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Los Angeles Restaurants

F&W names the best Los Angeles restaurants like Mario Batali’s spectacular Osteria Mozza and Wolfgang Puck’s modern Chinese spot, WP24. Plus: top bars, buzzy food trucks and a legendary diner.

Los Angeles Global Cuisine

Trois Mec

Ludo Lefebvre has been an L.A. celebrity since he launched his roving pop-up restaurant, Ludo Bites, in 2009. Those dinners sold out almost instantaneously. Now Lefebvre has a brick-and-mortar restaurant, in an old pizza place in a tiny strip mall, and it's still impossible to get in: You have to buy tickets online, and they disappear within minutes. For the lucky few who snag a seat, Lefebvre wants Trois Mec to feel like eating at home with him. "You eat what I want to eat, you listen to my music, you have fun." He installed mirrors everywhere, so that no matter where you sit, you can see the action in the kitchen, where he and his team prepare a five-course, French-accented tasting menu. (He was born in Burgundy and trained at three-star spots in Paris.) A favorite dish is his take on classic pommes aligot, potato pulp with brown butter and grated cheese. The chef puts fat French fingerling potatoes through a ricer, garnishes them with brown butter powder and, before serving, grates a mountain of salty French Salers cheese on top. troismec.com

Orsa & Winston in Los Angeles
Photo © Rick Poon

Orsa & Winston

Wolfgang Puck's wood-burning stove from the early 2000s is an inspiring piece of kitchen equipment. When Josef Centeno discovered that stove, sitting in a restaurant warehouse, he grabbed it. "I designed the Orsa & Winston kitchen around that 3,000-pound object," he says. The chef, known for his brilliant sandwiches at nearby Bäco Mercat, is now evoking the kind of fusion cooking that Puck pioneered with his menu of Asian-Italian hybrids. His signature dish, a starter of risotto-style Koshihikari rice with uni and pecorino cream, "captures the spirit of the place," says Centeno. "It's a melding of Italian soul and Japanese sensibilities." orsaandwinston.com

Alma in Los Angeles
Photo © Rick Poon

Alma

It's set on a block that's remained gritty, even as the surrounding downtown neighborhood gentrifies. Nearby is a strip club parking lot. Still, Alma has become one of the city's top dining rooms, perhaps because it retains the exuberant energy of the DIY pop-up it was two years ago. And because chef Ari Taymor, who is only 28, obsesses over every ingredient on his ingenious, modern menu. One of Taymor's first cooking jobs was at La Chassagnette in Arles, France's first certified-organic, Michelin-starred restaurant. Now he relies heavily on his forager, Courtney Guerra, who also tends a tiny garden in Venice. He uses the marigolds and tarragon she provides to garnish his English muffin with uni and burrata. Soon Taymor won't have to travel to West L.A. for greens: Alma is negotiating for a rooftop garden, near seedy South Broadway. alma-la.com

Sqirl

Chef-owner Jessica Koslow (a one-time producer for American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance) is best known for her exquisite jams and preserves, such as blackberry-lemon verbena jam and Gravenstein apple butter, served alongside pastries like scones and burnt brioche toast. Still, one of the most popular dishes at the destination café Sqirl is the savory rice bowl. It's a mix of chewy Kokuho Rose brown rice, sorrel pesto, fermented hot sauce, creamy feta and a poached egg. sqirlla.com

Petty Cash Taqueria

Tijuana circa 1986. Mexican staff meals. A Tom Petty/Johnny Cash cover band called Petty Cash. These three things inspired local hero chef Walter Manzke's raucous taqueria. "I grew up in San Diego; I wanted to capture the great energy of nearby Tijuana," he says. Petty Cash serves buzzed-about dishes like thebomb.com: chunky guacamole topped with sea urchin and chicharronés (Manzke got the idea at a preopening tasting, when bowls of all three items randomly sat next to each other on a table). People are also talking about the tacos, like the crispy pork belly carnitas. A few blocks away, Manzke has launched another very different project, République, a French bistro and bakery in the venerated Campanile space. pettycashtaqueria.com

Bestia

Down a long, alley-like street, in an area full of warehouses, is one of the city's most fun, high-energy restaurants, Bestia. Chef Ori Menashe didn't start cooking until he'd gotten out of the Israeli army and found work in Italian restaurants like L.A.'s Angelini Osteria. Yet the homey, delicious food he prepares tastes like it comes straight out of a grandmother's kitchen in southern Italy. Menashe house-cures the charcuterie at Bestia and makes much of the pasta, like pistachio fusilli, which is tossed with lamb ragù and garnished with ricotta salata, also made in-house. bestiala.com

