From brand new openings to the biggest snubs, the LA Times “101 Best Restaurants” list is likely to garner opinions from every direction. Here now, Eater LA staffers consider and react to the annual best-of rankings.
Farley Elliott, Eater LA Senior Editor
There’s a lot to love here.
Even at a sprawling 101 restaurant slots (with room for some collectivization under one chef, as is the case with the so-called “Centenoplex” and “Mozzaplex”), no compilation of bests or most relevant can ever be fully realized. That is to say, the LA Times seems to have left off more than a few contender restaurants from its 2019 rankings. Here are just a few:
Tacos 1986, the upstart street stand that earned glowing praise from co-critic Bill Addison. Guerrilla Tacos, one of the city’s boundary-pushing Alta California restaurants in the Arts District. Neither Moo’s Craft Barbecue or Slab is represented, though each is considered to be among the most relevant current smoked meat restaurants in the city. There is no Angelini Osteria, the timeless Italian classic, and no Otium and no Redbird and no Antico. Some newer restaurants make a stunning debut (Bon Temps at 22), while others (Pasjoli, for example) are nowhere to be found.
But all of that is to say: Good! The LA Times has no small task when it comes to compiling a list of forever favorites and white-hot newcomers in the endless Los Angeles dining scene, and — while some omissions may well be a subtle nod to those absent restaurants to step it up, as it were — there simply is not enough room to include everyone that is worthy of praise. Instead this year’s 101 list feels like it has a viewpoint, that it is shedding some of its storied history (no Animal, for example) and moving forward into a new direction, naming the revered no-booze strip mall Taiwanese restaurant Kato at #1 overall, and Sonoratown at #5.
Good for the Times for pressing on in 2019, in the face of increased competition from big names like the Michelin Guide. Good for them for taking a whole bunch of stances here, even if it means restaurants like the heartfelt Glendale family operation Mini Kabob get left off the list, despite a glowing episode on the Times new video series Off Menu. Big rankings like these should say as much about the folks who are doing the chronicling as they do about the quality of the restaurants themselves, but all too often in the past they have said almost nothing at all. This year, the Times is speaking louder than it has in a long time, and that is very, very good for LA.
Mona Holmes, Eater LA Reporter
The Los Angeles Times “101 Best Restaurant” list is ambitious and clearly a labor of love. Co-critics Patricia Escárcega and Bill Addison knew the 101 list was a serious undertaking, as Jonathan Gold updated this every year until his death in 2018. It doesn’t take a list like this to realize that both take their roles very seriously, and both clock in with reviews every week.
About that list. It spans from Alhambra to Whittier, and Escárcega and Addison gave equal love to Mexican, Japanese, and Middle Eastern restaurants. It’s great that they acknowledge and understand the importance of Mariscos Jaliscos, the outstanding Holbox, and old-school La Casita Mexicana, while giving love to Osawa and Niki Nakayama’s n/naka. They gave solid attention to Taste of Tehran, Bavel, and The Exchange. Plus, I always learn something fascinating and unique about a restaurant’s menu, ingredients, and design.
I’m sure it was challenging to narrow the list, but South Los Angeles deserves additional attention. Alta Adams is fantastic, but so are the iconic Coni’Seafood and Mariscos y Sushi Los Tomateros in Lynwood. Further south are Long Beach’s Phnom Penh Noodle Shack in all its delicious splendor, and back towards LA is the spectacular Noree Thai. Owners Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip’s food is some of the city’s best, as are their smiles.
My biggest question is for Escárcega. She gave a recent glowing review of Spoon & Pork and even wrote “the patita is the most compelling pork dish I’ve eaten in months.” Why omit an experience like this?
Matthew Kang, Eater LA Editor
The first thing I did last night after seeing the epic LA Times “101 Best Restaurants” list is text one of the publication’s staffers that I loved what they did. Compiling such a massive and helpful list for the country’s best dining scene is no easy task. Here are my various takes on the list in bullet form since paragraphs are so 2018:
- Kato at number one is a huge coup for a tiny but ambitious restaurant in a nondescript West LA strip mall. Jon Yao has been doing incredible work with a small but dedicated staff, earning a Michelin star this year and hoping for more. There are many restaurants that could have earned this spot but Kato is no surprise for anyone who has experienced its food.
