In the past year, restaurant critic Patric Kuh has dined out more nights than not in search of the city’s best new restaurants. In our January issue he delves into why each of these ten made the cut. From the service to the most sensational bites, each restaurant made a major mark on dining in 2013. Ready to make a reservation? Here’s what to expect at each destination.
1. Trois Mec
> 716 N. Highland Ave., Hancock Park, troismec.com.
The Vibe: You enter through a strip mall parking lot lit from behind by a gas station’s spot lights and from above by an old Raffalo’s Pizza sign. This grit only heightens the experience. Don’t be startled when everyone inside greets you with a boisterous “Bonjour!”—it’s their way of welcoming you into a surprising new world. Clean lines and cool woods keep the focus on the food. Dine alone and you might be seated at the bar where you’ll have a commanding view of the open kitchen from which you can watch the chefs prep, sauté, and plate. The French hip hop isn’t too distracting, especially when it’s mixed with gentle indie pop.
The Crowd: Guests smile at each other a lot, looking lucky to be there. Though the chefs all have young children, it’s rare to see anyone under 16 at a table. It might be impolite to wear flip flops, but there is a sense of ease about the place.
The Must-Have Dishes: The menu is set by the chef each night, but often includes the potato pulp with browned butter and bonito flakes.
The Drinks: Beer and wine. Don’t bring your own bottle—it’s not allowed.
Worthwhile Splurge: Order an extra dish, whatever is offered as a special supplement—you won’t be disappointed.
Getting a Table: It’s one of the hottest tickets in town, and the process of obtaining reservations is much like snagging a ticket to see Jay-Z: reservations are taken online every other Friday for the following two weeks. Complete details.
Insider Tip: Have a Mastercard? Cardholders can snag seats every Wednesday. Complete details.
> 2121 E. 7th Pl., Arts District, 213-514-5724, bestiala.com.
The Vibe: There’s new life in the Arts District, and Bestia packs in its hippest crowds. Exposed beams and factory windows give it an urban chic edge; Edison bulbs cast a golden glow. It’s casual but not always comfortable (plenty of demand, not enough space).
The Crowd: A 50/50 mix of downtowners and diners from other L.A. neighborhoods who’ve made reservations in advance and driven across town for the pizza, pasta, and pastry.
The Must-Have Dishes: Cavatelli alla norcina: ricotta dumplings, housemade pork sausage, black truffles, grana padano; Uni spaghetti, pizza alla‘nduja; butterscotch coconut tart.
The Drinks: The full bar is done up by Julian Cox and Josh Goldman. Cocktails go down easy. There’s plenty of wine and beer.
Worthwhile Splurge: Every dessert on the menu; the pastry chef knows how to coax flavor and texture out of her ingredients.
Getting a Table: Check OpenTable first; if your desired date and time isn’t available, try calling.
Insider Tip: Pay attention to the pizza. The dough is made very carefully so as to achieve just the right flavor and chew.
3. Hinoki & the Bird
> 10 Century Dr., Century City, 310-552-1200, hinokiandthebird.com.
The Vibe: The smell of smoking Hinoki tree permeates the dining room. Rich woods and warm colors keep the elegant lines of the space cozy.
The Crowd: Regulars from The Century (within which the restaurant lies) wander down from their plush homes to dine many evenings a week, but they seem to blend in with the mostly Westside crowd. Gentlemen in jackets dot the dining room.
The Must-Have Dishes: Black cod beneath a sliver of still-smoldering Hinoki wood; barbecued pork neck; pumpkin on toast.
The Drinks: Cocktails include their take on a Pimm’s Cup—the Bird Cup. The beer and wine selection is deliciously international.
Worthwhile Splurge: The Wagyu strip loin.
Getting a Table: It’s not too hard, provided you plan a week or two ahead. Lunch is also an option.
Insider Tip: These days, chefs Myers and Yagi are playing with their noodles.
> 8284 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 323-782-9245 or crossroadskitchen.com.
The Vibe: Lightbulbs cut into the shapes of crystals dangle from chandeliers, but the rest of the room is comfortably masculine. Bar stools have cushy backs and there are more booths than tables. An adjacent, brightly lit atrium is used for lunch service.
The Crowd: West Hollywood-types love to lounge around on weekend nights, though people come from all over the city to get a sampling of the haute vegan fare.
The Must-Have Dishes: Artichoke oysters.
The Drinks: Cocktails are vegan too, including the New York Flip, which is made with vegetable-based “egg yolk.”
Worthwhile Splurge: Nothing’s over $20. The Scaloppini Parmesan is, like everything else on the menu, free of animal products, but you might have never guessed.
Getting a Table: You’ll have trouble walking in on a weekend night, and reservations are always recommended. Bar seating is usually available.
Insider Tip: If you enjoy the nut-milk cheese plate, you can order Tal Ronnen’s cheeses online.
5. Chi Spacca
> 6610 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, 323-297-1133, chispacca.com.