Paiche

Ricardo Zarate is on a mission to make everyone love Peruvian cooking. Five years ago, he opened Mo-chica in a modest food court downtown. Now the Lima-born F&W Best New Chef 2011 has three restaurants; Paiche is his newest and most dressed up. Here, Zarate has ramped up his Japanese technique: For his ceviche, he slices the fish sashimi-style. He uses miso as a marinade for paiche, an Amazonian fish that was almost extinct before Peruvians found a way to sustainably farm it (the recipe on p. 122 calls for easier-to-find black cod). Zarate is so proud of the paiche's resurgence, he named his restaurant after it. "I wanted to show off Peruvian ingenuity," he says. paichela.com

Chi Spacca

Not everyone would look at the narrow Chi Spacca space and think "restaurant." Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich (who also own Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza next door) originally used it as a mini cooking school, Scuola di Pizza, where they hosted weekly themed dinners. One theme was especially popular—pork. So in early 2013, the trio opened Chi Spacca with chef Chad Colby. The menu emphasizes meat, from offcuts like braised lamb neck to 42-ounce grilled pork chops, but Colby takes vegetables seriously too, serving cauliflower with potent bagna cauda. chispacca.com

Top Round Roast Beef

If you're looking for L.A. sous-chefs when they're not at work, just head over to Top Round Roast Beef, the sandwich and frozen custard stand that looks like it comes straight from a 1950s sitcom. The to-the-point menu has just three sections: roast beef; curly fries cooked in beef fat; and frozen custard, which is available as a sundae or as a concrete with assorted toppings blended in. To make sandwiches like Beef on Weck, the cooks slow-roast beef for more than 10 hours, then slice it thinly and serve it au jus with horseradish cream on a toasted, buttery, caraway-studded bun. Each sandwich is $5.95 and extra beef is only $1 more, which might be why sous-chefs love it here. toproundroastbeef.com

Hinoki & the Bird

Century City was once a culinary wasteland, best known as the place to find some of the country's priciest condos. Now it's home to this restaurant from chefs David Myers and Kuniko Yagi. Their clever Asian-styled menu includes dishes like apple-marinated grilled short ribs. Myers and Yagi have even created a signature scent for the restaurant by smoking black cod with aromatic hinoki wood; the smell of cypress pervades the place. hinokiandthebird.com

—Kate Krader, Jennifer Sommer

Los Angeles Restaurants: Insider Picks

Animal

Former caterers-turned-renegade chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo opened Animal in 2008 in a bare-bones space and it immediately became one of the most interesting restaurants in Los Angeles, elevating stoner dude grub with impeccable ingredients and technique. The prevailing aesthetic is carnivorous and over-the-top, from the oxtail gravy poutine to the “Buffalo style” pig tails. animalrestaurant.com

A-Frame

Roy Choi made his name with his pioneering Korean fusion Kogi BBQ trucks; now he has three brick-and-mortar restaurants. The theme for A-Frame is the modern Asian picnic. Built in a renovated International House of Pancakes, the Culver City spot has a bonfire on the patio and communal tables where diners share plates of air-dried Chinese-style ribs with sticky hoisin-chile glaze and beer-can chicken served with kimchi. aframela.com

Gjelina

Travis Lett’s incredibly thin pizzas, baked in a wood-burning oven, are just part of the reason Gjelina is one of the most buzzed-about restaurants in town. The place doesn’t accept reservations, which means there’s almost always a line for Lett’s casual California cuisine, like wood-roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and red chile. Prime seating is in the backyard near the outdoor fire pit. An annex called Gjelina Take Away, selling sandwiches and pizza, opened next door in 2011. gjelina.com

The Hungry Cat

At his three Hungry Cat locations (in Hollywood, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica Canyon), chef David Lentz specializes in shellfish, from pristine oysters on the half-shell to the signature peel ’n’ eat shrimp. (In a nod to Lentz’s Maryland roots, the original location in Hollywood also hosts a wildly popular blue crab fest each summer.) But diners should not ignore the burger, which, topped with Danish blue cheese, house-smoked bacon and avocado, is one of the best in town. thehungrycat.com

