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A hand grips a cheesy double patty burger.
Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed pop-up.
Farley Elliott

The 21 Best Dishes Eater LA Editors Ate in 2021, Mapped

Mining LA’s dining gems to uncover the best bites of the past year

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Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed pop-up.
| Farley Elliott

The editors at Eater LA highlight our best dishes each week on the site, so it’s only appropriate with 2021 drawing to a rapid close to name our very best dishes of the year. From Korean cold noodles to dry-aged branzino and cinnamon rolls worth crossing county lines for, here now are the 21 best dishes Eater editors ate this year, presented geographically from north to south.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. Please be aware of changing local rules, and check individual restaurant websites for any additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination site here.

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Daily lunch combo at Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena

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Pasadena is awash in fantastic Indian food, from sit-down spots to weeknight takeaway joints, and everything in between. One of the very best, locals swear, is Namaste Spiceland, a dual marketplace and counter service restaurant on Hill Avenue, just south of the 210. The open space isn’t sprawling in the way that a Costco might be, but that’s okay; the grocery shopping here still allows for plenty of spices, sauces, frozen samosas, and roti to make it into the shopping bag — along with piles of chana masala, paneer jafrezi, and warm basmati rice. Combo plates are plentiful and astoundingly delicious, particularly when paired with sweets from the attached deli case. —Farley Elliott

Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Farley Elliott

Loaded baked potato dumplings at Agnes in Pasadena

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Whether you’re seated in the main dining room with views of the wood-burning hearth or in the idyllic patio out back (or even in one of the cozy nooks in the cheesery), get a table at Agnes to taste some of the most creative cooking in Pasadena. A Saturday night included an arugula salad topped with duck pastrami, chicken liver mousse fancily piped atop cornbread eclairs, a souped-up take on a Choco Taco, and best of all — a deconstructed baked potato masquerading as a pasta dish. The loaded baked potato dumplings brings together classic toppings like broccoli, cheddar, and bacon, and presents them in a fun and delicious new light. The delicate dumplings make for an ideal canvas, while a flourish of shoe string potatoes adds crunch and flair. —Cathy Chaplin

Loaded baked potato dumplings at Agnes in Pasadena.
Loaded baked potato dumplings at Agnes in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Cauliflower shawarma at B’Ivrit pop-up

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It’s impressive to watch Amit Sidi work. The one-woman pop-up show is a blur of scoops and swipes, sauces and meatless shawarma. Sidi has been perfecting her craft throughout the pandemic, offering vegan Israeli food at places like Melody Wine bar and longtime pop-up spot Glendale Tap — but she still handles just about everything herself, from the falafel to the hummus on down. The result is a menu made with love, and perfect for a warming spring season where eating a little lighter doesn’t have to mean sacrificing on flavor. The well-seasoned, just-soft-enough cauliflower ‘shawarma’ is a prime example of just that, the kind of LA-perfect meal that is best enjoyed on a sunny patio, drink in hand, with an eye on Sidi as she hustles up the next order. It’s always a joy to see people love what they do. Check Instagram for next pop-up location. —Farley Elliott

Cauliflower shawarma from B’Ivrit pop-up.
Cauliflower shawarma at B’Ivrit pop-up.
Farley Elliott

Dim sum at Capital Seafood in Arcadia

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Giddy doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt to dine-in at Capital Seafood for dim sum earlier this year. After months of only ordering takeout, I’d missed the timeless routine of pencilling in my dim sum order on the paper form, mixing the tableside chile oil and soy sauce into a pitch-perfect condiment, and receiving efficient but very indifferent service. It was the little things that made this a meal to remember. That, and the tremendous flavors captured in every steamer. None of the 10 dishes ordered was a snoozer — from the expertly seared radish cakes to the delicate shrimp-filled dumplings and the wonderfully plush salted egg yolk custard buns. I considered dim sum to be a fine tradition before the pandemic, but after a year in lockdown I am convinced that it’s the greatest dining ritual of all time. —Cathy Chaplin

Dim sum at Capital Seafood in Arcadia.
Dim sum at Capital Seafood in Arcadia.
Cathy Chaplin

