Get us in your inbox

Search
Time Out Best of the City Awards 2021
Time Out

Revealed: Time Out L.A.’s 2021 Best of the City award winners

The greatest events, restaurants, bars and cultural institutions in L.A. this past year

Michael Juliano
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Michael Juliano
&
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Advertising

Like a typical marine layer morning, things started out a little gloomy in Los Angeles this year, but slowly and steadily the city we know and love started to shine through again. New restaurants continued to open, movie theaters and museums welcomed back visitors for the first time in a year and you could even have a drink at a bar again, regardless of whether it was an outdoor bar-classified-as-a-restaurant or just an actual indoor bar.

So for this year’s Best of the City Awards, our editors wanted to take a look back at the venues, events and people that really stuck out to us. California’s mid-June reopening more or less split the year into two chapters, and we’ve recognized favorites pulled from both timeframes, plus that messy period in between. Regardless of where they fall in L.A.’s reopening timeline, we’re proud to bestow all of these picks below with Best of the City Awards—and we hope you’ll be just as excited, too.

Disagree with our choices? You can still vote for your most beloved venues in our Love Local Awards.

FOOD & DRINK

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

Housed in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza—one of the most exciting places to eat in L.A.—the tiny, mighty Pearl River Deli has managed to take all the lemons from the last two years and make lemonade: The restaurant is currently closed as the team prepares to move to a larger Hill Street space nearby. This always excellent Cantonese takeout spot’s menu is constantly evolving, thus staying true to head chef Johnny Lee’s unapologetic founding ethos: “We cook whatever we want and feel like.” In the past, that’s meant a wide array of regional Chinese dishes, including a well-lacquered char siu pork and the shop’s perpetually sold-out Hainan chicken. More recent offerings have expanded beyond the culinary Sinosphere to include dishes like Hawaiian loco moco and nasi lemak, Singapore’s national dish. Though PRD’s limited availability might frustrate some diners, others readily accept the challenge of snagging a weekend-only special from social media. For those willing to watch (on Instagram) and wait (in Far East Plaza), the next iteration of Pearl River Deli is more than likely to deliver the goods in the new year. –Patricia Kelly Yeo

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Beverly Hills
  • price 3 of 4

Though chef-owners Walter and Margarita Manzke have yet to open the upstairs portion of their two-story restaurant on Pico Boulevard, their downstairs concept, Bicyclette, has already won our eyes, hearts, minds and stomachs with its charming all-wood interiors, excellent service and Parisian bistro fare. Unlike sister spot République, Bicyclette’s menu hews quite close to traditional French cuisine. In practice, this means lots of wine, garlic, herbs, butter—including the must-order escargots en croûte. While Bicyclette’s reservations book out weeks in advance, solo diners or parties of two can typically find room at the bar. Don’t forget about dessert either: Margarita’s James Beard-nominated tarts and pastries are unforgettable. –PKY

Advertising
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Echo Park
  • price 1 of 4

Thanks to excellent Southern-inspired bar bites, an ample madeira list and playful cocktails, Thunderbolt is our favorite spot to hang out in Historic Filipinotown. The bar’s lively front patio helped us stay afloat when indoor dining was closed, while its comfy leather sofas felt like a warm hug when indoor drinking finally resumed in L.A. We loved the Tropipop, Thunderbolt’s clarified take on a piña colada and the signature Thunderbolt, which puts fruit and Southern flavors at the forefront. But Thunderbolt isn’t just about the South; Thunderbolt also pays homage to L.A. with sleek, creative options like the P-Town Boxing Club, made with pandan and coconut-washed rye and the canned Highball of the Month—with $2 from the sale of each can going to the different nonprofit each month, including the restaurant industry-oriented No Us Without You. –PKY

