Anyone who thought LA's dining situation was bound to fizzle out at some point can think again. 2016 was arguably our best year yet. And while exciting new restaurants opened all across the city, these ten spots are the ones that stuck out the most to us this year. Among them is a Nashville hot chicken spot, a modern Burmese restaurant, and an entirely outdoor Mexican BBQ place. There's also a pasta place on Melrose, a comfort food joint in Highland Park, and a restaurant from the future.
Check out our list of 2016's ten best new restaurants, and work your way through the spots that made LA a great place to be eating this year.
Salazar is one of those places that makes getting everything right look easy. The almost-entirely-outdoor restaurant by the LA river (not as terrible as it sounds) serves excellent Baja-style Mexican BBQ with strong cocktails, house-made tortillas, and an atmosphere that feels like you're on a long weekend in Austin. There will come a moment here when you glance around at the very full and happy communal tables, with the sun setting behind the hills, and wonder: why isn't every restaurant in LA like this?
Howlin’ Ray's did spend the last few years roaming around the Eastside as a food truck, but this year they went full brick-and-mortar in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, and we might never be the same. So what’s all the fuss about? Nashville hot chicken. The kind of hot that will stay will you throughout the day, into the night, and somehow still make you wake up and crave it the next morning. Lines are admittedly long all day at this order-at-the-counter spot, but no matter how long the wait might be - stick it out. Howlin' Ray's will not disappoint you.
On paper, Kali might seem like every other restaurant you’ve been to this year: a minimalist interior, slightly overpriced lunch options, and beets all over the menu. But the difference begins the second everything hits the table. That $14 risotto you rolled your eyes at earlier is actually black barley and some sort of fried cheese you'll be thinking about on your wedding day. That beet tartar you’re questioning? One of our favorite dishes this year. Kali is a straightforward spot that’s not afraid to change up the familiar - and that’s exactly what sets it apart.
Norah took over the terrible West Coast location of Don’t Tell Mama (Waiters sing! But they also forget to serve you!) and delivered a stunning new restaurant on a stretch of Santa Monica Blvd. that can never have enough places for an industry dinner. The large space is certainly upscale, but not in the way that will bore you. The American-ish food is phenomenal, the drinks are excellent, and if you want to impress a sexy date without having to deal with the chaos of Sunset Strip, this is where you do it. Order the cornbread or die unhappy.
This spot on a quiet part of Santa Monica Blvd. is putting out a $49 Japanese-Taiwanese tasting menu that might be one of the best deals in town. It's also carrying the flag for the Westside, which hasn't seen a whole lot of interesting openings this year. The menu is constantly changing, but it will almost definitely involve smoked hamachi with a charred scallion sauce and a killer buttermilk pudding. Don't skip the fried chicken sandwich add-on either.
It’s also been a pretty slow year for Silver Lake, but Daw-Yee is bringing something actually different to the neighborhood. Don’t be fooled by its cute, ready-for-your-social-media interior either. Daw-Yee is way more than that - it's serving delicious, authentic Burmese food and we want all of it. Whether you’re coming in with a few friends for a last-minute midweek dinner or a casual first date, this strip-mall spot is an Eastside must.
Destroyer is in the suddenly-too-cool Hayden Tract part of Culver City, it's only open during the day, and the food is pretty experimental (bordering on definitely brought to us from the future). These things might normally give us pause, but in the case of Destroyer, we are all in. The beef tartare, which looks like a bowl of radishes when it hits the table, is up there in the top five things we've eaten all year. Destroyer serves food you'll almost certainly be excited to eat, and you won't find anything else like it in LA.
Life is generally great, but sometimes the going gets tough - and the only place we want to be after a week from hell is Cafe Birdie. The Highland Park spot isn’t small by any means, but just walking through the door you’re immediately comforted. The vibe is laid-back, the interior feels like your rich aunt’s French provincial home, and everything from the fried chicken to the pork ragu is fantastic. Bonus: there’s a hidden bar in the back for all your pre-dinner revelry.
Spartina frankly could be that modern, pretentious Italian restaurant you go to once a year because someone boring has a birthday. But instead, it’s a spot we could see ourselves at once a week, because it never takes itself too seriously. The fantastic space on Melrose, with its massive front patio, is as perfect for you and your friends (to polish off a few bottles of wine and bitch about life) as it is for a solo meal (at the bar with a bowl of pasta after work). Just leave room for that walnut pie - it’s transformative.