Jonathan Gold’s 101

Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants

(Christina House and Robert Meeks / Los Angeles Times)

1. Vespertine

Let us address the spaceship in the docking port here — not everybody is going to be ecstatic that we are naming Vespertine the best restaurant in Los Angeles. The entire experience at Vespertine, from the lack of right angles in the dining room, to the throbbing four-note soundtrack, to the overwhelming abstraction of the food, to the stunning cost of dinner, is going to drive many of you insane. Yet looked at as an artwork, where the architect Eric Owen Moss, the ceramicist Ryota Aoki and the musicians in the post-rock band This Will Destroy You are as vital to the experience as the chef, Vespertine is in its way perfect.

Jordan Kahn really doesn’t want you to know what you’re eating; the idea is to keep you off guard, whether he has stuck a gel of beets and Concord grapes to the bottom of a plate like a wad of gum, wrapped mango in sunflower blossoms and wedged it into a crack in a monolith, or disguised a pounded flatfish fillet as the empty bottom of a bowl. With the possible exception of a dish of roast turkey wrapped in pickled rhubarb, there may be nothing you immediately recognize as food. When you are presented a course consisting of chickpea-size baby turnips, chewy rice dumplings and powder-blackened balls of ripe banana, all the same size, the relationship among them is for you to decide. Most great cooking is about deliciousness. Kahn’s is about the intersection of perception and space.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

2. Providence

Providence occupied the No. 1 slot each of the last four years, and it was tempting to put it there again. Michael Cimarusti does everything that a great chef should. Much of the fish he uses is local and sustainable, obtained through a Dock to Dish program he helped to set up. Cooks are awed by the rigor of his kitchen. His commitment to local flavors — not just yellowtail, rockfish and sea urchin but also Asian notes that find their way into his dishes as naturally as the expected European ones — and the flow of his menus (geoduck and oyster with Vietnamese basil, local squid with the Japanese pepper paste yuzu kosho, abalone with sunchoke, rockfish with cranberry beans) reflect Los Angeles not just as a great port city but also as part of a specific ecosystem, a unique intersection of land and sea. The recently remodeled dining room is still lovely and unfussy, an easy place to talk. The superb wine list is appropriate to the cuisine.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

3. Spago

Wolfgang Puck taught the world what it means to be a Los Angeles chef. At Ma Maison, he helped invent the modern template of the entertainment industry restaurant. At the original Spago on the Sunset Strip, he created what later became known as casual fine dining, a movement that 35 years later still dominates the restaurant world. He jump-started fusion cooking, modern grill cooking, gourmet pizza and the gastropub. The current Spago, in Beverly Hills, has defined fine dining in Los Angeles for the last two decades.

Wolfgang Puck is the man who showed the world what a great American chef might be. And although an almost unimaginable number of people flow through Spago now, and it sells a lot of meat and potatoes, Puck, executive chef Lee Hefter and chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi manage to keep Spago relevant year after year in an environment where it is not enough to cook fish well; the fish must have meaning — whether it be a take on chirashi sushi served in a rustic crate or steamed loup de mer with a spot of shad-roe cream. Like the elevated pizza, pasta and salad with which the restaurant originally made its reputation, Spago’s cooking flickers around the edges of memory and desire while never quite succumbing to them. And when your desires are more concrete, those meat and potatoes — grilled côte de boeuf with potatoes aligot — are awfully good.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

4. Lukshon

  • Price: $$$

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  • 3239 Helms Blvd., Culver City
  • (310) 202-6808
  • lukshon.com
  • Lunch, noon to 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Full bar. Valet parking off of Venice Boulevard at Helms Avenue. Credit cards accepted.

Every time I drop by Lukshon, I’m consumed by the same thought: Sang Yoon still may be the most underachieving chef in America, a man who will spend a thousand hours developing a perfect dan dan mian and then dump it from his menu because he got bored, or tinker on his fermented XO sauce the way your cousin Gabe works on his old Corvette. And Lukshon’s cuisine does occasionally feel like the P.F. Chang’s menu filtered through an haute-cuisine sensibility.

Maybe there’s lobster salad spiked with bánh mì pickles and served with a pig’s ear terrine on an exquisitely crisp version of a top-loading bun, as a take on a New England lobster roll. He still serves a Burmese fermented tea leaf salad made with Marcona almonds as well as crunchy beans, garnished with barely cooked prawns; and raw butterfish pushed toward Thailand with a dusting of blast-frozen coconut milk. Someday, Yoon may decide to streamline all this into a $150 tasting menu. Until then, Lukshon is almost a bargain.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

5. Taco Maria

If you were going to write a novel about 2017 Orange County, Taco Maria might be a good place to start. Young cook from a Mexican-restaurant family leaves home to work in a famous modernist kitchen, and returns to run a taco truck, which quickly leads to a tasting-menu restaurant in a comically overwrought hipster mall, then fame for the chef’s breathtaking “Chicano cuisine.” It’s straight out of Jonathan Franzen. But while it is easy to dismiss the perfection of Carlos Salgado’s narrative, it is far more difficult to dismiss his food.

The pork terrine with purslane, the gorditas with caviar and herbs, and the complexly spiced ceviche really could slide onto the menu of a place like Providence or Coi, without losing the essence of their Mexican soul. A scallop in its shell, briefly broiled under a pinch of cheese and squid ink-saturated bread crumbs could be a new classic. You can get tacos at lunch, but the only one you’re likely to run into at dinner will be stuffed with cucumber, peanuts and sturgeon that Salgado smokes over almond wood. He works harder to source the Atlacomulco corn he nixtamalizes for his tortillas and tamales than most chefs do their fish. Taco Maria isn’t far from UC Irvine. I’d be surprised if somebody from the writers’ workshop wasn’t working on that novel right now.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

6. Spring

One of the best meals I had last year was a dinner celebrating Nowruz, Persian New Year, prepared by Tony Esnault at Spring, including braised lamb, dill-scented rice with fish, and the best version of kuku I have ever tasted; a dense, intensely flavored Iranian frittata made with a basketful of fragrant green herbs. Esnault, of course, is the epitome of a French chef, a protégé of Alain Ducasse who has cooked in some of the best kitchens in the world. (His Iranian-born mother-in-law supervised the Nowruz dinner.) He and his wife Yassmin Sarmadi run the bistro Church & State as well as Spring. And Spring is the loveliest French restaurant to open in Los Angeles in years, an actual glassed-in 19th century courtyard graced with Esnault’s sunny Provencal cooking.

There is nothing in L.A. remotely like his salad of wild-caught Burgundy snails, his duck breast with salsify, or his spectacular, saffron-intensive take on the Provençal fish stew bourride. And somehow, dinner here seems to cost about what it does at Esnault’s unpretentious bistro — even less when you visit the sun-splashed courtyard for a delicious $26 set-course lunch, flat-out the best dining bargain in town.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

7. Trois Mec

Los Angeles is filled with telegenic chefs, but Ludovic Lefebvre might be the restaurant scene’s equivalent of the Most Interesting Man in the World. He did some dinners at a friend’s bakery and accidentally invented the pop-up restaurant. He is a veteran of the kitchens of Alain Passard, Pierre Gagnaire and Marc Meneau who built a restaurant, Trois Familia, around his riffs on the Taco Bell menu. He once broke Open Table. He runs a small fried-chicken empire in his spare time. And luckily for Los Angeles, he is a chef capable of running grand kitchens who prefers to cook for just 24 people at a time, from behind the counter of a converted mini-mall pizzeria.

The obligatory tasting menu is both constantly changing and set (although it can be adjusted for vegetarians), and you buy a ticket for your seat in advance, as if it were “Hamilton.” Lefebvre works an ecstatic improvisational groove similar to what you might find from the best Parisian bistronomy chefs, erasing the hierarchy of ingredients, so that a grilled cabbage leaf may carry the same weight on a menu as grilled pork collar with prunes, salad may be served as a tart, ice cream may be flavored with charcoal or hay, and cold smoked eel with white-chocolate-mashed potatoes has occasionally been a signature. You don’t come to eat anything specific here. You come to taste what Lefebvre is cooking.

(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

8. Cassia

Would you go to a Vietnamese restaurant for the cured meats? Probably not. But Bryant Ng’s charcuterie plate is pretty great, whipped fatback with herbs and delicate terrines rimmed with yellow fat, sweetly spiced smoked sausage, air-dried pork and spicy candied bacon, served with a fermented cabbage relish — you could look at it as either the best conceivable deconstructed bánh mì, or as something a talented butcher in Nantes, France, wishes he could call his own. Ng trained as a chef at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, worked for Daniel Boulud at Daniel in New York and was the opening chef at Pizzeria Mozza.

His California-Singaporean restaurant Spice Table was a modest hit before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to tear down the building to build a subway station. And at Cassia, nominally Vietnamese, he is claiming the essence of French cooking as his own. So you will want to try the egg custard with sea urchin, a beef rendang that could double as an Indonesian-spiced daube, and a splendid, anise-scented pot-au-feu that splits the difference between that emblematic French dish and a Vietnamese pho. The steak-frites are secretly flavored with high-quality fish sauce from Phu Quoc. There are snails — there have to be snails! — but they are sauteed with lemongrass and served on flaky flatbread. I approve.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

9. Mozzaplex

If you follow Nancy Silverton on social media, you know that she seems to be everywhere at once — chefs’ dinners in Nashville, grilling steaks in Panicale. Yet through some magic trick, she also seems to be behind the mozzarella bar at Osteria Mozza every time you come in, sprinkling Umbrian olive oil over a plate of that afternoon’s burrata. Silverton presides over the complex of restaurants at the corner of Melrose and Highland avenues.

Pizzeria Mozza ranks among the best pizzerias in the United States — its crisp, risen, wood-fired pizzas are unlike any particular Italian style, but the crust is good enough to eat even without squash blossoms and burrata. The more formal Osteria Mozza goes from strength to strength, from the mostly Emilia-Romagna-style fresh pastas to rabbit with sausage, from the deep all-Italian wine list to Dahlia Navarez’s suave desserts. Mozza2Go is a takeout counter with a small specialty in Puglia-style focaccia. Chi Spacca is an Italian meat restaurant, famous for mammoth steaks and house-cured salumi, also the giant, Australian-style meat pie. Any of the four restaurants could well make this list on its own; together they form an unassailable rampart of urban rustic cuisine. (The usual disclosure applies here: Silverton, who runs the complex under the distant supervision of Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali, is a family friend.)

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

10. Rossoblu

Have you tasted Rossoblu’s minestra nel sacco? It’s a homey dish, basically dumplings boiled in chicken soup. There is a reason tortellini in brodo is a better-known dish. Yet at Rossoblu downtown, the dish is positively exotic — Bolognese grandmother cooking introduced into a city with no Bolognese grandmothers. Would I be pushing things if I confessed that the minestra nel sacco reminded me a lot of the Xi’an bread-in-soup dish called paomo? In Los Angeles, things are complicated. Rossoblu, named for the uniform colors of the Bologna soccer team, is the new Bologna-focused restaurant from the chef Steve Samson, co-founder of Sotto. And it is possible to drop by, order a glass of Pignoletto and an overachieving salumi board, and be perfectly happy.

