Each Friday, the Digest surveys the burgeoning L.A. restaurant scene and compiles a list of the newest, most hyped and heralded restaurants in town this instant. Whether big or small, near or far, these are the restaurants that have people talking—us among them. Snag a seat at these hotspots while you still can.
The “pay what you wish” policy is long gone—as are the 39-cent cups of coffee and $2 liver ‘n’ onion plates—but the Jell-O stays! Not only did that become a popular hashtag after it was announced that pastry chef Michael Luna would take over the sweets program, but it became an unofficial mantra for the food at newly revamped Clifton’s. The Jell-O stays: This is going to be old-school, and you’re going to love it. Smoked brisket and turkey are carved in front of your face as you snake around the cafeteria line and the mac and cheese from chef Jason Fullilove comes served in a tiny enamel bowl with metal handles. Upstairs, at the Monarch bar, they’re serving up—what else—Old Fashioneds.
What does former Osteria Mozza chef Matt Molina do when he’s not confined to Italian? Find out at E.R.B. (short for Everson Royce Bar), the new Arts District drinking and small-plates destination from Silver Lake Wine owner Randy Clement. It’s a dream team of sorts: Clement, a sort of manic wine wizard, is popping the bottles; Chris Ojeda, a Varnish vet, is on the jiggers; and Molina, a James Beard Award winner, mans the grill. Surprise! There’s a mozzarella dish, with tomato and cucumber. But there are also potato taquitos, crispy shrimp and pork dumplings, and buttermilk biscuits with honey butter. The kitchen serves till 1 a.m., so we expect this to become a serious chefs hang.
Sitting non ironically in a Hollywood strip mall—right next to a nail salon and just across the street from Tony’s Liquor—this 19-seat hole-in-the-wall is the last place you’d expect to find elderflower meringue, lemongrass coconut foam, and an assortment of lacto-fermented pickles that would make the Vlasic family blush. But chef Kwang Uh, fresh off a stage at Noma, doesn’t seem to care about his first restaurant’s lack of white tablecloths and valet parking. Baroo’s menu is full of funky fermented ingredients, heirloom grains you’ve never heard of, and some of the most mind-blowing flavor bombs in L.A. And that’s what really matters.
4. Dudley Market
Chef Jesse Barber—formerly of The Tasting Kitchen and Barnyard—further rooted himself in Venice’s restaurant scene earlier this month when he opened Dudley Market, his first solo venture. The charming all-day restaurant serves a laundry list of classic breakfast and lunch entrees, like the frisée lardon with egg and brown butter vinaigrette and eggs florentien with lox and hollandaise. But it will also serve as a retail outlet connecting local farmers, winemakers, and artisanal food purveyors to consumers.
We were crushed when Bryant Ng’s Spice Table closed in DTLA almost two years ago (to make way for a subway station). Finally, we have a reprieve: Cassia, his new Santa Monica spot, is now open. A collaboration between Ng, his wife Kim Luu-Ng, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, Cassia has the chilled seafood bar and charcuterie plates you’d expect from a French brasserie along with Ng’s take on Southeast Asian specialties, like kaya toast, jellyfish salad, and pot-au-feu, what Ng calls “a precursor to pho” that includes short ribs, bone marrow, and veggies. Zoe and Laurel Almerinda are doing the desserts.
Former Wilshire executive chef, Mélisse saucier, and Top Chef alum Nyesha Arrington now has a spot of her own in tony Venice Beach. The produce-forward, progressive Californian menu features dishes like the coctel mixto with tomato-watermelon jus and brick chicken with roasted apricots. But Arrington is also cooking fare that hits closer to home: The slow-braised bulgogi short rib and lamb belly wontons are an homage to her mother’s Korean heritage. Wife and husband development team—and first-time restaurateurs—Breegan and Kristian Vallas helped carve some tasteful beachside swagger into the old Canali Café space.
7. Broken Spanish
It’s fitting that the former home of Jon Sedlar’s Rivera—which brought modern Mexican cuisine to the forefront in 2009—is where chef Ray Garcia is now serving up his own contemporary take on the foods of his heritage. Heirloom corn tortillas come smeared with beans or what the chef calls carnitas fat. The same pedigreed masa forms the bulk of tamales stuffed with lamb neck and oyster mushrooms or peas, favas, and the herb hoja santa. There’s a whole slow-roasted lamb’s draped in pickled onion and cabbage, but also a version of a chile relleno, stuffed with kale, lemon, and sauerkraut. How perfectly L.A.
8. Hatchet Hall
We may finally be at a point where Brian Dunsmoor and Jonathan Strader can no longer be referred to as “the guys from Hart & the Hunter.” At Hatchet Hall—situated in the grand Culver City space that was formerly home to Waterloo & City—chef Dunsmoor takes on a manly hunter-fisher menu heavy with game (grilled rabbit, tea-smoked duck, roasted game hen), as well as local stone crab, ridgeback prawns, oysters, and market produce. The through line is the wood-fired grill that lends a smoky char to most dishes. Take a seat at the “Old Man Bar” for a root beer G&T.
9. Maple Block Meat Co.
Culver City has scored one heck of a ‘cue joint, with pitmasters Adam Cole and Daniel Weinstock hailing from Ink. and Spago, respectively. All meat is butchered in-house from whole animals (Cole worked at shuttered boutique butcher Lindy & Grundy) before being smoked over local peach wood. The results include chopped pork shoulder, bone-in prime rib, a brisket sandwich, pork spare ribs, and more. Craft beer will wash it down, but expect the smoke will stick with you.
10. The Bellwether
The Valley’s food scene scores another point with the Bellwether, from executive chef Ted Hopson and beverage director Ann-Marie Verdi—both graduates of the Fathers’ Office/Lukshon line. Charred octopus- and Greek yogurt-topped tabbouleh and roasted carrots with chamomile-carrot jus are among the small plates, which share equal billing with drinks like the white negroni and house-infused booze. The look is sort of modern Tudor (yes, that’s a thing) thanks to architect Anna Henton.