Let’s hear it for this year’s best new restaurants
OK, Jackson Kalb, you win. It’s not that we’ve avoided El Segundo, per se, but you’ve given us a reason other than your restaurant’s traffic-mongering neighbor of an airport (we won’t speak its name) to not only visit, but seek out a trip. At Jame Enoteca, pasta is king, and is found in a nondescript strip mall along an El Segundo main street that looks like it was plucked from somewhere in Middle America circa 1988. But Jame modernizes this stretch and carves out its own little California-meets-Italy corner by way of squid ink bavette in a rock shrimp ragu with bite; braised beef cheek tucked into scarpinocc; and a remarkably simple spaghettini in a maddenning, labor-of-love tomato sauce that takes around 36 hours to make. Kalb, incredibly, deseeds his tomatoes by hand, one by one, for hours, and it’s this kind of care coupled with an unstuffy atmosphere that not only makes Jame Enoteca an ideal neighborhood restaurant, but a destination for those of us on the other end of L.A.
You know the old saying: “When your breakout restaurant shutters after only a year, make lemonade”—or something. But when Journeymen folded, chef-owner David Wilcox flipped his concept to the aptly named Hail Mary, and made lemon-and-fennel broths with nettle pesto. He made pork-belly-and-beef meatballs. Most importantly, he made some of the best pizza Atwater Village has ever seen. California-wheat crusts appear fresh from the oven with perhaps an abudance of crunch by L.A. pizza standards, setting Wilcox’s pies apart, from first crackly bite. The toppings are just as seasonal as Hail Mary’s cabal of salads and sides: You might find a pizza sprinkled with local lettuce and blue cheese one day, and another with Peads and Barnetts porchetta the next. But Hail Mary is more than a promising pizza newcomer; it’s also a space for other chefs to pop up and collaborate, making this an exciting restaurant to catch just about any night of the week.
There’s an electric energy at Makani, even on a weeknight. The trellised patio is packed, the seats around that beautiful horseshoe-shaped bar are full, and the dining room tables are piling up with Kevin Lee’s modernist Korean plates. The dishes are just as lively as the atmosphere, sprinkling chile threads and Thai peppers around crispy duck confit with kimchi fried rice, and chile de árbol into bowls of Manila clams. Lee’s cooking is an adventure, weaving in his Korean roots to bring us dishes like the heat-packing lamb and beef skewers, and the buttermilk fried pork ribs in a gochujang glaze. The spice might be so great it starts affecting your sinuses, but you won’t let that stop you—you’ve got charred broccolini to finish, and you can’t let its spicy topping of chilis, cheddar and anchovies go to waste. It almost feels like Venice has been trying to keep this spot a secret, and with good cause: It’s already always busy, and we wouldn’t want to share those pork ribs, either.
There’s nothing that a quick seat at the marble-topped, G&T-slinging bar of Teresa Montaño’s new Spanish restaurant can’t fix. The room buzzes, the “Siesta Hour” specials keep the croquetas coming at little cost, and the rest of the tapas you’ll enjoy there, while traditional in appearance, belie a more modern touch: Pan con Tomate involves not simply puréed tomato and garlic, but tomato essence to give each bite that extra, summery oomph. Montaño, formerly of Pasadena’s Ración, has a few of these tricks up her sleeves: cooking paella in dashi, and folding hints of tuna or anchovy into butter, to name but two. It’s not so modernist as L.A.’s juggernaut Spanish restaurant, the Bazaar, instead choosing to hide these tweaks to subtly improve on Spain’s traditions. The dining room is candlelit and ideal if you’re bringing a group—which you should do, if for no other reason than to spread pans of paella across tabletops to share with your friends.
File under: More Than Worth the Wait. Trudy’s Underground Barbecue finally went above-ground with SLAB, Burt Bakman and h.wood Group’s slice-til-they-sell-out, brick-and-mortar restaurant. If you’ve ever slid into the Trudy’s Underground DMs—previously the only way to order Bakman’s Texas-style BBQ—you know just how hard it coud be to pin down an order from the realtor-cum-pitmaster, who’d be popping up in his backyard one weekend, and setting up roadside pickups the next. Thankfully, he’s finally landed in a permanent space of his own where we can always find him (just get there early). Starting at 11am, catch lines forming out the door for melt-in-your-mouth brisket, miraculously moist smoked chicken, hearty beef ribs and tender pork ribs, plus sides like gooey mac and cheese, molasses beans, meaty collard greens, massive cupcakes and pecan bars.