The fresh tagliatelle is thin and floppy, almost alive under a pale, meaty Bolognese sauce. The tortelloni, stuffed with the traditional mixture of ricotta and chard, could illustrate the concept of Italian dumplings in a textbook. Samson continues his obsession with pork — mixed grill, shoulder braised with milk, sticky-skinned roast suckling pig. And you will spend most of the ride home wondering why Bolognese cooking seems mysterious in Los Angeles while Cambodian frog dishes don’t. I wish I could answer that for you.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

11. Rustic Canyon

We haven’t quite taken Jeremy Fox for granted in Los Angeles, although we’ve come pretty close. The food whisperers know how good his cooking at Rustic Canyon can be, but they mostly tend to go when visitors from out of town drag them along. His seed-to-stalk love of pulses, chewy grains, rowdy Provencal herbs and ultra-seasonal vegetables is admirable, but every good chef here has a co-dependent relationship with the farmers market.

His electric-green shellfish pozole is remarkable, conceivably the single best dish to be found in Santa Monica, but everyone has their favorite version of pozole, many of which involve grandmothers or a secret spot in East L.A. Knockoffs of his Beets and Berries dish have become ubiquitous; so are the Things in a Bowl it inspired. Could it be that Fox doesn’t do the celebrity chef thing? Could it be that Rustic Canyon still functions more as a wine bar than it does as a gastronomic shrine? We probably all need to get over it.

(Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

12. Shibumi

This modest, season-dependent kappo-style restaurant feels like a Tokyo restaurant in important ways, a dim, hidden showcase for David Schlosser’s precise Japanese cuisine. The bottles behind the bar, both Japanese whiskey and homemade infusions of things like loquat seeds, are as obscure as the softly disturbing music on the sound system. Schlosser, as obsessive a chef who has ever worked in Los Angeles, is fixated on fermentations, rare fish and grilled meat. The fatty grilled pork is half-drenched in koji rice, fermented with the same mold used to make miso and sake. And at the moment, Shibumi is the only place in town serving true Kobe beef, priced like caviar.

Schlosser can’t help himself from rummaging through the fermentation jars in the back, looking for a bit of cured mullet roe or aged walnut-stuffed yuzu — sometimes it feels a little like being in a friend’s basement as he shows off snatches from a dozen old albums. Might you come away dreaming of a lightly salted cucumber? The seeds have been replaced with shiso leaf, pickled plum and chewy, smoky bits of bonito.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

13. Q Sushi

The idea of Edomae sushi, may be well-established here. But until Hiroyuki Naruke was brought here from his restaurant in Tokyo’s Roppongi district to open Q, Los Angeles had never really seen the true Edomae style — plain-looking sushi that accentuates the flavor of the fish rather than of the rice or condiments, a universe of pickling and curing and aging that edges toward the art of charcuterie. And you really do have to adjust your aesthetics a little when you visit Q, which may be the least flashy sushi bar in town.

You don’t have to worry about saturating your sushi with soy sauce or wasabi, because you will not be given any. Nobody tells you to eat each piece in one bite because it is scarcely imaginable that you would eat it any other way. And you don’t have to worry about ordering incorrectly, because you won’t be given a choice — Q is omakase, chef’s choice; about eight pieces at lunch after the first sashimi courses and 16 or so at dinner. This is connoisseur’s sushi, dazzling in its simplicity.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

14. n/naka

N/naka is probably the toughest reservation in Los Angeles at the moment, booked solid three months out. Niki Nakayama, whose background includes both local sushi bars and ryokan in Japan, is something of a classicist when it comes to the form of a kaiseki meal, but probably devotes as much attention to the herbs and vegetables she grows in her backyard as she does to the ethereal fragrance of her matsutake dobin mushi.

N/naka may be the first dedicated kaiseki restaurant in Los Angeles, at least the first outside the Japanese expatriate community, and the sheer level of cooking in this modest bungalow eclipses what you find in far grander dining rooms. You do find the occasional Western touch here — spaghettini in a course of Monterey Bay abalone with pickled cod roe where a chef in Osaki might use soba. But there is a stillness to her cooking; a sense that clams, baby fennel and asparagus are together not to make a statement but because the day that she serves them is the day that they go together best.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

15. Lucques

  • Price: $$$

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  • 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood
  • (323) 655-6277
  • lucques.com
  • Lunch, noon to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays; dinner, 6-9:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, 6-10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 6-10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9:30 p.m. Sundays.
  • Full bar. Valet parking. Credit cards accepted.

Lucques is what you might think of as an aspirational restaurant, a place that sculpts Southern California life into not what it is, but what it should be. Even if you spend an eccentric amount of time at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, your stone fruit salad with ricotta salata is never going to look like Suzanne Goin’s does, partly because you don’t know how to cut the nectarines in precisely the right way, but also because you are never going to persuade the farmer to give you her very best box of nectarines.

You could theoretically make that tomato salad with blue cheese for supper, but you won’t have the right kind of basil, and it won’t occur to you to use a Stilton-y cheese from the Auvergne. Even if you’ve grilled salmon in grape leaves for a dinner party, or stuffed quail with cornbread, or experimented with mixing harissa into your ranch dressing, it won’t be like hers.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

16. Cut

Does Cut have the best knish in town? It does — it will sometimes show up as a snack. Could the oxtail bouillon be the most expressive old-school dish you are likely to taste this year? It is — full-flavored, beautifully clarified, afloat with bone-marrow dumplings, the kind of preparation that would have made a chef’s reputation 50 years ago. Might it be possible to spend an evening at Cut without indulging in the napkin-wrapped cuts of beef the captain will occasionally cradle as if they were infants? Definitely — the kitchen is perfectly happy to please you with truffled lobster, roast chicken with morels, and turbot with long-cooked tomato and fennel, or a perfect bone-marrow flan.

In a lot of respects, Cut is a classic hotel restaurant. But even in a steakhouse under the guidance of Ari Rosenson, Wolfgang Puck and Lee Hefter, steak is after all the point, and so you either kill yourselves with a USDA prime 35-day Nebraska sirloin or — pro move! — you all split a tiny Japanese Wagyu steak from Miyazaki prefecture that manages to combine every possible nuance of charred beef into a single magical bite.

(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

17. Bestia

When a minor fire closed Bestia earlier this year, my inbox all but exploded with grief, although the restaurant reopened its doors after just a couple of weeks. Perhaps the first of its size in that corner of the Arts District, Bestia is beloved. What Ori Menashe’s kitchen represents is a new kind of Italian cooking that creeps right up to the eastern Mediterranean, kissed with the aromas of spices, cured meats and woodsmoke, often lashed with char; with strong notes of acid and salt, uncooked greens and pungent cheese.

The salamis and cured meats are aged in a glassed-in cubicles behind the open kitchen — you’re going to want to order a charcuterie board. The pastas, which tend to be handmade, rustic and in the Los Angeles fashion cooked just short of al dente, may be tossed with a lamb ragù and sharp sheep cheese or with Dungeness crab and sharp chiles. and fresh ricotta or with sea urchin and chiles. The cavatelli alla Norcina with truffles and sausage may sound like something you’d find in Milan but tastes of wild Umbria, where truffles are as common as bread. And the pastries from Genevieve Gergis become more assured every year.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

18. Lasa

Suddenly, we are in the middle of a Filipino restaurant boom in Los Angeles — not just the old-school fried chicken at Max’s, but the peppery smoked tri-tip at Park’s Finest, the longanisa grain bowls at Rice Bar and Margarita Manzke’s sisig fried rice at Sari Sari Store in Grand Central Market. And nobody has quite caught the spirit of modern Filipino cooking like Lasa, who moved permanently into the small, chic ex-pho shop in which they had been running a pop-up for months.

Chad Valencia’s cooking captures the extreme regionality of the dishes in the Philippines’ zillion islands. He slashes refreshing vinegar and citrus notes with the funk of fish sauce, in the ceviche kinilaw, for example, or in Filipino beef tartare. He takes advantage of the cuisine’s tendency to accommodate both vegetable-forward and nose-to-tail sensibilities, sometimes in the same dish: crisp pigtails with thinly sliced turnips or chunks of braised, crisped pork belly with squash, served over a silken, smoky purée of roasted eggplant. And even if you have been staring at the outlet of Scoops across the courtyard, stay for dessert: You’re going to want to try the fried kesong puti, a kind of Filipino ricotta, with a splash of calamansi curd.

(Ryan Tanaka)

19. République

Does République make you want to be a better person? République does not. Because while it is a very nice place, with a good French-dominated wine list, Walter Manzke’s turbocharged bistro cooking could turn just about anyone into a gibbering, gluttonous fool. The baguettes come with a choice of Normandy butter or a small pot of pan drippings — pan drippings! The green beans are deep-fried, the buttery snails are crowned with pastry, and there is the possibility of fried pig’s foot patties with lentils and a fried egg.

If you are looking for the best French fries in Los Angeles, the ones here are pretty close, cooked in a complex multi-step process that makes them all the crunchiest ones on the plate. You will want some of those fries with the duck confit, and the Dover sole meunière is great, and it is hard to avoid bucatini alla carbonara when you see it on a menu. You obviously can’t eat all of the things, but you want to eat all of the things — and even if you virtuously limit yourself to a plate of crudo and a tomato salad, you will have lusted in your heart. This isn’t to say you should skip dessert, by the way. Margarita Manzke’s version of halo-halo is crazy good.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

20. Animal

Los Angeles, outsiders say, is a city of virtue signaling, a place where yoga-toned citizens spend most of their time test-driving Teslas, walking rescue labradoodles up Runyon Canyon, and nibbling on maca and activated cashews. This, of course, must be between meals at the cheerfully horrifying Animal, where Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo sling quivering veal brains with vadouvan, lakes of cheese melted with chorizo, fried rabbit legs with cream gravy, and pig’s ear terrines, as if their only stated goal in life is to make Gwyneth Paltrow regret every one of her life’s choices.

Animal is often the first place visiting chefs stop when they come through town because nobody understands the slightly gross chef’s appetite like Shook and Dotolo, for whom the foie gras loco moco and the bacon-chocolate crunch bar are alpha and omega. The wine list, put together by Helen Johannesen, is unexpectedly baller.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

21. Kismet

You could probably work your way through half an order of lamb belly at the neo-Middle Eastern bistro Kismet before you realize that the point of the dish lies less in the braised meat than it does in the lemony mass of turnips and grain. You may be well into a plate of potatoes with housemade labneh before you discover that the pungency is not from an herb, but from a scrap of fermented scallop.

The aesthetic of co-chefs Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, whom you may know from Madcapra in Grand Central Market, expresses both the landscape of California and the lingering flavors of the Levant, directed by the snap of local vegetables and the ancient tang of ferment, with bits of animal coming in at the edges if at all — the best dish in the place may be the lunchtime procession of vegetables, cheese and flatbread called accurately “all the things.” Still, if you have a little money in your pockets, you might try the huge rabbit platter, which includes stew, roasted legs and a kebab with caramelized squash. It feeds two — maybe as many as four, if you all happen to be wearing skinny jeans.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

22. Manuela

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  • 907 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles
  • (323) 849-0480
  • manuela-la.com
  • Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; brunch, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Full bar. Valet parking. Credit cards accepted.

