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Two customers laughing with dinner plates spread across the table
Dig into a full spread of pan-African plates at Two Hommés in Inglewood.
(Ron De Angelis/For The Times)

23 newcomers to the 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. guide to visit ASAP

There are countless strategies for eating your way through the current 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles guide. You could approach it by region and venture into neighborhoods you might not normally visit. Or you might be motivated to dine at the most affordable options before making reservations at high-end picks. Perhaps you prefer to learn through your plate by first exploring cuisines that you’re less familiar with.

101 best restaurants, hall of fame, best drinks and more: This guide is essential to dining in Los Angeles.

Dec. 19, 2023

There’s no wrong way to tackle the list, but as the new year settles in, what better way to set the tone than by starting with the newcomers? That includes standouts that opened their doors last year as well as other local favorites for the most recent edition, spanning inventive global takes in an Echo Park video arcade, Syrian-style shawarma in Sherman Oaks, a crudo-focused patio in Santa Monica and much more. Here are 23 restaurants that appeared on the 101 Best Restaurants list for the first time last year:

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A trout dish in a yellow-green sauce topped with onions from Bar Chelou
(Dino Kuznik / For The Times)

Bar Chelou

Pasadena French $$
Housed in the same 98-year-old Spanish Colonial Revival complex as the Pasadena Playhouse, Bar Chelou brings welcome eccentricity and some accomplished cooking to the City of Roses. I remember Douglas Rankin’s modernist plates at the now-closed Bar Restaurant in Silver Lake, and I’m happy that he’s reunited at Bar Chelou with Raymond Morales, his pastry chef from that era. Grasp Rankin’s style in his bravura approach to vegetables. Not all of them purely shout “plant-based.” Snap peas arrive in anchovy cream under a shower of grated cured egg yolk and crumbled chistorra, a thin Basque sausage. The gist is “bacon bits and vitello tonnato meet up for a farmers market run.” The result is uncanny and delicious. A magnificent rainbow trout entree is presented sauced in twinned nouvelle cuisine squiggles of garlic-chive oil and pil pil (traditionally made by blending salt cod, garlic and olive oil) and served over rice pilaf caramelized in corn juice to achieve a ragged sort of crispness. For a finale: Morales’ lemon-chamomile semifreddo beautifully crowned with a rosette-shaped fritter. Kae Whalen, one of my favorite sommeliers in Southern California, shepherds diners through her natural-leaning, something-for-everyone wine list.
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Soy-braised wild black cod from Baroo
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Baroo

Downtown L.A. Korean $$$
Los Angeles had never seen anything like the 16-seat restaurant that Kwang Uh began in a small Hollywood strip mall with childhood friend Matthew Kim in 2015. His food had an unbridled streak of originality: pastas and grain bowls wild with nuts, seeds, broths, pickles, kimchi and other fermented foods. The ingredients often slyly referenced classic Korean dishes and could fly in a million directions but then land with utter clarity. Uh met Mina Park, who became his wife and business partner, at the South Korean temple presided over by Jeong Kwan, the Zen nun made famous when she was featured on an episode of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table.” The immense complexities and ambitions of the food always gave the original Baroo an air of unpredictability: It had opened and closed in fits and starts and seemed to have finally ended its run in October 2018. Fans have waited years for the couple’s promise to resurrect the restaurant.

They fulfilled their vow in late summer in the form of a sedate, industrial-modernist space in downtown’s Arts District. The new Baroo looks and feels nothing like its predecessor. Mostly that’s a gain: Park runs an engaged, genial team as general manager, and Uh’s calm demeanor and ever-straight back can be viewed through the large kitchen window. The opening menu is $110 for seven courses. To balk at a tasting-menu format is to miss out on sweet, delicate skate fried in seaweed batter and cradled in leafy greens, and slices of charred pork-collar meat fanned over a sauce that riffs on kimchi jjigae … and other dishes, honed but still flaunting a hint of wildness, that trumpet the return of an exceptional culinary mind.
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Shakshuka and bread from Barsha
(Katrina Frederick/For The Times)

