L.A.’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2020

From next-level lobster rolls to marvelous mapo tofu, we salute some of the city’s most delicious debuts—all available for takeout

This year, our annual compendium of dining debuts looks very different. There’s no talk of buzzy scenes, dazzling design, and intricate plating. Instead, it’s takeout, shifting business models, and struggles to survive. We’ve lost loved ones and beloved businesses, but amidst the devastation and heartbreak of the past year, one thing that’s remained constant is the power of restaurants to comfort, to bring us together, even when we’re only able to order delivery and gather with the members of our immediate household. So we’re celebrating an exciting, eclectic array of establishments, new and old, that have nourished both our bodies and spirits. Bon appetit!

When it opened in November 2019, Found Oyster became something of an instant hit: turned out East Hollywood really needed a Cape Cod-esque seafood joint, especially one serving simple but creative riffs on oceanic classics from chef Ari Kolender, 36, and hospitality vets Holly Fox, 30, and Adam Weisblatt, 36. That includes a scallop tostada ($14) that’s one of the city’s most exciting new dishes. Composed of just a handful of ingredients—a crispy tortilla topped with Maine Day Boat scallops, sliced Pink Lady apples, zingy dabs of yuzu kosho, and opal basil—it’s a tasty marvel, every element sounding clearly, vibrating delightfully off of its shipmates. It was once best consumed at the cozy clam shack’s bar, where, in the first few months of the restaurant’s life, Kolender, a Providence alum, would make it right in front of you and casually slide it across the counter. But it can also be enjoyed at home—Kolender adapted it for takeout by breaking the tostada into chips and chopping up the toppings (right). His lobster roll ($25) also thrills—even if you’re not one of those people who grew up on the East Coast and is way too excited by a hot dog bun heaped with shellfish—thanks to the addition of a genius lobster bisque sauce. A Shrimp Louie roll ($17), which turns the anachronistic salad preparation into a sandwich, is another smart twist, while the Ode to Swan crudo ($17)—perfectly fresh raw fish sliced skillfully and topped with nothing more than olive oil, flaky salt, and capers, is another simple beauty. I look forward to the day when I can again belly up to the bar, but, until then, Found’s takeout is my go-to on nights when I’m looking for a mix of familiar comforts (don’t lie to yourself, order the pimento cheese) and unique indulgence.

Found Oyster, 4880 Fountain Ave., East Hollywood.

I’m considering stocking up for the winter. Not with more toilet paper, but with Maria Elena Lorenzo’s uniquely flavorful, slightly thick, rich pozole ($12-$15). The soup, which I’m told freezes well, is one of several unique offerings at this small spot, with counter service, a drive-through window, and a patio. Lorenzo (left), 58, her husband, Juan Irra, and their five daughters opened in July, after running a popular cart and truck for years. The focus is a distinct cuisine from a part of Guerrero to which former slaves fled. Other standouts include the pork tamales with red sauce ($3), which are wrapped in fire-tinged banana leaves to impart a hint of smoke, and the sweet tamales ($2). The restaurant is purportedly the only Afro-Mexican place in the area, and it’s surely one of the most quietly thrilling new spots.

Tamales Elena Y Antojitos, 81801 Garfield Ave., Bell Gardens.

Johnny Lee doesn’t want to be just the chicken guy, but he can’t quite shake his reputation. At his tiny, new Chinatown place in the old Pok Pok Phat Thai space, the 33-year-old former Side Chick chef is offering up an ever-changing menu of great, thoughtfully prepared Chinese dishes, most of them Cantonese. But it’s the Hainan chicken, offered only as a weekend special, that threatens to steal the show. Lee typically sells out of the 200 or so chicken dinners he prepares on a given weekend, and credits their popularity to the special care he takes. He personally cooks and breaks down every bird, and all the chicken is cooked the day it’s sold, never in advance. In an untraditional move, he adds the chicken fat to rice after cooking it, making for a more even, unctuous coating of the grains. Lee puts just as much thought into regular dishes on the menu, and Pearl River Deli is worth a visit during the week. The mapo tofu ($11) is a bit subtler and more nuanced than many versions of the ubiquitous dish, made with silky, delicate Meiji tofu and a slightly more restrained, layered use of heat. A plate of char sui and noodles ($12) hits all the right notes. His chicken is amazing, but Lee is no one-hit wonder.

Pearl River Deli, 727 N. Broadway, Chinatown, 626-688-9507.