If you should find yourself at Manuela, the restaurant at the heart of the Hauser & Wirth art complex, you should probably order a “Redneck” platter the minute you sit down. There is shaved country ham and a mound of soft pimento cheese, pickled vegetables and hot biscuits, and deviled eggs that would not be out of place at a proper Georgia funeral.

You may be sitting under a Mark Bradford painting of the Hollywood street grid, but as far as Wes Whitsell is concerned you are in the small-town mid-South. If you continue your meal with hush puppies, a venison burger and a plate of barbecued quail, Whitsell, a chef who gathers eggs from the chickens he raises out back, won’t mind a bit. If you are the kind of person who enjoys the pleasures of a buzzy restaurant but yearns wistfully for cornbread and collards, fried chicken and butter-pecan ice cream for dessert, Manuela may be the fine-dining restaurant for you

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

23. Night + Market Song

As much national attention as Kris Yenbamroong has gotten, Night + Market Song may still be the sparest restaurant in a stretch of Silver Lake not known for luxury, a long, bare room that could pass as the rec room in a Downey apartment complex, decorated with a Thai banner and a Cindy Crawford poster. The wine list is plump with ridiculously small-production Loire wines and pet-nats that any sommelier in town would kill to put on her own list.

This is Thai restaurant as experimental theater. You will find a few of the cheerful dishes that make the original Night + Market so fun — the grilled chicken wings, the Chiang Mai-style khao soi noodles and crisped rice salad with homemade “Spam” — but you suspect that Yenbamroong is happiest when he’s preparing something subversive like wiener blossoms for his ketchup-fried rice. Are you going to get the pad Thai and the fried chicken anyway? No doubt.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

24. Shunji

Shunji is the playground of Shunji Nakao, a slender, gray-haired chef with the bearing of a patriarch in an old Ozu movie. He was one of the three original chefs at Matsuhisa. He co-founded the sashimi-intensive Asanebo. He is serving some of the best sushi and sashimi in the country out of what was built as a giant chili bowl.

As at Asanebo, a meal is likely to include many things that are not sushi. There may be a vinegared jellyfish salad, compressed tomatoes, and a bowl of raw squid, uni and black truffles that is dense as mercury and black as ink. If you are the kind of person who dreams about octopus suckers and grunt, Shunji may be your ideal restaurant, an omakase restaurant where the sushi is never less than perfect but sometimes seems almost beside the point, a place where satori may come as readily from a composed vegetable plate or sesame tofu with crumpled sheets of freshly made yuba as from kanimiso or a sliver of Japanese sea bream.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

25. Alimento

Tortellini in brodo is perhaps the emblematic dish of Bologna, Italy — tiny dumplings stuffed with a mixture that may include mortadella and Parmigiano-Reggiano served in a rich, concentrated broth. The ring-shaped dumplings are often said to be fashioned after the navel of Venus. Zach Pollack’s version turns the concept upside down, filling the tortellini with hot broth like a Shanghai soup dumpling and saucing it with what would otherwise be inside, and the effect is delightful. He constructs little finger sandwiches out of seared mortadella and puff pastry and calls it “pig in a blanket.” He boils veal tongue, slices it thinly and daubs it with puréed tuna — it is one of the loveliest versions of vitello tonnato you will ever taste.

You may know Pollack from Sotto, which he co-founded, or from his new street-pizza place Cosa Buona, but Alimento, just downhill from the Silver Lake Reservoir, is where he is turning things upside down.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

26. Here’s Looking At You

Jonathan Whitener’s corner bistro is all Edison bulbs, neo-midcentury cabinetry and old-school hip-hop. The cocktails, designed by Allan Katz and Danielle Crouch, are both delicious and remarkable in their inventiveness — the current drinks, based on songs about Los Angeles, range from a Motorhead-inspired spritz to a Negroni suggestive of Kendrick Lamar.

Whitener is fond of strong flavors, jolts of acidity and torn Asian herbs. The steak tartare with red chile and aioli leans into the sensations of Korean barbecue, and the spice-dusted hamachi collar toward Nashville hot chicken, and the stracciatella cheese with yuzu kosho nods to Japan. Whitener plays with familiar sensations in a way more delightful than challenging. Here’s Looking at You is what a neighborhood restaurant should be.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

27. P.Y.T.

  • Price: $$$

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  • 400 S. Main St., Los Angeles
  • (213) 687-7015
  • pytlosangeles.com
  • Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Full bar. Valet parking. Credit cards accepted.

Are we still talking about whole roasted vegetables? It appears that we are. But it would be hard to write about P.Y.T. without including what is occasionally the star of the menu — a peeled turnip wrapped in a big, anisey hoja santa leaf, encased in a salt-dough crust, and baked until the turnip flavors condense into an essence that hits your tongue like syrup.

P.Y.T., carved out of the southern end of Ledlow, is Josef Centeno’s first vegetable-centered restaurant. It is a place of feathery herbs, local grains, unlikely pestos and smears of strong cheese; a place where the herbed piri-piri rice, fried squash blossoms and grilled baby corn are the stars and the single pork dish is cordoned off at the bottom of the menu like the token steamed-vegetable plate at most mainstream places. The food isn’t vegan but most of it can be if you ask. You’re not here for authentic versions of things you’ve tasted before; you’re here to taste the produce of the season, much of it obtained through Centeno’s relationship with a nearby high school garden, transformed.

(Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

28. Guerrilla Tacos

If you were trying to choose a kitchen most emblematic of the Los Angeles food scene at the moment, Guerrilla Tacos is a good place to start. Wes Avila trained with Gary Menes, Walter Manzke and Alain Ducasse before he ditched the world of fine dining to start making tacos. He uses the same farmers market produce, high-end seafood and sustainably raised meat as the best chefs in town, including the occasional Perigord truffle. His sauces are exquisite. And if you happen to be by Blacktop or Cognoscenti Coffee when his truck rolls by, you can eat what is in effect a first-rate tasting menu, except that you are sitting on the curb instead of having a white tablecloth spread before you, the dishes come rolled into tortillas instead of on fine china, and you are spending a tiny fraction of the cost.

When you talk about the democratization of fine dining, Guerrilla Tacos is Exhibit A. Avila has been talking about a physical restaurant in the Arts District for a while, and I have no doubt that it’s going to happen, but in the meantime you can find him in front of the usual coffeehouses hawking tacos stuffed with sweet potatoes, bigeye tuna or crab.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

29. Chengdu Taste

  • Price: $$

    $$

  • 828 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
  • (626) 588-2284
  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
  • No alcohol. Cash only. Street parking. Also at 8526 W. Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 899-8886, and at 18406 E. Colima Road, Rowland Heights, (909) 675-8888.

The boiled fish in green pepper sauce sneaks up on you like a prizefighter in the ninth round; the electric charge of Sichuan peppercorns flits around your lips and tongue with the weird vibrancy of a flashing Las Vegas sign. The chile-steeped slices of cold beef shank, the cold mung bean noodles tossed with spicy bean paste and pork, the old-fashioned mapo tofu, the numb-taste wonton — no matter how many people you bring to Chengdu Taste, you will never be able to order enough.

Chengdu Taste is the most influential restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley, the place you take visiting friends when you want to tempt them to move to L.A. Its success has inspired dozens of similar restaurants, some of them direct imports from China. Tony Xu’s cooking is light and clean but spicy as hell, flavored with a shop’s worth of fresh, dried, pickled and ground chiles, but the layers of flavor are clear, and vivid heat.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

30. Orsa & Winston

It is possible that the current form of the Los Angeles restaurant, the parade of multicultural small plates at least, may have started with Josef Centeno’s infinite tasting menu at the old Opus. A decade later, the chef runs so many restaurants around the corner of 4th and Main that they may as well call those blocks Centenoville.

Orsa & Winston is more or less that old tasting-menu dream realized, but the form seems to have evolved into something like an omakase menu without the sushi, half a dozen or so small courses referencing Mexico, New England, Italy and of course Japan, with perhaps a riff on the famous Arpège egg with caviar and maple syrup, a sea-urchin-laden take on puttanesca, or geoduck with grapefruit and Chinese broccoli. It’s tweezer food without the twee. And if you should happen to be in Centenoville around lunchtime, you should stop in for a plate of pot stickers and maybe a grain bowl with sashimi-grade fish. It’s one of the great bargains downtown.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

31. Michael’s

The Stellas are still on the wall at Michael’s, and the Robert Graham frieze in the tented garden is as good as anything you’ve seen at a museum lately. But if your memories of the restaurant revolve around dishes like Heath bar cake and sautéed rouget with tomatoes, you may well feel as if you have stepped into an alternative reality, one where well-dressed humans drink skin-contact whites from Slovenia instead of Sonoma-Cutrer and occasionally consider griddled potatoes with furikake aioli and curls of shaved tuna to be a main course.

Michael’s can credibly claim to be the birthplace of California cuisine, but current chef Miles Thompson takes things in a different direction, punctuated with dusky greens and splashes of citrus, whole grains and fermented things. Your last course may have been an uni-frosted spoonful or two of the Japanese custard called chawan mushi; your next may include pork neck, cauliflower and a vaguely Thai-inflected coconut cream; crisped octopus and lime curd; or hamachi collar, melon and baba ghanouj. Either Michael’s has changed or it’s you.

(Christina House / For The Times)

32. Otium

  • Price: $$$

    $

  • 222 S. Hope St., Los Angeles
  • (213) 935-8500
  • otiumla.com
  • Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; brunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Full bar. Valet parking on Grand Street. Credit cards accepted.

Timothy Hollingsworth’s grand project at Otium is to do no less than redefine what an American restaurant might be, to wrest the conversation away from both European-trained chefs like his mentor Thomas Keller and from heritage cooks like the late James Beard, and focus it toward the glittering mosaic of cookery that California actually experiences today. In practice, this involves blowing through a lot of different cuisines in the course of a small plates meal — raw fish that expresses itself as sashimi; steak tartare that resembles kibbeh nayeh; grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with truffles and country ham. The cooking in this modernist pavilion is precise and well-reasoned — Hollingsworth is a haute cuisine guy to the tip of his toes.

(Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

33. Vincenti

Vincenti, heir to the legendary Rex il Ristorante, may be the spiritual center of fine Italian cooking in Los Angeles, a spare, elegant dining room near the western end of Brentwood’s Italian dining district. Much of Nicola Mastronardi’s food — octopus with fava, rack of lamb, dover sole with tarragon — comes from the big, hardwood-burning ovens, and the porchetta is still one of the better versions in town, dosed with fennel and spit-roasted until it is crisp and sizzling.

His handmade pastas, including tagliolini with lemon and fusilli with a splendid, long-cooked sauce of tomato and lamb, tend to be both soulful and correct. Mastronardi’s polished, masculine style wasn’t formulated in reaction to classic Italian cooking — it is classic Italian cooking. On Monday nights, pizza comes out of the wood oven too.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

34. Broken Spanish

Your opinion of Broken Spanish, a modernist Mexican restaurant that is by far the best place to eat near Staples Center, will probably depend on what you think about the idea of pig snout in your sweet potato. The jellied bits, cooked to a point where you could dismiss them as merely a rumor of snout, add an ethereal porky presence to the caramelized vegetable. On the other hand: snout. Or as the menu has it, trompa.

