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Best Thing We Ate

12 Best Things We Ate Around LA in 2013

By Lesley Balla
December 17, 2013

We are a fortunate lot to be able to go out and eat something delicious almost every day of the week. There is, on occasion, a dish that supersedes all others on the table, one that we might crave time and time again or wish we could eat every day. Sometimes it’s at a brand-new restaurant, but often it’s at a favorite standard or even the taco truck down the street. Out of all the best things we tasted in 2013, here are a dozen that rise to the top.

  • Photo by: Lesley Balla

    Lobster Roll at Littlefork

    With the recent onslaught of East Coast seafood joints in LA, you can find lobster rolls all over town right now, but this one rises to the top for a few reasons. One, for the chunks of claw and tail meat - and lots of it, with just enough mayo. The creamy mayo lobster rolls are more Cape Cod- or Maine-style; simply with butter, and maybe served a little warm, is more Connecticut-style. You can't argue with either, really, but lobster rolls with mayo are the ones we know best. And then the bun, in this case a Rockenwagner split-top parker roll, perfectly toasted on both sides, soft and slightly sweet. The sandwich, which is a traditional size, comes with some dynamite housemade salt-and-vinegar potato chips that give any bagged chip a run for its money, and a small pile of pickled cucumber salad on the side. The only problem with any of it? It disappears much too quickly.

  • Pistachio Ice Cream at Quenelle

    The brand-new Quenelle has some of the best-tasting ice cream around the city. The new shop from pastry chef John Park and wife Christina is in a friendly corner of Burbank, which to some, is a random spot for frozen treats - Gun World, the Martial Arts History Museum and a Taco Bell are all a block away. But we know this strip of Magnolia Boulevard for the Handy Market, Doughn-t Hut ("The only thing missing is U!") and Tony's Darts Away, where many a pint has been shared. To us, mango-lemongrass ice pops and apricot cheesecake ice cream fit right in. Among the daily-changing flavors, Park's pistachio ice cream is made from imported Italian pistachio paste and has such a perfect flavor, and you can see vanilla bean flecks throughout. We topped that with crunchy, salty-sweet puffed rice crispies, which was the absolute perfect combo.

  • Turkey Leg Sandwich at Corazon y Miel

    We won't lie: getting to Bell to visit a new restaurant isn't easy for us. But we finally made it to the new Latin-influenced spot run by chef Eduardo Ruiz, an Animal alum who's mixing Latin flavors with the bold-dude food in his own neighborhood. You really get the influence with dishes like dates wrapped with bacon and filled with whipped cotija cheese, a giant pork belly sandwich smothered in slaw, and "lomo hash" with braised skirt steak and a fried egg. It's even more apparent with big dishes like the giant turkey leg sandwich. The entire 2-lb. leg comes stuffed in a soft, toasted bolillo roll, bone and all, with a heaping mound of slaw and pickled vegetables on top. You wiggle the bone out so the meat stays put, douse the whole thing in a slightly piquant chile sauce, and dig in.

  • Focaccia di Recco at Chi Spacca

    You've probably heard about the massive 40-oz. bistecca or tomahawk pork chop at the Mozza sibling, two gorgeous huge hunks of meat kissed by flames on the open grill. But we can't stop thinking about the focaccia di Recco, one of the most utterly delicious things we've tasted all year. As the story goes, Nancy Silverton discovered this crackerlike bread stuffed with cheese on a trip to Italy and asked Chi Spacca's chef Chad Colby to help recreate it. After many attempts, the only way he could get it right was by traveling to Recco himself, where he learned how to make the dough: it's just flour, water and salt; stretch it until it's paper-thin, and fold it over balls of a cow's milk cheese, sort of like stracchino, made by Silverton's burrata supplier. And he tracked down the pan, a hand-hammered metal disk that allows the thing to crisp just so. All together, it's simplicity at its finest, which is why it was so difficult: simple isn't easy. The focaccia comes out of the oven hot and bubbly, with cheese woven into every bite. It's best piping hot - not that we'd turn down a cold slice, either. It's so good, so addictive, there's no stopping once you take a first bite.

  • Mussel and Clam Pozole at Rustic Canyon

    Jeremy Fox, who took over the reins at the Santa Monica wine bar this year, is even more ultraseasonal with the menu, if that's possible. He really shows his prowess with vegetables but also meats and seafood, including the pozole verde with its bright-green broth that had just enough chile kick, plump and hearty Rancho Gordo hominy, and perfectly cooked mussels and clams, both sans shells. Shredded tortillas on top add crunch, with tangles of green garlic melting into each bite. It's a much more delicate and nuanced version of the bright-red pozole you'll find at your favorite Mexican joint, and it's enough to make you want to return for the rest of the menu. Pronto.

