Trois Mec isn’t built on accessibility. It hides behind frosted windows beneath a Raffalo’s Pizza sign in a strip mall by a Unocal station; you can’t get a table at the 26-seater without buying a ticket first, nor is there a listed phone number.
Really, you could almost dislike the place—until you go. Gloriously original, the restaurant is the joint vision of chefs Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludovic Lefeb-vre, but the cooking is pure Lefebvre—the Burgundian virtuoso possessed of French traditions and the conviction that they gain new legitimacy in a context as wide as the world. Whether it’s with heritage pork, wakame powder, or Peruvian leche de tigre citrus marinade, the interplay is epiphanic, especially when you’re sitting “courtside” at the beechwood counter, inches away from the busy cooks. An amuse-bouche might be a single curry-scented madeleine or an ear of tempura baby corn dipped in a feisty salsa verde. Potatoes—pushed through a ricer to order—acquire a Lisztian lushness with a ladle of clarified butter, a pinch of bonito flakes, and a final dappling of nutty Salers cheese. All homey angles, the wood-grilled Ibérico pork is brightened by a handful of clams and a hint of mustard whisked into the delicate sauce. A last drop of Jura red in your glass and memories of bone marrow custard with peapod bouillon dancing in your head, you’re in two places at once by meal’s end: behind an L.A. gas station and beside a French canal, where poplar trees shade a narrow road.
Above: Carrot BBQ with orange, yogurt, avocado, and watercress
Concealed in an old brick warehouse east of downtown, Bestia doesn’t tread lightly with the atmospherics. Lightbulbs dangle from meat hooks; loading bays have become giant windows. The gastro-dungeon aesthetic dovetails with the forceful Italian cooking of Ori Menashe, who drives his crew as dishes like squid ink risotto and beef heart tartare with champagne vinegar fly out of the open kitchen. The flavors are uncluttered, their full effect often trip-wired by herbal sharpness. Rubbed with anchovy and lemon paste, the immaculate flesh of the whole grilled orata contrasts with the bitter dandelion leaves tossed over the fish. With the cassoeula milanese, braised greens bring clarity to a broth potent with poached veal ribs and plump sausages. The panna cotta of Genevieve Gergis (Menashe’s wife) is a standout. Trembling and loosely clotted, it’s paired with Hachiya persimmons—soft and sweet enough to have been picked from a backyard.
Above: Batillarda di salumi nostrano
David Myers trained with Daniel Boulud and the late Charlie Trotter, and he’s championed bistro fare with his restaurant Comme Ça. But he’s always had an affinity for Japan. Together with his executive chef, the fabulous Kuniko Yagi (she of Top Chef fame), Myers set up shop in the basement of a luxe Century City apartment building to offer a high-brow izakaya without dousing the creative spark. Slathered with miso jam and goat cheese, the rustic pumpkin toast is the perfect accompaniment to a tall draught of Allagash White beer. Crisped on the outside, the rice balls have a surprisingly luscious interior, while sambal-crusted skate wing in a grilled banana leaf has nattily dressed agents from nearby CAA going at it with their hands. The pristine smokiness of dishes like the caramelized Kurobuta pork and the hen-of-the-woods mushrooms served with lime and sea salt comes from Japan’s prized binchotan charcoal.
Great wine list, plush booths, original Toulouse-Lautrec art, beaucoup celebrity sightings—Crossroads is a vegan restaurant that toys with expectations. In keeping with its no-creatures-shall-be-exploited principles, the restaurant won’t deign to serve honey, yet chefs Tal Ronnen and Scot Jones have created an establishment where carnivores will feel almost as comfortable as their meat-free counterparts. The dainty “schnitzel”—crusty, golden, brought into focus by sprightly greens—will make you forget it’s a protein analogue. A smidgen of Old Bay seasoning confers an evocative authenticity on the hearts of palm “crab” cakes. The “oysters,” fashioned from artichoke leaves peppered with rich duxelles and yellow tomato béarnaise, acquire a fitting brininess from the finishing dab of kelp-based beads of “caviar.” Pastry chef Serafina Magnussen does just fine without milk, butter, or cream. A crackling marsala-scented cannoli is freighted with vegan ricotta flecked with lime zest—the pudgy, snow-soft ends dipped in chopped candied olives.
