BEST OF LAIST

Los Angeles' Best New Restaurants For 2015

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Kaeng Hang Leh (sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry) at Pok Pok LA (Photo by Eugene Lee/LAist)

This year we were treated to tons of excellent restaurant openings around Los Angeles, giving us plenty more reasons to spend our hard-earned dough on delicious eats. From killer kalbi burgers and French-meets-Mexican brunch, affordable bites to hit-the-town splurges, we've rounded up our favorite new restaurants of 2015. So, grab a drink and start making some resolutions reservations for 2016.

Pok Pok LA

We'd been waiting for Pok Pok LA to arrive to our city ever since we tried the restaurant's addictive Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at their original Portland outpost. The wait was worth it as this casual Chinatown location offers up Southeast Asian, especially Northern Thai, dishes that you wouldn't normally get at many restaurants here in L.A. We suggest Chef Andy Ricker's Cha Ca "La Vong," which has seared chunks of catfish marinated in tumeric, sitting on top of a bed of rice vermicelli noodles and covered in a spicy pineapple sauce. The Kaeng Hang Leh is also comfort food at its best—a Northern Thai curry with fatty pork belly and pork shoulder chunks marinated sweet and salty. There's also an impressive cocktail list with a whisky-tasting menu available at this spot, and if you need something to cool your mouth down from all the spicy food, go for the creamy coconut Mango Alexander drink. You won't regret it. —Jean Trinh

Pok Pok LA is located at 978 N. Broadway in Chinatown, (213) 613-1831

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Pork rillettes served with potato rosti, gravy a fried egg and, yes, crispy pig ear at The Bellwether (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)

The Bellwether

Studio City was treated to an excellent new dining destination when The Bellwether opened its doors on Ventura Blvd. midway through the year. Run by Chef Ted Hopson and Beverage Director Ann-Marie Verdi—who both spent time at Father's Office—the restaurant offers a relaxed neighborhood-vibe with clean, modern design (and a cool bathroom motif inspired by The Who). On the menu—designed for sharing—you'll find seasonally-inspired fare with international flourishes, including charred octopus with tabbouleh, preserved lemon, greek yogurt and green olives, as well as upscale takes on comfort classics like the patty melt, taleggio cheese, caramelized onions, caraway and Calabrian aioli. They also offer tons of great cocktail options like the White Negroni and the Walnut Manhattan, many of which utilize house made infusions and a couple that are on tap. Both the food and drinks also benefit from their R&D menu, which Hopson and Verdi use to test out their latest creations—to our benefit.

The Bellwether is located at 13251 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 285-8184.

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Duck with mole, persimmon and sesame at Broken Spanish (via Instagram)

Broken Spanish

With two bold, Downtown openings this year—Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria—Chef Ray Garcia delivered two new stellar destinations for creative, modern Mexican cuisine. While B.S. Taqueria offers a festive spot for casual eats—including clam and lardo tacos or cauliflower al pastor—Broken Spanish generally offers more upscale, yet no less inventive, options. Think tamales with lamb neck, king oyster mushrooms and queso oaxaca or a quesadilla with oxtail, plantain, habanero and salsa quemada—the flavors are big and challenge your palate in exciting ways. And whatever you order, you'll definitely want to grab the thick, heirloom corn tortillas, which can be enjoyed with refried lentils or whipped carnitas fat—yeah, that's right. The cocktail menu pairs perfectly with the big flavors with balanced and citrusy options like Surfer Rosa with Pimms no 1, ancho reyes, lemon, strawberry shrub, and basil flower or the dignified My Abuelo with anejo tequila, creme de cacao, tamarind, grapefruit & orinoco bitters. You'll also want to save room for desserts like the goat milk flan or arroz con leche with roasted pear and blackberry jam.