That most amazing slice of pizza you had that one very drunken, late night in your early twenties in New York lives on . . . in Long Beach. Last spring, it quickly became apparent to Jonathan Strader, co-owner of Culver City Southern gem Hatchet Hall, and Jack Leahy, the former L&E Oyster Bar chef, that the pandemic was going to drag on. Amid the uncertainty, the buddies, both 36, decided that pizza was a sure bet. In June, they found a good deal on rent and opened a simple operation—at this point, it’s never had indoor seating—making really great pies. Their crust, made with dough cold-fermented for 48 to 72 hours, is carby perfection: tangy, crispy, thin but with a healthy puff. There’s an ample layer of cheese that winks at boozy nights, but the whole-milk Grande mozzarella is of a higher grade than your average slice joint. The bright, simple sauce—raw, crushed tomatoes; olive oil; salt—nods at Naples, but things don’t get any more pretentious than that. The concise menu doesn’t offer any revelations about what should be atop pizza, but rather perfects the usual suspects: pepperoni comes in generous quantities, tiny
porky cups glistening with grease; a veggie supreme transcends the usual half-cooked-produce mediocrity of the form. The pies ($16-$19) are so good, Angelenos are trekking to Long Beach for them, but someday soon they might not have to: Leahy and Strader say they plan to open other locations.

Little Coyote, 2118 E. 4th St., Long Beach.

After gaining acclaim with the South Bay’s Jame Enoteca, chef Jackson Kalb, 30, says he was eager to show that his pastas aren’t just “good for El Segundo.” He more than proves himself with this Southern Italian spot, which he opened in September with partner Melissa Saka. Divine pastas are made with a mix of exacting care and minimal pretention. Spicy rigatoni alla vodka ($20) is pure craveable comfort. Raschiatelli ($28) topped with spicy sparerib ragù and pecorino fonduta requires roughly ten hours of labor and three different pork products and is pure hearty refinement bliss. Vegetable preparations, notably Japanese eggplant in spicy tomato oil ($14), also shine, as do the pizzas ($14-$24) on distinctly cracker-like crusts inspired by Rome’s famed Antico Forno Roscioli. In a more typical year, Ospi seems like it would have been an easy hit, drawing both Venice locals and farther-afield foodies to its Westside corner, with seating for 140. At the present moment, it’s still very much worth the drive for some next-level takeout: Most of the pastas travel surprisingly well. To fully appreciate the pizza, however, it’s best to enjoy a slice in your car. No judgments.

Ospi, 2025 Pacific Ave., Venice.

Don’t tell Child Protective Services, but there were some mornings in the very early, unsettlingly uncertain days of lockdown when I had to order a bagel from bed to motivate myself to get up. Thankfully, the city is currently undergoing a new-wave bagel boom, and options abound. Of them, Hank’s, which opened in late November 2019, stands out. Chef Trevor Faris, 36, who owns the deli with his wife, Kelley, grew up in Pasadena and isn’t constrained by New York notions of what a bagel and lox should be. His carb creations skew slightly bready with a more open crumb structure and a subtle sourdough tang, making them ideal vessels for sandwiches, which is where Hank’s truly excels. For a salmon bagel, Faris cures—but doesn’t smoke—his own fish with lemon zest and dill, giving it a vaguely Nordic flavor profile. The gravlax is sliced quite thickly, which traditionalists would consider a travesty but actually lends it an amazing texture, working wonderfully in a sandwich filled with thoughtful touches like salted cucumbers and pickled onions. Valley residents seem to agree: Hank’s often sells out of its bagels before 10 a.m. on the weekends, leaving would-be customers furious. Thankfully, the Farises are in the process of opening a 3,000-square-foot Sherman Oaks commissary and cafe that will allow them to meet demand at the Burbank original and help us all get out of bed.

Hank’s Bagels, 4315 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank.

Chef Joshua Gil knows that a Beverly Hills Mexican restaurant with multiple patios and seating for 100-plus might not initially conjure food-world cred—that’s why he gave his restaurant a name that literally demands attention. It deserves it. Gil, a 44-year-old Baja native who nabbed a Michelin star as chef de cuisine at Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, is cooking thrilling, contemporary Mexican fare with, he says, “a California sensibility.” That means market-driven dishes that are imaginative but not overly contrived—salmon skin chicharrón ($14) with fermented garlic aioli, a wonderfully bright cauliflower ceviche ($17) with pineapple and habanero peppers, and a divine slow-cooked Heritage Farms pork shoulder ($50) served with a black-lime gastrique, celtuce, and hearty, richly flavorful frijoles charros cooked with a pig’s head. The latter is available as part of Mírame’s to-go family meal, which also includes house-made tortillas; a memorable riff on Caesar salad with pork chicharrón, roasted vegetables and goat cheese; chocolate flan; and an adorable little bottle of margaritas. At just $95 for two people, it’s an amazingly affordable way to sample Gil’s cooking. Look again. Mírame is full of surprises.

