The Top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2016

These star newcomers represent L.A. at its no-limits finest. From a beachside vegan café to a strip mall destination in the South Bay to a rotating cast of concepts in a Chinatown shopping center, 2016 was a year of eating on the glorious edge
Erven’s vegan dessert sandwiches

Photograph by Dylan + Jeni

No. 1

Erven

514-516 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica 310-260-2255

In this high-ceilinged warren a few blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, a mural of Mick Jagger and Gandhi in a lip-lock provides an irreverent backdrop to what amounts to an unconventional culinary statement. The marketplace and restaurant are modest, but they articulate something fresh about vegan cuisine. With dish after dish, Nick Erven reveals himself as a chef pushing the repertoire beyond simulations of meat that have become the plant-based norm. His cooking isn’t obsessively cutting edge but is never lazy, either. So a lunchtime sandwich gains satisfying heft with folded strips of raw squash in a bundle that’s slipped into a bun dabbed with cashew spread. Tiny beets that sit on avocado mousse have the tweezered exactitude of fine dining; a deep sear on the plancha lends onion bread pudding the hominess of great diner food. Approachable and robust (without egg yolk or butter for richness), Erven’s menu dodges preachiness while staying true to a low-key idealism. If the aim is to be good to one’s inner self, it’s veiled by enough aged Rioja, mirthful sauerkraut doughnut holes, and seaweed “Doritos” to make the theme optional. —P.K.

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