Southeast Asian cooking in Santa Monica, a wine bar in Inglewood, Cajun hits in Montebello, and so much more. Now’s the time to eat your way through LA.
It’s hard to believe that this is the third summer since the pandemic shutdowns of 2020 that transformed the restaurant world forever. From takeout pivots to makeshift outdoor seating and Instagram pop-ups, Los Angeles restaurants navigated through countless regulations, price inflation, and staffing difficulties with aplomb — all in the spirit of feeding the city’s communities well. All over the Southland, restaurants are teeming with ambition sparked by phenomenal local ingredients and cooking talent; dining rooms are packed with hungry diners looking for both comfort and innovation with influences from the city’s myriad cuisines.
The year is halfway over and Eater LA’s editors have tirelessly eaten through the very best places that have sprouted up as of late. From the South Bay to the San Gabriel Valley, to the Westside and Downtown, here now are the 34 restaurants that need to be on your summer bucket list (in alphabetical order).
Last summer, Inglewood’s first and only wine bar opened. Sisters and 1010 Wines owners Leslie and LeAnn Jones wanted a spot to keep these Inglewood residents from leaving their city limits to sample wines and hang out, so they combined forces from their day jobs as an event planner and attorney, respectively, to create a popular business. There’s far more than just wine, champagne, and beer on the menu. The Jones sisters recruited Swift Cafe chef Kyndra McCrary to develop the menu, and her salmon sliders, charbroiled oysters, or entrees with a pesto linguine, rib-eye with Creole butter, or the shrimp and risotto with Creole-style shrimp completely satisfy. On weekends, the soulful brunch menu pairs well with the wine selections. The sisters have a commitment to support Black-owned businesses by featuring wines by Black vintners. In fact, 90 percent of their wine and beer selections are Black-owned. Check the calendar and make a reservation via Tock. 1010 N. La Brea Avenue, Inglewood —Mona Holmes
Akira Back’s ode to Korean barbecue doesn’t hold back in terms of ambition. The dining room first opened in late 2019, but didn’t find its footing until over a year into the pandemic, when it slowly reopened with a more traditional menu. Meat quality is among the best in the city, from house dry-aged cuts to even A5 wagyu if that’s desired. Banchan is focused and well-executed, with the whole experience elevated by a sleek dining room and attentive servers always ready to help grill at the table. 8500 Beverly Boulevard, Beverly Center —Matthew Kang
The great LA bagel/pizza debate will never die. As so many transplants and natives weigh in on which producers reign supreme, one operator settled into a cozy Highland Park neighborhood corner and prepares respectable slices of pizza along with a solid bagel. Owner Bradford Kent uses an early-1900s process utilized by the New York City’s Local 338 bagel bakers union, and handrolls, kettle-boils, and plank-bakes organic bagels. His New York-style pizzas are a welcome one to Highland Park, with pepperoni and a formidable plant-based slice with creamy tomato vodka sauce, vegan cheese, mushroom fennel sausage, and red onion. There’s coffee and fresh juice, house-made cream cheese, and it’s open from morning until late hours just blocks away from Occidental College. 4751 York Boulevard, Highland Park —Mona Holmes
For the uninitiated, Bar Moruno first lived as a sit-down restaurant at the Original Farmers Market in Fairfax and as a neon-lit stand at Grand Central Market Downtown. Both locations eventually closed, which is why, five years later, its resurrection on a thriving corner of Sunset in Silver Lake is even more cause for celebration. Any night at Bar Moruno might unfold like this: first, a parade of conservas to the table, which could include tuna belly or sardines steeped in olive oil, or a tin of mussels preserved in a pickly brine. Adding pan con tomate next feels natural, especially because Moruno’s iteration involves a small, glistening mound of seedy cherry tomato confit soaked with olive oil and garlic. The golden tortilla espanola, one of the menu’s more traditional dishes, might follow, its eggy potato layers melting into itself like table butter. Aleppo pepper- and sumac-dusted roasted carrots or baby lettuces could easily complement mains like the prime rib-eye or charred orata, depending on which direction you want to go. Either is the right choice; both at once is also the right choice. 3705 Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake —Nicole Adlman