Lukshon

L.A. knows Sang Yoon predominantly for his sublime Office Burger at Father’s Office. In 2010 he finally expressed his love for Asian food with Lukshon in Culver City, serving a menu that reflects his travels to Korea, India, China, Indonesia and Japan. "Basically, I drew a big circle around all of Asia and said, ’Anything’s fair game,’" Yoon explains. Yoon also offers an incredible selection of Belgian beers. "The range of flavors in Asian cuisine is so broad," he says. "Belgian ales have the range to match." lukshon.com

Los Angeles restaurant: Osteria Mozza
Photo courtesy of Osteria Mozza

Osteria Mozza

When this much-anticipated osteria opened in 2007, it replaced adjoining Pizzeria Mozza as the hottest reservation in town. Star baker-chef Nancy Silverton is usually behind the mozzarella bar serving customers seated on a dozen stools. Chef Matt Molina expertly prepares the rest of the brash Italian-country menu, which features favorites like the ricotta-and-egg raviolo in brown butter. osteriamozza.com

Pizzeria Mozza

Powerhouse team Mario Batali, Joseph Bastianich and Nancy Silverton create some of L.A.’s best pies by combining top California ingredients (squash blossoms and trumpet mushrooms) with Italian tradition (big wood-burning ovens and house-made mozzarella). Pizzeria Mozza’s most decadent offering, the Bianca, is covered with creamy mozzarella, melty Fontina and the truffle-infused aged, cow’s-milk sottocenerecheese, as well as a few crispy fried sage leaves. pizzeriamozza.com

Rivera

Chef John Sedlar made his reputation by pioneering Southwestern cuisine at the now-shuttered Saint Estèphe in Manhattan Beach 30 years ago. After a long hiatus (and in a town not particularly kind to comebacks), he opened Rivera in 2009 with delicious dishes that fuse French technique with Latin American flavors like grilled lamb chop with a Brazilian bean-and-chorizo stew and Malbec reduction. riverarestaurant.com

Son of a Gun

Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s Son of a Gun is a seafood-driven departure from their meat-obsessed flagship Animal. Here the walls are covered with items like lifebuoys and the food is likewise sea-oriented (shrimp toast sandwiches, brandade with soft egg). One notable exception: their perfect, crunchy fried chicken sandwich piled with spicy pickle slaw, shredded lettuce and Sriracha aioli in a brioche bun. sonofagunrestaurant.com

Los Angeles Restaurants: Splurge

The Bazaar by José Andrés

This restaurant, at the stylish, raucous SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, showcases the ecstatic creativity of José Andrés (Jaleo in Washington, DC, China Poblano in Las Vegas) through a series of witty, delicious small plates and tapas. His sublime version of a Philly cheesesteak, for instance, eschews the usual squishy base for something Andrés calls "air bread," a thin, crisp, hollowed-out roll; he trades bland cheese goo for tangy cheddar espuma (foam); and he ditches greasy shreds of meat for slices of seared wagyu beef sprinkled with fleur de sel and micro chives. thebazaar.com

Los Angeles restaurant: WP24
Photo © Peden + Munk / courtesy of WP24

WP24

Wolfgang Puck was flirting with Asian flavors—at Spago, then at Chinois on Main—long before most other chefs had ever heard of Szechuan peppercorns. His new outpost is a glamorous dining room on top of the Ritz-Carlton, serving modern Chinese cuisine like the exceptional Peking duck with crisp skin and drippingly juicy meat and pork dumplings the size of thimbles. wolfgangpuck.com

Los Angeles Restaurants: Classic

A.O.C. Wine Bar and Restaurant

Los Angeles star chef Suzanne Goin’s wine bar and small plates spot is a winner. The shareable pan-Mediterranean dishes draw from Spain, France and Italy; some of the best are cooked in a wood-burning oven, like the clams with sherry and garlic toast. It’s inevitably jammed every night, but walk-ins can often find a seat at the long bar, an excellent spot to sample one of the 50 wines by the glass and the immense cheese selection, which regularly includes such obscurities as Estrella la Peral, a blue from Spain’s Asturias region, and Hooligan, from Colchester, Connecticut. aocwinebar.com