Naengmyeon at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel

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There’s nowhere I’d rather be than in front of a bowl of Korean cold noodles when the sun’s blazing and temperatures are climbing. My current favorite bowl of naengmyeon is served at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel, which bests Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun in Koreatown, in my humblest of opinions. The naengmyeon’s icy, tangy, and highly slurp-able broth cools from the inside, while its thin and chewy buckwheat noodles are light but filling somehow. Hot mustard and vinegar is served on the side for adjusting the soup’s profile, but I find it pitch-perfect as-is. —Cathy Chaplin

Naengmyeon at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel.
Naengmyeon at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel.
Cathy Chaplin

Cornish game hen with roasted dandelion panzanella at Horses in Hollywood

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It’s a pleasure to find a restaurant I am dying to revisit. Not only because co-owners Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian repurposed one of LA’s most beloved and historic spaces, but because they know how to put a joyful room together, where it’s informal but sports white tablecloths, curated a playlist with selections that mirror my personal style, and establishing a youthful place that feels completely respectful to its past. There’s no hype about this place, just carefully selected elements that make Horses resonate in the best way. Now onto the food. One bite of my spatchcocked cornish hen gathered an incredible mouthful of butter and herbs, but the contrasting crispy panzanella kept me quiet while the rest of my party continued the conversation. As a generous diner, I’m usually the first person to offer a shared bite, but this is one of those dishes that kept me from speaking up. The formula works: a new and old room paired with incredible service, good company, and a stunning glass of pinot, this is my official LA joint. —Mona Holmes

An angled photo on a white background of a plate with a full roasted chicken atop.
Cornish game hen with roasted dandelion panzanella at Horses in Hollywood.
Wonho Frank Lee/Eater LA

Umami onion rings at Ardor in West Hollywood

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Chef John Fraser’s gorgeous West Hollywood restaurant will make you feel glamorous the second you walk in the door. We sat on the edge of the lush plant-filled patio that makes you feel like a voyeur overseeing the elegantly dressed crowd. While engaging in the immensely satisfying practice of people watching, immediately order the Manhattan and umami onion rings. When onion rings are made by fast-food restaurants, they’re delicious. But with Fraser’s skill, they are a must-eat. They check all the requirements for a perfect onion ring. Post-bite, the onion remains intact. The rings are not remotely oily. And as a bonus, the proprietary umami powder makes Ardor’s side dish into one I will return for, even if sitting at the bar for a drink along with the soft, comforting milk bread layered with beefsteak tomatoes. —Mona Holmes

Umami onion rings at Ardor in West Hollywood.
Umami onion rings at Ardor in West Hollywood.
Cathy Chaplin

Banh xeo at Bun Mam Cay Dua in Rosemead

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Rosemead newcomer Bun Mam Cay Dua makes a Mekong River Delta specialty called bun mam — a noodle soup with an anchovy-laced broth and slippery rounded rice noodles. Though bun mam can be too funk-forward for some, it’s one of my favorites in the Vietnamese noodle soup canon. The version at Cay Dua was solid — with plenty of roasted pork, fish cakes, and eggplant to round out the bowl — but the most spectacular dish on the table was the banh xeo. Fried to order with crispy edges and a fine bit of char, the banh xeo was filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. All that it needed was to be wrapped in leafy greens and dunked in fish sauce. I came for the bun mam, but will return for the banh xeo. —Cathy Chaplin

Banh xeo at Bun Mam Cay Dua in Rosemead.
Banh xeo at Bun Mam Cay Dua in Rosemead.
Cathy Chaplin

Special pan-fried rolls at Congee in Alhambra

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I came to Congee for the namesake dish (the bowl with pork and preserved egg is excellent, as is the one with silken chicken and Maggi), but all I could think about after leaving the restaurant was the pan-fried cheong fun. Congee serves two versions of this Cantonese specialty — one ladled with stewed beef hunks and tendons and a simpler take that is cooked in a wok with a thick soy sauce. The tender rice rolls arrive tightly coiled and deeply caramelized, with the breath of the wok imparting its unmistakable sear and flavor onto every bite. A few lashes of the tableside XO sauce available on the condiment caddy dialed up the dish’s umami factor to an 11. —Cathy Chaplin

Special pan-fried rolls at the Congee in Alhambra.
Special pan-fried rolls at Congee in Alhambra
Cathy Chaplin

