Not to beat a dead horse, but LA's culinary scene is on some for-real next-level plane right now: The Washington Post ranked it No. 3 in the country, above NY and Chicago; GQ called it the most exciting food scene in America; and Lucky Peach ALSO called it the best food city in America. Of course, the credit goes to chefs who next-leveled the game this year. Our line-up of the best chefs in town includes one of LA's most notorious chefs who spent the year trying to change the way the country eats fast food, the chef from 2015's most unlikely critically acclaimed hit, Baroo, and a pastry chef working out of a small window in Chinatown. Also in the mix? Other household names (Curtis Stone!) and exciting newbies (Ria Wilson!). To figure out what makes them (and the city) tick, we interviewed them all: Here are Thrillist Los Angeles' chefs of the year.
LocoLAddress and Info
Roy Choi's bestselling book is called L.A. Son, and the Kogi founder has become one of the city's defining voices in the last decade, but his year this year -- which found him launching LocoL, the Watts-based fast-food restaurant that's aiming to change the way people in underserved communities eat, as well as partnering with Whole Foods for an outpost of his beloved rice bowl spot Chego and the first-ever brick-and-mortar Kogi Taqueria -- was particularly noteworthy. We spoke with him about the challenges he didn't see coming with LocoL; what it means to be an adult in today's world; and why this year was so challenging in our Q&A right here.
ErvenAddress and Info
It was no small decision to name Nick Erven's all-vegan eponymous restaurant our Restaurant of the Year, but it was definitely the right one: Though there's not even a hint of meat on the menu, Erven has proven that it's one of the most exciting -- and flavorful -- openings this year. We spoke to Nick Erven about whether he's ahead of or riding the wave of the vegan trend, why Santa Monica was the perfect home for him, and what he's looking forward to next year.
Unit 120Address and Info
After working in many of LA’s best restaurants -- including running the pastry program at Orsa & Winston -- Isa Fabro has carved out her own notable path this year to become the name you need to know if you have a sweet tooth in LA. At Unit 120, Chef Alvin Cailan’s restaurant incubator in Chinatown, she’s spent the year slinging deliciously creative, often Filipino-inspired desserts, as well as plenty of savory options. There were the isamadas, her namesake mashup of flaky French kouign amann and ensaymadas, a Filipino brioche, which she fills with ube and tops with sweet cheese -- and, of course, there was her the wildly successful Detroit-style pizza pop-up this fall. Recently she’s been working tirelessly to turn out her holiday pies, which include Filipino riffs like Food for the Gods, which features a brown butter filling with dates and walnuts, and caramelized coconut on top. We talked with her about the emergence of Filipino food into LA culture, her proudest moments of the year, and working out of a tiny popup window.
BarooAddress and Info
Though Baroo opened in late 2015, this was definitely the year the restaurant broke: The tiny spot, which concentrates on palate-popping dishes that taste, well, like nothing you've ever had thanks to fermented seaweed and fruits and outsider grains like Job's tears, was anointed one of Bon Apétit's best restaurants in the US this year, just one among a number of accolades that have made the strip-mall spot a must-visit destination for any LA food tourist. Chef Kwang Uh answered our questions via email, which we've edited for clarity; he waxes philosophically about critical recognition, how incredible this year was for him, and what's next for him and his partner Matthew Kim.
Go Get Em TigerAddress and Info
You may not yet know Ria Wilson’s name, but there’s a good chance you’ve eaten her food. Whether it was when she helped to open Sqirl, or when she ran the Wild at Canelé residency with her husband Matt. And even if you haven’t, you’re going to want to make your way to Go Get Em Tiger in Los Feliz to devour her all-day, Filipino-inspired brunch menu. While at first glance you might take the offerings to be your standard breakfast fare, the flavor-packed options include clever variations like an adobo grain bowl topped with an egg or the pan de sal breakfast sandwich with Filipino-cured bacon. It’s the perfect cross-section for those looking to venture into new territory with on-trend Filipino flavors, and we talked to Wilson about Filipino food's breaking through this year, as well as what she's got on tap for next year.
