Our list of the best things to eat and drink in L.A. this year includes a perfectly executed everything bagel, a pop-up turned permanent space that takes ceviche to the next level, and a sake tasting bar that caters to experts and newbies alike.
The Window at American Beauty
425 Rose Ave., Venice
At this tiny side hustle outside of Paul Hibler’s Venice steakhouse, you’ll find a mind-blowing burger that’s also a bargain. The smooshed patty is just $4 and comes topped with American cheese, frizzled onions, and snappy house-cured pickles. A dab of pinkish sauce lends a tangy kick, but it’s the extra-caramelized (almost charred) crust on the meat that makes these griddle-pressed beauties stand out among the city’s new wave of thin, diner-style burgers.
1680 Vine St., Hollywood
This year might have been the year of the backyard smoker turned pro (Slab BBQ, Moo’s, Bartz), but the best ’cue in town is still made by a guy who put in a decade or so at New York’s top fine-dining kitchens. At lunchtime Adam Perry Lang’s eponymous nighttime steakhouse turns into APL BBQ, a brick-and-mortar version of the chef’s smoke-filled pop-ups behind the Jimmy Kimmel lot. Pulled pork and smoky, tender brisket are the stars, but it’s the massive spice-rubbed beef that steals the show. No sauce required.
3600 W. 6th St., Koreatown
Sure, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are all the rage these days, but the best meatless patty in town is the one that doesn’t have millions of dollars in venture capital behind it. At Cassell’s Hamburgers, the iconic lunch counter that dates back to the 1940s, chef Christian Page makes his patty from mushrooms, farro, zucchini, red onion, miso, and flax. The combo makes for great savory flavor and a crunchy exterior.
La Caravana Salvadorian Restaurant
1306 N. Lake Ave, Pasadena
El Salvador’s stuffed cornmeal disks are a simple comfort food that’s easy to get wrong, but for 25 years La Caravana Salvadorian Restaurant has been getting it just right. The ratio of hand-formed masa patty to flavorful stuffing is in perfect balance, with just a bit of queso Oaxaca spilling out and browning on the griddle to form a crispy-edged halo. Order the platter of mini versions ($14.95), and you’ll receive 10 palm-size rounds with your choice of fillings.
»Chocolate Chip Cookie
9815 National Blvd., Cheviot Hills
Located within a United Oil convenience store just off the 10 freeway, Zooies Cookies serves a brown-butter, chocolate chip specimen that takes the cake. It achieves an ideal balance of crispy outside, chewy inside, and a nutty, complex flavor, thanks to butter that bakery owner Arezou Appel carefully browns. Then there’s the chocolate: a mix engineered for maximum pleasure of Ghirardelli semisweet chips and irregular chunks from a Callebaut dark bar. “If the chocolate is one-note,” says Appel, whose husband owns the station, “it isn’t as fun as if you have a little up and down.” Indeed.
»Place for a First Date
Ray’s and Stark Bar
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile
It’s wise to stage initial encounters at locales that accommodate a wide arrray of romantic outcomes, and the chic outdoor patio and restaurant at LACMA fits the bill. It’s easy to flee if your date starts talking about locking up Hillary or crushing on the Kardashians, but if things are going well, you can cozy up on one of the outdoor couches and order another round of thyme elderflower gimlets ($12) or a pizza bianca ($18) to share.
143 S. La Brea Ave., Mid City
Ordering a turkey sandwich is all but synonymous with playing it safe (read: boring). Not so at Quinn and Karen Hatfield’s Sycamore Kitchen. At their bustling cafe and bakery, they pair thick slices of brined turkey breast with gooey Camembert cheese, arugula, and a dab of tart cherry mostarda that brings everything into focus. And the rustic bread it comes on is a huge improvement over the sad, spongy stuff used at the local health food shop.
2829 Bellevue Ave., Silver Lake
Sometimes greatness is more about judicious restraint than indulgence. That’s the case with Maury’s Bagels. The fare is significantly smaller—under 5 ounces and about the size of a woman’s palm—than the overgrown pucks we’ve become used to, and the everything option is merely sprinkled, not coated, with seeds, onion, garlic, and salt. The result is a chewy—not fluffy—bagel, where the delightful flavor of the yeasty dough isn’t overshadowed by the toppings. After years of popping up at farmers’ markets and coffeeshops, Maury’s thankfully opened a brick-and-mortar location earlier this year.
