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Mar 13, 2012 11:53 AM

The Ten Best Things To Eat In LA Right Now

Here's my list...looking forward to hearing everyone's feedback! Full post with pics at

10. Il Covo's White Anchovies with Roasted Peppers

Sometimes the simplest thing on the menu is the one you keep going back for. Il Covo's previous chef, Roberto Maggioni, let the bright briny flavors of fresh white anchovies shine without needless augmentation, instead placing them unadorned on a pinwheel of roasted yellow and red peppers. The sweetness of the peppers lends the perfect balance to the sparkling acidity and rich oils of the fish - nothing more is required. Here's to hoping the new chef agrees.

9. Playa's Tamale Chipotle

I'm usually very skeptical of upmarket presentations of downmarket dishes. There are way too many Kobe beef hot dogs, ridiculous Wagyu burgers with white truffles, and order-it-and-be-forever-shamed cheesesteaks in existence for my liking, and at first glance Playa's filet mignon tamale sounds like it might deserve equal disdain. But it definitely does not. The beef is good, but the real star is the tamale itself, filled with an incredibly earthy masa and rich mushroom duxelle. The smokiness and mild heat of the chipotle bearnaise adds the kick. You won't find find this at your local taco stand but you'll wish you could.

8. Umami Burger's Hatch Burger

Umami Burger has expanded. A lot. And quickly. And now Umami lord Adam Fleischman has opened Umamicatessen, a megaplex downtown hosting 5 restaurants in one. The hubris! some say. He's doomed to fail! He's the Icarus of burgers! Maybe so, but I couldn't care less as long as I can still order and way-too-quickly throw down the glorious Hatch burger, a green chili-and-liquid-cheese bomb of meaty flavor. One of the less obvious secrets of Umami's success is their mastery of ratio: Fleischman and team have perfected the amount of beef to bun, and present it in a way that you can actually pick up and hold it and take a bite without it all falling apart, the way a burger should be eaten. If you find yourself reaching for a fork at your favorite burger joint, it's time to reassess.

7. Ray's and Stark Bar's Hamachi Sashimi

I really wish I could just call it Ray's and not the cumbersome Ray's and Stark Bar. They're really separate entities - the restaurant resides in a bright, airy glass-walled room in LACMA's piazza, while the open-air bar lies adjacent.There is Ray's, and there is Stark Bar. Set them free.

But I digress. Ray's is the perfect restaurant for LACMA, utilizing a modern approach that celebrates L.A. by combining its many disparate elements into an artistic whole. Also, the food is really good. Chef Kris Morningstar's presentation of the ubiquitous hamachi (aka Yellowtail, aka Japanese Amberjack) elevates a standard-issue sashimi offering with the inclusion of tangerines, cilantro, and aji amarillo, a peruvian chili pepper. What could be a better nod to L.A.'s culinary history than pairing Japanese and Peruvian flavors?

6. Drago Centro's Langoustine Carpaccio

The best dishes often begin as a surprise and end feeling as if they were inevitable - how could this NOT have always existed? Celestino Drago did not invent langoustine carpaccio (was it Robuchon? probably not), but when you eat his version, it seems that way: chilled, almost translucent sweet langoustines, pressed thin into a perfect square, dressed barely with whatever is in market at the time. The shellfish doesn't need and doesn't get much - Drago is a chef that recognizes a powerful flavor and does as much as possible to get out of its way.

5. Osteria Mamma's Pappardelle al Fumo

I'm not really sure why anyone would go to La Buca now that Mamma Loredana and her son Filippo are long gone and have their own restaurant right down the street. I guess it's good, because that means an easier path for me to Mamma's fantastic hand-made pastas, the best pastas in L.A. The Pappardelle al Fumo may very well be the best of the best, with the smoke-friendly scamorza melting into the chunky pancetta over a bed of perfectly al dente noodles. It may be even be better heated up the next day.

4. Pizzeria Mozza's Bianca Pizza

I love a white pie. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, the best white pie around was (and probably still is) at Tacconelli's, a brick-oven legend located in Fishtown. You knew Tacconelli's was good because you were willing to go to Fishtown for it. Want beer with your pizza? Feel free to bring it with you. I'm still thinking about their white pie, a simple crispy thin crust topped with mozzarella and plenty of garlic.

