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The 50 Finest
By Lesley Balla, Amanda Friedman and Jasmin Rosemberg | Photo: Andrea Bricco and Dylan + Jeni | July 2, 2014
It’s an exciting time for the Los Angeles culinary world: local talent earns the James Beard Foundation’s most prestigious honor for an individual; L.A. restaurants top lists of America’s finest; and multicourse concepts challenge taste buds and convention. From the most notable openings to memorable dishes to over-the-top experiences, dining in L.A. is more adventurous than ever—here’s our definitive guide.
10 MOST EXCITING NEW RESTAURANTS
The Church Key
A great room with low-slung sofas and burning fireplaces is made even more special with dim sum cart-wheeling servers. Chef Steven Fretz reinterprets classic fare like Cheetos, made with thinly sliced pigs’ ears and cheese powder ($6); and falafel, with garbanzo beans ($7). 8730 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 424.249.3700
Connie & Ted’s
Chef Michael Cimarusti scores again with this modern WeHo seafood house. From the raw bar (with exquisite oysters from around the country) to the chilled seafood to the freshest wild fish, it’s a taste of the East Coast with West Coast panache. 8171 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., 323.848.2722
Faith & Flower
Coastal Luxury Management—the team behind the Los Angeles Food & Wine festival—has made its impressive L.A. culinary debut. With velvet seating and crystal chandeliers, the space is as luxe as chef Michael Hung’s menu, ranging from kimchee-topped eggs ($6) to rib-eye with oyster jus ($38). 705 W. 9th St., L.A., 213.239.0642
Hidden in DTLA’s Arts District, this Italian gem features handmade pastas from chef Angelo Auriana (formerly of Valentino) and a hip vibe, thanks to co-owner Matteo Ferdinandi (previously at Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group). Simplicity is celebrated through dishes like mandilli di seta ($19), a “handkerchief” pasta with pesto. 1300 Factory Place, L.A., 213.996.6000
TV personality Curtis Stone shows his culinary prowess at this intimate, prix fixe-only Beverly Hills hot spot. Each month, the menu spotlights one ingredient—be it citrus or morel mushrooms. The parade of beautiful raviolis, salads, soups, seafood and meats is stunning. 212 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.859.3418
Orsa & Winston
The third restaurant in Josef Centeno’s portfolio is more minimalist than Bar Amá and Bäco Mercat by design, but more complex on the plate. Focusing on tasting menus, Centeno blends Italian and Japanese styles in dishes like rice with seafood and pecorino cream ($38). 122 W. 4th St., L.A., 213.687.0300
For a Korean-born, California-raised chef who never fully focused on Korean cuisine, Kogi king Roy Choi hits a home run with his funky eatery at the boutique Line Hotel. With bubbling pots of stews and sizzling platters of kimchee fried rice, his hot spot is seriously steaming. 3515 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., 213.386.3030
This stylish sushi spot lies in the middle of the bustle. Chef Hiroyuki Naruke brings subtle sophistication from Japan—along with his housemade soy and pickled ginger, hand-grated wasabi and amazingly fresh seafood, for an omakase-only experience. $165 prix fixe, 521 W. 7th St., L.A., 213.261.3479
Walter and Margarita Manzke’s stunning French restaurant has revived the storied Campanile space. Expect buttery escargots ($12); housemade terrines, pates and charcuterie with the best baguettes in town; and insanely good desserts, like the decadent chocolate cake ($11). 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., 310.362.6115
Superba Food & Bread
At once a breakfast and dinner spot (and bakery), the dream team behind this Venice restaurant has created the perfect everyday place. Fans can’t get enough of chef Jason Travi’s rotisserie skills (as in, the Saturday-only rib-eye, $99), and desserts are some of the city’s best. 1900 S. Lincoln Blvd., L.A., 310.907.5075
10 DISHES TO SAVOR
Ask any chef what L.A. has over other culinary capitals, and the answer is quite uncontested: the year-round seasonal produce and ingredients. From delicate pastas made by hand, to home-style family dishes, to creative uses of fresh, local seafood, here’s how some master chefs draw upon L.A.’s bounty.
