Myriad magazines, critics and food celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown have been going on forever about Los Angeles. And now everyone else seems to be on board. To which we only have one question: What took you all so long?
Yes, LA is blessed as a top food city. It’s the cross section of cultures that seep into every dish, bowl and tortilla; some of the best year-round ingredients grow right outside our back door; and lower rent prices than, say, New York and San Francisco, allow chefs of every ilk to open everything from food trucks to high-concept restaurants in blossoming parts of town. But it’s so much more than that.
This year has been a turning point of sorts. Out-of-town chefs have been relocating to LA for years, but it's never been as much of a magnet as it is now with high-profile names coming from around the globe in droves. There's Verlaine from Baja chef Diego Hernández, whose creative fare exemplifies contemporary Mexican cuisine; the prolific Jean-George Vongerichten opened a haute dining room and rooftop restaurant at the splashy Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills; and Dominique Ansel didn't just bring Cronuts to The Grove, but also his first full-service restaurant, 189 by Dominique Ansel. Dave Beran left Chicago's Alinea and Next behind to open his tasting menu–only Dialogue in the most unlikeliest of places: a food court on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. The Spotted Pig's April Bloomfield opened her first LA restaurant, The Hearth & Hound, in Hollywood, and despite the sexual harassment allegations against co-owner Ken Friedman (who has stepped down from his post with the parent company), it’s poised to make a huge impact on the scene. We finally got our very own massive Eataly too.
So many more are on the way in 2018, including Daniel Humm opening a NoMad Hotel and restaurant Downtown in January; David Chang bringing a new, non-Momofuku concept to Chinatown; Christina Tosi opening Milk Bar; Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt adding a massive Tartine Manufactory to the Arts District; and Jonathan Waxman coming home (sort of) to debut a new concept at the Westfield Century City mall. You'd think there isn't room for all of this star power, but LA is a big, sprawling place. We're not quite bursting at the seams yet.
Still, while the national spotlight shines brightest on marquee names from New York, Chicago and San Francisco, our local heroes deserve the most praise for making this city as delicious and compelling as it is. They’ve been in the trenches, pioneering new neighborhoods, finding inspiration from their lives, travels and flavors from the Southland to create a new California cuisine of sorts. They know what it means to cook for a diverse and often (too) demanding clientele, to maneuver the fickle diets and peccadillos, and still succeed under the crush of competition. Consider them the Wolfgang Pucks and Nancy Silvertons of today.
None have received more controversial notoriety than Jordan Kahn, who opened a culinary wonderland with Vespertine. Jonathan Gold praised it as the number one opening of the year; we'll say it's definitely making an impact on what people will come to expect from LA dining. Empire builders like chef Steve Samson and wife Dina built Rossoblu from the ground up in what's poised to become the next hot neighborhood Downtown. Phillip Frankland Lee opened not just one but four different restaurants in one little strip mall deep in the Valley, including the cocktail-focused Woodley Proper, Frankland's Crab & Co. and a fun hidden sushi bar.
Speaking of Italian food, it's a constant but on a serious upswing, with more places opening in different pockets of town than you can shake an al dente noodle at. Evan Funke is at the top of his game at Felix in Venice, where he's made the art of handmade pasta a centerpiece to the sexy spot (you can watch through glass windows as you eat). Zach Pollack now offers his take on Italian-American fare at Cosa Buona in Echo Park, which serves as a nice counterpoint to his award-winning Alimento. Local restaurateur Stephane Bombet teamed up with Scott Conant and his longtime chef de cuisine Freddy Vargas to reconfigure The Ponte on Beverly Boulevard, which still has one of the best patios in town. In Brentwood, you might rub elbows with Gwyneth Paltrow, or at least co-owner Chris O'Donnell, at Pizzana, which is slinging some of the most amazing Neapolitan-style pies in town.
Others continue to set trends and create standout cuisine that garners national recognition, like Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson at Kismet, Conor Shemtov with the funky-fresh Mh Zh and the super-Instagrammable Botanica — all in Silver Lake, natch. Michael McCarty's longstanding Michael's got a contemporary upgrade with Miles Thompson's creative fare, which garnered him a Best New Chef award from Esquire this year. And maybe for the first time since California cuisine became a thing in the 1970s and 1980s, LA inspires more and more trends elsewhere, like all-day cafes taking cues from Jessica Koslow's Sqirl and our never-ending use of sunny, breezy decor. Everyone either wants to be here or look like they are.
So, where do we go from here? We hope our local chefs continue to expand the definition of what Los Angeles cuisine is and its possibilities, and we hope the newcomers can live up to our standards and add to what makes LA so great. We're all here to eat, after all. Check out our video on LA's exciting food scene here.
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