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These are the 101 best restaurants in Los Angeles

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Los Angeles is a miraculous place to eat.

For the tacos and sushi and pasta alone, we’re a wildly fortunate lot. Our size — our critical mass — brings the advantage of specificity. A taquero can differentiate himself by re-creating the smoky carne asada recipe passed down in his Sinaloan family. One chef finds fulfillment perfecting the Edomae-style nigiri she studied in Tokyo; another thrives on Californian liberties, dolloping caviar over tuna and slipping in a course of summer vegetables cherrypicked from the nearest farmers market. An obsessionist can revive a variation of ravioli that bleeds crimson from beets, attracting an audience of similar fanatics to feed.

The same promise holds for Korean barbecue, Lebanese flatbreads, dan dan noodles, stewed oxtails, crab curry … on and on. The possibilities lie just down the block, at the other end of the L.A. basin, in swank dining rooms, at roving trucks or weekly events or unpredictable pop-ups. Imagination and storytelling are the twin engines by which our most famous industry runs, and the same rings true for our peerless food culture.

Every year for a decade now, The Times has published its annual guide to 101 exceptional restaurants. It’s a map, and a panoramic snapshot capturing an already-blurring moment. First-timers comprise a quarter of the 2023 list. Among them are an Inglewood bistro that homes in on West African flavors, a Filipino rotisserie that doubles as a natural wine bar and a standout among our sudden surplus of shawarma options. Does a wholly unrecognizable reincarnation of last decade’s most daring Korean restaurant count as new? Check it out to decide.

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Our Hall of Fame list, now numbering 33, includes 10 inductees so essential to our communities that they exist in a category that lives forever, free from a critic’s whims or rankings. I’ve also named a dozen all-time favorites for drinking wine, sake, small-batch mezcal, local craft beers and next-level tea and coffee.

These restaurants are so defining of what it means to eat and live in Southern California — that they’ve earned a place of honor for all time.

Dec. 5, 2023

It’s worth acknowledging that this has been a difficult year. Hollywood’s dual strikes halted work for thousands of Angelenos for months, a reality that affected restaurant occupancies as well, and our country is involved in a second, particularly polarizing war. Falling back on tropes about how food brings people together feels empty. But these places, nearly all of them small businesses, do nourish us in literal and larger senses. We celebrate in them, escape to them, learn more about ourselves and others in them. We break away from the algorithms, even for a few minutes, to juggle tacos and feel the sun on our faces, as only we can in Los Angeles.

Sip on sake, craft beer, natural wines or agave spirits or try a soothing tea or uplifting coffee drink at one of our critic’s favorite places to drink in Los Angeles.

Dec. 5, 2023

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#1: Lobster dish plated with leaves and sauce
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Kato

Downtown L.A. Taiwanese $$$$
Jon Yao’s cooking begins with nostalgia — for the Taiwanese American food made by his mother and grandmother, for his coming of age in the San Gabriel Valley. As the ornate mosaics of seafood and vegetables, punctuated occasionally by meat, roll out from his kitchen in courses, it’s evident how he transforms his sentimentality from the inside out. He’s a master technician who takes apart station wagons and reconstructs them as Bentley Continentals.

Those of us who have followed Yao’s career tend to refer to the airy, wood-and-concrete-lined space in Row DTLA as Kato 2.0, since the restaurant began as a bootstrap operation in a West L.A. strip mall in 2016. It’s been nearly two years since the move, an upgrade of outsize proportions, and every ambition that first landed Kato at the top of the 101 Best Restaurants list in 2019 has been more fully realized in spades. Yao’s longtime business partner, Nikki Reginaldo, leads a staff of servers with serious demeanors; she brings levity with wit and boss R&B playlists. Ryan Bailey came aboard in the new location as the third leader and the beverage guy. Between his 70-something-page wine list, including the city’s most trailblazing nonalcoholic drink program, and bar director Austin Hennelly’s alchemical, easy-sipping cocktails, I sometimes wish I could come solely to imbibe. But the food thrills. Look for the most unassuming presence by the stoves, and there’s Yao. His quietness hides his relentless creativity. He’s swapping out luxe Hokkaido scallops in plum reduction one week for lobster over buttery shrimp toast the next, using Sichuan pepper as brain teasers, making the rightful case for pig’s ears as delicacies, and offering a savory-sweet bao filled with salted egg yolk custard as a climax.

Dinner in the main dining room is $275 per person, with a slightly abridged $170 tasting menu of Kato classics at the bar that’s ideal for solo diners and usually includes a dish involving caviar, mussel liquor, smoked onion cream and a filling side of milk bread. It’s wonderful, but the main experience feels more refined, more driven, each time I visit. So much of our fine dining winks with signifiers of our culture — a sashimi plate here, a Mexican ingredient there — but Yao’s cuisine originates from an interior place. This is me, it says. And when we taste it, we understand: This is Los Angeles.

Read the full review of Kato 2.0.
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#2: Plated omakase
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Anajak Thai

Sherman Oaks Thai $$
It’s been four years since Justin Pichetrungsi made the life-changing decision to leave a thriving career as an art director at Walt Disney Imagineering and take over the Sherman Oaks restaurant his parents founded in 1981. Anajak’s core menu continues to honor Ricky Pichetrungsi, Justin’s father, whose recipes merge his Thai upbringing and Cantonese heritage. The creative individualism that Justin asserts — his Thai Taco Tuesday phenomenon introduced in 2020, the omakase format he adopts to reconsider Southeast Asian flavors, a passion-project wine list that summarizes Angelenos’ disparate tastes — has made the restaurant arguably the biggest L.A. dining sensation so far this decade. In June he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: California.

Beneath the barrage of acclaim, this is a beautifully human endeavor. When you finally score a maddeningly difficult reservation you walk into Anajak to find … a small, sweet-looking neighborhood restaurant, with wine bottles lining every inch of shelf space between tables covered in white cloth. Wine director Ian Krupp will swing by to help untangle the amazing, admittedly overwhelming list. Haw mok, a steamed fish-curry custard, wobbles like a souffle as you carve out the first spoonful. Galangal, cumin and coriander grip gai yang-style grilled wings in their fragrance. The star of the Justin-era menu is fried chicken sheathed in rice-flour batter and scattered with fried shallots. The bird is prepared in the style of Nakhon Si Thammarat, a city in southern Thailand where Rattikorn Pichetrungsi, Justin’s mother, has family. Rattikorn remains very much involved with the business: In peak season her mango sticky rice rates as one of the city’s most soothing desserts.

Read more about Anajak Thai.
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#3: Ango tempura with silver ankake and fresh ginko
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Hayato

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
I sometimes mull over the advice I would give my food-obsessed, 25-year-old self, who made desserts and cooked brunch shifts in restaurants, if he asked about the one splurge dinner in Los Angeles to save up for right now. I’d settle on telling him Hayato, the seven-seat hideaway in Row DTLA where Brandon Hayato Go and his small crew prepare a lyrical meal with a structure that loosely follows kaiseki, emphasizing varied cooking techniques served in ceremonial order. He’d be awed by the seafood that traces Japan’s marine migratory patterns, and how Go executes his choreographed tasks while following threads of conversation and occasionally cracking self-effacing jokes, and how the mood begins in grave formality and often winds up feeling like a chatty dinner party. The impeccable options for Champagne and sake probably help.

It also takes tenacity to chase a reservation for a place that enjoys a cult-level following, costs $350 per person and serves 35 diners a week. Hayato ranked first in last year’s guide, and while I swear by its merits, I concede that scoring a seat can be a frustrating, months-long endeavor. Still. For the fruits of Go’s perfectionism — the man makes two batches of cloudless dashi per service so he can choose the better one, and always manages to find perfect strawberries or peaches or muskmelon for a rightly simple dessert — I say, even as a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence, persevere.

Read the full review of Hayato.
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#4: Layered peach pie
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

République

Hancock Park American $$$
Margarita and Walter Manzke’s all-day Californian restaurant reached its 10th anniversary in November. The historic Hancock Park building was formerly home to Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton’s Campanile, an icon that helped codify what any of us might even mean when we refer to cooking as “Californian.” Their ghosts still loitered in the shadows of the towering brick walls when I first ate there in April 2014. But the lofty talents of its new tenants were on immediate display: Margarita’s éclair-like bombolini, shattering baguettes, gingery arroz caldo, spicy chicken hand pies and a version of the strawberry tiramisu she still puts on the evening dessert menu. Walter’s dinnertime opener of pan drippings, a meaty emulsion with the intensity of a thousand Thanksgiving gravies, matched Margarita’s bread and French butter as rich as cheese. An early spring pea salad dressed in hazelnut oil and Meyer lemon juice preceded pasta tangled with Dungeness crab and grilled lamb with earthy roasted artichokes and garlicky salsa verde. Eating at République, I could taste exactly where I was in the world.

