For years now, Downtown LA’s Arts District neighborhood has been seen as a proving ground for restaurants eager to push boundaries. Places like Bestia and Church & State first introduced the area to big flavors, raucous dinnertime crowds, and dining as a form of experiential art, and in the intervening years the area has become home to giant rooftop brunch jungles, underground cocktail dens, some of America’s best Israeli food, and modernist hideaways where the scene is as beautiful as the food. Next up is Yess, a charcoal-fueled corner destination from former London chef Junya Yamasaki that promises to take Los Angeles diners on a tour through California produce, Japanese flavors, and neo-urban design.
Fans will know Yess from its time as a bright orange sashimi food truck that had parked around the Arts District over the past couple of years. The big-thinking rig was run by Yamasaki, one of London’s most talented chefs, and turned out a surprising array of high-end seafood dishes like Hinoki-smoked black cod trays and line-caught sashimi plates. The truck focused primarily on local seafood married with Japanese techniques and served in a surprisingly mellow environment right on the sidewalk.
Yamasaki, along with Brit Giles Clark — who worked under Yamasaki in London and has spent time at Chez Panisse, Alinea and elsewhere — and Chicagoan Jacob Himmel (Momofuku), had always planned to eventually open a restaurant nearby. The trio, meanwhile, used the truck to stay busy during the slow days of the pandemic and to grow a vocal local fanbase. It seems to have worked on both counts.
Now Yess the restaurant is ready for its big reveal. Bathed in natural light that filters in from tall glass block windows, the cement and brick-lined corner location is intent on becoming a new hotspot for the always-busy Arts District. Yamasaki, who previously opened London’s lauded Koya noodle bar before moving back to Japan in 2015 (and then jumping to Los Angeles), will primarily focus on wood-fired and charcoal-fueled grill and stove cooking at the restaurant, crafting a progressive Japanese menu with plenty of smoky touches. There are charred vegetables and braised pork belly bites, lots of skewers and bites of miso-marinated tofu, and heartier options like a grilled beef tataki and a steamed rockfish with Manila clams. Clark is on as sous chef, with Himmel operating as a junior sous, though everyone will be hands-on with production from the open kitchen inside the 1920s-era building. Expect 70-plus seats in all, including a lounge area, tasting menu counter, and private dining room.
Together, Yamasaki, Clark, and Himmel plan to run the highly anticipated Yess while also expanding to other opportunities around Los Angeles, operating under the name Hi Hi Heel Productions. Next up is a Yess Cafe and then Good Brown, a multi-faceted space on Mateo Street, just beyond the 10 freeway, that will serve as a membership club, events space, bar, and restaurant. But first there is Yess the restaurant, which opens this Thursday, April 27 at 2001 E. 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021. Expect hours from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, with Sunday brunch service coming down the line.