Broken Spanish
is located at 1050 S Flower St, Downtown, (213) 749-1460

Cassia

Fans of The Spice Table—which was closed to make way for a Metro stop—will be excited to find that the former restaurant's chef, Bryant Ng, is back with an excellent dining spot in Santa Monica with the help of his wife Kim. For the new endeavor, the couple has partnered with Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb of Rustic Canyon. At Cassia, Ng lends his classical French training to Southeast Asian flavors and farmer's market ingredients in dishes like the Vietnamese pot-au-feu—a short rib stew with a pho broth—and the charcuterie fried rice. There's also a raw bar with highlights like Vietnamese "sunbathing" prawns and a charcuterie board that offers twists like Singaporean candied pork and smoked curried duck. They offer a great selection of craft beers, wines and solid cocktails like the Central Park Pines with rye and lapsang souchong infused vermouth or the Tiki Vodka with reisling, lychee liqueur and passionfruit sorbet. The expansive space features lots of raw concrete balanced by mid-century furnishings and playful flourishes like the familiar-looking bird cages.

Cassia is located at 1314 7th St, Santa Monica, (310) 393-6699

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Spicy khao soi noodles with sai quo sausage (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)

Khao Soi by Inthanon Thai

When a restaurant's name has a delicious Northern Thai dish in its name, it's a hint that you should be ordering that specifically. Khao soi, an egg noodle and curry-coconut soup, is the feature of this recently opened and charming Thai restaurant. From the same folks behind Inthanon Thai Cuisine in Valley Village, this eatery does khao soi right by offering not one, but 11 different variations on the dish in terms of toppings. We suggest their crispy pork and chicken to go along with their flavorful and complex soup broth. While you're at it, grab their pineapple or lychee sodas, too. —Jean Trinh

Khao Soi by Inthanon Thai is located at 5907 Hollywood Blvd., East Hollywood, (323) 464-1790

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Jon and Vinny's (via Instagram/@johnandvinnydelivery)

Jon & Vinny's

While we suffered a bit of nostalgia for the late-night slices and beer fridge of the old Damiano's, the new tenant in the building, Jon & Vinny's, is a welcome addition to Fairfax. The eponymous joint from the guys that brought you Animal and Son Of A Gun (not to mention their new ventures—see Trois Familia on this list), this upscale pizzeria goes way beyond your typical pie. Ultra-thin and crisp, wood-fired crust delivers a flavor-packed array of thoughtfully coordinated toppings like the straightforward L.A. Woman with fresh burrata, tomato, basil and olive oil or the more complex El Chaparrito with house chorizo, asiago, cilantro and crema. And you'll definitely want to order some marinara or ranch for maximum crust-dipping. They also offer a great selection of house-made pastas, refreshing salads and short rib and pork shoulder meatballs that are definitely worth investigating. The relaxed vibe and hip-hop soundtrack make for a fun date spot or pizza splurge with friends, though the place is small, so you'll definitely want to make a reservation well in advance.

Jon & Vinny's is located at 412 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, (323) 334-3369

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Rice Bar's pork longganisa rice bowl (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)

Rice Bar

When you walk into Rice Bar, you might not think much of the tiny, 275-square-foot space at first, but the comforting and delicious rice bowls will keep you coming. The restaurant comes from folks in the fancy dining world—chef Charles Olalia (formerly the executive chef from high-end French restaurant Patina) and his partner, Santos Uy (Papilles and Mignon), so you can be certain you're getting high-quality meals at an affordable price. Their bowls are made with heirloom rice and they have toppings like house-made longganisa pork sausages, and Bistek Tagalog—soy-marinated Angus beef—and crispy anchovies. Make sure to try the garlic, jasmine fried rice, and save room for desserts like gourmet rice crispies and coconut iced buko. —Jean Trinh

Rice Bar is located at 419 W. 7th St. in downtown L.A., (213) 807-5341

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Pan roasted duck breast and confit leg en croute at Viviane (Photo via Facebook)