Sea Scallop Crudo at Adoteca
Much more than crudo or Italian-style sashimi, in this sexy dish, plump sea scallops are topped with American caviar, a mound of shrimp tartare, burrata, olive oil and volcanic sea salt. It’s just one example of how Brentwood’s newest Italian spot scores. $17, 11712 San Vicente Blvd., L.A., 310.826.9222
Bone Marrow at Bestia
Chef Ori Menashe has a way with the odd cuts of meat, including the perfectly roasted marrow bone, caramelized and served resting on a bed of spinach gnocchetti. $16, 2121 Seventh Place, L.A., 213.514.5724
Cacio e Pepe at Bucato
Chef Evan Funke coats soft strands of spaghetti, made by hand in-house, with butter, pecorino cheese and fragrant black pepper. $13, 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, 310.876.0286
The Centennial at Crustacean
Marking the Beverly Hills 100-year milestone, this festive new dish (the House of An’s first addition in more than 15 years) dresses wagyu beef with a secret Vietnamese herb sauce. $65, 9646 S. Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., 310.205.8990
Truffle Dumplings at Din Tai Fung
The Glendale outpost is the only location outside of Taipei to get these luxe dumplings (filled with juicy pork and studded with black truffles). $22.50, 117 Caruso Ave., Glendale, 818.551.5561
Mothershucker at Fishing With Dynamite
This towering chilled seafood platter (with oysters, clams, lobster, silky uni and more) stars at David LeFevre’s cozy seafood spot. $160, 1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, 310.893.6299
Whole Fried RED Snapper at Girasol
While a whole fish is often a table pleaser, chef CJ Jacobson’s version—with crisp skin, fried greens and a kumquat and sorrel sauce—is really memorable. $30, 11334 Moorpark St., Studio City, 818.924.2323
Meatballs at Rao’s
Fried and simmered in the family haunt’s signature sauce, this homestyle dish, which originated in the Harlem, N.Y., location is now a Rao’s trademark. $16, 1006 Seward St., L.A., 323.962.7267
Trout Roe at Red Medicine
You’ll be blown away by chef Jordan Kahn’s presentation of this terrarium layered with peas, trout eggs and lemon custard, plus frozen pea puree and wild roots. $19, 8400 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, 323.651.5500
Oyster and Mussel Cocktail at Smoke.Oil.Salt.
Spanish chef Perfecto Rocher makes one creative ceviche: Oysters, mussels and octopus swim in tiger nut milk, olive oil and herbs. $17, 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.930.7900
5 MIXOLOGISTS WE LOVE
This head barman at Ten Pound has been at the Montage Beverly Hills’ scotch bar since the start, pouring Macallan scotch, offering $64,000 shots of whiskey and making smooth cocktails like the Jimmy Mac ($55), Macallan 18, Averna, Benedictine and orange bitters.
When you’re sipping wild concoctions (like curry-spiced soju or celery juice with mezcal and aquavit) at places like POT Lobby Bar, Plan Check or Cliff’s Edge’s weekly popup, you know Biancaniello is on hand. Known for growing fresh ingredients, he’s one of this city’s prized barmen.
A rising star, this former figure skater was stirring at Cut and Soho House before landing at Eveleigh. There, she creates tasty seasonal cocktails inspired by the farmers market like the Kentucky Beet Down ($12), a twist on the famous penicillin, made with vanilla bean-roasted beet juice.
Julian Cox and Josh Goldman
This renowned team created some of L.A.’s most riveting beverage programs (at Church & State, Rivera and more). Don’t miss unique drinks like the flaming Zombie ($14) at Acabar, and the Polynesian Pearl Diver at the team’s new Santa Monica project, Brilliantshine.
Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix
These cocktail masters, behind Venice restaurant Scopa Italian Roots, employ hard-to-find spirits in drinks like the Bullocks Wilshire ($12), with bourbon, rum and Cynar. Sample their artistry at their upcoming spots Old Lightning and The Chestnut Club.