Brisket, smoked turkey, and more at Moo’s Craft Barbecue in Lincoln Heights

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Moo’s Craft Barbecue had one mission: to bring the excellence of Texas barbecue to Los Angeles. And based on my experience eating through Central Texas’s barbecue destinations, I can say with confidence that Moo’s has absolutely succeeded. The meats here exude the moist, juicy barbecue imbued with deep smoke flavor that one would expect in Texas’s Hill Country and beyond. The bark on the brisket had a dark, peppery bite while the sausages were packed with well-ground meat. The sides are also terrific, from the dense chili and crisp coleslaw to the esquites that would one would expect to see on a menu in LA. I’m somewhat surprised Moo’s doesn’t get hours long lines every day, and it just might get those queues in due time. —Matthew Kang

Brisket, smoked turkey, and more at Moo’s Craft Barbecue in Lincoln Heights.
Brisket, smoked turkey, and more at Moo’s Craft Barbecue in Lincoln Heights.
Matthew Kang

Koji-cured hangar steak tostada at Mírame in Beverly Hills

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The dining scene in Beverly Hills illustrates the strength of revenge spending at its finest, from the loaded outdoor areas at Spago and Nusr-et to the jovial patio at Wally’s. Mírame is no different, with its bustling front patio, with mezcal cocktails, Rolexes, and luxe tacos flexing outward to the Golden Triangle. Joshua Gil’s menu has expanded a bit since opening last year, but the quality and execution are just as good, perhaps even sharper. While starters like the salmon skin chicharron with fermented garlic aioli and the guac with salsa trio are solid as ever, the reason to come here are the tostadas. The artichoke and truffle tostada, with avocado, tomatillos, and summer truffle, is one of the most inventive vegetable dishes in LA right now (I could do without the truffle personally, but this is Beverly Hills), while this koji-cured hangar steak has spades of umami. The grilled steak comes loaded with mushrooms and pickled pearl onions, which means it’s a certified challenge to eat it all without the toppings coming out. It’s worth the effort. —Matthew Kang

Koji-cured hangar steak at Mírame in Beverly Hills.
Koji-cured hangar steak tostada at Mírame in Beverly Hills.
Matthew Kang

Pork neck ssam at Majordomo in Chinatown

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When I heard that Priedite Barbecue — the sometimes-stationary, sometimes-roving smoker operation that shares a lot with Bell’s in Los Alamos — announced a pop-up at Majordomo in Chinatown, I had to make a pilgrimage. Along with Nick Priedite’s barky, mind-numbingly tender Central Texas–style brisket, the Majordomo team put forth an assortment of smoked meats for its ssam (served with butter lettuce, shiso leaves, and thinly cut daikon) and ssamjang sauce, including pork belly, pork neck, and the restaurant’s short rib, the latter sliced from what looks like a Stegosaurus bone into thin sheets perfect for packing on the citrusy shiso. Paired with sides like stewed-down ham and beans, kimchi, escabeche, and mustard seed–flecked coleslaw, the pork neck, which took the longest to arrive to my table, was also the most satisfying bite — especially when topped with Majordomo’s classic ssamjang and a thick coil of kimchi. —Nicole Adlman

Pork neck ssam with kimchi and butter lettuce at Majordomo. Nicole Adlman/Eater LA

Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed pop-up

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Don’t let the name fool: Heavy Handed isn’t just another ultra-smashed burger spot. This mostly Westside pop-up operation — known for its short rib patties and beef tallow fries — offers slightly thicker, extra-rich burgers that may technically belong in the smashed conversation, but are really much, much more. The duo of Danny Gordon (of Flatpoint Barbecue, another pop-up) and friend Max Miller have bopped around the city in 2021, moving from ongoing pop-up locations in Venice to one-off events at breweries, catered parties, and anywhere else they feel ike cooking. The word is out with fans who follow their weekly moves for those slightly seared, extra cheesy burgers. As always with Los Angeles, it is street food perseverance that keeps the people happy. Check Instagram for pop-up dates and locations. —Farley Elliott

Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed.
Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed in Venice.
Farley Elliott

