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A blue and white bowl shows rice and pork belly and veggies and more.
Pork belly rice bowl at Zef BBQ.
Wonho Frank Lee

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The Biggest LA Restaurant Stories in 2021

An exploding street food scene in Lincoln Heights, a homey appreciation for grocery store fried chicken, and more great stories from the year that was at Eater LA

It’s been a year of ebbs and flows for the dining scene across greater Los Angeles, punctuated simultaneously with hope, sorrow, and rehabilitation as LA and its many communities moved through the sophomore year of the global COVID-19 pandemic. And while not every story this year sang a happy tune — ahem, large-scale grocery chains reportedly laying off workers instead of paying more to keep employees safe — it is worth noting that some of Eater LA’s most-read pieces for 2021 involve openings, anticipated new developments, and the resilient street food scene that Angelenos have continued to love for generations. Here now are 10 of the most-read stories from 2021 for Eater LA.


TikTok Is Fueling This Immense Night Market in Lincoln Heights

A tall boozy drink with fruit on top at a night market.
Ave 26 Night Market drink.
Wonho Frank Lee

The Avenue 26 street food scene grew to immense heights this year, with dozens and dozens of vendors crowding around to sell drinks, food, trinkets, and just about anything else to pandemic-weary fans. In the months since Eater LA’s initial reporting, a column in the LA Times called for the outright closure of the Lincoln Heights market; public officials ultimately fenced off the alleyway completely with no notice given to the vendors themselves.


Prop 22 Passed, So Now Hundreds of LA Grocery Stores Are Firing Employees

US-HEALTH-VIRUS-LABOR-SUPERMARKETS-PROTEST
Andrea Zinder, president of UFCW 324 union (United Food & Commercial Workers), addresses a crowd of supermarket workers gathered to protest in front of a Food 4 Less supermarket in Long Beach, California on February 3, 2021.
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been a year of fighting between unions, grocery store workers, tech companies like Uber, and large-scale grocery chains, all mostly centered around hazard pay for employees during the pandemic and the passage of Proposition 22 at the state level. The results have been mostly ugly, with some grocery chains closing stores and letting go of employees entirely.


Downtown LA’s Incredible New Open-Air Restaurant Towers Over 900 Feet High

A table set against a thick pane of glass above a twinkling city.
A table at Vista.
Wonho Frank Lee

The first big Downtown reopening of 2021 was the Vista outdoor space on the 69th floor of the U.S. Bank Tower. The soaring space, operated by Emil Eyvazoff and the 71Above team, provided sweeping views and gusty breezes from almost 1,000 feet above the ground.


Salt Bae Opened His First LA Restaurant Last Weekend, and Almost No One Noticed

The Best FIFA Football Awards 2019 - Green Carpet Arrivals
Nurset Gokcecaka “Salt Bae” arrives on the green carpet ahead of The Best FIFA Football Awards 2019 at Teatro alla Scala on September 23, 2019 in Milan, Italy.
Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Rapidly calcifying Instagram meme Salt Bae “quietly” (or as quietly as is possible for Turkish-born Nusret Gökçe, who loves to put gold on everything) opened in Beverly Hills in May, right next door to the famed Spago. The opening was little-covered, and in the months since the restaurant has reportedly failed to draw much of a return (or any) crowd.


One of California’s Best New Restaurants Smokes Meat in a Simi Valley Garage

Two hands hold a large tray of smoked meat including brisket, photographed from above.
Zef BBQ.
Wonho Frank Lee

One of the biggest LA-area restaurant openings of the year happened inside of a garage in Simi Valley, where the Zef BBQ team turns out smoked meats and a variety of other dishes for an impressive and growing cadre of fans. The husband-wife duo, laid off from their upscale hotel jobs during the pandemic, are now busy crafting some of California’s most inventive new menu items, and eyeing a bigger opening next year.


A Gorgeous New Cocktail Bar Opens Inside Downtown LA’s Historic Bradbury Building

A long marble bar and tufted red bar seats inside of a dimming room with wood and brick.
Wyman Bar inside Downtown LA’s Bradbury Building.
Nikolas Koenig

Just about everyone liked the idea of drinking this year — especially when coupled with the historic architectural marvel that is Downtown’s Bradbury Building. The limited-run, limited-occupancy Wyman Bar has given drinkers the chance to channel their inner Blade Runner vibes, thanks to new owners NeueHouse, who run a co-working space on site.


Here Are All the New Michelin Starred Restaurants in Los Angeles for 2021

Michelin star winners in Huntington Beach
Michelin star winners in Huntington Beach in 2019.
Eater San Diego

After taking a year off due to the pandemic, the big red book returned in full force to California, anointing stars everywhere from Northern California to San Diego. LA featured prominently in this year’s Michelin guidebook, with stars for places like Pasjoli in Santa Monica, Encino’s Pasta Bar, and Orange County fine dining option Knife Pleat.


Everything to Know About West Harbor, LA’s Massive Waterside Dining Development

A rendering of a colorful waterside development with boats coming and going and people in the shade.
A rendering for West Harbor.
Studio 111

The rapidly changing waterside redevelopments of San Pedro have caught the eyes of many readers this year, particularly the incoming West Harbor project that has taken over at the former Ports O’ Call Village. The massive redesign will feature a slew of new restaurants, public events spaces, and more when it opens sometime in 2023.


Tonight’s Dinner Should Be Fried Chicken From an LA Grocery Store

A basket of Krispy Krunchy Chicken.
A basket of Krispy Krunchy Chicken.
Craig Nisker

There are lots of things that make Los Angeles’ dining scene unique, not least of which is the heavy proliferation of grocery stores across the sprawling county. Within each (or most, anyway) writer, Eater LA reporter, and native Angeleno Mona Holmes found a lot to love, particularly at the hot bars, where the fried chicken is always delicious and ready to eat.


Shibumi’s Non-Japanese Chef Takes Aim at Japanese Restaurants for Not Being Japanese Enough

A chef looks out of a window while wearing whites in a semi-dark room.
Chef David Schlosser.
David Schlosser

Downtown chef David Schlosser caught heat this year for some dismissive comments he made regarding Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles. The chef, who spent years cooking in Japan, ultimately apologized for comments that were seen by many to be condescending about Japanese food and culture.

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