Los Angeles' 15 Best Restaurants
May 8, 2014
15) Chi Spacca
Let’s get two things out of the way off the bat. There are two dishes on the menu that are each nearly $200 and take nearly an hour to prepare: the 42-ounce bistecca Fiorentina ($175), and the 50-ounce costata alla Fiorentina ($210). These two dishes pretty much best summarize chef Chad Colby’s 30-seat, dinner-only restaurant Chi Spacca. This Osteria Mozza offshoot overseen by Nancy Silverton is not cheap, and the meat (these two spectacular and talked-about dishes in particular), is what you’re here for. You’ll want to order the baked shell beans, the cured-meat board, the testa frittata, and the “tomahawk” pork chop too, so find three other people to share them with you, dig in, and if they’re not great eaters, well, you’re set for tomorrow night when you’ll finally be hungry again.
All the standard Thai dishes are done very well at this well-known storefront restaurant in Thai Town, but the southern Thai specialties, many of which are found nowhere else in America, are the real draw. Try the oxtail soup, crisp catfish salad, softshell crabs with yellow curry, sea bass with caramelized garlic, and whatever else proprietor Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong recommends — even the beef curry called khua kling Phat Lung, quite possibly the spiciest dish in L.A.
Former Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio proves that his world-class culinary skills aren’t just camera tricks at ink., a restaurant that sets out to help define and interpret modern Los Angeles cuisine with its menu full of creative shareable plates. Expect everything from oatmeal, to pig’s ear, and octopus to make an appearance. The long-awaited restaurant opened its doors in September of 2011, and has since received plenty of national notices, including GQ, which named ink. America’s Best New Restaurant in 2012.
As opposed to Nobu, which is owned by Nobu Matsuhisa and partners including Robert De Niro, Matsuhisa restaurants (in Beverly Hills, Aspen, Athens, and Mykonos) are all owned by the Matsuhisa family, and dining here is a completely different (if equally expensive) experience than dining at one of its more famous cousins. In Beverly Hills, the nearly 30-year old restaurant places more emphasis on perfectly prepared sushi than Nobu’s classic hot dishes. A stunningly expansive menu ranges from abalone and smelt egg sushi to octopus carpaccio, soba risotto, king crab claw tempura, and (in the ever-present Nobu nod to his Peruvian training), lamb chops with miso anticucho sauce. Their lunch is one of the city’s finest Japanese-style lunches; opt for the bento box.
11) Trois Mec
You could drive yourself insane trying to score a “ticket” to Trois Mec — available through their website every other Friday morning at 8 a.m., and not too soon after. But there’s a reason for the huge demand at this hot Hollywood spot, of course. Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s — who was known for his wildly popular string of pop-ups before Trois Mec opened last year — has struck California cuisine gold with his first brick-and-mortar that features five-course, French-inspired dinners with more than a touch of invention.
10) Night + Market
“Our restaurant is very small, very cramped, and very loud,” notes Night + Market’s website. You can almost imagine chef Kris Yenbamroong warning, “Know what you’re getting yourself into!” While Yenbamroong has no formal culinary training, he’s not without a Thai food pedigree; he’s the son of the family behind the well-respected West Hollywood Thai restaurant Talesai. But Night + Market dances to its own beat, serving Northern Thai street food in the nightclub district of the Sunset Strip with a style and philosophy Yenbamroong describes using Thai term “aharn glam lao,” which he explains means making “the most delicious and authentic Thai food to facilitate drinking and fun-having amongst friends." Fried pig tail, fried pig ear with chile and garlic, Isaan-style grilled fatty collar, lots of Thai beer and Mekhong whisky (actually more like a rum) are served in a setting that has been described as a G.I. Bar in '70s Bangkok.
Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine (and gave us California-style pizza) at Spago, pioneered Asian fusion food at Chinois on Main, and even figured out a way to produce decent airport food at his many Wolfgang Puck Express outlets, so we shouldn't be surprised that with Cut in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Puck has also reinvented the steakhouse. (There are now spin-offs in Las Vegas, London, and Singapore.) The traditional red leather booths and bucolic paintings have given way to a cool white interior by rationalist architect Richard Meier and a series of pieces by conceptual artist John Baldessari. In place of iceberg wedges and grilled swordfish, look for warm veal tongue with baby artichokes and roast Maine lobster with black truffle sabayon. Oh, and the steaks? Not the usual four or five choices, but a total of 17 cuts and places of origin are available, from Australian filet mignon to Illinois bone-in New York sirloin to genuine Japanese Wagyu rib-eye from Shiga Prefecture.