Southern California’s food halls are plentiful, but none are like Blvd Mrkt in downtown Montebello. It’s got a shining, central presence on Whittier Boulevard, which is now a landing pad for those in search of something that feels right. Blvd founder Barney Santos opened this shipping-container food hall hoping it would become more than just a place to eat. Turns out he was right. His community gathering spot curated vendors who add unique charm to the space, including the ales, beers, sours, and wines from Alchemy Craft. There’s also the second outlet for Pez Cantina; the family-operated, Mexican/Guatemalan hybrid Los Taquero Mucho; plus newcomers Chicken Koop and La Crosta pizza. If in need of caffeine, modern Oaxacan Cafe Santo has something to assist; Nola Cajun & Creole has all the Southern savory goods; and Vchos — the popular Salvadoran food truck — now has a permanent spot to churn out pupusas, yuca con chicharron, and loaded steak fries upon order. Once the food is ordered, get stationed at one of the community tables and take in the crowds and sounds. Songs range from every era and lean towards soulful, Latino artists, hip hop, or pop. On any night, there could be an Amy Winehouse cover band, beer tastings, or Eastside Pride celebrations. Many bring a laptop and just hang out while sampling from a handful of vendors. But the pros know to come with a group, order everything, and taste fantastic food together. 520 Whittier Boulevard, Montebello —Mona Holmes
This new upscale French restaurant from chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George are proof that fancy dining isn’t dead in Los Angeles. Even on Mondays, when I made both visits, the former Nightshade was packed to every seat, with folks waiting for their herb-infused Provence martinis and snacking on crispy gunpowder shrimp. The two young chefs come after years in Bangkok cooking under Alain Ducasse, bringing a sharp finesse to LA that feels both timeless and fresh. A roasted roulade of chicken breast and a paired entree of roasted mushrooms over rice makes more sense on a blistery late fall day. A beef tartare with delicately laid out fried leaves has a daintiness that feels more appropriate at a Parisian tasting menu. Somehow, it works, especially with Boonthanakit’s showstopping desserts (he was previously the pastry chef at Nightshade), like the stunning airy chocolate faux souffle. Camphor feels overlooked with the likes of Horses, Mother Wolf, Grandmaster Recorders, and Mes Amis drawing so much attention in Hollywood, but Arts District denizens know they have a winner in their neighborhood. 923 East Third Street, Arts District —Matthew Kang
Though it isn’t a full-service and permanent establishment, Campo é Carbón is a popular monthly pop-up that’s got something not found in all of Southern California: a restaurant inspired by Valle de Guadalupe wine country in Baja California. Owners Adriana Alvarez and chef Ulysses Gálvez put together these dinners — plus a lunch called Campito — in their backyard, where the pool-adjacent atmosphere radiates beachside vibes, ample candles, and style by Alvarez; music that ranges from disco to Anderson .Paak and low-key beats; and beautifully set tables that focus on the outdoor kitchen. Once seated, there’s smoky mezcal cocktails, so immediately order whatever crudo or mariscos have been imagined by Gálvez. The menu changes every event, and Gálvez loves to try something new, but a past Campo featured a Hokkaido scallop crudo with orange, yuzu, and chile. He also perfectly cooked octopus on the outdoor grill, as well as the marlin taco, and the pork chop with pickled mustard seed. It’s best to keep checking Campo’s Instagram page, because once those reservations are announced, they go fast. La Puente —Mona Holmes
The best summer patio in Los Angeles is hidden behind the long, narrow dining room of Causita, Ricardo Zarate’s new-ish Nikkei Peruvian restaurant near the apex of the Sunset Triangle in Silver Lake (its partner market and restaurant, Rápido and Bar Moruno, respectively, live right next door and make for a turnkey crawl). At Causita, shadows dance behind table candlelight, spherical rattan chandeliers float suggestively from the ceilings, and a multicolored, geometric tile design creates a kaleidoscopic pattern on the floor. The dishes parading from the kitchen equally set the mood, like the trio (or quartet, depending on the night) of nigiri causita bites that arrive on a small rectangle of pressed potato; a little gem Caesar salad with a verdant dressing and crispy popped quinoa in lieu of croutons; and meaty, charred artichokes served over a bright avocado mash. The vibe is decidedly date night, but you’ll find groups of friends and coworkers gathering around the tables, too — more people means more dishes, so even better. 3709 Sunset Boulevard, Silver Lake —Nicole Adlman
