Spanish mackeral sushi and fried backbone at Slow Fish (Brad A. Johnson)
Here’s where to eat now in Los Angeles. From high to low, these are the 10 restaurants I’m most excited about this month. This is not a list of the 10 newest places to open lately. Rather, a few of these spots are brand new. Some are just getting broken in and deserve another look. And one’s pretty old but has a new chef. They’re all fantastic.
8360 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, (323) 651-5866
OK, that took forever, but I finally snagged a reservation! I can’t remember having that much trouble getting a table at a hot new restaurant since the opening of the original Pizzeria Mozza. The restaurant still books up 30 days in advance, but seats do randomly come available several times a day now. Michael Voltaggio is killing it. He’s one of L.A.’s most original talents. Blue prawns with green papaya and finger limes; veal cheek with red curry and coconut rice; short ribs with smoked marrow toast and ras al hanout… (full review coming soon).
Black rice sushi at Slow Fish
2. Slow Fish
5406 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (323) 930-0170
Still in soft-opening phase and undiscovered, this is already one of the best sushi bars to open in L.A. in the past couple of years. But I say that with a caveat. The nigiri sushi is absolutely sublime—some of the freshest, purest, most beautiful fish I’ve seen outside of the much more expensive spots like Mori or Zo. The giant clam, the Spanish mackerel, the tai snapper… utter perfection. And the lunchtime bento boxes are gorgeous! But here’s the caveat: The sushi rolls need a bit more inspiration, and there should be at least one more addition with serious spice. The rolls are just too creamy and sweet. But I’m hoping that section of the menu will continue to evolve. (Heads up: They’re still awaiting their liquor license, so for the time being, it’s strictly BYOB.)
Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air
3. Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air
701 Stone Canyon Rd., L.A., (310) 909-1644
For the past 10 years, I repeatedly complained that the Hotel Bel-Air was dated, frumpy and well past its prime. Well, not any more. What a difference a total gutting can make. David Rockwell has beautifully redesigned the dining room and terrace, which are now headed by Wolfgang Puck (and executive chef Sonny Sweetman, formerly of Wolfgang Puck Catering). Will this become Puck’s new flagship? It’s certainly his most glamorous restaurant to date. You can bet that if/when I have friends visiting from out of town, this will be on our list.
4. Bäco Mercat
408 Main St., L.A., (213) 687-8808
Josef Centeno is one of L.A.’s most original chefs. Still the chef/partner at Lazy Ox, he’s just opened his long-awaited baco café on Main Street. Everyone’s been talking about the bäcos (Centeno’s cult-hit hybrid that merges the DNA of a taco with that of Mediterranean flatbread), of course, but what I’m most excited about is the bäzole, a cross between pazole and tonkatsu ramen.
2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 586-1707
Confession: I have never watched a single episode of TV’s Top Chef. But that doesn’t stop me from being a fan of chef Nyesha Arrington (starring in the new season), whose cooking I adored at the now shuttered Cache. I’m glad she’s
turned up at Wilshire because the patio here is one of my favorite dining spots in all of L.A. Osso bucco with shell bean ragu? Honey mustard glazed black cod? Oh, yeah.
Pork belly and eggs at The Roof
6. The Roof at Hotel Wilshire
6317 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (323) 852-6000
The Foundry’s Eric Greenspan is the chef behind the menus here. The café is small, just a few poolside tables on the rooftop of the new Hotel Wilshire. This is the sort of restaurant where you want to kick off your shoes and stay a while, sipping an extraordinary bloody mary made with freshly crushed tomatoes and a truckload of fresh horseradish. I’m talking about brunchtime, of course, which also involves a decadent hunk of pork belly served with a poached egg. Towel, please.
7. Son of a Gun
8370 W. 3rd St., L.A., (323) 782.9033
Still hot. Still great. Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s follow-up to Animal is an ode to all things aquatic, including alligator, which is transformed into a pleasantly delicious schnitzel. The lobster roll is fantastic, but it’s tiny, so make sure to order two. Or three.
Ceviche at Zengo
395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, (310) 899-1000
October’s limited-run, Peruvian-inspired menu reminded me once again just how talented chef/owner Richard Sandoval is. He’s a master at modern Latino cuisine (including Peruvian), and he’s at his best when he’s also flirting with flavors from Asia. You want ceviche and crudo? This is the place to go. Yes, it’s in a mall. But the patio is fab, and the food really, really rocks. Oh, and did I mention bottomless brunch (mimosas, sangria, bloody marys!)?
225 26th Street, Brentwood Country Mart, Santa Monica, (310) 566-2400
If the set four-course menu (no choices, just come and eat) sounds a lot like Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, well, that’s because chef/owner Jeffrey Cerciello basically created that place when he was Keller’s longtime culinary director. Sunday night is fried chicken night! And those soju cucumber martinis—so good.
12565 Washington Blvd, L.A., (310) 398-7700
Now that the buzz has finally softened a bit and some of chef Roy Choi’s groupies have decamped to Beechwood (where Choi is also handling the menus), it’s a lot easier to just walk in and get a table at this picnic-inspired hangout (which still doesn’t take reservations). I’m loving the weekend lunch with oxtail pozole, the Baja-style fish tacos and that double cheeseburger with tomato confit.
Hotel Bel-Air and Zengo photos provided by the restaurants. All others by Brad A. Johnson.