Barsha

Hermosa Beach Californian Mediterranean $$
In the seemingly infinite multiverses of Los Angeles dining, the galaxy of North African cuisines feels comparatively underrepresented. Chef Lenora Marouani helps fill the void by embracing the flavors of Tunisia she gleans from her husband, Adnen, and his family. The couple run a wine bar and shop in Manhattan Beach; inklings of Tunisia’s sun-baked, headily spiced cooking flicker brightest through the Cal-Med menu at their Hermosa Beach restaurant. Preserved lemon and harissa light up tuna conserva, spread over crusty bread with mashed chickpeas. Lamb meatballs float atop Tunisian couscous (rolled to the size of small ball bearings) in tomato broth with a dollop of herbed labneh. Even buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, available only during Sunday brunch, reveals hints of tabil, the spice blend abundant in coriander and caraway. Star-shaped pendant lamps and genie bottles cast patterned shadows across the dining room in the evenings, setting the mood for a mellow cocktail of three vermouths and sherry called — what else? — A Night in Tunisia.
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The Maharaja Thali platter from Bhookhe restaurant
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Bhookhe

Artesia Indian $$
Among Artesia’s vital hub of restaurants serving myriad regional Indian cuisines, chef Pooja Dwivedi and her co-owner husband, Anshul, brought a lesser-seen vantage to the area this year: the flavors of their native Rajasthan. Order the maharaja thali to leap right in. Its plates and bowls, covered in crinkly-smooth sal leaves, hold nearly two dozen components. Half a dozen small breads ring the main platter. Some are flat rotis made using varied flours, including cornmeal and pearl millet. Others, called bati, are formed into orbs: They arrive plain, ideal for dunking in warm ghee or soupy dal, and also filled with potato masala. Garlicky chutney, astringent with kachri, a tiny, wild melon, and green chile pickle ignite spice-freckled vegetables and rice. The kitchen changes up some of the dishes on the maharaja thali, particularly sabzis (sauceless spiced vegetables), to keep its many return customers’ interest piqued.

A nearly 80-item menu also veers through chaat and puri variations, and curries that include a smattering of North Indian vegetarian classics like palak paneer. But I’m here to zero in on Rajasthani paragons. Beyond the thali, look for mirchi vada, green chile fritters filled with spiced potatoes and fried golden in chickpea batter, and a curry that centers around makhana, dried lotus seeds that are also known as fox nut. They bathe in a silky pool of milk and cream; fish out the cashews at the bottom of the pan for a study in crunch alongside the makhana, and save the gravy for dunking crusty bati.
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The "gunpowder" baby shrimp appetizer at Camphor
(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

Camphor

Arts District French $$$
Chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George look to France for baseline inspiration, but they pull dishes like beef tartare and roast chicken out of any usual bistro context: The bird is reconstructed into a cylinder with preternatural textures closer to a dense mousse, and the chopped raw meat arrives glossed in lemon aioli, with lightly battered basil or shiso leaves on the side as chips. Camphor, by design, resists fitting neatly into any category. Nearly every surface in the dining room has been painted white; walls and ceilings and tabletops take on an added pearly glow as daylight fades. The staff is gracious, and you’ll need them to decipher the vaguely worded menu. It’s how you’ll find understated knockouts like lentils simmered in a smoky broth made with lamb, ginger, garlic and spices that George brings back from Kerala, India, one of the world’s vital growing regions for black pepper and cardamom. The most straightforward item is a luxury burger, dripping in smoked Gouda and tomato remoulade and caramelized onions. You can order it for online takeout, but eating it straight from the kitchen, even at the restaurant’s bar, is the better choice.

