The Best Restaurants in Los Angeles Now
Want to know where to EAT in LA now? From a spunky K-town eatery and tiki bar to a former gas station turned Mexican hot spot on the east side, these are the best restaurants in Los Angeles.
When I moved to LA more than a decade ago, the chefs we talk about today – Michael Voltaggio, Roy Choi, Ludo – had yet to venture out with their own establishments. At the time, the City of Angeles’ founding fathers, like Wolfgang Puck (Spago), Mark Peel (the late Campanile), and Suzanne Goin (AOC, Tavern) were the kitchen commanders people talked about. I can still remember the first time I heard about Campanile (now Walter Manzke’s Republic) famed grilled cheese night, “We have to go!” a friend insisted excitedly.
Aside from those early stars mentioned above, Los Angeles suffered from a poor reputation of fast food franchises and mediocre mall meals. But over the last decade, a new crew of inspired kitchen minds have moved in to create the best restaurants in Los Angeles, celebrating local and hyper seasonal product (I once visited the Santa Monica Wednesday farmers market and met a vendor who sold a specific type of pistachio that was in season one day per year!), while working to redefine contemporary Los Angeles cuisine.
San Gabriel Valley is home to – and I say this with no hesitation – the best, and most diverse regional Chinese cuisine in the country, while pockets of Orange County count some of the most authentic Vietnamese I’ve had anywhere. And thanks to its close proximity to Mexico, LA proper has more than its share of standout taco trucks and street stands, in addition to upscale numbers as real as anything you’d find below the border. Don’t even get me started on Japanese – the most pure sushi in U.S. can be found between Downtown and West LA. As the way we eat shifts more toward fresh ingredients, it’s no surprise that chefs are flocking to LA, where the climate delivers near-perfect produce year-round. That plus the fact that the city can be cheaper for a new entrepreneur to start up a restaurant means cooks continue to trek west.
Take, for example, Kismet, Hollywood’s newbie Middle Eastern eatery opened by NYC expats Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, along with Jon and Vinny of Animal fame. There, in a blonde wood-walled box, they’re plating an inspired all-day seasonal, veg-rich menu spiked with za’atar and tahini. Not too far away is TV chef Curtis Stone’s second LA restaurant (and butcher shop), Gwen, is a real Hollywood looker that’s trying out a pretty unique approach to dining. Stone serves a $95 coursed out meal centered around a family-style protein entrée (I had lamb), while the rest of the dishes that make up the tasting menu change based on the time of year. I’m also intrigued by what Jordan Kahn is doing for breakfast and lunch service at Destroyer. Kahn is the dude who commanded the heady Thai fare on offer at Beverly Hills’ late Red Medicine, but now in Culver City he’s taking an artsy fine dining approach to early day eats like deconstructed avocado toast in a sliver of a spick and span space.
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Sticking with the Asian theme, Kato, which debuted in West LA last summer, is one of the city’s most exciting newish restaurants, and one that’s completely under the radar. This bare bones, micro strip mall space helmed by chef Jonathan Yao, is offering one of LA’s most interesting and affordable tasting menus (while the menu prices changes, my meal there cost around $55 for 5+ courses). Playing with local, in-season product, Yao is flavoring minimalist-proteins and produce with tastes of Japan and Taiwan.
Also dressing up a somewhat random strip mall space is Here’s Looking At You, spunky a K-Town eatery and tiki bar with a global California menu that you’ll want to enjoy at the bar. A romaine and mustard greens salad is flecked with cotija, while passion fruit and soy brighten salmon. Pro tip: Pro tip: Make sure to try the Spa Day cocktail made of pink peppercorn syrup and Folk Hero which calls for persimmon leaf-infused tequila.
If you’re into day drinking (then you should check out my forthcoming book that shares that exact title!), Salazar should be on your radar for excellent Latin spirited cócteles and some straightforward Mexican plates of tacos and the like. Claiming a former gas station on the east side, the sandy, desert-designed space is populated with cacti and succulents, and it’s a relaxed place to shoot the breeze.
Whenever I’m in LA, I always like to check in with Jason Eisner, the agave whiz behind Gracias Madre’s whimsical tipples in West Hollywood. Here you’ll find everything from boozy snow cones to poptails (get it, cocktails with ice pops?). His newest creation is a drink called Into The Maize, a play on the Spanish word for corn, made from heirloom corn, plus mezcal, coconut milk, vanilla bitter, salt, and sweetened with agave.
If you don’t feel like making bad decisions you may regret tomorrow, stick to MatchaBar in Silver Lake opened by New Yorkers Graham and Max Fortgang. Their hip take on the classic Japanese milled tea leaf drink goes down easy.
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