Ray Garcia is a Guillermo del Toro of the kitchen, a master of technique whose serene farmers market cooking and gory late-night taqueria fantasies exist not just in the same restaurant but on the same plate. Broken Spanish’s complex menu hasn’t changed much since the restaurant opened a couple of years ago, but inconsistencies seem to have evaporated — it is probably the most accomplished Mexican kitchen within the borders of L.A.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

35. Soban

When somebody asks me to name the best dish in Koreatown, I invariably tell them to try Soban’s ganjang gaejang, an ultrafresh raw crab briefly marinated in house-made soy sauce — a glorious, gelatinous, sea-briny mess. If Soban weren’t so genteel, you can almost imagine yourself wrestling for the leg, scooping up rogue lumps of roe, or turning the shell over to scrape out whatever fragments of tomalley might have adhered to the inside. Before the crab, there will have been Soban’s famous presentation of 13 or so banchan, the tiny side dishes that form Act 1 of a Korean meal.

The spicy galbi jjim, the ubiquitous braised short-rib preparation, is just stunning here, as weightless and as caramelized as an effort by a Michelin-starred chef. And it would be a mistake to leave without trying the eundaegu jorim, a gorgeous, spicy casserole starring braised black cod.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

36. Pizzana

Can a pizza have a pedigree? Daniele Uditi earned his bones at his family’s bakery near Caserta, the buffalo mozzarella capital of Italy, as well as in one of the best pizzerias in Naples. Even before he had a restaurant, the pizzas he made for Hollywood parties marked him as a celebrity chef in Italian newspapers. So it is no surprise that people line up for hours outside Pizzana’s Brentwood dining room — there is nothing quite like his pizza in Los Angeles.

Uditi favors a slow pass through his fiery wood oven and a crust edged with crispness. There are pizzas based on classic pasta preparations, including an awesomely garlicky pizza made to taste like Roman aglio e olio, and a pignatiello pizza topped with a grandmotherly Neapolitan ragù. His dough, made completely by hand in a traditional wooden bin, is allowed to ferment for nearly two entire days. Uditi is the real thing.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

37. Sun Nong Dan

The restaurant is named after an archaic term for sullongtang, a gentle bone broth famous for its effectiveness as a morning-after tonic. But the swelling crowd outside the tiny Koreatown storefront is there for the short-rib stew, galbi jjim, which is pretty much everything about Korean cooking cranked up to 10 — a violent red lagoon of meat and broth, hissing and bubbling, enveloped in a small universe of steam. If you have ordered it with cheese — you have to order it with cheese — a waiter scoops a big handful of white stuff over the top and blasts it with a torch. Galbi jjim is a staple of both royal Korean cuisine and Sundays at Grandma’s house. At Sun Nong Dan, it’s David Choe blasting spray paint onto an alley wall.

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

38. Mélisse

The genius of the Los Angeles dining scene, it is often said, is that the line between street food and haute cuisine has been obliterated. At Mélisse, this is assuredly not the case. And in a way, dismissing a chef as gifted as Josiah Citrin because his medium is the $135 tasting menu with aged duck breast, caviar egg and truffle pasta is like rolling your eyes at a symphony conductor because he can’t be bothered to interpolate a bass drop into Mahler’s Ninth.

Mélisse is an old-school, special-occasion restaurant with two Michelin stars, and you can’t hold ironed tablecloths, romantic mood lighting and lobster Bolognese against a place whose appeal rests on exactly those things. When you’re in the mood to be clobbered with truffles and drink good white Burgundy, Mélisse is an obvious place to go.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

39. Holbox/Chichén Itzá

Holbox is the new Yucatán-style seafood restaurant from Gilberto Cetino Jr., whom you may know from Chichén Itzá. Like Chichén Itzá, Holbox occupies a corner of the Mercado La Paloma complex. As at Chichén Itzá, you wait in line to order, and commandeer as many kinds of chile sauce as you are allowed. As at Chichén Itzá, you will wind up with twice as much food as you thought you might be — especially if you also walk over to Chichén Itzá and order a couple of panuchos and a plate of papadzules to go along with your seafood.

There are huge surf clams, marinated in bitter orange juice, spilling in swirls from their shells; huge, fresh oysters from Oregon; and one of the best shrimp cocktails in the city — plump, crisp bits in a purée-filled sundae glass crowned with a single steamed prawn. The blood clams surpass what you’ve had at the famous Baja street stands. The tortas, butter-crisped French rolls stuffed with avocado and breaded shrimp, are predictably spectacular. And the yellowtail-uni ceviche is magnificent, melting into the sharp chile-lime snap of its marinade, with a glorious excess of rich, fresh sea urchin roe. Is transcendence too much to ask from a seafood tostada? That I’ll leave up to you.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

40. Baroo

The walls of fermentation crocks make the dining room resemble a makeshift biology lab. One of the most famous dishes is a plate of kimchi fried rice that tastes strongly of fermented pineapple; the other, while delicious, involves soaked macadamia nuts, onions scented with rose petals, and a pink, creamy slosh of mold. The restaurant, located next to the 7-Eleven in a strip mall, is named after a monk’s begging bowl.

Nobody was really surprised when the chef, Kwang Uh, returned to Korea to study with culinary philosopher Jeong Kwan, the Buddhist nun profiled on “Chef’s Table.” Nobody was surprised eight months later when he just as quietly returned to Baroo. The cooking at Baroo is Korean but also not quite Korean, and vegan except when it’s not. But it does taste like the future. And whether the future it points to might be blissful or dystopian, I am not prepared to say.

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

41. Officine Brera

You might imagine that the last thing Los Angeles needed was a restaurant specializing in the wintry cooking of the Po Valley. And you would be wrong — the chef is Angelo Auriana, the maestro of Factory Kitchen and veteran of many years at Valentino. The converted warehouse is glorious, with booming opera arias instead of EDM, and a menu that leans toward Flintstonian braised pork shanks, soft, winey slabs of braised beef shoulder and suckling pig with guanciale mashed potatoes.

The pastas run to things like chestnut mafaldine in lamb sauce and cannelloni stuffed with braised beef, béchamel and chard. Even thinking about the truffled pasta e fagioli might be enough to make you wish for a brisk winter day. But what may be the best dish in the restaurant comes from seaside Genoa, and isn’t even on the menu — farinata: a warm slice of a chickpea flour crepe cooked in the wood oven and served from a wheeled cart barely big enough to hold the heavy copper pan. It is exactly what you want to be snacking on when the first Negronis arrive.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

42. The Bazaar

Aitor Zabala, who cooked with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli, was probably the most underrated chef in Los Angeles the years he cooked at Saam, a tiny tasting-menu restaurant hidden at the back of Bazaar. He pushed modernist cuisine into a whimsical version of the intersectional present. If you had the money, Saam probably would have been a great place to stop by every few weeks, just to see what Zabala might be doing with mangosteens or the fat of Ibérico ham.

Bazaar is the local outlet of José Andrés, whose empire includes more than 20 restaurants across the U.S. And while Zabala is in the process of converting Saam to Somni, another restaurant-within-the-restaurant, there is always Bazaar itself, a kind of Disneyland of modernist cuisine serving what one imagines Alice and the White Rabbit might have eaten if they had sat down for tapas instead of tea.

(Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

43. Gjelina

Gjelina has been open for almost a decade now. The turnover on Abbot Kinney has almost been complete. Travis Lett himself seems to be focusing his attention on the new izakaya MTN down the street. And yet Gjelina is still the restaurant everybody wants to go to — for its anchovy burrata toast, for its local squid with black-eyed peas and for its thin-crusted pizzas, but mostly for its vast selection of vegetable dishes, which channel the hyperseasonal shell beans and squashes and greens from the farmers market into vaguely Mediterranean compositions just big enough to be shared. It’s almost as if Lett understands us. If you want to hear what your friends are saying, try to get one of the tables in the patio.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

44. Salt’s Cure

Could the best pork chop in town be the one Chris Phelps serves at the relocated Salt’s Cure, his plain, meat-oriented restaurant up on Highland? It just might be — a full pound of sustainably raised Marin Sun Farms pork from Northern California, lightly marinated and cooked slowly, so that the thin rim of fat crisps while the juices concentrate in the meat, and the pork tastes intensely, gloriously of itself. “I’d been at my last restaurant for almost eight years,” a server confessed. “But I wanted to work with people who could cook a pork chop like that.” See if you can score a short stack of the buttery, crisp-edged oatmeal griddle cakes to go along with the chop. (The pancakes are also a highlight of Salt’s Cure’s wonderful brunch.) And leave room for a slice of the grapefruit pie, like a Key lime pie with a bittersweet hint of peel that finishes the rich meal like a kiss.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

45. Alma

As a concept, Alma may reside somewhere in the deep recesses of Ari Taymor’s consciousness, wherein float notions of foraged ingredients, exotic emulsifiers, and the idea of ordering time through the texture of celery root. As a restaurant, Alma is firmly dug into the Standard hotel, where seaweed-tofu beignets, yuzu kosho micheladas and frozen foie gras with coffee granola are presumably available at all hours of the day and night.

The contrast between Taymor’s technical, intellectual cooking and the happy chaos of the Sunset Strip is a little startling at first, but the butter-roasted carrots, puffed onion chicharrones and tiny English muffins smeared with uni, burrata and caviar are actually kind of fun.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

46. Salazar

Salazar is the kind of restaurant you’d think there’d be millions of in Los Angeles, a laissez-faire outdoor dining room more Austin, Texas, than California, with a smoggy view out over the river, margaritas for days and a menu centered on grilled meats and beer. Sometimes people bring their dogs. Everybody sooner or later gets around to inhaling a taco or two. Esdras Ochoa’s carne asada is simple but perfect, grilled over blazing hot mesquite, chopped and stuffed into a flour tortilla. His marinated pork al pastor is sweet, slightly charred, with a bit of burnt pineapple. You can supplement the tacos with a cocktail of cold, wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, an anchovy-forward Caesar salad or a gooey potato purée.

You can also treat Salazar like a steakhouse that leans toward strong flavors, organic meat and flour tortillas, like a luxe version of the carne asada. To be honest, Salazar would probably belong on this list for its website alone, a noisy, throbbing Comic Sans nightmare that may remind you of the Angelfire page you were so proud of in junior high school.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

47. Sqirl

I think we’re all supposed to be over Sqirl now? It’s really hard to tell. The success of the breakfast-lunch cafe has transformed its bit of Virgil Avenue into a stretch of boutiques and vintage shops, and it’s the first place your cousin from Ohio wants to go when she gets into town. You can probably trace the popularity of grain bowls, avocado toast and $13 jam to Sqirl.

The current predilections for the flavors of sorrel, turmeric, burnt bread and ricotta toast didn’t start with Jessica Koslow, but they may as well have. Who waits 90 minutes in line for a bowl of porridge? Still, the moment the braised chickpeas, the grilled cheese with tomato jam, the kale tabbouleh and the sorrel pesto rice hit the makeshift table, you’ve already forgotten what you were so sore about, and you regret only not having gotten a second matcha with almond milk for the road. Life is funny that way.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

48. The Tasting Kitchen

I may remark on this a little too often, but I continue to marvel that Tasting Kitchen actually exists. When it started, it felt like an act of performance art, Casey Lane and his friends coming down to occupy a failed Scandinavian restaurant like a hermit crab moving into a new shell. (Each evening’s menu is still numbered with the day of service, the way a prisoner might mark the day of his sentence — it’s nearing 3,000 by now.)

