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LA Restaurant Industry Experts Discuss the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2018

What shocked the LA restaurant world in 2018?

A plate of barbecue, including brisket, smoked chicken, ribs, and sauce.
Barbecue at Slab
Wonho Frank Lee
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

Welcome to Year in Eater, an annual review of some of the best and notable openings and restaurant news that took place in Los Angeles over the past year. Eater LA asks writers, editors, and food luminaries to pitch in to help summary the incredible year in dining that was 2018. Here now, LA food writers and editors discuss the biggest dining surprises to happen in the restaurant scene this year.

Andrea Chang, Food Writer, LA Times

Baroo closing.

Joshua Lurie, Food GPS Founder

I’m surprised how many restaurants are serving Nashville-style hot chicken, and how few people have a connection to that very specific fried chicken tradition, or have even been to Nashville. I don’t expect chefs to pan-fry birds to order in a cast iron skillet — even Prince’s doesn’t do that anymore — but at least fry on the bone. From what I’ve tasted in town, only Howlin’ Ray’s stands out.

Danny Chau, Writer/Editor, The Ringer

How swiftly L.A. food criticism was upended with the untimely death of Jonathan Gold, and how deftly two of the biggest newspapers in the country maneuvered to fill the void.

Andy Wang, writer, Food & Wine

That there is still no great modern Italian restaurant in Studio City or Sherman Oaks

Katherine Spiers, host of Smart Mouth and co-author of Rogue 99

Oriel: I’d never heard of it till August or so. It’s serving what might be perfect French bistro food. The pink neon is nice, too.

Euno Lee, Eater LA Contributor

Locol. Majorly bummed that the customer-facing part closed; as someone who spent a lot of time in Watts, Willowbrook, Lynwood and Compton tutoring the young’uns — the energy of that place, what RC did to sow seeds in that community is palpable and amazing.

Hadley Tomicki, Food Writer

Losing Mr. Gold and Anthony Bourdain, two of our most vital and indispensable cultural observers and two heroes.

Garrett Snyder, Food Editor at LA Magazine

L.A.’s endless enthusiasm for Texas-style barbecue, given that a) we’re not a traditional ‘cue town and b) our air-quality restrictions (re: wood smoke) are the toughest in the country

Esther Tseng, Food Writer

Kasih is so rarely talked about, but I really enjoyed their take on modern Indonesian. I loved their sambal platter to start and especially Hamel’s fish preparations. Really vibrant and exciting dining experience in a subdued dining room.

Jeff Miller, Freelance writer and founding editor, Thrillist LA

Farmhouse — the “seed-to-table” restaurant at the Beverly Center — has become one of my favorite spots for a nice dinner in my neighborhood, and not just because it shares its name with a Phish song. The food is clean and delicious; the interior design inviting and homey; the staff attentive and knowledgeable. I feel like if it were anywhere else in the city it would have been a huge hit, but the Beverly Center is maybe the worst place possible for it to exist; the surprise comes from location rather than flavor.

Bill Esparza, Eater LA Contributor

The huge push to open Tijuana-style taco stands.

Gary Baum, Senior Writer at The Hollywood Reporter

The passing of Jonathan Gold. It’s been heartening to witness the outpouring — just how much his work has meant to readers.

Stephanie Breijo, Food & Drink Editor at Time Out

Alta Adams, while backed by Daniel Patterson, felt like a quieter, smaller opening, but one I adored. I assumed I’d enjoy it just fine, but after living in the South for a few years and returning, then tasting Keith Corbin’s take on it? I never realized how much I’d needed that restaurant. Also, Viale—though I imagine Andy will have this one covered well enough in his responses.

Cathy Chaplin, Eater LA Associate Editor

The proliferation of really good regional Chinese food in Pasadena. I’m looking at you Me+Crepe, Dan, Ding’s Garden, and Cluck2Go.

Mona Holmes, Eater LA Reporter

I had three big surprises in the dining world this year:

The opening of Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen. There’s something to be said about heading to the largely unchanged and historic View Park-Windsor Hills, walking into a locally-owned and modern cafe, where the food delivers, and 90 percent of the patrons are black. I sit in cafes all over this city, and it’s rare where most of the clientele looks like me. But after ordering another killer coffee, you realize it’s simply a stylish cafe, and that ample change for this historic Los Angeles neighborhood has arrived.

Jonathan Gold’s sudden passing.

Finally, I’m truly excited about the recent food section hires at the Los Angeles Times. Hiring three food reviewers was so needed for our dynamic city, but I was surprised that a native Angeleno didn’t make the list. Part of what made Gold so brilliant was his serious and deep knowledge of these streets, from the time of his youth until he left us in 2018. Being a reviewer actually from said city is not a requirement (see Australian wonder and former LA Weekly critic, Besha Rodell), but this local writer would’ve appreciated at least one originating from LA proper.

Farley Elliott, Eater LA Senior Editor

All things Majordomo. From the hype to the delicious reality to Chang’s pre-opening podcasts to Gold’s incinerating review...

Matthew Kang, Eater LA Editor

There were so many big, heralded openings that many debuts from known chefs fell by the wayside for various reasons. Hearth & Hound got hit with a major scandal late last year and never seemed to recover, though it’s still hanging on miraculously after April Bloomfield bought out Ken Friedman. I’m hoping it can rebound and develop a following in the neighborhood because that space is really wonderful. Jean-Georges with the biggest snoozer of an opening from a three Michelin-starred chef. Geoffrey Zakarian’s short-lived run at Georgie. Does anyone realize John Tesar opened a restaurant in Orange County?

And of course the death of Jonathan Gold, the loss of LA’s most important voice in the food world, and someone I looked up to since I began my career. May he rest in peace.

Year in Eater