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LA’s Dining Authorities Discuss Their Best Meals of 2018

Fancy dinners, casual weeknights, and great food from around the world

Dish from Dialogue, Santa Monica
Dish from Dialogue, Santa Monica
Mariah Tauger
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 talk about the best meals they had in the past year.

Andrea Chang, Food Writer, LA Times

In L.A., Dialogue. Outside of L.A. but in the U.S., Henrietta Red in Nashville. International, either Quintonil in Mexico City or Maido in Lima.

Joshua Lurie, Food GPS Founder

My most eye-opening trip of 2018 was definitely to Cali, Colombia, where a close friend got married in July. About 30 minutes outside of the city in Rozo, where his wife’s from, we had a terrific lunch on a palapa-shaded patio at a place called Siga La Vaca (“follow the cow”). The kitchen has a grill that burns avocado wood and another local wood called mata raton (“rat killer”). Our meaty lunch included everything from sizzle ubre (udder), punta de anca (ribeye), costillas ahumadas (smoked pork ribs) and house-made morcilla (blood sausage). They also had a great version of the local specialty sancocho de gallina, a smoky grilled chicken served with herbaceous chicken soup loaded with corn and tubers.

Locally, I’m still thinking about a meal at Rustic Canyon back in January, where Jeremy Fox and his team continue to dial up the creativity and flavor.

Danny Chau, Writer/Editor, The Ringer

Every meal I’ve had at Bavel has been a revelation, in one way or another: the oyster mushroom kebab is my favorite dish of the year; the intricate sweet cheese pastry with strawberry, sumac, and pistachio ice cream might’ve been my favorite dessert. (A humble recommendation: End your night with an easy-drinking Adonis, a century-old cocktail of sherry, sweet vermouth, and bitters. It pairs well with most of their desserts, especially the paglava.)

Andy Wang, writer, Food & Wine

Hatchet Hall’s Fuss & Feathers dinner is wonderful. Viale dei Romani was responsible for maybe half of my top 10 meals of 2018. Pie is my favorite food group, and I still think about the chicken pot pie and the chocolate horchata pie at 189 by Dominique Ansel’s all-you-can-eat (!!!) pie night. But eating Texas-inspired chili, meatloaf and steaks at The Bear & Star in Los Olivos, which serves Central Coast wagyu from the Fess Parker family’s own ranch, was as mind-blowing as food got for me this year. When I used to live in New York, there were a few times I drove two hours to Philadelphia, ate at Zahav and then drove back home without stopping anywhere else. I have a feeling I may be doing this kind of day trip to The Bear & Star in 2019.

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

Long Beach: Phnom Penh Noodle Shack

New York: Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop (Max Falkowitz ordered me a whitefish melt and it really knocked me loose)

Las Vegas: Jammyland

Nevis: pig roast at The Hermitage. It introduced me to the breadth of West Indian cuisine, which is interesting and delicious and produce-heavy. (The meal was comped for me.)

Elina Shatkin, Editor at LAist

Smyth in Chicago. Hands-down. If you only get free babysitting from family once a year, you better go big. And we did. We ended up at the corner table, the best spot in the restaurant for people-watching, which is one of my favorite activities after/during eating. I think we did Smyth’s longest/fanciest tasting menu because see above about the “going big” but we did not do the wine pairings because I don’t drink that much. Everything was delicious and weird and unexpected and thoughtful. Those Michelin stars are well deserved. We enjoyed watching the table of businesspeople next to us get drunker and drunker on what I assume is a corporate expense account. We enjoyed watching the young man, at the table next to us, studiously consider each course as he ate by himself. Some sort of food writer or a hardcore foodie, I’m guessing. It is probably the most $$ my husband and I have ever spent on a restaurant meal and we probably won’t eat like that again for years.

Euno Lee, Eater LA Contributor

This is tough. I’m going to be that guy and list a couple overseas ones:

- Eating sesame noodles at the cramped Weixiangzhai in Shanghai, looking outside and seeing the flurry of Shanghai’s first snow.

- Getting Yang’s shengjianbao delivered to my hotel room in Shanghai (after eating one, I laughed hysterically for about 15 minutes and wasn’t sure if I was supposed to cry)

- Pizza Studio Tamaki in Tokyo as the first (and only) customer there on a chilly Thursday evening. The sheer sprezzatura of Tsubasa Tamaki coolly assembling and instantly cooking the best pizza I’ve ever tasted in my life ... an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Kristie Hang, Food Writer

I was invited to a special one night only “World of Wagyu” Dinner where Chef David Schlosser shut down Shibumi and flew in exclusive Hokkaido Snow Wagyu from Japan. It was a night of Japanese Wagyu and Hokkaido Snow Wagyu tasting. Graded on a 12 point scale, Hokkaido Snow ranks 10 and above compared to USDA which ranks as 4.