5 CHEFS OF THE MOMENT
Greg A. Daniels, Salt Air
The N.Y.-native who worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Perry St after attending the French Culinary Institute, is making a splash in Venice with his creative seafood venture, Salt Air. His deft hand, with rustic dishes like smashed pea toast with house-made ricotta ($10), and seared trout with squash blossoms ($26), allows each ingredient to shine.
Nancy Silverton, Mozza
Silverton has been cooking in L.A. since the early ‘80s: first at Michael’s, then at La Brea Bakery and Campanile, and finally opening her Mozza compound (the pizzeria, osteria and Chi Spacca). This year, she made news as the fourth woman (and first L.A. chef since 1998) to earn the prestigious Outstanding Chef honor from the James Beard Foundation.
Michael Teich, The Wallace
From working with Venice’s local hangout Axe to sbe Restaurant Group, Teich plays up the altruistic side of cooking by using the freshest, most seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers. And whether he’s winning Esquire’s Knife Fight TV show or cooking star dishes (like ricotta dumplings with fava beans, wild ramps and black truffle, $14) for the likes of Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. at The Wallace, it’s working well in his favor.
Brooke Williamson, Playa Provisions, The Tripel, Hudson House
Williamson was once a young executive chef (at Brentwood’s former Zax), and she’s now a household name, thanks to TV stints on Top Chef and House of Food. She and her husband Nick Roberts are changing the South Bay dining scene, one—or, in the case of the new four-in-one concept Playa Provisions, more than one—restaurant at a time.
Kris Yenbamroong, Night + Market
Yenbamroong is a chef’s chef, whose family has owned Talesai on the Sunset Strip for more than 30 years. Taking a bolder food path, he’s made a craft of fiery Northern Thai street-food dishes—like Thai curries ($9-$15), slurpy noodles ($14), fried pig tails ($7) and more—that make foodies like Gwyneth Paltrow and the Arcade Fire crew sing.
5 GREATEST CHEF'S TABLES
Watch your food plated from the counter at this buzzy Downtown spot. Chef Ari Taymor, heralded as one of the country’s best young chefs, serves 10-course menus ($95 per person; wine pairings are $55 extra) directly from his kitchen, and chats with customers about everything from the restaurant’s garden to cooking techniques. To get a sought-after seat, request it when you make the reservation (and cross your fingers). 952 S. Broadway, L.A., 213.244.1422
The secluded chef’s table at Joachim Splichal’s flagship restaurant seats up to nine, with a window looking directly into the kitchen, so you can see dishes like wild halibut a la plancha, butter-poached lobster and beef tenderloin with root vegetables come together, with special attention from chef Charles Olalia. The menu can be fully customized, or you can let Olalia run with it ($140 per person; $80 more for wine pairings). 141 S. Grand Ave., L.A., 213.972.3331
Although Michael Cimarusti’s haute seafood spot (which scored two Michelin stars) now boasts a plush, newly redesigned dining room, the chef’s table is where you want to be for an up-close-and-personal dining experience. From a private room just off of the kitchen, you can watch as chefs prepare and deliver your food. Cimarusti is very hands-on with the experience, which includes the frequently changing chef’s tasting menu ($210 per person; $305 with wine pairings). It’s also Bring Your Own Music, so you can plug in your iPod or phone to set the mood. 5955 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.460.4170
For the ultimate experience at Scott Conant’s Italian stunner at the Montage Beverly Hills, dine with 13 of your friends in the private room above the kitchen. You’ll see all the action while being served a four-, eight- or 12-course menu featuring his famous dishes like the beautiful crudos, creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms and braised short ribs with farro risotto. Or, buy out the chef’s counter in the kitchen, which seats five. Both are priced at $1,500-$2,000. 225 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.860.7970
Sitting at the counter at this impossible-to-get-into spot is like being on a TV show, thanks to Ludovic Lefebvre, uberpopular chef and co-host of ABC’s The Taste. Ludo and his chefs work right in front of you, creating beautifully layered dishes and explaining each ingredient and detail of the prix fixe-only menu ($75 per person). The best way to nab a spot at the chef’s counter: Dine as a pair or solo, and have your fingers ready every other Friday when tickets go on sale (they sell out immediately) for the next two weeks. 716 N. Highland Ave., L.A.