It was a bittersweet day when Pho Nguyen Hoang closed, a rare Vietnamese restaurant specializing in homestyle cooking, and Chao Wei Ju popped up in its place. Though the old spot’s caramelized claypot fish and sour soup with upright elephant ears will be deeply missed, the new tenant’s Chiuchow (also Chaozhou) cooking makes for a fine consolation prize. Chao Wei Ju’s signature beef noodle soup is seriously slurpable, with its light yet punchy broth, slippery rice noodles, and two kinds of tripe. Hop up to the condiment counter to sample an array of house-made sauces that pair exquisitely well with each bite. Also not-to-be missed on the menu are the Chaozhou rice cakes — a web of doughy fried bits and scrambled eggs — and the super-meaty shacha-sauce pork ribs. 401 W. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel —Cathy Chaplin
A pink jewel box of a restaurant at the corner of Main and Bicknell transformed in October 2021. This location, formerly home to Dhaba Cuisine of India, is now Cobi’s, a chic neighborhood restaurant serving a sharply curated Southeast Asian menu with a vintage-leaning indoor-outdoor set-up that would make any coastal grandmother feel at home. After poring over an unusually inviting natural wines list, you might order a spread that includes citrusy salmon crudo from the raw bar to start — all the better to prep the tongue for the heat to come later. That heat is present in dishes like the “devil chicken curry” (the server will ask you three times if you can handle the heat, at which you nod reassuringly and then become disappointed when it doesn’t immediately dissolve your tongue with its fire) and chile-marinated papaya salad, though maybe no table is complete without an order of its pillowy, flaky roti, the blanket with which to wrap fistfuls of that hot, almost-devilish curry. 2104 Main Street, Santa Monica —Nicole Adlman
Fia has been a more consistent presence in Santa Monica, offering good Californian-Italian cuisine from veteran chef Brendan Collins, but his newer Fia Steak is a revelation. With hulking dry-aged steaks, pristine seafood, and polished preparation from start to finish, Fia Steak uses the age-old Capo formula in Santa Monica, modernizing the space and menu with grilled meats and Italian pastas. It’s a swell place to blow one’s cryptocurrency earnings or sports bets wins. In all seriousness, Fia Steak isn’t necessarily an affordable night out, but the immense quality — from the lobster risotto to the seared Hokkaido scallops to the costata alla fiorentina — are all worth the expense. 2458 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica —Matthew Kang
Even as Koreatown restaurant Here’s Looking at You darkened its doors in summer 2020, pining whispers for its return already reverberated through Los Angeles. Longtime fans of the restaurant held that candle right up until it actually happened: The restaurant reopened in early January 2022, and in some ways, it felt like no time had passed. On its rebirth menu, familiar favorites dance with bold seasonal additions, meaning that the salsa-negra-crusted frog legs still make frequent appearances on tables in the warmly lit dining room, as do dishes like a creamy, tobiko-flecked uni panna cotta, tomatoes dusted with bagna cauda and crushed Chinese sausage, and yolky steak tartare spiked with chile and tamari. No two nights at Here’s Looking at You are the same, so it’s best to go frequently, hungrily, and eager for the menu’s myriad surprises. 3901 W. Sixth Street, Koreatown —Nicole Adlman