Cocktails match the food in sophistication and complexity. Owner Cyrus Batchan spearheaded the restaurant’s collection of chartreuse — the increasingly rare (and pricey) spirit, whose recipes purportedly total more than 100 ingredients, made by Carthusian monks since the 17th century. I was amazed by the green chartreuse I tried. Its flavor had no one landing point: It rocketed from anise to summery herbs, from sweet to bitter, and back again.
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SANTA MONICA, CA - OCTOBER 19: Chef Brian Bornemann With Vermillion Rockfish Crudo at Crudo e Nudo on Thursday, October 19, 2023 in Santa Monica, CA. (Ron De Angelis / For The Times)
(Ron De Angelis/For The Times)

Crudo e Nudo

Santa Monica Seafood $$
I spent one of my happiest lunchtime meals this year with visiting friends at an umbrella-shaded table on Crudo e Nudo’s sidewalk patio. We started by scanning the seafood-centered menu on the wall of the restaurant’s storefront, a seatless space for counter ordering squeezed into one of Santa Monica’s densest Main Street blocks. Striped bass, bigeye tuna and poached abalone crudos arrived first, anointed in various oils and lit with high-beams of citrus and pickles and anchovy colatura. Salads of snap peas and melon refreshed; wisecrack dishes like “Venus nachos” (potato chips pummeled with crème fra?che and bright orange roe, rather than the opulent black beads) and head-on prawns that slathered our hands with Calabrian chile paste and basil oil kept the mood buoyant. Brian Bornemann, with musician-designer Leena Culhane, began Crudo e Nudo as a 2020 pop-up revolving around sustainably farmed and locally caught fish. Since opening their location in 2021, they’ve strived to create an equitable model for staffers, training people in rotating positions to diffuse divisions between kitchen and service crew and to share tips equally.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - THURSDAY, MAY 4, 2023 - Green Chili Stew and Tortillas, at Dunsmoor restaurant on Eagle Rock Blvd., on May 4 2023, Los Angeles, (Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha)
(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

Dunsmoor

Glassell Park American $$$
Talk of dinner at Brian Dunsmoor’s restaurant usually veers straight to the sour milk cornbread, a recipe he perfected as the founding chef at Hatchet Hall. The rounded form emerges crusty from among the flames of burning logs. By the time it reaches the table, fragrant with white cheddar and green chiles, it has been so glossed with melted butter and honey that its surface refracts light. It is hedonism as batter bread, and everyone should order it.

Dunsmoor calls on his family roots in Georgia and Colorado to inform his cooking. Before moving to Los Angeles, he worked at Hugh Acheson’s nationally acclaimed Southern lodestar Five & Ten in Athens, Ga., during the same era I was reviewing restaurants in Atlanta. Much of his place here feels familiar in my bones: the shades of scruffy wood, faded brick and caramel lighting in the Glassell Park dining room (a location that sparked gentrification dissent when it opened 16 months ago); the influences of Indigenous and Black cooks that survive the centuries, modernized as trout over soothing grits with ham vinaigrette, succotash salad beaming lemon and soft herbs, and a soul-satisfying Low Country-style boil of sausage, shrimp, corn and potatoes. His stew of chicken and slippery dumplings reminds me of my grandmother’s. Erika Chan, whose desserts I’ve previously admired at Kato and Rustic Canyon, is a fantastic new addition to the team. She reimagines a fig preserve Bundt cake beloved in North Carolina’s Outer Banks into a crunchy, crumbly, fruit-forward sort of Eton mess that closes the miles between the American South and the Pacific coast.
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Sfincione Palermitano from Funke
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Funke

Beverly Hills Italian $$$
Pasta-loving Angelenos have caught on that the best Evan Funke restaurant in his quickly growing empire is whichever one currently has the majority of Funke’s attention. This year that would be his self-named palazzo of excess in Beverly Hills, a multilevel affair with a swank rooftop bar, an indoor mezzanine bar area to score unreserved seating (good luck) and a main dining room cast in a pearly sort of 1980s glamour; I expect Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis to be bickering in a scene from “Moonlighting” in the next booth over.

