Yesterday, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and the heavy-hitting staff of the Los Angeles Times released their annual 101 Best Restaurants list (subscription required), a collection of new, old, and odd dining stars from across Southern California. This year’s compilation contains many of the same names Los Angeles has come to love over the years, but also offers plenty of surprises in a few key ways. Here now, some rapid reaction from the Eater LA staff on the vaunted annual list.
What to Like — Matthew Kang
Providence at number one is predictable and safe. It's an indisputable pick, as excellent as Michael Cimarusti's cooking is. It would be nice to have some controversy and pick another restaurant at the top of the heap. But maybe that's what the number two pick, Shibumi, is supposed to be.
I have no problem Shibumi doing really well but his review didn't seem to read like he thought it was the greatest place since sliced bread. I love Shibumi and think it has massive potential. I think listing it at number two is ambitious this early on.
I'm also major fan of Lukshon and do actually think it's quite underrated, as Gold says. I agree that Sang Yoon is perhaps the least talked about chef with that level of talent in Los Angeles. Spring at number four is another shocker. I haven't been yet but I've only heard decent things, nothing resounding or world-class. But this definitely piques my interest in going. Tony Esnault might be the second most unsung chef in LA, after Sang Yoon.
As for the rest: Republique, Bestia, and Night + Market in the top 20: well deserved. They're in my top five personally. Baroo made it to 23, but it would easily be in my top ten.
Crazy to see Orsa & Winston above places like Maude, Melisse, and even N/Naka but good for Josef Centeno. Place is great and needs more recognition. Le Comptoir at 38 seems very high considering its narrow scope and size, but again, I'm glad that Gold is giving a small place like that a big spotlight.
I am glad Gold continues to put Valentino on this list, because Piero is a legend and deserves a placement on this ultimate of all listicles. That said, Gjusta at 99 is pretty nuts. It should be much, much higher. Finally, I'm not sure why Gold likes Nickel Diner so much. It's a fine place, but one of the best restaurants in the city?
What's Missing — Farley Elliott
You'd think with 101 boxes to check, Jonathan Gold and the Times would have more than enough room to drop in every hot new restaurant in town, plus a whole host of classics, obscure deep picks, and (apparently) Orange County favorites to boot. But in looking at the list cascade from 1 to 101, you'll probably start to realize there are several big names not mentioned anywhere at all. So who should operate that 102nd spot, just beyond the cutoff mark — or, really, the true 101 spot, because c'mon, Nickel Diner?
71Above: It's still very early in what is expected to be a long, long run for 71Above, the soaring dining experience at the top of the U.S. Bank Tower in Downtown. Yet the restaurant is beyond the imaginary three-month threshold often implemented by critics, and has so far largely been left undiscussed by Gold himself, either through conscious omission or by him having yet to eat there (he's a busy man). Either way, it's striking to notice the restaurant not make the cut for the 101 list, considering Shibumi is only one month older than 71Above and raked in a strong second place. And for a restaurant and chef as high-minded (in more ways than one) as 71Above and Vartan Abgaryan are, getting left off LA's premier annual restaurant list seems odd.
Kali: Another surprising omission is Kali, Kevin Meehan and Drew Langley's modern California option on Melrose. The place earned three strong stars from LA Weekly who said the meal was filled with "little joys," and even Gold himself gave the place a positive once-over in July, with his only real gripe having to do with the format, not the food. Still, to be left off the list entirely seems a slight of a different sort, as if the modern cuisine that Meehan is cooking up isn't resonating with the city, or just Gold in particular. Surprising, either way.
Here's Looking at You: Another newer option with a summer opening, Here's Looking at You has been winning tons of praise from the larger dining community for its fun dining room, strong flavors, and killer team in Lien Ta and chef Jonathan Whitener. Both were born and bred under the Animal/Jon & Vinny's umbrella, and those influences — the big food, the loud music — show through in the new Here's Looking at You Koreatown space. So why the radio silence on adding them to the list? Again, it could be as simple as Gold not having dined there yet, or wanting to give the place a more thorough look before adding it to the annual bundle. But there is no doubt that HLAY is among the most exciting places to be dining in Los Angeles right now, a fact that can't be said for every other entrant on the 101 this year.
Other notable omissions
Jon & Vinny's: Maybe the red sauce and rap music vibe doesn't resonate with J. Gold anymore, but there's no denying the place is something like four times as busy as any other Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo restaurant. The place is a beast to get into and fun to dine at, but maybe the meatballs aren't up to the Gold Standard.
Urasawa: Sure, it looks like the place might be closed indefinitely/forever, but that info just dropped yesterday, the same day the 101 came out. So it begs the question: Was Gold going to leave LA's most prolific sushi restaurant off the list altogether? Or did they cut it at the very last second after hearing the news of their closure, thus replacing it with ... Garlic & Chives in Little Saigon? Who knows.
What the Heck — Crystal Coser
Orange County is not Los Angeles. So why are restaurants that are well outside of county lines being included on Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants, as published by LA Times? With Brodard Chateau at 71, Playground at 66, Marche Moderne at 55 (really? It is admittedly my South Coast Plaza go-to, but 55?), plus Taco Maria sitting pretty at number 5, Orange County restaurants are taking up a lot of prime real estate.
And that seems odd, since what is the 101 Best Restaurant list but a service piece to the denizens of Los Angeles? A large number of people use the list when deciding where to eat in this great city, so wouldn’t it be more helpful if those four Orange County spots were replaced by restaurants that didn’t require a mini road trip? I personally would like to know where to get the best nem nuong when I can’t make the trek down to Garden Grove.
Those spots could have been replaced by a number of overlooked (Kali) or underranked (Baroo) restaurants in our own county confines. After all, how would Orange County residents feel if the OC Register listed LA restaurants in its top 75? And don't get us started on bundling places like Grand Central Market, Far East Plaza, and all things Mozza together.
- Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants [LA Times, paywall]