Yes, Horses is hot. Like Beyoncé-and-Jay-Z-dine-there hot. Written-about-glowingly-by-the-Los-Angeles-Times-and-New-York-Times hot. And unfortunately, securing-a-reservation-is-a-challenge hot. But if you are persistent and maybe even book a reservation during early weeknights, or select a slot that’s very early or late, Horses is divine. Horses is a loving rework of the former Ye Coach & Horses space for 73 years, long before it was the Pikey. What remains is a colorful set of rooms with a collaborative menu by chefs Will Aghajanian, Brittany Ha, Liz Johnson, and Lee Pallerino. Together, they’ve created a youthful, energetic, and stylish spot on a historic stretch of Hollywood, but it’s not pretentious. Though there are white tablecloths, deep blue walls, and one might hear a playlist that blasts a pop ballad or a deeply ironic punk song. Altogether, these elements help show off the dishes like the satisfying and popular spatchcocked cornish hen. Diners might pack plates of pork rillette, veal sweetbreads, and house-made bread to share while sipping on a black Manhattan cocktail or a decadent glass of pinot. Note: The menu items adjust with the seasons. 7617 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood —Mona Holmes
There’s a crowd of hungry diners outside of Ipoh Kopitiam. Malaysian cooking is a rare sight in the San Gabriel Valley, so local residents and out-of-towners understand that the wait is wholly warranted — they’ve got a gem on their hands. Every meal at Alhambra’s thriving Malaysian spot ought to begin with the roti canai. The kitchen is ready for the demand, so in no time at all a server will bring out two properly ballooned roti served alongside a small pot of spicy curry. Part of the fun of eating this dish is tearing into the crisp, golden bread, letting out its steam, and dipping a portion into the flavorful broth. Also not to be missed are the dry wonton noodles with chicken curry that packs a whole lot of spice into every bite; sip the clear broth served alongside to reset your palate. Finish with a warm mug of coffee and kaya toast with butter. Island eating is a vibe and Ipoh Kopitiam gets it right. 1411 S. Garfield Avenue #104, Alhambra —Cathy Chaplin
For years, decades even, fine dining in America was mostly confined to stuffy rooms and Continental cuisine. That’s reductive at some level, of course, but the sense of sameness that came with cascades of small portions and heavily-sauced single bites of steak or lobster was real. Los Angeles has always been a bit left of center on the fine dining front, at least, with names like the 17-year-old Providence holding strong amidst a rising sea of upscale casual, laid-back service restaurants that eschew the trappings of fine dining but often end up at the same price point anyway. At Kato, now inside the Row DTLA, the restaurant is neither serene nor severe, it blends steel and glass and stone with upbeat music, pin-accurate lighting, and of course some fanatic, happy-making food. Chef Jon Yao and partners Ryan Bailey and Nikki Reginaldo are surfing a razor’s edge, teetering on perfection and inching towards three Michelin stars inside a restaurant that 15 years ago could not have been possible here. It’s more than “refreshing” or “entertaining” to see them energetically work — it’s important. The Taiwanese tasting menu and ample a la carte bar bites are the city’s biggest and best modern fine dining hope. There is nothing like Kato in LA or elsewhere, and that makes it very, very meaningful now and into the future. To really get a glimpse of the kind of food and hospitality that moves an entire city’s scene forward, you have to eat at Kato. 777 S. Alameda Street, Downtown —Farley Elliott
Sushi and Los Angeles are like steak and Chicago: They go together hand-in-hand. Kogane joins the numerous ultra-high-end omakase restaurants littered across West Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills, but serves in the heart of San Gabriel Valley. The stoic space lets just seven diners observe the stellar preparations and movements of chefs Fumio Azumi and Kwan-san, who work in tandem to produce an array of Edo-style sushi that stand up to the top places in LA. Just be ready to shell out serious cash. 1129 S. Fremont Avenue, San Gabriel —Matthew Kang
Maybe it’s just that initial excellence that comes requisite with Tao Group’s openings, but Lavo might be the biggest surprise of this year’s new crop of restaurants. The fare is unapologetically Italian American, boasting spectacular quality ingredients, from the farmers market produce to the fresh split langoustines. Lavo has had a long run without too much attention in Las Vegas, but Tao’s Beauty and Essex and namesake in Hollywood have always been more clubstaurant than pure food destination. Lavo veers closer to something enthusiasts would really appreciate, with stellar pasta, heaping portions, and polished service, but with a bit more flash and scene. Sometimes, especially in West Hollywood, there’s a place for that kind of eating. 9201 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood —Matthew Kang