There’s been a boom in local craft distilling, but the bottle we keep restocking on our bar cart is Mulholland Gin ($26.99). The artisan hooch—a project of two longtime friends, one of whom happens to be Vice Principals actor Walton Goggins—scored the distillery its first double gold medal at last year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It has distinctive lime, lavender, and vanilla notes and makes a great aviation cocktail or an especially citrusy negroni.
2524½ Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake
On the surface, ceviche is a simple dish of raw fish, acid, chilies, and herbs. But in the hands of former lawyer Octavio Olivas, it’s an art form. After years of running the Ceviche Project pop-up across Los Angeles and in Mexico, Olivas permanently parked in a compact Silver Lake space in April. He often employs unexpected ingredients like yuzu-habanero sorbet and shaved celery, but he knows that the seafood should always be the star of the show.
Prime Cut Beef Jerky
2017 S. Hacienda Blvd., Hacienda Heights
Forget those dehydrated-meat stands you pass on the drive to Vegas. Satisfy your cravings instead at Prime Cut Beef Jerky, a family-run shop in the San Gabriel Valley that specializes in hand-cut Chinese- and American-style beef jerky. There are both traditional and unique flavors, from black pepper to spicy curry, on offer, but what makes these meaty strips stand out is texture: super tender and moist with the perfect amount of chew.
»Pizza by the Slice
2019 E. 7th St., downtown, and 1837 E. 7th St., Long Beach
New Yorkers might claim otherwise, but L.A. has great pizza by the slice—and Pizzanista! proves it. The key is a strong base: The local chain makes its dough by drawing on a centuries-old sourdough culture from Naples that produces a crispy, flavorful crust. The White slice ($3.80) is a study in simple perfection, with nothing more than mozzarella, creamy globs of ricotta, olive oil, and salt. The Meat Jesus ($4.55) is delightfully decadent, topped with pepperoni, sausage, and bacon. Whichever you choose, the slice is right.
»Place for a Third Date
624 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park
When things are heating up in a new romance, head to Republique, Hancock Park’s delicious, dimly lit French boîte. The popular spot’s shareable plates encourage intimacy, while communal tables and the well-dressed crowd take the pressure off and provide plenty for you and your date to talk about. Plus the seductive cuisine—iced oysters ($4), the sexiest bread and butter ($8) in L.A.—are certain to get you both in the mood. If you have time for dessert (at the restaurant), don’t miss the passion-inspiring basil panna cotta ($13).
11057 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.
The expansion of Kelly Xiao and Lynn Liu’s venerable San Gabriel Valley restaurant, Sichuan Impression, to West L.A. was big news in the food world last October. An entire swath of Westsiders can now enjoy the tongue-numbing pleasures of their mapo tofu without battling traffic on the 10. Cubes of silky tofu simmer in a lava-colored sauce that has had the flavor cranked to full volume, thanks to minced beef, green garlic sprouts, fermented bean paste, and a near-indecent amount of chile oil. The final touch is a sprinkle of ground Sichuan peppercorns that lends a tiny jolt of electricity to each bite.
Highland Park Wine
5918½ N. Figueroa St., Highland Park
Held in the back of a top-notch culinary complex on hip Figueroa Avenue, Highland Park Wine’s Wednesday night tastings have a delightful, neighborly vibe. A sister shop to Silverlake Wine, HPW features a similar selection of intriguing, curated bottles. The tastings ($15), held from 5 to 9 p.m., change weekly and include three or four generous pours, charcuterie, and fresh, fluffy focaccia from neighboring Triple Beam Pizza. You can even bring the kids. Early in the evening, families with small children sip and nibble before heading to
6600 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
There are many fine charcuterie boards around town, but the meat plate at Gwen has the most prime cuts. Charcutier Teresa Cabansag does everything in-house: butchering, smoking, and curing her meats and creating intriguing flavor combinations like five-spice salami spiked with plum wine and persimmon. Cabansag’s charcuterie stands alone, but the house-made pickles and bread it comes with are always welcome.
George’s Burger Stand
2311 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights
When Boyle Heights’ 55-year-old George’s Burger Stand relaunched last year, new owner Armando De La Torre Jr. (who also runs the beloved taco chainlet Guisados) knew that the drive-in had to serve a bean-and-cheese burrito. And with iconic East L.A. burrito shop Al & Bea’s a short drive away, it had to be a great one. George’s take on the humble combination absolutely delivers: Molten refried beans play nice with shredded Longhorn cheddar, while a stewed chile-and-tomato salsa lends a kiss of heat.