Chef Ari Taymor’s L.A. arc is well-documented enough; suffice to say, after both iterations of Alma, then his nouveau-diner stint at the Standard in West Hollywood, none of us knew what would be next for the nationally acclaimed chef. And none of us saw his brunch-only pop-up coming. But from there, we probably should’ve expected Little Prince to flourish into the full-on, wood-fired restaurant that’s pumping out some of Taymor’s most exciting dishes yet. Dinner service was the natural evolution, but feels entirely unique: On weekends, fashionable crowds pile into the Contemporary American restaurant for green chia pudding and the salmon hash with seaweed hollandaise—in the evening, the menu is harder to pin down, each dish clearly a creation of Taymor but distinct and almost always surprising in its own way. Japanese sweet potato topped with coconut chips lulls you into a mellow sense of security before you’re hit with the base sauce of coconut yogurt packed with fresh citrus and Indonesian spices. The sunchoke split is easily one of the most intriguing and confounding desserts in L.A. right now, with its candied sunchokes, smoked ice cream and ash meringue perplexing the tongue. Little Prince seems to be a sleeper hit to all but those in Santa Monica, and there’s no reason they should have all the fun.
While we have a place in our hearts for Hippo—the neighborhood restaurant from Matt Molina and the Silverlake Wine crew—it’s their fast-casual pizza juggernaut that really won us over in 2018. Relative newcomer Eataly also launched with squares of “Roman-style pizza,” but Triple Beam’s small-but-mighty operation is the one popularizing it all over town, and here’s why: Molina’s high-end pies, no doubt informed by his years at the Mozzaplex, are available here for roughly $1 an ounce. The bottom crust is perfectly crunchy—and can be re-fired in the oven, if you prefer yours to shatter—while the seasonally-inspired toppings are supple, ample and always rotating. The pay-by-the-ounce format allows you to sample a bit of everything, which is exactly what you should do (and we’ll tell you right now, you’re going to want more than one slice of the sausage with fennel pollen and onions). In a year of pizza, Triple Beam stands squarely—er, rectangularly?—above the rest.
There are few restaurants that can raise an eyebrow through its name alone like Porridge & Puffs. We know what you’re probably thinking: What do you mean, “puffs”? Are the puffs in the porridge? Can there really be a restaurant devoted to porridge? We’ll stop you right there. Minh Phan’s lauded pop-up finally landed its own brick-and-mortar location, and yes, there are puffs: fried dough, which can be used as spoons. Her cooking is almost all about the porridge—but until you’ve tasted it, been warmed by it, felt dumbstruck by how complex and earth-shatteringly delicious a bowl of her soft rice can be, it’s nearly impossible to explain. But we’ll try: Phan’s ingredients are almost entirely sourced from farmers’ markets, using heirloom vegetables, turmeric, fermented greens, soy-braised chicken, brown butter, duck chicharrones and ponzu-brined pickles to build remarkable concoctions that have little to do with any specific dot on the map. Her cooking is worldly, but not tied to anything but her creativity—that, and whatever produce she can get her hands on. This alone makes Porridge & Puffs a notable new addition, but the caramelized mochi in miso caramel is enough of a reason to include it in this list, so don’t even think about skipping dessert.
There’s an evolution taking place in Adam Perry Lang’s steakhouse, and it’s got us more than a little curious about what’s to come in 2019. The celebrity pitmaster opened his turn-of-the-century–inspired temple to beef with fanfare, “felony knives” and some of the most expensive steak in the city, and while we’re all for splurging on a $168 smoked-and-sliced beef rib every now and again, it’s been Perry Lang’s more recent lean-in to L.A.’s dining scene and his own roots that has us falling back in love with the place. With the launch of the APL Hole in the Wall walk-up window, you can snag some of the best chili dogs on the West Coast for only $6 during weekday lunch. Meanwhile, the chef’s Jewish heritage has recently meant great things for every Angeleno: A killer matzo ball soup got added to the menu, and it rivals even the most beloved deli institutions in town. This season alone, there’ve been pop-ups at Tabula Rasa and a smoked-mortadella collab with Uncle Paulie’s; APL may take its meat more seriously than most, but we’ve really been loving the restaurant’s fun side, too.
All hail Charles Olalia, the reigning king of modern Filipino cuisine in Los Angeles. His empire began humbly, a postage stamp of a counter-service rice-bowl shop in DTLA, but this year, he’s built a stronghold of flavorful, eccentric and wholly original dishes that pay homage to his roots without sacrificing his creativity—or his knack for fun. With more room to play, the chef’s made his space a lively one both in and out of the kitchen: Stepping into Ma’am Sir is as close to a trip to the tropics that Sunset Junction gets, with lush hanging plants, thatched walls and—on the right night that packs the house—a humidity to the air as diners dive into crackling skillets of sweetbreads sisig with Maui onions, Serrano chile, green onion and tart calamansi. There are sweet potato beignets with tamarind chutney, and uni-topped shrimp lumpia with garlic vinegar, and a rich, luscious mix-and-match take on kare kare stew. This is Olalia’s kingdom, long may he reign.