The menu, laid out as roughly as a suicide note, is no longer all in Italian, although it may as well be. But time and influence have a way of leveling things out. And the idea of basing dinner around toasted bread, of stickying chicken with reduced cider or serving rabbit with fideo isn’t avant-garde — it’s dinner. May Lane remain on Abbot Kinney for another 3,000 days.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

49. Odys + Penelope

  • Price: $$$

    $

  • 127 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles
  • (323) 939-1033
  • odysandpenelope.com
  • 6-10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 6-11 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30-11 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sundays.
  • Full bar. Valet parking on the corner of 1st Street and La Brea Avenue. Credit cards accepted.

You might have an idea of what a Brazilian churrasceria might be: a place where dudes with skewers push beef onto your plate until you are overcome by meat sweats. Odys + Penelope is the farthest thing from all-you-can-eat — it’s a loud, stylish, La Brea warehouse space with a Michelin-starred chef.

But Quinn Hatfield riffs on the idea of churrasceria-style meat, slow-roasting cuts like skirt steak, short ribs and sirloin cap over embers and serving them at room temperature, although he dry-ages his beef, which is unthinkable in Brazil, and he serves it with things like béarnaise sauce or puréed carrots rather than the classic chimichurri. Still, as good as the bacon-wrapped chicken thighs may be, Hatfield may be even better with vegetables — broccolini with beet hummus and a creamy dish of cauliflower and millet painted with almond and basil that may be the best dish in the house ... if you don’t count the undeniable perfection of the crisp yet crumbly perfection of the rye crust on Karen Hatfield’s chocolate pie.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

50. Petit Trois

Ludovic Lefebvre is a famous and beloved chef, but ordinariness is more or less the point at Petit Trois; the worn-bistro look, the stiff counter seating, the half-liter carafes of wine. The kitchen is a land without tweezers, liquid nitrogen or offset spatulas. And what it serves is the kind of unpretentious cooking you may remember from your first trip to France, when you may have thought you were tasting a real green salad for the first time.

The omelets are perfect, but nothing more than an omelet should be, slightly runny on the inside and rolled around a bit of Boursin, which is more or less the French equivalent of Velveeta. The steak-frites is extraordinary only in that those frites have been cooked in clarified butter. But Los Angeles is not Paris, and it is nice to have somebody make us a chanterelle tartine, a cheesy bowl of onion soup or a chicken leg showered with buttery brioche crumbs, especially at this marble counter in this beautifully lighted room. Lefebvre may not have figured out what we want in a bistro yet, but he has figured out what he wants in a bistro, and in the end, that may be more important.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

51. Sea Harbour

Grand Hong Kong-style seafood castles have nearly gone out of fashion here if you ask some people, replaced by newcomers from Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing. And it’s true — a lot of the food excitement at the moment, especially among younger Chinese, seems to have drained into hot pot parlors, northern places so arcane that they seem like private clubs, and spicy food specialists.

But weddings, business dinners and banquets aren’t going away. And if you’re going to blow a paycheck on exotic fish and crystal crab or take the extended family out for dim sum, Sea Harbour has long been regarded as the most serious Hong Kong-style restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley. In practice, what this means is that some of the customers are splashing out on dried sea cucumber and bird’s nest while the others are enjoying merely glorious steamed prawns and roast squab — and everyone knows to come in the mornings for the dim sum, which remains the freshest and most imaginative in town.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

52. Redbird

It is difficult, one imagines, to pull off a solid destination restaurant in the eclectic small-plates era, to satisfy the needs of steak-and-cab men as well as those of the guys slamming chicken-fried sweetbreads and Aperol spritzes at the bar, and the people secretly glad that the best dish in the house is the barbecued tofu. It looked like an impossible project when Neal Fraser announced his intention to transform the deconsecrated St. Vibiana Cathedral into a multi-tiered event space, but he succeeded — not least with this busy, big-city restaurant built into the rectory.

Fraser is probably best-known for happy multicultural splashes of flavor, from a Jamaican-leaning braised lamb belly to the fennel-scented head cheese, the roasted shishito peppers with bottarga, and the rack of heritage Red Wattle pork with polenta. You still don’t want to miss the thyme-scented chicken pot pie.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

53. Jitlada

Jitlada, I will concede, can be a little taxing for a newcomer. There is a large menu of traditional Thai favorites and a sprawling photocopied addendum at the back that includes most of the Southern Thai specialties for which the restaurant is renowned. If you guess correctly and end up with something like khua kling and an acacia blossom omelet, you may be unprepared for the heart-stopping chile heat of the curry. You could play it safe with curried mussels and the crunchy salad made with fried morning glory, but you will have missed a bit of the wildness in Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee’s cooking. On the other hand, curried fish kidneys and fried silkworms with chile may not be your jam — but if you try to meet Jitlada halfway, you need never be bored.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

54. Girasol

If you follow Girasol’s Instagram feed, you have probably come to expect plates closer to watercolor paintings than to anything you might find in a restaurant two hops from the 101. Fish, crab, even chocolate desserts bristle with foraged herbs and leaves you vaguely remember seeing in a clump once near a waterfall.

Justin Abram has captured original chef C.J. Jacobson’s knack for layering the sunny fragrances of California onto what might seem to be straightforward New American cooking. And when you make it to the restaurant, what you find is indeed a classic California menu twisted 30 degrees on its axis, straightforward preparations of things like scallops, duck breast and skirt steak, kitted out with handfuls of plants from the San Gabriel Mountains and the usual farmers market vegetables.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

55. Sotto

Sotto almost quietly assumed canonical importance in the Los Angeles restaurant scene. One of its co-founders, Zach Pollack, went on to open both Alimento and the wonderful Echo Park pizzeria Cosa Buona. Steve Samson, who still runs Sotto, just opened the terrific Rossoblu downtown.

Sotto isn’t just a 15,000-pound wood oven and a Southern Italian-leaning menu. It is in retrospect a step forward in regional Italian cuisine. But you’re going to want that pizza, maybe the one with ricotta, house-cured pig cheek and at least a couple bucks’ worth of fennel pollen, and maybe the char-crisp octopus tentacle with mozzarella. The casarecce noodles, tossed with simmered lamb and sheep cheese, nods to the Middle East. And you should probably root around in the collection of amari, bitter Italian liqueurs, after a plate of cannoli. Even if you spenda lot of time in Italy, you’re going to run across something you’ve never seen.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

56. Le Comptoir

There are no open flames in the open kitchen at the California-French tasting menu restaurant Le Comptoir, no bubbling pots and no cooking smells. The vegetables are grown in a Long Beach backyard. The chef, Gary Menes, loves good coffee the way you loved your high school girlfriend. Everybody at the nine-seat counter is served the same dishes at the same time. There will always be a roasted egg, bubbling in a tiny cast-iron casserole, and it will always be served with three or four leaves of dressed lettuce and a slice of the sour, crusty country bread that Menes bakes himself.

The so-called veggie and fruit plate features up to 30 different separately prepared plants. The luxury add-ons — truffles, lobster, well-aged beef — are rarely as delicious as the vegetable dishes they supersede. If you order the cheese course instead of the hot doughnut holes, you will regret it for the rest of the week.

(Bret Hartman / For The Times)

57. Park’s BBQ

There are Koreatown barbecue restaurants serving every possible niche at the moment, from businessman bulgogi parlors to places concentrating on duck, pork or intestines; smoky natural-charcoal specialists and sterile steak salons; and cheap all-you-can-eat dives whose appeal may be the occasional set-price all-you-can-drink. But Park’s BBQ, a modernist dining room under the direction of Jenee Kim, was the restaurant that changed the game: upping the prices, using prime and Wagyu beef instead of lesser grades, and introducing cuts like rare-breed pork belly and the super-marbled rib-eye called ggot sal. Kim brought the quality of meat closer to places like Mastro’s and Cut. Park’s is no longer the only place in Koreatown using great meat, but its brand of Korean barbecue is still beyond compare.

(Christina House / For The Times)

58. Gwen

On your way into Gwen, Curtis and Luke Stone’s Hollywood steakhouse, you will probably spend a few seconds browsing the retail butcher’s counter, a carnal display of Victorian lavishness. It's hard not to feel like a Dickens street urchin with his nose pressed against butcher shop glass. But the meal itself is more straightforward than the display and the joints roasting above the fire might lead you to expect.

The Deco dining room at Gwen is grand, but the experience — salad, meat, dessert, plus a few starters if you’ve opted for one of the pricier menus — may be closer to what you would expect to eat at a fancy dinner party than at a tasting menu restaurant. The composed plate of pork belly, sliced rib chop and stewed cheek is lovely. Still, everything about the restaurant primes you to crave steak — and the 12-ounce Blackmore Farms Australian strip you have your eye on is a $185 supplement. In case you were wondering, it is indeed a lovely steak.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

59. Jar

You know those restaurants in ’50s movies where couples sit down at tables that always seem a little too small, order martinis and banter wittily over shrimp cocktails? Jar is that place, only without the cigarette smoke. It’s Suzanne Tracht’s civilized oasis of deviled eggs, pot roast better than your mom’s and first-rate coq au vin, creamed spinach and little sauce boats of béarnaise should you decide that the rib-eye needs a little embellishment.

Before Jar, Tracht ran the Asian fusion restaurant Jozu with Preech Narkthong, who is still her chef de cuisine, and the side dishes tend toward the suavely Asian, including delicious duck fried rice and kimchi-style Brussels sprouts. Jar isn’t precisely retro, but Tracht cooks as if pork chops have always been cured like Cantonese char siu and oysters on the half-shell have always been served with ponzu instead of a mignonette.

(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

60. Meals by Genet

Genet Agonafer, Times food editor Amy Scattergood found out this year, has been vegan for the last several years. This means she does not eat the spiced raw-beef dish kitfo, the lamb stew alitcha or even the doro wot for which she is famous. That doro wot, a resonant chicken stew flavored with berbere, cloves and goosefoot herb, is among the great chicken dishes of the world. I would be devastated if I never got to taste Agonafer’s doro wot again, and I’m not the one laboring in the kitchen for three days on the sauce. It’s fortunate for everyone that the vegetable dishes in her Little Ethiopia bistro — subtly curried yellow beans, spiced lentils, split peas with hot mustard — are pretty delicious too.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

61. Church & State

The area east of downtown is rich in places to eat now, and the blocks near the Los Angeles River shed their raffish reputation more than a decade ago. Yet it’s still as thrilling to drop into Church & State as it was when it was the first decent restaurant in the neighborhood, find a seat under the skeins of tiny lights, and order a bottle of Chinon and a charcuterie plate.

The dimly lighted dining room is still louder than you think it should be, and the crowd that eats at 6:30 might as well be the parents of the folks who show up at 10, but Tony Esnault’s bistro cooking is still extraordinary, streamlined versions of things like snails in garlic butter, onion tart with bacon, and the most dependable cassoulet in town. Esnault may be spending most of his time at the Provençal fine-dining restaurant Spring downtown, but when the evening calls for cheesy onion soup, crisped seabass with ratatouille, or a plate of profiteroles, you’re unlikely really to care.

