Here Are the Angelenos We’re Rooting for in 2019

From podcasters to politicians, we’re keeping an eye on these L.A. movers and shakers

There are loads of reasons to be excited about the coming year, but in L.A. it seems like we have more than most. From new restaurants and museums to book projects and political actions, there’s a lot coming down the pike in 2019, and it’s all because of the movers and shakers who keep the good stuff coming. Sure, we’re rooting for every Angeleno every year, but here are some people we recommend keeping an eye on in 2019.

Kerry Brougher

When the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in late 2019, it will have Kerry Brougher’s fingerprints all over it. As the museum’s founding director, he’s been integral in everything from the physical design of the exhibition space to selecting the objects that will be on display. Given the unusual task of creating a cinema museum (there are few in the world) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s shaky record on representation of people of color, women and nonbinary individuals, and recognition of non-Hollywood filmmakers, critics and the public are likely to approach the big reveal with skepticism. That’s why we’re hoping Brougher pulls off something really special with the project.

Plucked from his role of chief curator at the Smithsonian’s contemporary art museum, the Hirshhorn, Brougher also spent a number of years as a curator at MOCA here in L.A. He was curating film-as-art exhibitions showing works by the likes of Steve McQueen and Runa Islam as far back as 2005, and has stated that he’s passionate about making sure that the academy museum acknowledges the historic oversights the organization has made and works to champion a diverse and interesting collection of filmmakers going forward. —Brittany Martin

Nicole Byer

The premise of the Netflix reality show Nailed It! is as thin as a slab of fondant: Three amateur cooks attempt to re-create elaborately decorated baked goods for a panel of judges and consistently do a pitiful job, so we all laugh at how hapless they are. It’s also extremely enjoyable, highly bingeable television, thanks in large part to host Nicole Byer. The L.A.-based comedian imbues the proceedings with a sort of brash exasperation that plays perfectly off the earnestness of her straight man co-host, Jacques Torres.

A fixture on the local stand-up scene since moving to Los Angeles from NYC, Byer also starred in her own show, Loosely Exactly Nicole, first on MTV and later on Facebook Watch, and spent the summer filling her well-followed Instagram feed with body-positive bikini photos, always captioned with a similar string of hashtags: #veryfatverybrave #veryfat #verybrave #sofatsobrave #sobrave #sofat. In 2019, I want Byer on the big screen. But if I have to settle for another year of fucked-up cakes and body-pos poolside pics, I can be cool with that as well. —Gwynedd Stuart

California’s Freshmen Members of Congress

California has more first-time members in orientation than most states have seats in the House. This year’s elections swept Josh Harder, T.J. Cox, Katie Hill, Gil Cisneros, Mark Takano, Katie Porter, Harley Rouda, and Mike Levin to victory. All seven are Democrats, and it won’t be an easy freshman year. They’ll be starting their congressional careers at a moment of intense division, with major policy and political challenges before them–and, of course, their opponents have already started fundraising to poach their seats in 2020.

It will be a lot to take on, but if these fresh faces may be exactly the new generation of leader the country needs. The chair of California’s House delegation, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, described the newcomers this way to the San Jose Mercury News: “They’re energetic, they’re idealistic, and they’re not afraid to speak up.” —Brittany Martin

The Destination Crenshaw Team

In 2019, the Metro Crenshaw Line is slated to open, and so too is Destination Crenshaw, a milelong outdoor museum that honors black contributions to the culture of Los Angeles. District 8 City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s office is leading the charge, with the help of a crack team of local creatives and several nationally renowned architects, including Zena Howard, who was senior project manager for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. The project’s community partners include California African American Museum lead curator Naima Keith, rapper Nipsey Hussle, “Gangsta Gardener” Ron Finley, and muralist Judy Baca.

The Crenshaw Line was initially going to be disastrous for several historically African American neighborhoods, but with the addition of a Leimert Park station, the community had something to rally around. Destination Crenshaw turns what might have physically divided certain neighborhoods into a place where locals and visitors can gather. It’s slated to open in the fall and it’s sure to be cool. —Gwynedd Stuart

Alex Evans

The Bob Baker Marionettes have been a Los Angeles institution since the 1930s when a kid puppeteer put on shows in his parents’ garage. Baker grew his menagerie of handmade marionettes, and they filled his landmark theater near downtown with joy for a half century. Alex Evans was one of Baker’s protégés and when the founder passed away in 2014, the young puppeteer put his heart and soul into the iconic ensemble, transforming it into a nonprofit and expanding the scope of operations to include live music, vaudeville shows, history programs, and puppet workshops. “It’s the perfect showcase,” says Evans, “for what’s beautiful and important about Los Angeles.”