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Central LA
  • price 2 of 4

Four years in the making, All Season Brewing Company is the long-awaited revival of the historic Firestone tire station on La Brea. After debuting in February, All Season Brewing’s open floor plan, row of Skee-Ball machines and taco window (courtesy of Chicas Tacos) have ensured it’s become the perfect Central L.A. drinking spot for casual outdoor hangs or a pint of happy hour craft beer after working from home. Draft cocktails, $6 well shots and a menu of “Dirty Dozen” classic cocktails made to order complement All Season’s extensive beer list heavy on IPAs and lagers. –PKY

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 3 of 4

Despite opening just this March, the mostly open-air Cha Cha Chá has already become one of our best restaurants in city. In our eyes, this designation is as much due to its excellent menu as its gorgeous, plant-filled Arts District rooftop digs. This past summer, a weekend table at the Mexico City transplant was one of the hardest reservations to snag in town, a fact we find completely unsurprising. After all, who wouldn’t want to sip on Cha Cha Chá’s Patron Blanco-based strawberry milk punch as they watch a late summer sunset? –PKY

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • Highland Park
  • price 1 of 4

From the Ted Lasso biscuits pop-up over the summer to their consistently well-made espresso drinks, Go Get Em Tiger is our favorite mini coffee chain in town. With eight locations across the city (and predecessor G&B at Grand Central Market), it’s clear much of the city agrees. Run by Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, GGET may have expanded since the pair opened G&B in 2012, but the quality of the company’s service and drinks haven’t dipped. When you’re dealing with having to enforce mask mandates and still pulling the perfect shot of espresso, this commitment to excellent service truly counts. –PKY

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Trucks
  • Boyle Heights
  • price 1 of 4

For the last decade, one of L.A.’s most memorable roadside bites has been a deep-fried shrimp taco from Mariscos Jalisco, the daytime-only seafood truck with locations in Boyle Heights, Downtown, Mid-City (from Wednesday to Sunday) and Pomona. That’s still the case today, and while a sealed takeout container of Marisco Jalisco’s naked half-moons might feel less ceremonial after being unboxed at home or in your car, the luscious shrimp, crisp tortilla, salsa and avocado combination still hasn’t lost its luster. The fiery ceviche tostadas—we’ve tried the aguachile and the Poseidon—are excellent as well, but if we’re being honest, the milder campechana paired with lime and saltines is more our style. –PKY

Best pop-up: May Microbakery
Photograph: Courtesy Sasha Pilgian

Best pop-up: May Microbakery

Very online “food people” might know Sasha Piligian better as @sashimi1, but May Microbakery is the formal name of her small Glendale takeout business, which the former Sqirl pastry chef started during quarantine last year. Piligian’s most famous creations are May Microbakery’s Instagram-ready whole buttercream cakes topped with flowers and fruit, which are, most importantly, extremely delicious. Cost-wise, however, newcomers might prefer the Whatever Sasha Wants pastry box, which Pilgian has also sold at pop-ups around town, including ones at Culver City’s Platform and Chinatown’s Sesame Dinette. While we love the passionfruit vanilla white chocolate topped with seeds, we also recommend the wonderful seasonal fruit-topped blondies, the Armenian pastry-inspired nazooks and practically everything else we can get our hands on. –PKY

CULTURE & ENTERTAINMENT

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Downtown Arts District

Before everything went dark in 2020, one of the last gallery shows we were able to explore was Nicolas Party’s playful pastel cathedral at Hauser & Wirth. The mood of just about everything had changed by the time the Arts District gallery was back in full swing in 2021, but Hauser & Wirth was no less colorful. Sure, part of that can be chalked up to the tropical pop-up bar that took over one of its courtyards during the summer. But the shows were the real standout, with a terrific trio of exhibitions from women artists: Amy Sherald’s relaxed, gray-skinned paintings of Black Americans, Lygia Pape’s feathery red balls with bloody appendages, and Lorna Simpson’s starry collages. –Michael Juliano

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Miracle Mile
  • price 1 of 4

