The Southern California city of Inglewood is rapidly changing, thanks in large part to the emergence of some very big, and very wealthy forces. The incoming NFL stadium is set to remake large swaths of the South LA city, though many have wondered aloud what that could do to the unique cultural landscape of the place.
These questions don’t come up directly in LA Times critic Patricia Escárcega’s new review of 12-year-old Burmese restaurant Mutiara, but they are in the background as she notes how “it can feel like all of Inglewood is having lunch” at the restaurant on any given Friday afternoon. The review weaves through off-duty police officers and locals dining practically shoulder to shoulder as owner Myo Aung works the floor, dashing into the kitchen for staples like lamb biryani, goat curry, and naan. In short: It’s places like these that make areas like Inglewood so important to the greater fabric of Los Angeles. She adds:
Sometimes you’ll see regulars order some of the naan and pe byouk to go. What is known as the working person’s breakfast on the streets of Yangon is a hard-to-find indulgence on the streets of Inglewood. Mostly, though, it’s the kind of thing that may inspire you to go back often enough to give Aung a chance to learn your regular order too.
So what exactly should that order be from Mutiara? There’s the tea leaf salad, for starters, and there are always noodles to enjoy across the 80-item menu, but one particular standout is the “excellent” mohinga:
Mutiara’s version uses ground tilapia in favor of the more common catfish, a creamier, less overtly fishy rendition of the soup, laced with slithery rice noodles and thin slices of banana-tree trunk. It’s garnished with a lovely, crisp, fried bean fritter that never quite melts into the broth. The other weekend soup is ohn no khao swè, a thick, meaty coconut chowder of curried chicken and wheat noodles that recalls Malaysian laksa.
Meanwhile across town, co-critic Bill Addison has found what he describes as his best meal to date in Los Angeles at Hayato, the tiny Japanese restaurant tucked inside the Row development. The place is a “tasting-menu wonder,” and Addison cannot get enough. Here’s a description from one single dish from a recent 12-course meal:
For an instant, everything else disappears. The day, the room, the other people, what’s been, what’s coming: It all falls away.
And there’s more:
At his debut restaurant, Go achieves glory with something as subtle as broth, and with a procession of other exquisite ingredients. Looking for the next world-class destination for top-tier dining in Los Angeles? This tiny, singular restaurant is it. Hayato’s specialness can be distilled into Go’s six-word philosophy about the place: “A restaurant is basically a person.” For three hours, aided by a few chefs who dash in and out of sight, Go stands at the counter’s center, wielding chopsticks and knives to compose dishes of profound beauty.
Chef/owner Brandon Go, who recently earned a literal seat on Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs cover, sits at the center of his own seven-seat universe nightly, where there is but a single seating starting promptly at 7 p.m. Solo diners should be able to make a seat work in the near future, Addison advises, but otherwise the place is becoming more and more booked by the day, thanks to its procession of “gorgeous, riveting plates” of food. Still, it certainly sounds worth the effort as well as the $200 per-person price tag.
Mutiara. 225 S. La Brea Ave., Inglewood, CA.
Hayato. 1320 E. 7th St., Los Angeles, CA.