LAGuide

The Hit List: New LA Restaurants To Try Right Now

We checked out these new restaurants in LA and loved them.
Jilli Spread

photo credit: Jilli

When restaurants open, we check them out. This means that we subject our stomachs and social lives to the good, the bad, and more often than not, the perfectly fine. And every once in a while, a new spot makes us feel like Angelyne driving her convertible down Santa Monica Blvd. When that happens, we add it here, to the Hit List. 

The Hit List is where you’ll find all of the best new restaurants in LA. As long as a place opened within the past several months and we’re still talking about it, it’s on this guide. Keep tabs on the Hit List and you'll always know which new restaurants you should be eating at right now.

New To The Hit List (2/23): MidEast Tacos

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Ashley Randall

Armenian

Silver Lake

$$$$Perfect For:Serious Take-Out OperationOutdoor/Patio SituationCasual Weeknight Dinner
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The bar for impressive tacos in LA is high, but this Mexican-Armenian spot from the Mini Kabob team stands out like Zendaya at a red-carpet premiere. Wedged into a sliver of a space near Sunset Junction, MidEast Tacos folds smoky steak, chicken, and shrimp kabobs into flour tortillas to create clever fusion-y remakes served lunch through dinner. Takeout is big here, but the grilled meats are best eaten ASAP on the handful of streetside tables. Hefty rice-filled burritos taste like a Mini Kabob plate wrapped up (a good thing), quesadillas are decorated with Thai basil and chile arbol toum, and thick cottage fries come dusted in aleppo pepper. But we’d prioritize the simple falafel taco fresh from the fryer—made with three crispy cilantro-green nuggets with soft, steaming cores.

DTLA’s best Thai takeout window has arrived in Atwater Village. At Holy Basil's tiny new sit-down spot, wagyu grapow packs the same heat and crispy pork belly has the same potato-chip skin as at the original, but it's the new seafood options that steal the spotlight. Dishes like spicy-sweet grilled prawns, tart snapper ceviche, and papaya salad sprinkled with fried fish croutons are so flavorful we’d wade across the LA River for them, storm surge or not. We especially love the mussels in a dreamy coconut milk broth punched up with garlic, lime, and a big bouquet of lemongrass. Holy Basil is only taking walk-ins while in soft open mode, so to avoid the longest lines, head in during lunch or right when they open for dinner.

Jilli in Koreatown is a sool jib, which means “drinking spot” in Korean. And if you’ve driven through Ktown, you know there’s no shortage of those places. But that’s not why we’d send you to Jilli. The short menu here involves cheeky takes on Korean bar foods that are delicious whether you need something to soak up booze or not. Friends split bottles of fancy yogurt soju and share plates of mini shrimp toasts, rigatoni alla kimchi vodka with bacon bits, and Chimmelier’s craggy double-fried chicken. The room is a blast, too—the barebones former Kinn space has been amped up with a 2000s hip-hop playlist and a projector broadcasting Korean cartoons. The seats at the long wooden bar are still the best ones in the house.

Luka might be the greatest thing to come out of Cerritos since the Auto Square jingle. The restaurant’s mini-mall space on the Cerritos-Artesia border operates as Bakers & Baristas coffee shop during the day, then on weekend evenings, it shifts into Luka, a candlelit spot with a solid natural wine list and Mediterranean-ish food from a chef who cooked at Carbone. The menu doesn’t rewrite the bistro-y wine bar playbook, but it’s far from snoozy. Snap peas with hot mustard, charred pork collar with harissa, and the gooey, cheesy frisbee of fried taters they call the “potato situation,” all blew us away. You don’t often see “sexy dinner destination” and “suburban shopping plaza” in the same sentence, but that’s what makes zero-pretension Luka a breath of fresh air.