Dry-aged salmon at Holy Basil in Downtown

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The dry-aged salmon ceviche is so delicious that it really has no place being served in a thin paper bowl atop fresh Chinese celery, scallions, onions, and fish sauce. The steelhead salmon just melts in the mouth with a long finish of buttery fish, contrasted with the crunch and crisp of the accoutrement. It’s not cheap here at $18, but served in a full-service restaurant in a different part of the city, the dish could easy go for twice that. Diners benefit from the unassuming location of Holy Basil, placed into a not-completed food hall in Downtown. The chicken curry special, tom yum goong, pad kee mao, and green curry are among the best examples of such dishes that I’ve tasted in LA in recent memory. In fact, based on the early sampling, Holy Basil could very well be the best new Thai restaurant to open in the city since Luv2eat Thai Bistro. —Matthew Kang

Barbecue chicken and dry-aged salmon ceviche at Holy Basil.
Dry-aged salmon from Holy Basil in Downtown.
Holy Basil

Dry-aged branzino at Etta in Culver City

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Is it just me or is grilled branzino the new roasted Jidori chicken of Los Angeles? A somewhat healthy protein that’s relatively easy to procure and sports wide appeal on menus, branzino seems to be on every modern LA menu that has any whiff of Mediterranean in it. I’m not complaining at all because I love branzino. And the tender fish is even better when it’s been dry-aged for a few days thanks to the Joint Seafood in the Valley, which supplies the flavorful product to Etta in Culver City. Etta has already managed to be one of the busiest restaurants in town, with a sizable dining room and wide outdoor patio that’s really friendly to dogs (seriously, they have a branded hanker-chief for your pup).The menu has plenty of highlights, from the casarecce bolognese to the fire-licked green beans, but this dry-aged branzino is the winner. Nicely browned skin basted with a lemony caper sauce gives way to flaky white flesh that exudes an extra punch of umami thanks to the aging. —Matthew Kang

Grilled dry-aged branzino at Etta in Culver City.
Dry-aged branzino from Etta in Culver City.
Matthew Kang

Liberty duck kebabs at Birdie G's in Santa Monica

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I’ve had the liberty duck kebab at Birdie G’s on many visits to the restaurant, most memorable when it featured roasted duck with sliced turnips over a sweet (but not too sweet) rhubarb sauce the color of a Mattel dream car. The duck was ridiculously tender, providing a nice contrast to the bite and earthy flavor of the turnip as well as the nectar-y rhubarb sauce. It felt like both dinner and dessert, a Wonka-esque manifestation of the three-course chewing gum that ousts Violet Beauregarde from the factory. In this dish, you get a main course, vegetable side, and dessert in one bite; you’ll be thinking about it long after your real main courses and desserts arrive. —Nicole Adlman

Liberty duck kebabs at Birdie G’s in Santa Monica.
Liberty duck kebabs at Birdie G’s in Santa Monica.
Jeremy Fox

Dry-aged tartare tostada at Little Prince in Santa Monica

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At some point during the pandemic, Santa Monica’s not-so-hidden gem Little Prince transitioned to a bottle shop and market — the Providore — serving the neighborhood and other local fans; in July, the restaurant finally reopened with dinner and Sunday brunch. Although there is a slew of standout dishes — a bed of heirloom bean stew with fatty bacon and an unexpected peanut crunch, glistening bone marrow brioche served with wildly airy marrow mousse, crispy duck leg confit in a hazelnut hoisin sauce with cucumber and herb salad — I fell for the dry-aged beef tartare tostada, which was brighter and more spiced than the usual tartare-and-bread renditions you find at steakhouses. This version, flecked with Sichuan pepper and chile de arbol, mixed with egg yolk and tangy salsa, was the best two-bites of tartare I’ve had — the tostada the perfect vehicle for crunchy, meaty bites. —Nicole Adlman

Dry-aged beef tartare tostada at Little Prince in Santa Monica. Little Prince

Lemon garlic chicken at Jerusalem Chicken in Windsor Hills

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Let’s make a bet. Drive to the corner of Slauson and Overhill and figure out what you want to eat — whether it’s a dish from the iconic Simply Wholesome, a sticky-sweet New Orleans-style sno-ball, or something from the newish spot from the family who owns Orleans & York. All are solid picks, but Jerusalem Chicken is where to go when a combination platter of Palestinian chicken calls you. The serving sizes are huge, and hummus creamy with wonderful flavor. But if you truly want a punch in the taste buds, get the lemon garlic chicken. Be warned, it is full flavored — savory, pungent, and so incredibly juicy. The bed of rice absorbs plenty of the sauce as well. They can have you in and out of there within minutes, but if you have the time, sit down at one of the outdoor tables and watch the busy View Park corner pass you by. —Mona Holmes (edited) 

