The Vibe: The underground spot is casual but still sophisticated. It can get loud when it’s packed, but compared to some of the other Top Ten, it’s downright chill.
The Crowd: Mixed ages, economic brackets, and food expertise.
The Must-Have Dishes: Thick-cut bread with lardo, pork meatballs, any pizza.
The Drinks: A great selection of Italian amaros are made into top-notch cocktails by barman extraordinaire Julian Cox. There’s also an affordable Italian wine list and some decent beers.
Worthwhile Splurge: Fennel-crusted pork chop, $30.
Getting a Table: A few spots are reserved for walk-ins, but reservations should be made a few days in advance.
Insider Tip: Picca, number four on our list, is just upstairs. You can easily grab a cocktail there first. One table bellies right up to the kitchen window. Sit here if you want to watch the pizza station in action.
2. THE ROYCE AT THE LANGHAM
The Vibe: About as fancy as it gets these days, but still L.A.
The Crowd: A well-dressed, food-savvy bunch mixed in with tourists and neighborhood old-timers.
The Must-Have Dishes: Salsify, cheese course.
The Drinks: The bar down the hall makes some lovely cocktails, but sommelier Eric Espuny is one of the best around when it comes to choosing and explaining wines.
Worthwhile Splurge: The nightly tasting menu makes for a special occasion.
Getting a Table: We wish this place were packed more regularly, but the truth is, same-day reservations are available.
Insider Tip: The historic Langham Huntington Hotel is beyond beautiful. Arrive early to explore the grounds.
3. RED MEDICINE
The Vibe: Minimalist industrial, casual hip.
The Crowd: Adventurous foodies of various ages.
The Must-Have Dishes: Congee (rice porridge), tamarind-glazed lamb, coconut bavarois.
The Drinks: The excellent wine list is designed to pair well with Vietnamese flavors, but the cocktail bar is a destination in itself.
Worthwhile Splurge: Imperial Wagyu beef brisket braised for 36 hours, market price.
Getting a Table: Weekends can get busy, but usually a day or two’s notice is plenty for peak times (7-9 p.m.)
Insider Tip: If you like substitutions, this place isn’t for you. The doors tend to stay open later than most on weekdays. Stop in for a nightcap.
The Vibe: Lively, energetic, loud.
The Crowd: Young professionals, chef groupies, and curious trendsetters.
The Must-Have Dishes: Ceviche, chicharron de costillas, miso-glazed kabocha, churros.
The Drinks: As at Sotto downstairs, Julian Cox creates Latin-inspired cocktails with a focus on pisco.
Worthwhile Splurge: Most everything is under $15 here, so feel free to experiment.
Getting a Table: Call at least three days in advance.
Insider Tip: The upstairs mezzanine bar is a killer spot for private parties.
5. THE SPICE TABLE
The Vibe: Casual, cramped, on the louder side.
The Crowd: The usual downtown mix of loft dwellers, suits, and Little Tokyo locals.
The Must-Have Dishes: Laksa, chicken livers on toast, banh mi.
The Drinks: There’s a decent selection of local beers from Craftsman as well as a tightly edited wine list.
Worthwhile Splurge: Everything on the menu is reasonable—even the $17 black pepper crab toast tastes like a steal.
Getting a Table: There’s a bar for walk-ins, but the place is small, so call a day or so ahead.
Insider Tip: Come during the day for the banh mi sandwiches—they’re a lunch-only special.
The Vibe: Casual, spacious, airy but still buzzing.
The Crowd: West Hollywood locals, kosher foodies, and first dates.
The Must-Have Dishes: Poached egg shakshouka, bone marrow, lamb belly.
The Drinks: Middle Eastern ingredients like sumac, pistachio, and baharat milk go into inventive cocktails; the wine list is equally adventurous.
Worthwhile Splurge: Lamb shoulder with smoked oats and dukkah spice, $27.
Getting a Table: Same-day reservations are usually no problem.
Insider Tip: Vegetarians rejoice! Mezze has vegetarian versions of many of the popular dishes.
7. SON OF A GUN
The Vibe: Packed, happening, noisy as hell.
The Crowd: Fans of the chefs, other L.A. chefs, in-the-know gourmands.
The Must-Have Dishes: Shrimp toast, spot prawns, the chicken sandwich.
The Drinks: The mixologists know what they’re doing—let them make you something new. A reasonable wine list heavy on whites changes often.
Worthwhile Splurge: Santa Barbara spot prawns when they’re in season, market price.
Getting a Table: There are only a few tables available for reservations, and those book three weeks out. The walk-in-only communal table is long, if cramped, and your best bet for getting in on short notice.
Insider Tip: Focus on the seafood.
The Vibe: The buzziest place in town, noisy, hipster chic.
The Crowd: A who’s who of foodies, celebrities, and chefs.
The Must-Have Dishes: This menu changes so often, it’s hard to say. We loved the lamb neck dish with chickpea poutine, the kale-burrata salad, and the octopus, but there are no guarantees that any of those will still be on the menu when you go. Stick with what’s seasonal.
The Drinks: The cocktails change by season as well. Winter is all about hot bourbon with citrus, ginger, honey, and cinnamon, and rum with house-made horchata. Josh Goldman doubles as sommelier, and a chalkboard lists his picks.
Worthwhile Splurge: This restaurant has an omakase option in which chef Michael Voltaggio chooses your menu for you. It may be pricier, but the experience is unique.
Getting a Table: You’ll need to wait about a week for reservations, longer for Fridays and Saturdays. They do serve food at the bar for walk-ins, however.
Insider Tip: Bring extra friends to order more off the menu. Each small plate is nice on its own, but the more you taste, the more interesting the meal.
9. M.B. POST
The Vibe: A full-fledged, boisterous beach scene.
The Crowd: Trendy Manhattan Beach locals, singles.
The Must-Have Dishes: The menu changes frequently, but try the bacon-cheddar biscuits, softshell blue crab, Moroccan BBQ lamb belly, and Vietnamese caramel pork jowl.
The Drinks: Cocktails can skew sweet, but the wine list is fun, with many offerings by the glass.
Worthwhile Splurge: As at Ink., we suggest ordering as much off the menu as you can.
Getting a Table: A few days’ notice should be fine for a reservation. A large bar and communal table accommodate walk-ins, but be prepared to wait.
Insider Tip: Don’t forget your veggies! The vegetable sides here soar.
The Vibe: Subdued, midcentury class.
The Crowd: Museum folk, Miracle Mile workers, distinguished diners.
The Must-Have Dishes: Wood-roasted chile stuffed with chorizo and dates, young chicken, squid ink pasta with chile, mint, opal basil, and bottarga.
The Drinks: Stark bar supplies innovative cocktails. The full wine list is fabulous, if daunting. We like the by-the-glass offerings, which come in 3- and 6-ounce pours or in a 12-ounce carafe.
Worthwhile Splurge: Chef Kris Morningstar will prepare a spontaneous menu for your table on request.
Getting a Table: During the summer when there’s jazz in the courtyard, tables can be more difficult to come by. On weeknights there are usually at least a few tables open for walk-ins.
Insider Tip: Stark bar next door is great for lighter bites and drinks, not to mention happy hour.
ALSO: Read Best New Restaurants of 2011
PLUS: Click here to learn about and enter the Restaurant Race.