When I see Funke standing at the kitchen pass in his signature denims, I know the varied rolled and extracted pasta forms will be presented fastidiously: ridged agnolotti with the green chard filling nearly seeping through the translucent dough; tagliatelle so light and fine its texture almost tickles; and rasccatieddi di miscchieddu, an oval rarity made by hand with semolina and fava bean flours that Funke learned while filming his show “The Shape of Pasta,” sauced in lamb ragù and scattered with rustling dried chiles. Funke, per its neighborhood and clientele, is expensive, but with his presence the cooking is so on-point. I’m forever glad that Shannon Swindle, one of L.A.’s finest pastry chefs, has become part of Funke’s inner culinary circle: Trust that whatever crostatas and pastries and ice creams feature the season’s fruits will be spectacular.
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A hand ladles smoked and fresh pork warm pot into a bowl
(Silvia Razgova / For the Times)

Jiang Nan Spring

Alhambra Chinese $$
The cuisines of China’s Jiangnan region — the fertile area framed by the southern Yangtze River Delta that includes the cooking of Shanghai, its smaller neighboring cities and surrounding provinces — never quite enjoy the same spotlight afforded to the Sichuan firebrands that have headlined the San Gabriel Valley’s restaurant culture in the last decade, nor the Cantonese and Taiwanese standard-bearers that preceded them. Their emphasis on fresh, often delicate flavors deserves a place in the mix. Jiang Nan Spring, like the other handful of local restaurants with Jiangnan traditions at their heart, has an enormous multiregional menu; plucking out its specialties can require focused navigation. Begin with yan du xian, double pork soup in a cloudy, soothing broth also bobbing with bamboo shoots, bok choy and sheets of tofu skin tied in knots. Dishes like “Shanghai leek rice cake” stir-fried with greens and julienned pork; tilapia fried in a batter veined with seaweed; and dong po rou, the braised pork belly masterpiece named for a poet who lived during the Song Dynasty, exemplified the skills of founding chef Henry Chang. He retired this summer and has been ably replaced by Aaron Xu, who has decades of experience cooking in Shanghai restaurants.
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Half Chicken Plate from Lasita restaurant
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Lasita

Chinatown Filipino $$$
At their Filipino rotisserie and natural wine bar in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, Chase Valencia, his wife, Steff Barros Valencia, and chef Nico de Leon have created one of the most heartening community hubs to emerge from the last two years. There is indoor and outdoor dining, but most of the action happens alfresco. On most nights Lasita’s courtyard tables are filled with couples and groups of six or eight, half-empty bottles of Chenin Blanc or Carignan among nearly polished-off plates, with would-be diners milling on the periphery as they wait for the next available seats. The menu, which has become ever more mercurial, remains centered on two dishes: inasal na manok, a chicken specialty of the western Visayan Islands in the central Philippines that soaks up a pungent cocktail of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, calamansi juice, achiote seeds and butter before being grilled; and pork belly lechon rolled like porchetta and filled with similar herbs and spices. Vegans can feast on pancit dishes threaded with vegetables and a sizzling mushroom variation on sisig. Chase freely gives advice on wines: He looks for ones that he thinks of as “cutters” — high-acid whites and meant-to-be-served-chilled reds that especially slice through the salty, garlicky density of the rotisserie meats.
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The crab curry with rice noodles and heaps of fresh toppings at Luv2Eat Thai Bistro
(Shelby Moore/For The Times)

Luv2eat Thai Bistro

Hollywood Thai $$
In the near decade since Somruthai Kaewtathip (nicknamed Chef Fern) and Noree Burapapituk (who goes by Chef Pla) opened their first local restaurant in a Hollywood strip mall, it has become one of the great centrists among Los Angeles’ astounding breadth of Thai restaurants. Its spiciest efforts will rarely liquify your taste buds. And the menu broadly surveys popular dishes, rather than drilling down on a specific region of Thai cooking. That said, Kaewtathip and Burapapituk are natives of Phuket: For the most rousing articulations of their talents, home in on the short list of chef’s specials inspired by that island of sculptural mountains and touristy beaches, and by nearby provinces of southern Thailand. First up: the menu’s star crab curry, fragrant with lemongrass, galangal, makrut lime zest and a whiff of shrimp paste. Request it as spicy as you can handle it; here the kitchen employs capsicums as much to heighten flavors as to sear taste buds. Round out the meal with jade noodles glossed with duck and pork, a rendition that rivals the beloved version a couple of miles away at Sapp Coffee Shop, and marinated pork skewers called moo-ping, served with limey dipping sauce.
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A hand uses chopsticks for a bowl of beef noodle soup
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Luyixian

