Best New Restaurants of 2008

The year’s best new restaurants are a daring bunch, challenging our palates (think boudin noir) and bucking convention (yes, downtown is the place to dine). Caution: This will be delicious

Photograph by Jessica Boone

1. Palate

Octavio Becerra was instrumental in transforming Patina from the small, elegant Hollywood restaurant it was in the early 1990s to the multipronged restaurant group it is today. When he launched Palate in a former Bekins warehouse in Glendale last spring, he put his hard-earned smarts to use, combining a deep wine list with a lyrical menu and reasonable prices. In back reside a wine store, a library, and communal tables; up front, the compact open kitchen amplifies the dining room’s bustle. Hovering over the whole is the sense that Becerra not only knows all the imperatives of a great restaurant, but he’s reconfigured them to create something new. Palate is a place where the gospel of local provenance is adhered to by Becerra and his head chef, Gary Menes. Offerings can be blessedly uncomplicated, as with the potted Berkshire pork that comes with an assortment of tangy pickled onions, nectarines, and cherries, and though Becerra’s preparations are confidently forthright—the grilled mackerel is served head and all, thank you—a dazzling technical finesse is on display throughout the menu. The chicken skin in one dish is rendered to chicharrón consistency. The wagyu beef, accompanied by roasted torpedo onions, charred carrots, and oxtail sauce, is produce-driven cooking at its finest. » 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, 818-662-9463. 


Photograph by Jessica Boone

2. Gjelina

Leaving behind Westwood’s W hotel and its demanding entourages has liberated chef Travis Lett. In this Venice spot, with its quirky chandeliers, unvarnished wood appointments, and cozy courtyard, his cooking has taken on an elemental quality that revolves around the wood-fired oven. Vegetables such as cauliflower and sunchokes are roasted before being accented with chile flakes or charred rosemary. A pepper-spiked sauce adds a fiery glow to brandade croquettes. Smoked tomato butter does something wickedly good to flatiron steak with grilled beets. The long wait for a seat—the pair of communal tables by the bar are overflowing as well—is worth it in a restaurant imbued with such devotion to craft. » 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310-450-1429.


Photograph by Jessica Boone

3. Nickel Diner

The waitress bringing the pulled-pork sandwich sports a Rosie the Riveter bandanna. The waiter’s sideburns are greaser chic. Located near skid row, Nickel Diner seems as if it’s been here forever. It has faded murals, Naugahyde seating, and a display of sodas from a time when local bottlers still existed. But Monica May and Kristen Trattner’s creation is more than a cool café; their food is seriously engaged with the classic diner repertoire. Candied pecans and pickled onions give the chicken salad sandwich a jolt. The stuffed avocado nods to ’50s California. Every morning each table is given a few sugar-dusted doughnut holes—the handiwork of pastry chef Sharlena Fong, who worked at Thomas Keller’s Per Se before coming to this bright addition to the city. » 524 S. Main St., downtown, 213-623-8301.


Photograph by Edmund Barr

4. Anisette

With its checkered tiles, wood paneling, and weathered mirrors, Anisette has perfectly captured a brasserie interior. Alain Giraud, the son of a chef and the founding talent behind the hyperluxurious Bastide, has returned to the kind of gutsy cooking once offered along the country roads of France. Wednesday breakfast (après farmers’ market) has become a local ritual. Lunch calls for a traditional pan bagnat drenched in tomato juices and great olive oil. It is at dinner, however, when the bar is crowded and friends splash wine from carafes, that the food reaches an ideal. The Bourride de Lotte Setoise—braised monkfish tail for two—is the loving homage to a dish learned at Papa’s stove. » 225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-395-3200.


Photograph by Jessica Boone

5. Comme Ça

Of the many new brasseries that have sprung up in L.A., Comme Ça may be furthest from the model but closest to the source. The white banquettes say Casino, while the blackboard walls scrawled with musings wink at the Sorbonne. David Myers, owner of the more formal Sona, makes a direct thrust into the heart of French cooking with escargots persillade and such dishes of the day as roasted leg of lamb and beef marrowbones with oxtail jam. Since opening late last year, the crowded restaurant has come into its own. The noise level can overwhelm, but as a background to dishes like glazed sweetbreads with sautéed romaine, bubbling bouillabaisse, and moules frites with Pernod and aioli, it seems like the soundtrack to urban joy. » 8479 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323-782-1104.