Viviane

Chef Michael Hung previously helmed the kitchen at downtown's Faith & Flower—one of our favorites from last year—and now he's serving up stunning and delicious fare at the newly opened Viviane. Tucked inside of the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills, the restaurant feels like a trip to stylish Mad Men-era Palm Springs, complete with a sparkling swimming pool, geometric designs and perfectly poured martinis. Sourcing from a small farm in Ojai and other specialty purveyors, Hung skips the foams and fancy flourishes and instead adds his own subtle twists to classical dishes. You're definitely going to want to share some small plates like the pastrami-cured salmon tartare and seasonal salads like the rainbow beets and apple with horseradish crème fraîche. But you might get greedy when it comes to bigger dishes like the ricotta ravioli with chanterelles, delicata squash and brown butter or the incredible seared duck breast with crispy confit leg en croûte. And save room for dessert, which includes updates on old favorites like crêpes flambées and sweet potato toffee pudding. The cocktails are also worth exploring like the Pineapple Punch, though the flight of three mini Manhattans is hard to pass up.

Viviane is located at 9400 W Olympic Blvd, Beverly Hills, (310) 407-7791

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Trois Familia's Chicken Milanese (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)

Trois Familia

There's nothing better than having the option of getting delicious brunch seven days a week. Over at Trois Familia—the third eatery from superstar-chef trio Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo—you can get French-meets-Mexican brunch at a much more affordable price-point than their other Trois Mec and Petit Trois spots. It's located inside a chill and unpretentious Silver Lake strip mall, and the restaurant itself mirrors that laid-back vibe. Must-tries include their Chicken Milanese—a lightly breaded, crispy chicken topped with ribbons of thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes, and covered in ranch—and their Potato Mousseline—buttery and creamy mashed potatoes filled with a poached egg and chorizo jam, and beautifully garnished with colorful flower petals. —Jean Trinh

Trois Familia is located at 3510 Sunset Blvd. in Silver Lake, (323) 725-7800.

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Toca Madera's Chicken Churro Waffle (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)

Toca Madera

This new organic Mexican restaurant offers spicy small bites, craft cocktails, plenty of vegan options, a great brunch and a good happy hour. Toca Madera (which means 'knock on wood') took over St. Nicks Pub last Spring. The inside has a sultry ambiance with dark wood and deep purples, while the outdoor patio is perfect for a sunny brunch. We're fans of the taco menu and sweet corn tamales during happy hour, and the chicken and churro waffles during brunch.

Toca Madera is located at 8450 W 3rd St in Beverly Grove. 323-852-9400.

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Steamed egg with uni and salmon roe at Hanjip (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)

Hanjip

This recently opened Culver City Korean BBQ spot is something else. The grills are gold-plated, and ready for you to cook up premium short ribs, brisket, pork belly, beef, prawns, lamb and baby octopus—or a Tomahawk steak with foie gras butter if you prefer. The fantastic array of banchan may be tempting to fill up on, but you'll want to save rooms for the meat and a couple sides. We liked the steamed egg and uni, and also the bone marrow corn cheese. As an added bonus, you're later encouraged to take shots of soju luge style out of the bone.

Hanjip is located at 3829 Main St. in Culver City, 323-720-8804.

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Kalbi Burger at Seoul Sausage Company in Little Tokyo (Photo by Jean Trinh/LAist)

Seoul Sausage Company

The guys behind Seoul Sausage Company started off with some humble beginnings, with a tiny shop out on Sawtelle and a win in season 3 of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race. Now, they've expanded with a stellar full bar and restaurant in Little Tokyo, with a great airy space and creative cocktails that they don't have at their Sawtelle spot. They also have some new dishes, like their updated Kalbi Burger that we absolutely love. It's a sweet and savory KBBQ-style burger with a garlic jalapeno aioli spread and perfectly-fried sunny side egg. Also a winner is Vinny's Adobo Fried Chicken sandwich, which is chicken adobo with a honey habanero slaw and aioli. You'll need something to wash that all down with, too. We're big fans of their Seoul Sista cocktail, a piña colada with a twist—there's matcha green tea powder with cocoa milk—and their Kimchillada—a seriously balanced soju and Hite cocktail (like a michellada) topped with pickled radishes. —Jean Trinh

Seoul Sausage Company is located at 236 S Los Angeles St., Little Tokyo, (213) 935-8677