5 OVER-THE-TOP EXPERIENCES
This Beverly Hills newcomer is luxe at every turn, from the glossy maze-like room to the neon-blue bar boasting elaborate cocktails. Everything is high-end, including the dim sum (think salt and pepper squid, $15, or jasmine-tea smoked pork short ribs, $22) and the Peking duck, here topped with caviar and served with accoutrements ($288)—and some flash. 233 N. Beverly Drive, L.A., 310.888.8661
To get a taste of Josiah Citrin’s greatest hits at a restaurant that is going 15 years strong, get the 10 menu (a compendium of dishes like the soft-poached egg and American osetra caviar), and perhaps add in the dry-aged cote de boeuf. The prix fixe starts at $125, plus extras (like caviar service for $150-$200). 1104 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., 310.395.0881
Saam at The Bazaar
This 40-seat room set away from the Alice-in-Wonderland decor of The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel is a respite for 20-plus courses of José Andrés’ magical and modern Spanish cuisine. Experience everything from his liquid olives to the biannual truffle menus (featuring white truffles in the fall, $325, and black truffles every winter, $250). Add on wine pairings—and a room at the hotel (from $389). 465 S. La Cienega, L.A., 310.246.5555
One of the most expensive dining rooms in the country is a 10-seat sushi bar helmed by Hiroyuki Urasawa. The meal is an exquisite unfolding of incredibly executed Japanese small plates and sushi, an omakase experience that changes with the chef’s whims and seasonal ingredients. It’s sometimes an interactive show—the shabu shabu broth steams right in front of you—but half the fun is watching Hiro-san himself. ($395 per person, without alcohol.) 218 N. Rodeo Drive, L.A., 310.247.8939
The hardest ticket in town is Craig Thornton’s curated avant-garde underground dinners held at his Downtown loft. They’re invite-only (arriving via email to subscribers), and after expressing interest, guests are chosen. Your table full of strangers will bond over Thornton’s beautiful, unique creations. You pay what you want for the 10-course meal (most people drop around $90), and it’s all kept gloriously anonymous.
5 MOST AMAZING DESSERTS
Gateau Café de l’Opera at Bouchon
Thanks to new Head Pastry Chef Chris Ford, a prized veteran of Le Bernardin in New York and the Four Seasons in Baltimore, Bouchon Bistro’s dessert menu is packed with new creations like the divine opera cake. Although it tastes incredibly rich, the layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, coffee buttercream, chocolate ganache and chocolate glaze is gluten-free. $6.50, 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.271.9910
The Bomb at Cafe Röckenwagner
At Hans Röckenwagner’s new cafe in Brentwood, you can get his pretzel rolls and schnitzel, plus ethereal desserts from Pastry Chef César Bermúdez Cifuentes. After working at elBulli in Spain, Cifuentes now creates incredible tarts, eclairs and bombs: little layered domes of deliciousness in flavors like Meyer lemon chocolate and chocolate peanut butter, coated in a chocolate shell. $7, 1168 S. Barrington Ave., Brentwood, 310.478.6313
Creamsicle at Nest at WP24
When the former lounge at WP24 became its own dining room, the menu took a whimsical turn. Nowhere more so than with the creamsicles, a call out to childhood treats elevated with a modern, Asian-inspired twist. The sweet-tart kalamnsi sorbet mingles with dreamy ice cream, a reminder of long summer days—but with a skyline view from the 24th floor of The Ritz-Carlton. $10, 900 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., 213.743.8800
Cioccolato at Ristorante Al Mare
Not only is it shocking to find better-than-burgers food on the Santa Monica Pier, but chef Giacomo Pettinari offers up a chococlate lover’s dream: six different presentations, including a decadent chocolate gelato, chocolate lava cake, chocolate creme brulee, chocolate foam, liquid chocolate and a lollipop, all served with chocolate swirls on a single plate. $16, 250 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 310.458.4448
Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream at RivaBella
Tableside prep goes to a whole new level with chef Luigi Fineo’s liquid nitrogen ice cream. A server hand-cranks the sweet ice cream base while spraying liquid nitrogen into the bowl to harden it. The smoke billows to dramatic effect—everyone in the room takes note—and a slew of fruits, nuts and sauces are piled onto the finished supercreamy ice cream. Voila! $15, 9201 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310.278.2060
5 TRENDS DEFINING LOS ANGELES
Brisket and ribs aren’t just for down-home joints. Wood-smoked meats rule at the Hollywood Improv’s Roadhouse LA (8162 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.556.2700), while over at Bludso’s Bar & Que (609 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., 323.931.2583), try Kevin Bludso’s Texas-style meats. And The Peninsula Hotel (9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., 310.551.2888) welcomes summer with chef David Codney’s rooftop barbecue menu.