Mírame, 419 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills.

Pro tip: Only go to Dodger Stadium for COVID tests Wednesday through Sunday. Arrive as early as possible, no matter what your actual appointment time is. Before you get to the people with clipboards, start an online order for a breakfast sandwich ($13) served on one of pastry maven Thessa Diadem’s sublime biscuits. After you toss your saliva swab into the bin, press “Go” on that order and hightail it to Silver Lake. When chef Jonathan Whitener, 33, opened his follow-up to Here’s Looking At You in late November 2019, I quickly succumbed to ADB’s charms: the eclectic menu of haute diner fare; superb french fries served with a great aioli; the unfaltering hospitality from managing partner Lien Ta, 39, and her staffers, even when dealing with rabid brunch crowds. When the first lockdown went into effect, the restaurant had only lived up to the promise of its name and been open through dinner service a handful of times. In the murky months since, it has established itself as a go-to for elevated comfort food to go, from fried chicken sandwiches ($15) to burritos ($4-14) to smoked meats and fish ($16-19). For a time in the fall, it served exciting dinner offerings—including an amazing steak tartare au poivre—in an adjacent parking lot pop-up called Helluva Time. Whitener, Diadem, and Ta’s offerings are evolving amid the uncertainty of the moment, and I’m hungry for whatever’s next.

All Day Baby, 3200 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake.

It sounds corny, but you can really taste the love in a carefully made sandwich. This is certainly true at chef Wes Avila’s new venture. In August, Avila left Guerrilla Tacos, the acclaimed downtown haute taqueria he founded, because, he says, he no longer saw eye to eye with his business partners. The more the venture grew from its food-cart origins, the further away from the kitchen he got. “My heart wasn’t in it,” the 42-year-old says. The opposite is true at Angry Egret, which Avila opened, without any investors, on the edge of Chinatown in October. Feeling as though there are enough fancy taco joints in the city (many of which he inspired), he opted for bread over tortillas, creating torta-esque sandwiches with farmers’ market fare. The headliner is the Whittier Blvd ($13): beef belly braised in star anise-laced lard for eight hours, then stuffed on a roll with horseradish cream, avocado, queso fresco, serrano chile, and red pepper escabeche. It’s hearty and decadent—especially if you opt to add a duck egg, which you should—but also perfectly balanced. Sandwiches with fried ingredients, like the Baja shrimp po’boy ($16, above) and a veggie number ($14) with Broccolini tempura, miraculously manage to remain crispy and travel well. The modest operation has outdoor seating for dozens, and Avila would love to eventually to do some “dinette after dark” specials, perhaps bringing in a spit and pizza oven to make al pastor pizzas. While he could have used his COVID time to relax, Avila says he’s much happier to be back in the kitchen. “I wanted to create again.”

Angry Egret Dinette, 970 N. Broadway, Ste. 114, Chinatown.

This casual spot for sushi rolls ($5.50-$7 each)—an offshoot of the more high-end Sushi Note in Sherman Oaks—had been open only six weeks and was just gaining traction when the first shutdown went into effect in March. It closed completely for two months, and when it reopened in May, business was very slow. “It was honestly pretty bleak,” says co-owner and director of operations Sarah Dietz, 31. In June, she met with the restaurant’s seven staffers, and they brainstormed ways to stay afloat. “I said to them, ‘My only goal is that we all have jobs in six months,’” Dietz recalls, her voice quivering. Staffers suggested new menu items—a hand roll kit ($38), donburi rice bowls ($16-22), and a wonderful spicy tuna crispy-rice starter ($9)—that have proven quite popular, and business has rightfully improved. Sogo’s rice is cooked with the same careful consideration and seasoning that sushi master Kiminobu Saito uses at Sushi Note, and it manages to maintain a great temperature and texture, even when being delivered. Fish is not just fresh but flavorful, each type thoughtfully paired with ideal accompaniments, from a tangy yuzu-pepper sauce that makes salmon sing to brandy-soaked albacore with garlic-ginger ponzu and crispy onions. Sogo is hardly the only concept in town devoted to rolls, but it has mastered the form.

Sogo Roll Bar, 4634 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz. 

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