A clear plastic container featuring lemon-garlic chicken, fluffy rice, hummus, and Arabic cucumber-tomato salad at Jerusalem Chicken in View Park-Windsor Hills.
Lemon garlic chicken at Jerusalem Chicken in Windsor Hills.
Mona Holmes

Chilaquiles at Tamales Elena y Antojitos

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There’s a reason why Tamales Elena y Antojitos is so special that it will put me in the car to battle traffic at any time for chef Maria Elena Lorenzo’s Afro-Mexican restaurant is one of the more unique finds in Los Angeles, all of California, or the entire United States. Her barbacoa tacos, burritos and tortas, and moles are exceptional, while the pozoles topped with queso fresco, chicharrones, spices, chiles, avocado, shredded cabbage, chopped onions, and radishes are heavenly (vegans can find one of the city’s best and mushroom tamales here). While enjoying every flavorful bite of her chilaquiles, I remembered the family’s story and their presence throughout Los Angeles for decades before opening in 2020. Lorenzo started as a street vendor throughout Watts and South LA where she sold tamales in the 90s, and was lovingly called “Mama.” This is truly an LA story, and the food is such a wonderful addition. But these chilaquiles with red salsa, two fried eggs, black beans, sour cream, queso fresco, onion and cilantro are truly special. Don’t take chilaquiles to-go, they are best consumed immediately. —Mona Holmes

Jambalaya and other Cajun delights at Chef C’s Smhokin’ Pot in Carson

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I was incredibly saddened to hear of chef Calvin Alexander’s passing a few months ago, a tragic loss for a life taken too early because of this wretched pandemic. When his restaurant Chef C’s Smhokin’ Pot opened earlier this year, a friend and I loaded up on the Cajun-inspired fare located next to Dignity Health Sports complex. The place is close enough that I can drive locally there, which is a major boon for when I’m craving things like gumbo, jambalaya, and lobster-laden mac and cheese. The gumbo and jambalaya in particular were very good, with heavy seasoning and all the right levels of comfort that took me back to my trip to New Orleans many years ago. Now when I visit, I’ll toast to the memory of Alexander, an icon in the South Bay that will hopefully continue to make an impact with his delicious, creative recipes. —Matthew Kang

Jambalaya and other Cajun delights from Chef C’s Smhokin Pot in Carson.
Jambalaya and other Cajun delights from Chef C’s Smhokin’ Pot in Carson.
Matthew Kang

Cinnamon rolls at Rye Goods in Newport Beach

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There are few things as appealing as a warm tray of cinnamon rolls on a cold winter morning, even in sunny Los Angeles. Instead of putting in the work to roll the dough myself last week, I snagged a box from Rye Goods in Costa Mesa. The company has been operating at the fringes of the underground for some time — a rare thing in Orange County; most of the less-than-legal food operations cook out of much more dense (and generally more welcoming) Los Angeles. But these days Rye Goods is selling out from its very own storefront, a long baking space at tony Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach. That means more cookies, more sourdough, and (yes) a lot more cinnamon rolls for all. —Farley Elliott

Cinnamon Rolls from Rye Goods in Orange County.
Cinnamon Rolls from Rye Goods in Newport Beach.
[Official Photo]

Daily lunch combo at Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena

Pasadena is awash in fantastic Indian food, from sit-down spots to weeknight takeaway joints, and everything in between. One of the very best, locals swear, is Namaste Spiceland, a dual marketplace and counter service restaurant on Hill Avenue, just south of the 210. The open space isn’t sprawling in the way that a Costco might be, but that’s okay; the grocery shopping here still allows for plenty of spices, sauces, frozen samosas, and roti to make it into the shopping bag — along with piles of chana masala, paneer jafrezi, and warm basmati rice. Combo plates are plentiful and astoundingly delicious, particularly when paired with sweets from the attached deli case. —Farley Elliott

Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Farley Elliott

Loaded baked potato dumplings at Agnes in Pasadena

Whether you’re seated in the main dining room with views of the wood-burning hearth or in the idyllic patio out back (or even in one of the cozy nooks in the cheesery), get a table at Agnes to taste some of the most creative cooking in Pasadena. A Saturday night included an arugula salad topped with duck pastrami, chicken liver mousse fancily piped atop cornbread eclairs, a souped-up take on a Choco Taco, and best of all — a deconstructed baked potato masquerading as a pasta dish. The loaded baked potato dumplings brings together classic toppings like broccoli, cheddar, and bacon, and presents them in a fun and delicious new light. The delicate dumplings make for an ideal canvas, while a flourish of shoe string potatoes adds crunch and flair. —Cathy Chaplin

