The past 20 months have been a surreal challenge for the restaurant industry, which has weathered an ongoing pandemic, economic upheaval, and myriad labor issues. But even with the uncertainty of the last two years, there have been tireless operators, chefs, workers, and other creative people doing their best to follow their passion for providing amazing food and drink to diners in Los Angeles. The changing environment led to everyone from barbecue pitmasters to Instagram-based pop-up spots adapting with unwavering dedication to their craft. The Eater Awards was on hiatus last year but returns this year to encompass openings that took place going all the way back to the beginning of 2020.
Here now, the editorial staff presents 2021’s Eater LA Awards.
Best New Restaurant: Bridgetown Roti
The top overall restaurant for 2020 and 2021 was a pop-up from talented chef Rashida Holmes, who compiled the food of Barbados into an easy-to-appreciate collection of flavor-packed dishes like a red pepper smoked goat paratha roti, salted cod fritters, oxtail patties, and snackable doubles (curried chickpea flatbreads). The food would be impressive in any context, but there’s a finesse here despite its takeout packaging. The rotis are wrapped tightly, filled with a balance of ingredients so that the ever-so-stringy goat or tender chicken curry provides a satisfying, comforting bite while the piquant, intense sauces pack a spicy, tangy punch. Serving at Smorgasburg on Sundays and at an Arts District cloud kitchen, Bridgetown is a celebration of how even a city like LA, with its immense diversity, still benefits from a compelling addition of new-school Caribbean fare. — Matthew Kang
Note: Eater LA reporter Mona Holmes is related to Rashida Holmes, but was not involved in its discussions or its selection as an Eater Award winner.
Best New Modern Mexican Restaurant: Mírame
Modern Mexican cuisine thrives in the heart of Beverly Hills, where Joshua Gil serves the rustic, unabashed flavors of Baja California, whose cuisine draws on its Mediterranean climate and Pacific Ocean ingredients, much like LA’s. Think artichoke and summer truffle tostadas, an ultra-crisp starter of salmon skin chicharron served with whipped black garlic, and Puerto Nuevo-style langoustine tacos. The former chef of Tacos Punta Cabras, Gil’s return to the LA dining scene means Angelenos get a chance to taste one of the city’s most brilliant chefs in his prime, serving things like the showstopping deep-fried snapper in masa tomatillo jus, which comes with big floppy heirloom blue corn tortillas. — Matthew Kang
Best New Food Stall: Holy Basil
Downtown LA has needed a standout Thai restaurant, with so many terrific examples of the cuisine in other neighborhoods. Holy Basil began at Smorgasburg but graduated to a takeout stall in Downtown serving an expanded menu of its flavorful classics like pad thai, chicken wings, and green curry from Deau Arpapornnopparat and Joy Yuon. But the menu has memorable flavors that will surprise even the seasoned lover of Thai food, like a dry-aged salmon ceviche with fish sauce, palm sugar, and bird’s eye chile. Crispy pork belly tops the pad kee mao, stir-fried to perfection with buoyant rice noodles and crunchy red peppers. There’s a clear appreciation for beloved, familiar noodles, soups, and snacks while ensuring every dish has that extra level of goodness. One only wishes they had this kind of Thai takeout in every LA neighborhood. — Matthew Kang
Best New Neighborhood Restaurant: Jerusalem Chicken
Since opening in February 2021, Jerusalem Chicken has slowly built a regular customer base for its distinctly Palestinian approach. Though this is a Middle Eastern kitchen, there isn’t a kebab to be found on the premises. Instead, at the core of Jerusalem Chicken’s menu are the roast chicken options in four different styles: sumac; lemon and garlic; onion and potatoes; or stuffed with rice, mushrooms, and beef. The flavors are bold, the hummus incredibly creamy, and falafel perfectly crispy.
This family-owned business comes from siblings Mo and Jasmine Othman. Their parents own the mini-chain Orleans & York with interesting backgrounds of their own (mother Maria is Cuban and father Sami is Palestinian). Both View Park/Windsor Hills businesses sit in the same shopping complex on the corner of Slauson and Overhill, but Jerusalem Chicken’s sky-blue exterior is impossible to miss. Jasmine Othman loves the location and hopes to keep residents close by. “It’s a very supportive neighborhood, having been there since 2015. We try to give good food so they don’t have to go out of the area.” — Mona Holmes
Best New Social Justice-Minded Restaurant: Bé Ù
How does a restaurant address the forces of gentrification? Uyên Lê, the chef and owner of Bé Ù in Virgil Village, believes it’s all about the triple bottom line: social justice, economic justice, and environmental sustainability. Inside this unsuspecting incubator for progressive ideals, Lê’s menu of Vietnamese comfort fare is priced for those who live in the rent-controlled neighborhood. From caramelized pork with eggs to bò lá lốt (grilled beef-stuffed wild betel leaves) and popcorn chicken with a garlicky aioli, Bé Ù serves food that’s as accessible as it is craveable.
Additionally, Lê is committed to paying her workers above-market wages, prioritizing their health and safety, and fostering a respectful and equitable culture. The cooking is superb, but it’s Lê’s deep commitment to making change within a historically exploitative industry that makes Bé Ù one to visit time and again. — Cathy Chaplin
Best New Bakery: Gusto Bread
It’s been a heck of a ride for Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino of Gusto Bread. The Long Beach partners first opened their home bakery on a residential street in 2017, turning out naturally leavened loaves of bread, pastries, cookies, and more from what was otherwise their living room, part of a growing movement of home bakers and cottage industry operators that has taken hold in Southern California’s food scene. Leaning into heritage grains, pan-Latin flavors and techniques, and the kind of pride that comes with being hometown heroes, the pair have managed to open their storefront on Long Beach’s busy Fourth Street.
The pandemic opening has not slowed the pair down one bit. They currently produce some of greater LA’s most flavorful and thoughtful breads and pan dulce, relying on organic flours, local producers, and a lot of heart. It’s been a journey, for sure, but Enciso and Salatino insist that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than beautiful Long Beach. — Farley Elliott