Alhambra Chinese $$
Fried rice? Kung pao chicken? Dan dan noodles? Flip through Luyixian’s menu booklet and the dishes leap through regions of China: Sichuan-style cold meats and boiled fish in scarlet broth; spicy beef noodle soup reminiscent of the version beloved in Taiwan; vegetables like garlic water spinach tinged with fermented tofu that remind a Cantonese friend of her family’s cooking; and ubiquitous renditions of dumplings. Amid so many options, most customers gravitate to the house specialties: the variations of braised meat over rice based on family recipes from married owners Chun Hua Tao and Yao Ye, who grew up in the coastal Zhejiang province south of Shanghai. The fundamental version — #44 — is a soothing collage presented on an oblong platter. A mound of white rice, presauced with a spoonful or two of braising gravy, sidles up to a heap of browned, glazed pork belly chopped into bite-size squares. Condiments flank them: a small pile of snipped and pickled long beans, some plain braised cabbage, a spoonful of minced red chile and a soy-braised egg cleaved in half. This excellent home-style cooking strikes universal chords of warmth and assurance.
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Overhead photo of a trio of tacos and a bowl of shrimp and grits
(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)

My 2 Cents

Mid-Wilshire Soul Food Californian $$
My introduction to chef Alisa Reynolds’ cooking came during the pandemic, when she devised a subproject called Tacos Negros while her Mid-City restaurant, My 2 Cents, struggled for business. The fan favorite quickly became oxtails cooked for six hours until the meat reduced to a filigree, which Reynolds gathered into a corn tortilla with roasted tomato and whiskey reduction for a one-two acid punch. The tacos remain, but the menu has plenty of other enticements: grilled pork chop complemented with plantains, mascarpone and an agave-based sauce revved with jerk seasonings; varying cuts of steak draped over cheese grits with braised greens; and a persuasively unconventional shrimp po’ boy accented with bacon and shaved okra. The dining room, happily busy these days, feels like a seat of community, with shelves displaying cookbooks, many by Black authors, and a front-and-center array of desserts, including the eye-popping cakes — the triple strawberry! — supplied by local baker (and Reynolds’ sister) Theresa Fountain.

If you haven’t yet seen Reynolds’ globe-traveling show “Searching for Soul Food,” released on Hulu in June, make it your next binge watch.
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WESTMINSTER, CA - NOVEMBER 02: BBQ mix combo and Tum mak huong (papaya salad) from Nok's Kitchen on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023 in Westminster, CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Nok's Kitchen

Westminster Laotian $$
Nokmaniphone Sayavong began Nok’s Kitchen in her home during the pandemic selling sai kok, coarse Lao pork sausage that practically lashes out with chile, garlic, speckles of scallion and lemongrass and red curry paste she pounds by hand. Her sunny counter-service restaurant in a Westminster mini-mall followed two years later, beginning with a small menu that keeps expanding with skewered meats, salads and soups. Mee ka tee is a lush, aromatic variation on egg drop soup, in which you pour the broth of curry-tinged coconut cream and softly scrambled egg over a bowl filled with rice noodles and shrimp. She uses tapioca and rice flours to make wide, plush noodles for khao piak gai, a gentle chicken soup. Her fantastic rib-eye laab thwaps the senses with fish sauce and lime. In a region where Lao cuisine is underrepresented, Sayavong’s exuberant and painstaking cooking sets new benchmarks for Southern California.
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BBQ plate served with rice, black beans, potato salad, farofa and vinaigrette sauce from Panelas Brazillian Cuisine
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Panelas Brazilian Cuisine