While we’ll miss fishing $10 from our glove compartment to slurp Thai boat noodles on the sidewalk, the new Mae Malai is an upgrade on all fronts. This former Thai Town street vendor moved into a strip mall storefront and expanded its menu with dishes like pad grapow, crispy shrimp omelets, and “poached and dipped beef,” a spicy offal salad with copious amounts of lime. Still, you’re coming here for those boat noodles, which are so good they have us questioning our loyalty to the iconic Sapp Coffee Shop (much love). For roughly $9, Mae Malai gives you a small bowl of chewy rice noodles, juicy meatballs, and crackly pork rinds in a sweet-sour-spicy broth so intense, it'll light up taste buds you didn’t know you had.

photo credit: Shelby Moore

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It’s a known truth that LA has the best sushi in the country, so you can’t fault anyone for feeling skeptical about the arrival of Uchi. This upscale Japanese restaurant in Weho hails from Texas, a state more famous for smokehouses than sashimi. Well, throw out any preconceived notions. Housed in an impressive, wood-paneled space that resembles an airport credit card lounge, Uchi serves hot, cold, and raw dishes that go toe-to-toe with the best in LA. The menu is…Texas-sized, so concentrate on the nigiri, then add small plates like vegetable tempura, daikon salad with crispy rice, and smoked yellowtail on a yuca tostada. And don’t be alarmed when you see people putting salmon sushi in their mouths upside down, it’s a thing here.

You've probably heard about Little Fish. This all-day cafe in Echo Park led a previous life as an apartment pop-up run by two chefs with dreams of deep-fried fish. At their new space on Sunset, you’ll find cottage cheese pancakes with cherry jam and nori-dusted crispy potatoes, plus seafood-heavy breakfast dishes like trout tartine and fish congee. And then there’s the famed beer-battered fish sandwich, served only at lunch: Wonderfully crisp and somehow light as a feather on a fluffy potato bun, it’s like the Filet-O-Fish you were promised in TV commercials, complete with tangy Kewpie mayo and briny pickles. They often sell out of these life-affirming sandos on weekends, but drop by during the week and they should be in stock until late afternoon close.

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightSmall Plates
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Spanish restaurants have been arriving hot and heavy over the past year, but Xuntos does tapas better than any of them. This downtown Santa Monica spot comes from the Gasolina Cafe people and regularly pops off on weekends with casual dates and glammed-up friends grabbing dinner. The space looks like an antique shop that morphs into a bar when the sun drops, with gilded mirrors and lace curtains that pre-date color TV. The room is warm and homey, especially as tables let loose with Basque cider and rounds of garlicky gambas. Standard tapas like ham croquettes are very good, but we were more excited by less commonly seen finds like grilled baby squid stuffed with shallots, scallops in saffron butter, and fatty sea bass collars that eat like chicken wings of the sea.

photo credit: Sylvio Martins

This spot is Temporarily Closed.

$$$$Perfect For:LunchWalk-Ins

A fortune cookie once told us, “Good things come in small packages.” We didn’t know what to make of that until we met Fabby’s Sandwicherie. This tiny Downtown sandwich counter is easy to miss from the street, but hides luxurious tortas inside. Jalisco-style birotes are toasted on a hot press, then filled with tasty things plucked from a French bistro: wine-braised short rib, pomme puree, and mushroom coq au vin. These sandwiches take time to assemble, so plan on a leisurely lunch that starts with a margarita and a beef tartare tostada while your torta sizzles in the background.

The second we heard a Dominican spot had opened in LA our ears perked up. Our city doesn’t have the options New York does, but in the case of El Bacano, we’ll count our blessings. This colorful spot in a North Hollywood strip mall offers a range of Dominican staples, including a sancocho only available three days a week. Feel free to plan your entire visit around this incredible soup. Brimming with pork, chicken, and beef, the spiced broth is rich with rendered fat and zippy with lime juice—and so delicious you’ll ditch the spoon and start drinking it like a cup of coffee. It’s perfect for a cold day—just know it’s a big portion. Split it with someone and tack on some crispy chicken wings, warm habichuelas, and chewy tostones.

