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The best restaurant and bar openings of 2016 (so far)

Your homework for the rest of the year: eat and drink your way through these fantastic restaurant and bar openings

Photograph: Courtesy Paley

If 2015 was the year of poke, 2016 is shaping up to be a year of meat madness. Butcher shops are suddenly crucial restaurant components, open flames are roasting pigs for all to see and fried chicken is still very much a thing. Sorry, vegetarians: maybe the second half of the year will bring more meat-free options. From casual cocktail bars to alternative pizza shops, here are our favorite restaurants and bar openings of 2016—so far.

Have you made it to any of these spots yet?

Salazar

With an open patio surrounded by palm trees and a distant view of the mountains, Salazar feels more like a backyard hangout than a restaurant. But take one bite of chef and owner Esdras Ochoa's (Mexicali Taco) cuisine and you'll know there is serious noshing to be had here. Tacos come in a number of picks: carne asada, pollo (one of our faves), al pastor and a seasonal vegetable. Shrimp ceviche arrives on a bed of bright cucumbers, and a bevy of beets is topped with a healthy dollop of sweet Mexican ricotta. To drink, Aaron Melendrez whips up playful cocktails, perfect for sipping in the dusty dining area or at the covered bar. If you have the time to nurse a drink over a few hours, the fishbowl is a worthy commitment made with aloe, coconut, gin, mezcal and elderflower—oh yeah, and a gummy shark swimming around the bowl.

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Frog Town

Howlin' Ray's

The chef behind Howlin' Ray's, Johnny Zone, spent time in the kitchen with some of the best chefs in the world, but he's really found his calling by bringing Nashville hot chicken to Los Angeles. Their first brick and mortar opened in Chinatown's Far East Plaza this year, where you'll have to battle the lines for a plate of chicken (white or dark) with whatever level of heat you can handle, from "Country Fried" to "Howlin' Hot." You're supposed to be sweating. You're supposed to get messy. You're supposed to be eating some of the best fried chicken in town.

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Chinatown
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ETA

ETA sprung up in Highland Park from the creative collective of James Bygrave, Ryan Julio and Matt Glassman, the same party responsible for The Greyhound less than a block away. The brick-walled, modern minimalist interior is accented with midcentury and industrial furnishings, while mural work by local artist Tarajosu greets you at the entrance and seeps into the rest of the design. If you’re after something fresh and fruity, the Prettiest Girl of All Time blends Tromba tequila blanco with berry tea, sweet pickled kumquats, purple perilla mint, lemon balm and citrus cordial for a subtly sweet, mildly tart and uplifting cooler that will be gone before you realize it. 

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Highland Park

Paley

Chef Greg Bernhardt is cooking some seriously excellent food at Paley, a glamorous restaurant in Hollywood's old Columbia Square. Though Paley might scream “steak and martini” when you walk in, its raw bar—and seafood in general—is the shining star. Scallops are sliced thinly like carpaccio, drizzled in finger limes and topped with slices of sweet toy box melon and jalapeño. Interspersed with bites of the butter lettuce and English peas—a massive mound of greens tossed with crème fraiche and the Japanese condiment nori goma furikake—you could vow to subsist on protein and vegetables forever. Herbaceous cocktails serve as a refreshing libation, along with an extensive wine list.

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Hollywood
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Dough Box

Fans of Hollywood Pies' former business model know the deal at Dough Box: you place your order over the phone, drive to Dough Box's warehouse in Boyle Heights, and swap your cash (or card) through your car window for a steaming box of deep dish pizza. Sketchy? Sort of. Worth it? Totally. The pizza company, which was opened by one of Hollywood Pies' original founders, offers roughly 10 different pizzas in sizes that range from 6-inches to 12-inches (the latter is also available in thin crust). We're huge fans of the Hill, which comes stuffed with mozzarella, house-made ricotta, garlic, spinach and Italian sausage. Cooking time takes around an hour, and delivery is optional if you live within a 5-mile radius.

