Team Eater LA enters into this current frozen tundra (read: sub-60 degree nights) very well-insulated, an unfortunate side effect of having dined extraordinarily well this year across Los Angeles. If our belts fit a little tighter around Christmas time, know that it’s purely because Eater has been tirelessly chasing the best that Los Angeles has to offer on the plate.
So what have been our favorite menu items of 2016? What can’t-miss dinner dishes from white-hot chefs do we keep bringing up every chance we get (say, with our local dry cleaner, or the person giving us a parking ticket)? Frankly there are too many to count, but alas it’s important to try nonetheless. So now, presented with no official ranking, are the best dishes of 2016.
Matthew Kang, Editor
Uni butter-poached shrimp at Norah
I had two fantastic meals at Norah, but more importantly, literally every single person I sent to the restaurant on my recommendation enjoyed it, including Eater’s editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt. I think that’s ultimately what makes a restaurant a great one: consistency and execution. My favorite dish from Norah is the uni butter-poached shrimp, an ultra simple preparation that takes tender shrimp and covers them with a rich butter sauce laden with oceanic sea urchin roe. Mop up the butter with some crusty bread, and you have yourself the perfect starter.
Oxtail Congee at Simbal
There’s probably no place I’m thinking about eating at on any given night more than Simbal, hidden away in Little Tokyo. The reason? The wonderful, compelling cooking coming from chef Shawn Pham’s open kitchen, which ranges anything from lovely dashi-imbued hamachi to addictive king trumpet mushroom salad. But the one that had me swooning toward the end of the savory dishes: the oxtail congee. The deeply flavored meat just crumbled into the base of warm congee, with the high notes coming from pickled mustard greens and fresh herbs. It reminded me very much of my mother’s braised oxtail stew over white rice, which is pretty much what I dream of eating every night.
Smoked hamachi crudo at Kato
Chef Jon Yao has an incredible understanding of flavors despite not having a ton of experience in other kitchens. One example of this maturity is the smoked hamachi crudo, served with crunchy cucumbers and a jet black charred scallion sauce that is the mainstay of his super affordable $49 tasting menu. With the pop of the cucumbers and the richness of the fish bound together by the sauce, it’s both stunning and contemplative, the kind of thing that you’ll crave until try the tasting menu again.
Farley Elliott, Senior Editor
Steak at Gwen
Though Curtis Stone’s popular new restaurant Gwen in Hollywood is meant to be revealed to the diner as a coursed-out tasting menu, folks in the know are already crowding the bar and patio for the a la carte menu instead. Both are awesome dining options, but getting to choose the big, beautiful dry-aged steak you want from the attached butcher shop and then downing the whole thing with a friend and some cocktails is a truly worthwhile experience you can (and should) be having, without the fuss of a full-on tasting menu bonanza.
Duck at Michael's
Chef Miles Thompson is up to something special at Michael’s in Santa Monica. Rather than completely throw out the old restaurant model, Thompson is leaning into the storied history of the place with a dish like his signature duck. It’s a simple presentation filled with soft flesh and perfectly rendered skin on the outside, but don’t be fooled: pulling a dish like this off, in a place like Michael’s, shows Thompson is reaching the top of his game.
X-Hot at Howlin' Ray’s
There are endless ways to enjoy Howlin’ Ray’s, from their weekend waffles to the genre-defining fried chicken sandwich. But sometimes simple is best, a fact the pros in line (yes, there’s always a line) know well when they crush into the Chinatown space for a box of extra hot Nashville-style fried chicken. Get your hands dirty, eat off the bone, knock back some pickles to cut through it all, and then sweat your way to pure bliss. It’s meant to hurt a little.
Carne asada at Sonoratown
Carne asada is nothing new in Los Angeles, but a version this uniquely delicious certainly is. Sonoratown, the little Fashion District taqueria that could, has honed in on a fantastic execution of true mesquite-smoked carne asada, served heavy inside some flour tortillas and with a rightfully bracing salsa. There are more popular places doing carne asada in Los Angeles right now, but none doing it better.
Octopus with mole at Lost at Sea
Here’s a lesser-seen combination that came out of nowhere. Working a seafood-focused menu at his new Lost at Sea in Pasadena, chef Tim Carey landed a monster pairing with his iteration of charred octopus and some thick, dark mole. With the sweet richness from the sauce, a bite or two of tart young strawberries, and the just-firm-enough bite from the octopus, this menu mainstay was a true surprise in 2016.
Zha jiang mian at Mian
What’s not to like about a combination of Sichuan peppercorns, noodles, and ground pork? That’s the basic basis for any zha jiang mian you’ve had around town, but it’s done with surprising clarity at Mian by Tony Xu (of Chengdu Taste fame). You’ll get heat and numbness from the peppercorns and some chile oil, plus those springy noodles to really dig into. It’s a winning combination anywhere in town, but in San Gabriel it feels right at home.
Bar pie at Here’s Looking at You
Under no circumstances should you skip dinner at Here’s Looking at You. But let us say, for the sake of argument, that you already had dinner elsewhere (and, for some reason, a second dinner is out of the question). Well then, in that case, please feel free to sidle up to the bar — assuming you can get a stool — at Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown for a slice of pie from Karla Subero, the pastry wunderkind who makes all the desserts (including those bar-only pies) for one of LA’s hottest new restaurants. Elbow in, ask for a slice of whatever’s on that night and a cocktail, and you will be handsomely, deliciously rewarded.
Crystal Coser, Associate Editor
Noorook at Baroo
There have been few more buzzed about restaurants in LA than Baroo, with few more buzzed about dishes than the noorook. At first glace, you probably won't be able to make out what exactly it is, then you may not understand how so many ingredient—Job's tears, farro, kamut, koji beet cream, kombu dashi, finger lime, the list goes on—work together in such perfect harmony. Ultimately you're left with a dish rich with umami that’s unquestionably delicious.
Persimmons and tofu at Shibumi
You may be surprised to learn that persimmons and tofu are addictive when paired together. Shibumi's blend of whipped tofu with the crisp fruit and ginko nuts makes for a course that is both sweet and savory, and tastes even better with a sip of sake, which is most definitely the point.