Loaded baked potato dumplings at Agnes in Pasadena.
Loaded baked potato dumplings at Agnes in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Cauliflower shawarma at B’Ivrit pop-up

It’s impressive to watch Amit Sidi work. The one-woman pop-up show is a blur of scoops and swipes, sauces and meatless shawarma. Sidi has been perfecting her craft throughout the pandemic, offering vegan Israeli food at places like Melody Wine bar and longtime pop-up spot Glendale Tap — but she still handles just about everything herself, from the falafel to the hummus on down. The result is a menu made with love, and perfect for a warming spring season where eating a little lighter doesn’t have to mean sacrificing on flavor. The well-seasoned, just-soft-enough cauliflower ‘shawarma’ is a prime example of just that, the kind of LA-perfect meal that is best enjoyed on a sunny patio, drink in hand, with an eye on Sidi as she hustles up the next order. It’s always a joy to see people love what they do. Check Instagram for next pop-up location. —Farley Elliott

Cauliflower shawarma from B’Ivrit pop-up.
Cauliflower shawarma at B’Ivrit pop-up.
Farley Elliott

Dim sum at Capital Seafood in Arcadia

Giddy doesn’t even begin to describe how it felt to dine-in at Capital Seafood for dim sum earlier this year. After months of only ordering takeout, I’d missed the timeless routine of pencilling in my dim sum order on the paper form, mixing the tableside chile oil and soy sauce into a pitch-perfect condiment, and receiving efficient but very indifferent service. It was the little things that made this a meal to remember. That, and the tremendous flavors captured in every steamer. None of the 10 dishes ordered was a snoozer — from the expertly seared radish cakes to the delicate shrimp-filled dumplings and the wonderfully plush salted egg yolk custard buns. I considered dim sum to be a fine tradition before the pandemic, but after a year in lockdown I am convinced that it’s the greatest dining ritual of all time. —Cathy Chaplin

Dim sum at Capital Seafood in Arcadia.
Dim sum at Capital Seafood in Arcadia.
Cathy Chaplin

Naengmyeon at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel

There’s nowhere I’d rather be than in front of a bowl of Korean cold noodles when the sun’s blazing and temperatures are climbing. My current favorite bowl of naengmyeon is served at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel, which bests Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun in Koreatown, in my humblest of opinions. The naengmyeon’s icy, tangy, and highly slurp-able broth cools from the inside, while its thin and chewy buckwheat noodles are light but filling somehow. Hot mustard and vinegar is served on the side for adjusting the soup’s profile, but I find it pitch-perfect as-is. —Cathy Chaplin

Naengmyeon at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel.
Naengmyeon at Yuk Dae Jang in San Gabriel.
Cathy Chaplin

Cornish game hen with roasted dandelion panzanella at Horses in Hollywood

It’s a pleasure to find a restaurant I am dying to revisit. Not only because co-owners Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian repurposed one of LA’s most beloved and historic spaces, but because they know how to put a joyful room together, where it’s informal but sports white tablecloths, curated a playlist with selections that mirror my personal style, and establishing a youthful place that feels completely respectful to its past. There’s no hype about this place, just carefully selected elements that make Horses resonate in the best way. Now onto the food. One bite of my spatchcocked cornish hen gathered an incredible mouthful of butter and herbs, but the contrasting crispy panzanella kept me quiet while the rest of my party continued the conversation. As a generous diner, I’m usually the first person to offer a shared bite, but this is one of those dishes that kept me from speaking up. The formula works: a new and old room paired with incredible service, good company, and a stunning glass of pinot, this is my official LA joint. —Mona Holmes

An angled photo on a white background of a plate with a full roasted chicken atop.
Cornish game hen with roasted dandelion panzanella at Horses in Hollywood.
Wonho Frank Lee/Eater LA