A real estate development overtaking the original theater displaced the troupe last month, so they’re on the road while searching for a new venue. In the coming weeks, you can find the puppets at the Pasadena Playhouse, Miracle Mile Toy Hall, and Southern California Children’s Museum. Next year will see a pop-up petit theater inside the YARD Theater on Melrose Avenue for temporary shows and exhibitions. “Puppets are a fun vehicle for imagination and you can bring anything in the world around you to life,” says Evans. “The fun and charm of that is that it’s endless.”

Touring is great, but Evans and his gang look forward to a permanent home. They have their sights on a new facility but need help getting there. Puppet fans can get involved by volunteering, becoming a member, or making a donation that helps the relocation. “The new space will make the Bob Baker Marionettes as glorious as ever,” says Evans. ”We’re accepting change in a place that’s defined by being unchanged. We are a nonprofit to serve the community and we’re setting ourselves up to be around for the next 100 years.” —Chris Nichols

Zack Fox 

Even if you don’t follow Zack Fox (@zackfox) on Twitter, there’s a good chance one of the L.A.-based comedian’s many, many, many viral tweets or memes has found its way into your feed. Since rising to popularity using the alias Bootymath in the mid-aughts, the Atlanta-born 28-year-old has mastered the art of comedy with a character count—and more recently, he’s set his sights on breaking into stand-up and rap. In October, his tongue-in-cheek fight anthem “Square Up” earned a seal of approval from Chance the Rapper, and he’s been honing his comedy set for packed houses around town (and touring with fellow Angeleno comedian Jak Night). On top of all that, Fox’s Red Bull radio show Bruh (billed as “your auntie’s front porch in audio format”) features hip-hop’s finest up-and-comers on a monthly basis, and he’s got a number of writing projects in the works, too, including a potential cartoon. In short, Fox is going to be all over the place in 2019, and anything he touches is bound to be fire—we just hope he’ll have time to keep making memes. —Zoie Matthew

Jenny Gao

For the past few years, Sichuan cuisine has been booming in L.A., thanks in large part to SGV hot spots like Chengdu Taste, Sichuan Impression, and Huolala (to name a few). The most exciting culinary development coming down the pike, though, doesn’t involve a restaurant, but an addictively spicy condiment you can stash in your cupboard. Created by chef and culinary entrepreneur/educator/ambassador Jenny Gao, Fly by Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp is essentially a super-charged take on the jarred chili oil mixture you can find at Chinese supermarkets. Gao, who splits her time between Chengdu and Los Angeles, has already sold over $120,000 worth of preorders via Kickstarter, with plans to expand U.S. distribution in the coming year. Her company also offers seasoning mixtures and other condiments, all made from ingredients Gao sources directly from Chengdu: dried peppers, spices, and the region’s famed mala (numbing spice) peppercorns. Sichuan Chili Crisp—made with crunchy flecks of dried chili, Sichuan peppercorn, dried mushroom, fermented soybean, and various other goodies—seems destined to be her biggest hit, lending a punch of umami and heat when spooned over eggs, noodles, rice, pizza, or even ice cream. Gao’s goal is to make the powerful but nuanced flavors of Sichuan cooking readily available to Western kitchens, further raising the profile of one of China’s most celebrated cuisines in the process. We’d say that chili oil is a fine place to start. —Garrett Snyder

Justine Gonzalez

At a [email protected] Coalition rally in October, Justine Gonzalez spoke about the importance of bringing more transgender Angelenos to the table in local politics. “Here in our city, our home, we demand our elected officials treat us with the respect we deserve,” she said against the backdrop of City Hall. At just 28 years old, Gonzalez has already built up an impressive political career herself, starting out as a city intern during the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa administration and working her way up to the role of external affairs coordinator and LGBT liaison under Eric Garcetti. After taking some some time away from local government to do consulting work, transition, and start a family, she was appointed president of the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission in 2017, where she advocated for civic engagement and economic inclusion. These days, the Echo Park-based mom has turned her attention to reforming L.A.’s schools—though she recently pulled out of a school board special election due to financial constraints and family pressure, she plans to continue pushing for transparency and accountability in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and says you should keep your eyes peeled for a potential run for 2020’s regular election. —Zoie Matthew

