The 10 Best Bites In Los Angeles This Year
Writing about food for a living might seem like a dream job, but the reality is that even in an awesome city like L.A., there are a whole lot of mediocre meals that just sort of blend together. Then there are those that are transformative, that will always stand out in your mind and bring a smile to your face. We've made a list of our favorite bites of the year that give us that perma-grin. Here they are, in no particular order. As always, add your own favorites in the comments.
Photo by Estar*LA on Flickr
Aguachile at Petty Cash
Walter Manzke opened up Petty Cash, we were admittedly a bit skeptical about this gringofied, upscale take on traditional Mexican street food. But his fresh aguachile with mahi mahi, scallops, shrimp and octopus delivered. It's a bright citrus-and-spice spiked Sonoran concoction that comes in a massive lava rock molcajete. You can customize your bowl to include any type of raw seafood you'd like—there are oysters, scallops, octopus, clams, and prawns, and they're all fresh as can be and bathing in a soup similar to that of the liquid from ceviche. You might not be able to hear the other diners at your table talking (the restaurant is disturbingly loud), but you'll be so immersed in seafood bliss it won't even matter.
Petty Cash is located at 7360 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, (323) 933-5300
Kouign Amann at Bouchon Bakery
Thomas Keller's bakery might not have opened in 2013, but we didn't get to sample the perfection that is his Kouign Amann until this year. It's a buttery, puffed pastry style sweet that's made by laminating layer after layer of dough with butter. Their Kouign Aman is made upside down to make sure that the caramelized, almost brûléed bottom is crackly when you bite into it.
Bouchon Bakery is located at 235 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills; (310) 271-9910
Cavatelli at Bestia
Chef Ori Menashe knows how to rock classic Italian cuisine at his Arts District restaurant. He does a magnificent job of curing his own meats for the charcuterie bar at Bestia (the mortadella and sopressata are excellent), but the real star here is the hand-made pastas, namely the cavatelli a la norcina—ricotta dumplings tossed with chopped black truffles, spicy pork sausage, and salty grana pardano cheese. It's so savory and morish and comforting, made even more so when paired with a cocktail by Julian Cox or a glass of esoteric vino curated by Maxwell Leer.
Bestia is located at 2121 7th Place, Los Angeles, (213) 514-5724
Photo courtesy of Superba Snack Bar on Facebook
Smoked Buccatini at Superba Snack Bar
If there's a flavor out there more primal than smoke, we've yet to find it. That smell of burning wood infused into food has become quite trendy as of late, and chef Jason Neroni somehow managed to master the art of infusing his house-made pastas with it. He smokes his uncooked pasta over smoldering cherry wood chips, then boils it until just al dente. It's then topped with pancetta, parmesan, an oozing poached egg and plenty of black pepper. Perfection.
Superba Snack Bar is located at 533 Rose Ave, Venice, (310) 399-6400
Lobster Roll at Connie & Ted's
Michael Cimarusti's Rhode Island-style seafood shack on Santa Monica Boulevard does so many things right, it's hard to pick just one dish as a favorite. The bartenders do a bang-up job on cocktails; steamed clams are some of the finest you'll find on the West Coast; the Indian pudding is a dose of holiday-spiced cheer; and the strawberry rhubarb pie will put your granny's to shame. But our cravings keep coming back to the lobster roll with drawn butter. The crustacean comes perfectly poached on a buttery toasted bun with a smattering of parsley and herbs. You can also have a roll made Maine-style with mayo, but butter really is the way to go.
Connie and Ted's is located at 8171 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, (323) 848-2722
Pumpkin Toast with Miso Jam at Hinoki and the Bird
David Myers has wowed Angelenos before with his cooking at Comme Ça and Patina, and his new restaurant on the Avenue of the Stars, Hinoki and the Bird, follows suit, taking diners on an adventure down the Silk Road via California cuisine. His plates are well-edited, decidedly creative, and balanced, and while the lobster roll made with charcoal bread is definitely a show stopper, it's a more humble dish that caught our attention. The pumpkin toast hits all sorts of flavor notes without going overboard -- there's sweet from the squash, umami from the miso jam, a tart creaminess from the goat cheese, and crunch and saltiness from sunflower seeds sprinkled on top.
Photo of the burger at Bill & Hiroko's by Krista Simmons/LAist
Cheeseburger at Bill & Hiroko's
With all this talk of truffles and fancy pants restaurants, it might seem like we don't appreciate the simple things in life. Which is so untrue. Exhibit A: Bill & Hiroko's Burgers in Van Nuys. This classic burger shack is always packed to the gills with locals after their perfectly charred burgers, which are made on top of a well-seasoned flat top. There's nothing froofy about this place. They don't even serve french fries. It's all about the burger, which can only be edited by adding a pre-made chili brick or cheese. Keep it clean and don't add the latter. This is old school burger badassery at its best.
