I go to Los Angeles 4 or 5 times per year and admittedly I have been hyper-critical of the food scene. Keep in mind I live in NYC and dine there frequently, travel to many other cities in the U.S. including San Francisco (10+ times per year) and travel abroad to eat. Every time I am critical of LA I am told that either I go to the wrong places and/or that Los Angeles excels at Ethnic cuisine. Hence I tried to initially focus my dining on Japanese (a particular passion of mine), Mexican and Korean. This strategy worked very well and I discovered some amazing new places for me. The highlights are below:
Guerrila Tacos – First stop fresh from the plane I headed directly to Blue Bottle in DTLA. I have been here before and it is always fantastic. Over the course of two visits we had a i) sweet potato taco with almond chile, fried corn, scallions, and feta cheese, ii) smoked salmon and soft scrambled egg taco, iii) Peurto vallacta style crab taco and iv) albacore tuna tostado poke with white miso and furikake herbs. All were excellent. I could eat here every day and I wish we had this in NYC.
Yamakase – Invitation only Japanese restaurant. This was one of my best meals of 2015. Four and a half hour meal and close to 20 dishes yet the meal did not drag. Lots of uni and truffles yet each dish was distinctive enough that it was not overkill. Some online reviews have complained about this but it worked for me. The San Diego uni was fantastic along with many rare ingredients from Japan. I can’t believe there are only two people in the kitchen. This was close to as good as Urusawa for half the price and free corkage. I will be going back soon. We drank some older dry Rieslings and white burgs – both worked very well with the food.
Baroo – This place was unknown to me and it blew my mind. The restaurant is named for the food bowl that is used by Buddhist monks. The space is tiny and they do not have a wine license so no BYOB. They are open from 11-9. Chef Kwang Uh is from Seoul, Korea and has worked at Daniel, Nobu Bahama and staged at Noma prior to opening Baroo. Don’t let the fancy places scare you the Chef is clearly utilizing his training but the food is delicious Korean inspired food that is both creative and comforting. Most of the dishes are comprised of something fermented, rice or grains and fresh herbs or vegetables. The menu is primarily vegetarian. The Celeriac pasta is wonderful. Also the Noorook dish was outstanding. I love this place and if I lived in LA I would go frequently.
Sushi Gen – I have been here a few times in the past and have always loved the sushi. As usual there was a HUGE line in front but strangely no one wants to sit at the counter. We always do and loved our meal once again, we focused exclusively on Sushi. We drank dry riesling and white burgundy and it worked very well.
Taco Maria – I have heard many good things about this place so I made the trek out to Orange county for lunch. I enjoyed it very much. Can’t say the tacos were any better than Guerrila. I would really like to go back for dinner. Similar to Baroo the Chef trained at some amazing restaurants including two of my favorites Commis and Coi. One thing that I think has held the Los Angeles dining scene back is the lack of top restaurants that can train cooks who then leave to start places like Taco Maria and Baroo – this is changing as Chefs get priced out of other large cities. Los Angeles is clearly the beneficiary of this! The wine list is not great, not sure if they have a corkage policy.
Kinjiro – Recommended to me by none other than Charlie Fu! I absolutely love this place. One of my goals for 2016 is to go even deeper into Japanese cuisine and what a way to start off 2016. This is Japanese comfort food at the highest level. Fantastic ingredients with flawless execution. Chef Yamamoto from Yamakase was sitting next to us and we traded wine back and forth. The service was excellent and they have a great Sake list with incredible pricing. We drank white burgundy and Sake, both went very well with the food.
Sqirl – What can I say I love this place and have been many times (sorry Charlie). The lines and hipster crowd do not bother me. We ate here twice and also ordered to go for the plane ride back. I also wish we had this in NYC.