Los Angeles restaurant: Lucques
Photo courtesy of Lucques

Lucques

Open since 1998, this West Hollywood restaurant is a Los Angeles classic, for chef Suzanne Goin’s superfresh, market-driven Cal-Med cooking (lots of roasted fish and vegetables, herb- and citrus-inflected salads and her signature braised beef short ribs with sautéed greens) and the mood of laid-back luxury. It’s tough to score a table, much less one of the few, highly coveted ones on the patio beneath the olive trees. The family-style Sunday night suppers are especially wonderful—even though Goin owns several restaurants, she’s often in Lucques’s kitchen overseeing the set $45 three-course menus. lucques.com

Matsuhisa

The origins of the vast Nobu empire lie in this amazingly modest Beverly Hills spot, which Nobu Matsuhisa opened in 1987, deftly mingling Japanese, Peruvian and European ingredients (among his then-groundbreaking sashimi: yellowtail garnished with jalepeño). The La Cienega Boulevard institution still serves many of the dishes that launched Matsuhisa’s career, including the fiery yellowtail and black cod with miso, along with intricate specials scribbled on a blackboard menu. Further up La Cienega, Nobu Los Angeles offers a more glammed-up, David Rockwell-designed setting to go with the fusion sushi. nobumatsuhisa.com

Mélisse

Serious French restaurants in and around L.A. are a dying breed, most notably with the closings of L’Orangerie, Ortolan and Bastide. But chef-owner Josiah Citrin has held strong with his 12-year-old Santa Monica restaurant Melisse, serving not just one but five tasting menus nightly, with elegant dishes like almond crusted dover sole with brown butter corn jus. melisse.com

Los Angeles Restaurants: Best Value

The Apple Pan

Since 1947 this unassuming diner has had crowds lining up for one of the 26 stools at its long counter (there are no tables). The draw: the signature “steakburger”—a juicy, flavorful beef patty topped with mayo, sweet relish, pickles, iceberg lettuce and Tillamook cheddar.

Father's Office in Los Angeles
Photo © Joe Schmelzer

Father’s Office

Even in burger-crazed Los Angeles, the opening of the first Father’s Office in Santa Monica in 2008 was a major event, thanks to chef Sang Yoon’s signature Office Burger: dry-aged strip steak, Maytag blue cheese, arugula and onion compote. No substitutions or additions are allowed, and ketchup is forbidden (there’s aioli for the fries instead). Today there are two locations—the second is in Culver City—both with an excellent selection of beer on tap, from superhoppy California IPAs to rare Belgian ales. fathersoffice.com

Los Angeles restaurant: In-n-Out
Photo © Perry Tak

In-N-Out Burger

Even superstar chef Thomas Keller is a fan of the West Coast chain—and with good reason. The cooked-to-order burgers are made from Harris Ranch beef and served with hand-cut fries. For a messier, more indulgent experience, order your burger "animal style" with extra sauce and chopped grilled onions. innout.com

ink.sack

A few doors down from Top Chef Season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio’s newly opened high-end Ink restaurant is his four-inch-sandwich shop. Highlights include the cold fried chicken served with house-made ranch cheese (it includes curds of centrifuged buttermilk), and the José Andrés (aka the Spanish godfather), stuffed with chorizo, lomo and Serrano ham, along with olives, piquillo peppers, manchego cheese and sherry vinaigrette. Why are the sandwiches so small? "Usually I get bored with eating a big sandwich," says Voltaggio. mvink.com

Los Angeles restaurant: Kogi BBQ
Photo courtesy of Kogi BBQ

Kogi BBQ

When Kogi’s food truck first Tweeted its stops in 2008, no one had heard of Korean short rib tacos. Roy Choi, who cooked at NYC’s Le Bernardin, changed that. Now hundreds of people line up for his tacos and for kimchi hot dogs and more of his mash-up cuisine, served from a fleet of four trucks and a Kogi counter at L.A.’s Alibi Room. kogibbq.com

Langer’s Deli

Since 1947 Langer’s has been serving L.A.’s best pastrami sandwich, a combination of supertender, hand-sliced pastrami piled high on hot, crisp-crusted double-baked rye bread. (Screen- and sometime food writer Nora Ephron has even gone so far as to call Langer’s the finest pastrami sandwich in the world.) In its over 60 years of business, and in the same downtown L.A. address, the old-style Jewish deli has grown from a diminutive 12 seats to over a hundred. langersdeli.com