Urban Light’s rows of streetlamps kept visitors coming while LACMA’s galleries—like the rest of L.A.’s museums—were closed for nearly a year. When the museum finally reopened, it was down half a campus, with its eastern half demolished to make way for its amoeba-shaped single-building replacement. But LACMA’s shows seemed to have worked twice as hard with half the space. The Yoshitomo Nara retrospective, which was ready pre-shutdown, finally debuted, as did a bright reinterpretation of LACMA’s modern collection that managed to tie tons of context into 20th-century art’s nonlinear journey. It certainly didn’t hurt to have one of the blockbuster exhibitions, either: “The Obama Portraits Tour”—but the accompanying collection exhibition, “Black American Portraits,” is a vivid and vital standout on its own. –MJ

Advertising
  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Fairfax District
  • price 1 of 4

In a year that left us reeling over the loss of the Arclight, the reopening of the New Bev was a cinematic sight of relief. The Quentin Tarantino-owned single-screen theater boasts everything that had been missing from a year of at-home and drive-in experiences: An excellently curated slate of movies screened on actual film, with a crowd full of fellow cinephiles and B-movie buffs. And, come on, it’s still remarkably cool to be able to see a personal print of one of Tarantino’s movies at his own theater every Friday at midnight. –MJ

  • Things to do
  • Event spaces
  • Hollywood
  • price 2 of 4

Summer returned to L.A. this year, and we promise we’ll never take it for granted again. Because, as the LA Phil’s superb schedule reminded us, what’s summer without sharing bottles of wine and flexing your charcuterie skills among friends and family at the Hollywood Bowl? After kicking things off with five free shows for frontline workers, the Bowl was back in action with a packed lineup that included Christina Aguilera, H.E.R., James Blake and St. Vincent and live scores of Black Panther and The Princess Bride. But it was more than just the music: Getting back to the Bowl meant getting back to good times in the open air with thousands of other Angelenos—and wildly swinging around lightsabers as John Williams tackled his most famous Star Wars selections. –MJ

Advertising
  • Museums
  • Movies and TV
  • Miracle Mile
  • price 2 of 4

It was a relief that the Academy Museum finally opened this year, but it was a downright revelation that the display of cinematic history is this captivating. Sure, debuting with a magical Hayao Miyazaki retrospective certainly helps. But the permanent collection is stellar, too, with the sorts of cinematic treasures you’d expect from the people who put on the Oscars (Dorothy’s ruby slippers, an E.T. animatronic and the sole surviving shark from Jaws, to name a few) and an unflinching, nonlinear story of cinema’s missteps, triumphs and under-recognized heroes. You only need to look toward architect Renzo Piano’s bubble-shaped theater and made-for-parties rooftop terrace to see just how quickly the space has settled into L.A.’s cultural scene. –MJ

CITY LIFE

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Downtown Arts District

It may not be as dramatic as the TikTok-fueled rise and city-mandated fall of the Avenue 26 Night Market, but the early-summer return of Smorgasburg was certainly a cause for celebration. After briefly flirting with a delivery-only edition during the days of stay-at-home orders, Smorg was back at ROW DTLA with more than 80 food and drink stalls, plus seasonal fixtures like its Ice Cream Alley and a holiday marketplace. But it also welcomed about a dozen new pop-ups into the fold, including ones that had been born out of pickup-and-delivery models that were finally able to serve Smorg obsessives face to face. –MJ

  • Things to do
  • Griffith Park

Of course Griffith is L.A.’s best park, but after nearly two years of moving more of our lives outdoors whenever possible, we appreciate it that much more. Even when the Griffith Observatory was closed, its grounds were still available to fall in love with the shimmering cityscape below. You could stay fit and hike to the Bronson Caves or visit Amir’s Garden, or take it easy and picnic with friends in the shaded passage of Fern Dell. We could probably write an “I Love L.A.”-like geographic ode to every corner of the massive park, but we’ll cut to the most important line: We love it. –MJ