That’s truer than ever. Walter’s gifts are as evident in an autumn farmers market salad of endive, apples, dates and goat cheese as a now-signature roasted duck nestled with peaches in the summer and persimmons in the fall. Margarita finally won the James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef this year, after eight nominations. I send locals and visitors alike for her exemplary pastries, and for breakfasts of kimchi fried rice or a potato pancake/soft-poached eggs/smoked salmon trio, two favorites among many options. The last decade clinched République as a cornerstone of Los Angeles dining, a bridge between casual meetups and formal occasions, an icon in its own right.
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#5: A smoked kanpachi tostada
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Holbox

Historic South-Central Mexican $$
In a city prolific in mariscos, no one in Los Angeles approaches citrus-doused, chile-ignited seafood with quite the same merging of soul and finesse as Gilberto Cetina. He opened his colorful, stylishly angled marisqueria in 2017 near the entrance of the Mercado La Paloma in Historic South-Central. Holbox is named for an island off the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, about a four-hour drive from where Cetina grew up with his family in the city of Mérida, and he initially imagined the food would hew to these roots. Cetina had helped his father launch Chichén Itzá, one of the Mercado’s founding food stalls that remains a beacon of Yucatecan cooking, 16 years earlier.

He quickly began dreaming bigger, though, wishing to articulate a sum expression of the coastal flavors he loved across Mexico — and his own imaginings. Some of his menu’s early scene-stealers grew out of relationships he developed with top-tier seafood suppliers. They include limey kanpachi ceviche, garnished with avocado puree and tongues of Santa Barbara sea urchin, and the pata de mula (Baja blood clams) with more citrus and a sauce of morita chiles blended with balsamic vinegar that reaches a thrilling intersection of smoke, brine and acidity. Then there’s the smoked kanpachi taco buzzing with peanut salsa macha and a stretchy knot of queso Oaxaca, the fried octopus taco anchored by mulchy sofrito stained black from squid ink, and the bisque-like stew showcasing delicate seafood sausage.

Even though he can’t serve alcohol at the Mercado and considered relocating, Cetina decided to stay put and invested in a recent renovation. He gained four counter seats, but critically he expanded the kitchen, allowing him to hire additional staff. Doing so has created more room for community and creativity, and for possibility. Holbox is The Times’ 2023 Restaurant of the Year.
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#6: Sakizuke Scallops with roasted carrot cream, carrot petals, kombu oil, and sunflower seeds
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

n/naka

Palms Japanese $$$$
You scored a table at n/naka, one of the most difficult reservations in modern civilization, and you have been shown into the restaurant’s calming, minimalist Palms dining room. There have been conversations about wine and sake to pair with your meal. The specialness of Niki Nakayama and Carole IidaNakayama’s approach to kaiseki really starts to sink in when the zensai course, a platter of small appetizers, arrives. It’s always as beautiful to behold as to eat. In September my eyes first went to a blue bowl, speckled like a robin’s egg, in which strips of tofu had been arranged to resemble a chrysanthemum; they floated in broth infused with the flower’s gentle, honeyed flavor. Nearby was a bowl full of ume somen, or plum noodles, next to a smaller dish of fresh plum salad to cement the interplay between Japan and California.

Dinner will roll on gracefully from there, in forest scenes and seascapes of vegetables, noodles, locally caught fish and exactingly calibrated broths ... with probably a taste of top grade Wagyu along the way. If life lessons can be gleaned from fine dining, I always leave n/naka thinking about how the married chefs tinker with the strictures of kaiseki, which traditionally can be rigid, to suit their individualism. It’s one thing to commit to structures in work and life, their cooking seems to say; it’s another to achieve creative liberation through a chosen form. In all regards, the experience feels worth the investment to obtain a booking (reservations go live on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.) and the cost, which is $310 per person.
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#7: Fatty tuna topped with caviar and truffle
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Morihiro

Atwater Village Japanese $$$$
Morihiro Onodera arrived in Los Angeles in 1985 after he trained as a sushi chef in Tokyo. Beginning in 2000, with the 11-year run of his debut restaurant, Mori Sushi in West L.A., which he sold in 2011, and now with his small, 3-year-old sushi-ya in Atwater Village, Onodera has remained a defining force in our city’s sushi culture — and by extension has steered the direction of fine dining in Los Angeles.

He helped codify an L.A. style of omakase in which small dishes — some of which reflect technique-focused kaiseki traditions (a zensai plate of tiny, seasonal bites) and some of which spring from his imagination (big-eye tuna tartare heaped with caviar) — precede the parade of sushi. A table is a fine option, but if you can, splurge on a seat at the sushi bar in front of the master himself. The nigiri is spectacular: Onodera gives equal attention to superior seafood and the Japanese rice milled daily in the restaurant for his meticulously seasoned shari. Handsome ceramics, most made by the chef, bring another level of beauty. Staffers pour the most compelling pairings of any sushi bar in L.A. Rather than the muted stillness of most top-tier sushi bars, Morihiro brims with boisterous warmth. After several hours you will stand up from an omakase very full and very cheered.

Read the full review of Morihiro.
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#8: Hiramasa: Armenian cucumber, basil
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Providence

Hollywood Seafood $$$$
Now in its 19th year, Providence is the paragon of sumptuous celebratory dining in Los Angeles. The key to its longevity lies in sustaining its sky-high standards, centered around Michael Cimarusti’s mastery of seafood, while investing in constant reinvention. In May, for example, the restaurant unveiled a remodeled interior with much-needed natural lighting and updated furniture that includes elegantly grained walnut tables. The walls have been layered in deep shades of blue and green. Those scenes in movies where characters plunge into a warm sea for a few moments of reprieve from the world? That’s how settling into the dining room feels now.

Cimarusti and his longtime chef de cuisine, Tristan Aitchison, make constant, restrained changes to their tasting menu. No one meal looks the same from night to night, but expect fish and crustaceans (caught mostly from American waters, though occasionally from Japan and elsewhere) served in vivid oils or buttery sauces with sculpted vegetables, all set down in lovely symmetries. It’s the extra touches that linger in the memory: the incredible sourdough boule using wheat from Tehachapi Grain Project; the pile-it-on luxe options of the restaurant’s famous uni egg as well as cocktails prepared tableside; and the city’s hands-down finest service team, led by Cimarusti’s co-owner, Donato Poto, who grasp the importance of human connection in such a rarefied setting. My sole wish here is for the return of Providence’s Friday lunch, a power scene that was like no other in L.A.
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#9: a juicy Pork Sando nestled in a Meat Sweats barbecue platter
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Moo’s Craft Barbecue

Lincoln Heights Barbecue $$
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz’s first forays into smoked meats were sparked, like many other current-generation pitmasters, by last decade’s countrywide mania for central Texas’ beefy traditions. But even before they transitioned from their breakout pop-up to their always-busy restaurant in Lincoln Heights, they had spliced Mexican flavors into their Lone Star-inspired techniques, spearheading a new school of Los Angeles barbecue. Andrew’s brisket, rendered nearly to pudding and perfumed by smoldering California white oak, sets the bar for excellence. Michelle’s sausage, particularly the one that’s tinged lizard-green from roasted poblanos and oozes queso Oaxaca from its center, follows closely. The street-corn-style esquites and mac and cheese are creamy and punchy. Crunchy slaw flecked with green and purple cabbage completes the order. Popular specials like Korean pork belly burnt ends glazed with gochujang deepen the L.A. narrative. The thick smoked burger is a wonder unto itself; I won’t be surprised if its popularity spurs a spinoff business.

An important factor: The line to order can move along glacially, and another 20 to 30 minutes often elapses before your food is ready. Plan accordingly — sipping one of the more than two dozen beers on draft can nicely fill the time — or consider ordering takeout online for pick-up.
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#10: Chicken liver pate
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Bavel

Downtown L.A. Middle Eastern $$$
When Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis opened their second Arts District restaurant in April 2018, their menu pulled the vague, 1980s-era notion of “Californian Mediterranean cooking” into the new millennium. In their hands the term becomes more personal, and more specifically defined by their imaginations. Menashe was raised in Israel and comes from Turkish and Moroccan roots; Gergis’ family is of Egyptian ancestry. Dishes draw on their respective lineages, our region’s unparalleled agriculture and a certain creative fluidity.

