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Tamales Elena y Antojitos pescadillas fish tacos
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo Pescadillas at Tamales Elena y Antojitos

The 15 best new Los Angeles restaurants of 2020

High fashion meets taquerias meets world-class sushi skill in this year's best new restaurants, right when we needed it most

By Stephanie Breijo
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There has never been a time Los Angeles needed its restaurants more, and in 2020, as always, they were there for us. They innovated, they pivoted and some even opened—entirely new and with existing business plans thrown out the window—in the insanity of this year. 

Somehow through it all we’ve been blessed this year with some of the city’s most creative new tacos, not one but two high-fashion restaurants, some of our favorite new neighborhood spots, and the most thoughtful takeout.

It almost doesn’t seem fair that L.A.’s new restaurants should be held to any standard beyond that of trying to survive the most mercurial and dangerous year in modern history; we considered not running our annual Best New Restaurants guide at all, but these new taquerias and sushi bars and bistros and neighborhood restaurants—presented below alphabetically—not only deserve the recognition they’ve earned, they deserve the praise for creating delicious, creative and inspiring food in a time we’ve all needed it most.

They’re also all open for takeout in some form—including frozen bulk orders of some of the best lumpia in town—which means they’ll be invaluable as we order out in 2021 and beyond. Never touch that sourdough starter again: L.A.’s best new restaurants have you covered.

See Also: The 25 L.A. Dishes That Got Us Through 2020The Best Los Angeles Cookbooks of 2020

Let’s hear it for this year’s best new restaurants

Chifa Restaurant in Eagle Rock
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Chifa

Restaurants Chinese Eagle Rock

Style over substance is always a possibility when a fashion heavyweight opens a restaurant, but when it comes to Chifa, it couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s not to say Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony fame didn’t design the space to the nines—custom terrazzo floors, swirled green-and-cream tabletops, a birch-like custom wallpaper and a heart-shaped window beg to differ—but it is to say that its craveable and aesthetics-minded Chinese, Peruvian, and Taiwanese dishes suit the dining room’s panache.

A restaurant decades in the making, Chifa builds upon matriarch “Popo” Wendy Leon’s own Chinese restaurant, also called Chifa, which opened in Lima in the ’70s before the family immigrated to the U.S. She’s cooking her signatures like Chinese brûléed char siu and Peruvian pollo a la brasa at Chifa 2.0 now, alongside her son-in-law, John Liu, who lends his own generational Taiwanese recipes to the menu. Humberto heads up the design and drink programs, while his sister, Ricardina Leon, runs the ship as CEO.

It’s beauty, it’s grace, it’s a family affair with style, love and history on the plate and all around. And that wild and wonderful dining room is one of the first places we want to be when the world returns to normalcy.

Gamboge Cambodian chicken wings
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Gamboge

Restaurants Cambodian Lincoln Heights

This modern Cambodian deli does it all: Not only does Gamboge slather crunchy baguettes with grilled lemongrass-scented meats, creamy pâté and a rainbow of house-pickled radish and carrot for its tremendous numpang sandwiches—it’s also home to flawless grilled chicken wings, vegan options just as thoughtful as their meaty counterparts, glorious sides such as coconut-glazed corn, and a beer and natural-wine list to round it all out.

Husband-and-wife team Hak Lonh and Jane Oh built a casual and welcoming sort of café as their first foray into the restaurant industry, but Lonh’s recipes and love of food are serious, and they run deep, tracing back not only to his Cambodian and Chinese heritage but also his parents’ culinary journey upon their move to America. Ideal for a sandwich, a full-on feast—truly, order one of everything—or a simple iced coffee set to the restaurant’s top-notch Cambodian playlist, Gamboge is vibrant, effortlessly cool and always worth a stop.

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Gigi's bistro Hollywood
Photograph: Courtesy Gigi's/Britt Lucas

Gigi’s

Restaurants French Hollywood

Chic hardly begins to describe Gigi’s, a California take on a French bistro and a new neighborhood restaurant that drips with brass and charm. Picture it: A bartender passes you a cognac-scented old-fashioned or a classic martini from the glowing bar, and as you sink into the plush green booths your filet mignon steak tartare arrives all dotted with mustard seed and sauce gribiche. Because this is 2020 we’re still dreaming of dining in the space, but trust us when we say that steak tartare is chic even if you’re only eating it in your car.

