Best Thing We Ate

The 20 Best Things We Ate Around LA (So Far) in 2015

By Lesley Balla  |  June 22, 2015
Credit: BS Taqueria/Lesley Balla

Thank goodness for social media. The only way to tally up the amazing dishes we've had over the last six months was to go through Instagram and Twitter accounts for reminders. And oh what a year it's been so far. Here are some highlights. 

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  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Sweet-and-Sour Sardine at SMYC

    Much like its sibling Tar & Roses, the thing about Andrew Kirschner’s menu at his new Santa Monica Yacht Club is that the menu is always evolving with the seasons. While we had some tantalizing peel-and-eat shrimp and swordfish nduja early on, they’ve been replaced with soft-shell crabs and swordfish carpaccio. One thing that continues to wow is this little box of fried sardines with grapes, fennel and pine nuts.

    620 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-587-3330

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Bone-Marrow Cavatappi from Love & Salt

    No one ever said you needed rich bone marrow in a bowl of curly cavatappi pasta, but the combination is undeniably fantastic. This is just one of the creations of chef Michael Fiorelli at the super-popular Italian-leaning spot that opened in the heart of Manhattan Beach late last year. Out of the array of handmade pastas, pizzas, salads and other small plates, it's probably the most talked about, and for good reason. The pasta comes to the table relatively plain, but the server brings a roasted bone marrow along with it. They scrape out the rich, melting marrow, top the pasta with bread crumbs, parsley and cheese, and tell you to mix it up. The result is a grown-up, richer version of that butter-and-cheese spaghetti you ate as a kid. It's not to be taken lightly.

    317 Manhattan Beach Blvd.; 310-545-5252

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    The ICDC at ICDC

    The namesake dessert at pastry chef Mariah Swan’s new ice cream, donut and coffee shop (right next to BLD) is a masterfully built treat. Take one of the freshly baked donuts, top it with Swan’s homemade ice cream and douse it in Vittoria espresso. It’s like a donut affogato, which means it passes for both breakfast and dessert.

    7454 1/2 Beverly Blvd.; 323-746-3346

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Fried Mushrooms at Ramen Champ

    What Alvin Cailin did for breakfast sandwiches at Eggslut he's doing for ramen at his Chinatown noodle house. Outside of the rich tonkotsu ramen bowls, however, there are a few side dishes that piqued our interest, like the fried mushrooms. The mushrooms tend to change per availability, but it’s often battered and deep-fried Hon shimeji mushrooms served with roasted garlic shoyu aïoli and garnished with crispy shiso leaves. They're light and crisp with a lacy tempura, and wildly addictive.

    727 N. Broadway; 213-316-8595

  • Hoi Thawt at Pok Pok Phat Thai

    The small menu at the small space in the same Chinatown plaza as Ramen Champ and Chego is mostly noodles, ones you have to dress yourself with fish or soy sauce, sugar, Sriracha and chiles. A slight departure is this crispy crêpe with egg, bean sprouts and mussels that comes with a sweet, almost banana-ketchup-like Sriracha to mix into it.

    727 N. Broadway; 213-628-3071

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Dry-Rubbed Beef Short Rib at Odys & Penelope

    It’s really difficult to choose what was our most favorite dish from a visit to Karen and Quinn Hatfield’s latest on La Brea Avenue: the creamed cauliflower, amazing focaccia or the crazy-good chocolate pie or hot donuts with honey-butter sauce? All of the above, really. But probably the most photographed and raved-about dish on the menu is a "side" from the brasero, the Argentinean grill. The giant Flinstones-like dry-rubbed beef short rib is pretty substantial hunk of meat, full of flavor from the rub and fall-off-the-bone tender, with a little sweet sauce on the side. (P.S. You won't need the sauce.)

    127 La Brea Ave.; 323-939-1033

  • Hangover Hoe Cakes at Barrel & Ashes

    As if we could love the hoe cakes — a sort of cornmeal pancake cast-iron baked with maple butter — any more, chefs Timothy Hollingsworth and Michael Kahikina top the darn things with chili, cheese, eggs and chiles at brunch. It's like a Frito Pie–hoe cake mash-up. You don’t need a hangover to enjoy it, but if you have a hangover, you need it.

    11801 Ventura Blvd.; 818-623-8883

  • The Veal Fraser at Redbird

    Chef Neal Fraser certainly knows how to make an entrance. The BLD owner and chef wasn't necessarily absent from the scene since he and wife Amy closed their beloved restaurant Grace, but it's been a long time since we've seen something this dramatic from him, a dish befitting the gorgeous Vibiana home. A 24-oz. veal chop with veal cheeks and rich escargot sauce is a dynamite meaty creation that's so good, it could only be his namesake.

    114 E. Second St.; 213-788-1191

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Lobster Roll at Knuckle & Claw

    We can’t help it. As far as lobster rolls go, this one is a fine entry for the LA scene, a Rockenwagner split-top roll filled with a quarter-pound of whole knuckle and claw meat. The lobsters are flown in daily, so you can  almost — almost — pretend you’re eating it on Martha’s Vineyard. Just close your eyes and ignore the Silver Lake traffic.

