Top 20 New Restaurants: Los Angeles, 2011

Bestof2011la

Clockwise from top left: The Eveleigh, Baco Mercat, Lukshon, Next Door by Josie

Wow, what a year! Japanese kaiseke, American gastropubs, Southeast Asian flair, smart molecular gastronomy, a kick-ass brunch and a fabulous return to glamour—2011 proved to be a terrific year for new restaurants in Los Angeles. Rising stars like The Spice Table’s Bryant Ng and Night + Market’s Kris Yenbamroong went head-to-head with seasoned heavyweights such as Wolfgang Puck and Josie Le Balch. With so many outstanding choices this year, narrowing the year’s best new restaurants to a list of merely 20 was difficult. But here it is. 

1. The Spice Table 
Rising star chef Bryant Ng creates incredible modern riffs on classic Southeast Asian flavors and makes the best possible use of a truly fierce wood-burning grill. (Full review114 S Central Ave., L.A., (213) 620-1840

2. Manhattan Beach Post 
Chef David LeFevre has created one of the best gastropubs in California, serving sublime farm-to-table fare inspired by his travels around the world. Best (and most massive) french fries of the year!  (Full review)1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-5405

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Manhattan Beach Post (Peden + Munk)

3. Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air 
This is exactly what the the Hotel Bel-Air had been missing for the past 10 years or so: an exquisite modern restaurant in tune with the times. Alfresco dining has never been sexier. 701 Stone Canyon Road, L.A., (310) 909-1644

4. Lukshon
Chef Sang Yoon has gracefully merged casual dining sensibilities with chic, fine dining flare and an outstanding menu inspired by the flavors of Southeast Asia (but branching as far north as Szechuan). (Full review3239 Helms Ave., Culver City, (310) 202-6808

5. Ink 
Chef Michael Voltaggio is the only chef in Los Angeles who truly understands how to use the tools and tricks of a scientist while also truly comprehending great taste. This is easily the most avant-garde restaurant in town at the moment—and still the city’s toughtest reservation. 8360 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 651-5866

6. n/naka
It was a daring move for a young chef to open such an expensive restaurant during the height of the recession, but chef Niki Nakayama has risen to the occasion with an exquisite take on Japanese kaiseke (the first restaurant in L.A. to attempt to challenge the legendary Urasawa). 3455 S. Overland Ave., Los Angeles, 310-836-6252

7. The Eveleigh 
The story at Eveleigh is all about the brunch, which has never been sexier or more delicious than this. Enough said. 8752 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 424-239-1630

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Bloody mary at Eveleigh (Brad A. Johnson)

8. Son of a Gun
Seafood has never been so much fun as it is at Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s follow-up to their mega-hit Animal. (Wait, does alligator actually count as seafood?) (Full review8370 W. 3rd Street, L.A., (323) 782-9033

9. Playa
John Sedlar is clearly one of the smartest, most talented chefs of our time. His modern riffs on classic Latin flavors are often copied but never replicated. (Full review7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 933-5300

10. Next Door by Josie
Josie Le Balch’s casual offshoot of her eponymous flagship next door is exactly that: a casual version of the extraordinary farm-to-table American cooking she’s been serving for more than 10 years, along with the same incredible wines. But for a fraction of the price. The burger is easily one of the best in America. 2420 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica,  (310) 581-4201

11. Ray’s and Stark Bar
Chefs Kris Morningstar and Josh Graves make a hell of a team. The pork belly, damn! The sticky toffee pudding, holy smokes! 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (323) 857-6180

12. Baco Mercat
Chef Josef Centeno is an absolute master of flavor, even when he’s just making a sandwich. Best (non-burger) sandwich of the year! (See: Critic’s Notebook408 S. Main St., L.A., (213) 687-8808

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Baco Mercat (Brad A. Johnson)

13. Cook’s County
Honest, friendly, neighborhood dining with chef-driven cuisine inspired by the farmers markets. Los Angeles sorely needs more places like this. 8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 653-8009

14. Aburiya Toranoko
Aburiya introduced L.A. to an entirely new world of Japanese cuisine that goes way beyond sushi (although the sushi&rsquo
;s pretty damn great, too). 243 South San Pedro St., L.A., (213) 621-9500

15. Public Kitchen
Chef Tim Goodell is back and at the top of his game with impeccable American bistro fare that makes this intolerable stretch of Hollywood Boulevard somehow bearable. Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 769-8888

16. Maison Giraud
Once again, but this time without all the flash, Alain Giraud proves he’s the most important French chef in Los Angeles. 1032 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades, (310) 459-7561

17. Night + Market
Los Angeles has the best Thai food in America, and Kris Yenbamroong is easily the most inventive Thai chef in the city. His interpretation of Bangkok street food is always fun, authentic and wildly delicious. 9043 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 275-9724

18. Mezze
There have been quite a few newcomers hoping to make a splash with this style of contemporary Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine, but no one is doing it better than Mezze. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 657-4013

19. Artisan House
Gorgeous design. Fun crowd. Hands-on owners. Rising star chef. This French/Italian/American bistro/cafe/bar/market is doing everything right. 600 S. Main St., L.A., (213) 622-6333

20. Picca
Consistently horrible service and unimaginably rude management almost kept this restaurant off the list altogether. The deafening noise levels inside don’t help, either. But the Peruvian-inspired small-plates menu is undeniably very good. 9575 West Pico Boulevard, L.A., (310) 277-0133

Alternate: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
It’s just a pop-up, and the sign above the door still reads “Capri,” so Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is not officially on the Top 20 list. But it’s definitely better than Picca. Young chefs from Joe’s and Axe are coming into their own with innovative cooking, bold flavors and plenty of heart. These guys deserve a permanent home. 1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (at Capri Ristorante), Venice 

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