Reflecting on 2021 gets chaotic quickly. On one hand, we’ll take this 12-month period over the previous, but on the other, this year was still marked by in-car scream sessions and Target temper tantrums. But if there was one constant that got us through it all, it was exciting meals, especially from LA’s new restaurants. With seemingly the entire deck stacked against them, this year’s new dining establishments are pandemic-born pop-ups turned brick-and-mortar, long-established spots with completely new concepts, and a dozen or so other places that remind us why eating somewhere that isn’t our couch is so special. Here are the 15 Best New Restaurants in LA.
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Morihiro should be on every sushi enthusiast’s to-do list, and your mind whenever you wonder, “Where should I take my hard-to-please mother on her birthday?” The crown jewel of Atwater Village, Morihiro is fine dining at its best—the $400 omakase can go head-to-head with the biggest names in LA. But there’s also a wonderful six-piece nigiri set ($65), chirashi bowl ($75), and vegan cut rolls ($45), all made with the same attention-to-detail as a technician gluing six-inch acrylics to your stubby, bitten nails. Which is to say, a lot. Fermented monkfish liver is served next to white baby corn still wrapped in its husk, chestnut cream puffs come showered in shaved dark chocolate. Servers explain every dish in painstaking detail, much of the dinnerware was made by the chef himself, and beneath every fish slice lies a scoop of wasabi—Morihiro’s sinus-searing ace that makes every piece of sushi come alive in your mouth. On past visits, we’ve had sea bream, red surf clams, fatty tuna that melts like butter, and the chef’s personal favorite, silver-skinned hikarimono, or gizzard shad.
When Moo’s opened its brick and mortar in July in Lincoln Heights, the order-at-the-counter situation was a madhouse. They had already built a fanbase through pop-ups, lines formed hours before opening, and by early afternoon, they were sold out. The first time we lined up, we waited over two hours to get our food, but we would’ve waited for three. And that’s because Moo’s isn’t just the best barbecue in LA, it’s some of the best we’ve eaten anywhere in the country. They specialize in central Texas-style, meaning brisket is king. And while the brisket is more succulent than most versions we’ve had in Texas, Moo’s standout items aren’t limited to smoked meats. Chef and owners Michelle and Andrew Muñoz are East LA natives, and through dishes like creamy, smoky esquites, dill-heavy red potato salad, and a standout tres leches bread pudding, they’ve incorporated countless elements to make Moo’s feel like a unique LA experience. Plus, now you can pre-order days in advance and skip the lines entirely.
What was once an obscure, pandemic-era chirashi pop-up is now thriving as a half-Thai, half-Japanese fine dining experience in Virgil Village. It’s a place that’s so special, you’ll feel the urge to book it for every anniversary, graduation, and random celebration you can think of. All the gauche rituals restaurants usually perform—taking orders, forcing you to pay at the end of the night—are handled beforehand through an online reservation system. There are three distinct dining options here, ranging from sashimi to-go boxes, to a full-blown sushi omakase, but the creme de la creme, Kinkan’s magnum opus, is the Homage to Grandmother. It’s a ten-course set meal described as “Japanese-inspired, Thai reflected” and involves a mind-melding mix of seared fish shaped into roses, crab curry served two ways, and teacups filled with ikura. It’s a restaurant reimagined, a lovely experience that feels more like an intimate night with friends than a transaction between human and business.
LA has no shortage of excellent Thai restaurants with big followings and even bigger accolades, but Holy Basil reminds us there’s always room for another place to shift the conversation. Located inside a tiny food court on Los Angeles Street, Holy Basil first caught our attention as Yum, a monthly dinner series that debuted in 2020 with a focus on Bangkok-style street food. Eventually, they shifted into their current order-at-the-window space and built out a concise, straightforward menu filled with dishes like pad thai, green curry, and tom yum soup. You might be thinking these are things that can be found on Thai menus all over town, and you’re right, but to eat at Holy Basil is like trying them for the first time. Every dish here is herbaceous, fragrant, and unabashedly spicy.