At Gigi’s it’s all classy French comfort: exquisite duck rillettes with champagne vinegar and a perfectly chewy baguette; just-crisped roast chicken with an herbacious dipping sauce; and casual, iconic fare such as a jambon-beurre sandwich all leave us wishing we could have a Gigi’s in our own neighborhood for a bit of a casual bistro escape.

Gucci Osteria
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Gucci Osteria

Restaurants Italian Beverly Hills

One of the world’s most famous fashion houses teamed up with one of the world’s best chefs to open one of Italy’s most esteemed restaurants and, earlier this year, it all converged in Los Angeles. At the intersection of fashion and food is Gucci Osteria, Florence’s Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by chef Massimo Bottura—and now we have our very own for Bottura’s signature tortellino in brodo and couture burgers inspired by Emilia-Romagna.

Perched above Rodeo Drive (and the Gucci store, naturally), the new osteria is of course a bit of an experience, but the food is even more enticing than the people-watching. Conceptualized by Bottura and chef Mattia Agazzi, it weaves Italian fine dining with more modern and L.A.-inspired dishes just as colorful as Gucci’s storied patterns: Brilliantly hued desserts might replicate a Malibu sunset or the Hollywood Walk of Fame but never manage to feel kitschy. Instead, it’s more food as art—or in this case, food as fashion.

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Johnny's West Adams pastrami sandwich
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Johnny’s West Adams

Restaurants American Mid City

You can smell the smoked pastrami from blocks away, a kind of cartoonish invisible trail leading you right to the large blue and pink neon sign that says it all: BURGERS. PASTRAMI. DOGS. But that vintage neon sign—originally from long-running Johnny’s Pastrami—is in the hands of new ownership, and Johnny’s West Adams reimagines the pitsmoked and griddled meats with new dishes, new techniques and a whole new cocktail bar.

The new Johnny’s walk-up shop boasts Jewish-deli sentiments, offers a killer patio, and isn’t afraid to experiment (we will try some smoked fish in our pasta salad, thanks). Thick slabs of pastrami ooze flavor and melt into the Tartine marbled rye, while the thin-sliced pastrami French dip gives even Philippe’s a run for its money. Some of the best matzo ball soup in town can be found here, too, along with big-as-your-hands chicken tenders, pastrami-topped fries, pastrami-bedecked burgers, pastrami-laden knishes, and pastrami-packed tacos.

In a city already so devoted to pastrami it’s a wonder a newcomer can manage to feel so irreplaceable so quickly, but chef Danny Elmaleh’s pastrami—and everything else—is just that good.

Katsu Sando restaurant in Chinatown
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Katsu Sando

Restaurants Japanese Chinatown

Playful and always full of surprises, this year Smorgasburg’s popular Japanese katsu sando slinger opened the conbini-inspired sandwich shop we never knew we needed. The grab-and-go fridge near the front door offers both creative and traditional spins on goods you might find at a conbini, or Japanese convenience store, so you could grab hand-folded onigiri stuffed with pork belly kimchi ssam, perilla leaves and a little miso paste; a classic miso-caramel pudding; and a cream-slathered seasonal fruit sando in seconds—plus a chilled curry plate for dinner later.

Of course the true stars of the show are the hot sandos, battered and crisped up and served between pillowy slices of painstakingly house-made milk bread in the snug kitchen. The quick, inexpensive and wholly satisfying sando stacks range from straightforward planks of tender fried chicken to one of the best new dishes of the year, a classic plate of Chinese honey walnut shrimp now in sandwich form. Always watch Instagram for specials, and always order a side of curry cheese waffle fries.

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Little Coyote pizza Long Beach
Photograph: Courtesy Little Coyote/Pascal Shirley

Little Coyote

Restaurants Pizza Long Beach

In a slice-loving, pepperoni-guzzling sort of town full of new pizza spots cropping up what feels like every other week, Long Beach’s New York-style haven managed to stand apart in 2020. That’s because the team at Little Coyote built something genuinely cool, a real vibe of a beachy pizzeria, but what speaks for its trendiness beyond the tie-dyed merch and the natural-wine program and the fun social media presence is the product: Perfectly foldable slices with just enough heft, plenty of chew and the ideal crust-to-topping ratio keep Angelenos driving from the far corners of the county.

