Finally, Los Angeles’ restaurant scene is breaking out. While other major cities have always offered a sea of fine dining, remixes on classic cuisine and the ubiquitous food truck, for years, L.A.’s offerings were a bit more straightforward. Casual oceanside dining places to be seen instead of nibble, reliable tacos, great sushi, and casual fare to match the city’s perpetually laid back vibes. Now, that’s all changing. Chefs are reimagining what a city of 18.5 million people crave. Flavors that embody the melting pot that is L.A.– Mexican, Korean, French, Japanese, Thai– are all claiming a spot. Lucky for my palate, I experienced some of the places that are making L.A.’s vibrant dining scene one to remember.
Here are just a few:
3343 West Pico Blvd.
“Gnocchi should taste like a cloud, right?” The question, posed by Chef Francesco, was a reasonable one. The soft dough dumplings should, in fact, be airy and light. Standing behind a wooden counter at Pasta Sisters, plates were funneled out of the kitchen like the perfect scene from a carb lover’s dream. It was here, in an unassuming parking lot in West Los Angeles, that I experienced a homemade pasta throwdown. That cloud-like gnocchi Francesco referred to is what brought Pasta Sisters—now an L.A. favorite—into fruition. Tired of paying exorbitant prices for simple pasta dishes, the Da Re family opened the establishment with the belief that everyone should be able to enjoy a good, home-cooked meal. Executive Chef Paola Da Re is joined by her son Francesco and daughter Giorgia to celebrate the flavors of Veneto, Italy. It is the kind of place that makes you forget white table cloth and Chianti and yearn for the simplicity of a small table, al dente pasta, and good company.
Together they have created an impressive menu that includes beef and eggplant lasagna, a pesto gnocchi, porcini risotto, and, an unforgettable bottarga. The dish is so simple, yet dynamic in flavor, that it’s hard to believe that just cured fish and olive oil give it such zest. I am not ashamed to admit that I had it twice in two weeks. Yes, it is just that good.
243 S San Pedro St.
Downtown Los Angeles is having a moment. As a native to the city, I am always in awe of the growing condos, crowds, and of, course, new restaurants. What was once a food desert and corporate haven is now becoming another highly trafficked neighborhood trying to find its personality. There is no lack of food options, and I’ve included just a few of my favorites. Baldoria is a newly opened spot in Little Tokyo that offers shared plates and craft cocktails. Design includes a long bar, communal seating, and outdoor tables. Chef Duke Gervais (Cube, Pizzeria Antica) and David King (Mozza) helm the food and spirits menu. Cocktails get a personalized twist, crafted ahead of time in their own bottles for diners to imbibe.
A remix on an old-fashioned made with Early Grey infused white whiskey should not be missed. Must-order dishes include a charred octopus pizza, short rib ravioli, and Gervais’ impressive Caribbean spiced duck wings topped with a mango salsa. Baldoria’s weekend brunch is also a favorite, serving up dishes like spicy fried chicken waffle tacos.
108 W 2nd St #104
I have this thing for Indian food. Having traveled around the markets of New Delhi and nearby cities, my love affair with the complex spices and flavors continues to grow. Badmaash brings some of those beloved street classics to the heart of downtown L.A. Think casual Indian gastropub. A hipstered out Gandhi lines the walls. The menu includes Chili cheese garlic naan. Chicken tikka poutine. Just like its name, Badmaash is a bit rebellious. BrothersArjun and Nakul Mahendro run the joint, alongside their father, Chef Pawan Mahendro. Favorites included curried mussels, prepared Madras style with coconut milk– and a smoky chicken tikka masala. There is also a savory list of condiments to accompany each dish—masala onion and chiles, whipped cucumber yogurt raita, and five pepper hot sauce. To finish the meal, warm chai tea is a welcomed cool off after the complex spices that only Indian cuisine can pull off so well.