At the table, it means the weightless hummus swirled into a moat filled with duck ’nduja is as wonderful as ever, as are the hulking lamb neck shawarma over laffa and Gergis’ leaf-shaped strawberry pastry balanced with tart sumac and sweet cheese. Anchoring ingredients — market vegetables, grilled prawns, lamb chops both charred and blushing — are canvases for chile pastes, tufts of herbs and deliciously soured dairy in many forms. Some counsel: The dining room, always full, rattles from the extreme decibels. Ask in advance for a patio table for a quieter experience. If you’re into wine, sommeliers can pull you down a rabbit hole of Grecian obscurities and older vintages of all sorts they might have stashed in the back.
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#11: Soriresu yakitori
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Tsubaki

Echo Park Japanese $$
Courtney Kaplan and Charles Namba’s 32-seat Echo Park bastion brilliantly spans the divide between neighborhood izakaya and date-night restaurant. With each year I more appreciate Namba’s repertoire, honing two dozen or so raw, steamed, fried and grilled dishes with a native Angeleno’s knack for scouring the farmers markets. One week he’s searing skewers of duck breast that nearly smoke over binchotan and painting them with brandied cherry glaze. The weather turns and he composes a kabocha squash salad with soy-pickled enoki mushrooms and chicories. I can’t recall once skipping the mainstay chicken oysters dotted with yuzu kosho.

Between Tsubaki and the couple’s next-door bar, Ototo, Kaplan maintains the most enlightening and thrilling selection of sake on the West Coast. It too changes with the seasons, as brewers release effervescent nama sakes in the spring and fuller-bodied counterparts in the fall. On the plate and in the cup, the duo’s combined sense of experimentation makes the place (and those eating there) feel alive with possibility. Ever wondered where a food critic chooses to celebrate his own birthday? Here’s the answer.
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#12: A server holds several dishes
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Sonoratown

Downtown L.A. Mexican $
The magnificence of Teodoro Díaz Rodriguez Jr. and Jennifer Feltham’s taqueria rests first on the flour tortillas cranked out by their master tortilla maker, Julia Guerrero. Their thinness belies their durability, and like the best pie crusts they manage to be at once flaky and buttery. Nearly translucent and handsomely pocked from the griddle, it is the flour tortilla against which to judge all others in Los Angeles. I am quick to recommend Sonoratown’s famous Burrito 2.0, swollen with pinto beans, mashed guacamole, Monterey Jack and sharply spicy chiltepin salsa; among meat options that include grilled chicken, tripe and chorizo, the standout choice is costilla, a mix of boneless short rib and chuck robed in mesquite smoke. Lately my order also has included at least one chivichanga, mini-bundles swaddling shredded chicken or beef cooked down in a thick guisado of tomatoes, Anaheim chiles, cheddar and Monterey Jack. They are deeply comforting, and they’re equally excellent at the couple’s second, larger store in Mid-City.
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#13: Jewel City pizza
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Quarter Sheets Pizza

Echo Park Pizza $$
Expect three things at Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin’s tiny, mighty Echo Park sensation: pizza, cake and crowds. Lindell, who grew up in Michigan, fashions pies that favor the rectangular style of Detroit. Their lacy, cheesy borders approach blackened without ever tasting burnt. Whole or by the slice, count on beautiful basics — red sauce and mozzarella, with an option for pepperoni — and another designed with far wilder ingredients that change every couple of weeks or so. Lately the kitchen has been experimenting with round, thin, charry-edged bar pies that are equally wonderful. Who knows how long they may stick around.

That’s one more thing to anticipate at Quarter Sheets: constant change. To that end, the greatness Ziskin achieves with her layered, ever-varied creations is uncanny, almost spooky. It’s just cake! But it’s also more: It’s the sum of her imagination and years of experience, funneled into America’s edible synonym for celebration. Princess cake takes its cues from the traditional domed Swedish torte, including extra-bright raspberry preserves, billows of cream and a pale green marzipan shell. Then there’s the slab cake, which rotates weekly with the California seasons and the whims of a homegrown Los Angeles chef. It consistently delights, but its acidic-creamy-savory extremes might challenge too. Is her polenta chiffon with layers of sweet corn custard, peppery preserved blueberries and blackberries, and salted honey Chantilly the flat-out best cake I’ve consumed? Let’s just say I had thought of myself, dessert-wise, as a pie person. Now I think of myself as a pie and Hannah-Ziskin-cake person.
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#14:  A plate of ravioli di nonna
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Antico Nuovo

Larchmont Italian $$$
Late last year Chad Colby slid in a new addition to the short list of pastas he serves at his restaurant on the edge of Koreatown. Ten or so ridged tortelli share a plate, some perched on their sides and others looking as if they’ve been playfully tumbling around. Scoop one up and some toasty pine nuts roll onto the fork’s tines. You taste them first, and notice the eggy dough’s silken yield, and then the filling’s dominant flavors pervade: ricotta and lemon, soft and bright. If meals were written in sheet music, these would elicit whole note rests. Appreciating them demands a silent beat.

Opened in 2019, Antico Nuovo has steadily found its footing and its audience among the crush of fine-dining Italian restaurants in Los Angeles. It might just be the best of them now. Bold or tenuous, each of the pastas stands out with such distinct personalities; they are the meal’s holy center. Begin by swiping crisp, lofty hunks of focaccia through roughly pureed green chickpeas rich in garlic and olive oil, or go lighter with impeccable amberjack crudo. Whether you’re nearly full after spinach and tomato cannelloni, or move on to crisp-skinned roast chicken, or share a massive tomahawk steak in Marsala jus that recalls Colby’s days as Chi Spacca’s founding chef, prioritize dessert. The seasonal ice creams deserve their renown, and the kitchen has lately been fashioning pistachio and chocolate cannolis that rival those I’ve had in Sicily.
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#15: Chef Dave Beran prepares the tarte ratatouille
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Pasjoli

Santa Monica French $$$$
Dave Beran’s Santa Monica haute bistro opened only six months before March 2020. Its two rooms, after shutdowns and months of sidewalk dining, still gleam like new. While sipping a cocktail made with persimmon puree or walnut milk, take in the hand-painted silk wallpaper depicting flowers swaying in a springtime breeze, the mossy-green velvet fabrics, the mix of marble, shiny woods and red brick. It’s one of the loveliest spaces in Southern California.

During the pandemic, Beran closed his tiny, cerebral tasting-menu restaurant, Dialogue, so he can be spied in Pasjoli’s open kitchen almost every night. As a chef he’s always been a precisionist brainiac, geeking out on laborious technique and symbolist presentations. The autumn season finds orange and brown micro-flora scattered like fall foliage over a buttery crab crêpe, and loamy duck rillettes in a tart shaped like a leaf and surrounded by black-green lettuces.

The food is evolving. Initially the restaurant aimed to re-create canonical Gallic dishes: steak tartare, a trembling onion tart that subbed for soupe a l’oignon, the gory and glamorous pressed duck that was, at first, tableside theater and now is prepared in the kitchen. Now there are dishes like a pork chop in a reduction sauce made from trotters and ham hocks and finished with a hazelnut vinaigrette, or gorgeously seared halibut over yuzu beurre blanc and a tumble of sautéed broccoli, spinach and pine nuts. It comes off as less controlled and more pleasure-centered. French is still the default shorthand for the cooking. “Beranaise” would be more accurate.
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#16: A tray of chirashi
(Garrett Snyder/Los Angeles Times)

Sushi Kaneyoshi

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$$
The elevator descends toward the basement level of the 1960s-era Kajima building in Little Tokyo. Doors open onto a waiting area. Soon the assembled will be led to an elegant, windowless room that calms the senses with at least five shades of polished woods. Yoshiyuki Inoue presides over a 12-seat sushi bar. Its size, relatively large for a $300-per-person omakase that attracts serious (and moneyed) sushi connoisseurs, tends to create a chatty atmosphere among guests, rather than a hushed one. This does not detract from Inoue’s surgical detail with the finest microseasonal seafood, most of it flown in from Japan. He follows the sushi-kaiseki omakase format. A progression of small starters emphasizes varied cooking techniques, including chawanmushi threaded with meat from Hokkaido hairy crab — or disarmingly creamy cod milt, or papery slices of matsutake mushrooms — and skipjack tuna smoked over cherrywood in shiso and vinegar-onion sauces. Then Inoue and his assistants launch into a procession of Edomae-inspired nigiri. The tastes careen through meaty, buttery, smoky, vinegary and, with a side-by-side tasting of uni from different waters, rich and a little funky. By the time Inoue places a square of spongy, shrimp-laced tamago in front of each customer, I’m dazed with joy, stunned by how subtlety feels like an extreme art form in his adept hands.