Umami onion rings at Ardor in West Hollywood

Chef John Fraser’s gorgeous West Hollywood restaurant will make you feel glamorous the second you walk in the door. We sat on the edge of the lush plant-filled patio that makes you feel like a voyeur overseeing the elegantly dressed crowd. While engaging in the immensely satisfying practice of people watching, immediately order the Manhattan and umami onion rings. When onion rings are made by fast-food restaurants, they’re delicious. But with Fraser’s skill, they are a must-eat. They check all the requirements for a perfect onion ring. Post-bite, the onion remains intact. The rings are not remotely oily. And as a bonus, the proprietary umami powder makes Ardor’s side dish into one I will return for, even if sitting at the bar for a drink along with the soft, comforting milk bread layered with beefsteak tomatoes. —Mona Holmes

Umami onion rings at Ardor in West Hollywood.
Umami onion rings at Ardor in West Hollywood.
Cathy Chaplin

Banh xeo at Bun Mam Cay Dua in Rosemead

Rosemead newcomer Bun Mam Cay Dua makes a Mekong River Delta specialty called bun mam — a noodle soup with an anchovy-laced broth and slippery rounded rice noodles. Though bun mam can be too funk-forward for some, it’s one of my favorites in the Vietnamese noodle soup canon. The version at Cay Dua was solid — with plenty of roasted pork, fish cakes, and eggplant to round out the bowl — but the most spectacular dish on the table was the banh xeo. Fried to order with crispy edges and a fine bit of char, the banh xeo was filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts. All that it needed was to be wrapped in leafy greens and dunked in fish sauce. I came for the bun mam, but will return for the banh xeo. —Cathy Chaplin

Banh xeo at Bun Mam Cay Dua in Rosemead.
Banh xeo at Bun Mam Cay Dua in Rosemead.
Cathy Chaplin

Special pan-fried rolls at Congee in Alhambra

I came to Congee for the namesake dish (the bowl with pork and preserved egg is excellent, as is the one with silken chicken and Maggi), but all I could think about after leaving the restaurant was the pan-fried cheong fun. Congee serves two versions of this Cantonese specialty — one ladled with stewed beef hunks and tendons and a simpler take that is cooked in a wok with a thick soy sauce. The tender rice rolls arrive tightly coiled and deeply caramelized, with the breath of the wok imparting its unmistakable sear and flavor onto every bite. A few lashes of the tableside XO sauce available on the condiment caddy dialed up the dish’s umami factor to an 11. —Cathy Chaplin

Special pan-fried rolls at the Congee in Alhambra.
Special pan-fried rolls at Congee in Alhambra
Cathy Chaplin

Brisket, smoked turkey, and more at Moo’s Craft Barbecue in Lincoln Heights

Moo’s Craft Barbecue had one mission: to bring the excellence of Texas barbecue to Los Angeles. And based on my experience eating through Central Texas’s barbecue destinations, I can say with confidence that Moo’s has absolutely succeeded. The meats here exude the moist, juicy barbecue imbued with deep smoke flavor that one would expect in Texas’s Hill Country and beyond. The bark on the brisket had a dark, peppery bite while the sausages were packed with well-ground meat. The sides are also terrific, from the dense chili and crisp coleslaw to the esquites that would one would expect to see on a menu in LA. I’m somewhat surprised Moo’s doesn’t get hours long lines every day, and it just might get those queues in due time. —Matthew Kang

Brisket, smoked turkey, and more at Moo’s Craft Barbecue in Lincoln Heights.
Brisket, smoked turkey, and more at Moo’s Craft Barbecue in Lincoln Heights.
Matthew Kang

Koji-cured hangar steak tostada at Mírame in Beverly Hills

The dining scene in Beverly Hills illustrates the strength of revenge spending at its finest, from the loaded outdoor areas at Spago and Nusr-et to the jovial patio at Wally’s. Mírame is no different, with its bustling front patio, with mezcal cocktails, Rolexes, and luxe tacos flexing outward to the Golden Triangle. Joshua Gil’s menu has expanded a bit since opening last year, but the quality and execution are just as good, perhaps even sharper. While starters like the salmon skin chicharron with fermented garlic aioli and the guac with salsa trio are solid as ever, the reason to come here are the tostadas. The artichoke and truffle tostada, with avocado, tomatillos, and summer truffle, is one of the most inventive vegetable dishes in LA right now (I could do without the truffle personally, but this is Beverly Hills), while this koji-cured hangar steak has spades of umami. The grilled steak comes loaded with mushrooms and pickled pearl onions, which means it’s a certified challenge to eat it all without the toppings coming out. It’s worth the effort. —Matthew Kang