Co-owner and chef Jack Leahy and “dough wizard” Waldo Stout team up for wild weekend specials that might see a Jean-Claude Van Damme–inspired “Muscles from Brussels” pie topped with Brussels sprouts, or a charred-leek “FREAK-A-LEEK” white pie: This is serious pizza not taken too seriously. It’s not all about the pizza though; meaty subs and massive salads come piled and packed with high-end ingredients (we could probably live off those garlicky house croutons in the caesar), while co-owner Jonathan Strader keeps wine specials fresh and rotating for guzzling alongside your slices, offering a new vibe every meal.

Mirame fried chicken taco
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Mírame

Restaurants Mexican Beverly Hills

Chef Joshua Gil braises thick wedges of short rib, lays them over mashed corn and tops them with wasabi peas all tucked within handmade tortillas. He’s just as creative when it comes to the fried chicken taco. And the octopus al pastor. And the whole fish swimming in masa jus.

At Mírame the modern-Mexican fare is exciting, the bites unpredictable. Pops of acidity might come from a black lime gastrique or a guava-and-tomatillo pico de gallo, with Gil’s creations keeping us on our toes in the best way. You’ll find bold flavors here unique to the Tacos Punta Cabras vet’s whims: oysters with a spiced saffron apple mignonette; striped-bass ceviche under an aguachile granita; all-day breakfast burritos stuffed with lamb bacon and duck carnitas; quesadillas brimming with turkey barbacoa, a thin sheath of cotija griddled and crunchy along the surface. It’s a rabbit hole worth following wherever Gil’s creativity takes you.

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Ospi restaurant in Venice
Photograph: Courtesy Ospi/Wonho Frank Lee

Ospi

Restaurants Italian Venice

We had a feeling we’d love Ospi—after all, Venice’s new pasta emporium is brought to us by the team behind Jame Enoteca—but we weren’t prepared for how much we’d love everything else, too. Chef and co-owner Jackson Kalb’s fresh handmade pastas are of course all worth an order at this Italian spot just two blocks from the beach, and the humble rigatoni in vodka sauce is just as crucial as the flashier and more labor-intensive raschiatelli, which come swimming in a melt-in-your-mouth spicy pork spare-rib sugo and topped with crema di pecorino and a showering of breadcrumbs.

But Ospi branched out from its predecessor’s pasta focus by offering the likes of ricotta-topped toasts, massive planks of deep-fried provolone with cheese pulls that could stretch across the city, and Roman tonda-style pizza whose cracker-like edge along the thin crust belies a delightful chew. Grab pasta, pizza, cheese planks—and, above all, the Ospi-only cannoli—and head to the beach or anywhere, really.

Pearl River Delta Chinatown restaurant
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Pearl River Deli

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

Pearl River Deli could easily be our most frequented restaurant of 2020, and with great cause. What was once one of L.A.’s best pop-ups became one of the city’s best permanent restaurants when chef Johnny Lee’s casual Cantonese-leaning concept decided to call Far East Plaza home. Now you can find a constant stream of the most lacquered char siu, the mose succulent soy sauce chicken, the most silken scrambled eggs studded with shrimp, and everything else we could eat for every meal of the day; if Lee’s cooking it, we want it.

There’s so much heart and technique in every dish here: Unique specials like broth made from ink-skinned silkie chickens with goji berries and red dates, or the crispy-coated typhoon-shelter shrimp, or Lee’s singular Hainan chicken, rely on traditional methods, ingredients and sometimes hours upon hours of prep time—which make each sip and bite feel truly special. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might find the occasional leaf-wrapped zhong made by Lee’s own mother: another labor of love we’re all fortunate to taste. Be sure to keep an eye on the refrigerator to find ready-to-heat curries and sauces, too, but no matter what you order here you can’t go wrong.

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Petite Peso Bicol Express Filipino food
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Petite Peso

Restaurants Filipino Downtown Financial District

Filipino food has always been cool but at Petite Peso, it’s unabashedly so. Chef Ria Barbosa’s first standalone restaurant serves fantastic kare kare, chicken adobo, lumpia and other Filipino classics along with streetwear (hi, branded bucket hats), playful specials like a reimagined take on Jollibee chicken and spaghetti, and, in the absolute most essential section of the restaurant’s new online shop, “The Good Good”: value packs of frozen lumpia available in both pork and meatless Impossible Foods varieties, naturally.

