Sure, 2019 was the year Michelin returned to Los Angeles, but we already knew that L.A.’s dining scene is worthy of global praise, stars or none. The creativity bubbling underneath our collective chef toques spills out into genre-bending, global-embracing dishes and trends that pay homage to cultures and flavors and cuisines from all over the world, while still managing to feel representative of our spectacular city.
This year’s new restaurants embodied imagination and globe-trotting more than ever, serving up oolong agua frescas, sweetbread Texas toasts and tom yum bloomin’ onions. It was also a year of hot chicken (and hot not-chicken), of cool food merch and of smashburgers (truly, so many smashburgers it’s hard to keep them all straight).
Dive into the year’s best with our guide to the city’s top 15 new restaurants of 2019, already establishing themselves as L.A. dining icons.
Let’s hear it for this year’s best new restaurants
The hype for Onda was real. In L.A.’s year of nationally notable restaurant openings, the first collab between Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow and Contramar’s Gabriela Cámara stole the limelight when word spread around the globe that one of Mexico’s top chefs would be landing in Los Angeles soon. After all, what would the marriage of ricotta toast and tuna tostadas be? They’re still figuring out exactly what it means, but as it turns out, it’s certainly a new direction for both chefs. And now, sitting at the base of the Proper Hotel, the long-awaited project from two of the most influential contemporary chefs is finally here, a modern-Mexican concept that marries L.A. and Mexico City with some of the most creative dishes we’ve seen all year—turkey quesadillas, masa-battered kelp—and a strong mezcal program, to boot. The tables are packed during dinner, but keep in mind that Onda hasn’t reached its final form: Sometime, most likely in January, the restaurant will launch all-day service, leaving us wondering what to possibly expect once more.
Tasting menus can wind up as little more than a showy vehicle for a chef’s ego, but at Helene An’s Dà Lat Rose, the humble, reflective 12-course meal is quite literally her life’s work. Each artful Vietnamese dish corresponds to an era or event in the chef’s life, taking you on a wild ride through marriages, daring escapes from the Viet Cong and new-world dreams told with modern takes on Vietnamese classics. The meal forms a narrative, beginning in An’s Beverly Hills interpretation of a Vietnamese beer bar, where she and executive chef Tony Nguyen updated fishing-village staples like tableside grilled razor clams, and street food done up with escargot and tallow. In the main dining room, the whimsy continues with more tableside flourishes and dishes meant to celebrate the life of the Vietnamese-food trailblazer, as well as look to the future of An’s lauded Crustacean and her family’s legacy. An’s “gastrobiography” runs roughly three hours long, but with tales and technique this good, we could dine on her story all day and night.
Tacos 1986 isn’t just turning out some of the city’s best Tijuana-style tacos. This year the street-cart operation launched its first brick-and-mortar restaurant—a cozy, standing-room cubby in DTLA with lines to the door—in only a matter of months, making owners Victor Delgado and Jorge “Joy” Alvarez-Tostado the poster children for hard work and payoff in L.A.’s dining scene. Building from a little-known K-town cart to a devoted weekly following at Smorgasburg, all while taking catering gigs and mentoring young taco talent from Mexico, they’ve worked tirelessly skimming thin sheaths of adobada from the trompo, crisping vampiros on the grill and putting on a show. If Joy’s there, he’s making kissy faces at the crowd, flexing and yelling that he’s the best taquero in the world. Whether or not he’s right, you’ll believe him when he says it—you might also believe it once you bite into those guacamole-topped tacos plump with strawberry salsa, charred mushrooms and marinated meats.
Chad Colby’s breakout restaurant features a few of the hallmarks we came to love during his time helming chi SPACCA: a killer house charcuterie program, mastery of an open fire and a keen understanding of provincial Italian cooking. At Antico, Colby’s rustic Italian den, he ramps up the old-world charm with pastas that come hand-formed and made using straight-from-Italy heirlooms, while meats sizzle over a hypnotic hearth at the heart of the restaurant. Pans and traditional kitchenware hang around the space ready to be plucked down and thrown into use sautéing spaghettini with colatura; bigoli with cured tuna heart; fazzoletti with veal tongue; beans and whatever greens might be in season, while wooden tables create the illusion that maybe, just maybe, you’re not at the edge of K-town and Hancock Park, but you’re sitting down to meal in a romantic countryside tavern. It just so happens to be a tavern run by a Nancy Silverton protégé and serves some of the best ice cream for miles around.
Plastic tablecloths and utensils, a menu that tops out at around $7 per dish, a steam tray to rival any other and spice you can’t stop lapping up despite the sweat: Welcome to Northern Thai Food Club, one of 2019’s biggest and best surprises. Tucked into a Thai Town strip mall, like most of the neighborhood’s finest, NTFC is easily the most casual spot on this list and maybe even the most congenial: Owner Amphai Dunne—but you can call her Nancy—will smile and suggest a few favorites and point you toward the day’s specials waiting in the steam tray, and if you’re lucky, she might even offer you a piece or two of the fresh Thai-market fruit sitting in little mounds near the door. The laminated menu is a rundown of familiar and surprising classics—a creamy khao soi noodle curry, an unctuous hot larb pork salad, a garlicky pan-fried jackfruit number—with so many options you can’t help but plan your next trip while you’re still seated at the table.