Lasita doesn’t take reservations and doesn’t do formal table service. At this Filipino rotisserie/wine bar in Chinatown, there’s no pressure to make decisions, and you’re free to hang out as long as you want. Looking to drink biodynamic wine with a date and put some food in later if you feel like it? Go right ahead. Maybe you’re with four friends and haven’t eaten since breakfast. Head right to the host stand and order all the garlicky chicken, pork belly lechon, dips, and sauces your table has room for. At Lasita, the only rule is there are no rules, (though we do insist that you order the pancit). And those are always the best kinds of parties.
Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery
As you walk through Agnes’s massive barn doors in Pasadena, don’t be alarmed if you’re hit with a sudden wave of bucolic euphoria. There’s a full market and cheesery up front, an open hearth loaded with sizzling meats in back, and giant wooden rafters soaring above the dining room and back patio. This restaurant isn’t the first place in LA to dip into Midwestern nostalgia, but it’s the only one that goes all-in. A native Midwesterner is at risk of yelling, “There are cheese curds and puppy chow on the menu?!” to no one in particular. And biting into dishes like cornbread eclairs topped with silky chicken liver mousse and loaded baked potato dumplings that taste exactly like a loaded baked potato could cause visceral flashbacks. If you didn’t grow up in the Midwest, or can’t even point to it confidently on a map, who cares? You’ll still be eating immensely delicious food.
The first time we ate at Mazal we were reminded why eating dinner with great company is so much better than just eating dinner. This was the restaurant where we came out of our pandemic shell - all while surrounded by friends, fantastic food, and a general air of camaraderie. In proceeding visits, our fondness for this entirely vegetarian Israeli restaurant in Lincoln Heights has only grown. You know a meal is a success at Mazal when, at some point, every inch of your table is filled with some sort of dip, salad, and basket of piping hot pita bread. Everyone in your party will be ripping and tearing, dipping and dunking, and ordering bottle after bottle of natural wine. And when you look around at all the other tables on the string-lit alleyway patio, you’ll notice they’re all doing the exact same thing.
You’re going to spend a lot of money at Crudo e Nudo. That’s just a fact. But unlike the time you bought a sectional couch from Craigslist, had it delivered to your house, then realized its springs were broken, those dollars won’t be for nothing. The focus here is on sustainable sourcing and minimal waste, which means herbs and vegetables come from farmers markets, there’s absolutely no plastic allowed on premises, and the kitchen works with local fisheries and personal friends to find seafood that’s exactly right for them. Which, on paper, kind of sounds like a book report. But you’ll eat clams steamed in wine and fruity olive oil, beautifully plated crudos, and oysters decorated with purple wildflowers. And if tossing back locally sourced oysters on Main Street in Santa Monica doesn’t scream “I’m a responsible, cosmopolitan person living my life in a major city,” we don’t know what will.
When this cozy, subterranean French bistro opened in Beverlywood back in June, it felt as if the entire universe was trying to woo us. The weather was warm, Olivia Rodrigo dropped a break-up album, and at Bicyclette, we were served a potato mousseline so silky, we could have worn it like a Reformation dress. Run by the LA power duo behind Republique, Bicyclette specializes in French home-style cooking. You’ll find heavy dishes, like beef short rib a la bourguignonne and caramelized onion tarts—in essence, everything that tastes like it was designed to be eaten in the early 1700s by candlelight on the European countryside. No meal is complete without the escargot en croute, a wonderful snail dish served in white-hot ceramic shot glasses that is half-spectacle, half-spiritual cleansing bath. Do we always crave French food that tastes like it was surgically injected with butter by Julia Child herself? Not really. But when we do, we’ll head to Bicyclette.
This year was a roller coaster. Tears were known to spring from our eyes at a moment’s notice and that hippo-shaped stress ball on our desk saw some action. And on those tough days, we gravitated towards Ggiata at lunchtime. The East Hollywood sandwich shop is a total throw-back to the neighborhood sub shops in the tri-state area. You’ll spot sandwiches filled with things like crispy chicken cutlets drenched in spicy vodka sauce, meatball parmesan, and tangy grilled balsamic chicken with roasted red peppers. Though there are a few traditional cold cut options on the menu, most of the sandwiches here feel more like entrees on bread—and that’s a great attribute in our books. The operation is technically to-go only, but if you need your comfort immediately, check out the tiny counter along the wall in the adjacent alley. It’s a great place to post-up, eat a sandwich, and walk out feeling much better about your life.