Redondo Beach Brazilian $$
Grief over the loss of Natalia Pereira’s downtown restaurant Woodspoon in May sent me on a quest for Brazilian cuisine in Greater Los Angeles, and eventually to the rewards of Marcia Delima and Adriano Bertachini’s cooking in Redondo Beach. Follow the examples of customers ordering at the counter in Portuguese and go heavy on salgadinhos (fried street snacks): wonderfully stretchy pao de queijo, coxinha de frango (croquettes rolled with shredded chicken), flaky beef empanadas and bolinho de bacalhau (cod croquettes) that liven up with a squeeze of lime. Delima and Bertachini excel at Brazil’s iconic meaty stews. Feijoada, beautifully murky with black beans and several cuts of beef and pork, arrives with sides of farofa (toasted, seasoned cassava flour) and finely cut collard greens; stir them directly into the bowl to add dimension and bulk. Carne de panela, slow-cooked to the texture of ropy, melty pot roast, stands complete on its own. For dessert, the bolo de laranja (frosted orange Bundt cake) zings with citrus without sliding into creamsicle territory.
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Overhead photo of cod and gimbap from Perilla LA
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Perilla L.A.

Chinatown Korean $
Los Angeles food obsessives have long deliberated over which Koreatown restaurants serve the finest spreads of banchan. When Jihee Kim began her Perilla L.A. pop-up project in summer 2020, she reminded many of us to savor banchan as the meal itself. In her hands it was a given that this class of dishes, so full of geometries and colors and so urgent in flavor, commanded center stage. Three years later, she has at last launched her daytime restaurant and takeout shop. Expect straight-from-the-farmers-market produce prepared in intuitive gradations of freshness and fermentation — summer squash animated by garlic-chile oil; fiery, complex kimchi made from collard greens or daikon — and perennials like her stunning seaweed-rolled omelet cut into circles with hypnotic, spiraling centers. Small portions of the day’s banchan selection also come over rice as part of a dosirak, the Korean lunch box that is an analogue to the Japanese bento, served in the shop’s early days with warm doenjang-marinated chicken or cod.

Locating Perilla can feel like a treasure hunt on the first visit: Follow GPS to the Victor Heights address at the edge of Echo Park and look for the peachy-orange buildings. Turn the corner at Heavy Water Coffee and follow the row of tables shaded with umbrellas to Perilla’s tiny gabled home in a converted garage.
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Yellow curry bucatini at Poltergeist
(Ron De Angelis/For The Times)

Poltergeist

Echo Park Global $$
The 101st position for this guide dangles existentially, like the extra prayer bead on a japamala. Over the years the slot has shouted out to one of L.A.’s most beloved institutions (Langer’s Deli), a pop-up in a semipermanent home (Starry Kitchen), a divisive fine-dining temple (Vespertine) and two diners (Clark Street Diner, formerly known as 101 Coffee Shop and the recently closed Nickel Diner).

This year’s pick honors the value of eccentricity, and of finding the right space to take risks even in uncertain, unsettling times. Diego Argoti is chef-in-residence at video game arcade Button Mash in Echo Park. He calls the project Poltergeist, and his style of cooking sings in harmony with the bleeping commotion. He creates worlds on plates we only half-recognize, which challenge our cognition and emotions. For instance, he drops L.A.’s all-but-official salad into new terrain, pushing the Caesar’s garlic-anchovy-mustard troika to its flavor threshold, and then blends lemongrass, lime leaves and capers into the dressing. Croutons have been reimagined as sheets of fried rice paper, sprinkled with powdered parsley and blue fenugreek and stacked around the salad’s bowl. It just works. Same with post-structuralist dishes like broccoli beef ravioli channeling Chinese American flavors and Penang lamb neck that also nods to shawarma. Other creations feel decidedly like works in progress. Still, customers keep the dining room full. When a mind like Argoti’s is breaking through to something fresh, we come to bear witness and see what’s next.
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The spicy lobster spaghetti with grilled bread at Saltie Girl LA.
(Oscar Mendoza / For The Times)

