Today the LA Weekly unleashed its annual listicle of 99 Essential Restaurants, plus an accompanying Freshman 15, their “favorite up and coming” restaurants in the city. Led by critic Besha Rodell and food editor Katherine Spiers, it’s an expansive collection of places to eat in the country’s most compelling food city. Listed alphabetically as compared to Jonathan Gold’s massive 101 Restaurants, which comes out in the mid fall of every year, Rodell & Co. focus heavily on beloved neighborhood and international favorites. Here are some highlights:
Baroo: according to Rodell, the restaurant is as good as ever despite co-chef Kwang Uh’s temporary absence. Writes B-Rod: “Baroo is a weird, exceptionally personal, only-in-L.A. kind of treat. Is there any better kind?”
Bill’s Burgers: Katherine Spiers writes regarding this classic roadside burger stand: “This is one of those “sum greater than its parts” burgers.”
Broken Spanish: “Broken Spanish provides a sampling of the thrilling approach to contemporary Mexican cooking, and it wouldn’t be out of place in Mexico City,” writes Drew Tewksbury.
Colombo’s Steahouse: “But this isn’t a place for serious food snobs. It’s a place for reveling in the type of community — and the type of fun — that hasn’t been commonplace in L.A. restaurants for decades,” writes Besha Rodell.
Elf Cafe: “ In a lot of ways, Elf is the last remnant of the late ’90s/early 2000s Northeast L.A. vibe, when neighborhood haunts weren’t just places to be seen on Instagram,” writes Drew Tewksbury.
Guelaguetza: There’s a lot of bang for the buck in those platters, but you’d be remiss to leave without trying the mole. You’ll want the negro, and you’ll be rewarded with a dark, bitter, gloriously slick mole — get it with chicken or chorizo,” writes B-Rod.
Isaan Station: “The kai yang, chicken that’s been marinated in a turmeric-heavy spice mix and then grilled over charcoal, is a revelation. Most of us simply didn’t know that grilled chicken could be so complex and delicious.” writes Katherine Spiers.
Locol: “When Locol gets really busy, it feels more like a neighborhood party than a fast food restaurant. Who knew the food revolution would be so much fun?” writes B-Rod.
Maude: “Maude is an intensely personal, unpretentious restaurant. It’s also one of the loveliest dining experiences in the city,” writes B-Rod.
Pine & Crane: Besha Rodell comments, “The real draw here is the super fresh veggies sourced from owner Vivian Ku’s family farm. Take a look in the cold case next to the counter, where you’ll find dishes such as wood ear mushroom salad flecked with sweet red pepper, or grassy, fresh pea shoots scented with garlic.”
Wexler’s Deli: There may be no better outcome of all that obsessing than Wexler’s lox: Slick, supple and delicate, the cured salmon tastes like a rushing mountain river in the same way an ultra-fresh oyster tastes like the soul of the ocean,” writes Besha Rodell.
Farley Elliott’s analysis:
LA still has a serious smoked meat problem
Boy, Los Angeles cannot wait for La Barbecue to come forward, because the only smoked meat option on this list is Bigmista's in Long Beach, which feels like a pick for the region more than the food. No Barrel & Ashes, no Maple Block, no street-style spots.
Time to expand your reach
Speaking of spatial awareness, this list does a fantastic job of getting out to the corners of greater Los Angeles. There's Bill's Burgers in Van Nuys (but no Saj Bakery in Northridge?!), a ton of San Gabriel Valley stuff, Whittier's own Colonia Publica, and Eagle Rock gem Colombo's. It's hard to imagine a better restaurant than Colombo's couldn't have edged them out, but for regional awareness this list is a hit.
The 99 is great, but look to the Freshmen 15 for the future of LA's dining scene.
It's a hurry-up offense right now in Los Angeles, with places dropping back and tossing big, shiny restaurant bombs downfield as fast as they can. That's not to say the Essentials list is missing any relevant picks (who doesn't still love Bestia?), but if you want to keep up — and earn a peek at what the future of dining is in Los Angeles — you need to hone in on the Freshmen 15. There you'll find stalwarts like Michael's under new leadership with whiz kid Miles Thompson, the impossibly popular Howlin' Rays, the ritzy stunner 71Above, and every other buzzy spot in town right now.
The one big whiff: Orsa & Winston
Rodell herself dotes on Josef Centeno's Orsa & Winston in her big on Baco Mercat, saying: "Orsa & Winston delivers one of the most interesting, thoughtful tasting-menu experiences around." Yet it doesn't make the final cut, which is a bummer for a place that is really firing on 12 cylinders right now. From the wine to the hospitality to the food on the place, Orsa & Winston is one of the city's best individual dining experiences, period.