Locatora Radio’s Mala Muñoz and Diosa Femme

The two Latinas behind Locatora Radio, a “radiophonic novela,” have been killing it this year. The self-proclaimed “mamis of myth & bullshit,” Mala Muñoz and Diosa Femme continue to use the podcast format to archive the “brilliance of women and femmes of color.” In 2018, they produced 25 episodes of Locatora Radio plus their first two productions of Locatora LIVE: A Podcast Party, and they were also named one of “10 Refreshing (And Diverse) Women-Led Podcasts for Creatives” by Forbes. Their first installment of Locatora LIVE, back in May, featured the duo interviewing video producers Curly Velazquez and Maya Murillo of Buzzfeed’s Pero Like—a video channel catered to Latinx folks and millennials—in front of a live audience.

Following the success of their first live podcast taping, they hosted another earlier this fall. The theme for their (sold-out) second installment? “Turn Up, Show Out, Smash the Patriarchy” alongside comedian and video producer Julissa Calderon (also of Buzzfeed’s Pero Like) and singer Jarina de Marco. In 2019, Muñoz and Femme are looking forward to creating more video content and doing more on-camera work (they started a YouTube channel this year), and playing around with different storytelling methods. They’re also partnering with the Los Angeles Public Library to “bring podcasting to our communities in a way that is free, fun, educational, and accessible,” they say. “We’re ready to put in the work and make our wildest dreams come true in 2019.” —Pamela Avila

Yvonne Orji

If we can’t have Yvonne Orji for our personal bestie and cheerleader in 2019, we’ll at least be rooting for her to have yet another year of shine. The Nigerian-born, L.A.-based actress, comedian, and podcaster, just added another line to her résumé with the announcement that her first book, Bamboozled by Jesus, will drop in ’19, an advice-meets-memoir work focusing on her religious upbringing. That will be in addition to reprising her role as Molly on a fourth season of HBO hit Insecure and appearing in upcoming sci-fi flick Spontaneous. While Orji has often made us laugh sharing the challenges of dating in L.A., lately she seems pretty happy with her guy, ESPN’s Emmanuel Acho, with whom she’s been posting cutesy Instagrams since midyear. Basically, everything seems to be set up for this to be Orji’s year–and we’re ready for this warm, hard-working star to be popping up everywhere. —Brittany Martin

Janel Pineda

A Los Angeles-born poet and alumna of WriteGirl (a nonprofit that promotes creativity and self-expression to empower young girls), Janel Pineda has had a transformative year. Focusing on writing about her family’s history as Salvadoran immigrants and their experiences, intergenerational trauma, and the intersections of ethnicity and education, Pineda writes and performs across L.A., as well as across the country.

Just this year, Pineda was invited to perform her poetry as part of Festival Internacional de Poesía Amada Libertad en El Salvador and after that, at “Poesía Salvi: Voces de la Diaspora” at CIELO Galleries/Studios here in L.A. She also became involved with advocating for Central American communities. “This year has been particularly heavy for Central American communities, whose lives and narratives have been historically silenced, dehumanized, and attacked,” Pineda says. In the past year, she’s had the “privilege of working with and learning from incredible Central American leaders, organizers, and artists.” Through grassroots organization CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), Pineda traveled to El Salvador to meet with movement leaders from the country to learn about their current political struggles and how people in the U.S. can stand in solidarity and support Central American communities. Back in L.A., putting into action what she learned, she coordinated a poetry and arts fundraiser (“Mi Gente Poems” at Blu Elefant Cafe in Harvard Heights) that featured Latinx poets and artists based in L.A.