Above: Artichoke hearts with red quinoa
Sure, you’ll find insalate with Sun Gold tomatoes and Little Gem lettuce; black mussels, too, quickened with an aromatic soffritto. But Chi Spacca’s reason for being is meat (the name means “he who cleaves”). Chef Chad Colby, who launched the city’s first certified salumi program, relies on the wood flame of his hearth oven and grill. A side of vinegar-laced baby eggplant plays off the breaded pig’s trotter. Wrapped in sliced lardo, the thin bread sticks known as grissini could be the tastiest swizzle sticks you’ll ever eat. Pace yourself, though. Commanding the table at this offshoot of Osteria Mozza (next door) are big cuts, like the 42-ounce tomahawk pork chop (checking in at $80), the tender strip of belly attached to a bone that has been rubbed with fennel pollen. Nearby, a wondrous rosemary-and-orange-peel olive oil cake as tall as an Easter Colomba di Pasqua sits on the granite counter.
Above: Beef and bone marrow pie
What with the horse show ribbons and the framed prep school yearbook pages, there’s a Cheeveresque spirit to the Palihotel lobby, but old money gentility ends at the boutique inn’s restaurant door. Brian Duns-moor and Kris Tominaga, whose Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing pop-up transported Angelenos to the South, continue to explore the region in a quirky blue-tiled dining room, where a T.S. Eliot portrait peers over a communal table. Dunsmoor worked with Hugh Acheson in Athens, Georgia; Tominaga, with Joe Miller in Venice. The two display exquisite technique. Using crawfish stock (instead of milk) to stretch out a Cajun roux imparts day-boat immediacy to catfish meuniere. As for the onion jam that bestows such majesty on the fried chicken livers, it has simmered six long hours. So look down, Thomas Stearns. If the fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dressing don’t inspire you to take up your pen again, the slice of lemon icebox pie will.
Above: Hamachi with citrus
Chef CJ Jacobson forages with the best of them, but the former pro volleyball player and Top Chef contestant practices a style of cooking so unadorned, it’s almost a throwback. A simple appetizer of pork satay gets nudged out of the ordinary with a knife point of diced grilled lemon. Where others might gussy up braised leg of lamb au jus, Jacobson displays admirable reserve, serving slices with carrot puree. Battleship gray, with burled wood trim, the Studio City spot is comfortable, while the staff is welcoming and refreshingly uncool. Jacobson specializes in a precise form of layering in which steaming bowls of mushroom broth are lent a musky vapor with freshly shaved matsutake mushrooms. The pine-grilled sturgeon with sage-brushed celery root may sound a cowboy shy of being a country song. But the grilled pine needles coating the fish are few enough to create a complexity that’s haunting.
After you’ve ogled the expanse of furniture at H.D. Buttercup across the way in the Helms Bakery complex, the narrow dining room here can seem austere. Which suits chef Evan Funke’s culinary vision. The L.A. native learned pasta making in Bologna and crafts it in the purest way possible. The mixing, the cutting, the rolling—all done by hand. Funke is willing to veer from the “authentic,” spooning green olive pestata over kampachi crudo, but the compass inevitably returns to such ruggedly refined dishes as the spaghetti bolognese, its pink-hued sauce radiant with fresh tomatoes. Sardinian maccheroni di busa (formed around long needles) come with a bold pork ragù bianco, while walnut pesto rides on disks of pliant corzetti. Breads are another specialty, which will be clear after one bite of the focaccia: a tender round dotted with roasted tomatoes.
Above: Hamachi with citrus
In this rowdy room where customers on multicolored metal chairs shoot reposado and añejo flights, Josef Centeno is doing the most personal cooking of his L.A. career. A tribute to his San Antonio upbringing, it’s unapologetically Tex-Mex but executed with signature finesse. Grilled prickly pear slivers gain remarkable amplitude with the sweet herbal notes of epazote and quesillo cheese. Smoky hunks of kielbasa anchor borracho beans spiked with Negra Modelo. The son of a butcher, Centeno is intent on reaching a meaty absolute, simmering beef tongue for Frito pie and draping melt-in-the-mouth chicharrónes with poblano chile cream. Going to the childhood well doesn’t always lead to the best work for chefs (matters can get a little cloying), but here—a place where Jack cheese bubbles across chicken enchiladas and a puffy taco cradles braised pork cheek—what’s captured is oh so real.
The barkeep is talking to a regular about gentian-root liqueurs when 25-year-old Miles Thompson emerges from the kitchen. With the intensity of a prophet, he arrives at your table to deliver a plate of Dungeness crab custard with lobes of uni and pickled strips of hajikami ginger root. There’s a certain fearlessness to the chef, who worked at Son of a Gun and did the pop-up thing (the Vagrancy Project) before landing at this 1920s stucco box in Echo Park. The only meat in a tasting menu may be in the first-course beef tongue cappelletto, tiny pasta capsules presented on a seared spinach leaf. Dessert involves the earthy notes of Jerusalem artichokes. Every direction seems promising to Thompson, who compresses the possibilities into the indentation at the center of a white plate.
Above: Sword fin squid