The 10 Best Restaurants That Opened in LA in 2019
From French brasseries to avocado hummus, it was a good year for SoCal eating
“You can’t force patina,” says Chef Dave Beran. He’s telling me this at the marble-topped bar of Pasjoli, his new restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica. He notes that this marble as well as the wood tables were purposefully made unfinished. “I want this place to age naturally.”
Given Chef Beran’s remarkable cuisine and the high price it rightly commands, one would assume those tables would be draped in white tablecloth. In the past they would’ve been. But the broader trend is to let the finishes speaks to the establishment’s quality. Why would you cover beautiful walnut with gold leaf?
Beran’s notion of letting things age is indicative of how sees his new digs: a home he intends to keep for a long time. Unlike many French brasseries, his is uncluttered. “Those brasseries in Paris are cluttered because the owner just kept adding stuff over time, not all at once,” he says. Most American brasseries start cluttered thinking they can replicate the aesthetic, but Beran is adding art as the place ages, letting friends bring items, too. As far as works-in-progress go, it’s still a stunning restaurant.
There’s a prevailing mindset nowadays to make restaurants that fit in with easily recognizable trends. But trends fade, and in a town with rising rents, labor and food costs, it behooves one to build something to last. Our favorite restaurants this year are spots that have longevity in their DNA. At least, we very much hope so.
It’s hard to imagine a French restaurant without foie gras. To replicate those flavors, Chef Beran uses chicken liver mousse and adds sauteed shallots, cream and butter. But he needed that oxidative quality found in the fat of real foie, so he and his sous chef added madeira and port wine and whipped it to just the right consistency. Then they make a small, dense loaf of brioche, and place a small round portion of the mousse in the center. Another standout: the crabe et chou-fleur, a fun play on flavor and texture. Two-thirds of the dish is fresh, cold blue crab, which is then topped with pickled cauliflower to provide a light acidic crunch. Don’t miss the chocolate souffle, which comes out like rich molten lava that cools under vanilla ice cream.
Yours Truly is the perfect embodiment of what I think our city’s cuisine should taste like: a foundation of seasonal ingredients fused through a kaleidoscope of the various cultures that call LA home. California is known for avocados, and Chef Vartan Abgaryan whips the soft fruit into a Mediterranean hummus with peanuts and serves it alongside a warm, pillowy za’atar flatbread. Chef Abgaryan makes food that’s sensationally textured in both figurative and actual layers of flavor, as in the chicken liver mille crepe, a 20-layer pastry in which rich liver is delicately sandwiched between thin rye dough like a cake. Another layered dish, the banana sundae, comes in a giant mug, begging you crack the burnt marsh-mellow top and shovel it in for the perfect bite of creamy, crunchy sweetness.
This stand is open-air and probably best visited when you don’t have much planned after, as every taco and ceviche is delicious and it’s tough to not eat all of the things. Chef Alex Carrasco worked at Scratch Bar and Mozza before taking over this former BBQ stand. He wraps his lamb in local palm leaves before roasting it for 24 hours in a spicy oil that permeates the meat, giving it a juicy kick of flavor. His blue corn tortillas are soft yet thick enough to handle it, and his ceviche has a subtle, tender earthiness. Wash it down with something sweet, like a bottled Coke.
Antico is the perfect size restaurant: big enough to feel convivial, small enough to feel intimate. The kitchen opens to the main room, which features both a chef’s table and a communal dining table. But you want to be seated along the walls so you can watch it all. The standout dish: crispy morsels of swordfish that have been sliced into bite-sized chunks before being skewered. Chef Chad Colby has a stellar resume that includes stints at Mozza, Chi Spacca and Campanile. His debut restaurant delivers, and he’s a master on the flame, as evidenced by the succulent steak that’s evenly cooked with just the right amount of char. This is also, at heat, an Italian restaurant; don’t forgo the pastas. And the ice cream is made in a Carpigiani, an Italian device that whips milk into a divinely creamy state — the honeycomb is a dead ringer for salted caramel.
Bon Temps is the sort of all-day bistro everyone wishes was in their neighborhood. The good news is that the chicken paillard and steak are worth the drive across town. The gravlax is an ideal lunch item, popping in bright pink and neon green. The crunchy herb-speckled frites come with an eggy aioli. But the real reason you’re here is for the pastries. Lincoln Carson (Superba, Mina Restaurant Group) is perhaps the Walter White of pastries. His best trick is a delicate cheesecake that looks like a tart.
Spoon & Pork
You want a delicious meal at a great price, and you want an alcoholic beverage with it. Silverlake is flush with great value-driven restaurants like Spoon & Pork (if only the westside would catch up!). If you’re looking for something healthy, the coco jack is an interesting vegan bowl of rice with a slightly pungent fermented black bean that’s cut by the sweetness of coconut milk. But then there’s the patita, a pork shank that’s been slow cooked and then deep fried before it’s coated in a chili garlic sauce. Its flavorful nature is tamed by cucumbers and fluffy white rice for a perfectly balance dish.
If you take a mushroom, cook it just right, then add cream and Tic Tac-sized morsels of glistening bacon, you can replicate the flavors and textures of mac and cheese. Or at least Chef Jeremy Fox can, at his new Santa Monica restaurant, Birdie G’s, where veggies are transformed into the kind of indulgent snacks you’d expect to find at your favorite burger joint or pizza parlor (don’t worry, carnivores — he also serves meat). What was a figgy duck in summer is now glazed fowl with persimmons. It still rests on a bed of creamy, whipped polenta that could fool a Carolina boy into thinking he was eating grits in Dixie. Do leave room for dessert: the pies rotate nightly, and the matzo bark is a Skor Bar for foodies.
Onda is a warm, soulful kitchen in the Proper Hotel that belies its austere, vaguely Scandinavian ambience. The cuisine comes courtesy of Chef Gabriela Cámara, an award-winning chef out of Mexico City, and Chef Jessica Koslow, a local star best known for her work at Sqrl. The fish hiding in kelp is among the most memorable things I’ve eaten this year; it comprises crispy sheets of thick kelp with anchovies fried into place for a nice umami crunch. The pork jowl and ears come from Peads and Barnetts, a great local farmer that feeds their free-range pigs seaweed and oats, which renders the meat super fatty and delicious. Chef Cámara cuts the fat of the jowl with pickled carrots and bibb lettuce.
700 Wilshire Blvd. (map)
I’ve now been to American Beauty several times, and the consistency is remarkable. The grass-fed NY Strip has more fatty flavor than any grass fed steak we’ve tried, yet it’s still lean. The prime rib has been dry-aged for 15 days, a perfect amount of time to infuse the meat with a funk that doesn’t overpower the cut. The sleeper dish on the menu remains the maitake mushrooms, which arrive piled on onions whipped to a buttery potato consistency. And if you’re not in the for red meat, the trout is a buttery alternative that hits all the right notes.
Original Cannabis Cafe
From a culinary perspective, the Original Cannabis Café (formerly Lowell Café) doesn’t reach the consistency or the culinary heights of the other restaurants on this year’s list. The smashburger is a solid American staple, delicious but not addictive. The vegan nachos are evenly layered so you always get a good bite. It’s good bar food, but that’s not why you come here. You come because for the first time in the history of our great nation, you can order a joint from a lovely “flower host” (basically a weed sommelier) and spark up at your table. If joints aren’t your thing, there are also bongs, dabs, oils and edibles. It all adds up to a cozy, hip vibe, and a model for what responsible, refined cannabis consumption should look like in America.