If 2015 in Los Angeles had a flavor, it would be char. Cooking over wood on grills, hearths and rotisseries was huge in LA this year, with more and more restaurants featuring flame-kissed fish, vegetables and meats across the board. A lot of restaurants on our top 12 list — 10 just wasn't enough — are second and third restaurants from seasoned vets, many backed by the omnipresent Bill Chait and his Sprout group. Some newcomers are subtle and small, where the chef's personal vision is on show from open kitchens, while others are bustling and big, featuring lavishly designed dining rooms where the energy never seems to stop. In essence, 2015 brought something for everyone in all corners of this sprawling metropolis we call home. Read on for LA's most important restaurant openings of 2015.
No. 12: Baroo
Set in a scruffy strip mall, this tiny Korean-American restaurant from chef and owner Kwang Uh has become one of the most talked-about restaurants of the year. Uh has made fermentation an art form at what he calls his "freestyle experimental kitchen," with seasonal, often organic, grain and vegetable bowls. After training in such top-tier restaurants like Daniel and Picholine in NYC, and serving as executive chef for Nobu in the Bahamas, Uh has become master of this humble space, which is as minimalist as a monastery, and is a perfect match for his inventive cuisine. It shows once again that LA is a wide-open expanse of culinary ingenuity.
Must-Order: The menu changes daily, but look for things like assorted grains with a medley of vegetables, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, gochujang and San Marzano tomato dressing, herbs coulis, passion fruit powder and Asian pear; and kimchi fried rich with pineapple-fermented kimchi, Amira basmati rice, a 63-degree sous vide egg, toasted buckwheat and quinoa, and micro greens.
5706 Santa Monica Blvd.; 323-819-4344
No. 11: Aburyia Raku
For years, chef Mitsuo Endo's Las Vegas izakaya was one of the best reasons to hop off the splashy Strip. Now he's brought the innovative Japanese small-plates concept to West Hollywood, which is fast becoming a late-night hot spot. Hot dishes grilled over binchotan charcoal grills, cold offerings like housemade tofu served in myriad ways and a fun beer and soju list are served in a polished space with a sushi bar, streamlined dining room and small patio. What it lacks in swift service, a constant complaint, it makes up in total deliciousness.
Must-Order: Any of the housemade tofu dishes; Wagyu sukiyaki; uni udon; foie gras custard; and robata specialties.
521 N. La Cienega Blvd.; 213-308-9393
No. 10: Hatchet Hall
With its taxidermy, vintage accents and hidden spirit-forward back bar, this West Culver City hot spot blends Southern Gothic with SoCal sensibility. It’s exactly the kind of place that Hart and the Hunter alums chef Brian Dunsmoor and his front-of-the-house man Jonathan Stradler should open, and it's added a whole lotta richness to Washington Boulevard. A wood-fired hearth centers the kitchen and the menu, which features charred seafood, meats and dishes made from seasonal, local ingredients. Here's an early look.
Must-Order: Anything with country ham; chicken livers with onion jam on thick-sliced bread; Mangalitsa pork chop; all desserts; and Cappy Sorrentino's unique cocktails like the root beer gin and tonic.
12517 Washington Blvd.; 310-391-4222
No. 9: The Arthur J
In a lot of ways, David LeFevre's Manhattan Beach steakhouse is what a modern steakhouse should be. With its beachy-chic, midcentury-modern look, wood-grilled steaks and seasonal transitions on the menu, it's a far cry from the traditional dark, wood-paneled rooms of yesteryear. It speaks to the chef's sensibility, which fits perfectly with his other restaurants, MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite, and also to how we're eating today. Here's an early look at the restaurant.
Must-Order: Puffy popovers; roasted bone marrow toast; bone-in tomahawk chop; au gratin potatoes; spaetzle; roasted carrots; and cheesecake.
903 Manhattan Ave.; 310-878-9620
No. 8: Rose Cafe-Restaurant
Longtime Venetians were pretty bent out of shape when Bill Chait's Sprout group took over their beloved Rose Cafe. The restaurant had served the neighborhood since 1979, when Venice was a little bit rougher, a time when bohemian meant artists and creative types weaving themselves into the fabric of the beachside enclave, not million-dollar homes and $6 cups of coffee. We get it; change is hard. No one wants to let go of a favorite breakfast spot or local hangout. But the fresh-baked pastries, breads and sweets, Verve coffee, wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas, charcuterie and other rustic fare that the restaurant's chef Jason Neroni is known for is starting to change minds. Here's an early look.
Must-Order: Crispy Brussels sprouts with poached egg; cauliflower T-bone; cacio e pepe; lamb shawarma pizza; any pastries from the case for breakfast; and rotisserie half chicken from the hearth.
220 Rose Ave.; 310-399-0711
No. 7: Jon & Vinny’s
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have built quite the restaurant empire over the last two years. In addition to Animal and Son of a Gun, they have three restaurant collaborations with chef Ludovic Lefebvre (Trois Mec, Petit Trois and Trois Familia), and somehow still found time to debut this all-day ode to Italian-American cuisine. Taking over the former Damiano's spot on Fairfax, Jon & Vinny's is the kind of place Shook and Dotolo hope their kids will be able to run when they're older, a spot for pizzas, fresh salads, pastas and tiramisu. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, with delivery, takeout and wine retail, it's a big multifaceted operation, but it's exactly what the neighborhood needed. Here's a first look.
Must-Order: Any of the seasonal salads, like the shaved zucchini with hazelnuts; meatballs with ricotta and grilled garlic bread; LA Woman pizza; linguini and clams; bombolini or tiramisu for dessert.
