Los Angeles has always been an industry leader in restaurant and bar design, and 2021 was no exception. With the difficulties of the past nearly two years stunting openings and setting back debuts across the city, the past 12 months have still yielded a number of well-designed spaces that showcase the breadth and depth of Los Angeles’s restaurant interior architecture.
Some highlights include a return to midcentury modern design but with unexpected touches. Throwbacks to the 1970s and 1960s have gone into everything from sweeping breweries in Mid-Wilshire to a fantastic homage to recording studios of decades past. Outdoor spaces thrived as well, with places like Soulmate, LA Cha Cha Chá, De La Nonna, and Belles Beach House embracing the new reality of al fresco dining. And finally, the grand dining rooms of places like Merois, Intercrew, and the Girl and the Goat, each encompassing classical, blended, and modern design styles that feel fresh and compelling. Here now, these are the prettiest restaurant and bar openings of the past year in Los Angeles.
All Season Brewing
This fantastic retrofit of a former Firestone tire shop along La Brea was one of the best historic projects of the year in Los Angeles from Matt Winter, creating a wide-open space with moving air to give an al fresco feeling and help ease imbibers into the spring 2021’s restaurant and bar reopenings.
LA Cha Cha Chá
One of the city’s most lush outdoor spaces, this second-floor mostly al fresco restaurant embraced the vibes of Mexico City and Los Angeles to a tee, with excellent views of Downtown’s main skyscrapers. The modern Mexican cuisine by Alejandro Guzman and the stellar cocktails made it the hottest Arts District restaurant of the first half of the year.
Wolfgang Puck hadn’t opened a big new LA restaurant since his Downtown establishment WP24, which closed this year. While the ensuing decade produced incredible change in the dining scene in Los Angeles, Puck remains as solid as ever. Merois’s fantastic unfettered views from its Sunset Strip perch at the Pendry West Hollywood are arguably the best in the city right now, with the modern Asian cuisine providing an ideal accompaniment to the vistas.
Mixing sleek midcentury modern vibes with Art Deco accents, this lowkey Glassell Park bar from Michael Lippman and Joshua Weinstein of Bar Bandini was a lovely little neighborhood cocktail destination. It’s the kind of easygoing place to wander in, have a drink, and experience a relaxed Northeast LA bar with the style to match.
Sporting a terrific mix of various design influences by Kelly Architects sprawled across numerous rooms, Soulmate serves a California version of Spanish fare with a towering semi-outdoor patio and a sleek indoor area with an arresting cocktail bar. It’s one of the most fun spaces to wander around in while looking for the restroom.
Tokyo’s famed Afuri ramen made a splash in the Arts District when it opened earlier this year with housemade noodles produced in a separate lab-like space and an airy, gorgeous minimalist space that made each bowl look photo-ready. Slurping up yuzu ramen and sake cocktails shouldn’t feel this effortless.
Thomas Kalb and Vanessa Tilaka worked on this stunning Pasadena space for years, and the design by Oonagh Ryan of ORA is a triumphant use of a 1922 building. With a modern “grandma’s house” feel featuring an open kitchen, vintage photography, and compelling design details, Agnes offers a seamless outdoor experience as well. This marketplace, cheesery, and neighborhood restaurant marked a new direction for Pasadena’s dining scene.
Walter and Margarita Manzke opened their lower Bicyclette Bistro in the former Sotto space along Pico Boulevard, transforming the former underground New York City-style Italian restaurant design into something that felt like it was tucked away down a Parisian back alley. And the food was equally, if not more, stunning — like the onion tart.
The Girl and the Goat
Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s West Coast outpost of her Chicago flagship restaurant looks nothing like the Windy City original. Instead of industrial, charred-wood panels, the Arts District version is bright, airy, lush, and a sight to behold when fully occupied. It’s no surprise that Downtowners have taken to Izard’s Asian-inflected cuisine with ease.
Sonoran-inspired modern Mexican restaurant Esperanza brought Manhattan Beach one of its best-looking new establishments from designer Gulla Jónsdóttir and GAA Architects, which brought a sort of Mexican resort meets Scandinavian minimalist ambience. Jónsdóttir made excellent use of the somewhat small space just steps from the beach, capturing a seaside vibe with compelling lines and materials used across the interior.
One of LA’s most celebrated new Korean barbecue restaurants might also have its best overall ambience, with sweeping lines, dramatic hanging lights, and phenomenal visibility across the space. Daedo serves mostly ribeye in three different cuts on cast iron skillets right at the table, with butchery visible near the entrance. Daedo feels like a sleek Seoul restaurant lifted and placed into Los Angeles’s K-Town.
Koreatown’s grand dining room and cocktail destination Intercrew properly captured the glamour of the midcentury in this part of Los Angeles, back when the former nearby Ambassador Hotel and its Cocoanut Grove were the poshest places in the city to see and be seen. Now in the 21st century, Intercrew’s mix of arresting cocktail bar, midcentury touches, and dynamic lighting make it one of the best new designs in LA. It’s a look that captures evening allure without veering into tackiness in this genre.
Taking over the historic Ye Coach and Horses space that was most recently the Pikey, Horses is the hottest new place in this part of Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard stretch, with stellar cooking from Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian. With a robust British bistro-inspired look and California fare, Horses has had a promising start that should last for a long time.
Belles Beach House
The comparisons to popular HBO series White Lotus came fast and furious when Belles Beach House opened in Venice, but thankfully this new Tiki-inspired restaurant doesn’t have to live with the kind of drama that permeates the show. The tropical vibe is one-of-a-kind in LA, with open wood slats that allow air to flow through 24/7. Belles Beach House has to have a lot of heaters through colder months, but once endless summer arrives in LA (sometime in early April), this will continue to be one of the city’s busiest beachside spots. The solid cooking from Thomas Lim includes everything from fresh sushi to an amazing cheeseburger.
De La Nonna
A place that conjures grandma’s home shouldn’t look this good. With mismatched furniture, hanging lights, and so much greenery, it’s hard to imagine an Italian grandmother having this much style. But De La Nonna provides it in spades, with a visually pleasing red checkered tile and throwback details all around the indoor and outdoor spaces of this square pizza specialist.
There might not be a more arresting space that opened in LA this past year. Taking over a former Hollywood recording studio that now occupies three floors, the place boasts a rooftop outdoor area and enough lounge space to let the party go on for hours. Grandmaster Recorders is a compelling sequel from E.P. and L.P.’s team (let’s say S.O.L. was a daytime spot and not quite this ambitious), a place destined to be in the center of Hollywood’s white-hot nightlife scene.