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Best New Restaurant No. 1: Lazy Ox Canteen
Photograph by Jessica Boone
The scene can be utter pandemonium, with groups gathering around bare tables in a room whose singed-wood paneling and concrete floors befit a Japanese pub. Chef Josef Centeno works in a tiny open kitchen that anchors the cramped space, cranking out food as polyglot as the city itself. From platters of flash-fried pompano to salt cod fritters with yuzu aioli to a pasilla pepper soup studded with chicharrones, every dish evinces the muscularity that underlies Centeno’s style. This is especially true of the meats. Centeno is one of the few chefs in L.A. who can list his steak by its anatomical name, teres major, without seeming like he’s merely riding the nose-to-tail trend. Though the 36-year-old has the finesse of a French chef—he did a stint at New York’s Les Celebrites—he thinks like a butcher, stuffing ravioli with tongue, tumbling savory lamb cheeks over semolina, braising beef neck in red wine, and ratcheting up the comforts of veal breast by serving it over warm potato salad. There is something touching about seeing Centeno (intense, unshaven, his black hair swept back) pivoting between stove and counter, then looking over to watch a foursome with kids tuck into a bowl of Chantilly-leavened rice pudding. The man spent almost a decade at below-the-radar L.A. restaurants, biding his time. Now having launched the Lazy Ox with Sushi Roku’s mastermind, Michael Cardenas, he’s finally come into his own as a cook. » 241 south San Pedro Street // Little Tokyo // 213-626-5299 or lazyoxcanteen.com