My one note: In a time when California has better access than ever to Japanese sake, I’d love to see Inoue invest in a list that’s rangier and includes a few more interesting bottle options under $100.
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#17: Hokkaido scallop crudo, Japanese sweet potato vinegar, passion fruit, sungold tomato, topped with watercress
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Orsa & Winston

Downtown L.A. Italian Japanese $$$$
Josef Centeno’s downtown restaurants numbered four before the pandemic; tiny tasting-menu workshop Orsa & Winston and next-door Tex-Mex haunt Bar Amá endure, and they both remain vital to Los Angeles dining. Orsa & Winston turned 10 this fall. While never abandoning its founding premise to entwine the cuisines of Japan and Italy, Centeno ceaselessly experiments with formats and dishes. Lately the menu is five courses for $125 per person, including a few small extras and an optional add-on — the citrusy rice porridge steeped in Parmesan cream and most often gilded with uni or abalone.

Chawanmushi with clams, gooseberries and caviar opened an early September dinner, highlighting the seemingly improbable combinations that Centeno pulls off time and again. After an entree of sturgeon paired winningly with huckleberries, the meal finished with a just-ripe pluot battered, fried and garnished with mascarpone cream and miso caramel. It put a bow on the Japanese-Italian themes while reminding me exactly where I was in the universe. Your meal likely will have wholly different ingredients, though you’ll catch the same imaginative throughlines that have kept Centeno’s creativity engaged for the last decade. The restaurant’s staff is smaller these days, which makes the place feel both more intimate and also somehow more romantic. Count on longtime server and sommelier Romain Racary to tell witty stories about the wines he’s pouring in his satiny Parisian accent.
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#18: Sujebi Dumplings with white kimchi buerre blanc, poached ocean trout, trout roe, dill
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Yangban

Downtown L.A. Korean $$
When Katianna and John Hong opened their Arts District restaurant early in 2022, the cooking was personal and persuasive right from the start: an exploration of identity from two accomplished Korean American chefs, grafting cornerstone Korean ingredients and dishes with, among other influences, the Ashkenazi Jewish flavors they both knew growing up. (Katianna’s adopted father is Jewish; John was raised in Highland Park, Ill., in a long-standing Jewish community.) Their initial impulse to frame Yangban as a reimagined delicatessen made sense for the 5,000-square-foot space they took over after the COVID-19 crisis felled Lincoln Carson’s Bon Temps, its previous tenant. But in reality, the ordering experience could be disjointed and confused.

Everything has changed. During a brief closure in August the Hongs finished making over the restaurant into a clubby room: all coal-black banquettes, rich woods and white cloth light fixtures that resemble friendly, floating ghosts. The renewed format is table service with a structured menu of appetizers, mains and desserts. Many of the Hongs’ original ideas still inform the food. Smoked trout schmear, a favorite from the opening deli case, reappears on wonderfully dense potato bread as a standout appetizer. Matzoh ball rendered to the texture of ricotta fills Korean mandu, set in an almost velvety, triple-strength chicken broth. Rounded out with pickles and black rice, the crackly-sticky chicken wings glazed with garlic and soy make for an exuberant entree, and the buffalo milk soft-serve sundae with pine nut caramel only strengthens the feeling. Now is an ideal time to become acquainted, or reacquainted, with Yangban.
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#19: Lobster skewer
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Saffy's

East Hollywood Middle Eastern $$$
It took no time for Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ third blockbuster to feel essential to Los Angeles. Housed in an Art Deco space across from the big blue Church of Scientology building in East Hollywood, Saffy’s is smaller in scale and slightly more casual than the couple’s downtown successes, Bestia and Bavel. It is just as loud as its siblings inside and out, but most important the food brims with earthy goodness. I can’t recommend either version of hummus above the other. One leans on the lemon and cumin and pulls in ful (slow-simmered dried fava beans) for texture. Its counterpart amps up the tahini, crunches with pine nuts and shoots off sparks with green zhoug. I love them equally. Other small plates center on seafood and vegetables, many of them rowdy with herbs, citrus and pickles. They precede smoky kebabs and Menashe’s winningly upmarket take on lamb and beef shawarma. Cocktails match the boisterous mood. A conversation with a sommelier underscores the wine list’s tempting depths. A recent addition to point out: the excellent breakfast of shakshuka, chopped salad and grilled challah served on weekends at the restaurant’s next-door bakery.

Read the full review of Saffy’s.
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#20: Amuse bouches
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Mélisse

Santa Monica American $$$$
Josiah Citrin’s 14-seat sanctuary quietly saw major personnel changes over the last year. Chef de cuisine Ian Scaramuzza and wine director Matthew Luczy helped shape the haute cuisine tone of Mélisse in 2019 when it became a restaurant-within-a-restaurant sharing space with the larger, eponymous Citrin. Both have departed. Those roles reverted to longtime chef and partner Ken Takayama and to wine director Kaitlyn Harrah, who oversees beverages for both restaurants.

For diners, the transition will feel seamless: The experience remains the very definition of special-occasion dining. Bookended by one-bite sculptures served on gorgeous ceramics to start and finish, two-plus hours float by in a dance of veloutés and nages, uni and lobster, duck press theatrics and ganache tarts fashioned from Valrhona’s line of blond chocolate. Wine pairings aim to impress jaded oenophiles. The cost, beginning at $399 per person, rivals the price of our most opulent omakase counters. Records play on the topnotch stereo system. It was mostly 1970s and ’80s-era R&B during a recent dinner, and caviar just tastes better with Billy Ocean playing in the background.
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#21: An uni dish at Sushi I-naba
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Sushi I-Naba

Torrance Japanese $$$$
Yasuhiro Hirano, whose family operated a sushi restaurant and fish market in Japan’s eastern Chiba prefecture while he was growing up, ran the first iteration of Sushi I-naba in Manhattan Beach. In 2022, Hirano moved to a six-seat counter inside I-naba, a restaurant in Torrance that shares a similar name. Its size, and Hirano’s exquisite version of omakase, make it one of the region’s toughest reservations. His opening dishes — strands of nutty soba in wonderfully murky uni broth, chawanmushi that includes abalone simmered for 16 hours — are profound in flavor and presented in beautiful simplicity. No gold leaf, no caviar. When the meal shifts to nigiri, notice the distinct, pleasing sourness to the shari; to achieve the flavor he blends two kinds of akazu, the red vinegar made from sake lees that has its roots in sushi’s Tokyo origins. The effect is particularly spectacular when he pairs the rice with a rich fish such as mackerel, and amplifies the potency with a layer of chives hidden between them.
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#22: Hands preparing a burger
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Chi Spacca

Hancock Park Italian $$$
Among Nancy Silverton’s long-running power trio that rules the southwestern corner of Highland and Melrose, I realized that I recommend Chi Spacca most often. At nearly 11 years old the place still bounces with a wild-child personality that’s less predictable than older siblings Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza. Silverton’s pastry-god stature manifests most strongly here pre-dessert. I will always order the focaccia di Recco, a crackery, stretchy-cheesy flatbread with Ligurian origins that she obsessed over for years to perfect. Savory pies — chicken pot pie, lamb shepherd’s pie, and a hearty marrow-laced variation featuring beef cheek and mushrooms — dip into British traditions, most of them flaunting bronzed, flaky dream crusts.

Meat cookery remains the menu’s nucleus. Beyond massive, ever-excellent steaks, consider the slightly more manageable pork loin: It’s roasted in milk and covered, as if spring never ends, in a fine dusting of fennel pollen. Burgers (and variations on Silverton’s famous grilled cheese sandwich) are available on Mondays and Tuesdays for customers who specifically reserve at Chi Spacca’s chef’s counter. Among several options, all of them honestly first-rate and assembled with detail, start by trying the opulent take on a smashburger fashioned from dry-aged beef.
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#23: A plate of Chicken Paprikash
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Birdie G’s

Santa Monica American $$$
Rich matzo ball soup, a stunning relish tray centered around next-level five-onion dip, petrale sole grilled over oak, an avant-garde jellied berry pie: Birdie G’s ever-evolving menu of comfort foods traces Jeremy Fox’s zigzagging roots through Eastern Europe, the American South, the Midwest and California. Fox also oversees the menu at sister restaurant Rustic Canyon; at Birdie G’s the creativity leans more personal and lighthearted. One great example: Pickle Chick, in which Fox seemingly imagines the flavor possibilities of Southern fried chicken crossed with the brine from a jar of kosher dill spears. Among the courses at an early September tasting-menu dinner, dubbed “Smorgasbird” and guided by chefs Matthew Schaler and C.J. Sullivan, was a crab custard spread over a plate in a thin layer and scattered with slices of honey-sweet greengage plums — a savory flan from an alt-universe of never-ending summer.
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#24: The musakhan, shakshouka, the Jerusalem bagel, the fattet hummus, and the meat manoushe
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Ammatolí

Long Beach Middle Eastern $$
It’s been a joy to see Dima Habibeh’s Long Beach restaurant grow in size and ambition since its opening five years ago. An expansion last summer doubled the seating in her corner space downtown, adding a central bar hung with plants, a wood-burning oven, a counter to display breads and pastries and more windows for abundant sunlight. In her food, Habibeh — born to a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother and raised in Jordan — evinces her origins and beyond.