Jeremy Fox dropped one of the city’s most inspired menus of the year, but before you head to Birdie G’s, you’re going to need a strategy. That’s because between the bougie Texas toasts, pickle platters, blue-plate specials, the noodle kugel, Italian pastas, the baked goods, the caviar service and the California-raised grilled meats, it’s hard to know where to begin. Our advice? Study the menu and bring a handful of friends, because the breadth of the Rustic Canyon chef’s newest concept is only matched by its sprawling setting. In a repurposed Bergamot Station warehouse, Fox’s lively ode to Jewish heritage, Midwest upbringing and Angeleno sensibilities translates to scrambled eggs in schmaltz with matzo; BBQ ribs with togarashi; whole roast chickens; beef-tongue pot roast; a dilly matzo ball soup; wood-grilled sweetbreads and anything else in season and fit for a good time.
One of the shining quick-and-casual gems to open in 2019, this organic-minded Taiwanese-Chinese charmer keeps the seats and tables packed, and with good cause. The noodles in the beef soup are house-made and hand-pulled, the wheat scallion pancake can come oozing with cheese, and the set meal—available with salmon or fried chicken—is one of the best deals along Alhambra’s busy Main Street. Bright flavors and chipper service are the name of the game at Yang’s, where it’s best to try a little of everything: pickles and chilled roast vegetables from the deli case (impossible to resits once you get to the register anyway, so don’t even try to); that comforting cauldron of beef noodle soup; herbaceous cold sesame noodles; and milk-flavored soft serve for dessert. As if you hadn’t been hit over the head with Yang’s global approach to Taiwanese and Chinese flavor, there’s even a tea-based agua fresca or two to wash it all down.
Opening one of the country’s best seafood restaurants in San Francisco is a very different beast than replicating that seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, but the Michelin-starred Joshua Skenes managed to pull it off, and from within an enclave in the garage of the Beverly Center, too. Stepping into L.A.’s Angler manages to feel like you’ve entered some sort of woodsman wormhole; outside, traffic whizzes by, but inside, it’s all warm wood decor, modern hunstmen-lodge vibes, an enthralling open kitchen and king crab bobbing silently in the live tanks—an almost contemplative setting for some of the country’s best shellfish and fresh-caught fish. (We say “almost” because that pumped-up ’80s playlist keeps things just fun enough to stave off any stuffiness.) The splurge-worthy menu changes daily, ensuring the freshest ingredients on your plate: buttery poached marbled flounder, showstopping by-the-pound crab flayed out on the table, fresh spot prawns at $18 apiece, melt-in-your-mouth sea urchin served on the rocks. Meticulously sourced from independent fishermen and other locals, it serves some of the finest seafood available in all of California—of course, we wouldn’t blame you if you got distracted by the eye-catching poultry, seasonal vegetables or remarkable venison steak, either.
You may have just Byrd-scootered over for a date night in Santa Monica, but when you’re digging in to creamy bowls of scallops with caviar and beurre blanc, you’ll feel more like a 19th-century oil barron—and that is the beauty of Dave Beran’s latest. The former Alinea chef already wowed us with his tasting menu at Dialogue, and for his next trick, he brings us even more of his trademark attention to detail and technique with a charming French bistro that feels just as much new as it does a taste of the past. Golden scales weight caviar tableside, while the showy antique duck press squeezes the juice of the canard à la Rouennaise à la presse into a delicate teacup, a masterful and memorable dining moment that stole the limelight from 2019’s most entertaining newcomers, and the restaurant’s own dishes (though we’ll always opt for the crushingly tender beef cheek and his classic French omelette). Pasjoli is replete with velvet seating areas, marble countertops, nuanced cocktails and some incredibly refined cuisine that feels transportive—so everyone can feel like an old-world oil baron for a night, at least until they hop back on that scooter parked outside.
We never knew our dream seafood shack came stocked with cans of Bud Heavy, plenty of natural wine and the best uni-topped lobster rolls in town all set to some Steely Dan blasting, but before 2019, Broad Street Oyster Co. never had a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Christopher Tompkins’s seafood pop-up still keeps a breakneck schedule of events and appearances, but now you can find them just a block from the ocean, permanently. Broad Street’s residency in the back of a Malibu strip mall kept getting extended until the casual joint with high-quality shellfish became so popular that it thankfully got signed on to stay. In 2020, we’re looking forward to even more of the lobster rolls and dishes we’ve craved this year: otherworldly-delicious oysters from around the globe; whole spiny lobsters that get halved and thrown on the grill; razor clams to be sautéed in butter; California halibut battered and fried into fish and chips; and whatever else they care throw on the menu at this total party of a seafood joint.