- Republique at number two is a safe, reliable pick that makes a ton of sense for how versatile it is from day to night, from cocktails to wine, to baked goods to desserts. Walter and Margarita have a bona fide classic that represents the best of Los Angeles dining in an iconic space (RIP Campanile) that brims with energy and warmth.
- Sonoratown is a fantastic taqueria and deserving of much praise, but a number five placement seems high to me, especially with Tacos 1986, El Ruso, and Guerrilla Tacos getting snubbed from the list.
- I’ve said this for a few years now, but end the “Plexes.” Let Chi Spacca, Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, Orsa & Winston, Bar Amá, and Baco Mercat stand on their own. If I were to rank just those six “Plex” restaurants, I’d put them in this order: Orsa & Winston, Pizzeria Mozza, Chi Spacca, Osteria Mozza, Bar Ama, Baco Mercat. Lucky for Angelenos, they’re all fantastic restaurants with their own identities.
- Let’s not minimize Dialogue’s very high number six placement. This is a massive achievement for Dave Beran and his team. It’s the third highest tasting menu restaurant from LA on the list (Taco Maria at #3 is great, but that’s in OC) after N/Naka and Kato, beating out rivals like Trois Mec, Somni, Orsa & Winston, Hayato, Providence, and Le Comptoir. Bill Addison gave a rave review of Beran’s Santa Monica restaurant when he was a critic at Eater, and it seems his opinion of the place hasn’t changed much.
- The representation of Mexican restaurants is truly remarkable, from Burritos La Palma to Mariscos Jalisco to Broken Spanish. Some say Los Angeles would be the second largest city in Mexico if you considered its Mexican population. The only snub here: Gish Bac, which sits firmly in the Eater Essential 38.
- Why are Somni and The Bazaar listed together? Somni is a top 10 LA restaurant. The Bazaar, while very good, isn’t in the same echelon. I’d place The Bazaar somewhere in the middle of the 101.
- Grand Central Market isn’t quite what it used to be, and at #20, a bit too high despite its importance to the city and especially Downtown. How many times have you recommended it to visitors in the past year?
- If pressed, I would probably put Majordomo at number one on my own personal 101. LA Times has it at #21, which is still very respectable. Maybe it’ll creep up in the next few years.
- Bon Temps might be the highest new addition on the list at #22, and it is worthy of the accolade.
- The highest rated standalone Italian restaurant in Los Angeles (so not including Mozzaplex) is Rossoblu at #17. A massive honor for Steve Samson and company, who are competing among many wonderful Italian places.
- Remember Jonathan Gold’s last 101 list and how it glaringly left off Felix? Evan Funke’s pasta palace is listed at #49.
- Other big new entrants that opened this year (or late 2018): Porridge & Puffs, Auburn, Northern Thai Food Club, Ototo, Birdie G’s, Angler, Nightshade, Alta Adams, Konbi, Yours Truly, Hippo, Dear John’s. If I were to personally order just the new restaurants, I would list them as such: Nightshade, Bon Temps, Angler, Porridge & Puffs, Auburn, Alta Adams, Ototo, Northern Thai Food Club, Konbi.
- Major snubs: Otium, Pasjoli (maybe it opened too latee), Gish Bac, Antico, Sushi Note, Elite, Seongbukdong, Spago (seriously), Mizlala, Animal, Luv2Eat/Noree, Coni’Seafood, Freedman’s Deli, anything Japanese in the South Bay. I could keep going here.
- Vespertine was the late Jonathan Gold’s top LA restaurant two years ago. And in 2019, it’s #101.
Cathy Chaplin, Eater LA Associate Editor
But where are the cheeseburgers? From one list writer to another, I get that it’s impossible to please everyone when it comes to compiling these things. Even with geographic diversity and culinary variety taken into account, there will always be a gem or two that don’t make the cut. Hamburgers, however, are the lifeblood of Los Angeles, and it was a pity to not find a single slinger celebrated on the list.
There’s something wonderfully quintessential about driving up to an old fast-food stand like Mom’s Burgers in Compton or Bill’s Hamburgers in Van Nuys, grabbing a seat under the faded awning, and diving headfirst into a cheeseburger and fries. Satisfying sustenance in a sprawling metropolis can be hard to come by, but this combination does it time and again.