A few pleasant ubiquities like arugula and beet salad crop up on the menu, but more than ever her cooking leans into tradition-minded dishes. Among exemplary hummus and lemony tabbouleh in the mezze selection, look for more intricate options like fried kibbeh stuffed with herbed spinach, and salty, edge-of-funky grilled halloumi paired with watermelon. Larger plates are excellent for groups, or for leftovers. One standout: Palestinian musakhan, roast chicken and onions piled on flatbread that’s stained nearly purple with sumac. The dish was traditionally consumed in autumn — eaten by hand, composing bites of bread, chicken and onion — with ample olive oil to taste and assess the year’s first local pressings. It’s as satisfying for dinner as it is for brunch alongside a skillet full of saucy shakshuka. I don’t know of more consummate classical Levantine cooking in Southern California.
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#25: Agnolotti Dal Plin, Roddino, Piemonte, Gemma
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Funke

Beverly Hills Italian $$$
Pasta-loving Angelenos have caught on that the best Evan Funke restaurant in his quickly growing empire is whichever one currently has the majority of Funke’s attention. This year that would be his self-named palazzo of excess in Beverly Hills, a multilevel affair with a swank rooftop bar, an indoor mezzanine bar area to score unreserved seating (good luck) and a main dining room cast in a pearly sort of 1980s glamour; I expect Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis to be bickering in a scene from “Moonlighting” in the next booth over.

When I see Funke standing at the kitchen pass in his signature denims, I know the varied rolled and extracted pasta forms will be presented fastidiously: ridged agnolotti with the green chard filling nearly seeping through the translucent dough; tagliatelle so light and fine its texture almost tickles; and rasccatieddi di miscchieddu, an oval rarity made by hand with semolina and fava bean flours that Funke learned while filming his show “The Shape of Pasta,” sauced in lamb ragù and scattered with rustling dried chiles. Funke, per its neighborhood and clientele, is expensive, but with his presence the cooking is so on-point. I’m forever glad that Shannon Swindle, one of L.A.’s finest pastry chefs, has become part of Funke’s inner culinary circle: Trust that whatever crostatas and pastries and ice creams feature the season’s fruits will be spectacular.
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#26: Mezze meal for two in the dining room at Kismet
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Kismet

Los Feliz Californian Mediterranean $$
While not serving strictly plant-based meals, Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer’s nearly 7-year-old Los Feliz restaurant is the finest place I know in Los Angeles for a vegetable-focused dinner. They have a uniquely elegant way of matching herbs and seasonings from the Levantine cannon with bounty gathered by their market coordinator, Anna Polacek. Some dishes are baselines: Cucumbers flavored with a parsley-seed twist on za’atar and rosewater-scented labneh might be paired with cherries, melons or persimmons as the seasons fluctuate. This year’s spectacular heirloom tomato salad arrived dressed in buttermilk vinaigrette perfumed with basil and bergamot. Count on perennial Moroccan-spiced carrots, fried cauliflower with caper yogurt and melting cranberry beans zapped with fermented greens. “This is the California dinner we dreamed about,” vegetarian friends say when visiting town. Same for this Angeleno.

For those of us who eat higher on the food chain, the lemony chicken phyllo “pies” dotted with pine nuts and, when it’s available, the massive sesame-crusted chicken schnitzel sandwich floating on brioche toast prove consistently comforting. To keep the inspiration flowing, Hymanson and Kramer have hosted some high-wattage guest talent, including New York-based Jamaican American chef DeVonn Francis. Watch Kismet’s Instagram account to see who’s next.
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#27: Tex-Mex inspired tacos feature pulled pork and smoked brisket
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Heritage Barbecue

San Juan Capistrano Barbecue $$
On sunny weekend afternoons at Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Capistrano, people seek shade against building walls and tall fences while they inch through a slow-moving line to order their meals. One member of a group might meander to the restaurant’s side bar to retrieve lemonade seltzer slushies or citrusy West Coast IPAs brewed by Heritage’s sister brewery in Oceanside. Once they reach the front of the queue, the food tends to come fast to the table: fanned slices of brisket and pork belly smoked to their melting points; bowed sausage links, in daily-changing styles that range from chorizo to Texas cheddar; sides of potato salad, beef-speckled beans and milky, crunchy slaw. Pitmaster Daniel Castillo and executive chef Nicholas Echaore are among the handful of practitioners shaping a modern regional vernacular for barbecue in Southern California. To that end, everyone’s tray should include at least one taco built on a Sonoran flour tortilla made using tallow rendered from brisket trimmings.
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#28:  Pork jowl, red cabbage, serrano, cilantro, peanut, peach, amaranth
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Here's Looking at You

Koreatown American $$
A reductive label like “global small plates plus brainy cocktails” doesn’t do justice to the improbable, thrilling hyphenates that chef Jonathan Whitener and bar director Danny Rubenstein pull off time and again. In Whitener’s hands, trust that a fluffy mound of duck liver drizzled with thick coconut caramel and jabbed, in the manner of a pincushion, with seaweed-dusted potato chips makes every kind of sense. Dishes like cavatelli and crab or shishitos perched over a bowl of tonnato dipping sauce have settled in as menu staples, but plenty of new ideas are flowing and it’s heartening to see the kitchen regain its pre-pandemic experimental groove. Few smiles can dissolve the day’s stresses like the one co-owner Lien Ta beams when customers walk through her door. Settle in with one of Rubenstein’s seasonal cocktails with great names (one example: Understood the Assignment, laced with watermelon-infused mezcal) or his all-weather, never-too-sweet Mai Tai.
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#29: A Sonny Boy Pizza at Pizzeria Bianco
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Pizzeria Bianco

Downtown L.A. Pizza $$
Innumerable food writers, me included, have written for decades about Chris Bianco, the godfather of America’s modern pizza frenzy and its most revered pizzaiolo. His first stand-alone location outside Arizona, in downtown’s Row DTLA complex, was long awaited when it arrived last year. What hasn’t been said as often is that the kitchen, overseen by head chef Marco Angeles, excels at so much more than pizza. The antipasto platter of salumi, cheeses and roasted vegetables makes a superb solo meal. Chicken Francese, a frequent special, flaunts a sauce made from rich chicken stock infused with Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds, pan drippings, butter, lemon and chives. It is one of the city’s most magnificent Italian American indulgences. Ask about pastas; there might be kerchiefs of paccheri tossed with beef ragù or fusilli alla gricia, a peppery take on the Roman classic pungent with smoked guanciale. A seemingly simple summertime combination of roasted Andy’s Orchard peaches with homemade vanilla ice cream, bourbon cream, a crumble of streusel and a glug of olive oil proved one of the year’s best desserts. Don’t be surprised if the restaurant eventually, and rightly, renames itself Trattoria Bianco.
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#30: Wild Alaskan halibut with Hawaiian hearts of palm, scallion, heirloom roasted beats and coulis vinaigrette
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Knife Pleat

Costa Mesa French $$$$
Chef Tony Esnault and front-of-house whiz Yassmin Sarmadi, who are married, closed their Los Angeles restaurants Spring and Church & State in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to take up residence in the haute couture Penthouse wing of Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza. The location fits their aims. Esnault orchestrates a scrupulous form of fine dining that’s vanishing in America. The cooking is high craftsmanship and the plating is art. You stare, as in a gallery, considering vegetable geometries and the deliberate white space between ovals of duck breast and pools of orange-perfumed reductions. Vitally, within the elaborate presentations, the ingredients taste of themselves. At its essence the food is a joy, making for a worthy special-occasion splurge, and the doting staff thaws some of the formalism. Lunch and afternoon tea options are equally punctilious and accordingly spendy. The most elegant, uplifting annual meal in Orange County, I can share from yearly experience, may be the spring dinner at Knife Pleat celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
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#31: The bone-in pork loin
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Osteria Mozza