  • The Ron Swanson at Eggslut

    Before Eggslut opened its always-crowded counter at the Grand Central Market in Downtown LA, chef Alvin Cailan's creative breakfast sandwiches were served from a janky-looking truck outside of Handsome Coffee Roasters and the Palihotel. When we finally checked it out, we were completely famished and found it difficult to decide between the four or so dishes offered, so the cook said, "Well, we have the Ron Swanson, which is basically all of them on a bun." Of course that's what we had. It's not so much that the Ron Swanson has "everything," but it does have a housemade turkey-sausage patty, bacon, a fried egg and cheese on a bun that's been doused with maple syrup. We can see how it would be an ode to the meat-loving Parks and Rec character played by the ever-mustachioed Nick Offerman. Like most of his meals, this is not a breakfast/brunch item for the faint of heart. It's a five-napkin affair, with the sweet, salty and savory flavors blending together beautifully. It's a very rich, greasy, delicious mess of a sandwich that goes down easily with a cold-brewed coffee on the side.

  • Blum's Crunch Cake at Valerie Grand Central Market

    When Valerie Gordon and Stan Weightman, Jr., opened their first Valerie Confections commercial kitchen near Silver Lake in 2004, they sold the sweets and also whole cakes, many updated versions of classics like Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake and Chasen's Banana Shortcake. It all sort of started with the Blum's Crunch Cake, when the LA Times asked Gordon to make it, a favorite from San Francisco's famed Blum's Bakery, for a feature. It was such a hit, the cake made the regular roster, but you could only order and pick it up whole at the shop. But at the new Valerie counter at the Grand Central Market, you can get it by the slice. And so we did. And it is glorious. Two layers of sponge cake layered with a coffee whipped cream frosting and covered in Gordon's delicious, crunchy honeycomb. Goodness, is it gooooood.

  • Cracklin BLT at Hart and the Hunter

    When you get down to it, replacing bacon with incredibly crunchy crispy chicken skin for a BLT is a no-brainer. It's salty, fatty and all-around delicious and makes a perfect sandwich with ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce and avocado. Only at The Hart and the Hunter, there's also a bacon vinaigrette on the lettuce and a fried egg. Because why not? If you're putting fried chicken skin and bacon on bread, you might as well go whole-farm. Smooshed together between some lovely toasted sourdough slices, it's an incredible brunch or lunch sandwich, one that's light in some respects, but you know you really shouldn't eat more for fear of a heart attack happening at that very moment.

  • Falafel at The Church Key

    Some of the menu highlights that come out chef Steven Fretz's kitchen at this newish West Hollywood spot are rolled around the room on dim sum carts, and you can pick and choose what you want and how many portions as the night goes on. While the pig's ear Cheetos are fun little nibbles, the falafel is a total win. Fretz makes these little fried balls with fresh garbanzos, so the falafel are bright green inside, and serves them with tahini dipping sauce that's scented with truffle. 

  • Truffle Roast Chicken at Mélisse

    We seem to only get to the Santa Monica haute dining room every few years, which is a shame when you consider how good it really is. Josiah Citrin and his team - including chef de cuisine Ken Takayama, the superb servers and sommelier Brian Kalliel - deserve all the accolades the 14-year-old Santa Monica restaurant garners, including top honors every year in the Zagat Survey. Citrin really does deliver the perfect combination of French technique and local ingredients - the menu is fully California with European backbone, wonderful food at every turn, whether it's the silky egg with cauliflower mousse and a healthy dollop of caviar, or something as fleeting as an amuse bouche that blends two different tomato varieties into "hot and cold" tomato soup, a creamy-without-cream broth with a quenelle of tomato sorbet floating in the middle. But one dish that stuck out most at a recent dinner, in both presentation and flavor, was the whole-roasted chicken.

    Meant to serve two, it can easily feed a table, the whole thing brined and dried and stuffed with black truffles under the skin. It's carved tableside and plated with the most utterly creamy pomme purée, morel mushrooms and roasted summer squashes. The dish is a mainstay for Citrin, more rustic and comforting than some of the more contemporary dishes, and one he put on the menu when he opened the restaurant in 1999 and will never take away. Thank goodness.

  • Photo by: Lesley Balla

    Omakase at Q Sushi

    Granted, this isn't about one dish from one meal, but the sum of its parts. This lovely new sushi bar in Downtown LA has a lot going for it, including the gorgeous nigiri, sashimi and Japanese dishes from chef Hiro Naruke and his small team behind the sushi bar. They shape tiny ovals of vinegar-scented rice in their fingers and slice through bright-pink tuna like it's butter. They'll kiss small chunks of fatty toro with a flame so it melts even more in your mouth, and swish housemade soy on the silvery skin of kohada, a shad, with a tiny delicate brush. They'll pluck a root of fresh wasabi from the bowl and grate it practically to-order; a little dab will do ya. It's magic. The fish is sourced from Japan as well as local waters. Watching the care they take preparing each dish allows time to sit and savor every bite of nigiri, which comes in a wave after several courses of bite-size specialties like jellyfish with mushrooms and cucumber in sesame paste, monkfish liver with scallion and subtly complex miso soup.

  • Photo by: Petty Cash

    Pig’s Ear Nachos at Petty Cash

    Only Walter Manzke can create a dish like this. When he first served these nachos - chips topped with crispy pig’s ears, chiles, avocado and a poached egg - at a Test Kitchen last year, we asked, why nachos? “Well, we have a bar menu,” Manzke said, “and you need nachos on a bar menu, right?” Sure. They’re now a staple at his Mexican taqueria.

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