The white pie at Pizzeria Mozza dresses things up a bit with four cheeses, including sottocenere, a truffly (is that a word? it should be) Venetian cheese that's starting to appear everywhere, and I'm definitely not complaining. Fried sage is laid on top to provide a sharp textural contrast and some needed saltiness. It's the best pie out of many great contenders. Don't have it delivered because it won't be the same - avoid the wait by claiming a seat at the bar and eating the entire thing as soon as it comes out. Shouldn't be too hard.

3. Sanamluang Cafe's Pad Kee Mow

Sanamluang Cafe has a sign that reads "Best Noodles in Town", and it's hard to disagree with that after you've had their Pad See Ew, flat rice noodles with egg, soy sauce and Chinese broccoli, or even better, their Pad Kee Mow, spicy flat noodles with refreshing mint and pungent green chili. It's criminal how cheap it is - the Pad Kee Mow with pork will run you all of $6.25 - $7.25 if you want to live like a Rockefeller and have it with shrimp - and you'll drive away thinking you just committed robbery eating that well for so little.

2. The Bazaar's Jicama-Wrapped Guacamole

I was so averse to subjecting myself to an SBE-fueled experience that I avoided The Bazaar for nearly three years. I wish I hadn't. Yes, the crowd can be grating, but they'd honestly have to pelt me with full, leaking cans of Axe body spray to get me to even consider staying away now that I've had Jose Andres' food, my favorite example being his perfectly seasoned guacamole with corn chip fragments, housed in a crisp, refreshing Jicama wonton. It's everything you love about chips and guacamole with none of the watching-the-game-on-the-couch heaviness - I've never seen Jicama used to such great effect.

1. Son of a Gun's Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, and Pumpernickel

It's hard to get a clear answer as to what exactly a Steelhead is. Is it a trout? Is it a type of salmon? Whatever it is, it produces a ridiculously flavorful roe, and nowhere is it better presented than at Vinny Dotolo's and Jon Shook's celebration of all things salt air. This dish is all about balance: the sweet woodsy flavor of the maple cream, the burnt grain of the pumpernickel crisp, the burst of salinity of the roe. It's my favorite thing to eat right now in L.A., and it's not even close.

Fatty out.

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  1. 1. Gaugry Epoisses at LQ@SK cheese cart
    2. Sea urchin congee with echire butter at Red Medicine
    3. Braised goat and Vietnamese mints in rice crepe at LQ@SK
    4. "Ugly bunch" at Providence: sea urchin, abalone, mirugai on smoked panna cotta
    5. Yamadaya All Stars tonkotsu ramen
    6. Chicken, sausage, peppers special at P.Mozza
    7. Grilled langoustines in broth at Marche Moderne (OC)
    8. Brussel sprouts with fish sauce at Red Medicine
    9. Soft boiled egg with salmon roe at Torihei
    10. Pistachio Gelato at P. Mozza

    1st alternate: live king crab steamed with garlic if #7 is disallowed due to it's OC location

    19 Replies
    1. re: Porthos

      Can you describe these brussel sprouts with fish sauce for me?

      1. re: ns1

        Charred, delicious, and more flavorful than all the versions out there relying on
        bacon and/or fried pig ears as a crutch.

        1. re: ns1

          In a bowl: Brussels sprouts, fish sauce, and shallots, topped with shrimp chips (miniaturized versions of the ones that come with Peking duck, but a little less greasy). Just as Porthos described. It's a revelation, one of the most surprising things I've eaten all year.

          1. re: mrhooks

            It was waaaaaaay too salty when I had it. Had a lot of potential, but way over seasoned.

            1. re: TailbackU

              I had a similar experience, but I'm certainly willing to retry.

              1. re: TailbackU

                Had it 3 times already. It's salty as in well seasoned salty but not inedible salty like the pig tails at Animal.

                To ns1, better try it first before you try to rip it. Tougher to rip than it sounds I'm guessing. Not as simple as adding fish sauce to wok charred brussel sprouts.

                1. re: Porthos

                  man those pictures look AMAZING.

              2. re: mrhooks

                interesting, we'll try to rip this dish at home.

                is anything done to the shallots?

            2. re: Porthos

              Great list! I am dying to try that Epoisses, I am a huge fan of that cheese.

              1. re: Porthos

                Where the crab alternate from? Elite :)

                1. re: Ciao Bob

                  That's what I meant, forgot to add Elite to the alternate description...hard posting on an iPhone... :)

                2. re: Porthos

                  Going to have to add butternut squash flan with coconut nage and hon shimeji mushrooms last night at Hatfield's chef's spontanee tasting. Amazing.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    That sounds good...I love shimeji mushrooms.

