The best new restaurants of 2014

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Among the many restaurants that opened in LA this past year, I visited newcomers that included the bizarre (ChocoChicken, anyone?) and the extravagant (I'm looking at you, Barton G.). Thankfully, there were some stellar standouts as well, ones I hope will stick around in 2015 and beyond. From a fried chicken eatery to a vegan newbie in the Valley, here are my picks for the best restaurant openings of 2014.

RECOMMENDED: See the rest of our best of 2014 picks

Squid ink garganelli at Union
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Restaurants, Italian

Union

icon-location-pin Pasadena

Bruce Kalman's Pasadena restaurant is a celebration of rustic, straight-from-the-ground-up food. After eating dinner there, I had the feeling that I hadn't tried anything particularly new or inventive, but what I had tried was the best possible version. A squid ink garganelli was both beautifully plated and delicious, and the burrata with roasted beets almost dissolved in my mouth. And that polenta? I could eat bowls of that butter-drenched dish for days.

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Restaurants, French

Petit Trois

icon-location-pin Hollywood

This year, chef Ludo Lefebvre answered the question, Is there such a thing as a perfect omelette? There is, and Lefebvre makes it at Petit Trois, a tiny French brasserie in a Hollywood strip mall next to Trois Mec. I came here expecting good, but standard, French food, and instead had one of the best dinners of the year—proving, once again, that it's totally OK to have breakfast for dinner.

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The Belcampo Burger from Belcampo Meat Co. at Grand Central Market
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Restaurants, Hamburgers

Belcampo Meat Co.

icon-location-pin Downtown Historic Core

Among the new vendors that moved into Grand Central Market this year, Belcampo Meat Co. was arguably my favorite: I would contemplate moving Downtown for this butcher and burger joint. The Belcampo burger had me questioning all the other burgers I'd deemed "exceptional," the Marrakesh cheesesteak oozes quality cheese and goat leg, and the BBQ chicken sandwich topped with homemade vinegar slaw tastes like summer. Plus it's one of the few places around town where I can sit and enjoy a burger while watching a customer walk up to the counter and buy a whole pig's head without batting an eye.

Lobster roll at The Anchor Venice
Photograph: Ryan Tanaka
Restaurants, Seafood

The Anchor

icon-location-pin Venice

Put aside the super fresh oysters, the picturesque scallop ceviche and the toe-curling s'mores panna cotta. The Anchor's lobster roll alone is worth the visit to this Venice newcomer, a much-welcomed addition to the Westside. Golden, toasted bread and supremely authentic chunks of lobster meat are topped with freshly shaved truffles, and yes, it's as good as it sounds.

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Cassoleta de fideua negra at smoke.oil.salt
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Restaurants, Barbecue

smoke.oil.salt

icon-location-pin Melrose

I first visited smoke.oil.salt when it opened in April, and wasn't completely on board at first. That's what second chances are for, though—a few months later, it was a restaurant I couldn't stop talking about. Coupled with a phenomenal wine list, chef Perfecto Rocher's dishes pack in intense flavor, like the seafood-heavy cassoleta de fideua negra and the tomato toast topped with slices of homemade sausage. Pay a visit on Sundays, when Rocher offers a prix-fixe paella meal.

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Restaurants, Vegan

The Gadarene Swine

icon-location-pin Studio City

Mention the word "vegan" at chef Phillip Lee's new restaurant, The Gadarene Swine, and he will be swift to correct you. But the chef doesn't need to defend his food by making it sound palatable to meat-eaters—it already is. The tasting menu at this dreamy Studio City restaurant is near perfection, where dishes feature mushrooms morphing into strips of jerky and olives are transformed into blissful, donut-esque bites. Vegan or not, dining at The Gadarene Swine is an unforgettable experience.

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Restaurants, Soul and southern American

Bird N Hand

icon-location-pin Fairfax District

Oh sweet mother of all things fried. Bird N Hand showed up on Fairfax with little fanfare, and its sporadic hours still lend an air of mystery to dining here. But sit down at Adel Chagar's fried chicken spot and you'll fall head over heels. Every single piece of chicken I had was juicy, crispy and incredibly flavorful, and the chicken and waffles far surpassed any other version of the dish I've had in the past. And that croissant crack pudding? Hold me.

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Restaurants, Seafood

The Hook & Plow

icon-location-pin Hermosa Beach

While Manhattan Beach has seen a steady rise in exceptional restaurants (Little Sister is one example, though it opened last year), Hermosa Beach hasn't quite caught up yet. The Hook & Plow, however, is a fantastic addition. Its sea- and farm-to-table fare includes on-point oysters, and their pork and scallop "BLT" was one of the best surf and turf dishes I've had in a long time.

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Chorizo breakfast burrito at Cofax
Photograph: Courtesy Cofax
Restaurants, Coffee shops

Cofax Coffee Shop

icon-location-pin Fairfax District

Ok, so Cofax is not a restaurant, it's a coffee shop. But their burritos? Hot damn. There are days when I wake up wanting nothing but the chorizo burrito offered here, packed with chunks of smoked potato, chorizo, cheese and eggs in one tightly wrapped and lightly grilled tortilla. You can take it to go or eat it at Cofax's narrow counter, where fellow diners might be devouring their own burrito like it's the last one they'll ever eat.

Restaurants, Italian

Alimento

icon-location-pin Silver Lake

Mention Alimento to anyone who has been and they will immediately bring up the tortellini in brodo, chef Zach Pollack's wonder of a dish that combines the technique of tortellini and dumplings. But I loved his pig in a blanket as well, and his squid ink radiatori...and pretty much everything that came to our table. Now if only Alimento would stop charging for water.

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