Bill & Hiroko's is located at 14742 Oxnard St, Van Nuys, (818) 785-4086
Whole Crispy Fried Fish at Girasol
We've watched "Top Chef" alum CJ Jacobson bop around from restaurants in Santa Monica to a stage at Noma, and he's collected all of that knowledge and put it on a plate at his Studio City restaurant, Girasol. There are all sorts of delightful foraged dishes that showcase Southern California's bounty, but the one that we keep dreaming of is the whole fried snapper. Sure, it might look like a freaky deep sea creature you'd see at the Aquarium of the Pacific when it comes to your table, but the flaky, moist fried fish is something dreams are made of. Just don't stare too long or those dreams might become nightmares.
Girasol is located at 11334 Moorpark St, Los Angeles, (818) 924-2323
Seafood Tower at Fishing With Dyanamite
David Lefevre's tiny Manhattan Beach restaurant is a mere 450 square feet, but makes the most of its space by utilizing lots of light and adding funky little coastal design touches here and there. Lefevre's oyster bar is the focal point of the teensy dining room, and rightfully so. Here the exacting integrity of LeFevre, who had formerly run the kitchen at Water Grill and has worked with Charlie Trotter, is on display. The bivalves and other shellfish are always served cold and clean, and are shucked with precision as orders come in. You can order your oysters with mignonette, cocktail sauce, ponzu, or pico de gallo, but you won't really be able to see the subtle differences in the varieties unless you "eat them naked" as LeFevre says. There's also live Santa Barbara sea urchin, clams, mussels, shrimp, and Peruvian scallops served with grapefruit and ponzu. They can be ordered individually or put into a beautifully presented tower, the largest of which is the $145 Mothershucker, a whopping presentation of 15 oysters, 6 clams, 16 shrimp, 20 mussels, 1 whole lobster, 1 whole dungeness crab, and live uni that's meant to serve 6. Oh, they also have earth-shatteringly good key lime pie. Nuff said.
Fishing With Dynamite is located at 1148 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan Beach, (310) 893-6299
Parker House Rolls at Cliff's Edge
Working as a food editor means you're constantly getting texts from friends asking for advice on where to dine given certain circumstances (date night, business meetings, out-of-towner treats, and birthday parties are all items I have stockpiled answers for.) Cliff's Edge is consistently one of the restaurants that I recommend in all of those categories. It's casual enough to be unpretentious, but the lighting and grotto-style outdoor patio make it special. Music is never too loud. And since Vartan Abgaryan took over in the kitchen, the food is consistently delicious. One might try to skip the carbs and opt out of the house made Parker rolls, but that'd be a huge mistake. They come served in a cast iron skillet, served warm with a side of house churned butter. These little round dinner rolls are undoubtedly the pillows that angels sleep on.
Cliff's Edge is located at 3626 Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake, (323) 666-6116
Pad Thai Kelp Noodles at Cafe Gratitude
You might spend all your energy avoiding getting tangled up in kelp when you're surfing, but trust us when we say that you want to dive into Cafe Gratitude's. Kelp is gaining popularity because it's sustainable, it's healthy, and it's delicious. Having spent a ton of time in Thailand, we're sticklers for good Thai food, so trust us when we say that the kelp noodles prepared at Cafe Gratitude are indeed as "terrific" as the name of the dish (that's right, "I Am Terrific") implies. There's a nice lemony kick to the raw marinated kelp noodles that are tossed in Thai almond sauce with carrots, red bell pepper and shredded kale, then finished with teriyaki almonds and sunflower sprouts.
Cafe Gratitude is located at 639 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, (323) 580-6383
Flying fish cutters at Cuzz's fish shack in Barbados by Krista Simmons/LAist
Fresh Strawberry Donut at Huckleberry
Expert baker Zoe Nathan Loeb is known for whipping up some of the most outrageous sugar-dusted doughnuts, croissants, cakes, scones and breads on a daily basis at Huckleberry in Santa Monica. A few weeks ago at a private event, she made some freshly-fried doughnuts filled with warm house made strawberry jam that had us swooning. The smell of the fresh berries reminded us of the scent of summer time jamming sessions at home, which was a pretty spectacular thought on a rainy, cold winter night. Consider this entry our lobbying effort to get it on the main menu during the summer.
Huckleberry is located at 1014 Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica; (310) 451-2311
Honorable Mentions From Out Of Town:
Fried Quail at Statebird Provisions, San Francisco, CA
Flying Fish Cutters at Cuz's, Bridgetown, Barbados
Herbed Goat Cheese and Beet Salad with Foraged Greens At Appellation, Barossa Valley, Australia
Whole Peking Duck at Hakkasan, Las Vegas, NV