Saltie Girl

West Hollywood Seafood $$$
With so much homegrown talent in Los Angeles, I don’t often race to imported concepts, nor does the notion of a restaurant with a tinned seafood program seem especially novel these days. Boston-based Saltie Girl, though, charged into the arena in late 2022 with a collection of more than 130 conservas divided into 18 categories of fish and shellfish. Standards like sardines in olive oil set a baseline for racier options: smoked oysters, scallops in spiced tomato sauce, hake in salsa verde, mackerel with roasted garlic and dozens more. Some need no adornment; others taste ideal slightly mashed into buttered bread with a sprinkle of salt and piquillo pepper relish, all of which are part of the presentation. Alongside a martini or a shochu-gin-cucumber cocktail, tins could comprise the whole meal. But you probably also want a lobster roll — I prefer the warmed buttery version — or the spicy lobster spaghetti, a feel-good heap of tomato, basil and fried garlic that doesn’t overpower the star ingredient. The wraparound patio’s languid appeal defies the restaurant’s location on a chaotic corner of Sunset Plaza. Inside, the aesthetic oozes an Art Deco yacht vibe.
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Overhead of a chicken shawarma plate from Sincerely Syria
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Sincerely Syria

Sherman Oaks Syrian $
The story of Adham Kamal’s narrow, handsomely spare Sherman Oaks restaurant, one of the businesses wedged into a dense commercial block of Ventura Boulevard near Van Nuys Boulevard, begins on another crowded urban corner: Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. In late 2021 he took over Hollywood Shawarma, a tiny stand with a handful of sidewalk tables. Kamal grew up in southwestern Syria and has been making shawarma since he was a teenager. His version is the best I’ve tasted in Southern California. Sincerely Syria’s two shawarma options, deeply marinated and stacked on vertical rotating spits, loom among gleaming steel equipment. Their forms resemble overgrown pine cones: One is a mix of lamb and beef, referred to as lahme in Arabic, and the other is lemony chicken, or djej. Each has its own canon sauce: tahini-based tarator for lahme, toum (whipped garlic sauce) for djej. Choose between hand-held wraps, or 12- and 24-inch “combo” versions that come with extra pickles and fine-enough fries. The larger variations are made using a familiar Los Angeles staff of life — big, thin flour tortillas. They admirably stand in for khubz, the traditional papery bread. I’d suggest starting small, though, by asking for a wrap made with one side of a pita. The thinner layer superbly intensifies the wrap’s ratios. It’s a common request that Kamal receives with a nod and knowing smile.
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Korean BBQ-style duck at Sun Ha Jang restaurant
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Sun Ha Jang

Koreatown Korean $$
Dozens of Korean barbecue restaurants in Los Angeles vie for attention by way of their marbled prime cuts or their unusual array of banchan or their value propositions. Allow me to redirect you entirely to the novel pleasures of Sun Ha Jang, a Koreatown strip-mall restaurant that’s been around for decades but since 2005 has been specializing in duck barbecue. Meals cost $48.99 per person, and the bird is the only option. A fast-moving server sets up your tabletop grill and soon begins pan-grilling rosy, tissue-thin slices of breast meat piled on a platter. As they sputter and sizzle, another staffer delivers plates of lightly dressed greens, mildly spiced radish and seasoned onions and leeks, directing you to compose a salad that incorporates the duck. As the last pieces finish cooking, the finale begins. The server pours a mound of seasoned heukmi bap (a blend of white and black rices that turns purple) over rendered duck fat that has been simmering with cloves of garlic, and stir-fries the whole thing with a few strands of ruddy kimchi. “Not yet,” she said during my last visit, as a friend and I reached with our spoons while she patted the rice into a cake. We heeded her, and were rewarded with a bottom layer of crust so satisfying we chiseled at the final bits even after we’d finished all the rice.
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LONG BEACH, CA - OCTOBER 16: Scenes from inside Tacos La Carreta as dishes are prepared on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023 in Long Beach, CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Tacos La Carreta