It doesn’t get any more serene than dining on the splendid patio at Lulu. Situated on the ground floor courtyard of the Hammer Museum, Lulu brings a bit of Berkeley to a bustling part of town from legendary chefs Alice Waters and David Tanis. With two menus available at lunch (a three-course prix fixe for $45 plus an a la carte “bar menu” with dishes large and small) and an a la carte menu at dinner, it’s easy to choose your own adventure here. Though the menu changes daily depending on what’s available from nearby regenerative farms and purveyors, the kitchen’s commitment to coaxing the purest flavors from each of its impeccably sourced ingredients doesn’t waver. From soups to pastas and desserts, every bite tastes thoroughly unfussy and perfectly of the season. 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Westwood —Cathy Chaplin
Walter and Margarita Manzke met while working together at Patina, the now-closed temple to European-style fine dining. The pair went onto work at L’Auberge in Carmel before lighting the city on fire with incredible bistro fare at Church & State and eventually République. Their French restaurant Bicyclette has been a hit in the former Sotto space, but upstairs they quietly worked on Manzke without knowing for sure what it would become. The Manzkes went for pure understated luxury, serving an epic tasting menu with simply the best ingredients from around the world, using French technique to guide them. The result is a real fine dining contender to join the likes of Providence, Maude, and Mélisse, the kind of international destination LA has not always had in plenty. Nabbing reservations might get more difficult once the Michelin guide comes around. 9575 W. Pico Boulevard, Beverlywood —Matthew Kang
Chef Lincoln Carson’s Mes Amis is, in its own way, proof that the seemingly impossible can become commonplace if you believe and work hard enough. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Carson was photographed saying goodbye to his Arts District restaurant Bon Temps, the first place he really could call his own after years of opening projects for the Mina Group and others for decades. A celebrated pastry chef with an exacting eye, the restaurant had been Carson’s turn in the national spotlight, earning bicoastal acclaim while being shortlisted for some very big awards. Like so many others, Bon Temps disappeared under a pandemic cloud, and Carson spent time moving between LA and the Central Coast. He opened a project with some friends in Solvang and, slowly, began to once again provide his talents to Los Angeles. Now he has Mes Amis, a swinging brasserie that feels pulled out of a Baz Luhrmann film and overlaid onto a newly glitzy Hollywood corridor that also features prominent restaurants like Mother Wolf and Ka’teen. So how does it feel to be open again, to be cooking French food again, and to be helping to raise the profile of a once-downtrodden Hollywood neighborhood dining scene? If you’d like to ask Lincoln yourself, find him in the kitchen at Mes Amis. He’ll be the one with the smile on his face. 1541 Wilcox Avenue, Hollywood —Farley Elliott
Evan Funke’s second LA restaurant is an even greater commercial hit than his first place Felix. Not that Venice’s Felix isn’t amazing in its own right, it’s just that Mother Wolf accommodates a larger number of diners at any given moment. In addition to its prime Hollywood location, the gorgeous and grand dining room at Mother Wolf works perfectly for the polished Italian cuisine served by tuxedoed servers. Flavors are intense, consistent, and focused, as one would expect from Funke, but with four times the volume of Felix. Celebrities have certainly caught on, but mere plebeians have found a lot to like at Mother Wolf as well, from the tasty cocktails to the standout desserts by pastry chef Shannon Swindle. 1545 Wilcox Avenue, Hollywood —Matthew Kang