Barbosa, along with “rice engineer” Tiffany Tanaka and co-owner Robert Villanueva, manage to serve some of the most fun and fresh Filipino food in L.A. all from within a 400-square-foot postage stamp of a restaurant (one formerly home to another L.A. Filipino-food great, RiceBar) and keep us fiending for their rice bowls and sisg just as much as the pastries. Don’t even think about leaving without some of Barbosa’s polvoron cookies.

Socalo restaurant Santa Monica
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Socalo

Restaurants Mexican Santa Monica

Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken returned to Santa Monica in the last days of 2019, and, as it turned out, opening a colorful cantina around their old Border Grill stomping grounds meant an all new rainbow of citrusy, produce-forward, hyper-fresh and beachy Cal-Mexican dishes—the kind of cooking that put their lauded (and at the time trailblazing) ode to regional Mexican food on the map.

At Socalo it’s revamped but still streamlined, a casual space for all-day tacos, burritos, ceviches, and salads tossed together with ingredients pulled from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market. There are vegetables and California influence tucked into every dish—sometimes sneakily so—in a way that makes Feniger and Milliken’s execution of (and reverence for) Mexican food still feel uniquely theirs.

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Sushi Tama takeout
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Sushi Tama

Restaurants Japanese Beverly Grove

We’re an ocean away from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market, but that doesn’t mean our expertise has to be. A sushi vet with a decade of experience at the world-famous fresh-fish mecca is now fronting one of the most elegant new sushi bars in L.A., a modern and serene space where chef Hideyuki Yoshimoto slices decadently buttery slivers of hamachi, kanpachi, otoro, anago and all the other sashimi, nigiri and maki favorites.

The difference here is quality and thought: Yoshimoto’s technique is precise, with cuts so cool, refreshing and clean they practically sing of the ocean. The care and precision extends to takeout options as well, with some of the most beautiful temaki sets we’ve ever seen—or had the pleasure of eating. In a dark year, Sushi Tama proved a bright and transportive light—even if just for the amount of time it takes to house a 10-piece nigiri set. 

Tamales Elena y Antojitos pozole
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Tamales Elena y Antojitos

Restaurants Mexican Southeast Cities

This Afro-Mexican restaurant doesn’t just make some of L.A.’s best new food of 2020—it makes some of the best food in Los Angeles and Southern California, period. Cauldrons of hours-long–simmered pozoles; piles of tender and steaming tamales; and phenomenal crisped tacos from Mexico’s Guerrero region hum with spice and heat and passion from the mother-and-daughters team of the Lorenzo family. With the metamorphosis of their food truck into a walk-up restaurant they’ve been able to add and add and add, thankfully giving us a now-lengthy menu of saucy picadas, a number of pozoles piled with chicharrones and avocado, and just-barely-fried tacos so thin you feel like you could (and definitely want to) eat 20 of them.

Our advice? Order 20 tacos. Order three kinds of pozole. Order both varieties of tamales—corn husk and banana leaf, as well as some sweet ones—and always order extra to take home with you. Tamales Elena is a standout in 2020, but it’s certainly one that will continue to shine long after.

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Valle Venice vegetarian tlayuda
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

Valle Venice

Restaurants Mexican Venice

There’s a lot to love about Valle, the new Oaxacan restaurant from the Gjelina Group. It’s a success story—a pop-up so popular it became a permanent restaurant—and it just so happens to serve truly delicious, thoughtful and destination-worthy tacos, tlayudas and Mexico-meets-Venice small plates. But it’s also a clear example of what can happen when leadership lets its largely unsung back-of-house talent take the lead.

When the MTN space became available early this year chefs Juan Hernandez (Gjelina) and Pedro Aquino (MTN) launched a temporary concept serving braised meats, ceviches, and tacos built upon handmade corn tortillas and topped with mortar-and-pestle–ground salsas. The result? Some of the city’s most flavorful and vibrant Oaxacan food. With vegetarian options just as exciting, textured and considered as the seared and slow-roasted meats—without question, Valle is home to some of the best barbacoa in Los Angeles—it’s a win no matter your preference or mood for a long time to come.

See more of our picks from previous years

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