                  2. re: Porthos

                    Regarding the Bianca Pizza at Mozza - one of the bartenders turned me onto ordering it with fennel sausage, which makes something that was already great into something spectacular!

                    1. re: aching

                      You know, I've heard you mention that before and when I tried to add fennel sausage to the Bianca Pizza, I was told no additions. This was 1-2 years ago. Maybe I'll give it a try the next time I'm back...

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Really? I've ordered it at least four or five times! I wonder if it depends on your server (if so, it shouldn't).

                        1. re: aching

                          It probably is server related. I'll try again. Sounds like it should be a regular option!

                    2. re: Porthos

                      Where is the live steamed crab with Garlic?

                      1. re: scottca075

                        Steamed king crab with garlic. Available at Elite. Also recently had it at Seafood Capital in Irvine. Available at most high end Cantonese seafood restaurants. Sea Harbour surprisingly rarely has it.

                        It can get pricy at $39-45/lb with an average critter being 7-10lbs.

                    3. 10 is too many for me to list, so i'll just list out what i remember in no particular order

                      Red Medicine - rice porridge with uni
                      Racion - duck stuffed calamari
                      Mother Dough - margherita pizza
                      Tacos Leo - al pastor tacos
                      Eva - Bread pudding (best i've ever had)

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: TailbackU

                        TailbackU - where and what is Mother Dough? Sounds interesting.

                        1. re: FattyWantsCheese

                          Neapolitan Pizza place in Los Feliz.

                          4648 Hollywood Blvd
                          Los Angeles, CA 90027


                            1. re: FattyWantsCheese

                              Mother Dough is definitely worth visiting.

                      2. Random thoughts:

                        Il Piccolino - mussels and fries
                        Dan Tanas - chicken beckerman (dark meat)
                        Sushi Sushi - seared salmon
                        Mastroes - porterhouse
                        The Brentwood - fried chicken
                        Barones - sausage pizza

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: BSW6490

                          Ok, I've always wondered what the Chicken Beckerman was at Dan Tana's - but always end up ordering the Chicken Parm or the Veal Karl Malden. I love dark meat so going to order next time - thanks!

                          I'm with you on Sushi Sushi as well - excellent.

                          1. re: FattyWantsCheese

                            The Beckerman is great. Make sure to tell them all dark meat. It has onions, think sliced patatos a light brown sauce and a ton of flavor. Very tender. I am going for it next week.

                            1. re: BSW6490

                              The Beckermab is great, but I prefer the Chicken Tana. It is chicken with a spinach lemon and garlic sauce. If you get it with the ferric Ina Alfredo, you will think you've died and gone to heaven. Tana's has the best mozzarella marinara saw well.

                          2. re: BSW6490

                            A couple more random thoughts:

                            Lucky Noodle King in SGV - dan dan mien

                            Gelina Take Away - banana cream pie (I think it's a rotating item - might even be random but the best BCP I've had).

                            Milo and Olive - garlic knots

                            Beijing Pie House - any of the meat pies

                            Gjelina - Vegetable dishes rule - chic peas; any roasted vegetable; mushroom toast.

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              The Ina also has the most amazing caramel pot de creme! Out of this world!

                          3. Steelhead is a rainbow trout that makes its way out to sea for most of its life. Thus its bigger and pinker than a rainbow that lives is fresh water only. Delicious either way. Wonderful list. Good writing as well.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ebethsdad

                              Very interesting. Usually I hear that it is a trout, but some restaurants (and various websites) list it as a salmon. Trout seems to be the correct label. But yes - either way, it's great!

                              And thank you for the kind words!

                            2. Fantastic list and beautiful, funny writing....thanks, and welcome to posting here Fatty.
                              Sharp eye.
                              I really think you nailed soemthing that make umami shine - proportionality.
                              I cannot do 10 now, if I did 5-6 would be Chinese, but I think Tar and Roses roast chicken has leap-frogged a lot of my old favorites. Tsujita's green-onion ramen too.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Ciao Bob

                                Thanks Ciao! I am a huge fan of roast chicken (isn't everyone?) - looking forward to trying Tar and Roses!

                                1. re: Ciao Bob

                                  Went to Tar and Roses this past weekend. I didn't love their roast chicken - not a fan of the citrus, and my chicken was moist but a bit burnt in spots (and not a good burnt). I liked the place though - the standout for me was the strawberry crostata dessert w/ honeycomb ice cream.

                                  1. re: FattyWantsCheese

                                    Sorry - I enjoyed the citrus/toasted bread combo