Choosing where to go out to eat is hard. According to every stand-up comic from the early 2000s, it is often the source of conflict between romantic partners. That’s why you shouldn’t do it. Take all the frightening potential for human error out of your decision and put your trust in The Matrix (this list).
Even if you’re not vegan, you need to check out Erven. Maybe especially if you’re not vegan. Come on, expand your horizons and eat a plant or two. They’re not bad. Chef Nick Erven (Saint Martha, Fundamental) is making otherworldly vegan food, like the massive beer-battered tofu sandwich with manchamantal (similar to mole) on a pretzel bun, or a bowl of noodles in a charred brassica broth that has so much funk and depth that you’re surprised it contains neither msg nor animal parts.
You need to go to Coni’Seafood—and then go back, and back, and back, and back, and back to try all the hits on the menu. The aguachile, raw head-on shrimp bathed in lemon juice and jalapeño puree, is absolutely one of the best dishes in the city, as is the pescadao zarandeado, AKA whole-grilled snook. Other things you need to eat in no particular order: ceviche marinero (raw shrimp ceviche with fresh mango in a worcestershire-heavy marinade), chipotle shrimp, chicharrones de pescado, smoked marlin tacos, and the langostinos. Kick back in their outside patio and drink several micheladas.
Their pizzas remind you of DiGiorno, but in the best possible way. When almost every new pizza spot in L.A. is doing ultra-thin-crust Neapolitan, it’s a welcome change to have some bread and heft underneath all that tomato and cheese. Chef Sydney Hunter III, formerly of Petit Trois and Bastide, finally has a restaurant of his own in Silver Lake, and he’s using it to churn out rustic-but-chef-y Italian fare like roasted cauliflower with bagna cauda, and eggplant with chili flake and parmesan.
There are few dishes more fun to eat than bossam, and there’s no better place to eat it than Kobawoo House in Koreatown. It’s a giant platter of steamed pork belly, raw oysters, kimchi, pickled radish, shrimp paste, and other condiments that you wrap up in cabbage leaves and… I don’t want to say eat it like a taco, but… yeah, you eat it like a taco. The texture of the pork belly is a squishy, bouncy contrast to every crispy slab out there, and it’s a welcome change to go along with all the acidic crunch of vegetables. Go eat it now.
Chef Curtis Stone—one of L.A.’s true celebrity chefs (check his IMDB page!)—followed up his ambitious first opening, Maude, with an even more ambitious spot. Gwen is massive, and it is beautiful, and it is absolutely impressive in all ways. Like, I felt more impressive as a person just by eating at Gwen. Even if you forego the whole-animal tasting menu to eat a la carte at the bar, a server comes by with a case full of steak knives to let you hand-pick your weapon. Gwen might also be putting out the best charcuterie in L.A. right now. There’s a salumi darkened with cacao and dried porcini that’s like nothing you’ve ever had before. All earthy and fragrant and whatnot.
2016 will be remembered as the year of Sonoran food… and also as the year the Earth burned. But mainly the Sonoran food thing. Characterized by wood-grilled meats in blistery flour tortillas, we’ve seen carne asada juggernauts like Loqui and Salazar spring up, but no one does it quite like Sonoratown. The tacos—simply dressed three-bite affairs—are great, but the caramelo, carne asada, beans, and melty cheese.
Chef Jonathan Whitener was holding down the fort at Animal for a few years while chefs Jon and Vinny were opening more restaurants and doing guest spots on Top Chef and stuff, but now he’s on his own at Here’s Looking at You. And he’s killing it. Coarsely ground brisket tartare is topped with sweet soy, fermented turnip, and Japanese chili flake, and it’s served with almost-burnt grilled bread. Char, sweetness, funk, and ice cold beefiness is a wild combo, but one you’re going to want to eat again. And again.
This might be the only restaurant in L.A. where you can get a double pastrami cheeseburger, a bean burrito, and a 12-course omakase at the same time. The kitchen is split down the middle—sushi bar on one side, old-school char-broiled burger joint on the other, and both sides serve remarkably high-quality versions of each. If you’ve never eaten chili cheese fries and albacore belly in the same meal, you haven’t lived up to your potential as an Angeleno.
Forgive the vulgarity, but: Suck it, New York. Man, I’ve always wanted to say that. Great hand-rolled bagels are finally in L.A., and we were in some serious need of them. Belle’s started as a pop-up, but now it has its very own storefront in Highland Park, where they’re slinging just a handful of varieties with some unorthodox toppings like beet cream cheese schmear and crispy salmon skin.
You should be eating more Persian food. At Shaherzad on Westwood Boulevard, you can see and smell the bread being cooked fresh just away from the dining room, and it’s served with sliced sweet white onion before the meal. Go with the classics, like baghali polo—lima bean and dill-infused rice—or the intensely herby ghormeh sabzi. But the winner here is fesenjan—chicken stewed in ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Low-key, it’s basically a Persian mole, and it’s sweet and sour and nutty and earthy and completely awesome.
Josh Scherer is the Senior Food Writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CulinaryBroDown. He has a profound emotional relationship with Hot Pockets.