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East LA

Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant

Curtis Stone has opened his highly anticipated sophomore project in LA after the success of his Beverly Hills restaurant, Maude. At Gwen, you are greeted with a butcher case as soon as you walk in, where you can buy coils of lamb sausage or hefty cuts of steak to take home. But not everyone is a wiz when it comes to cooking their own meat, which is why the stunning restaurant next door is worth a visit all on its own. Purchase tickets for the prix-fixe meal online and you'll be treated to a multi-course affair in Gwen's glitzy dining room, where chandeliers dangle above and an open fire pit separates diners from the kitchen. You'll start with some house-made charcuterie, followed, perhaps, by roasted cucumbers topped with basil powder, orrechiette, lamb three ways and a seasonal dessert. A robust wine list is offered, along with a curated list of cocktails—we love the Spritz in Nature, made with apricot, basil, gin and soda.

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Hollywood
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Moruno

The Original Farmers Market gained a little a piece of Spain with Moruno, a two-story eatery with a colorful menu and an equally impressive wine list. The restaurant provides a culinary trifecta of dishes with Moorish, North African and Spanish culinary influences, including its namesake kabob dish cooked over coals and marinated in spices. Other items include the addictive roasted butternut squash with dukkah and hearty chicken and lamb moruno bowls. Pair any of the items with their proprietary vermouth on tap or wide selection of sherries for an authentic Andalusian experience.

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Fairfax District

Mardi

Back and better than ever, chef Kris Tominaga has popped up with his latest project, Mardi, at Palihouse in West Hollywood. Set in the picturesque courtyard of this boutique lodge, Mardi is a place to come with friends, where shared plates are actually massive portions and not the comically tiny servings we've become accustomed to. A large tureen of oxtail soup is enough to feed four, its chili broth and shredded brisket are more of an entrée than an appetizer. Tominaga has crafted a beautiful headcheese schnitzel, so rich and fatty that even those averse to headcheese will fall in love with the dish, and his rabbit ragout is a luxurious bowl of ricotta and arugula dumplings. To drink, you'd be remiss to skip one of Mardi's excellent cocktails—the floral gin with aperol, blood orange and grapefruit elderflower is a summer dream.

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West Hollywood
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Amboy

There's been no stopping the popularity of Far East Plaza this year, including chef Alvin Ailan's Amboy. The entrées here are ensconced in a banana leaf and brown paper, so it feels a little like Christmas when you unwrap your food. A sizeable chicken thigh's golden skin gives way under each bite with a soft pop, but while the meat is juicy enough, it's also fairly plain. Dress it up with a quick smear of vinegary, housemade hot sauce and you're set. A small selection of $2 drinks make up Amboy's beverage menu: iced tea, Calamansi juice, sweet coconut juice and Tito Arnie, the last closely resembling an Arnold Palmer. The Calamansi juice is a cousin to lemonade, with a hearty lime kick—and yes, plenty of sugar.

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Chinatown

Kali

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. An equally extensive beverage menu is available, with wines from different parts of California, classic cocktails, a selection of domestic and international craft beer and Meechan's housemade kombucha, all to be enjoyed in the 2,000-square-foot comfortably modern space.

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Central LA
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Baldoria

Little Tokyo gained a casual cocktail bar this year in the form of Baldoria, a clean space with white brick walls, polished cement floors and a menu devoted to sharing. It's great for kicking back after a long work week; order a few appetizers (the octopus pizza is stellar) and some bottled cocktails, and you're golden. Given the fact that all of Baldoria’s cocktails are limited edition, definitely try the Barrel Aged Earl “Grey Dog” Old Fashioned before the batch is gone. The classic is taken to a whole new level with the Bergamot-infused white whiskey. And, of course, you’d be remiss not to try one of their carbonated libations, like the Sparkling Margarita. Beer drinkers can also find solace in Baldoria's bottle selection, from “Belgium Style Beauties” to “Mother-Puckers” meant for sharing.

