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LA Restaurant Industry Experts Discuss the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2019

What shocked the Los Angeles restaurant world in 2019?

Breads and pastries from Manufactory
Farley Elliott
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 2019. Here now, LA food writers and editors discuss the biggest dining surprises to happen in the restaurant scene this year.

Gary Baum, features writer and restaurant critic for The Hollywood Reporter

That Tartine’s Manufactory complex has been such a colossal dud. Hopefully the revamp of Tartine Bianco into Pizzeria Bianco will turn it around.

Kristie Hang, Eater LA contributor

That more boba places decided to open up right next to each other. As if the world needed 7 boba shops on one corner in the SGV. Sawtelle has been getting a lot of international brands coming in to the area. I’ve been pretty excited about that.

Andy Wang, writer, Food & Wine

Sunrise Cafe serves excellent Korean stews and a habit-forming katsu curry bowl inside a North Hollywood Ford dealership.

Hadley Tomicki, freelance writer

The number of times I found myself eating at pop-ups or restaurants inside of people’s homes or apartments was extraordinary.

Andrea Chang, LA Times food section deputy editor

I didn’t expect to see so much love for sweets, and the newcomers in particular really brought it: Antico’s ice cream, Pasjoli’s rice pudding, Nightshade’s bowls-on-bowls almond sorbet, Birdie G’s stained glass pie, Auburn’s mushroom caramel yogurt, Bon Temps’ St. Honore. I had more soufflés this year than the rest of my life combined.

Oren Peleg, LA food writer

The Simone saga.

Joshua Lurie, FoodGPS founder

Silver Lake continues to surprise me. I lived there from 2006-2010 and always struggled to find a place to eat in the neighborhood. I recently drove down Sunset Boulevard on a Wednesday night and people were spilling out of places like Night + Market Song and Mh Zh, a sight that was unimaginable when I lived there. Combine that with exciting restaurants like Alimento, All Day Baby, and Needle that opened since I left my Silver Lake Boulevard apartment, and locals have a lot to celebrate.

Euno Lee, Eater LA contributor

Bad Surprise: Tartine Manufactory closing. The real estate in Downtown is selling but there aren’t that many tenants...

Good Surprise: Spoon By H, and how it’s been so unflinchingly and universally embraced. Only in LA, baby.

Bill Esparza, Eater LA contributor

How Mexican-American street vendors have used social media to become “virtual” overnight successes. It’s a beautiful thing to see our community access these tools to market their businesses.

Esther Tseng, LA food writer

Revelator: Bar Avalon. They’re from Atlanta-based Revelator coffee, and operate as a coffeehouse by day, but quietly started dinner service last fall. Chef Joshua Guarneri is creating pretty original spins on Mediterranean flavors on a trim menu, and really excelling at his meats. Sommelier Nathan Muñoz is pouring a very original wine list--and selling bottles at the attached wine shop, to boot.

Stephanie Breijo, Time Out LA editor

Nic Cage singing post-divorce “Purple Rain” in a K-town karaoke bar.

Mona Holmes, Eater LA reporter

Tartine closing all restaurants at Manufactory LA.

Michelin Guide’s return to Los Angeles. Well, not exactly Los Angeles, but all of California. And though the Guide’s rollout had its share of problems, it’s fantastic that some of LA’s best were noticed. Having said that, its long SoCal absence and tourism board-sponsored return was a hard reminder of why the Michelin Guide outlived its usefulness.

Another big surprise wasn’t so much about the physical act of dining, but food writing. I set a calendar reminder to make sure I don’t miss stories from California’s food writers of color which says, “Read Soleil, Tejal, Justin, and Patricia.”

This group of critics and food writers from the Golden State truly shined in 2019. I happily anticipate reading something from San Francisco Chronicle’s Soileil Ho or Justin Phillips, Tejal Rao’s food lens of California at the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times’ Patricia Escárcega. Their narratives resonate with me, and I appreciate their contributions.

Cannabis restaurants. A year ago, I assumed the nation’s first licensed cannabis restaurant would resemble a stereotypical stoner paradise sporting lava lamps, black lighting, Bob Marley posters, bad food, and be a place to avoid at all costs.

But Original Cannabis Cafe defied my expectations and did something we haven’t seen before. They created a viable and new sub-genre within hospitality. That’s powerful. The proof is clear, as Original Cannabis Cafe is one of the hardest restaurants to secure a reservation, and cities everywhere are considering similar cannabis consumption lounge models.

The Original Cannabis Cafe still has many issues to work out. OCC and all 15 future cannabis consumption lounges are dealing with conflicting and outdated state and local laws. This might explain why many aren’t forging ahead with opening plans yet. Plus, I hope management at the Original Cannabis Cafe can iron out its inconsistent tableside service. But there will be more to choose from as the remaining cannabis restaurants/consumption lounges make their way into West Hollywood in 2020.

Cathy Chaplin, Eater LA associate editor

The shuttering of Fiona and Tartine shook me to my pastry-loving core. The adoption and popularity of meat substitutes at fast-food restaurants was incredibly surprising as well.

Farley Elliott, Eater LA Senior Editor

Cannabis. The amount of in-the-works cannabis restaurants for Los Angeles County is staggering, as is the success of Lowell Cafe (now named the Original Cannabis Cafe). And yet we still aren’t having a larger public discussion about the continued incarceration of many tens of thousands of folks for marijuana-related crimes in California and beyond; it’s just big developers with big money playing the game now.

Matthew Kang, Eater LA Editor

LA restaurants are pulling the plug quicker than ever. If something doesn’t work, you change it or close up in less than a year, sometimes less than six months. With the stakes so high I think operators and chefs are figuring out their misfires quicker. Either that or the leashes from investors are much shorter. Or the money runs out faster than expected. Or a dozen other reasons that no one will ever know.

These are the quick closures (one year or less) I’ve seen this year: Fiona, Simone/Duello, Church & State, Tartine/Manufactory, Jaffa, Silver Bough, Pikoh, Kass, Khong Ten, Hayat’s Kitchen (Hollywood), Barbette, Renee Erickson’s General Porpoise, Inko Nito (West Third), Hearth & Hound.