These 9 Local Chefs Are Helping Make L.A. a Dining Destination

Meet the people behind the dishes you love

It takes a lot to stand out in the country’s best dining city. These nine cooks more than meet the challenge.

Nyesha Arrington of Native

From her days working in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Joël Robuchon and Josiah Citrin to her stint as a Top Chef contestant to her celebrated, albeit short-lived, run at Leona, Nyesha Arrington has more than earned her place as one of the city’s most influential chefs. After leaving Leona in early 2017 and traveling the globe, she was back in L.A. by year’s end, busy with the launch of Native. The restaurant is both an ode to the produce of Southern California (much of it from the nearby Santa Monica farmers’ market) and her own multicultural roots—predominantly Korean and African American with recently discovered Japanese and Cherokee lineage. The roasted dumpling squash says everything about her approach. 620 Santa Monica, Blvd., Suit A, Santa Monica

Jessica Koslow of Sqirl

Whatever your opinion of grain bowls and avocado toast, Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow has played a major role in their seeming ubiquity around town. She opened Sqirl in 2011 as a jam-making operation in Virgil Village. In 2012 she partnered with craft coffee mavericks Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski for a café pop-up serving bespoke brews and jam-topped toast. It was an overnight sensation. Since then Koslow has turned Sqirl into the definitive L.A. brunch destination by building her reputation around vibrant dishes like sorrel pesto rice bowl and ricotta toast. Now she is set to open Tel, a massive Westside restaurant-cum-marketplace focused on pan-Jewish cuisine, from Middle Eastern and Israeli to Eastern European. 720 N. Virgil Ave., #4, East Hollywood

Evan Funke of Felix

Los Angeles is enjoying something of an Italian food renaissance lately, and no one may be more central to it than Evan Funke. After leaving Culver City’s Bucato in 2015, Funke traveled to Bologna, Italy, and studied the local techniques for making pasta by hand. The work paid off as, with his return to open Felix along Abbot Kinney last year, the chef is back in peak form, producing some of the best pastas this side of the Mediterranean. Take one bite of the tonnarelli cacio e pepe (a simple dish that’s perfectly crafted) or the sfincione (an airy focaccia loaf whose simplicity belies some deep, delicious magic), and you’ ll see why Felix was ranked one of 2017’s best new restaurant by critics locally and across the country. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice

Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer of Kismet

Sarah Hymanson Sara Kramer had a whirlwind 2017, opening their much-anticipated Kismet that January and watching the accolades mount. Their stellar menu is a combination of perfectly balanced Middle Eastern flavors and ridiculously fresh Southern California produce, but Hymanson and Kramer have also gained praise for helping redefine kitchen culture. Two women succeeding on a male-dominated scene, they’ve replaced the verbal abuse of so many kitchens with a familial spirit and made staff diversity a priority. In that way Hymanson and Kramer embody the new wave of California chefs: hyperlocal, socially conscious, bold yet refined, and inventive. 4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz

Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market

Even in a city where Thai food was already top-notch, Kris Yenbamroong is infusing new life and ideas into the mix. One of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2016, he was never classically trained. Yenbamroong grew up in the kitchen of Talésai, the Thai place that two generations of his family have run on Sunset. Shortly after returning from studying film at NYU, he was tasked by his mother with rejuvenating the menu. Unhappy with the tired cuisine replicated in dozens of other Thai shops, Yenbamroong decided to venture out on his own, emerging with Thai street food at Night + Market in late 2010. Since then he’s grown Night + Market to three vividly colored locations where the mission statement is summed up in the Thai phrase aharn glam lao, or “food made to facilitate drinking and fun-having among friends.” Multiple locations

Johnny Ray Zone of Howlin’ Rays

There’s a reason people routinely line up for hours for Howlin’ Ray’s fried-chicken sandwiches. The food is just that good. Zone, an L.A. native, honed his skills at Gordon Ramsay’s West Hollywood restaurant the London and Thomas Keller’s Beverly Hills outpost of Bouchon. From there, he revitalized the kitchen at La Poubelle in Franklin Village before heading to Sean Brock’s Husk in Nashville. That’s where Zone came across Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, an experience he credits with changing the course of his life. We credit it with inspiring what has become one of the most desired dishes in the city, a heartfelt tribute to a fiery Nashville staple. Zone is expanding the original Howlin’ location to ease the lines. A second location is slated for Culver City. 727 N. Broadway, #128, Chinatown

Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish

One of the most exciting developments in L.A.’s food scene over the last few years has been the rise of what some people call Chicano cuisine and others call Alta California cuisine—cooking that blends traditional Mexican and pre-Columbian recipes with Southern California ingredients and influences. Ray Garcia emerged as one of its champions—and pioneers—in 2015 when he opened Broken Spanish near Staples Center and B.S. Taqueria several blocks away. Whether it’s replacing non-native flavors like cinnamon and coriander with indigenous ones like epazote and papalo or giving a classic chile relleno plate an haute cuisine twist with soubise, Garcia is laying the culinary groundwork for the future of Mexican American cooking. 1050 S. Flower St., downtown

Jordan Kahn of Vespertine

This past year Jordan Kahn has set out to redefine the restaurant, casting Vespertine as a billion-year-old relic of a moon-worshipping civilization and its foods as the stuff of mythology. Lasting for several hours, dinner becomes immersive theater: Atmospheric music guides you through dark hallways, and a waitstaff dressed in asymmetrical garb seems to appear and disappear into the walls. In describing the Vespertine experience, Kahn has said that “food isn’t always the most important part of a meal,” though we think eating osha root with dried quince skin from a seemingly volcanic bowl or being served a bright orange wedge of mango jelly atop a basalt-like sculpture is pretty memorable. Regardless of whether you love or hate the experience, it will take years to see how far Kahn’s ideas ripple through the culinaryworld. 3599 Hayden Ave., Culver City

This article was featured in our 2018 Dining L.A. Guide

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