You are what you eat, and no one’s figured that out faster than the team behind All Day Baby: Angelenos are diverse and creative and vibrant, and we want to eat that way, too. No wonder the new all-day diner keeps customers streaming in at all hours: With a pastry case full of conchas; a large red meat smoker full of beef, chicken and skin-on pork belly; and a bar full of cocktails like a negroni float, there’s nothing not to love, no matter what you’re in the mood for. Staples like burgers, hotcakes, biscuit breakfast sandwiches and ribs all get the understated gourmet treatment for a meal that feels upscale-classic without feeling too classy. Sliding in just before the close of the year, Silver Lake’s newest gem comes by way of the Here’s Looking at You partnership, who feel like they’ve got charm, color, character and a kind of new-age Americana down to a science. It’s a good thing this spot is set to expand hours late into the night, because, quite honestly, we never want to leave.
Built for the Abbot Kinney crowd, chef Vartan Abgaryan’s electric, eclectic New American restaurant is buzzing, cool-casual and a place to be seen, but that doesn’t mean it’s all flash. The chameleonic menu weaves California produce, seafood and meat into Mexican, French, Italian and Middle Eastern influences, so you might wind up diving headfirst into a bowl of avocado hummus topped with a peanut-heavy salsa macha, or an uni- and chipotle-butter take on carbonara. It’s zero pomp, zero circumstance—just the bold flavors bouncing around in Abgaryan’s mind that land in the likes of colorful, composed caviar dots and pink celery slices all over your plate. He’s crafted an ideal spot for a date night, a gathering place for dinner with friends, and someplace refined—without being stuffy—for bringing parents. Our tip? Share the plates so you can try a little of everything (especially when there are roasted carrots with burrata and XO sauce involved).
This is the year Eric Bost democratized the tasting menu, and the institution is better for it. Sure, you can and absolutely should make your way through Bost’s more formal menu—a procession of either four, six or nine aesthetically astounding courses—but if you’re in the mood for just one or two dishes, you can meander to that sleek, minimalist bar, take a seat amongst the concrete angles and skylights, and enjoy some of the tasting menu’s exact courses for as little as $8 apiece. Suddenly, the meticulous dishes from one of our city’s best fine dining chefs—a vet of multiple heavy hitters, including Alain Ducasse—can be enjoyed by anyone, without pretense, without a hefty check, without a reservation. And it’s the kind of accessibility we want to see for charred-in-the-hearth eggplant; white-chocolate risotto; 30-day dry-aged rib eye; and one of the finest bread courses in the city, a round, perfectly-crusted boule served with a luscious and fragrant avocado butter. L.A. is a city built on casual dining, and Bost found a way to marry white-tablecloth fare with how we love to eat: fine dining for all.
After breakfasts, dedicated pastry runs, lunch, lunch to-go and order-the-whole-menu dinners at Bon Temps, we only have one question: Is there anything that Lincoln Carson can’t do? The chef’s modern brasserie—industrial and tucked into an Arts District alleyway—can do it all, morning to night, thanks to a seamless pastry program with some of the finest croissants in the city, and a dedicated kitchen churning out imaginative French-leaning classics. There are days we find ourselves staring out the window, remembering how easily the house-made green chartreuse ice cream falls to the center of what might be the world’s fluffiest chocolate soufflé, and don’t even get us started on those caviar-bedecked uni tartlets or that elegant roast chicken and its accompanying “salad” hiding decadent mashed potatoes. There are surprises around every corner of Carson’s cooking, and while the menu—and at times, price point—might suggest a buttoned-up atmosphere, Bon Temps is also a spot for setting up shop with your laptop and a vinegar-happy, egg-topped grain bowl, turning a remote office into the kind of stylish, leather-couched workspace of our dreams.
There is something about Mei Lin’s cooking that feels like coming home. You don’t have to be of Chinese lineage to experience this—the dishes are just so. Maybe it’s the Top Chef winner’s ability to meld her own heritage with so many others’, transforming mapo tofu into a spiced-pork and tofu-cream lasagna, or a fair-food staple into a tom-yum–seasoned fried onion. And to start? Why, some chicharrones to dip into a tin of the creamiest French onion dip topped by smoked trout roe, naturally. Her cooking is creative but still intuitive for diners of all backgrounds, and, amazingly, within one year she’s managed to plate many of the city’s most beloved and must-order items of 2019. Rectangles of shrimp toast laid carefully in Cantonese curry; red-hot Szechuan quail that playfully spins off the hot-chicken trend; crab congee flecked with truffle and gold; a platter-sized pork schnitzel eaten with unctuous gwai mei dressing—each dish extends far beyond a simple “modern-Chinese” nametag and keeps us coming back for more, and we’re not alone. Weekends and weeknights late or early, Lin devotees pack the tables under hanging vines and brass fixtures to bring dates, out-of-town family and everyone else who wants a taste of the best new dining in Los Angeles. As they pass plates of bay scallops in coconut vinaigrette at the start of their meal, you can sometimes hear tables already strategizing which of Nightshade’s otherworldly-good desserts they’ll order. The smart ones know, much like the savory items, to order them all.