    3112 Sunset Blvd.; 323-407-6142

  • Credit: Aestus

    “Sea Sar” at Aestus

    Chef Alex Ageneau has a light, seasonal approach to his menus at the new Santa Monica restaurant, and this fun deconstructed Caesar salad is the perfect example. More like a crudités plate than salad, crisp vegetables and lettuce spears come with a tangy anchovy dip topped with roe and bottarga.

    507 Wilshire Blvd.; 424-268-4433

  • Square Pizza at Prime Pizza

    It’s difficult to wow a true pizza fan with something new, but the guys at this small Fairfax outfit have. Although known for serving mostly thin-crust, New York–style pizzas to the Hollywood and West Hollywood neighborhoods (they deliver), the square Sicilian-style pie is our favorite. The chewy crust is a bit sweet, topped with crushed tomatoes, ricotta, pesto and mozzarella. It’s the perfect slice.

    446 N. Fairfax Ave.; 323-852-1188

  • Chorizo and Papas Tacos at BS Taqueria

    Here's the thing about the tacos at Ray Garcia’s colorful and casual Mexican spot Downtown (its sibling, Broken Spanish, opens this week). There are some very creative inventions here, like clams with lardo or bologna with escabeche, but the traditional flavors really knock our socks off. You won't find tortillas like this anywhere; well, with the exception of Petty Cash, which gets the same masa. The non-GMO corn is grown in Mexico and the masa is made in Orange County. In short, the tortillas are dynamite. Made on the spot per order, they're thick and fresh, and hold up to things like chile-red housemade chorizo and fried potatoes.

    514 W. Seventh St.; 213-622-3744

  • Garlic Knot at Milo + Olive

    This is a true thing of beauty. If you haven’t been to Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb’s Santa Monica spot in awhile, it’s worth a visit, if only for the expanded space alone. But there are also some new menu items from chef Erin Eastland, thanks to a second wood-burning oven. But thankfully one of the standards remains and is better than ever: the roasted garlic-stuffed dough, baked until golden in hue, sitting in a pool of extremely good extra virgin olive oil. 

    2723 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-453-6776

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Meatballs at Jon & Vinny’s

    Know this: meatballs are the barometer for any Italian restaurant. If a chef has them and says theirs are the best, we’ll be the judge. These from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo at their latest on Fairfax are something special. The meatballs are perfectly tender, not too garlicky, smothered in a lovely tomato sauce. But it’s that side of wood-grilled housemade focaccia with garlicky butter and that dollop of creamy fresh ricotta cheese that makes the whole dish diabolically good.

    412 N. Fairfax Ave.; 323-334-3369

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Sea Urchin Spring Roll at Providence

    This might be cheating because this was served at an anniversary party for Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto’s haute seafood restaurant — they celebrate 10 years on Melrose this month — but it was so divine and memorable, it needs a place on this list. A delicate spring roll stuffed with fresh uni till taut, laced with a few herbs. It’s a light and briny bite. It’s one of those things that occasionally turns up on the tasting menus, so chances are good you can taste it too.

    5955 Melrose Ave.; 323-460-4170

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Whole Branzino at Maré

    The bulk of Eric Greenspan’s menu at his new hidden patio charmer on Melrose are bowls of shellfish and broth. But we’d be remiss not to point out just how good the whole branzino is. Glazed with sweet pomegranate, the fish comes to the table with a crisp, slightly sweet and savory skin. You have to do the deboning yourself (someone will if you really don’t want to), but there will be nothing behind except for the bones.

    7461 Melrose Ave.; 323-592-3226

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Green Falafel at Dune

    There’s been a lot of hype around falafel these days, and this Atwater Village newcomer deserves all the raves it receives. The green falafel balls, made without flour but with tons of herbs, are served hot and fresh, tucked into a warm and pliable flatbread and topped with cool pickled onions, tahini, hummus and yogurt. Little fried potato strings add just the right texture to what turns out to be quite a hearty sandwich.

    3143 Glendale Blvd.

  • Credit: Baltaire

    Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese at Baltaire

    The new Brentwood steakhouse has one of the best new side dishes in town right now. First, chef Travis Strickland uses large cavatappi pasta spirals to hold the decadent cheese sauce made with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Hooks white cheddar and aged Monterey Jack cheeses. But it comes to the table piping hot in its All-Clad pan, topped with a sheath of crispy herbed bread crumbs that crackles with every scoop. Go ahead and add the extra crab or lobster; chunks of either will be in just about every bite.

    11647 San Vicente Blvd.; 424-273-1660

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Fried Chicken Sandwich at Wild at Canele

    This sandwich is only slightly different than the one that's so famously served at brunch at the popular Atwater Village spot. The version Ria and Matt Wilson created for Wild at Canele, their daytime-only stint at the restaurant, is just as towering, only topped with pickled papaya instead of green tomato and served on soft pan de sel they make themselves. Their inspired menus are a game-changer for the neighborhood.

    3219 Glendale Blvd.; 323-666-7133

  • Beef Tartare at Simbal

    One of the most recent things to wow us is this twist on traditional steak tartare at Shawn Pham’s new Little Tokyo Southeast Asian restaurant. Made with larb seasoning, the chilled and chopped beef is one of the more unique versions around town. It's topped with sesame bread that's almost like puffed pita, so pinch off a piece and scoop up the meat.

    319 E. Second St., Suite 202 (enter at San Pedro St.); 213-626-0244