Advertising
  • Music
  • Music

Griffith Park doesn’t really need anything to make it more impressive—see our entry above. But Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK elevates the parkgoing experience toward the sublime. The composer’s location-based musical piece plays via a free smartphone app that seamlessly transitions between more than 100 tracks depending on where you are in the park. One second you’re hearing a Blade Runner-like drone of synths punctuated by Apollo 11 radio chatter near the Observatory, the next you’re hearing a tribute to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by the George Harrison Tree. (Just please pop in a pair of headphones instead of blasting it over a speaker.) –MJ

PARTY TIME

  • Music
  • Music

Performance-focused TV tapings are in no short supply in L.A., but Vax Live was different. For starters, it was the first major concert to be staged in L.A. in over a year—and the first such event to be held at the shiny new-ish SoFi Stadium. The early May concert to overcome vaccine hesitancy also served as proof that, yes, with vax checks and masks, we could return to doing things that felt normal. The music itself was brief, with just a few songs each from headliners Jennifer Lopez, J Balvin and Eddie Vedder. But a particularly fired-up Foo Fighters closed out the event with a half-dozen–song set, and reminded us of that feeling, of cathartic sing-alongs, fog-piercing strobe lights and seats bouncing from people jumping and dancing so much. –MJ

To mark the anniversary of the Women’s March, RE:Her brought almost 100 women-run L.A.’s restaurants together for a series of themed takeout menus, one-on-one convos and culinary collabs. For 10 days in January, women restaurateurs like Lien Ta of All Day Baby, Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill, Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza, Kimberly Prince of Hotville Chicken and dozens of other superlative chefs stepped up at a time when L.A.’s restaurant scene was once again in peril. The event also launched an ongoing grant program that’s bolstered eateries in need. –MJ

Advertising
  • Art
  • Art

Technically, LUMINEX: Dialogues of Light’s wall-covering projections veer toward art exhibition territory. But we’ve decided to bestow it with this award instead because, for one night only, at a time when the idea of any sort of city festival seemed like a public health impossibility, LUMINEX reminded us what it was like to reconnect with L.A.’s streetscape. Buildings across five blocks of Downtown L.A. turned into canvases for site-specific video works, assembled by the NOW Art Foundation. LUMINEX brought thousands of attendees together outdoors, and it was one of the first times in ages where it felt good to have that many people together again. –MJ

  • Art
  • Film and video
  • Little Tokyo

We’re just exhausted at this point by every overpriced cash-in trying to tell us how immersive they are—especially when MOCA’s excellent Pipilotti Rist exhibition puts them all to shame. The Swiss video artist’s retrospective (which you can still visit until next June) has turned the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA into a mesmerizing playground of surreal delights. Rist’s retrospective has wrapped psychedelically-decorated living rooms and projection-covered yards into a warehouse-sized city of alleyways and houses bursting with life. It’s so good that MOCA gives you a 72-hour window after you visit to return for free—and you’ll absolutely want to.

Advertising
Best nightlife event: In Sheep’s Clothing residency at NeueHouse
Photograph: Courtesy In Sheep’s Clothing

Best nightlife event: In Sheep’s Clothing residency at NeueHouse

Though its Japanese kissa-style listening bar in the Arts District closed last year, the IRL aspect of In Sheep’s Clothing was briefly revived this summer in the form of a dedicated listening residency at NeueHouse Hollywood. With an indoor space for hi-fi stereo listening and an outdoor space to drink, converse and take in city views, the Neuehouse rooftop this past summer was the perfect place to ease yourself back into the communal appreciation of music after over a year at home. Since the summer, In Sheep’s Clothing has shifted entirely online to survive, including a Patreon where lovers of its analog sound playlists can continue to support its broader mission to curate and facilitate music discovery.

SUSTAINABILITY

As chosen by Ben Stapleton, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council Los Angeles, which engages both the local community and corporations to promote a sustainably built L.A.

