Los Angeles: Home of America's Hottest Culinary Scene
By Jenny Peters
Los Angeles Local Expert
From the beach to downtown and everywhere in between, the culinary offerings in Los Angeles are literally endless. You'll find dining choices on almost every block -- and food trucks pulled up to the curb, too. It's a city of blended nationalities (with people from 140 countries who speak over 200 different languages at last count), which means every ethnic group is represented. It's the heart of California cuisine, a unique fusion of French, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and other gastronomies, with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Famed chefs like Spago's Wolfgang Puck, Nobu Malibu's Nobu Matsuhisa, Patina's Joachim Splichal and Pizzeria Mozza's Nancy Silverton (who was anointed America's Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2014) call the city home, along with plenty of "Top Chef" and Food Network stars. Southern California is even the birthplace of some of the world's most famous fast-food joints, including McDonald's and In-and-Out. The competition is fierce to be the best here and restaurants come and go like the ocean tide, so to rise to the very top takes a winning combination of exemplary food, cool design, hot buzz and -- especially for the ones that make it for the long haul -- consistency in all aspects of service and fare.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
Branded "Top Newcomer" by Zagat Los Angeles in 2010, Chef Jose Andres dreams up a multi-course tasting menu to titillate your tastes at The Bazaar, ranging from traditional to contemporary flavors. Philippe Starck's simple, elegant décor is an excellent compliment to the chef's creativity and presentation skills. This is the restaurant located inside the SLS Hotel that GQ Magazine called one of the "10 Best New Restaurants in America" in 2010; the quality and innovation continue to today. Newest up? Tapas on the Terrace, an al fresco happy hour that serves up craft cocktails and plenty of light bites. The $12 Endless Sangria is a steal. (310-246-5555)
République took over the spot on La Brea Blvd. that once housed Campanile and proved at once that it is a worthy successor to that Mark Peel/Nancy Silverton effort that lived in the space for over 20 years. Those two famed chefs are divorced, but the République pair -- chefs Walter and Margarita Manzke -- are going strong with this French-with-a-California-tinge bistro. Their French fries are the stuff of legend already, and while it may sound strange, try the Eggs on Toast appetizer, a heady mix of Uni and soft-scrambled eggs. Actually, it is basically impossible to find a less-than-stellar dish at this convivial place, but if house-made charcuterie (terrines, pates and meats) is in your wheelhouse, you will not find better in Los Angeles. Terrific braised short ribs, truffle risotto, and Thai lobster soup prove that you should expect the unexpected at this "French" bistro. (310-362-6115)
Baby Blues BBQ
This classic BBQ joint delivers everything a true connoisseur of the smoker could ever want. What began as a tiny outpost on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice (visit that location, too) has turned into a four-restaurant and catering empire for BBQ masters Rick McCarthy and Danny Fischer. The spacious West Hollywood branch offers up all their top-notch smoked-forever favorites: Brisket, Tri Tip, Pulled Pork, Chicken and three kinds of ribs -- Baby Back, Memphis Style and Texas Style. Four sauces (be careful of the XXX) are on the table to add even more heat. They'll smoke you up some catfish or shrimp too, throw in some sides like gooey mac 'n cheese, fried okra and amazing baked beans and make sure you've got a craft beer or a cool cocktail (we're partial to the Deep Eddy Vodka Ruby Paloma) to wash it all down. There's no more satisfying place for BBQ in this town -- and we know, as BBQ mavens, we've made it our mission to try every single one. (323-656-1277)
Bouchon - Beverly Hills
Thomas Keller is America's most famous chef cooking today; his French Laundry in the Napa Valley is the touchstone for all other U.S. restaurants. Here in L.A., Bouchon Beverly Hills is the only place to sample his fare, made with Chef David Hands at the helm. It's a classic French bistro, with a lively ambiance, an extensive wine list (with only French and American wines served here) and an especially satisfying menu. The Steak Frites melts in your mouth; the incomparable Escargots á La Bourguigonne are surrounded in a puff pastry soaked in garlic butter and will make you swoon; and the hand-made Agnolotti with Truffles is decadence on a plate. There's a full raw bar, caviar if you're in the mood and luscious desserts that will break your diet for a week with one bite. What's not to love? (310-271-9910)
Patina calls itself "a quiet haven from the stress and tumult of everyday life," so leave your cell phone behind and dive into this famed restaurant that makes its home just inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A. It's the place that made Chef Joachim Splichal famous, where the German-born, award-winning tocque melds French and California cuisine into something uniquely his. The menu is ever-changing, but if his Octopus á la Plancha is available, don't miss it, for it's some of the best we've ever tasted. Try the tasting menu, six courses for $120, or go for the famed Pepper Crusted Jidori Chicken, the plump and sweet Diver Sea Scallops or the crispy Wild Striped Bass served with a potato confit. The Peanut Butter Torte tops off any entree with a flourish with a mix of sensual flavors; the whole dining experience at Patina is practically orgasmic! (213-972-3331)
Chef Helene An and her family escaped Vietnam as the Communists overran Saigon in 1975 and the rest really is history. She carried out the secret recipes that have made Crustacean one of the top restaurants in Beverly Hills for almost 20 years; and she's even got a secret kitchen-within-the-kitchen where only the few in the know are allowed. Her garlic noodles with prawns are legendary, as is her huge Dungeness crab roasted in secret spices. Plus, there are delicious hot and cold tapas that span culinary genres, ranging from a sweet and spicy meatball to an Ahi taco, a lobster lollipop and a fascinating beef summer roll. Celebrate the 100th anniversary of Beverly Hills with An's Centennial Wagyu Beef served with a sweet secret glaze that pops in your mouth. And did we mention that the place is incredibly beautiful, with a fish tank built into the floor? (310-205-8990)
Los Angeles is where it all began for Nobu Matsuhisa, the acknowledged king of Japanese cuisine, who now has high-end eateries all over the world. His first restaurant, Matsuhisa, is a tiny place on La Cienega Boulevard; Nobu Los Angeles is further north up that same street; and the prettiest of them all, Nobu Malibu, is perched right on the sand on Pacific Coast Highway in the heart of that posh beach community. Malibu gets our vote for the best of three solely on location, for the gorgeous ocean views and sleek restaurant design somehow make Nobu's signature dishes like Black Cod Miso and Yellowtail with Jalapeno seem even more delicious when eaten there (and they are seriously fantastic no matter where you taste them). (310-317-9140)
Ever since Mélisse opened its doors in 1999, Chef-Owner Josiah Citrin has pushed for excellence in every element of this fine-dining experience -- and has succeeded admirably. His restaurant is the kind of place where patrons dress for dinner, the silver is real and every dish is precisely made to the exacting standards of French haute cuisine. Constantly showered with accolades, Mélisse led the way toward seasonal menus sourced via local farmer's markets (Citrin is a fixture at the famed Santa Monica market) and continues to innovate. Try the legendary Dover sole made tableside in the summer or share the Cote de Boeuf Roti for two, made with a beef rib dry aged for 35 days. Make sure to pair your whole meal with wine, as Melisse has one of the best cellars in the city. (310-395-0881)
From the moment Lucques opened on Melrose Avenue near La Cienega in 1998, Chef Suzanne Goin's rustic bistro has been a hot spot for those that love French food. Her Steak Frites (made with Niman Ranch beef and paired with perfect house made French fries) is legendary and always on the menu; otherwise, Goin follows the seasons, so don't expect her delicate sweet corn soup to be served in December. But whatever is on the menu, it is certain to be delicious. Goin cemented her status as one of the top toques in Los Angeles with her 2006 James Beard Foundation Best Chef Pacific Award and has a number of other top-ranked restaurants around town, including a.o.c, The Hungry Cat, Tavern and The Larder at Maple Drive. Visit every one if you have time! (323-655-6277)
Sit in an inside booth or out at a garden table, there's not a bad seat in the house at Spago, the jewel in Wolfgang Puck's culinary crown. Now in Beverly Hills, the restaurant began its life in West Hollywood in 1982 and for more than 30 years has delivered consistently delicious, innovative dishes. Puck, who recently received the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, led the way in creating "California cuisine" -- the fusion of different ethnic foods (Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Mexican) all made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to taste the signature dishes: the Spicy Tuna Tartare, the Pizza with House Smoked Smoked Salmon, the Hand Made Agnolotti and the massive Grilled Veal Chop. And be sure to look around, too, for there's likely to be a famous star sitting at a nearby table. (310-385-0880)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
Read more about Jenny Peters here.