Pineda, who’s poetry has also been featured in the anthology The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the U.S. by Tia Chucha’s Press, will continue to use her poetry for community engagement and empowerment in the coming year. In 2019, she’ll be halfway across the globe, pursuing two master’s degrees (an MA in creative writing and education, and an MS in global migrations and social justice) in the U.K. as a Marshall scholar. She continues to look forward to learning and connecting with artists and activities in L.A. “as we work together to address the various sociopolitical issues affecting our communities.” —Pamela Avila

San Cha

San Cha (born Lizette Gutierrez) derived her name from the Mexican slang word for mistress (sancha), but split the word in two to give it a more religious connotation (san means “saint”). The play on words suits the queer, Mexican-Catholic raised guitarist and singer, whose energetic, full-voiced performances straddle the line between the sensual and divine. Combining elements of traditional Mexican folk, punk, and goth, her EP Capricho del Diablo was one of 2018’s most inspired musical efforts, and there’s no doubt she’ll keep doing big things in 2019. To start with, she’s staging an elaborately produced narrative showcase for the Red Bull Music Festival in February. Inspired by the telenovelas of her childhood, it will feature musicians from mariachi trio La Victoria, the Afro-Latin band Yanga, and musicians from Sister Mantos and F U Pay Us. —Zoie Matthew

Derek Schrek

From sometime in 1936 until last March, drinkers near the Miracle Mile (14,000 last St. Patrick’s Day alone) could sidle up to the copper bar at Tom Bergin’s for a draft beer or an Irish coffee, but the venerable tavern locked the doors in the spring and it’s unlikely they will reopen anytime soon. Current owner Derek Schrek was a neighbor and a fan of the historic restaurant for years before buying the place in 2013 and embarking on a lengthy restoration. “I lived in the building for eight months and did most of the work myself,” Schrek tells me. “My dad restored antique furniture and I taught myself woodworking. I restore old cars and am looking forward to restoring my 1925 house if I don’t lose it in this whole thing.”

Schrek says the restaurant had a lot of attention when he reopened with a chef who had previously worked for the French Laundry. A food writer for this magazine once said, “In all of my years of eating, I have never been more blown away by a meal.” For all the praise, the crowds didn’t show up consistently. Schrek says the little building no longer stands out as the neighborhood has grown around it. He says it’s hard to attract regular patrons who have to navigate nearby construction projects from the Petersen remodel to the Academy museum, to a subway that will be digging until 2023.

The Las Vegas-born actor has been on the hook for expenses at the shuttered location for nearly a year and has been searching for the next owner for just as long. “I’m absolutely hoping for the angel investor,” says Schrek, who still loves the spot but can’t see it continuing as a restaurant. “I would not have plowed every dollar I had into this place and spent six years of 100-hour weeks there if this place did not mean anything to me.”

I asked him to put his thoughts into a personal ad, in the hopes of attracting the next steward of the classic pub: “Seeking someone with more money than sense. Someone with a deep appreciation for an institution where multiyear losses would not deter them from the outside possibility of success. Where success is simply being the owner of a trophy business.” Hmm, maybe a little too blunt, but I hope it does the trick. Who do we know that 1) loves historic buildings, 2) needs a good place to drink, and 3) could benefit from big losses at tax time? —Chris Nichols

Adam Vourvoulis

What’s the deal with natural wine? That’s been a question sommelier-turned-mememaker-turned-winemaker Adam Vourvoulis has been grappling with since leaving the restaurant industry a couple of years ago. The native Angeleno and former beverage director at Trois Mec and Hatchet Hall is responsible for the tongue-in-cheek Instagram account @natural_whine, which regularly pokes fun at the rampant pretension of the wine world and has over 13,000 followers, a barrage of T-shirts that mash up streetwear and wine culture, and a podcast called Natural Disasters he co-hosts with wine writer Marissa A. Ross.

But in 2019, Vourvoulis is primed to put his money where his mouth. He’s expanding his wine label Vin de California (a nod to the nondescript “Vin de France” classification assigned to many nonconforming natural wines in France), which has so far has produced some truly delicious wines, including a juicy Zinfandel from Paso Robles and a crazy unfiltered pét-nat (sparkling wine). Most of Vin de California’s releases are made in collaboration with other Golden State natural winemakers, involve grapes purchased from different vineyards, or are produced using borrowed equipment; the flexibility and experimentation this nomadic lifestyle affords is sort of the point.

Vourvoulis also plans to sell his wines directly to consumers, a process he hopes will expand the platform of natural wines beyond those living in cosmopolitan cities with access to cool wine shops and bars, etc. Much like his Instagram account, his ultimate motivation is to question, and perhaps even disrupt, the stuffy norms that still pervade much of California winemaking. If it means more interesting (and affordable) bottles to drink, who can argue with that? —Garrett Snyder

RELATED: 10 Cultural Moments That Defined 2018 in L.A.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.