Long Beach Mexican $
The partner of a food critic, as you might imagine, eats scores of meals out a year. I don’t expect mine to keep track of details, which naturally go fuzzy; it isn’t his job. But his reaction was striking when we drove to the Tacos La Carreta food truck in Long Beach this fall. We ordered a torito — sirloin carne asada grilled over mesquite, roasted Anaheim chile, minced cabbage, thin tomato salsa and melting cheese lightly binding a flour tortilla — and after the first bite he exclaimed, “Oh, this taco!” We’d first tried it in May at L.A. Taco’s annual Taco Madness event and, no surprise, its meaty, balanced brilliance snared an award. Since 2020, José Manuel Morales Bernal has been forging a distinct, umami-blaring taco style from his family’s Sinaloan recipes. The 10-item menu dips into straightforward tacos and quesadillas, but most customers rightly gravitate to the torito and also the chorreada: two corn tortillas buckled and crisped over heat and spread with a bit of rendered fat to amplify the carne asada’s beefiness. Bernal also serves tripe, which melds equally with his glossy avocado and chunky tomato salsas. The steak, though, is unforgettable.
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Two hands carry a jollof race platter with fried catfish at Two Hommes
(Ron De Angelis/For The Times)

Two Hommés

Inglewood West African $$
At their Inglewood bistro, Abdoulaye “AB” Balde and Marcus “Mando” Yaw take a global perspective on comfort foods, particularly with an eye for incorporating defining flavors of several African countries. Senegalese dibi, the grilled lamb mustardy from its marinade, plumps egg rolls also filled with plantains and red cabbage. A platter of lightly curried Ghanaian-style jollof, coupled with a bowl of creamy black beans, serves as a base for a range of optional meats and seafoods, including shrimp glowing with Ethiopian berbere spice, supple fried catfish or short ribs braised in root beer. This is feasting by which to melt the day’s stress — or, over shrimp and grits and chicken over brown sugar waffles at brunch, to rally for the week ahead. For another serotonin boost, study the collage of classic R&B albums on one wall that often inspires the restaurant’s playlist. I spied Minnie Riperton, Chaka Khan, the O’Jays and the 45-record sleeve of Whitney Houston’s “Love Will Save the Day” that still lives on a shelf in my childhood bedroom.
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Grilled pork collar with New Zealand spinach from Yess restaurant
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Yess Restaurant

Downtown L.A. Japanese $$$
Hidden in plain sight behind the pale cypress door of an imposing building on East 7th Street, Yess is an ambitious and at times mystifying arrival. The beauty of the space — a room with generously spaced tables and a sprawling, 42-seat counter overlooking an open kitchen that gleams like a starship — complements the kinetic Japanese menu, though the soaring scale of both can take a minute to absorb. At the center of the project is chef Junya Yamasaki, whose walk-the-walk approach to seasonality and talent for direct flavors, particularly with seafood, brought him acclaim early in his career in London. I’ve had spectacular dishes, including tuna tataki smoked over hay and layered in a mulchy mound of herbed daikon with papery sliced lime, and his “monk’s chirashi-sushi,” which gathers of-the-moment vegetables and fruits with nuts and pickled garnishes, all arranged over gently vinegared rice.

The restaurant opened with an a la carte menu, during which time I reviewed it, and then switched to a semi-fixed dinner menu of set starters with entree choices and optional add-ons. The old format, which can still be experienced during weekend brunch, best accentuated the kitchen’s strengths. I should probably mention it has become something of a pastime to comment on the white uniforms worn by the crazy-earnest staff; they look like something out of a spa, or costumes in a restaurant-themed Wes Anderson movie, or a scene from “The Menu.” All said, this gifted team, in its otherworldly setting, has an ascendent place in L.A.’s dining landscape.
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