Anyone who says Los Angeles is a lousy food city must either be from San Francisco (L.A.’s fierce intrastate rival) or doesn’t like to drive. From whimsical tapas to otherworldly mozzarella-based appetizers to gourmet hamburgers aimed at tapping umami, the so called fifth flavor, L.A.’s diverse and well-spread-out restaurant scene is riding high. Following are six modern spots offering the city’s best bites.
The Bazaar by José Andrés (465 S. La Cienega Blvd.; thebazaar.com) is like no place else, and the buzz at this Philippe Starck-designed restaurant in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills has been cacophonous since it opened a year ago. And for good reason: celebrity chef José Andrés’ hugely creative nuevo and traditional Spanish tapas will make you swoon. Be leery of Bar Centro, which can resemble a scene out of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” but rush to reserve a table in the calmer Blanca or Rojo rooms. Once situated, go with either a $45 or $65 tasting menu or plot your own course with mind-blowing small plates including Papas Canarias in a mojo verde, a modern caprese salad with mozzarella buttons that explode in your mouth, or a perfect piece of arctic char dressed with tzatziki and placed over chick pea cakes. As for wines, the chef’s national beverage director Lucas Paya has assembled an excellent collection that spans all major Spanish wine regions.
By all accounts, Animal (435 N. Fairfax Ave.; animalrestaurant.com) is where L.A.’s serious foodie gang has been gathering for the past year plus. Run by the Florida-born former caterers Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (authors of the Two Dudes, One Pan cookbook), Animal is all about powerful flavors, natural ingredients and taking comfort food to a higher plane. A recent visit yielded gems like bionic-tasting chicken liver crostini, a marvelous monkfish stew, and hedonistic apple-cinnamon doughnuts for dessert.
Tavern (11648 San Vicente Blvd.; tavernla.com) is the newest spot from popular chefs/ restaurateurs Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne (Lucques and A.O.C.). Located in Brentwood in West L.A., Tavern is a good choice for a mellow, hipster-free Sunday brunch or a casual but classy dinner. The menu is chock-full of modern American offerings like slow-roasted pork, sweet potatoes, spinach and bacon, while the restaurant’s larder section offers baked goods, salads and picnic boxes to go.
A couple of years ago New Yorkers Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich teamed up with local celeb baker Nancy Silverton to open Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza (6602 Melrose Ave.; mozza-la.com). Today you still need to reserve exactly one month ahead for the pizza parlor but the more elevated osteria is accessible with a few weeks notice. Go for the terrific mozzarella bar, blow-you-away pastas and one of the best Italian wine lists in the city.
When is a hamburger more than just a hamburger? When it’s being served at Umami Burger (850 S. La Brea Ave.; umamiburger.com), the leading contender for best burger joint in a city where legendary In-N-Out was spawned. Opened last year by Adam Fleischman (co-founder of BottleRock wine bar) to emphasize the alleged fifth taste, Umami Burger comes on strong with toppings like softly caramelized onions, artisan blue cheese, sautéed mushrooms and more. Even the French fries and beer-battered onion rings are out of this world. Of note: new locations with full beer and wine service recently opened in Los Feliz and Hollywood.
Coolhaus (roving locations; eatcoolhaus.com), an architecture-inspired ice cream truck owned by partners Natasha Case and Freya Estreller, can usually be found parked at farmers markets, crafts fairs and the like. The only product is ice cream sandwiches, or maybe we should say a generous scoop of gourmet ice cream wedged between a pair of chewy cookies, and served in edible rice paper. Flavors are named after well-known architects—Frank Berry, Mies Vanilla Rohe, I.M. Peinut Butter and Lambrunelleschi (made from reduced Lambrusco), among others. Design and ice cream lovers should seek out the pink-topped, converted postal truck to indulge in a unique take on everyone’s favorite snack. To find out where the truck will be parked on a given day, check the Coolhaus Web site’s calendar or go to twitter.com/coolhaus.