The Ultimate Guide to LA’s Best Summer Restaurant Openings
10 standouts from a pretty spectacular season
It’s been a stellar three months for LA’s best new restaurants — from the new ground-floor restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria to the latest opening for what’s essentially a roadside burger stand. (Note: In this case, the road in question is S. La Brea Avenue.) Whether you’re in the mood for a good stiff drink and some squash blossoms, or live-action agnolotti folding at Funke’s pasta lab, there’s something here to delight every diner — over Labor Day weekend, and through the seasons to come.
Evan Funke’s takeover of LA is near complete: Mother Wolf is reliably booked, and Funke’s now-mainstay Felix is usually packed. All those unsuccessful Resy requests must have gotten to him, because Funke just opened his latest spot, the eponymous Funke. Expect regular features — like squash blossoms and all manner of pizza — to be steady on the menu, with newer pastas churning out of the ground-floor pasta lab, which is streamed to TVs on the middle floor. Up top, a glowing pink onyx bar sets the tone for a sexy Beverly Hills rooftop, which is a bit more accessible than the sure-to-be-booked formal dining room adjacent to the pasta lab. It’s all delicious, exquisite Italian food formatted to an Angeleno’s palate.
I contend that mariscos are the perfect summer food: shellfish and other fishy bites prepared with the spice and heat that Mexican cooking intuitively brings to seafood. Za Za Zá is the slightly more casual backyard setup that accompanies its counterpart restaurant, Loreto, and serves up some of the same style of dishes, simply ordered at the window during the daytime. As Frogtown expands, another lunchtime spot is a boon for the neighborhood, with everything from aguachile, to yellowtail tostada — and even “Frogtown fries,” a shrimp-laden batch of crispy potatoes served with jalapeno, cilantro and red onion.
Tucked away next to more touristy options on this well-traveled Santa Monica strip, Mon Ami is a hidden gem that will delight locals and give foodies a spot to meet on the west side. Designed mostly as an outdoor space, but positioned down an alley and hidden behind a wooden gate, this patio is an unexpected enclave in the bustling area near the Santa Monica Pier. Massive mezze platters with whipped feta, Calabrian chili prawns, potato zeppole and baba ghanoush are the way to go here, followed up with a main dish like the lobster alla catalana pasta. Everything is fresh and light, seafood-focused and classically Mediterranean.
Named for a red pepper that’s a hallmark in Basque cuisine, Espelette, on the ground floor of the Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria, is a much more modern take on the French restaurant trope. With a menu that splits the difference between Mediterranean and European, chef Steve Benjamin has updated the cuisine served at this iconic hotel, in the former Jean-Georges space; the look and feel of the space has been elevated as well. Caviar will still be on offer, with a special scrambled eggs, espelette and crème fraiche presentation; for mains, branch out for the tableside Dover sole served with clarified butter.
Ocean Avenue just got a little better, with the opening of The Georgian hotel, a complete restoration of the historic property by Jonathan Blanchard and Nicolo Rusconi of BLVD Hospitality. In the lobby — and, in good weather, happily spilling onto the outdoor terrace — the restaurant at the hotel immediately became a Santa Monica dining destination. Caviar and potato chips, crudités with white bean hummus and a selection of crudo, salads and pastas keeps things light for guests who might be grazing. Heavier dishes like a pork chop anchor the menu for a full dinner service.
Chef and co-owner Melissa López prepares classic Portuguese dishes with the same skill she’s used in the Bestia kitchen. Start with the mezze spread of sesame seed bread, soft sheep’s milk cheese and some Jamón Ibérico and green olives. Follow that with the cod and potato fritters doused with a hearty squeeze of lemon. Obviously, this kind of snacking menu and cozy, bar-centric space pairs nicely with the full list of Spanish and Portuguese wines curated by wine director Evelyn Goreshnik. Do as the Portuguese do and settle in for a nice nosh and a “porto tonic” to get a bit of a buzz after a light lunch or before a proper dinner.
Sendero is the new dining hub on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carlton in downtown LA, which means views, views and more views. Carefully composed of several different entities — the casual bar and tapas-focused Corteza, a more formal fine dining steakhouse Leña, the Agave Library as a haven for rare spirits and premium tequilas, and an eight-seat chef’s table, Volante — the whole place works as an interconnected series of spaces. This means there’s something for everyone, across menus that can be interchanged — and chef Kevin Luzande is on a mission to impress with cuisine that pulls from Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Argentina. Ceviches, tiraditos and seafood towers abound, as do classic steak preparations and gourmet cuts, but a spinach and mozzarella empanada stole my heart. At the end of the meal, destroy your Día de los Muertos white chocolate skull dessert to reveal guava “brains” inside.
Tapas abound at the newest kitchen opened by the Factory Place Hospitality Group, with Catalan-born chef Mònica Angelats at the helm. Flor y Solera is a very authentic Spanish restaurant with influences and dishes pulled from 17 different regions of Spain. Those who love paellas are in luck, as the arròs negre with squid ink and cuttlefish is a delicious take on the classic dish, but even more surprising was the fideus. This dish is made in the paella style but with short pasta in place of the rice, and a mix of clams, shrimp, sofrito and garlic aioli made it the menu standout by a mile. Then again, Torta de Santiago con Sherry, or a traditional almond cake complete with its own sherry pairing, was another contender.
When you’re in the mood for a burger, there’s no spot turning out a more satisfying specimen right now than Irv’s Burgers. After the incredibly successful reopening of the original spot on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, the crew has expanded to a second location on La Brea. And while their block in WeHo is lined with great eats, this stretch of La Brea, frankly, could use the update. When I went in for a recent visit, the place was already popping with locals on lunch breaks or grabbing to-go orders. Their roadside burger includes two four-ounce patties made with a proprietary blend of brisket, sirloin, chuck — and it’s a double grind to really get things tender. Get it full-on with the lettuce, pickles, tomato, grilled onions and special sauce, and opt for some chili cheese fries while you’re there. The beef-heavy chili is also great on a chili cheese dog, if nostalgia has you in hot dog mode. (Pro tip: Their Oreo milkshake rivals — no, surpasses — the McFlurry version.)
The grab-and-go slice style has been a staple of New York cuisine for so long that New Yorkers seem to forget they didn’t invent it. In Rome, the model is still going strong, given a few small tweaks, with slices cut into squares and more inventive toppings than just cheese or pepperoni. Roca’s Pizza is a new outpost in the Pacific Palisades, of all places, that aims to bring that particular, Roman style of pizza by the slice to the other American coast, and their offerings are enough to get neighbors popping back in for more. That’s partially thanks to a successful pop-up in Glendale before this brick-and-mortar location officially opened, but LA’s already-thriving pizza scene earns one more winner with Roca. Plus, their kale and almond salad is no slouch when you’re in the mood for grab-and-go veggies to accompany a crunchy, cheesy pizza moment.
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