Restaurants have a way of inviting us to help create the city. Whether at a booth, a table, or a crowded counter, when we take our seats we become participants in what makes L.A. hum. There’s no shortage of places where the magic happens—and we’d be the first to tell you that the significance of Tommy’s in Westlake extends beyond what a ladle of chili can do to a burger—but some spots are capable of transcending the city’s communal rites. What the 75 restaurants on this list do is contribute to a broader conversation that’s taking place around the topic of food. What is fine dining, anyway? At Sqirl (#7), you have to pick up your own cutlery. At Trois Mec (#2), you pay in advance. That sure isn’t the way it used to be. Sustainability, the soul of a neighborhood, the importance of craft, the responsibility of institutions, heck, even the minutiae of pickling microbes—these subjects hover around what’s on the plate. We won’t go so far as to call it a golden age (the modern restaurant resists hyperbole), but this is a singular moment in which big issues are compressed in the bustle of dining rooms. Herewith, our list.