(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

62. La Casita Mexicana

There may be something essentially touristic about the La Casita Mexicana experience. The chefs, Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu, are well-known from Spanish-language TV. The souvenir shop next door sells the restaurant’s branded sauces. It’s not expensive, but meals run a tick or two more than the other restaurants in this working-class neighborhood of Bell.

At some point during your meal, you start to realize that you may be eating enchiladas, but they are wonderful enchiladas, made with thick, freshly made tortillas, slicked with unusually delicious chile sauce, stuffed with cotija cheese better than you are likely to find in your local supermarket. You may have started your meal with more cheese roasted in banana leaves, taquitos bathed in mole and pepian sauces or guacamole spiked with tequila. There is the dried beef called cecina, beef shank braised in a spicy adobo sauce, and chiles rellenos with cactus and mushrooms; fish steamed in corn husks with adobo or braised with chile morita; and a sweet, rich version of chiles en nogada striped white, green and red like the Mexican flag. If you manage to wake up early enough for breakfast, the chilaquiles, fried tortillas softened in salsa or mole, are among the best in town.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

63. Maude

Maude is among the most difficult reservations in the city, a tiny place with a big wine list, a tasting menu devoted to a star ingredient, and one of the most recognizable chefs in the world. So since you are unlikely to make it past the locked door to see what Curtis Stone might do with 10 courses of walnuts or black truffles, it probably won’t matter much that the restaurant is set to drop the single-ingredient menu after the first of the year and presumably transform into another kind of tasting menu restaurant, maybe obsessively locavore like the one Stone's pal Ben Shewry runs in Melbourne, Australia, or maybe luxurious in a more traditional sense. When you taste a dish that leans into Stone’s sensibilities, you can understand the passion of his devotees.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

64. Brodard Chateau

Brodard Chateau is probably the swankest restaurant in Little Saigon, a converted Victorian mansion marooned on a freeway frontage road. The lighting is soft, and you can get a rack of lamb should you want one. Still, you are here for one reason: The wait for a table at the original Brodard can stretch as long as two hours on busy weekends. The restaurant serves really good versions of the grilled pork noodles President Obama shared with Anthony Bourdain in Hanoi; sautéed clams with spongy sliced elephant ear stem; and the coconut-sweetened mini-crepes called bánh khot. But if you forget to order nem nuong, the waiter will stand patiently by the table until you tell him how many orders you would like.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

65. A.O.C.

For as long as I’ve been writing about A.O.C., which has been a bajillion years at this point, I’ve been urging Suzanne Goin to take a victory lap. Because whatever direction food seems to be going at any particular moment, whether it be charcuterie, small plates, eastern Mediterranean flavors, vegetable-forward cooking, family-style share platters or bacon, it turns out that A.O.C. had been doing it all along.

If we’ve lived through a battle for L.A.’s restaurant soul, Goin and her business partner and sommelier, Caroline Styne, have won. And as good as the food is on A.O.C.’s handsome patio — stuffed quail, grilled artichokes, smoky wood-roasted clams with green garlic, and a crisp-skinned roast chicken with bread salad inspired by the late Judy Rodgers — what comes through is the ease, the small happiness of drinking wine in the garden with your friends.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

66. Asanebo

Asanebo first became famous as the No Sushi bar, a raw-fish palace that refused to serve nigiri or tekkamaki to its customers no matter how fervently they pleaded. At the time, the mandate was seen as a kind of fashionable absolutism. Later, it turned out that the rule had actually been prompted by a clause in the lease.

Asanebo started making sushi the moment the sushi bar next door closed 15 years ago. But while the sushi is kind of great at Asanebo — mullet with ponzu, king mackerel with yuzo koshu and elegant kohada, as well as the usual favorites — it is still almost beside the point here — Tetsuya Nakao, one of the first chefs at Matsuhisa, seems almost as obsessed with farmers market vegetables as he is with fish — the earthy, purple carrot shavings on a sashimi dish carry as much weight as the sweet Hokkaido scallop, and a tomato in vinaigrette holds as proud a place on the menu as the grilled king crab leg.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

67. Kobee Factory & Syrian Kitchen

When Waha Ghreir moved here from Homs, Syria, 40 years ago, she swears she did not know how to so much as crack an egg. But her kobee, delicately spiced capsules stuffed with bulgur and chopped meat, is fairly extraordinary, served either grilled or fried, with a compelling illusion of lightness when the thin, supple crust dissolves under your teeth. The stuffed lamb intestines look like a Halloween nightmare, but turn out to be delicate, mild rice sausages in a cinnamon-scented broth.

If you show up at breakfast time, there is one of the best versions of fateh in town, a pita submerged in a bowl of chickpeas, tahini and yogurt. And her mjadara, bulgur cooked with lentils, is alive with the fragrance of toasted onion and as satisfying as any plate of beans and grain you’ve ever tasted. It is a plate that could sustain a civilization. And it has.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

68. Craft

Has it really been 10 years since Craft opened here? It seems like five minutes ago that Tom Colicchio, author of “Think Like a Chef,” realized that food obsessives want to experience a little of the wonder and creative chaos of a great kitchen without the inconvenience of rising from their banquettes.

And it seems as if Colicchio exported his restaurant from Manhattan to his Century City fortress of solitude even more recently than that — nobody likes the idea of maximum a la carte, infinitely customizable food more than the agents and entertainment executives who make up so much of the clientele, especially when the lovingly roasted vegetables are straight from the farmers market and the petrale sole, diver scallops and roast chicken are cooked just a millisecond or two past rare.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

69. Connie and Ted’s

Sometimes it seems like a miracle that Connie and Ted’s even exists, a swooping post-Googie palace of metal and glass set down in the busiest stretch of West Hollywood, serving a New England expat’s fever dream of a seafood menu. Should stuffies, steamed littlenecks, fried bellies and briny Rhode Island chowder even exist in this clam-deprived part of the world?

You can get passable lobster rolls from trucks now, but can you get dense little clam fritters, freshly baked Parker House rolls, and as many kinds of oysters as there are moons of Saturn? Have you ever had Indian pudding within 2,500 miles of this ZIP Code? You are going to drink a lot of white wine here. Make sure someone else is driving home.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

70. Rosaliné

Nobu Matsuhisa may have supercharged Asian-inflected Peruvian dishes with superb ingredients and elevated technique, but Ricardo Zarate was the first to do it from a Peruvian point of view, reproducing and improving the criollo dishes he’d grown up eating in Lima. His late Mo-Chica was a revelation.

At Zarate’s new restaurant Rosaliné, his cooking is more focused than ever — the mashed-potato causa reinterpreted as a kind of parfait with avocado and beets, and ceviche reimagined with marinated grilled mushrooms instead of fish. Chaufa, the pork-intensive fried rice dish at the heart of Peruvian-Chinese cuisine, has been crossed with a shellfish-laden paella. And a classic arroz con pollo has been cranked up with a splash of the huancaina sauce usually found on boiled potatoes, the Peruvian equivalent of chicken rice with nacho cheese. Cocktails are a big part of the experience here, especially the pisco sour.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

71. Erven

Erven started life as the most ambitious vegan restaurant in town, a redoubt not of fake meat and giant salads but of items like jet-black squares of chickpea fritter scented with yuzu, and hot doughnut holes stuffed with sauerkraut and smoked apples. We may be in a new age of vegetable-focused cooking, but it was hard to see how Nick Erven, previously of meaty St. Martha, had anything but pure animal pleasure on his mind.

Lately, fried chicken sandwiches have taken the place of fried tofu sandwiches, and you’ll even see steak-frites. You’ll find an egg on the Brussels sprouts. Half the menu is still vegan, including charred avocado with macadamia tahini; shishito peppers with miso butterscotch; and chocolate bread pudding. But it is nice to taste the St. Martha steak tartare and oysters again.

(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

72. Angelini Osteria

Angelini Osteria is almost everyone’s favorite Italian restaurant, a cozy dining room with well-designed trattoria cooking. The waiters understand the diet you happen to be on, and if you happen to order shaved raw artichokes and a salad instead of octopus and a big veal chop, nobody will judge.

Gino Angelini bounces from table to table when he isn’t supervising the hand-cut spaghetti with truffles or the grilled Santa Barbara prawns. Angelini has been cooking in Los Angeles for so long, and in so many restaurants more ambitious, that even if you have spent dozens of happy evenings in this cheerful dining room, it is easy to underestimate what a splendid cook he can be.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times )

73. Adana

If you want to understand Adana, a Middle Eastern restaurant in an industrial corner of Glendale, you should probably order what the menu calls the cheese platter — slabs of milky feta, fragrant heaps of mint and purple basil, crisp wedges of raw onion, and a spicy paste with olives. You wrap them in scraps of pita, separately or in combination, sip mint tea or a yogurt drink with cucumber and dill, and chat with your friends. You are in a contemplative space, in a dining room that looks as if it were spirited from a country house in the Caucasus.

You float through luxurious swirls of Edward Khechemyan’s thickened yogurt labneh; tabbouleh almost ethereal in its fluffiness; stuffed grape leaves tender as pastry; and a purslane fattoush tossed with herbs and crumbles of feta. There is minted cold soup with yogurt and barley to consider, or pilafs flavored with sour cherries or orange peel and almonds, and what may be the only chicken kebab in town worth considering. You have forgotten to inquire which of the dishes might be Iranian, Armenian, Turkish or Georgian, all of which figure into Khechemyan’s background. And by a certain point, you have forgotten to care.

(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

74. Little Sister

Is Tin Vuong among the current rank of anti-fusion chefs? His cooking at Little Sister does lean toward a certain rude vitality, sometimes deliberately unfinished. The dipping sauce Vuong serves with his dense, salty imperial rolls is powerfully sour. And when he does introduce Western flavors into his proto-Vietnamese cooking — brown butter in the beef dish bo luc lac, salt cod in the fried rice — it often has the effect of making them more rather than less Asian.

Even the lemongrass chicken has been transformed from a stir-fry to a crunchy bar snack, ideal for easing down that third glass of beer. The Manhattan Beach restaurant is a happy, beachy place with gangsta rap on the sound system and Black Flag lyrics painted on the walls; the newer Los Angeles Little Sister is a little buzzier, more of a bar thing, and has both congee for breakfast and killer bánh at noon.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

75. Mian

Valley Boulevard has become almost a Little Sichuan lately, a thoroughfare lubricated with bean paste and scarlet chile oil. And while you could probably float from Alhambra to Rosemead on a sea of dan dan noodles, if you yearn to be blown sideways by a bowl of beef noodles or zhajiangmian, there is nothing quite like the Chongqing-style small-eats house Mian, the strip mall noodle shop opened by Tony Xu, the chef behind the astonishingly popular Chengdu Taste.

The flavors are bright and clean, informed as much by the sour funk of Sichuan pickles as by pure chile heat. The noodles themselves, served in or out of broth, paved with ground pork and scallions, perhaps enriched with a fried egg, have the distinct chewy pull of good Italian pasta. (I like the hot and sour noodles.) These are noodles with a mean streak, a potent lashing of hot chile and oil, laced with just enough Sichuan peppercorn to numb the pain of the pure chile heat. If you want an extra jolt of starch, try the zhajiangmian laced with a handful of soft peas imported from Chongqing. And try the dumplings called chaoshou too.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

76. Drago Centro

For local pasta lovers, it may be impossible to imagine a Los Angeles without Celestino Drago in it, and it is possible to write a certain culinary history of the city through his serial infatuations with straw and hay pasta, Tuscan restraint, risotto, elevated Sicilian cuisine, steak and wild game. He is a chef who may be at his happiest when he is knee-deep in dove, pheasant and hare.

