GQ’s Brett Martin has anointed three Los Angeles establishments as part of the country’s ten best new restaurants: Side Chick in Arcadia, Kato in West LA, and Salazar. It’s a triumph for LA’s dining scene, whereupon three non-American restaurants get named in such high regard. In fact, all of Martin’s picks around the country are operated by immigrants or children of immigrants, which is an impressive perspective in the age of Trump.
Let’s start with Side Chick, Johnny Lee’s casual Hainan chicken specialist in the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall. Let’s consider for a moment how rare it is for a food stall, not even a full fledged restaurant, to get named as one of the country’s top places to eat.
When Eater reached out to Lee about the recognition, he was quick to divert the praise to his staff: “It’s really the ability of the daily staff to execute the food as far as I know. I only prep a small portion of the chicken so I’m grateful to have employees who put care into this craft.” Martin himself doesn’t mince words when it comes to Side Chick’s Hainanese specialty: “The result is nakedly, unabashedly chicken-y—the beige of a mop with bits of yellow globular fat. It is also, in Lee's version, utterly transporting, meaty, moist, and beguilingly fragrant with ginger.”
Meanwhile, Kato, the tiny strip mall tasting menu restaurant in West LA, earns some high praise from Martin, who writes that it’s “at once creative and disciplined, thrillingly new and comfortably familiar.” Yao wasn’t anticipating any recognition of this kind of GQ, saying he thought Martin was working on a piece about immigrant families and their restaurants. Yao tells Eater: “It’s very surreal. I’m still kind of speechless trying to soak it all in. But it definitely makes me want to push harder and take my staff and myself to a new level.”
The plucky Taiwanese-Japanese restaurant with barely two dozen seats (some of which don’t have backs) has been pushing some of the most creative Asian fare in Los Angeles, with still no Jonathan Gold review to speak of. Hopefully this GQ recognition will impel the Goldster to finally check in.
Finally Salazar. It’s an amazing nod to the Frogtown eatery that barely has any seats indoors. The former Mazda auto shop-turned-taco shop from Billy Silverman and Esdras Ochoa (Mexicali Taco & Co.), with chef de cuisine Jonathan Aviles handling the stoves day-to-day, gets the most words from Martin, who is is ecstatic in his description of the outdoor eatery: “That was when I felt the spark: a glow that was like the buzz of hunger, but not limited to my stomach. I sat very still, to let it grow. This, the spark said, the knowledge bolting through me as though it were new information. This is what restaurants are for.”
Esdras Ochoa told Eater after the article was published, “The GQ mention is surreal, like Johnny Lee said. I don’t feel worthy there’s some amazing places to eat and amazing chefs in LA alone imagine the rest of the country [sic]. But honestly I give a lot of credit to my partner Billy [Silverman] for having that vision in that corner. Together we imagined it but we didn’t think it would be as what it is today.”
There’s a minor inaccuracy in some of the earlier copy, whereupon Martin states that the flour tortillas resemble “the texture of moo shu pancakes than traditional taco wrappers.” Martin might not be aware that these thin Sonoran-style tortillas are certainly traditional. But still the GQ correspondent gets why Salazar, and the rest of the LA dining scene, is so magical. Congrats to the three winners (and also former LA chefs Perfecto Rocher and Alia Zaine, whose Seattle restaurant Tarsan i Jane was also in the mix).