As part of USGBC-LA’s ongoing sustainability programming, this year it hosted a virtual edition of its Green Building Conference & Expo. “For over 20 years now we’ve hosted the largest sustainability event in SoCal,” says Stapleton. “This year, our theme was most important, because ‘The Time is Now’ to step up, take action and act sustainably.”

  • Sports and fitness
  • Stadiums
  • USC/Exposition Park

The current stadium of Los Angeles FC, future home of Angel City FC and an increasingly popular concert destination, Banc of California Stadium also happens to be remarkably efficient. “It’s designed and operated—just as important—to achieve high performance, improve human health and protect the environment,” Stapleton says of the LEED Gold structure, one of the most difficult-to-achieve sustainability distinctions for a building. Much of that owes to its construction, which diverted nearly all of its debris from landfills, as well as its continued reduced water consumption. “It makes me feel great going to a game there,” Stapleton adds. –MJ

Advertising
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • South LA

Named after the Lakers legend, this handsome new South L.A. park earned USGBC-LA’s distinction of “Project of the Year.” “It’s a model of a sustainable park design for a community in need of more green infrastructure in the 21st-century with a new, multipurpose community event center; a really beautiful lakeside loop trail with picnic areas, fitness equipment and scenic viewpoints; a children’s play area and outdoor classroom; a wedding area; and native landscaping,” says Stapleton of the stormwater-recycling space. “What was a brownfield site and artificial lakes is now a social, cultural and recreational activity hub for an underserved community.” –MJ

Green star: Robyn Eason
Photograph: Courtesy Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office

Green star: Robyn Eason

The City of West Hollywood’s first-ever senior sustainability planner “has her hands in everything,” according to Stapleton, including EV charging readiness, clean energy initiatives, energy efficiency, water conservation, climate action planning and green building. “Robyn first and foremost is incredibly smart, supports up-and-comers in the green workforce and always distills messages to their core, he adds. “She’s one of the unsung sustainability heroines both in California and nationally.” –MJ

SPECIAL AWARDS

  • Movies

Here’s to drive-ins in front of the Greek Theatre, picnic-style screenings in Griffith Park, Scream slumber parties at Hollywood Forever and Christmas masquerades at Downtown theaters. No matter the current vibe and comfort level, Cinespia had a movie event (and exquisitely-themed photo booth) ready to fit the mood. We’re sure this sounds bizarre to anyone outside of L.A., but being able to share a bottle of wine among friends while watching Clueless in a cemetery never felt so satisfyingly normal. –MJ

  • Things to do

What if you could summon a shared Uber to nearly anywhere within your neighborhood for only a dollar? That’s basically the premise behind Metro Micro, and it’s kind of magical. Metro’s on-demand van service expanded into a half-dozen areas this year, where an app lets you arrange for a ride just about anywhere within that operating zone. Its Northeast L.A. zone in particular (which includes Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Glendale and Silver Lake) has been a serious game changer for getting around without a car at a time when many of us feel outpriced by the typical go-to ride-hailing apps. –MJ

Advertising
Weird and wonderful: That lightning storm in October
Photograph: Shutterstock

Weird and wonderful: That lightning storm in October

For a city with relatively few variations in the weather, we Angelenos sure do talk about weather a lot. The way people reference rain sometimes, you’d think it’s an earthquake—which itself has its own subculture of chatter (see: the thread that always hits the L.A. subreddit before the aftershocks). But no phenomenon, natural or otherwise, brought Angelenos together this year quite like October 4’s once-in-a-generation lightning storm. To the rest of the country, this probably sounds certifiably insane. But this was a big deal to Angelenos (who only really know fireworks, blown transformers and SpaceX launches as the reasons for a bright light in the nighttime sky). There were about 4,000 strikes observed across SoCal, a number only dwarfed by the number of social media responses it generated. –MJ

Recommended

    More on Love Local

      You may also like
        Advertising