As an eating destination, Los Angeles has long (arguably) played second fiddle to its rival to the north, San Francisco, where finding a great place to dine is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Geography is possibly the biggest challenge to the establishment of a strong dining culture in SoCal. Simply put, getting anywhere is such an ordeal—so many miles, so much traffic—that many Angelenos tend to hunker down at the end of the day and patronize local establishments or camp out safely at home. But a robust food culture is taking hold in L.A., thanks to some pioneering iconic chefs who mentored a second generation of talent; the next generation of chefs is responsible for an ever-expanding variety of hip and mainly casual eateries designed to complement the region's laid-back lifestyle.
Here's a sampling of the more noteworthy additions to the mix.
A modern eatery in the Helms Bakery District of Culver City, Bucato’s menu features market-driven, handcrafted Italian choices, particularly pasta. Chef Even Funke, a Rustic Canyon alum, eschews mechanical pasta production in favor of pasta fatto a mano, basically elbow grease combined with simple hand tools. A dedicated “pasta lab” above the dining room is temperature controlled to duplicate the seasonal climate of Bologna, Italy, where Funke learned how to make pastas by hand—something he demonstrates in this video:
One of Restaurant Hospitality’s “5 restaurants with the ‘it’ factor,” Trois Mec is a hot ticket—literally. You need a hard-to-come-by ticket to eat there. As the Los Angeles Times’ Jonathan Gold put it, “There is not a less convenient way to dine.” No matter. Tickets are sold out within a few minutes. The brainchild of hot chef Ludo Lefebvre, Trois Mec is laid-back French, accessible fine dining. Esquire named it the best new restaurant of 2013, and L.A. Weekly called it “the most exciting, most fun, most delicious restaurant to open in L.A. in recent memory.” This year, Lefebvre followed up next door with Petit Trois, a table-free spot that serves French bistro fare with American inflections.
Tasked to make the restaurant at the Beverly Garland Hotel more relevant to locals, executive chef Warren Schwartz created a “food and beverage workshop” as an interim solution before a new signature restaurant, The Front Yard, opens in winter 2014. Guests find daily handwritten menus featuring locally sourced and seasonal ingredients ranging from ceviche to Korean braised short rib, pappardelle, prime angus burgers and beyond. Schwartz intends for the menu to reflect the multicultural nature of the city. The idea is to migrate the most popular dishes to the new concept.
Once home to La Brea Bakery and Campanile, this cavernous midcity sit eis now home to Republique, featuring the husband-wife team of chefs Walter and Margarita Manzke. The complex includes a bakery, charcuterie counter and raw bar and has been stunningly restored with original fixtures, period lighting, bar stools and reclaimed wood tables using materials from the 1920s, when the building opened. A daily menu, rooted in contemporary French cuisine, includes traditional starters along with pastas, seafood and steaks. Guests can choose from long communal tables in the bar area or more private seating at the rear of Republique.
Opened about a year ago in a largely residential stretch of Universal City, Girasol is a hyper-locally sourced concept from Top Chef alum and SoCal native C.J. Jacobson. “Having grown up here, my cuisine is influenced by multiple cultures—Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indian—basically the tapestry of flavors found in L.A.," he explains. Jacobson’s resume includes stints with Wolfgang Puck Catering, Campanile and, most recently, Noma. From his stage at the latter he became a big fan of foraging, something he puts to use on his “herb-forward” mixed menu: grilled octopus salad with long-roasted eggplant, little gem, sweet and sour chili, toasted lovage and rosemary ash oil; braised leg of lamb with crispy Brussels sprouts, charred juniper parsnip puree and huckleberry; or shaved Brussels sprouts and quince with applewood smoked pistachio breadcrumbs.
Following in the footsteps of their popular gastropubs Hudson House and Tripel, husband-and-wife team Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts this summer unveiled their long-awaited Playa Provisions in the beachside enclave of Playa del Rey. The 7,000-square-foot concept encompasses four spaces: Dockside, an inventive, seasonal seafood dining room; King Beach, a sandwich and fresh salad marketplace; Small Batch, a homemade ice cream counter; and Grain, a sexy and intimate whiskey bar.“We want Playa Provisions to be the place where adults want to come for date night, but also the place the kids beg to go for ice cream after the beach," Williamson says. Dex Design Studio incorporated natural woods with quirky light fixtures, bright green and blue design elements, chalkboard menus, leather seating and outdoor fire pits.
Very busy vegan chef Tal Ronnen, who helped create the LYFE Kitchen brand, has penned cookbooks and helped chefs at Wynn Las Vegas devise vegan menus, among other things, finally got around to opening his own restaurant, and the show business crowd has responded. Located on fashionable Melrose, Crossroads is a vegan restaurant that resembles an upscale steakhouse. The menu, best described as stealth vegan, features familiar tastes—elevated plant food disguised as Mediterranean standards. Highlights include artichoke oysters with artichoke puree, crispy oyster mushroom, yellow tomato Bearnaise and kelp caviar; and caramelized leek flatbread with crispy root vegetables; and carrot cake ice cream with candied carrot chips.
This NoCal-bred concept opened its first SoCal location in downtown Burbank, with plans for two more in the L.A. area in the coming months. The menu, created by Slanted Door alum Grace Nguyen, is designed to bridge the gap between fast casual and neighborhood restaurants with lots of buzzworthy attributes: all-scratch, locally sourced, sustainable, all natural. Customers choose from rice or noodles, proteins and add-ons to build the dishes, which are served in boxes, of course.
Paul Hibler, the mastermind behind Pitfire Artisan pizza, Superba Snack Bar and East Borough, partnered with executive chef Jason Travi on Superba Food + Bread, in Venice. The premise is similar to Hibler’s other concepts: reasonably priced, handcrafted fare in a neighborhood gathering place. A gimmick: The restaurant makes afternoon bread deliveries to locals via bicycle.
Two locations are open, with a third in the works for L.A.’s downtown. The menu is deceptively simple—burgers and sides, modern cocktails, whiskeys and craft beers—but chef Ernesto Uchimura’s food is well-prepared and the urban industrial interiors create a neighborhood oasis.
Open a little over a year, David Myers’ latest concept is a gem hidden in an unlikely location: an office tower within Century City. The cool, dark interior lies adjacent to a private patio that makes the most of the L.A. sunshine. Chef Kuniko Yagi executes an imaginative and eclectic Japanese-inspired, California-influenced small plates menu that beckons foodies from the city and well beyond.