LA Cha Cha Cha
This Mexican spot was one of the first new restaurants we visited when places began reopening in the spring, and stepping onto the rooftop patio was like ascending into an ethereal garden of post-pandemic bliss. You’ll find lush alcoves filled with secret booths, a massive standalone bar decked out in shiny green marble, and unparalleled views of Downtown. This international transplant (its original location is in Mexico City) makes LA look like a million bucks, and if you’ve been in hibernation, it strikes the perfect tone for a big night out on the town without feeling overwhelming. That said, Cha Cha Cha is more than pretty aesthetics—the food and cocktails are great too. We love the earthy hongos tacos, and the steak pa’taquear is essentially a build-your-own taco station filled with NY strip steak, charred tomatoes and nopales, and blue jean-colored corn tortillas. But if you don’t get the terraza tostada, you’ve done it all wrong. Topped with translucent tuna and crispy cilantro, it’s one of our favorite single dishes of the year.
If Gigi’s is a sexy new Hollywood restaurant, then Horses is a sexier, newer Hollywood restaurant. This French-ish spot in the old Pikey space on Sunset has preserved the dark red booths, worn-in wooden bar, and general anything-is-possible-tonight feel that has made this location such a local hang since it was called Ye Coach & Horses almost a century ago. But despite the space’s history, Horses provides lots of new flair. For starters, they manage to make horse decor feel edgy. And the seasonal food elevates it from another Hollywood martini place, to a big anniversary or birthday dinner destination. From the endive caesar to the adorable Cornish hen with dandelion panzanella, Horses’ menu is full of delicious surprises.
It’s not often we get excited about hotel lobby restaurants, but The Barish is a major exception. Located on the ground floor of The Hollywood Roosevelt, this Italian spot oozes genuine Old Hollywood glam from every pore. You’ll find Art Deco chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, leather banquettes, and a large marble bar just begging patrons to have a seat and drink a martini. The Nancy Silverton-helmed menu is filled with standout dishes like pillowy, ricotta-topped pizza fritta, steak tartare with mustard seeds and kohlrabi, and goat cheese-stuffed rigatoni that transports you to the holidays even if it’s July and you’re kind of sweating. If you’re looking for a fancy dinner spot in Hollywood, The Barish is where you need to be.
When Shiku, a Korean banchan stall run by the team behind now-closed Baroo, opened in the Grand Central Market at the end of 2020, we had a few questions. Namely, what the hell? But there’s power in embracing the masses. Take that photo of Bernie Sanders flying coach, for example, which was all over our Twitter feeds for like, a month. Similarly, by leaving its more experimental roots behind, Shiku represents a new chapter in the Baroo family tree, one that’s more accessible in every sense of the word, placing familiar favorites like galbi-jjim and marinated chicken on the same menu as hyper-specific regional banchan. We’ve seen more types of kimchi than we could ever imagine here, plastic containers filled to the brim with spicy, bright-red corn kernels, and wild mountain greens dotted with sesame seeds. So, while Shiku doesn’t offer the same avant-garde, laser-focused fermentations of its past iterations, it’s able to do something just as revolutionary: deliver excellent Korean cooking straight to the mainstream.
Even if your interest in restaurants has been somewhat casual this year, chances are you’ve at least heard of Gigi’s. This upscale French spot is one of the most talked about LA openings thanks to a sexy space on a Hollywood side street and a crowd with more IMDB credits than the Friends reunion cast. A great night here is one that features big entrances, loud outfits, several rounds of oysters and martinis, and eavesdropping on at least one neighboring table trying to figure out how to get ayahuasca across international borders. It’d be easy to write this place off as an average see-and-be-seen type spot, but Gigi’s breaks the mold because their food is delicious. The daily crudos are fresh and interesting, the carmelized onion-topped cheeseburger is great to share on a date (or hog for yourself while sitting at the bar), and the mustardy steak frites is one of our favorite versions in town. And yes, the fact that an Avenger is sitting one table over doesn’t hurt either.