Just as eclectic as the food is Badmaash’s vibe. Tupac and old Kanye joints blare from the sound system. Just about every demographic noshes on naan. It’s hip without being too over the top, with food and music that will equally cause patrons to bob their heads.
727 N Broadway #128
Holy hot chicken. My first introduction to fiery poultry occurred earlier this year at Nashville’s well-loved Hattie B’s. Since that unforgettable experience, I’ve longed for another chance to set my mouth on fire. In came Los Angeles’ newest sensation: Howlin’ Rays, appropriately named considering the chicken’s five levels of heat, could well, make you yelp. The line for this downtown dig snakes around Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, particularly during lunch hour, so, if you’re starving, it’s best to go as soon as it opens or close to closing. Regardless, the wait is worth it.
Golden crisp pieces of chicken are tender with a level of heat for every palate- eat a side of salty pickles to subdue said heat. The star is the chicken sandwich, a gigantic and tender piece of fried bird stuffed between two soft buns with a slaw for crunch. Chef Johnny Zone leads a young, energetic team in the kitchen. Sandwiches are presented to counter side patrons in unison. “Yes, chef!” as a call and response is amusing in such a casual environment, but reinforces the teamwork that makes Howlin Rays so special. At tables, some necks and faces are covered in sweat. These are the bold customers who take pride in setting off a grenade in their mouths. I was not so adventurous, but, my chosen level (mild) proved to be some of the best-seasoned chicken I’ve ever devoured.
CULINA RESTAURANT, FOUR SEASONS BEVERLY HILLS
The brunch at The Four Seasons Beverly Hills is what middle of breakfast and lunch dream meals are made of. A favorite haunt for celebrities and locals, the lavish dining in Culina restaurant includes traditional breakfast items like waffles and an omelet station, but, the real magic is in its wide range of foods from around the world: mushroom quesadillas, dim sum, and sushi, Italian charcuterie. Just as notable is the cocktail list, with everything from classic Bloody Marys to vodka with an herbaceous twist. You would be hard-pressed to find a better brunch in most cities.
633 W 5th St.
Dining has reached new heights, literally, with 71 Above. The astonishing views from this new downtown restaurant are so surreal, they almost outshine the food. Almost. Emil Eyvazoff and Chef Vartan Abgaryan have created an environment worth cooing over. 200 windows give diners an unparalleled view of the city. It is the highest restaurant west of the Mississippi.
The three-course lunch menu fuses the best of California produce with visually stunning dishes. There is also an optional wine pairing. Strawberry gazpacho is light and a welcomed twist on the summer classic. Halibut with heirloom tomatoes, pearl onion, aged sherry and herbs, was just the flaky fish dish I was craving. For a more casual experience, diners can enjoy food and cocktails at the bar. View included.
258 Santa Monica Pier
There’s really nothing quite like a sunny Los Angeles near the ocean. Add delicious seafood with a view and I’m in. The Albright, located on the Santa Monica Pier, is a casual restaurant with a loyal following. Communal tables and craft beers make it the perfect location for a casual lunch. The design is true to its location- think casual surf shack meets rustic al fresco dining. Diners order at a counter from options that include a Cobb salad, fresh catch of the day and Kumamoto oysters. There is also the treasured California classic– fish tacos with a crispy slaw in a corn tortilla.
The Albright also offers made-to-order picnic baskets for Oceanside dining. Order the rock crab and get up close and personal with the Pacific Ocean.
8850 West Washington Boulevard
Vegetarians, skip this part. The Cannibal, a restaurant and butcher shop, is unabashedly a place for carnivores to enjoy cuts of meat and copious amounts of beer. Chef Francis Derby serves up everything from terrine to a tender short rib for two. There are also 500 beers to choose from, with ten rotated on tap. Located in Culver City’s new Platform complex, it’s clear that the restaurant has achieved a loyal following very quickly. The crowd is eclectic, and so are the sausages– infused with root beer, topped with tripe chile. A whole pig’s head may wow or scare, depending on how you like your pork packaged. Regardless, The Cannibal packs in the people, and meats.