We started the year with a few openings from New York’s biggest names, but none were as jaw-droppingly dramatic as the NoMad’s. The Flatiron District hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant slid an L.A. outpost into the former Bank of Italy, right in the heart of Downtown, and brought its opulent menu along with it. Chef Daniel Humm, restaurateur Will Guidara and executive chef Chris Flint quickly set to work wowing us with the NoMad’s signature chicken stuffed with truffles, foie and brioche breadcrumbs, not to mention the view of the velvet-drenched lobby below. While the separate concepts of an ambitious mezzanine restaurant and a casual lobby café merged halfway through the year, the team combined the menus into a high-low blend that only L.A. can pull off so well. Now, you can get a suckling-pig breakfast burrito in the morning, seared scallops in the afternoon, and uni tray service and that chicken in the evening, all in one place. This is a restaurant that allows you to scale up or down, go big with a bottle of André Clouet, or chill with a glass of Fino sherry. Whatever you decide, we’ll probably join you there.
There exist two eras in Chinatown’s warehouse district timeline: Pre- and Post-’Dōmo. David Chang’s first West Coast restaurant not only forged a few new culinary paths, it created a demand for a neighborhood nook that most Angelenos wouldn’t have even considered a dinnertime destination. But the real reason we’re drawn to this industrial edge of town, no matter how many new cocktail bars or breweries sprout up there, will always be Chang’s cooking. It’s become increasingly hard to define Majordomo’s cuisine, and that’s fine by us, because whether you’re looking for decadent white truffle congee with beef jus or flaking off tender morsels of grilled hamachi collar under charred-lemon juice, the best way to dine there is just to order it all. The cuisine is, we suppose, Pan-Asian, but it’s also modern, and fluctuating and primal: Some of the most fun you’ll have in L.A. is sitting down to Chang’s large-format meats with a few friends and plenty of sake. It can be daunting for a world-famous chef to live up to such high expectations, but we’re betting he’ll keep the pace when our first Noodle Bar opens next year, too.
While it’s Michelin-starred chef Daniel Patterson who provides the star power in San Francisco’s Alta restaurant family, it’s Keith Corbin who lights up the outpost in L.A. The Watts native and former LocoL chef is already separating Alta Adams from the Alta Group pack with his blend of West African, Californian and Southern flavor for a spin on soul food that’s both totally unique and heartening for the direction of our restaurant scene. Finding quality pimento cheese or chow chow in Los Angeles can be harder than searching through hell’s half acre, bless our hearts, but Corbin not only provides Southern staples—he improves them. His pimento cheese dip is more of a purée, a thick, sharp, smoky blend of cheese and pepper we’d like to drape over every Ritz cracker in America. Then there’s the oxtail—that oxtail!—all miso-braised and coated in rich gravy. Sit at the chef’s counter to see Corbin and his team frying up black-eyed pea fritters, spooning out silken mac and cheese, and stuffing grilled leaves with smoky (and amazingly vegetarian) collard greens. Throw a dart at the menu and order whatever you hit—you can’t go wrong—and whatever you do, don’t leave without the Lunchbox cocktail, a playful butter-washed–bourbon take on a PB&J sandwich.
Chef Casey Lane’s rustic-yet-refined Italian restaurant remained by and large under the radar the first half of the year, but in the last few months, Viale dei Romani rocketed to the front of the scene and proved arguably the Tasting Kitchen chef’s strongest concept of all. Once you find it, tucked away in the lobby of the La Peer Hotel just off Melrose, it’s all stately marble and brass and warm wood—a so-chic setting that sets the pace for Lane’s equally-cool cuisine. Between the decor and the menu, you’ll never want to leave: Saffron fried rice studded with clams carries unexpected heat, while the astounding 50-some-odd-layer Pasta alla Piastra lasagna is a feat that’s almost too pretty to dive into—almost. Lane plays with dishes as simple as delicate, fatty crudos by pairing them with citrus and balsamics, while he levels up his skills and your palate with three unique tasting menus, each with a focus on the styles and ingredients of a specific region of Italy. Like we said, we never want to leave.
We don’t say this lightly: There is no wrong order at Bavel. Your preference for the remarkably creamy simple hummus might outrage your friends, who always order the hummus topped with a healthy sprinkling of duck ’nduja, but both are probably better than any puréed chickpeas you’ve tasted before. One could argue the finer points of the fried pita (sprinkled with lemon, chili and turmeric) versus those of the blistered pita (perfectly charred in the wood-fired oven) but at a certain point, it’s all semantics: Everything at Bavel exceeds expectations, which is saying something, considering its pedigree. The Middle Eastern restaurant from husband-and-wife team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis—they of Bestia fame—managed to catch lightning in a bottle with their second wildly popular restaurant, but it’s less of a fluke and more to do with the care that the couple instills in their dishes. At Bavel, the duo pays tribute to their Israeli, Egyptian, Moroccan and Turkish heritage with an eye for detail that extends to the complex aged half duck with bone broth just as much as it does the simple ingredients like couscous: Near-microscopic beads of crushed wheat exist to absorb the fragrant tagine, but every ball is rolled by hand. The menu is a jaunt through the Middle East, and no matter which way the compass turns, there’s no denying you’re heading in the direction of a modern L.A. institution.