Diners have been waiting with bated breath for Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama’s follow-up to N/naka, their contemporary kaiseki restaurant with two Michelin stars under its belt. Tucked away on a quieter stretch in West Adams, N/soto serves a winding menu of Japanese-inflected small and large plates. The dining room and outdoor patio are lively with families and friend groups, happy to be dining out again and noshing their way through the menu. The crisp-tender crudites served with warm mochi flatbread, creme fraiche, and eggplant dip make for an irresistible starter. Moving onto the agemono (deep-fried) section of the menu, get the agedashi mochi — the contrast between the warm broth and fried mochi is truly compelling. Served alongside are perfectly cooked shiso-wrapped shrimp that feel gratuitous in a way but wholly welcomed. For something warm to soak up all that sake, the miso-baked bone marrow served with umeboshi onigiri does the job right. Don’t miss the coffee pudding with mochi balls for dessert. 4566 W. Washington Boulevard, West Adams —Cathy Chaplin
I’m quite certain the best gumbo and jambalaya I’d had since New Orleans was at this unassuming, almost hidden window at Montebello’s Blvd Mrkt. The flavor of the gumbo in particular, with tender white rice and piquant spices in every bite, is the big highlight — though the comforting jambalaya, with meaty sausage coins, works as a Creole complement. The shrimp po’boy also works for Creole/Cajun food enthusiasts who until now didn’t have an option in this eastern city of LA. 520 W. Whittier Boulevard, Montebello —Matthew Kang
Omma Tofu House sits in the farthest corner of a hidden away food court in Arcadia. For those who make the effort to find the fast-casual food stall, the reward is solidly prepared Korean cooking that can compete with Koreatown’s finest. And best of all, banchan is included with every order. While the combination meals offer slightly too much food for a single diner, it’s the move to make in order to satisfy every Korean craving. The cold buckwheat noodles and soft tofu served in a stone pot are truly solid and make for fine standalone meals, but it’d be criminal not to add on a side of sizzling galbi beef to any order. Smokey, savory, and tender, they’re the best bites coming out of this humble establishment. President Square Food Court, 1220 S. Golden West Avenue, Stall F, Arcadia —Cathy Chaplin
Upon hearing the description of Pijja Palace, one might respond by asking themselves, “How on earth does an Indian pizza parlor/sports bar actually work?” It simply does. The Silver Lake restaurant has TVs blaring sports from every wall, stylish with loads of charm, bold flavors, and excellent pizza. The unpredictability is what makes Pijja one of LA’s most exciting restaurants right now, and that’s due to owner Avish Naran developing the idea and recruiting Roberta’s Culver City former sous chef Miles Shorey to build the menu. Desi spices and ingredients are utilized on a whole different level with outstanding dosa onion rings dipped in rice and lentil batter before hitting the fryer, okra fries dusted in chile powder, or wings with four different sauces including a Kashmiri red chile with garam masala. The showstoppers are abundant, especially the fiery malai rigatoni with tomato, cream, and coriander that’s best sopped up by the spicy garlic bread. About that pizza, the thin, slightly crispy crust is full of possibilities that include a build-your-own pie, or by choosing the wonderful green chutney or saag pizzas. While scooping up the malted chai soft serve, try to picture how this space used to house Silver Lake’s beloved sad/happy sign Sunset Foot Clinic. 2711 W. Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake —Mona Holmes
LA didn’t need a destination-level pizzeria but it got one anyway from William Joo, a Providence veteran who loves Neapolitan-style pizza. Opened with his wife Jennifer So in a tiny nine-seat space in Pico-Robertson, this is where fans of blistered wood-fired pies gather. There are plenty of other practitioners of great Neapolitan pizza, but few have the focus and dedication that Joo and So have brought here. 8781 W. Pico Boulevard, Pico-Robertson —Matthew Kang
There’s no shortage of good bagel options in Los Angeles — enough, in fact, to have inspired pieces about the superiority of California bagels in comparison to those in its alleged nemesis state, New York. In this town, I prefer Pop’s Bagels, a shop that’s slinging freshly baked bagels in a variety of flavors and for diners who have alternative dietary considerations: It offers sesame, everything, and plain gluten-free bagels too. As a person who doesn’t often get to enjoy a fresh bagel-shop bagel because of its glutenous composition, this, for me, is a miracle-level find; something not only rare in Los Angeles, but rare everywhere. Spread with chive-flecked cream cheese or a dollop of salted butter, Pop’s bagels are good enough to not need much adornment (although smoked salmon, shallot, tomato, and briny capers never hurt). The shop also sells breakfast sandwiches to order; get there early for your pick of the bunch. Locations in Culver City and Brentwood —Nicole Adlman