Drago Centro is still among the most commanding restaurants downtown, a grand dining room with a splendid view of the business district, a warren of private dining salons, and fine-tuned masculine cooking that stops two steps short of both regional specificity and the current micro-seasonal obsessions. Drago is probably best known for his pasta — shrimp ravioli, pappardelle with pheasant and mushrooms and handmade spaghetti with Sicilian almond pesto — but nobody has ever made a mistake at a Drago restaurant ordering meat.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

77. Aburiya Raku

As at any decent izakaya, there is a bit of a learning curve here. There is a wood-framed menu, one side listing the cold and hot dishes that will probably make up most of your meal, the other, the roster of items from the grill. There is a long, illustrated list of cold sake, most of which will be new to you; once you pick one, you get to choose a cup to drink it from, which is nice.

After you sort of figure out what you might want for supper, another server drags over a list of the day’s specials. And you over-order — a tatami sardine salad, which is like a Caesar garnished with dried-fish mats; tempura ice fish; cold udon with foie gras custard; house-made tofu with the consistency of fresh cheese. You’re going to want at least the salmon belly, the duck breast and the fluffy tsukune meatballs from the roster of grilled items. And you should probably ask for the kamameshi,a kind of wet Japanese pilaf, at the beginning of the meal, because it takes at least 40 minutes to cook in its iron pot. The original Aburiya Raku was for years chefs’ favorite late-night place in Las Vegas, but this one feels as if West Hollywood has always been its home.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

78. Locol

The Watts quick-service restaurant Locol was the most important restaurant to open here in 2016. The Times named it Restaurant of the Year. Food & Wine listed it among its best new restaurants. But while the prospect of Kogi’s Roy Choi joining forces with the Michelin-starred modernism of Bay Area chef Daniel Patterson is intriguing, Locol’s food is less an experiment in culinary creativity than it is an attempt to fashion sustainable, lower-fat, lower-salt, affordable versions of dishes already popular in the neighborhood it serves.

The restaurant is staffed by people who live in Watts. Locol’s cooking is less a replacement for fast food than a better version of it. The burgers and sandwiches are served on soft, griddled buns developed by Chad Robertson of the famous San Francisco bakery Tartine. The food feels handmade. And while Locol may be only one version of the future of food, it is one that we all can live with: good food for all.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

79. 71Above

Vartan Abgaryan is a remarkable cook. But chances are good that you are here less for the culinary amenities than for the restaurant’s vantage 950 feet above downtown, and the view that ranges from the pale pink neon of Rose Hills above Whittier to the gray outline of Santa Catalina Island, from Malibu to the Hollywood sign. If you know Abgaryan’s cooking from his former post at Cliff’s Edge, you may remember his tendency toward seasonal ingredients and elaborate presentations.

At 71Above, his cooking, presented as part of a $75 prix fixe menu, has taken a slightly more luxurious turn — poached oysters garnished with a bit of sea urchin, a dab of caviar and a drizzle of Champagne butter; crisp potatoes with a soft egg and uptown chorizo; and a lovely foie gras terrine with almond and fig.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

80. Grand Central Market

It is convenient sometimes to think of the century-old sprawl of Grand Central Market as a single entity, a living, breathing organism whose cells are constantly replenishing themselves although the outward appearance stays the same. Is it still Latin American? Not quite, although the best carnitas downtown are still at Villa Moreliana, Roast to Go and Ana Maria are still serving gorditas, the hand-ground moles from Chiles Secos are still lovely, and the lines at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas are still long. Has the herbalist really been replaced by the Golden Road beer bar? Indeed — and the wine bar Moruno is now Margarita Manzke’s Filipino rice bowl restaurant Sari Sari Store, Mark Peel’s seafood restaurant Bombo is now Mark Peel’s seafood restaurant Prawn, and the Thai chicken-rice counter Sticky Rice seems to have split itself in two like an amoeba.

There are stalls dedicated to currywurst, handmade pasta, peanut butter sandwiches and vegan ramen. People still drive from across town for the grass-fed meat at Belcampo, the smoked fish at Wexler’s Deli, the Normandy butter at DTLA Cheese and the loaves at Clark Street Bread. The breakfast queue at Eggslut is still as mind-boggling as its coddled egg on mashed potatoes. And it is still impossible to imagine downtown without it.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

81. Coni’Seafood

Without anyone quite noticing it, Colima-style pescado zarandeado became one of the emblematic dishes of Los Angeles, a broad, thin fish, dabbed with some mixture of citrus, spices and mayonnaise, roasted slowly over a smoky fire. A lot of the restaurants serving pescado zarandeado are run by relatives of Vicente “Chente” Cossio, who still runs the original Mariscos Chente down in Inglewood.

If you follow the confluence of food and social media, this fish may have been bubbling through your feeds for more than a decade by now. But Connie Cossio of Coni’Seafood may be the most gifted cook in the family, skilled not just with pescado zarandeado but with crisp smoked marlin tacos, shell-on shrimp fried until they become as bent and brown as insects, the ceviche marinero studded with crunchy green mango and impeccable shrimp aguachile in a sharply spicy citrus marinade. Dropping a friend off at the airport? Coni’Seafood is only 10 minutes away.

(Eric J Shin / For The Times)

82. Kogi BBQ

Roy Choi, it must be acknowledged, is about as present as it is possible for a chef to be, dropping DJ jams at what everybody thought was a food event, popping up in movies and in cable series, discussing poverty and hunger in settings both informal and academic.

If in 2008 you were going to pick the local chef who would be most active on the world food circuit, you probably wouldn’t have chosen the guy who sold Korean tacos out of a truck. Yet in the Kogi truck (there are now several), Choi managed to jump-start both the food truck movement and the importance of social media to the modern kitchen, as well as the exacting, fermentation-forward fusion cooking that dominates L.A. kitchens at the moment. Kogi is cheap, delicious and unmistakably from Los Angeles, food that makes you feel plugged into the rhythms of the city just by eating it. The grilled short rib tacos taste like home.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

83. Guelaguetza

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the best time to visit Guelaguetza is when Mexico is playing in the World Cup, when there is nowhere you would rather be contemplating both the fried grasshoppers and the pickled scorpion at the bottom of the mezcal bottle.

Guelaguetza is home to L.A.’s best enmoladas, ace micheladas, an enormous selection of tequila and mezcal, and a theater-size projection screen. The tlayudas, imported table-size tortillas smeared with black beans and melted lard, are as good as any pizza you’ve ever eaten at 7 in the morning, and the tiny, ruddy globes of chorizo are much better. El Tri scores. You scream. There are a lot of Oaxacan restaurants in Los Angeles now, and it is possible to debate the merits of the mole coloradito at one and the molotes at another, but Guelaguetza remains the most accomplished Oaxacan restaurant in the United States.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

84. Manhattan Beach Post

Manhattan Beach, home to professional athletes and more running enthusiasts than you can sling a cross-trainer at, is probably one of the fittest places in the world. So why is Manhattan Beach Post always jammed with people plowing through soft hunks of lamb belly and slices of grilled skirt steak draped over a forest of grilled baby broccoli?

Everything is portioned for sharing — cheese-crusted Brussels sprouts, super-sized French fries, soft-shell crab with nectarines. The one dessert that’s never come off the menu is the Elvis, with chocolate pudding, peanut butter and bacon brittle. And pretty much everybody orders the bacon-cheddar biscuits that chef David LeFevre learned from his mom when he was in junior high. It’s the kind of eating you can indulge in only after an afternoon of beach volleyball.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

85. Rice Bar

If Guerrilla Tacos is Exhibit A, Rice Bar is Exhibit B, manned by Charles Olalia, who left his job as executive chef at Patina to open this seven-stool lunch counter downtown, a miniature palace of Spam and fried egg, pancit noodles, and homey Rice Krispies treats. The menu is mostly rice bowls, topped with things like crunchy dried anchovies, braised beef or sweet longanisa sausage, all throwbacks to Olalia’s Filipino childhood, garnished with pickles, and prepared as carefully as you might expect from a chef who trained at the French Laundry and Guy Savoy.

That lovely, soft pork longanisa is made by Olalia himself — the sausage stuffer takes up a bit of real estate in the room. The line at lunch is long — almost everybody gets their food to go — but it moves fast, and there is more room to breathe in the late afternoon. After so many years of neglect, modernized Filipino cooking is finally coming into its own, and Olalia’s tiny counter has a lot to do with its renaissance.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

86. Bellwether

When acquaintances bring up the Bellwether, Ted Hopson and Anne-Marie Verdi’s American bistro in Studio City, they tend to mention the patty melt. And while you may personally be more interested in the charred octopus with preserved lemon, the fried squash blossoms with anchovy and tomato or the tempura cauliflower in a Thai fish-sauce vinaigrette, the fixation is easy to understand. It’s not easy to find something like a patty melt in a restaurant like this one, and it happens to be served on super-crisp rye bread with pools of melted Taleggio cheese and sweet caramelized onions. The perfectly crisp steak fries are the end result of a three-day process. The bar may specialize in infused this and macerated that, but it is happy to serve you a Manhattan or a Negroni. Hopson knows there is no such thing as too many vegetable dishes. And there’s strawberry shortcake for dessert.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

87. Playground

If you lived in a town with just one restaurant, you’d probably want it to be a lot like Playground, the gastropub anchoring the newish restaurant row in downtown Santa Ana. Jason Quinn, a graduate of the food-truck world, is kind of masterful at anticipating whatever food thing is about to wash up into the food world’s consciousness, from Brussels sprout Caesar salad, to Chiang Mai-style grilled pork collar with papaya salad, Nashville hot whatever, and braised lamb with tart vadouvan curry.

The adjacent Playground 2.0 is a permanent pop-up serving multi-course dinners based around deconstructed steakhouse menus or riffs on Chino Ranch vegetables. Quinn is unafraid of his enthusiasms, whether they be ramen, Alabama barbecue, Malay kaya toast, or Louisiana seafood. Are you going to get the massive maple-glazed pork chop anyway? I wouldn’t be surprised.

(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

88. Colonia Publica

Ricardo Diaz is at the center of Uptown Whittier’s pocho culinary renaissance. (He was also the co-architect of Guisados, Tacoteca and Cook’s Tortas.) He’s planning a massive beer-centered restaurant in the building that used to house Richard Nixon’s law offices, and he is the maestro of the elaborate tacos and antojitos at Colonia Tacos Guisados and Bizarra Capital.

The noodle bar Colonia Publica is devoted to the spicy beer-plus cocktails called micheladas and to fideo, the ultimate dish of Mexican home cooking; a toasted-noodle soup strongly identified with mom and Thursday nights in front of the TV. And when you settle into a booth, you are handed a checklist asking exactly what you would like to put into your soup. You can stage little competitions at your table, seeing who has managed to compose the tastiest bowl.