Photograph by Jessica Boone

6. Little Dom’s

The latest from Brandon Boudet and Warner Ebbink (101 Coffee Shop, Dominick’s) is coy about its ambitions. Its leather booths and old framed pictures impart the look of a red-sauce Italian joint, but the kitchen is more—hell, let’s say it—refined than that. Cute, zingy meatballs bob in the Italian wedding soup, and freshly made pastas are a specialty (the black squid ink linguine is magnificent). Pastry chef Ann Kirk turns out a fine torta della nonna, too. Hit Little Dom’s at the right moment, when the lights are low and the bar is pouring Negronis, and the place feels like a neighborhood institution. » 2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, 323-661-0055.


Photograph by Edmund Barr

7. Animal

The waiter who sits beside you isn’t trying to be your friend; he’s just telling you the specials. That’s how they roll at Animal, a pork-intensive venture from rogue chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. The two parlayed an appearance on Iron Chef into a book contract and a TV show before opening their first restaurant. A clientele given to newsboy caps and tattoos delights in mussels, which arrive in a rich, buttery tomato broth flanked by an outsize slice of grilled bread. There’s a touch of whimsy in the PB&J-derived foie gras tartine with Concord grape gelée, and the fried quail with Anson Mills grits and maple jus is memorable. Seeing the restaurant’s valet stand on Fairfax can cause a pang of disappointment, but if the street has to change from bubbes to bacon, it should be with spots as merry as this. » 435 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., 323-782-9225. 


Photograph by Jessica Boone

8. BLT Steak

THOUGH star chef Laurent Tourondel is usually off tending to the other BLT Steaks, the staff has established this out- post as more than a mere gastro-satellite. Occupying the space that once housed Le Dôme, the dining room has a clubby, contemporary feel, and the high prices dictate a certain formality. Sommelier Dan Warrilow draws from a broad cellar, and chef Liran Mezan lets loose with wine-friendly blackboard specials that go well beyond the usual steak house aspirations. The diver scallops come with a pert Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and spaghetti squash alla carbonara offers a lush counterpoint to a charred hanger steak. The crêpe soufflé from pastry chef Jessica Lauren Goryl provides the superb finish. » 8720 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310-360-1950.


Photograph by Edmund Barr

9. Lotería Grill

Jimmy Shaw’s culinary absolute has always been the taquerías of his native Mexico City, those jam-packed venues that serve cabeza tacos until the wee hours. They’re what he had in mind when he christened the Lotería stand at the Farmers Market. His new digs in Hollywood are more panoramic, representing taco hut, hacienda, barroom, and cultural statement in one. The soaring walls (bare but for enlarged images of lotería cards) smack of Mexican modernism, but the comal, or traditional griddle, is the restaurant’s lodestar. Vegetable preparations are a high point: Mixed squashes, wild mushrooms, and papas con rajas (potatoes laced with poblano strips) make vibrant fillings for tacos. Amid the buzz of the dining room, a team of ladies presses out the tortillas, and at night the terrace has a magical quality, spilling as it does onto light-streaked Hollywood Boulevard. » 6627 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323-465-2500.


Photograph by Rachel Coleman

10. [email protected]

There is little flash to [email protected] It is set several blocks from the coast in a mall that could do with a few more tenants, but once you walk into the polished wood-beam interior where a sommelier decants wines, you know why it’s humming. Chefs Michael McDonald and Carlos Olivera have put together an enterprising steak house menu. The best appetizer is a wonderful split pea soup served with country bread. Petit filet carries a payload of poached garlic, with creamy potatoes au gratin acting as a great foil. It’s not the showiest restaurant that debuted this year, but welcoming and focused, [email protected] offers a shining example of the fundamentals done right. » 1601 Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach, 310-698-0740 .