Hadley Tomicki, Food Writer

Fuss & Feathers, the historical dinners run by the team at Hatchet Hall. It’s California kaiseki, beautifully presented and fully absorbed in its sense of place and moment.

Garrett Snyder, Food Editor at LA Magazine

A three-hour sushi omakase at Shiki Beverly Hills, with Mori Onodera behind the counter.

Esther Tseng, Food Writer

The Piedmonte tasting menu at Maude. While the ingredient themes were admirably ambitious, I really enjoyed their pivot to focusing on wine regions. Each course was not only eye-opening but delicious and the wine pairings were just fantastic.

Jeff Miller, Freelance writer and founding editor, Thrillist LA

I’m not sure eating in a tent in the Arctic Circle counts as a restaurant meal, but I’m gonna go there: I was in Norway on a press-hustle cruise with Viking and took a crabbing trip out to a teeny-tiny town where my host plucked an enormous crab out of the ocean, boiled it in a cauldron of ocean water, rinsed it in cold ocean water, and then served it immediately. It was sweet and juicy and salty and tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before; it has ruined crab for me entirely. There was extra, and a bunch of people passed on eating more. They were nuts. I voraciously consumed as much as I possibly could, knowing full well that this was likely the only time I’ll ever eat crab that delicious -- or that fresh. I bet I ate 4 lbs of crab. No regrets. At all.

Bill Esparza, Eater LA Contributor

In Los Angeles, the tasting menu at Orsa & Winston is just about the best you can do for such an experience. Mocotó in the Vila Medeiros neighborhood of São Paulo is the most at home I’ve ever felt in a restaurant, from the cachaça selection to the caipifrutas to the sublime northeastern dishes, a level of comfort is served that makes me feel lucky to be alive. I’m there every 3 months and am passing through during this holiday season. This is the best way I can imagine in picking off 2019 with deliciousness.

Gary Baum, Senior Writer at The Hollywood Reporter

In L.A., it was at Bavel. Beyond: Taberna da Rua das Flores in Lisbon.

Stephanie Breijo, Food & Drink Editor at Time Out

There’ve been so many openings I can barely remember what I ate last week without scrolling through reference pics on my phone. But without deep-diving into those, I’d have to say eating Pok Pok wings at the bar at Whiskey Soda Lounge in lieu of cake on my birthday. That was a choice I made this year I could never regret.

Cathy Chaplin, Eater LA Associate Editor

Following a magic show at the Hollywood Roosevelt, a girlfriend and I headed to Majordomo for a night cap. We were seated at the bar in front of the raclette wheel. The drinks and bings we shared were great, but the most memorable bites were the crispy cheese trimmings that periodically appeared in front of us. The combination of thoughtful hospitality and caramelized raclette will stay with me for a while.

Mona Holmes, Eater LA Reporter

There were two. Rinjani’s oxtail soup with tomato, scallions, and fried shallots was sublime, and the mie goreng fried noodles were wonderful. They’ll be missed.

Sitting at Osteria Mozza’s Mozzarella Bar is always a treat. As was the incredible food that included a burrata and peaches dish with prosciutto, ceci, and a cilantro salsa verde.

Farley Elliott, Eater LA Senior Editor

It’s hard to compete, just on flavor, with all the smash burgers and modern Middle Eastern food I’ve had in LA this year, but my vote has to go to Mexico City as a whole. The street food scene is truly unrivaled there, and each taco was better than the last. As a runner-up single item of food to remember: The square slice from Apollonia’s Pizza.

Matthew Kang, Eater LA Editor

I had more than a few amazing omakase meals at Kura Sushi in West Hollywood. Daniel Son is a rising star in the sushi scene and has worked mostly under the radar for years toiling away at this strip mall spot. Majordomo provided some fantastic meals too, but perhaps the best one was the one where David Chang plopped down at our table (not entirely with our permission but we relented) and started commenting on everything we were eating. Dialogue, Somni, and Maude reminded me that LA’s fine dining game is still very strong. But the one ‘meal’ I had this year that I truly enjoyed was the progressive street food tour from Club Tengo Hambre in Mexico, which included incredible tacos, tlacoyos, quesadillas, and guisados. I preferred that meal over the lunches we had at Quintonil and Pujol.

Year in Eater