The Vibe: Mozza’s little sister carved a square out of the side of their complex on the corner of Highland and Melrose with a cleaver. The open kitchen is clearly the focal point, though the walls lined with wine bottles add a distracting glimmer. It’s loud, like a steakhouse, and smells of cured and charred meat.
The Crowd: Locals frequent the place, especially when they can’t get a table at the pizzeria around the corner. Folks come from out of town to taste Colby’s salumi program.
The Must-Have Dishes: Whole Muscles lardo with grissini capocollo, and all of the house-cured meats, pancetta-wrapped sweetbreads, lamb shoulder chop.
The Drinks: Wine and beer.
Worthwhile Splurge: Both the Tomahawk Pork Chop (42 ounces for $75) and the Bistecca Fiorentina (42 ounces for $175) are worth ordering—provided you’ve brought enough of an appetite—or enough guests to help you finish them.
Getting a Table: Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Insider Tip: Sit at the bar. Occasionally, Colby will hand scraps over the counter to smiling guests.
6. The Hart and the Hunter
> 7950 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 323-424-3055, thehartandthehunter.com.
The Vibe: Your cool grandma set up residence at this boutique hotel. Vintage touches set off a wallpapered room just off the hotel lobby. Mismatched chairs match the mismatched china.
The Crowd: A fashionable set that also loves to eat.
The Must-Have Dishes: The biscuits, the biscuits, oh and did we mention the biscuits?
The Drinks: Wine and beer only; a limited selection.
Getting a Table: Good luck if you don’t make a reservation—this is one of L.A.’s smaller dining rooms. Nabbing a table at lunch is considerably easier.
Worthwhile Splurge: The NoLA-style shrimp boil is $34 but will feed everyone at the table. Or, just order five platters of biscuits.
Insider Tip: At lunch, they put out fried chicken that might make a Southern boy cry.
> 11334 Moorpark St., Studio City, 818-924-2323 or girasolrestaurant.com.
The Vibe: Sometimes it’s so busy in here that you might miss details like the spacy metal sunflowers etched into the tables. It can be very loud on the weekends, but weekday dinner is a comfortable affair.
The Crowd: Westsiders are making the trek, but locals own the place.
The Must-Have Dishes: Burrata, crispy lentils, and stone fruit; lovage butter; pork chop, butternut squash, grilled pears, sweet clover; buttermilk donuts.
The Drinks: Wine and beer, though sometimes they feature beers brewed with foraged ingredients.
Worthwhile Splurge: The whole fried red snapper—its presentation is stunning.
Getting a Table: Make reservations or be prepared to wait. Or, go early and dine at the bar.
Insider Tip: At brunch, CJ Jacobson is turning out an admirable Maine lobster benedict.
> 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, 310-876-0286, bucato.la.
The Vibe: The crispness of the design is broken up by unique art: a wall studded with kitchen knives; pasta rollers hang from the glass ceiling. Lots of warm pale woods mimic the warmth of the precisely portioned comfort Italian dishes.
The Crowd: People are coming from all over the city, thanks to Culver City’s proximity to two major highways. They won’t turn you away if you’re dressed casually, but the dress code skews jacket or tie.
The Must-Have Dishes: Fluffy foccacia; all of the pasta.
The Drinks: Wine and beer.
Worthwhile Splurge: The chef’s famous porchetta.
Getting a Table: Reservations are recommended. There are not too many seats at the bar.
Insider Tip: A no photography or cell phone policy means your dining partner’s flash won’t distract you from your dinner.
9. Bar Ama
> 118 W. 4th St., Downtown, 213-687-8002 or bar-ama.com.
The Vibe: Colored tiles line the room, which means it’s a loud space. It’s also small, but filled with the smell of spice and stewed meat.
The Crowd: Hip downtowners love walking over, or down from their apartments above.
The Must-Have Dishes: Grilled corazon; queso; Frito pie.
The Drinks: Cocktails, wine, and beer.
Worthwhile Splurge: Lamb birria, which, while $34, serves the whole familia.
Getting a Table: Don’t expect to get lucky if you’re walking in any day between 7 and 8—reservations are your friend.
Insider Tip: Stop by at lunch or brunch to get a taste of the Tex-Mex breakfast tacos.
> 1320 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park, 213-935-8787, allumettela.com.
The Vibe: Five years ago, you would have never expected this level of refinement or cerebral cooking in Echo Park. The decor is forgettable, which is fine, because it’s mostly about what’s on your plate and in your glass.
The Crowd: Silver Lake drives over en masse; the rest of L.A. is making the trip too. It’s a popular date night spot because if there’s a lull in the conversation, couples can always talk about the food.
The Must-Have Dishes: Potatoes a la plancha; Dungeness crab custard; dark chocolate ganache.
The Drinks: Try a cocktail pairing with the tasting menu. Chef Thompson knows how to heighten the flavors of a dish with just the right type of liquid.
Worthwhile Splurge: The $95 tasting menu.
Getting a Table: Walk-ins are welcome, but weekends are tricky. Reservations are recommended.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the cocktails. This is a great place to hit for happy hour. There are deals on drinks and getting a seat at the bar is fairly easy.