an unctuous liver sauce; an owan course of delicate crab meatball soup; and fresh fruit coated in a salted sake jelly are the name of Go’s kaiseki game. Orders for bento require at least 24 hours’ notice, awhile the stunningly artful kaiseki dinners often fill up a month in advance. Plan ahead.
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. Made exclusively with locally sourced ingredients, the tasting menu ranges from dishes like prawn crudo and olives and nasturtium for a light appetizer, to more hearty protein plates such as beef tenderloin with onion and fingerling potatoes. (And at five courses for around $100, it’s not a bad deal, either.) The seasonality extends to the à la carte options, too, both at lunch and dinner. An equally extensive beverage menu is available, with global wines, inspired cocktails, a selection of craft beer and even Meehan’s house-made kombucha.
Jon Yao is indisputably one of L.A.’s top young talents. The lauded self-taught chef—and native Angeleno—blends his Taiwanese and SGV roots to create a tasting menu that’s something new entirely: Pan-Asian comfort food reimagined as intricate and modern dishes that are almost too pretty to eat. (We said almost.) Courses on the tasting menu rotate constantly in this strip-mall spot, but expect artful takes on classics like grilled short rib, crab porridge and Taiwanese fried chicken that all strike a nostalgic chord.
Some of Michelin’s tasting-menu restaurants are, OK, a little pretentious. Le Comptoir is not one of them. In a little K-town (and nearly unmarked) space, chef Gary Menes cooks the food he wants to make, without a lot of regard for the usual fine-dining tropes and prestigious airs. The tasting menu is almost entirely vegetable courses, but they’re so good that even the most carnivorous diner won’t mind—and if you must get your meat or seafood in, there’s almost always a supplemental option or two. The setting is relaxed and the kitchen is open, so prepared to not only meet your neighbors—you’ll also be chatting with the chef as the night wears on.
Beverly Hills is full of high-profile restaurants perfect for an expense-account or date-night splurge, but one of the finest and most memorable is Curtis Stone’s ambitious temple to the tasting menu. Maude first gained buzz for its ingredient-driven concept—swapping menus out every month—but the restaurant flipped to a new and even more enticing format. Now, the Aussie celebrity chef and his team serve delicate, thoughtful and intricate courses inspired by a different wine region every quarter. Stone’s dishes range from reverent to cheeky: You might be sampling traditional house-made boudin on one menu, and potato chips with Aussie beer at another. Meander through Rioja, Burgundy, Western Australia and even the Central Coast—menu depending—with a range of wine-pairing options to take your meal from singular to one of the best dining experiences you’ll have all year.
You’ll be shelling out plenty of dough at this celebrated sushi restaurant in West L.A., but for a good reason: The omakase here is a 20-plus piece experience that borders on sushi nirvana. The famed and namesake owner, Mori Onodera, no longer prepares the fish here (you can currently find him at Inn Ann), but the quality hasn’t been compromised. During an omakase, you’ll make your way through home-made tofu and house-made soy sauce, along with beautiful cuts of toro, hamachi, sea pike and more. An ethereal scoop of tofu mousse often finishes off the meal, though fans of the more traditional tomago will find that at Mori, too.
Nozawa-cult followers mourned the loss of the infamous “sushi nazi” when Kazunori Nozawa’s Studio City bar shuttered, but his name lives on at Nozawa Bar. Tucked inside the Beverly Hills Sugarfish, the sushi magnate resurrected his L.A. institution with the same elements: omakase-style, impeccably fresh fish served on warm, loosely packed rice. Giant sticks of King crab and slabs of toro are preceded by nigiri of salmon roe that literally floweth over, and super-sized portions of uni. The decadence continues with hand rolls, enormous rectangles of tamago, and rich monkfish liver dressed with miso. The only catch? There are only 10 seats to this 20-plus course experience, so be sure to make a reservation—and be sure to get there on time. Much like in the O.G. Studio City location, tardiness is a huge no-no.
Chef Josef Centeno’s built quite the DTLA restaurant empire: There’s sandwich shop Bäco Mercat and Tex-Mex haven Bar Amá, but the true gem is his Italian-meets-Japanese den, Orsa & Winston. At first, the cozy restaurant began as a tasting-menu concept, but it’s evolved to include à la carte weekday katsu sandos and grain bowls at lunch, late-night snacks such as uni-and-scallop porridge, and on weekends, one of the city’s most innovative brunches. Where else can you find house-smoked fish plates, masterful yuzu croissants, donabe pots brimming with nuanced soups, and Centeno’s hyper-creative, genre-bending tasting menu?
Since opening its doors in 2007, Nancy Silverton’s Melrose-and-Highland Italian bistro has grown into an empire that spans a pizzeria, a to-go counter, a steakhouse and a tiny corner of retail shop. The fine-dining star, Osteria, continues to pack tables and churn out some of the city’s best Italian food (and encyclopedic wine list), not to mention the mozzarella bar showcasing the handcrafted varieties of specialty cheese. Load up on antipasti to share, then pace yourself through courses of handmade pastas and rustic, meat-heavy main plates, cooked to perfection in the wood-burning oven. Don’t even think about skipping dessert.
Jeremy Fox knows how to work a vegetable, and it’s in this neighborhood staple where he and executive chef Andy Doubrava really work that magic. The seasonal menu of high-quality, farmers’-market bounty sees new additions every day, so you might find bone marrow with local cherries and black garlic on one visit, and cucumber with melon and yuzu the next. The restaurant’s simple dining room, whose minimalist, wood outfitting hasn’t much changed over the years, has become somewhat of a gathering space for locals just as much as it’s become a must-visit for tourists looking to try a bite of the award-winning chef’s California cooking.