Los Angeles is a city that thrives on food trucks and pop-ups, but sometimes a no-holds-barred fine dining experience is called for. Chef Michael Cimarusti, who opened this upscale eatery in 2005 and now holds two Michelin stars for his efforts, serves market tasting menus as well as an à la carte menu of carefully selected seafood from both coasts and beyond, prepared with great originality. Who else offers wild Japanese sardines with smoked tomatoes and piquillo peppers, Santa Barbara sea urchin with soft scrambled eggs and champagne beurre blanc, or wild Washington king salmon with red cabbage and Tahitian squash? Providence isn't for diners on a budget, but it’s definitely a great place for those looking to celebrate.
7) Bäco Mercat
Chef Josef Centeno’s Bäco Mercat in the Old Bank district of Los Angeles is funky and fresh restaurant that serves a menu spanning Western and Eastern-Mediterranean influences. Big plate specials including the likes of a whole-roasted New Zealand snapper, 16-ounce beef ribeye, bone-in lamb steak, confit half duck, and 32-ounce pork porterhouse, with an option of a fixed, family-style menu served to parties of 7 or more. But you’re going to have to try at least two signature dishes the first time you visit: The original bäco (a kind of flatbread sandwich) featured crispy pork belly and beef carnitas with caraway pepper, but they’re now made with pork, beef, poultry, seafood, and yes, vegetables. You may as well go directly to the big one though, “The Slayer,” which features pork belly, beef carnitas, mozzarella, and tomato, and if you want to go all the way, a fried egg. Up next is the “bäzole,” described by LA Weekly’s Amy Scattergood as “a sort of Vietnamese play on posole, engendered by the bäco,” the bäco being the “taco-gyro-pizza that the chef invented once for a staff meal” at his other restaurant Meson G.
The more elaborate but immediate descendant of the original, groundbreaking Spago remains the flagship of the ever-growing Wolfgang Puck empire. Yes, it’s full of glamour and glitz, but it nevertheless remains a place where food is taken very seriously. The famous Spago pizzas are available only for lunch, but it’s almost a shame to waste your appetite on them anyway (almost), given all the first-rate modern Californian–international fare cooked here under the direction of one of the most underrated chefs in America, executive chef Lee Hefter. Veal filet mignon tartare with smoked mascarpone, veal cheek risotto with spring garlic and garlic chives, whole roasted maitake mushrooms with melted leeks, Jidori chicken breast with chicken-leg "pastrami" and celery–mustard purée are examples of Hefter's fare.
5) Hinoki and the Bird
It’s not easy to open an immensely successful restaurant from scratch in Los Angeles, but that’s exactly what chefs David Myers and Kuniko Yagi did when they opened this Century City hotspot in January 2013. The Silk Road-inspired restaurant is not only a great place to sip a craft cocktail and nosh on snacks like fried oysters and chili crab toast, it’s also an experience for all your senses. Myers (who rose to fame with Comme Ça and the Michelin-starred Sona) traveled Japan extensively before opening the restaurant where he fused the finest attributes of Japanese dining (the room is scented with hinoki, a Japanese cedar, and the patio resembles a Japanese garden) with the most fun aspects of American dining. Several of the dishes, including the hinoki-scented black cod with sweet potato and pistachio, coconut-curried mussels with sausage and cauliflower, and lobster roll with green curry and Thai basil, are already signature menu items.
Chef Suzanne Goin was nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Chef of the Year Award every year from 2008 to 2013 for her first endeavor, Lucques, which opened in 1998 and remains as good as ever. The restaurant shines with a warm dining room, an enchanting patio, and a menu of bright, full-flavored food (beluga lentil salad with avocado, shaved beets, watercress, cumin and garlic labneh; pork scaloppini with sweet potato, dandelion, crushed pepitas, dates and mascarpone), based on raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability."
3) Osteria Mozza
Nancy Silverton, whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America, teams up here with New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in this lively urban restaurant, complete with a mozzarella bar, unusual pasta (calf’s brain ravioli, spaghetti with marinated white anchovies), and main dishes ranging from grilled quail wrapped in pancetta to duck al mattone.
Under the direction of the ceaselessly inventive José Andrés, The Bazaar takes visitors on a wild culinary adventure, presenting old-world delicacies in a bold new way. Spanish food; either traditional or avant-garde, has no more fervent and eloquent champion in America than Andrés, proprietor of this multi-part restaurant and culinary theme park. Whether you choose the tasting menu at the semi-hidden SAAM, Ottoman carrot fritters or sea urchin and avocado steamed buns at Bar Centro, or the best jamón Ibérico in America at Rojo y Blanca — or, best of all, a combination of the traditional and the completely mad that is easily achieved here — you’ll have a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience.
At this ultimate haven for adventurous carnivores, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have won a host of awards for their hearty, straightforward, and innovative cooking. Dishes like crispy pig head with short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, and soy egg; marrow bone with chimichurri and caramelized onions; and crispy sweetbreads with black sriracha and finger lime keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more. Animal may be small, loud, and perpetually crowded, but it sets the standard for uncompromising all-American (which of course means multi-accented) straightforward cooking in the 2010s.