(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

89. Attari Sandwich Shop

The only respectable Iranian food, any expat will tell you, can be found only at her mother’s home. And it tends to be true — the vast diaspora of Iranian restaurants in Los Angeles specializes mostly in simple rice dishes and kebabs, which are delicious but no more related to the intricacy of Iranian cooking than a plate of steak-frites would be to the marvels of the French table. Attari is not a temple of Iranian cuisine — it’s a simple lunch spot in a shady Westwood patio, although sometimes it does seem like a bit of Tehran café life circa 1975.

The restaurant is famous in Tehrangeles for the dense vegetable soup called osh. The jam-thick stewed eggplant, kashke badjeman, is nice. But on Fridays, the crowd is there for ab-goosht: a plate of mashed chickpeas and lamb served with a basket of lemony herbs, thin flatbread and a cup of their essential juices to enjoy as soup.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

90. Irenia

Irenia is the project of Ryan Garlitos, a young chef who first made his name working alongside Carlos Salgado at Tacos Maria. And it is reasonable to assume that Garlitos aims to do for Filipino cooking what Salgado did for Mexican food: take apart the iconic dishes of his childhood, reconstruct them with farmers market ingredients and Western technique, and serve them within the context of a New American meal.

It’s cheffy Filipino grandmother food, really, things like kare kare made with charred cauliflower instead of oxtail, the livery stew dinuguan transformed into a suave roast pork shoulder, and sweet, soft pork belly adobo is draped over what in an Indian restaurant you would call a mung bean daal. But you are going to want at least a slice of Irenia’s lovely ube brown sugar pie. It’s like a Southern chess pie on a Filipino vacation.

(Christina House / For The Times)

91. Tsujita

Tonkotsu ramen is the titanosaur of the noodle world; chewy noodles, a fistful of soft sliced pork, and an insanely caloric broth that can sometimes seem like an entire Berkshire hog condensed into a single bowl. The city of Fukuoka may have a bigger population than Kyoto at the moment, but not one American in a hundred can tell you a single thing about it save this formidable bowl of soup.

The king of tonkotsu ramen in Los Angeles is Tsujita, a branch of a well-regarded Tokyo noodleshop that has clotted traffic on Sawtelle Boulevard since it opened. Tsujita’s broth is obscenely rich, made from pork bones boiled for a full 60 hours. Your lips stick together. The temperature of the soup is just below boiling. And if you crave intensity, the tsukemen is even more hardcore — the noodles have the tensile strength of hand-thrown Lanzhou mian, and the broth, enhanced with a bit of seafood, is served on the side as a dip, reduced to a consistency just this side of syrup. Good times!

(Christina House / For The Times)

92. Gjusta

Of course you hate Gjusta — everybody hates Gjusta. If you are from the neighborhood, it’s the restaurant that made it obvious that Venice is no longer a bohemian utopia.

If you ache for the bakery’s rustic pastries or burnt-crusted loaves, among the very best in Los Angeles, you resent the difficult parking. If you are fond of the tagliatelle with bottarga, the grilled octopus or stunning house-smoked fish, you grumble at the tight seating on the patio, perhaps yearning for the restaurant’s earliest days, when you either sat on milk crates or you didn’t sit at all. Gjusta, the gawky little sister to Travis Lett’s Gjelina, serves the same function in Venice that a first-rate deli might: serving grain bowls and croissants in the morning and fried chicken at night; great sandwiches; and takeout elegant enough to serve as the centerpiece of a dinner party, although everybody is going to know where you got the cauliflower with capers.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

93. Garlic & Chives

The concept of Asian American fusion gets tossed around a lot in Southern California. But the Little Saigon small-plates bistro Garlic & Chives couldn’t be more Vietnamese, from the roasted peanuts and slivers of banana blossom in the salad made with pomelo segments, to the chewy curls of skin in the goat curry, to chef Kristin Nguyen’s habit of showering everything with bits of toasted garlic all but guaranteed to stick to your teeth.

You will be eating strips of deep-fried salmon belly, grilled blood clams, and pork-enhanced snails crisped in their shells; fried crab buried under snowdrifts of garlic; and seared sticky rice with pork fluff or seared sticky rice with caramel catfish. You will also find loose interpretations of Chengdu Taste’s toothpick lamb, Koreatown cheese corn and Singapore chile crab. Nguyen’s culinary soul may be Vietnamese, but she lives in Southern California too.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

94. Valentino

New, flashy Italian restaurants flash across the L.A. scene every year. Valentino is almost of a different world; dark and quiet, it is among the last of the great host-driven Italian restaurants, a place where some regulars have never seen a menu and the waiter’s job is to solidify abstract desire into fish and pasta and Vermentino.

Valentino was the first in Los Angeles to serve white truffles, balsamic vinegar and radicchio, the first to fetishize great olive oil and the first to be as devoted to Italian wine as the French places were to Bordeaux — the list is extraordinary. If you are of an income and an inclination to command an ancient vintage of Barolo, you will find Valentino to be much as it ever was.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

95. Mariscos Jalisco

When out-of-town friends come to Los Angeles, the sushi bars I recommend may vary, and the hot Italian restaurant changes every year, but I take them to the Mariscos Jalisco truck every time. Because there may not be an item of food more reliable than Raul Ortega’s taco dorado de camarones, a fried taco stuffed with impeccably fresh shrimp among other things, slightly crisp around the edges, sluiced with a juicy, spicy tomato salsa and garnished with a bit of ripe avocado on the side. The tacos taste of clean oil and chile; toasted corn and the sea — a recipe imported from Ortega’s hometown of San Juan de los Lagos that has become the culinary symbol of Boyle Heights.

You eat them sitting on the edge of what used to be a planter, or bring them inside to the barely converted warehouse Ortega bought a few years ago after decades of parking his truck out front. Are you going to want some ceviche too? It goes without saying.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

96. Union

Where do you eat in Pasadena’s Old Town? Almost anywhere, if what you’re looking for is a cheeseburger and a glass of craft ale. But Bruce Kalman’s California trattoria Union is a rare market-oriented restaurant in a part of town dominated by chains, with the names of farmers scrawled on a wall next to maxims from people like M.F.K. Fisher and Alice Waters.

It’s a place where the bread and butter plate comes on a wooden slab with a jar of pickles, the bread salad is made with stone fruit in season, the duck prosciutto and guanciale are cured in the back, and the polenta is ground a mile and a half away by Grist & Toll. Pastas are handmade, slightly stiff in the Los Angeles tradition: the spaghetti alla chitarra with spicy tomato sauce is always fine. If you show up early, you may have a shot at the fennel-intensive porchetta, which always sells out. If not, you can always console yourself with a slice of the olive oil cake.

(Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

97. Sapp Coffee Shop

Sapp served a really great dish of chicken with rice the other day. I thought I should mention this because I have probably ordered the same thing 99 out of the 100 last times I’ve been there, a murky, gamy, intensely spicy boat noodle soup loaded with all manner of slithery beef things, a dish that comes perilously close to being my favorite Thai dish in L.A. Other things show up at the table, of course — the gray, unlovely nam sod is actually a terrific, citrus-tart version of the pork and pigskin salad, and the cool jade noodles, dyed green with puréed herbs and tossed with all manner of Chinese barbecue, are ideal on a hot day. The duck noodle soup is secretly the best in Thaitown. You can find pandan and butterfly pea flower infusions sometimes, and exemplary Thai iced coffee.

Or if it ever shows up on the specials board again, it may be time for that roast chicken and rice, which tasted like a cross between a first-rate biryani and a Burmese danpauk, but with a complexity of spicing rarely found in either.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

98. Mayura

Los Angeles is often said to lack the sophisticated Indian restaurant culture of other cities in the world; the posh dining rooms you find in London or New York, or the delicious regional cooking you find in suburban New Jersey. And while there are many fine Indian restaurants in Artesia, the Inland Empire and Orange County, even Beverly Hills, in large part this is true. But it is hard not to be fond of Mayura, jammed into a mini-mall near Sony, popular with the studio crowd as well as multigenerational families, which specializes in the cooking of Kerala, a Southern Indian state whose flavors have been shaped by a thousand years of spice trading.

Even if you frequent other local southern Indian restaurants, it is hard not to admire Mayura’s pure white appam pancakes, its complexly spiced fish curry, or the rice porridge ven pongal, lashed with cumin, cashews and ungodly amounts of melted butter. The avial, a Kerala-style dish of julienne vegetables sautéed with coconut, is luscious but still slightly crunchy, as useful as a condiment as it is satisfying as a main dish. And Mayura may be as all-purpose as it is possible for a restaurant to get, with a vegetarian-friendly menu, a separate halal kitchen preparing mostly north Indian dishes, and a friendly, if lesser, lunchtime buffet.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

99. Howlin’ Ray’s

What happens when you take your first bite of Howlin’ Hot fried chicken? You will aim to get as much of the fragrant skin as possible between your teeth, and the experience is of salt, crunch and garlic, overlaid with the pungency of dried peppers. It is excellent fried chicken. Then the punch of heat lands — you may experience it almost as a blow to the chest, but then the endorphins kick in, and you float on an eddy of bliss for a moment. Then you go back in for more. The chicken has won.

This scene will have been witnessed by the hundreds perpetually waiting on line in the Chinatown food court, who stare at diners foolhardy enough to order Howlin’ Hot as they might at people staggering off the scariest roller coaster in the amusement park. But Johnny and Amanda Jo Zone thoughtfully provide many other intensities of their Nashville-style hot chicken — medium is plenty spicy — as well as gallons of sweet tea to ease the pain.

(Bret Hartman / For The Times)

100. Marouch

In some parts of town, the rivalry between Marouch and Carousel, the two old-school Armenian-Lebanese restaurants in Little Armenia, is taken as seriously as UCLA-USC. Marouch has the most fragrant roast chicken, but some people lean toward Carousel for kebabs. Marouch has superior hummus and baba ghanouj, but it is hard to stay away from the chorizo-like intensity of Carousel’s version of the pepper-walnut dip muhammara. The toasted bread salad fattoush is tangier, crisper at Marouch. The Kardashian family frequents Carousel. Maroush has nightly specials of Armenian home cooking in addition to the parade of mezze, barbecued quail and beautiful sujuk sausages, and Sossi Brady’s knafeh, rosewater-scented rice pudding and creamy pudding ashta are as nice as her savory dishes. Advantage: Marouch.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

101. Langer’s

Everyone knows that Langer’s serves the best pastrami sandwich in the world. Guidebooks say so. Nora Ephron and Mimi Sheraton said so. Chefs who flirt with the idea of making pastrami rarely do so without a nod to the noble deli masters of MacArthur Park. And why wouldn’t they? The rye bread is double-baked and served hot; the long-steamed pastrami has a firm, chewy consistency and a clean edge of smokiness that can remind you of the kinship between pastrami and Texas barbecue.

Still, if you haven’t been to Langer’s in a few years, you might be surprised to see the long lines outside the delicatessen on a Saturday afternoon, supplicants waiting for their shot at the No. 19, a baroque concoction of hand-cut pastrami, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing. The Westlake neighborhood may have lost its last vestiges of Jewishness sometime before the Vietnam War, but the pleasures of pastrami will not be denied.


Design and development by Anthony Pesce, Maloy Moore and Andrea Roberson.