Easy’s: Easy's is the burger place that Los Angeles needs right now. Located in the rotating takeout window attached to Unit 120, the Jeremy Fall-backed beef and bun spot has quietly been serving up some of the city's simplest — and most delicious — burgers for a couple of weeks now. Put as concisely as possible: Easy's is taking everything that Los Angeles has been doing wrong with burgers for the past few years, and leaves it behind.
The burgers at Easy's are not unlike what you'll find Matt Molina doing at ERB in Arts District. Exceedingly simple, well-prepared, and absolutely focused. Sure, there is no heavily-seared crust on these 200-gram patties, just a dark brown burnishing from enough time spent on a griddle in the back of the kitchen. That leaves plenty of room for coloration inside, which is where chef Alvin Cailan — it's his team cooking those Easy's burgers, you know — works a rosy medium rare every time. Besides, these burgers aren't meant to be Southern California reproductions, or "takes" on what In-N-Out perfected decades ago. There are other fine places across Los Angeles for that.
Think of Easy's like a steakhouse burger, a hefty seven ounce pub style served with a thick grind and lots of fat trimmings to keep the juices flowing. There is no overly garlicky spread or fussed-about cheese on top, just draped slices of American that wraps the patty in fat and flavor. No lettuce, no tomato — you go to a steakhouse to eat meat, not pick at a side salad. What's left is a single ring of raw red onion, cut thick and served between the bottom bun and the patty, which is as it should be. Some squishy bun, a wave of cheese, a mouthful of well-seasoned quality ground beef, that pop of raw, crunchy onion, and more bun as a swan song below. Easy's is a burger that feels good in the hand, in a way that some other double-patty monstrosity never could. It's like the platonic ideal of those burgers Wimpy is always tossing back in the Popeye cartoons.
And don't get me started on that golden bun, imported from elsewhere (seriously, it's a process I'm told) and reaching the heights of Wonderbread squishiness, with just a whisper of the buttery rich touch-of-sweet potato roll favorited by the Martin's folks and used by Shake Shack, et al. When you look down from directly overhead and only see the faintest rim of darkened beef peeking out symmetrically from all sides of a perfectly portioned bun's outer edges, you know the man cooking your burger is up to something special. Alvin Cailan and Jeremy Fall are seeing the streaming ones and zeros of the burger Matrix right now. They get it. —Farley Elliott
Chengdu Taste: When you open up Chengdu Taste's large print menu, even with as many pictures as there are, the question persists: "What's good here?" And anyone who's been there will tell you the same thing: "pretty much everything." Whether it's the toothpick lamb, the chicken skewers, the diced rabbit in younger sister's special sauce, the recommendations are an exercise in groupthink that churns out "toothpick lamb," a couple of the same dishes plus an outlier. It's not overly ambitious to have eaten everything on the menu in just a handful visits, and yet people stand by their standbys.
But I want to return to the question of "what's good?," and the answer is "pretty much everything." It rings true even for the dishes that might not get much rotation. I want to point your attention to kung pao chicken. Chengdu Taste has, without question, the best rendition of kung pao chicken I've ever had. Why, at $10, that that dish is not more of a thing is beyond me. It's no secret Tony Xu gets it just right behind the dials of Szechuan peppercorn in his more celebrated dishes, but that same, deft balance is struck with each peanut, each meltingly tender bit of chicken thigh, each dried red chili with restrained heat that somehow finds its way into every bite, lightly dressed in that just-a-whisper-sweet sauce with a passing rumor of ginger.
Xu's magic isn't just impressive in auspicious points like the specialty dishes, but in the way he transforms my expectations of the mundane. Perhaps for fear of somehow "not doing right by Chengdu Taste," most diners have scoffed at the notion of ordering kung pao chicken and fried rice at the best Sichuan restaurant in the US. But you'd be doing wrong by yourself not to try it, even if it means taking up a spot in your rotation one time. —Euno Lee
Hatchet Hall: Hatchet Hall is a restaurant I've slept on for far too long, especially because it's in my part of town. But it's in that strange, stretched-out part of Culver City, almost the beach but not quite. I've had drinks there, met friends there, but never done a full, sit-down, adult kind of meal.
And it's definitely that kind of restaurant. My girlfriend and I went earlyish on Saturday for an impromptu date, and we snagged a seat at their "oyster counter," where someone eventually did appear to shuck oysters. The service was warm and thoughtful, the cocktails were satisfying, and the food was good. From their long menu we assembled a very gussied-up Southern meal—there was a pork chop and Carolina gold rice involved—all of which were prepared with a real attention to flavor and texture.
When we lived in Austin, we used to go out on regular date nights to places with fancy cocktails and fancier cuts of meat, but have not found our groove here in LA yet. There's too many options, too many levels and iterations of date night, parts of the city we haven't so much as set foot in yet. Hatchet Hall was a great reminder not to try so hard, and just enjoy Saturday night. —Meghan McCarron
Barrel & Ashes: I am not a barbecue fanatic. But there’s something about Barrel & Ashes that keeps me coming back for more. I recently stopped in for lunch with someone with similar barbecue apathy, and we both couldn’t get over how much we enjoyed our meal.
A Frito pie appetizer set the tone for a fun, decadent lunch that was cheffed up by beautiful pickled peppers. We couldn’t complain about the peppery, super plump chicken wings that we dunked in honey habanero and buttermilk ranch, but the real star of the show is that juicy brisket and fried chicken sandwich. The brisket was much better than I remembered, juicer than before with a clear coating of smoke. But my favorite still is the fried chicken, boldly declared on the menu as "the best damn chick’n sandwich y’ever had." With finger lickin’ good pimento cheese and the juiciest fried chicken, I can’t disagree. —Crystal Coser
M.B. Post: There’s something thrilling about checking out the new restaurants in a neighborhood you’re moving into. Within a few months I’ll be a South Bay resident, so finding my new regular spots is priority number one (the sofas are still en route). I decided to check out M.B. Post after all these years of going to other Manhattan Beach restaurants, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it thriving. Chef David LeFevre’s still in the house overseeing the kitchen, likely bouncing between his mini beachside empire that also includes The Arthur J and Fishing With Dynamite.
The look and feel of M.B. Post feels like a fresher Houston’s, packed to the gills on a chilly Tuesday night, and booming with mid-aughts indie rock. There’s very little not to like about the place, from the food to the beverages to the warm service. I loved the Asian tilt toward most of the dishes, like the General Tso’s sweetbreads (crisped and sugary on the edges), green curry mussels laden with fragrant coriander seed-studded rice, and the cult favorite braised lamb belly. I wasn’t as keen on the new albacore tataki with a base of aji amarillo sauce, but the Elvis, a chocolate sauce bonanza of whipped peanut butter mousse and candied bananas, is a triumph. I’m pretty sure I’ve found my new go-to spot. —Matthew Kang
Torihei: It’s been a while since I hit this popular yakitori spot in South Bay, and they’re so popular that as soon as we sat at the bar, the server informed us we’d need to vacate our seats within 90 minutes. The parade of chicken skewers, while delicious and affordable, didn’t have enough smokiness and flavor to warrant a place at the upper echelon of yakitori in Los Angeles. I think Otafuku’s chicken skewers in nearby Gardena are better for that. But for a cozy weeknight beer-and-chicken-skewer spot where you’ll hear banter in four different languages? Price: $25 for two, before drinks, tax, and tip. Count me in. —Matthew Kang