Hancock Park Italian $$$
The arrival of Nancy Silverton’s flagship restaurant in 2007 heralded the decade when Los Angeles became one of the world’s most exciting dining cities. Given her rise as empire builder and global food ambassador, Silverton entrusts culinary director Liz Hong with her institution’s day-to-day excellence. Sublime variations on mozzarella — some local, some flown in weekly from Italy — continue to seemingly defy nature’s laws in their suspension between cream and cheese. Rediscover how special burrata can be, whether matched with bacon and caramelized shallots, or peaches and prosciutto, or asparagus doubly gilded with brown butter. Some things here are rightly eternal: The trembling raviolo will forever bleed its heart of runny yolk, and the appearance of cappellacci filled with sweet corn and dotted with chanterelles announces high summer. I always consider ordering duck confit or the day’s fish presentation but I remain devoted to the grilled lamb chops sauced with spiced tahini when they’re available. Two other mainstays round out the restaurant’s all-around finesse: a front-of-house staff of consummate professionals and an Italian wine list of biblical proportions.
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#32: The traditional Edomae style sushi dinner
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Sushi Kisen

Arcadia Japanese $$
To glance over the menu at Kisen, set in a space full of calming light woods in the nook of an Arcadia strip mall, might give you the initial impression that it’s an izakaya. Its pages wade through two dozen cold and hot appetizers, a la carte nigiri and maki options, and combination dinners that include sashimi with grilled chicken or salmon. But I will direct you expressly to the sushi bar. This is the best deal I know for top-tier sushi in the Greater Los Angeles area. Rather than a grand omakase presentation, the format encourages a conversation with the chef, so you can set parameters upfront around fish preferences and levels of appetite. Chef Hiro Yamada’s selection of Japanese fish is usually extensive, covering the Edomae-style basics as well as geekier favorites (say, kohada, or gizzard shad) and a few seasonal rarities. The survey of tastes and textures that Yamada’s team can cover in a dozen or so pieces wows me every time.
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#33: Soy-braised wild black cod with lemongrass buttermilk sauce, chamoe dongchimi, fried green papaya, citrus fern
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Baroo

Downtown L.A. Korean $$$
Los Angeles had never seen anything like the 16-seat restaurant that Kwang Uh began in a small Hollywood strip mall with childhood friend Matthew Kim in 2015. His food had an unbridled streak of originality: pastas and grain bowls wild with nuts, seeds, broths, pickles, kimchi and other fermented foods. The ingredients often slyly referenced classic Korean dishes and could fly in a million directions but then land with utter clarity. Uh met Mina Park, who became his wife and business partner, at the South Korean temple presided over by Jeong Kwan, the Zen nun made famous when she was featured on an episode of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table.” The immense complexities and ambitions of the food always gave the original Baroo an air of unpredictability: It had opened and closed in fits and starts and seemed to have finally ended its run in October 2018. Fans have waited years for the couple’s promise to resurrect the restaurant.

They fulfilled their vow in late summer in the form of a sedate, industrial-modernist space in downtown’s Arts District. The new Baroo looks and feels nothing like its predecessor. Mostly that’s a gain: Park runs an engaged, genial team as general manager, and Uh’s calm demeanor and ever-straight back can be viewed through the large kitchen window. The opening menu is $110 for seven courses. To balk at a tasting-menu format is to miss out on sweet, delicate skate fried in seaweed batter and cradled in leafy greens, and slices of charred pork-collar meat fanned over a sauce that riffs on kimchi jjigae … and other dishes, honed but still flaunting a hint of wildness, that trumpet the return of an exceptional culinary mind.
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#34: Vegan California Gombo with Market Veggies
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Alta Adams

West Adams American $$
Some restaurants swap dishes on their menus so fast it’s hard to know what to recommend. Though chef and co-owner Keith Corbin keeps new ideas flowing through his kitchen, he has also reassuringly stayed the course with two pillars of his cooking. His lacy, crackling fried chicken has always been terrific, particularly with splotches of his vinegar-bright, Fresno chile-based hot sauce. And it’s hard to imagine dinner without the oxtails braised in miso and soy, served with rice to capture every drop of gravy. Sides of collards, mac and cheese and candied yam gratin? Yes, please. With each of its five years, Alta more deeply anchors itself in the West Adams community, beloved for its cheeky cocktail program (I’m here for the briny Ol’ Dirty Bastard martini), spirited staff and twinkling back patio. In a city short on excellent lunch options, note the fried chicken translates seamlessly to an ace sandwich stacked with pickles and hot sauce mayo.
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#35: The Vietnamese style fried fish
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Henry's Cuisine

Alhambra Cantonese $$
The sprawling Cantonese banquet halls that proliferated across the San Gabriel Valley in the 1980s may be waning, but smaller, more casual restaurants are keeping the cuisine’s presence vital. Witness the weekend crowds at Henry’s Cuisine: Henry Tu and Henry Chau created a new social center in Alhambra when they opened it in 2015. Families gather around large tables, calling to one another above the din to pass platters of lobster strewn with crisped garlic, water spinach shiny in silken bean curd sauce and shrimp fried in salted egg yolk batter that’s pleasurably gritty. At lunch or dinner, the kitchen prepares its in-demand showstopper: pig’s feet cured and rendered to the texture of greaseless ham and then draped with near-sizzling squares of crackling skin. A few subtler but equally worthwhile specialties require a day or two of notice to prepare. Among them are two sustaining soups sized for groups: winter melon, as big as a jack-o’-lantern, presented with pageantry in a silver tureen and swirling with fresh and cured pork and black mushrooms, and the warming comfort of chicken and morels bobbing with dried scallops.
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#36: A bowl of Coctel Veracruzano
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Damian

Downtown L.A. Mexican $$$
It began as Mexico City-based chef Enrique Olvera’s grandly announced entrance to the L.A. market, but Damian has settled into a restaurant that feels intentionally engaged with the city. In a region so rich in Mexican food culture, Damian’s leadership team, led by Jesús “Chuy” Cervantes, seems to ask through its cooking: What can we bring to the conversation? Answers come in such forms as salmon tostada spread with Sungold tomatoes and smoky, shatteringly crisp Chicatana ants (a luxury ingredient in Oaxaca and other regions of Mexico), and a masterpiece centered around a meaty bulb of celery root that has been nixtamalized, baked, then braised in garlic, lemon and butter. Brunch is a sleeper weekend destination: Go for the comforts of lamb birria and Korean-inspired fried chicken sheathed in a batter of rice and white corn flours. Day or night equally flatters the space. Housed in a former Arts District warehouse, the interior is mod and moody, and the lush terrace set among dilapidation is part art installation, part urban haven.

It’s important to mention Damian’s adjacent taqueria, Ditroit, hidden around back with an entrance down an alley, and the primacy of its extra-long fish flauta with a mulchy, piquant filling that evokes Baja’s smoked marlin tacos.

Read the full review of Damian.
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#37: Pancit with blue prawns
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Kuya Lord

Hollywood Filipino $$
For the fastest initiation into Lord Maynard Llera’s cooking, drawn from his upbringing in Lucena City, a port town in the Philippines’ fertile Quezon province, share one of his composed “Kuya trays” sized for two people. Each contains canary-yellow spiced rice, sauteed vegetables, achara (pickled green papaya) and a choice of six meats or seafood: I’ll nudge you to a spiral slice of “lucenachon,” Llera’s nickname for his version of Filipino-style pork belly stuffed with lemongrass stalks and fennel fronds, or blue prawns simmered in garlicky crab paste. In the afterglow of last decade, which witnessed the brightest-ever spotlight turned on modern Filipino cuisine, Llera had stepped into the arena as a gripping new expressionist. He keeps the menu at his 28-seat Melrose Hill restaurant concise but it still harbors two relative sleepers: mami, a sustaining egg noodle soup with pork belly and garlic-chile oil, and laing, a delicious mulch of taro leaves braised in coconut cream. A dollop of shrimp paste is typical for laing; Llera, true to his individualism, prefers bonito flakes and smoked katsuobushi as umami boosters.