Chefs Ray Hayashi and Cynthia Hetlinger are cooking their hearts out at Ryla, located steps away from the Hermosa Beach pier. The restaurant’s thoughtful service and moody dining room make a meal here feel like a real escape from the beachgoers just beyond the restaurant’s doorstep. The menu, which draws from the chefs’ Asian roots and American upbringings, is chock-full of dishes that are as flavorful as they are personal. It’s hard to think of a better starter than the plush Hokkaido milk bread served with a rich and creamy tobiko seaweed spread inspired by a dip that the chef’s mother served for entertaining. Also highly recommended are the daily specials featuring freshly caught seafood. While it’ll be hard not to fill up on shareable plates, set aside some gastro real estate for the larger main courses and dessert. The ox tongue curry served with steamed rice features a deeply fragrant gravy brimming with twice-cooked and tender-as-can-be tongue. The matcha tiramisu, with its layers of light chiffon and mascarpone cream, makes for the finest of finishes. 1220 Hermosa Avenue, Hermosa Beach —Cathy Chaplin
Watching Winnie Yee-Lakhani work is like watching a ballet beautifully performed by linebackers. There is grace in the movements, subtle touches that denote a sense of specific purpose, but the body in use is strong, forceful, and carries an immense amount of power. Winnie is the Smoke Queen, a title bestowed not by some higher power but by Yee-Lakhani herself; that’s how confident and cool she is. Her food features a stunning array of LA, Texas, and Southeast Asian techniques and flavors that feel like nothing Los Angeles has tasted before. Try the barky brisket, but don’t forget the lemongrass-scented Malaysian sausages. Score some pork ribs, but don’t forget the extra-crispy fried pork belly siu yuk. Everything, from the sides to the glazes to the meats to the weekly show at Smorgasburg — and, soon, the standalone restaurant in Garden Grove — comes from the stone-cold center of Winnie’s world, where she rules (as is her namesake) with a firm grace and a warm smile. Smoke Queen — the woman and the restaurant — is what’s possible when people are allowed to innovate in Los Angeles. It’s bootstrap dining done with few cares and lots of love, the way that only a Southern California chef could. Pop-ups around LA and OC —Farley Elliott
What does thoughtful expansion look like? Under a strictly capitalist system, it might make it feel compulsory to scale up and serve as many customers as possible by giving them the shortest route to their nearest location. Sonoratown has taken almost the opposite approach, choosing slow growth on the path to the opening of its second shop in Mid-City this spring. The Downtown location in the Fashion District has been busy for years, thanks to a confluence of great flour tortillas, a starring role on a Netflix TV show, and the everyday endurance of owners Teo Diaz and Jennifer Feltham, who show up daily to work a shift while also coordinating the import of real flour and meats from Mexico. The pair have only occasionally sought to balloon their operation, taking over adjacent spaces at the original location or expanding the core menu just ever so slightly. The Mid-City outlet is the next real step for the group as it plots a path through the uncertain waters of a roaring LA food scene — and they’re keen to make sure that their footing is as stable as possible before stepping again. Mid-City is an ideal choice, attractive to Westsiders loath to drive Downtown, and puts Sonoratown squarely in the center of one of greater LA’s best dining neighborhoods. Here restaurant tenures are often measured in decades, not up and down years. Staples like My 2 Cents, Sky’s Gourmet Tacos, Pip’s on La Brea, and Wi Jammin take center stage, allowing Sonoratown to shine in its own small, heartfelt way. That’s what growth, done with purpose and vision, can really be: additive to a city, and good for its thoughtful owners. 5610 San Vicente Boulevard, Mid-City —Farley Elliott