Something occurs in the human body during colder months: we just want to hang out in moody, low-lit restaurants. And right on cue, here comes Ètra. This dark Italian spot in Melrose Hill (located behind the equally chic Café Telegrama) feels like a wine bar in Berlin that only fashion-y people know about. The floors are tiled, the walls are plywood, and every person is so well-dressed you’ll wonder if they’re hired extras. But it’s more than just vibes—the food is excellent. We love the bitter, Ceasar-y chicory salad, the rigatoni that tastes like French onion soup, and the pork ribeye dusted in fennel pollen that’s the best thing on the menu. Reservations are tight, but if you hit the bar before 7pm, you’ll find a seat.

photo credit: Stan Lee

This spot is Temporarily Closed.

Rita's is just a burger counter the way that Game of Thrones is just a soap opera. In roughly 400 square feet, this retro DTLA luncheonette combines everything you’d want in an old-school diner (leather stools, checkered floors) with new-school touches. The food is a love letter to '50s-era fast food, and somehow, even more memorable than the space. Expect crinkle-cut fries, beer-battered cheese curds, milkshakes in paper cups, and grass-fed patties on seeded buns. The buttermilk fried chicken sandwich and roast beef special are hits, but we’ll be back for Rita’s “deluxe” burger. Seared but not smashed, it tastes like an Animal-style double-double got jacked doing Crossfit and added on bacon and chopped cherry peppers. If you regularly lunch around downtown, bee-line here to try it.

In a town full of great Korean food, Perilla stands out for its focus on banchan. The former pop-up now operates out of a tiny cottage in a Chinatown cul-de-sac. Umbrellas sway over patio tables, people sip yakju and yuzu soda in the garden, and, much like the drama at Bravocon, all of the vegetables on the menu change seasonally. The dishes we’ve had here let greens do the talking, like a dosirak arranged with Italian sweet pepper muchim, marinated okra, and charred, honey-glazed cod. So ditch your boring lunch and just eat gimbap next to a banana tree, instead.

It feels like 90% of LA restaurants have sashimi on their menu, but we'll never forget Si! Mon’s curried hamachi version. It’s meaty and sweet with a distinct hit of warming spices, and just one of the very good dishes at this Panamanian seafood spot in Venice. Baked oysters bubble with shallot butter, kanpachi steams in banana leaves, and a half tequila-half mezcal margarita made us realize we’ve been drinking horrible margaritas lately. The restaurant is still in soft-open mode (only one of the dining areas is open, staff members are shadowing each other). But there’s no reason to wait if your focus is the food.

Budonoki is the kind of restaurant where you could walk in half-asleep and walk out ready to hop on the next flight to Vegas. The energy at this Virgil Village izakaya is that infectious. Friends huddle around tables snacking on dishes like chicken oyster skewers and wagyu yakisoba. Dates sip shochu cocktails and split koji pineapple soft serve at the walk-in-only bar. Old-school Missy and Ja Rule blast over the speakers. We love that cocktails arrive in adorable penguin mugs, and servers will pull up a chair to discuss the restaurant’s playlist like it’s a family heirloom (it’s that good). Budonoki straddles the line between a kitschy party spot and a neighborhood hangout with delicious food. Don’t be surprised if you see a few sake bombs go down.

This strip mall sushi spot in Gardena has 10 seats and is only open Friday to Sunday, but here’s the good news: their $200 omakase is worth staying up until midnight to book—and you might have to. Sonagi comes from the chef behind Katsu Sando (and Kura Sushi, his family’s restaurant which closed in 2019). The menu mixes Japanese techniques with Korean touches, and the result is one of the most memorable sushi experiences we’ve had this year. During the two-hour, 19-course meal you can expect bites like monkfish liver tarts with caviar, cut rolls with silky soy-marinated crab, and delicate sea trout sashimi rolled in sesame seeds. There’s also an extensive sake menu worth perusing, with a few picks the chef brought back from Japan.

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