Read the full review of Kuya Lord.
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#38: Six dessert tarts
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Bicyclette

Pico-Robertson French $$$
Before opening République, Walter and Margarita Manzke both gained mastery in the French canon, including opening the restaurants Bouchée and L’Auberge up the coast in Carmel. At Bicyclette, which inhabits a handsomely tiled and wood-lined space below the couple’s tasting-menu restaurant, Manzke, they complete the circle with a valentine to the ageless Parisian bistro. They may take American liberties with traditional dishes, but never in ways that would dishonor the soul of the cuisine. Cheese gougères dissolve like an illusion. Sausages veer from nutmeg-scented boudin blanc that springs against the fork to taut, elegantly spiced merguez. Broth for bouillabaisse distills into a piercing seafood liqueur. I watch the team of chefs as a blur of constant motion through a picture window next to the short bar, my preferred perch in the dining room. Do I love it there because Margarita’s jeweled, ruler-precise fruit tarts sit displayed on a counter a few feet away, nearly within arm’s reach? Yes, and Bicyclette’s bartenders are also fine conversationalists.
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#39: A table scene as customers dine at Yang's Kitchen
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Yang’s Kitchen

Alhambra Chinese $$
Christian Yang and Maggie Ho’s Alhambra restaurant may be most cherished for its universalist daytime menu, when breakfast platters of soft-scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon criss-cross with Japanese-inspired set morning meals and lunchier plates like lemony fried chicken wings and pickled cucumber salad laced with gochugaru. Over the last year, though, Yang and chef de cuisine Elaine Chang have been directing their most creatively charged ideas toward the restaurant’s dinner service. Start with knotty, meaty pork ribs tingling with cumin and Sichuan peppercorns, followed by “Hainan rice fish,” an entree of dry-aged barramundi over chicken fat rice served with a side of ginger-scallion sauce that brightens everything in its path. Yang and Ho have always put special effort into their nonalcoholic beverage program: smooth cold brew, several Taiwanese teas of various potencies, seasonal kombuchas and fun concoctions like an oolong “Fresca” with lemongrass and mint. Now the mix also features an expressive roster of sakes, most available by the glass, and a dynamic, individualistic wine list, fairly priced, that puts me in mind of Justin Pichetrungsi’s passion-project forays when he initially took over at Anajak Thai. Revealing self-assured cooking that transcends any cuisine-specific labeling, dinnertime fulfills the ambitions that Yang’s Kitchen showed when it opened in 2019, before the pandemic derailed its early momentum.
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#40: Orders are assembled at Poncho's Tlayudas
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Poncho’s Tlayudas

Historic South-Central Mexican $
Home to the largest Oaxacan population outside Mexico, Los Angeles knows tlayudas: Our restaurants usually serve them as open-faced discs, their foot-wide tortillas showered with quesillo and crumbled chorizo, and often sliced avocado and nopales arranged in spirals like nautilus shells. Alfonso “Poncho” Martínez grew up eating tlayudas grilled and folded by cooks in Oaxaca’s Central Valleys, where he was raised, so that’s how he and his cooks prepare his version at his Friday night pop-up in South L.A. He begins by painting his masa canvas with asiento, a toasted lard he renders himself, before spreading over frijoles refritos, cheese pulled into short strings and shredded cabbage. Choose among three meats, which can be combined: chorizo; tasajo, a thin cut of flank steak salt-cured for a few hours before grilling; and moronga, a billowy, herb-laced blood sausage made from a recipe that was a wedding gift to Martinez from the father of his wife and business partner, Odilia Romero. (She co-founded the organization Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo, or CIELO, which hosts the pop-up on its front lawn.) Warmed over mesquite, Martínez’s tlayuda is astounding with its density of tastes and textures — and one of our city’s defining dishes.

Read the full review of Poncho’s Tlayudas.
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Moroccan fish tagine: potato, tomato, saffron and chermoula
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A.O.C.

West Hollywood Californian $$$
The description read “Liberty duck breast, corn pudding, nectarine salsa and Santa Barbara pistachios,” and the late-summer flavors dripped with as much sunshine as the words evoked. That’s the gift of Suzanne Goin, who essentially codified an entire branch of L.A.’s dining culture. She distills the tastes of the California seasons, knowing when their glory is enough, or when they gain from ideas inspired by the cooking of North Africa, western Asia and the Mediterranean coasts of Europe. A few more recent flashes of inspiration, including yogurt-slicked green quinoa dumplings that pop on the tongue, have found their long-term place on the menu, though they’ll never compete with classics like the Parmesan-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, or the fried chicken drizzled with chile-cumin butter with a side of romesco aioli. The restaurant began two decades ago as a cramped wine bar, and co-owner Caroline Styne’s wine program has deepened in ways that fits its current standing as a modern institution. If the two A.O.C.s share little in common physically — West Hollywood has the beckoning patio; the tony decor for Brentwood seems rightly designed around its mesmerizing green and gold wallpaper — they are identical twins philosophically.
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#42: An array of banchan
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Perilla L.A.

Chinatown Korean $
Los Angeles food obsessives have long deliberated over which Koreatown restaurants serve the finest spreads of banchan. When Jihee Kim began her Perilla L.A. pop-up project in summer 2020, she reminded many of us to savor banchan as the meal itself. In her hands it was a given that this class of dishes, so full of geometries and colors and so urgent in flavor, commanded centerstage. Three years later, she has at last launched her daytime restaurant and takeout shop. Expect straight-from-the-farmers-market produce prepared in intuitive gradations of freshness and fermentation — summer squash animated by garlic-chile oil; fiery, complex kimchi made from collard greens or daikon — and perennials like her stunning seaweed-rolled omelet cut into circles with hypnotic, spiraling centers. Small portions of the day’s banchan selection also come over rice as part of a dosirak, the Korean lunch box that is an analogue to the Japanese bento, served in the shop’s early days with warm doenjang-marinated chicken or cod.

Locating Perilla can feel like a treasure hunt on the first visit: Follow GPS to the Victor Heights address at the edge of Echo Park and look for the peachy-orange buildings. Turn the corner at Heavy Water Coffee and follow the row of tables shaded with umbrellas to Perilla’s tiny gabled home in a converted garage.

Read the full review of Perilla L.A.
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#43: A plate of cacio e pepe
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Felix

Venice Italian $$$
Evan Funke and Janet Zuccarini’s 6-year-old pasta laboratory may never quite be considered a neighborhood restaurant. It’s pricey, even by Venice standards, and reservations usually book up too far in advance to accommodate a spontaneous outing for a nice corner table and a bowl of tonnarelli cacio e pepe. The place, though, has definitely settled into the community, more dependable than buzzy. Funke is occupied elsewhere these days, opening blockbusters: this year’s multistory Funke in Beverly Hills, last year’s palatial Mother Wolf in Hollywood. Felix, under the leadership of general manager Luciano Mastromarino, has mastered its formula. We keep coming for cocktails resounding with citrus and amaro; the billowing Sicilian focaccia called sfincione; linguine so delicately scented with lemon it’s always the first empty plate; and roasted meats scattered with arugula. Little surprises still enthrall here and there, as when watermelon granita revealed a faint, mysterious spice. “Is that mace?” we asked our server. He shot us a dubious look but then strode toward the kitchen to ask and came back nodding. I’ll steal the idea for my own dessert-making next summer.
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#44: A bowl of beef noodle soup
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Pine & Crane

Downtown L.A. Taiwanese $$
The Taiwanese menus at Vivian Ku’s three restaurants — the original Pine & Crane in Silver Lake, its second location in downtown L.A. and her slightly more casual spinoff Joy in Highland Park — share rooted themes. Their changing array of salads, beloved noodle and rice dishes and adaptations of Taipei-style street foods point to Ku’s frequent travels to Taiwan, and also memories of meals at Taiwanese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, where she gathered with relatives growing up. Her penchant for lighter, cleaner flavors honors the cooking style of her grandmother, who immigrated to Taiwan from China in 1949 before the family moved to America. Her personal twists have sweeping appeal: Each of her restaurants can be mobbed at any time of day. The DTLA outpost is arguably the calmest, and also my favorite. This is the one that serves breakfast (the crunchy-soft fan tuan wrapped tightly with soy egg and pork floss and the “thousand-layer” pancake sandwich make great on-the-go morning meals) and has invested in an extensive beverage program centered around, but not limited to, Taiwanese whiskies.
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#45: Chef Taketoshi Azumi prepares the omakase appetizer plate
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Shin Sushi

Encino Japanese $$$$
Among the vast sushi options in the San Fernando Valley, I particularly admire Shin Sushi in Encino, an omakase experience honed to its essence. Chef-owner Taketoshi Azumi starts dinner with an appetizer plate of rotating seafood and vegetables that frequently includes a single sawagani — a tiny fried crab that defines crunch. Azumi is a smiling, calming figure behind the bar. He stands in its stage-right corner, always focused on the next task but bantering easily with the nightly handful of customers in English or Japanese. His wrist snaps twice, fast as a jolt on the chiropractor’s table, as he presses vinegared rice in his palm. He explains that, like his father, he practices Edomae sushi: He slightly ages much of the seafood, using dashi- or soy-based marinades. He doesn’t pad his nigiri with farmers market finds, vegan derivations, A5 Wagyu or truffle salt. But he has his signatures, including menegi (reed-thin Japanese chives) bundled with a band of nori and a finishing sprinkle of bonito flakes. Its stinging deliciousness doesn’t dim until after a couple spoonfuls of coffee jelly for dessert, and even then the chives linger in the mind.
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#46: An 18-ounce rib eye, with sides of german potatoes, broccolini, creamed corn, and creamed spinach
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Dear John's