GwenAddress and Info
In a town full of people who've built their name on a TV-star reputation, Curtis Stone stands out for proving that he's more than just a pretty face: At Maude, his first restaurant in LA, he became a fixture at the stoves, making incredible tasting menus that rapidly demonstrated he was no food-stylist showboat but an absolute next-level chef. For a sequel, he brought the city the grand, beautiful Gwen, which has become a must-visit food destination in Hollywood -- and when's the last time that part of the city had one of those? We talked to him about his banner year, what it's like to work with family, and why he loves LA.
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1. LocoL1950 E 103rd St, Los Angeles
2. Chego! at Whole Foods Market788 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles
3. Kogi Taqueria3500 Overland Ave, Los Angeles
4. Erven514-516 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica
5. Unit 120727 N Broadway, Los Angeles
6. Baroo5706 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles
7. Go Get Em Tiger230 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles
8. Gwen6600 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
This fast food concept spot by Chego!/Pot/Kogi superstar chef Ray Choi promises delicious, high quality foodie fare at an affordable price. Opened in collaboration Michelin-starred chef Daniel Patterson, Locol serves a healthy-leaning menu that includes burgers, noodle and rice bowls, and egg-in-a-hole breakfasts.
Roy Choi’s Korean rice bowl concept Chego! has expanded from its original Chinatown spot into DTLA's Whole Foods Market. Find menu favorites like the Chubby Pork Belly Bowl, Sour Cream Hen House, and Ooey Gooey Fries served from a counter in the prepared foods section of the store. You can get them and others by the bowl, or on a large-format tray if you're feeding a group... or if you're just extra hungry, we're not judging.
Kogi Taqueria in a Palms strip mall is the first brick-and-mortar space for Kogi BBQ, Roy Choi's wildly popular food truck. The Korean-Mexican fusion menu revolves around tacos and burritos filled with Choi's take on classic fillings (short rib, spicy pork, carne asada), plus trademarks like hot wings, Korean-spiced fries, and kimchi quesadillas. Interior-wise, the counter-service spot takes a cue from traditional fast-food joints, but elements of Choi's unique hip hop aesthetic are scattered throughout.
Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Nick Erven opened this minimalist Santa Monica restaurant in 2016 after leaving Fundamental LA to create a plant-based menu of his own. His simple but sophisticated kitchen whips up entirely vegan plates like chickpea fritters, mushroom bread pudding, and saffron risotto that will make you rethink your own meat-filled diet.
From the chef/owner of Eggslut, Unit 120 is a restaurant incubator that offers kitchen space and a dining room to restaurant-hopefuls. Mentor Alvin Cailan is providing a much-needed platform to rising chefs to test their concepts and learn the management skills required to run a restaurant, all while introducing Angelenos to innovative dishes and flavors. Past concepts include Here's Looking at You, Lasa, and Cailan's own Amboy.
This tiny, nondescript spot in an East Hollywood strip mall is helmed by chefs who've worked the kitchens of the world's best restaurants, Noma and Daniel. The restaurant's name comes from the bowl that Buddhist monks use for their meals, and the Asian-influenced menu features fitting grain bowls for no more than $15. You probably won't recognize much on the menu, but the out-of-this-world flavor combinations and unique ingredients will leave you beyond satisfied.
The pastries? Great. Indoor seating? Also great. Hand-painted astronaut who looks like he’s floating across the wall? Yup, great. The greatest great though? The Full Nelson, a flight of coffee drinks named after one of the shop's regulars that includes an espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, and that phenomenal G&B shake.
From Curtis Stone (the Australian celeb chef behind Maude) and his brother comes Gwen, an upscale butcher shop meets whole-animal restaurant with a five-course tasting menu. On it, you'll find everything from slow-roasted ribs to handmade orecchiette, plus charcuterie and other "Butchers Scraps." The ultimate bonus: whether or not you're already a fan, you should know that Gwen serves Australia's revered St. Ali coffee -- a rare find in the US.