Every year, Eater celebrates the best in new dining — a look at the top chefs, restaurants, and design that have opened in the last 12 months and made a big impression on the city. It’s the tenth annual edition of the Eater Awards, happening in 24 cities around the world.
This past year represented one of the most exciting years in recent memory, from the large scale projects in Downtown’s ROW development like Manufactory to the revival of West Hollywood’s iconic Formosa Cafe. Restaurants in every neighborhood from Santa Monica’s slate of contenders like Birdie G’s, Pasjoli, and Fia to Highland Park’s Otoño and Hippo reflected the unique makeup of LA’s diverse landscape. Take a look at the winners below, and why they were such vital additions to the LA dining scene in 2019.
Restaurant of the Year
2019 was the year of Nightshade. Eater Young Gun class of ‘14 chef Mei Lin promised one of LA’s most exciting restaurants, and delivered from the beginning. Everything about Lin’s vision of Asian-inspired dishes with a basis in American comfort fare resonated with diners across the city. In addition, opening pastry chef Max Boonthanakit’s (Eater Young Gun class of ‘19) desserts showed how simple elegance, unexpected flavor combinations, and cheeky presentation go a long way to capping a great meal.
Some thought the intimate but energetic dining room was a little too derivative of a look, but the soft tones, lush greenery, and fully open kitchen embodies everything a restaurant should look and feel like in this current dining era. Back to Lin’s cooking, Nightshade prepares winners from a music album-like array of dishes, from the appealing kanpachi crudo with radish kimchi to the bay scallops soaked in coconut vinaigrette and crispy ginger. The bangers continue with the showstopping tom yum bloomin’ onion and iconic congee. Lin’s pasta courses of squid ink tagliatelle and mapo pork lasagna exude a subtle creativity rarely matched on LA menus.
The savory side finishes with a faultless prawn toast with Cantonese curry and Nashville hot fried quail. And then of course, the desserts cap off the experience with visual delight. 2019 was one of the best LA restaurant years in recent memory, and longtime Angelenos might look back at the end of this decade as a high watermark in LA dining. And among the new restaurants this past year, Nightshade is Eater LA’s unanimous choice. —Matthew Kang
Design of the Year
There’s nothing quite like V DTLA, the lush Downtown restaurant, bar, and lounge space on 7th Street. At first plush, the perfectly-hued room feels like loads of other restaurants around the city, from the pastel pinks and greens to the lightly tufted furniture to the marble bar with its warm underlighting and brass accents. The bartenders themselves hide away under house plants, and the music thrums for corner to corner, just like at, say, Bavel or Nightshade in the Arts District.
But in truth, that’s just the first layer of what V DTLA is. Once the ordering process begins, it’s clear that something else is going on. Customers queue up from the front door to wait for a chance to order with a staff member who stands stationed behind the bar, taking cocktail and food items person by person down the line. Despite the Instagram-worthy backdrop, cocktails hover around $12, and the food is as common menagerie of everyday dishes like pizzas and bar snacks. Soon enough, diners who have left a card on file can shuffle off to a cozy green corner, or tuck upstairs beneath the sloping sculpted ceiling, or linger by the bar with a couple of co-workers.
At V DTLA, it’s all part of the plan, which includes constant tweaks to the ambiance over the course of an evening, either by pumping in smells meant to entice more eating, or switching up a playlist to set a tone. In a city that can hyper-focus on tracking similarities on the plate (i.e. all of the exact hot chicken pop-up replicas around the city), V DTLA skews toward a different direction, betting that customers want to sink themselves into an inviting room specifically calibrated to make them feel welcome — and with prices to match.
There are lots of gorgeous restaurants around Los Angeles right now, from the austere Auburn to the seafood decadence of Angler, but there is no restaurant like V DTLA, where the look is, scientifically speaking, dialed in for maximum effect. —Farley Elliott
Surprise of the Year
Original Cannabis Cafe (formerly Lowell Cafe)
The world’s first licensed cannabis restaurant opened in West Hollywood on October 1. And however anyone feels about Original Cannabis Cafe — formerly Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe — its launch took on a life of its own this fall. International press came from far and wide to assess whether Original Cannabis Cafe would become a joke, or if it could be a legitimate place for cannabis consumers. The buzz was palpable, people everywhere were talking about it. Enthusiasts lined up to nab tables to try chef Andrea Drummer’s snacky non-cannabis food menu and to openly smoke cannabis from bongs, joints, and vapes.
Original Cannabis Cafe’s vibe captures a formerly underground culture with a youthful and attractive staff, chilled out music, and “flower hosts” who help with selecting something to smoke or vape on the premises. It’s a triumph of multiple parties including the Santa Barbara-based Lowell Herb Co and West Hollywood’s cannabis-friendly government. And whether most realize the shift, Original Cannabis Cafe’s opening represented a significant change in the hospitality industry. A new genre within hospitality was born, and many more are on the way. —Mona Holmes