Hiroyuki Naruke’s omakase experience is on a refined level from the second you enter Q’s doors. Classical music drifts through the elegant space, a formal and tasteful dining room that’s home to a handful of tables and the real showstopper, a 10-seat sushi bar where chef Naruke quietly steals the spotlight. It’s hard to say which is more of a treat: the expertly cut fish sourced from around the world, or chef’s artful precision of a one-man show. Q focuses on Naruke’s Edomae sushi, a style that highlights vinegar-seasoned rice and high-quality, fresh cuts of fish, and at Q’s dinner omakase—at $200 per person—you’ll also receive a smattering of Japanese small plates, such as torched toro with shishito relish. Of course, if you’re not up for the dinner splurge, Q offers two lunch tracks—one for $75, and another for $125—whichever option you pick, day or night, just be sure to make a reservation.
Many of chef David Schlosser’s dishes require the kind of time, care, delicacy and extreme effort that define kappo cuisine, which is why we’re convinced that the chef must’ve lost his mind to open a kappo-style restaurant—but we all benefit from it. This style of Japanese tasting menu or omakase fine-dining might serve bites of prawn ripened and fermented—for months—in their own juices, or slow-smoked salmon that cooks over cherry bark. In an almost-hidden dining room in DTLA, Schlosser grinds nubs of fresh wasabi and steams pork jowl with California-grown rice in a heavy iron pot, and experiments and waits, patiently, to create some of the most intricate flavors that can take weeks to develop. Order à la carte, or, more recommended, go for the omakase, which starts at $75 per guest and caps at $150—you’ll be in excellent hands. Be sure to sit at the bar to see the master at work.
Gems tucked into strip malls are a hallmark of the L.A. dining scene, but even within this sect of restaurant, Shin Sushi’s near the top of its class. Taketoshi Azumi’s omakase den serves seasonal, highly varied fish—about 18 courses’ worth—in a cozy, casual setting: With only 30-ish seats in the whole restaurant (eight of them at the counter, the best seat in the house), it’s best to make a reservation. The omakase is almost always straight nigiri and can be found both during dinner and weekday lunch, but if you’re not ready to shell out around $100, you can opt for the 10-piece nigiri lunch special, at around $25—not bad for a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Shunji almost looks like it could belong in the Shire—with its circular frame and low ceiling, Bilbo Baggins would feel right at home. Not so Shire-like is the fantastic sushi inside this Pico Boulevard restaurant, including the well-curated omakase available at lunch and dinner. The lunch omakase special might have you trying scallop and salmon, blue fin tuna and mackerel, flying fish and more; when ordering à la carte, though, the Santa Barbara uni is a strong contender, as is the yellowtail. At dinner, you can opt for one of two omakase menus: one that involves cooked dishes and appetizers in addition to some sashimi, or one that’s dedicated to sushi. Chef Shunji Nakao knows exactly how much wasabi to hide in each scoop of rice, and when your plate has been picked clean, a steaming cup of green tea helps ease your way into the outside world: L.A., not the Shire, in case you needed a reminder.
Hidden in the corner of a nondescript strip mall (and under a pizza sign), L.A.’s most lauded French chef, Ludo Lefebvre, reinterprets—and even redefines—fine dining. With support from Animal and Jon & Vinny’s partners Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, Trois Mec is a distinctly relaxed place: no white cloths, no dress code, and unintimidating but attentive service. The food, though, is anything but casual. It’s everything you’d hope Lefebvre would offer: elegance, restraint, excess, France, California, Los Angeles—and then some.
Have some questions?
So you’ve made it through the list but you have some questions—so did we when the selections were announced in June 2019 following a ceremony in Huntington Beach. Here’s what we had to say:
In contrast to last year’s guide, Michelin included 27 new additions to the one-star restaurant category statewide, and 18 of them are in Los Angeles. The guide also doubled the number of two-starred restaurants in California, but the biggest surprise—or maybe not, depending on whom you ask and how much trust they put into Michelin’s inspectors—was that Michelin didn’t award a single three-star rating to a restaurant outside of Northern California.
“Rich with many influences, California gastronomy has proved to be one of the most diverse and multicultural, while at the same time making the most of local and regional produce,” Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guides, told the crowd. And while the guide is now available online in English, Spanish and Mandarin (for the first time ever, Poullennec noted), the word on diversity almost felt like deflection once the ratings began rolling out: California’s 2019 stars reflected the usual fine dining, French technique and artful sushi, with little attention paid to Korean, Italian, Mexican and Chinese cuisines.
There’s always next year, we suppose, but the fact of the matter is that Angelenos already invested in our dining scene know that our chefs and restaurants are worth so much more than these stars. Speculation proved true that Michelin would not award stars to L.A. street food, as it does in cities such as Hong Kong and Macau, though our world-class taqueros and other street vendors certainly merit it.
Reception to the guide’s return has fluctuated wildly, oscillating between the ire and distrust you could probably expect from the residents of a city spurned, to chefs eager to learn where they place on the global scale.
“Considering it is a system that has been around for more than 100 years—the guide started in 1900—it’s fair to say that it works,” Somni chef Aitor Zabala, who took home two stars tonight, emailed Time Out. “Sure, there are some parts of it that have been updated over the years but it’s an iconic system, a rating scale that is regarded as one of the most important, if not as the most important restaurant guide in the world.”
Regardless of where you, we or anyone in the kitchen might stand, the prestige of a Michelin star is undeniable in the restaurant community, and can be known to drive business, even saving a restaurant on its last legs. Congratulations to all winners of California’s first statewide Michelin Guide.