You’ve rigatoni all’ Amatriciana, the Roman specialty made with guanciale—but have you understood the dish before? At Evan Funke’s Felix, the fat from the cured pork cheek is evenly rendered so that, when shaken vigorously in the pan with little more than tomato sauce, it creates an emulsion that glazes the ridged tubes of custom-milled wheat. Made this way, the preparation doesn’t merely sit; it sings. Funke is a pasta purist who can slip lessons like that into any meal. He did it first at his Culver City restaurant Bucato, and now the 38-year-old chef is back with Felix, which occupies the former home of Joe’s on the tidal end of Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. His partner in the venture, Janet Zuccarini, heads Toronto’s Gusto 54 hospitality group, and a professional polish is clear from the moment you enter. A cute bar with turquoise stools leads to a central dining room with banquettes that curve around a glass-enclosed pasta lab. The patio has been turned into a room papered in a floral pattern that’s clubby enough for a Super Tuscan—though one of the affordable Italian country wines is the smarter way to go.
A craftsman at heart, Funke adds ingredients only when necessary. In fact, he’s happier when taking one or two of them away. So a crudo of ridgeback prawns requires just great olive oil and a dusting of pepperoncino. Fennel parmigiana gets crisped in a wood-burning oven while tiramisu—stripped of the sloshed-on coffee—is transformed into a moist alliance of delicate sponge cake and Sicilian marsala.
But Funke’s skill in elevating the familiar is clearest with pastas. The selections are divided by region, and it’s easy to feel as if you’re twirling them in some distant setting. The tonnarelli cacio e pepe, a skein of strands adorned only with cheese and black pepper, nods to Roman shepherds who used the spice to keep warm. The deep indentation holding ricotta and bread crumbs in the orecchiette? He picked up the thumb-pressing technique in the Adriatic port of Bari. Lucky for us, he brought it back home. – Patric Kuh
Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan have remade the old Marix Mexican restaurant into an irresistibly fun beach spot. Chef Mario Alberto’s seasonal menu is filled with such creative dishes as duck chilaquiles and favorites like nachos that arrive piled on a baking sheet and begging for a margarita or two. Reservations go fast, but half the tables are held for walk-ins. – Michalene Busico
The latest establishment from chef Phillip Frankland Lee evokes a stylish living room, where you settle in for a cocktail on comfy sofas and nosh on small plates like a downsized Angus burger or go big with the tower of seafood, charcuterie, and cheese. The cocktails are top-drawer; the large-for- mat Yorkshires (15 pours for $60), a bargain. – Ann Herold
RUN-DMC album covers hang near the oven and boom boxes are displayed like artifacts by the bar. At this New York-style pizzeria from the Tao Group, the ’80s coexist with craft beers. Chopped antipasto is a jumble of roasted vegetables, with porchetta a solid add-on. There’s nothing but crisp quality to the great $3 slice. – Patric Kuh