Welcome to the Year in Eater 2021 — an annual tradition that looks back at the highs, lows, and in-betweens of Los Angeles’s restaurant scene. Today, LA’s finest food writers, editors, and reporters share their best restaurant meals from 2021.
Caroline Pardilla, Freelance Writer and Eater LA Contributor
Honestly it was the pork chop and martini at Musso & Frank back when it reopened in May after having been closed since July 2020. I was finally fully vaccinated and this was my first date night dinner inside a restaurant. I almost felt normal again and had forgotten how much I missed the red leather booths, the waiters in their red jackets, that martini with sidecar...date night!
Cathy Chaplin, Eater LA Associate Editor
Eating dim sum indoors at Capital Seafood in Arcadia after months of ordering takeout was simply glorious. I also enjoyed lovely dinners in Pasadena at Perle, Saso, and Agnes. And outside of LA, lunch under the relentless Bakersfield sun was beyond worth it at Punjabi Dhaba.
Danielle Dorsey, LA Thrillist Editor
My best restaurant meal is a toss-up between chef Suzanne Goin’s Caldo Verde and Caboco in the Arts District. You could close your eyes and point at the Caldo Verde menu and couldn’t go wrong, but whatever you do make sure you order the beef cheeks! For Caboco, I recommend the dadinhos de tapioca (fried tapioca cubes bursting with melted cheese!) and the caipirinha menu (because you need to try all of them).
Esther Tseng, Freelance Food Writer
Phenakite. Minh Phan takes you on a very personal journey through 10 courses, or at least it seems I had learned so much about her by the time the dessert course had been eaten. The courtyard, tree-ensconced experience provides the perfect setting to impart her refreshing, feminine point of view that never forgets where it came from, thanks to the meticulously curated pickles that are threaded through the meal—and down to the porridge dish with its bits of pan-smoked abalone that are the main prize, more precious little gems that were born of Phan’s varied, high-pressure life’s experiences.
Evan Kleiman, Good Food host
Tie between Alta Adams and KinKan.
Farley Elliott, Eater LA Deputy Editor
You know, it might be Carlitos Gardel. The old-school Argentine steakhouse meal was one of my first on-site meals back this year, and the combination of quality, history, and care made it incredibly memorable for me. As always, restaurants are about much more than just the food.
Hillary Dixler Canavan, Eater Restaurant Editor
My best restaurant meal of 2021 was probably the first time I went out with a good friend post-vax to Hippo. We hadn’t seen each other without masks on in so long, the meal was made all the better by the fact that we could hug and hang out worry free. I wanted to go to Hippo so I could really feel like I was having a night out — not just a meal. And as ever, that restaurant over-delivered.
Josh Lurie, FoodGPS.com Founder
My wife and I bundled several celebrations into one stupendous dinner at Hayato, Brandon Hayato Go’s seven-seat kaiseki counter at ROW DTLA. His menu is highly seasonal, but katsuo (skipjack tuna) grilled over smoldering hay; grilled kinki (channel rockfish) served with caramelized, coal-roasted lotus root; and the saikyo miso black cod and mitsuba donabe were standout dishes.
Lesley Suter, Eater Travel Editor
It’s a toss-up between a big birthday dinner at Bavel where we ordered basically the entire menu and everything was as close to perfect as it can be. And Horses, which is just spot on.
Matthew Kang, Eater LA Editor
In Los Angeles, probably Angler and Pasjoli are tied, while Leo in Bogotá might be the top overall.
Mona Holmes, Eater LA Reporter
I made it up to Palm Springs last month and was dazzled by Monsoon, a tiny, longstanding restaurant nestled in a strip mall. But no meal from 2021 will surpass chef Chad Colby’s Antico Nuovo, from the unique handmade pastas to the fantastic wine list, or the beautifully cooked and saucy bone-in ribeye.
Nicole Adlman, Eater Cities Manager
Is this a trick question? One answer is impossible: my birthday weekend trail from Loquita in Santa Barbara to Bettina in Montecito to Bell’s in Los Alamos stands out as the best series of meals I had this year; we also had a team meal at Needle in Silver Lake in July that blew my mind with its bold family-style preparations. I had a memorable night at Little Prince in Santa Monica this summer with flowing natural wine and a dry-aged beef tartare tostada I still think about (almost) daily.
Patricia Kelly Yeo, Food & Drink Editor, TimeOut L.A.
An October meal at KinKan, where the chef (Nan) and team brought out adorable yuzu custard puddings and sang Happy Birthday. We sat at the chef’s counter and talked to other guests, which would have been unthinkable last fall. The care taken with each dish and the coziness of the setting helped the memory of the excellent Thai-Japanese omakase stick with me.