Culver City Steakhouse $$$
It was a Rat Pack-inspired farewell bash that turned into a Hitchcockian cliffhanger. Opened in 1962 by a pal of Frank Sinatra, so the story goes, Dear John’s was once a clubby hideaway for celebrities and other entertainment-industry types. Over the years the Culver City building changed hands and eventually fell into neglect. In 2019, two years before its scheduled demolition, power couple Hans and Patti Röckenwagner toured the space and felt called to resuscitate it. With partner Josiah Citrin, they landed on a hit: a 50-seat, time-capsule romp featuring tuxedoed servers; walls of portraits, abstracts and landscapes painted in the 1950s and ’60s; heavy-pour martinis; and Continental steakhouse classics that were far better than they needed to be. The lease extended through the pandemic, and neither owners nor customers wanted the party to end. Landlord negotiations this year appeared to stall. Finally, on May 31, on the day of what was supposed to be the restaurant’s final service, everyone involved reached an agreement. We have Dear John’s tableside Caesars, sand dabs and chicken parm that gushes like chicken Kiev for five more years. Another martini to celebrate, please.
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#47: raw spicy scallops with a lime garnish
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Cassia

Santa Monica Vietnamese French $$$
Cassia arrived as a raucous phenomenon in 2015. Its big-bang moment centered on chef Bryant Ng’s genius culinary merging of his Chinese-Singaporean heritage with his wife and business partner Kim Luu-Ng’s Vietnamese background — coupled with the Santa Monica show-palace location backed by Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb of the Rustic Canyon Family restaurant group. In retrospect, Cassia’s opening was a zenith in the radical decade when dining in Los Angeles became a full-scale cultural event. These days the restaurant has quieted into a comfortable maturity. Not literally quiet — the interior can still reach earsplitting decibels — but steady in its delights of raw-bar dishes radiating garlic and chile, lush and complex laksa, spice-suffused beef rendang and kaya toast with coconut jam and butter. The most mutable part of the experience is sommelier Marianna Caldwell’s wine list. Look for the section labeled “What I’m Drinking Now” for saline Portuguese whites, skin-contact Riesling from the Mosel and pear cider from Normandy that meet the food in its spirit and zest.
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#48: The signature marinated raw crab dish
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Soban

Koreatown Korean $$
Noodles in cooling broths and cloudy beef-bone soups; bossam feasts and plate-size seafood pancakes; sizzling dolsot bibimbap, sustaining stews and bars lit by neon and soju: Koreatown, our civic jewel, overwhelms with its hundreds of culinary possibilities. Jennifer Pak’s small, welcoming institution remains both a wonderful introduction to the community’s food culture and a place to return again and again. Beyond the superior variety and quantity of banchan, three vital dishes keep Soban’s reputation intact year after year. Ganjang gejang, speckled raw crab bathed in soy-based marinade and dressed with green chiles and a sliced clove of garlic, reigns supreme. Extracting its musky, briny-sweet flesh is a full-sensory pleasure. Follow it with eundaegu jorim (gochujang-spiced braise of black cod and mu radish) or galbi jjim, its short ribs and root vegetables lacquered in a sauce that tastes of chile, garlic and dried jujubes grown on the family’s farm.
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 #49: The maharaja thali including breads, curries, sabzis,
chutneys, pickles and rice.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Bhookhe

Artesia Indian $$
Among Artesia’s vital hub of restaurants serving myriad regional Indian cuisines, chef Pooja Dwivedi and her co-owner husband, Anshul, brought a lesser-seen vantage to the area this year: the flavors of their native Rajasthan. Order the maharaja thali to leap right in. Its plates and bowls, covered in crinkly-smooth sal leaves, hold nearly two dozen components. Half a dozen small breads ring the main platter. Some are flat rotis made using varied flours, including cornmeal and pearl millet. Others, called bati, are formed into orbs: They arrive plain, ideal for dunking in warm ghee or soupy dal, and also filled with potato masala. Garlicky chutney, astringent with kachri, a tiny, wild melon, and green chile pickle ignite spice-freckled vegetables and rice. The kitchen changes up some of the dishes on the maharaja thali, particularly sabzis (sauceless spiced vegetables), to keep its many return customers’ interest piqued.

A nearly 80-item menu also veers through chaat and puri variations, and curries that include a smattering of North Indian vegetarian classics like palak paneer. But I’m here to zero in on Rajasthani paragons. Beyond the thali, look for mirchi vada, green chile fritters filled with spiced potatoes and fried golden in chickpea batter, and a curry that centers around makhana, dried lotus seeds that are also known as fox nut. They bathe in a silky pool of milk and cream; fish out the cashews at the bottom of the pan for a study in crunch alongside the makhana, and save the gravy for dunking crusty bati.

Read the full review of Bhookhe.
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#50:  Grilled lobster from Lobsterdamus
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Smorgasburg L.A.

Downtown L.A. Eclectic $$
At face value, Smorgasburg L.A. is a weekly open-air event, one in a network of Smorgasburg vendor markets across the U.S., which congregates food trucks and other culinary businesses on Sundays in Row DTLA’s back lot. I can’t speak to what goes on elsewhere, but for Los Angeles, under the direction of general manager Zach Brooks, the gathering grew into a vital incubator and connector of talent. As one wonderful instance: Juan Garcia and Ivan Flores run a pop-up they call Goat Mafia, serving a deeply spiced, Jalisco-style goat birria based on Garcia’s father’s recipe. Rhea Patel Michel and Marcel Michel established Saucy Chick Rotisserie, a pop-up featuring rotisserie chicken and sides that express flavors honoring Marcel’s Mexican roots and Rhea’s Gujarati lineage. Both are Smorgasburg regulars. They joined forces recently to open a restaurant in East Pasadena that — win, win — serves their respective specialties under one roof.

The pleasure of attending Smorgasburg in its eighth year is revisiting vendors that have gained citywide followings, while also scouting out newcomers. A recent Sunday tour included a breakfast burrito from Jonathan Perez’s Macheen, lamb barbacoa flautas from Steven Orozco Torres’ Los Dorados, and a green chorizo torta from Evil Cooks. For dessert? Velvety scoops of sour cherry and orange blossom-pistachio ice creams from Kinrose Creamery, which landed official vendor status in September.
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#51: Tori donabe dish
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

n/soto

Mid-City Japanese $$$
While Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama’s tiny flagship n/naka never ceases to appear on listicles about the world’s hardest reservations, their newer izakaya-inspired restaurant rarely needs more than a day or two to book. Keep it in mind when planning a finer-dining evening out last-minute. Its familiar-to-Los-Angeles template — small to midsize plates that incorporate myriad culinary techniques, matched with a thoughtful beverage program — leads to a series of engaging, intricate delights. Start with a dreamy bowl of freshly made oboro tofu, or with chewy-crackly mochi flatbread, served with crudités and a dip of crème fraîche and smoky eggplant, that slyly recalls Persian kashke bademjan. I usually opt for citrus-blasted sashimi compositions rather than traditional sushi nigiri or rolls, and I find the category of fried dishes particularly strong with seasonal gems: Early fall saw maitake mushrooms in tempura bundles that resembled corsages, and battered figs filled with warm bursts of blue cheese. The interior dining is moodier, the covered patio is brighter, and the service exudes professionalism no matter where you sit.

Read the full review of n/soto.
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#52: Tomatoes and Cherries on a white plate
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Bestia

Downtown L.A. Italian $$$
After 11 years of essentially nonstop business, one could wonder if Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ Arts District flagship might be situated over some sort of magnetic energy vortex. Nearby restaurants of equal caliber never seem quite as busy, or close outright from lack of interest. Show up to Bestia on any night and the brick walls of its rehabbed-warehouse dining room will be rattling from the din. What’s the secret to its staying power? Menashe’s take on Italian cuisine is the culinary equivalent of screaming into a pillow. Devouring pastas and pizzas raging with garlic, intense herbs, pungent sausage and salty blasts of cheese is both cathartic and therapeutic. The kitchen also knows exactly how far to push — grilling branzino over open flames, for example, and then smearing on Fresno chile and potent pesto full of whole pine nuts. Underneath the barrage of seasonings, the fish still tastes remarkably sweet and mild. Gergis’ dream lineup of custardy, creamy desserts, always offset with the season’s best fruits, brings down the fever and sends you into the night feeling calmed.
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Needle's Chow udon with chicken
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Needle

Silver Lake Cantonese Breakfast/Lunch $$
Since opening their Silver Lake corner cafe in the fall of 2019, chef Ryan Wong and his wife and business partner, Karen Dang, have explored several aspects of Cantonese cuisine, sometimes in creative response to pandemic-era challenges. After trying streetside tasting menus that channeled siu yeh, Hong Kong’s late-night street-food snack traditions, and banquet-style dinners on their small patio, this year the couple circled back to their original emphasis: