It’s been 10 years since Michelin published a guide to the restaurants of America’s second-largest city, but 2019 sees its return. The timing could not be better. As my recent visit confirmed, Los Angeles now ranks among the great dining destinations of the United States. Now people go to upscale restaurants there for the food as much as for the people-watching.
To get a sense for where the Los Angeles dining scene has been heading, we focused on restaurants that opened in 2018 or later. But even within that limited period of time there were several tempting new establishments that our schedule forced us to skip, most notably Bavel, which serves acclaimed Middle Eastern cuisine downtown. Indeed, the problem with eating out in Los Angeles nowadays, at least for visitors, is figuring out which excellent restaurants to omit from your itinerary.
It seemed criminal to leave Los Angeles without trying some tacos. This creative new restaurant in the downtown Arts District is an ideal lunch stop after visiting nearby galleries and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Service is very casual — you order at the register, take a number and find a table — but very friendly, and the unique tacos are delicious. We tried a Baja fried-cod taco with crunchy panko-breaded cod, purple cabbage, chipotle crema and cilantro; a sweet and spicy char sui taco with avocado and radish; and a savory Pocho taco with a crunchy shell, fresh raw-tomatillo salsa, flavorful aged cheddar and wild boar. A citrusy and refreshing La Favela cocktail of cachaça, local gin, pineapple, salted agave and lime was an ideal accompaniment.
2000 East Seventh Street, Los Angeles. Tel. (213) 375-3300
Filipino cuisine never fails to delight me with its deep flavors, so I was excited to try this new restaurant within walking distance of the Hotel Covell. The upscale menu was both delicious and well-priced, and the atmosphere, like that of Guerrilla Tacos, was colorful and casual. We started with a skillet of sizzling eggplant with tofu, red onion and spiced caramel, followed by some addictive garlic crab noodles with Thai basil, toasted coconut and a mound of sweet crabmeat. I also relished the Lechon Two Ways, a dish of pork belly with chicharrón-like skin, and paksiw stew (pork shoulder simmered in soy sauce and vinegar). Only the dessert, a verrine of mango mousse and tamarind tapioca, proved dull. Closed Tuesday.
4330 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. Tel. (323) 741-8371
One of downtown Los Angeles’ newest eateries is also one of its best. Hidden on a side street in the Arts District, this chic restaurant has a bright industrial-luxe décor and superlative food influenced by a wide range of Asian cuisines. An appetizer of hand-chopped beef tartare had a complex interplay of flavors and textures, with sesame oil, black garlic, slightly spicy gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder), creamy egg yolk “jam” and crunchy crackers made from tapioca pearls. I also loved the al dente squid ink bucatini with subtly spicy cuttlefish “Bolognese.” To drink, I ordered a virgin mule of zesty housemade ginger beer and lime. Closed Monday.
923 East Third Street, Suite 109, Los Angeles. Tel. (213) 626-8888
This fashionable hotel opened early in 2018, and though it’s far too large to be considered a hideaway, its sumptuous main restaurant deserves a visit. It occupies an ornate former bank from the 1920s with a soaring coffered ceiling; one floor below, its washrooms are tucked behind a massive vault door. Velvet damask upholsteries, tropical plants and a stuffed peacock mounted on a pedestal gave the restaurant an air of Victorian decadence. I ordered a glass of refined and focused Jacquère from Savoie to pair with an appetizer of fried sunchokes with cotija cheese and a cream of green chile and makrut lime, plus some fresh and flavorful kanpachi (amberjack) ceviche, meant to be wrapped in the accompanying lettuce leaves and paper-thin watermelon radish disks. The wine also worked beautifully with my main dish of buttery seared scallops with sweet squash and white coco beans (if not my companion’s hearty pappardelle with braised lamb, Broccolini and pine nuts). We couldn’t resist a wonderfully bittersweet dessert of chocolate-and-caramel tart with chocolate sorbet.
The Restaurant at The NoMad Hotel
649 South Olive Street, Los Angeles. Tel. (213) 358-0000
Two large rice paper globe chandeliers illuminate the stylish and lustrous gray-and-lavender interior of this restaurant in West Hollywood. Pacifique had been open less than a month when we visited — it debuted in February 2019 — but it already had its act together. While we consulted the Japanese-influenced menu, I sipped a unique Miho No Matsubara cocktail of rum, charred pineapple and banana-apple cider vinegar, a kombucha-like riff on a classic daiquiri. A salad of bitter radicchio and sweet pink lady apples came with savory soy nuts, yuzu kosho (fermented chiles and citrus) and cinnamon-date purée. I also enjoyed some al dente agnolotti filled with creamy potato purée and topped with beurre blanc, garlic confit and subtle mentaiko (spicy cod roe), as well as my main course of delicate rock cod with a light glaze of kabosu (a Japanese citrus) and sansho pepper, accompanied by herbaceous mizuna (mustard green) pesto and dashi broth. After seeing the table next to us receive the yuzu tart for dessert, I instantly regretted not ordering one for us.
631 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood. Tel. (310) 359-0788
Star chef José Andrés, together with acclaimed chef de cuisine Aitor Zabala, opened this 10-seat restaurant last year in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, and it ranks among L.A.’s most expensive. Tickets (reservations are prepaid) cost $265.50 per person, including a $50 service charge and $28.50 in taxes, but not beverages. A nonalcoholic drink pairing costs an additional $85, and wine pairings range between $175 and $500 per person, not including service or tax. If those numbers aren’t daunting, a dinner at Somni is a sensational experience. We started in a lounge area outside the restaurant for canapés (crunchy potato “paper” dipped in manteca colorá, for example) before heading inside to sit at the counter. Each course arrived with a description and a flourish, and most often a spoon or two; forks and knives rarely appeared. With few exceptions, the small courses packed big flavor punches. A super-savory slice of “Pizza Margherita” had a crust of clarified tomato water meringue, and bright and fresh “guacamole” came with ice cream-like avocado purée spiked with habanero chile liqueur, tequila, mint and basil. I relished the textures of a course of tempura shiso leaf topped with dry-aged strip loin tartare and blue borage flowers. A simple but sublimely fresh peel-and-eat spot prawn took me right back to a memorable seafood meal I had along Barcelona’s waterfront. And bone-in Spanish turbot, paired with some aromatic turbot-bone tea, was great fun to eat in the manner of a chicken wing. The staff was sometimes too aggressive with clearing dishes, especially when courses involved two or more plates. But in all other respects, our experience was a delight. Since the restaurant was so small, many of us ended up chatting with one another, giving the meal the feel of an extraordinary dinner party. If you can afford to dine at Somni, you won’t find that your money has been wasted. Closed Sunday and Monday.
465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Beverly Hills. Tel. (310) 246-5543
This dark, contemporary West Hollywood restaurant has a menu drawn from the cuisines of Italy, France, Spain and Morocco and an atmosphere that is at once romantic and a little boisterous. After considering the 37 options of wines by the glass or half-glass, I ended up with a white Gros Manseng from Arsac, northwest of Bordeaux. It cut through the richness of the Blue Crab Simplissime appetizer of sweet crabmeat, lobster-cognac bisque and silky whipped potatoes. Charred cauliflower with tangy pomegranate and a hint of spicy heat from some harissa provided a healthy counterpoint, reversed by a plate of luscious bucatini with duck prosciutto, shallots and bone marrow scraped tableside into the mix. I wondered why the bone remained on the table as I ate my main of John Dory with coriander, carrot, crunchy parsnip strips and saffron broth. It hadn’t been forgotten. Our waiter had left it there in case we wanted to do a “bone luge,” which involves the sommelier pouring five-year Madeira down the trough of the bone straight into a patron’s mouth. Even in college, I didn’t do anything so ridiculous. It was $5 well spent.
8500 West Sunset Boulevard, Suite B, West Hollywood. Tel. (310) 360-3866
Most tables in this friendly Italian restaurant in the Kimpton La Peer Hotel overlook either the open kitchen or a small parking lot, but the room feels bright and airy just the same, with the atmosphere of a colorful brasserie. I had a lovely lunch of tender grilled squid with crunchy ceci (chickpeas) and charred lemon, and some al dente casarecce (scroll-shaped pasta) with spicy Calabrian sausage, rich tomato, bitter radicchio and fresh mint. Since we were dining in West Hollywood, it seemed only appropriate to order a Naked & Famous cocktail (yellow chartreuse, Aperol, mezcal and lime) to pair.
Viale dei Romani
623 North La Peer Drive, West Hollywood. Tel. (310) 691-1600