Lazy Ox Canteen

A half-dozen culinary cultures collide at chef Josef Centeno’s casual Little Tokyo spot, which is part izakaya, part tapas spot, part taco truck and part trattoria. Centeno’s signature is the flatbreadlike Bäco, which he uses as a base for fillings like pork belly, scallions and romesco sauce. lazyoxcanteen.com

Mo-Chica

Though it’s located in a generic food court, chef Ricardo Zarate’s Japanese-inflected Peruvian spot Mo-Chica is a favorite with L.A. foodies for its vivid, punchy flavors (lots of tartness, lots of heat), sophisticated presentation, and rock-bottom prices (dishes top out at $16). The Lima native has spent time cooking in top sushi spots, like Zuma in London. His expertise with raw fish is apparent in his fantastic ceviche that includes halibut, prawns, scallops, and squid. mo-chica.com

Los Angeles restaurant: Pink’s
Photo © Vera Babb

Pink’s Hot Dogs

This legendary Hollywood hot dog shack has been in business since 1939, but the menu has evolved with pop culture. Current editions include the Martha Stewart dog (topped with relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut and sour cream) and one named for current L.A. Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, with guacamole, American and Swiss cheese, jalapeno slices and tortilla chips. pinkshollywood.com

Umami Burger

Adam Fleischman’s growing Los Angeles burger chain looks beyond ketchup and mustard to other flavor boosters, like "umami dust," a savory mix that includes ground kombu (a type of seaweed) and dried shiitake mushrooms. His preferred method for cooking burgers isn’t a grill but a griddle. "You get a more even sear, and the fat bastes the burger instead of dripping through the grate," he explains. umamiburger.com

Los Angeles Ice Cream Spots

Sweet Rose Creamery

Zoe Nathan, her husband, Josh Loeb, and her fellow Tartine alum Shiho Yoshikawa opened this boutique ice cream operation at the Brentwood Country Mart in 2010. The extraordinary small batch ice creams, made using organic milk, cream and eggs (and a $65,000 ice cream maker), feature constants like the Verve French Roast Coffee and seasonal flavors like Rose Geranium with Raspberry Ripple; retro soda shop classics include milkshakes and floats prepared with on-tap Virgil’s root beer. Nathan and Loeb also operate Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe in Santa Monica and in November 2011 debuted the Santa Monica pizzeria and bakery Milo + Olive. sweetrosecreamery.com

Los Angeles restaurant: Coolhaus
Photo © Brian Leatart

Coolhaus

From a fleet of trucks (and an imminent Culver City storefront) comes a huge variety of ice cream sandwiches. Rotating flavors like Guinness chip and Meyer lemon mix and match with a range of cookies, like chocolate chip and ginger molasses. Recommended combinations are named after architects—order a Frank Gehry for strawberry with Snickerdoodle cookies. eatcoolhaus.com

Los Angeles Bakery

Helms Bakery in Los Angeles
Photo © Rick Poon

Helms Bakery

For almost 40 years, Helms was L.A.'s major bakery; its loaves traveled on Apollo 11 to become the first bread on the moon. Now Sherry Yard, Spago's ex-pastry chef, and Sang Yoon, the Father's Office burger impresario, are turning the old Helms space into a three-story food hall that will be the city's epicenter for baked goods and breakfast. "Why don't chefs serve beautiful vegetables with their eggs? Why just a lame piece of toast?" Yoon asks. For the 25-seat counter, he's experimenting with savory oatmeal, adding cherry tomatoes and Parmesan. Yard is more involved with making vintage jams. "You'll be able to compare the 2013 and 2014 raspberry jams," she says. "Are there good years for fruit? Heck, yeah." 3220 Helms Ave., Culver City

—Kate Krader, Jennifer Sommer

Los Angeles Bars

The Edison

One of the city’s coolest bars is in an unlikely setting—among the electrical machinery in the subbasement of a 100-year-old downtown office building. The Edison’s owners had Old Hollywood in mind when they opened this bar in 2007, with a drinks menu (and strict dress code) reminiscent of legendary Los Angeles night spots like the Cocoanut Grove and Ciro’s. edisondowntown.com

The Varnish

Behind a secret door at the century-old Cole’s diner (where the French Dip sandwich was invented) lies this dimly lit speakeasy, where rising-star bartender Eric Alperin mixes excellent drinks—mostly Prohibition-era cocktails like the Aviation, along with tweaks on the classics—for patrons at wooden booths. 213nightlife.com

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