LOS ANGELES — Throughout my first year as a restaurant critic living in Los Angeles, zigzagging across the city in my car, I kept a running list of delicious things I wanted to tell you about.
There was the sheer, oversize tortilla sobaquera that I had at El Ruso in Boyle Heights just the other day — its floury edges charred on a convex comal, its stretchy folds stuck together with melted cheese, all of it dipped, bite by bite, into hot broth.
The kibbe nayeh at Skaf’s, in Glendale, was on my list, too. The pile of raw meat was dressed so that it shined luxuriously with fat, but seasoned and presented so daintily.
Over the summer, I flagged the creamy melon gelato at Antico, somehow more concentrated in flavor and perfume than a piece of ripe fruit, and tinted the pale pinkish orange of the sun setting on Beverly Boulevard.
There were so many extraordinary dishes — old and new, inexpensive and exorbitant, vegan and meaty — but it’s listicle season, so I’ve narrowed it down to 10.
Minh Phan’s Thursday-night dinners in Historic Filipinotown are a deal — $30 for a three-course meal — but they also remind you that Ms. Phan is running a fine-dining kitchen with finesse and virtuosity, even though Porridge and Puffs disguises itself as a casual grain-bowl restaurant. One of the best ways to experience the weekly shifts in Los Angeles seasonality, from persimmons and sweet potatoes to pears and radishes, is her porridge with pickles and jam, a warm bowl of rice absolutely covered with fresh herbs, greens and vegetables. It’s finished with a dollop of makrut-lemongrass jam that she makes in-house, so delicious-smelling you’ll want to dab it on like perfume.
2801 Beverly Boulevard (North Occidental Boulevard), Historic Filipinotown; 213-908-5313; porridgeandpuffs.com.
Corned Beef and Frites at Birdie G’s
Picture brisket, striped with fat, marked with the char of wood fire, and cooked to such tenderness that it doesn’t even require a knife. A giant pile of (thick, golden, perfectly seasoned) fries is the only clue that this is, in fact, a plate of steak frites. Sure, there are more traditional versions of the dish on Jeremy Fox’s menu at Birdie G’s, but this mustard-coated brisket, cooked low and slow as if in your auntie’s slow-cooker, is the most striking and succulent.
2421 Michigan Avenue (24th Street), Santa Monica; 310-310-3616; birdiegsla.com.
Koji-Marinated Sweet Potato at Onda
It’s hard for me to examine Onda, a new collaboration between the chefs Jessica Koslow and Gabriela Cámara, without nerdily taking it apart. How did the idea begin, and build? Who is responsible for what? Luckily, pleasure gets in the way, and sometimes there’s nothing to do but sit back and enjoy their cooking. The sweet potatoes have a thick, crisp crust that’s as satisfying to crunch down on as the skin of a Roman porchetta. The brawny pieces are steaming and tender inside, served with a cool crema and a seedy salsa macha. The salsa’s chile-stained oil, which messily dribbles out of the warm corn tortillas, slowly builds with heat.
700 Wilshire Boulevard (Seventh Street), Santa Monica; 310-620-9917; onda.la.
Foie de Poulet à la Strasbourgeoise at Pasjoli
The flashiest bit of French haute cuisine in the chef Dave Beran’s dining room is the goth duck press making the rounds on a trolley, creaking as it crushes bone and blood. But the liver in brioche — a version of Escoffier’s classic dish that complies with the statewide ban on foie gras by substituting chicken liver — is a less conspicuous and far more difficult dish to execute. The liver is full of fat and booze, absurdly creamy and dense, while the brioche is feathery-light, tasting purely of butter, yeast and air. This would already be pretty sumptuous, but black truffle snow adds perfume and old-school charm.
2732 Main Street (Hill Street), Santa Monica; 424-330-0020; pasjoli.com.
One of the finest ways to spend a weekend morning in Los Angeles is sitting by the railroad tracks on Slauson Avenue, surrounded by families, staining your fingers with the glowing red consomé from Teddy Vasquez’s distinguished taco truck. Yes, there’s a wait (prepare!), and no bathroom (prepare!), but the Tijuana-style birria, made with beef and layered with fresh salsa in consomé-dipped tortillas, will slowly work to erase all inconveniences. The deluxe plate offers up the tender, brothy birria in all forms, from a cheesy quesadilla to a taco dripping with consomé, showing off what it can do in each.
731 East Slauson Avenue (Paloma Avenue), South Los Angeles; 323-495-9654; instagram.com/teddysredtacos.
Boiled Whole Chicken at Majordomo
The name is as aggressively plain as a steamed chicken breast, and the dish, at David Chang’s fun, pleasingly tough-to-categorize Los Angeles restaurant, celebrates that plainness. It arrives first in the shape of sliced white meat on hot rice with ginger-scallion and chile sauces. The dark meat follows with hand-torn noodles in an absurdly rich chicken broth that leaves your lips sticky.
1725 Naud Street (Wilhardt Street), Chinatown; 323-545-4880; majordomo.la.
Bento Box at Hayato
From the softly chewy rice to the dashi-poached fava beans to the sweet, crisp-edged crab dumplings, every single bite in Brandon Hayato Go’s lunchbox is made with care. Reservations are hard to come by at the tiny kaiseki restaurant in Row DTLA (the same high-end shopping mall that hosts Smorgasburg on Sundays), even for these lunches that diners carry out. Put yourself on the list to be notified of cancellations, and if a spot opens up, pounce.
1320 East Seventh Street No. 126 (in Row DTLA), Downtown Los Angeles; 213-395-0607; hayatorestaurant.com.
You visit Spoon & Pork for patita — the glistening fried pork shank — or for adobo pork belly on pressed rice, served like nigiri. But somehow, in a Filipino restaurant named for a meat that it cooks exceptionally well, it’s the vegan jackfruit dish that preoccupied me. And it’s the jackfruit, not the patita, that I dragged as close to me as possible at the table, like an animal with its prey, wanting to taste every part of it in every possible combination. The fruit, braised in coconut milk, maintains its sweetness on a bed of purple Thai rice, perfumed with ginger and garlic and seasoned with salty, lip-smacking black bean paste that you can use at your discretion (all of it would be too much).
3131 Sunset Boulevard (Descanso Drive), Silver Lake; 323-922-6061; spoonandpork.com.
When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of the endless line for hot chicken at Howlin’ Ray’s, curving through Far East Plaza in Chinatown, growing even as it moves along. But it was the fried chicken with hot sauce at the chef Keith Corbin’s restaurant Alta in West Adams that shone. The meat is encased in sheer, delicately crisp, crackling skin, which is deep-fried, then baked and finished in a skillet to achieve the effect.
5359 West Adams Boulevard (South Burnside Avenue), West Adams; 323-571-4999; altaadams.com.
Hamachi Collar at Amácita
Josef Centeno’s restaurant serves the queso and the puffy tacos that have come to define Tex-Mex. But its most exciting dishes take a more elliptical kind of inspiration from the cuisine’s roots as ranch cooking, making use of the grill and low-and-slow braising to get the most out of local ingredients. When hamachi collars are grilled, the skin gets crisp, and the rendered, fatty juices run through the meat. Use the soft flour tortillas to build tacos, but don’t ignore the bone on the plate — the best bits of fish cling to it, almost gelatinous, and you can get at them with your teeth.
9552 Washington Boulevard (Irving Place), Culver City; 424-523-3300; ama-cita.com.
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