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Little Tokyo

Highland Park Bowl

Formerly a cherished music venue called Mr. T's Bowl, the 1933 Group (La Cuevita, Harlowe, Idle Hour) took over this beautiful space in 2015 after the previous owner passed away and began an extensive renovation process that would ultimately transform the building into a gorgeous, steampunk-esque bowling alley and bar. The details at Highland Park Bowl are meticulous, from chandeliers made out of repurposed pinsetters to old bowling banners that line the alley's eight lanes. Bowlers can wait out their turn on leather Chesterfield sofas and order from a menu boasting Neapolitan-style pizzas, craft cocktails and a rotating selection of local beers. Behind the lanes, two bars provide plenty of space to hang even if you're not here for bowling.

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Highland Park
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Spring

Michelin starred chef Tony Esnault (Church & State) has transformed a Downtown courtyard into an incredible French restaurant, one where an open kitchen looks out onto a bubbling fountain surrounded by wide-eyed diners. Under twinkling tea lights, plates of squid ink tagliatelle are dressed in a plethora of seafood, escargot is revamped in a tomato and fennel salad, and fresh blueberries are mixed with mint panna cotta for a refreshing finish. A tasting menu is available for those who want to sample a curated selection of Esnault's food, and an adjacent cocktail bar can be used as a pre-dinner drink spot or just a place to stop by for a strong nightcap.

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Downtown Historic Core

Same Same

Situated near the corner of Sunset and Silver Lake boulevards, Same Same is a wine bar and Thai restaurant with a smattering of tables, a neon sign that reads "but different," and two bars accented by rows of wine bottles. An expertly curated wine list puts an emphasis on small production wineries, and the staff is more than happy to guide you in pairings. But just because Same Same highlights the bar aspect of this space doesn't mean that the food is subpar—the menu is filled with traditional options that are both comforting and downright delicious. Kuaytiaw Mu Daeng is a dish made with jade noodles and BBQ pork (a definite crowd-pleaser). The aforementioned mussel pancake is sweeter than you might think, but well balanced with scallions and a mild house Sriracha sauce, while the Panang is another hit—and surprisingly light despite the pool of coconut cream that surrounds chunks of beef and veggies.

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Silver Lake
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The Cannibal

Yup, more meat. As both a meat-centric restaurant and a butcher/sandwich shop, the Cannibal LA meets all your protein needs, whether you're in the mood for a proscuitto-filled sandwich or a spring lamb with peas and fava beans. On one side, a butcher shop offers shelves filled with local goods and a meat case lined with beautiful cuts of beef, pork and chicken; a selection of cold and hot sandwiches is also available (we're partial to the Italian Combo). The restaurant sits next door, where you can fill up on plates of charcuterie, sausages, burgers and even the occasional vegetable.

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Culver City

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken

With a history that begins in a small Tennessee town, Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken has been feeding Americans with their hot and spicy fried chicken for 60 years. When we found out that it was coming to LA, our fried chicken-loving hearts did a little dance. On the corner of Pico and Crenshaw, the soul food joint has remained tried and true to its humble beginnings and traditional but top secret, original recipe. Choose from individual pieces or go for one of their "snacks"—2-20 pieces with white bread—or platters. Sides include baked beans, mac and cheese, seasoned fries, coleslaw and more, and you'll definitely want to splurge on a dessert. We're thinking the chess pie is a killer way to end your Gus's experience.

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Mid City
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The Lincoln

So far this year, cocktail bars have been popping up more Downtown and on the Eastside—so it was a refreshing surprise when the excellent Lincoln opened in Venice. Upon crossing the Lincoln’s threshold, you immediately find yourself in an enclosed open-air patio, where industrial light fixtures hang over reclaimed wood tables dotted with ubiquitous succulents. A friendly crowd gathers here for small group outings, celebrations and cocktail-fueled catch-ups, where patrons drink cocktails like the Hot Route, a combination of mezcal, cucumber, watermelon shrub and smoked sea salt makes for smoky, sweet and summery sipping. For those after something with a bit more bite, the spirit-forward Ol’ Horizon is an excellent closer, bringing tequila, aperol and both sweet and dry vermouths together with a dash of lemon bitters for a drink that’s smooth, strong and straight to the point. 

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Venice

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