3343 W. Pico Blvd., Mid City, and 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City
You don’t have to get too fancy to get the best bolognese sauce in the city. Pasta Sisters, the tiny Pico Boulevard noodle shop that branched out to Culver City last year, serves up a delicious rendition for just $12.50. Slowly cooked for eight hours, it’s rich and comforting without being too heavy. Diners choose their pasta shape—we suggest the papardelle—and orders come with house-made focaccia for swiping up any leftover sauce. This is a bolognese that’s too tasty to leave any bite behind.
The Musso & Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Some old-school L.A. restaurants are beloved for purely nostalgic reasons, and some are truly enjoyable for their past and present. The Musso & Frank Grill falls squarely in the latter camp. The restaurant is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and it’s as satisfying as it was back in the days of Bogart and Bacall. Waiters, clad in red-and-black dinner jackets, are consistently charming; the steaks ($28 to $52) are well-cooked, and the martinis are crisp and cold.
Go Get Em Tiger
Locations in Highland Park, Los Feliz, Larchmont, and downtown
In a city where a cup of iced coffee is an essential accessory, the cold brew ($4.50) from Go Get Em Tiger will make you the best-dressed. It’s brewed for a whole 24 hours, making the taste extra rich. The resulting nearly black gold is served over large, cocktail-style ice cubes—none of that rabbit pellet nonsense—that melt slowly, keeping your coffee cold and strong.
»Sushi Hand Roll
KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar
As the name makes clear, KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar was the first sushi joint to exclusively serve hand rolls, and its offerings remain the best in class. At each of the chain’s four locations, chefs scoop and wrap ultrafresh fillings—rich toro tuna, creamy bay scallops, crab or lobster—with the utmost speed, ensuring each creation is served at the ideal texture and temperature, before the nori wrapper gets soggy, and the fish gets too warm from the rice. The result is a perfect three-bite wonder—for no more than
Papillon International Bakery
The cheese-boat bread dish from the republic of Georgia known as khachapuri is having a moment. It’s popping up randomly around town, with a shop devoted to it even opening within a trendy Vietnamese sandwich shop in Hollywood earlier this year. But our favorite version of the decadent carb concoction hails from the decades-old Papillon International Bakery. It has a lighter, flakier crust than others, and it’s filled with mozzarella and wonderfully salty Bulgarian feta. Papillon calls its version Khachapuri Adjarakan ($9.50), a reference to the Adjara region of Georgia, but we just call it delicious.
JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch
Wednesdays and Saturdays at Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, 2nd St. and Arizona Ave., Sundays at Hollywood Farmers’ Market, 1600 Ivar Ave.
If you think avocados are avocados, go and talk to Laura Ramirez of JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch. Ramirez grows about 25 varieties of avocado, and she’ll happily explain that the bacon avocado’s creamy flesh spreads like butter or that you can eat the skin of the little Mexicolas that she has at the end of summer. Local chefs like Jeremy Fox love JJ’s, and your next bowl of homemade guac will, too.
Spoon by H
7158 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax District
It can be hard to get excited about a smoothie until you try the ones at Spoon by H. David Chang, the New York megachef behind Majordomo, hailed the Korean cafe’s dumpling soup as one of the best things he’s eaten, but its smoothies ($6 to $8) are also not to be missed. Available in flavors like lychee-grape, lemon-yuzu, and watermelon with cacao nibs and topped with fresh flowers, tiny succulents, and intricately cut fruits, they’re at once Instagram-worthy and irresistibly delicious.
Brian’s Shave Ice
11301 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 103, West Los Angeles
Brian’s Shave Ice ($4.25 to $5.75) is as close as you can get to Hawaii without heading to the airport. Siblings Karlen and Cole Kunitomo bought their West L.A. shop from the original owner, Brian Kim, two years ago, and they have an authentic devotion to the frozen treat. Their syrups aren’t overly sweet, and you can get pineapple Dole Whip as a base and top it all off with a dash of li hing mui powder (dried salty plum flakes) or creamy condensed milk. Don’t forget to grab a Kona coffee ($3.50) to delay the inevitable sugar crash.
1360 Allison Ave., Echo Park
If, like many people, you find sake confusing and intimidating, check out Ototo, an inconspicuous gem that opened near Dodger Stadium in May. It focuses on craft rice wines, nearly everything is available by the glass, and the friendly staff is happy to help you find something you’ll like. Order another round and some of the bar’s drinking snacks—hirame crudo, okonomiyaki—and bask in your newfound knowledge.
RELATED: The Best of L.A. 2019
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