Eating vegan no longer means finding a healthy hole-in-the-wall. Meat and dairy-free dining has gone haute at Crossroads (8284 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.782.9245), the celeb magnet for things like hearts-of-palm “crabcakes.” Gracias Madre (8905 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.978.2170) offers high-end, healthy Mexican. And many special vegan dishes appear on the poolside menu at Cabana Restaurant at the Four Seasons Los Angeles (300 S. Doheny Drive, L.A., 310.860.4000).
This past year has seen an East Coast seafood invasion. From The Albright (258 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 310.394.9683) on the Santa Monica Pier, to beachy neighbors the Water Grill (1401 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, 310.394.5669) and FIG (101 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., 310.576.7777); to Tipple & Brine (14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818.528.2550) in Sherman Oaks, prime oysters, lobster rolls, fish tacos, raw bars and more are at every turn.
This simple treat is sweeping the city, from thick slices of brioche with ricotta and jam at Sqirl (720 N. Virgil Ave., L.A., 323.284.8147), to testa and sweet-pepper jelly on artisanal bread at Superba Food & Bread (1900 S. Lincoln Blvd., 310.907.5075) in Venice. And WeHo seems to be the epicenter of avocado toast, with a star version at Eveleigh (8752 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., 424.239.1630).
Sea urchins are not just for Japanese cuisine. Italians are serving the briny orange slivers on pastas at Osteria Mozza (6602 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323.297.0100) and Il Grano (11359 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., 310.477.7886). Uni tops guacamole at Walter Manzke’s smash-hit Petty Cash (7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 323.933.5300), and it’s on toast at Ricardo Zarate’s Paiche (13488 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey).
5 RESTAURANTS TO SEE AND BE SEEN
After former Dan Tana’s manager, Craig Susser, left to open his own place three and a half years ago, he brought along many of his famous clientele. On any given night, you can spot the newer and older Hollywood generations around the room, from Larry King to Harry Styles, plus their managers, agents and fans. What’s more? The food matches the hype. 8826 Melrose Ave., L.A., 310.276.1900
One of the Arts District’s hottest newcomers has been drawing Downtown’s young creatives. With a new chef and concept moving in every few months (Josh Drew is now at the helm), it gives us all the more reason to stop in for a bite and cocktail, or to check out the live performances in Downstairs, the basement venue. 712 S. Santa Fe Ave., L.A., 213.816.8157
L.A. Chapter at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles
With an all-day menu and offerings ranging from ricotta pancakes ($15) to stuffed rabbit loin ($28), L.A. Chapter is a hub for the Downtown fashion set. The opening party was a who’s who of hipsterdom, with Jared Leto, Olivia Wilde and artists Simon and Nikolai Haas (who did the artwork) mingling. 927 S. Broadway, L.A., 213.235.9660
More lavish than a Russian bubbe’s kitchen, this ostentatious experience features authentic cuisine, a plethora of flavored vodkas, raucous karaoke nights and keys given to VIPs. Who has them? Everyone from models to the Kardashians, and bigwigs like Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger are also fans. 8475 Melrose Place, L.A., 323.655.1977
Moving the famous Japanese spot from the Malibu Country Mart to its current beachside setting has only increased the flow of Hollywood’s elite (from Cindy Crawford to Courteney Cox) going for Nobu Matsuhisa’s star sushi. The view of the ocean is almost as good as the people-watching. 22706 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, 310.317.9140