412 N. Fairfax Ave.; 323-334-3369
No. 6: Odys + Penelope
After Quinn and Karen Hatfield closed Hatfield’s on Melrose, the eponymous restaurant they opened in 2010, this casual wood-fired spot became a welcome replacement for fans of their seasonal cuisines. It’s more high-end than their daytime-only The Sycamore Kitchen, but not as focused on fine dining, which fits the sign of the times. Being on trend with all the wood-fired apparatuses in the kitchen, from the grills to the Brazilian churrascaria, Quinn is a master with meats, seafood and vegetables, with Karen’s desserts as crave-worthy as ever. Here's an early look.
Must Order: Karen’s focaccia topped with dandelion greens and ricotta; any salad; the insanely good creamed cauliflower; the giant dry-rubbed and smoked short rib; and ricotta fritters and chocolate pie, if still there, for dessert.
127 S. La Brea Ave.; 323-939-1033
No. 5: Otium
Adjacent to the new Broad museum Downtown, this can easily be considered the shiniest jewel in the Bill Chait crown. The restaurant was built for chef Timothy Hollingsworth, a French Laundry alum who also opened Barrel & Ashes in Studio City. It is a stunning space, with views of the skyline from most seats inside, and of the olive-tree-lined park outside from the patio. The space is big and airy, with super-high ceilings, steel, glass, wood, copper and ceramic elements everywhere. The huge open kitchen has all the trappings to make other chefs envious — huge rotisseries, wood-fired grills and a vertical garden — and it's where Hollingsworth is pushing out cutting-edge cuisine for lunch, brunch and dinner.
Must-Order: Foie gras funnel cake; steak tartare; hamachi with avocado; short ribs served on a donabe grill; any pasta; and blue prawns with chorizo.
222 S. Hope St.; 213-935-8500
No. 4: Broken Spanish
It’s been a banner year for chef Ray Garcia. He opened the casual and colorful B.S. Taqueria Downtown, featuring unique and classic tacos, tortas and more, which served as a precursor to Broken Spanish, where he combines his Latin heritage with classical technique gleaned from time spent in haute LA kitchens. The result is a contemporary Mexican menu highlighting seasonal California ingredients, where you’re just as likely to find a whole lamb’s head as pan dulce spread with luscious foie gras. Surrounded by wall-to-wall glass, the sleek space exudes both urban sophistication and regional rusticity, just like the creative cocktail program. Accolades include Garcia being named Chef of the Year by Esquire.
Must-Order: Pan dulce with foie gras butter and piloncillo; esquites with Kewpie mayo and Parmesan; tortillas with whipped carnitas fat; chile relleno; oxtail quesadilla; whole snapper; and mole-drenched turkey leg.
1050 S. Flower St.; 213-749-1460
No. 3: Redbird
Chef Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll Fraser’s fabulous restaurant at the Vibiana finally opened after much delay with a soft opening at the end of December, but it went full-throttle in 2015, so we're counting Redbird for this year. The restaurant's contemporary design in the historic former rectory of a cathedral and the presence of Fraser back at the stoves after a big hiatus make this an important opening for the year. Everything is well-thought out and perfect, from the comfortable chairs and low-slung tables to the service.
Must-Order: The “kickshaws,” or bar-friendly appetizers, like little tempura-fried smelts, crunchy quinoa shishitos, mini chicken pot pies and pork-belly posole, are great starts. Fragrant Thai-style crab soup and handmade pastas, including cappelletti with butternut squash brodo, shouldn’t be missed. Larger plates like the veal Fraser, a grilled 24-oz. veal chop topped with braised veal cheeks and snails, are great to share.
114 E. Second St.; 213-788-1191
No. 2: Cassia
It was such a sad day when Bryant and Kim Ng were forced to close their highly regarded Spice Table in Little Tokyo (a new Metro station won the corner). But when rumors started that they were teaming up with Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, whose wildly successful Rustic Canyon Family restaurants have kept Santa Monica sated for years, fans anxiously awaited their return — if only to taste those cereal scallops and laksa again. The result is this chic French-Asian bistro where Ng marries mostly Vietnamese and Singaporean flavors with a California sensibility and a French brasserie touch, a boon for the Westside, which doesn't have nearly enough congee. The dining room is stylish enough for a celebratory night out, but also casual for neighbors to pop in for a bite at the raw bar. In essence, a perfect boon for Santa Monica. Here's a closer look.
Must-Order: Chilled prawns and crab legs with lemongrass fish sauce from raw bar; housemade charcuterie with bread; Vietnamese pot au feu; egg custard with uni (our favorite bite of the year); steak frites; cereal scallops; chopped escargot with warm flatbread; and laksa.
1314 Seventh St.; 310-393-6699
No. 1: Clifton’s
While it’s not simply a restaurant by any easy definition, Andrew Meieran’s renovated and reconceptualized version of the iconic Clifton’s Cafeteria is probably the biggest story of they year. The enormous space with its three bars, a giant replica of a redwood tree shooting up through the middle of everything, the refurbished cafeteria, and what’s to come, including a full sit-down restaurant, tiki bar and basement speakeasy, requires more than just one visit. Thousands of people visit the restaurant daily, breaking all sorts of records, and momentum doesn’t seem to be letting up. Take a look around the first day of Clifton's.
Must-Order: The cafeteria features chef-driven cuisine and modern offerings like made-to-order burgers and pizzas, roasted vegetables and fresh salads joining favorites like roast turkey dinner plates, carrot salad and gelatin-based desserts. It's hard to choose just a few dishes as the menu is constantly evolving and changing, but fried chicken, roast beef and mashed potatoes never did anyone wrong.
648 S. Broadway; 213-627-1673