Koji-cured hangar steak at Mírame in Beverly Hills.
Koji-cured hangar steak tostada at Mírame in Beverly Hills.
Matthew Kang

Pork neck ssam at Majordomo in Chinatown

When I heard that Priedite Barbecue — the sometimes-stationary, sometimes-roving smoker operation that shares a lot with Bell’s in Los Alamos — announced a pop-up at Majordomo in Chinatown, I had to make a pilgrimage. Along with Nick Priedite’s barky, mind-numbingly tender Central Texas–style brisket, the Majordomo team put forth an assortment of smoked meats for its ssam (served with butter lettuce, shiso leaves, and thinly cut daikon) and ssamjang sauce, including pork belly, pork neck, and the restaurant’s short rib, the latter sliced from what looks like a Stegosaurus bone into thin sheets perfect for packing on the citrusy shiso. Paired with sides like stewed-down ham and beans, kimchi, escabeche, and mustard seed–flecked coleslaw, the pork neck, which took the longest to arrive to my table, was also the most satisfying bite — especially when topped with Majordomo’s classic ssamjang and a thick coil of kimchi. —Nicole Adlman

Pork neck ssam with kimchi and butter lettuce at Majordomo. Nicole Adlman/Eater LA

Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed pop-up

Don’t let the name fool: Heavy Handed isn’t just another ultra-smashed burger spot. This mostly Westside pop-up operation — known for its short rib patties and beef tallow fries — offers slightly thicker, extra-rich burgers that may technically belong in the smashed conversation, but are really much, much more. The duo of Danny Gordon (of Flatpoint Barbecue, another pop-up) and friend Max Miller have bopped around the city in 2021, moving from ongoing pop-up locations in Venice to one-off events at breweries, catered parties, and anywhere else they feel ike cooking. The word is out with fans who follow their weekly moves for those slightly seared, extra cheesy burgers. As always with Los Angeles, it is street food perseverance that keeps the people happy. Check Instagram for pop-up dates and locations. —Farley Elliott

Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed.
Double cheeseburger at Heavy Handed in Venice.
Farley Elliott

Dry-aged salmon at Holy Basil in Downtown

The dry-aged salmon ceviche is so delicious that it really has no place being served in a thin paper bowl atop fresh Chinese celery, scallions, onions, and fish sauce. The steelhead salmon just melts in the mouth with a long finish of buttery fish, contrasted with the crunch and crisp of the accoutrement. It’s not cheap here at $18, but served in a full-service restaurant in a different part of the city, the dish could easy go for twice that. Diners benefit from the unassuming location of Holy Basil, placed into a not-completed food hall in Downtown. The chicken curry special, tom yum goong, pad kee mao, and green curry are among the best examples of such dishes that I’ve tasted in LA in recent memory. In fact, based on the early sampling, Holy Basil could very well be the best new Thai restaurant to open in the city since Luv2eat Thai Bistro. —Matthew Kang

Barbecue chicken and dry-aged salmon ceviche at Holy Basil.
Dry-aged salmon from Holy Basil in Downtown.
Holy Basil

Dry-aged branzino at Etta in Culver City

Is it just me or is grilled branzino the new roasted Jidori chicken of Los Angeles? A somewhat healthy protein that’s relatively easy to procure and sports wide appeal on menus, branzino seems to be on every modern LA menu that has any whiff of Mediterranean in it. I’m not complaining at all because I love branzino. And the tender fish is even better when it’s been dry-aged for a few days thanks to the Joint Seafood in the Valley, which supplies the flavorful product to Etta in Culver City. Etta has already managed to be one of the busiest restaurants in town, with a sizable dining room and wide outdoor patio that’s really friendly to dogs (seriously, they have a branded hanker-chief for your pup).The menu has plenty of highlights, from the casarecce bolognese to the fire-licked green beans, but this dry-aged branzino is the winner. Nicely browned skin basted with a lemony caper sauce gives way to flaky white flesh that exudes an extra punch of umami thanks to the aging. —Matthew Kang

Grilled dry-aged branzino at Etta in Culver City.
Dry-aged branzino from Etta in Culver City.
Matthew Kang

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