A family-owned Thai restaurant with two women entrepreneurs at the helm, Tuk Tuk Thai is the Westside reimagining of beloved neighborhood Thai spot Same Same in Silver Lake. Chef Amanda Kuntee and her sister and business partner Katy Noochlaor have curated a menu of Thai street food staples, with snacks like sour sausage and whole barbecue squid tangling with peppery fish-sauce marinated wings and crispy shrimp meatballs. The rosy interior and warm lighting of the Sawtelle Japantown location make it an ideal space to linger over steaming bowls of nutty panang curry, pad kee mao pocked with fresh chiles, and heaping piles of Hainanese-style garlic rice with Thai fried chicken and a sweet, crystalline dipping sauce. The takeout experience here holds up, too. 1638 Sawtelle Boulevard, Sawtelle Japantown —Nicole Adlman
You know that energy, that pulse of a restaurant that is delicious, busy, inviting, and of the moment? Right now, a lot of that pulse is beating in Orange County’s endless strip malls and smaller neighborhood enclaves, away from the ocean views and $10 million dollar homes. Part of that is thanks to Kei Concepts, the growing Vietnamese restaurant group reshaping Orange County right now. Their restaurant Vox Kitchen in Fountain Valley is a near-perfect distillation of everything the group is trying to achieve, from the peaking flames from the wok in the open kitchen to the noisy patio and pressing servers who squeeze between tables with plates of garlic noodles and shrimp. Big bowls of crab congee and sizzling plates of saltado add to the effect, merging sounds and flavors and heat and aromas together to create an epicenter for a moment. Vox is showing LA what’s possible in Orange County, and it’s also showing Orange County that it doesn’t need to be anything but itself. Not bad for a strip mall restaurant that fought to survive the pandemic. 16161 Brookhurst Street, Fountain Valley —Farley Elliott
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Resiliency is everywhere in Los Angeles: in the city’s people, in its places, and in its food. Perhaps nowhere is this more on display than at the Wat Thai Temple food market in North Hollywood. For decades the weekend bazaar has featured flavors from across the Thai menu, with options for sweets and spicy papaya salads and meat skewers and more. Here meals are meted out with small prepaid tokens, with more than a dozen rotating vendors offering something for everyone — and yes, that includes some killer pad thai. More than the meal, though, is the notion that the market still exists at all. The Wat Thai setup took two years off as a result of the pandemic, and in a region that continues to crack down on unlicensed street food vendors and open-air food markets, a return was far from guaranteed. Thankfully the unique Valley setup has endured in popularity with in-the-know locals, beloved by food writers and temple attendees and anyone looking for something fun to do (and something delicious to eat) in LA. The Wat Thai market is just one of countless examples of LA’s own personal brand of strength, the kind of place where everyone comes together to eat uniquely delicious foods that call, for many, to a faraway home. As the world continues to regain its balance and more and more hot new restaurants open in LA, it’s good to be reminded that places like Wat Thai are not guaranteed to always be there, either. After two years away, it tastes good to be back. 8225 Coldwater Canyon Avenue, North Hollywood —Farley Elliott
When two chefs with some of the most impressive fine dining pedigrees come to Los Angeles, one expects it to be a hit from the start. Yangban Society might not have created the waves locals expected, but chefs Katianna and John Hong have stayed the course, making adjustments and tailoring their menu after hearing from customers about their particular approach to Korean American food. The deli case is filled with easygoing fare like cold Korean buckwheat noodle salad, blistered snap peas, danmuji pickles, and twice-fried potatoes, all sort of updated banchan that go with more filling share plates of sticky fried chicken wings, curry biscuit and gravy, and galbi jjim. After more than half a dozen visits, the approach is always best when taken as a free-for-all: Pick up a bunch of drinks from the upstairs “super” (aka convenience store), order up a storm, and share everything over a rowdy dinner. Approach it like a Korean person would and it’ll make the most sense. (Note: Yangban Society is now closed for a summer break until July 8, when it will reopen for dinner only with a fully revamped menu, seven days a week.) 712 S. Santa Fe Avenue, Arts District —Matthew Kang
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