Each Friday, the Digest surveys the burgeoning L.A. restaurant scene and compiles this (highly unscientific) list of the most hyped and heralded restaurants in town this instant. Whether old or new, big or small, near or far, these are the restaurants that have people talking. Whatever that means. Anyway, we recommend getting a seat at these places while you still can.
1. Odys + Penelope
Fresh off the closure of their acclaimed fine-dining restaurant Hatfield’s, husband-and-wife duo Quinn and Karen Hatfield wasted no time launching Odys + Penelope, a more casual, grill-centric restaurant that channels the type of cooking the Hatfields like to eat in their own home. There are Argentinian-style and Uruguyuan-style grills, offering different levels of char for meats and vegetables, along with a churrasco and a smoker. Don’t forget Karen’s renowned dessert items either.
Neal Fraser’s long-awaited restaurant has opened in the former rectory of the old St. Vibiana’s cathedral. Fraser’s ambitious multicultural roster of dishes includes a riff on pozole with crisp pork belly and chiles, spot prawns with sea urchin and wasabi “snow,” Delicata squash salad with feta and hazelnuts, and a Thai-style Dungeness crab soup.
The latest surprise to hit Santa Monica is Aestus, a mid-century modern restaurant helmed by former Royce chef Alex Ageneau. On the menu are seasonal dishes like fried smelt with crudites, a house-made charcuterie board, grass-fed beef with sunchokes, and a fire-roasted half chicken. Cocktails are available, but don’t neglect the wine list, curated by the co-founder of Santa Rosa winery Lioco.
4. Ramen Champ
Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, currently home to Chego, Pok Pok Phat Thai, and ice cream shop Scoops, is welcoming another new vendor: Ramen Champ. Alvin Cailan of Eggslut is turning his attention to Japan’s most beloved noodle soup, focusing on profoundly porky tonkotsu ramen and izakaya-style dishes like fried chicken karaage and takoyaki “tots.”
5. Le Comptoir
Inside an unmarked space inside Koreatown’s recently refurbished Normandie Hotel is the new (and permanent) home of Gary Menes long-running pop-up, Le Comptoir, which serves a vegetable-centric menu to 10 guests at an intimate kitchen-side counter. Much of the produce is sourced from Menes’ farm in Long Beach, allowing diners to taste the ultimate in farm-to-counter cooking.
The owners of popular vegan spot Elf Café have opened shop in Atwater Village, serving hot-from-the-fryer falafel on house-baked pita bread. There’s also beet and feta sandwiches, and–as a departure from the veg-only mantra–a lamb sandwich with yogurt. Stand inside at the small counter or grab a picnic bench along Glendale Boulevard and indulge in an updated take on one of the world’s oldest street foods.
7. The District by Hannah An
The daughter of Crustacean matriarch Helene An has is set to open the first restaurant of her own this weekend, a bright, luxuriant space in Beverly Grove. The menu doesn’t stray far from An’s Vietnamese roots, with the kitchen preparing Cali-influenced takes on dishes like lemongrass beef noodle soup and wok-roasted lobster.
8. Pok Pok Phat Thai
Fans of the Portland-based Thai food empire that is Pok Pok have reason to celebrate. Chef Andy Ricker and his crew are slinging wok-fried plates of pad thai and other street-style stir-fry dishes inside Chinatown’s Far East Plaza. The quick-serve concept will keep hungry crowds busy while the larger, main branch of Pok Pok L.A. opens further north in Chinatown. In the meantime, try the Stumptown Thai-style iced coffee, or one of the tangy drinking vinegars.
The most exciting development in L.A. mall food in perhaps forever, chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin Del Campo have officially opened their quick-service stand inside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The focus is on crispy fried-to-order rolled tacos topped with the variety of sauces and moles that the duo have become known for at Bell’s La Casita Mexicana. Their larger full-service restaurant next door, Mexicano, is scheduled to follow Flautas by opening in the next few weeks (hopefully).
10. The Independence
Does Santa Monica need another gastropub? It does if barman Vincenzo Marianella of Copa d’Oro is at the helm. Along with clever cocktails and a generous beer and wine list, you’ll find bar-friendly foods like chicken wings with salsa verde, a gruyere-topped burger, shellfish stew, and a dry-aged steak with mushrooms.