Being known as the food person in your circle is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you garner respect for your culinary knowledge, but on the other hand you risk becoming an on-call concierge for friends looking for mealtime advice. While it’s flattering and makes for a delicious form of r&d, it also makes for a lot of emailing. So, for everyone’s convenience, I’m going to start periodically posting my recommendations here.
Though I cook a lot more than I eat out, I’ve logged in a fair amount of dining hours these past few months, especially in the cities where I’ve been spending the most time, San Francisco and Los Angeles. By no means the newest, or hottest, but by all means the best food I’ve eaten in the last 100 days, here are places worth a bookmark.
I’m in San Francisco about half time these days so I split it up by going to places I’ve long loved with trying out places on the ever-growing list of newbies.
Melissa Perello’s latest restaurant has been open well over a year, but Frances is still the place I take out-of-towners when I want to show them a loved-by-the-locals San Francisco restaurant that celebrates modern, seasonal California food. Start off with a market shot (seasonal, freshly squeezed juice that’s spiked) and you’ll immediately understand the fresh Frances way. The menu changes frequently but the smoked bacon beignets, the bavette steak, and the Lumberjack cake are my must haves.
Confession: Chinese food is far down on my list of preferred foods, but then Mission Chinese food isn’t exactly Americanized Chinese fare. In fact, it’s nothing close to it. Sure the flavors are traditionally Chinese in origin but the way chef Danny Bowien combines them is decidedly modern from the tingly lamb stew and the barbecue brisket (a twist on Peking duck) to salt cod fried rice and an Asian-slant on corned beef That and the fact you’re in an off-putting grungy spot in the heart of the Mission that’s turning out expertly executed dishes for a very affordable price? It’s good stuff.
Like a hybrid of a taqueria and an Indian street food joint, Kasa is my go-to for a quick bite of Indian food without risking feeling like I’ve had a ghee transfusion. The kati rolls are petite (ie most guys I know eat 2 to 4 at a clip) but they’re packed with spice, heat, and lots of vegetables and within a few bites I’m transported back to the streets of India.
Comstock had been around well over six months when I finally tried it out and I instantly understood why my cocktail-loving friends were pestering me to get there. They put a lot of attention into the cocktail program and just as much attention into the 19th-century decor that’s a throwback to the Barbary Coast era of San Francisco.
If Comstock pay respects to the past, then Bar Agricole is a beacon for an idealistic farm-to-table (and shaker) future They’re almost neurotically seasonal about not only the food but also the cocktails and I’ve got nothing but respect that they’re able to pull it off so beautifully. The interior looks like it should be an installation at Art Basel Miami Beach rather than a restaurant in a grungy part of San Francisco, yet it somehow feels like exactly where you want to be without one hint of stuffiness.
Though I’m spending the majority of my time in Southern California, it’s taken a while to get reacquainted with Los Angeles, because I’ve spent the past few months holed up recipe testing and writing. What I lacked in dining out last fall, I’ve quickly made up for this winter and have fallen for the following places:
I hadn’t been here in a long while so my food memories of Osteria Mozza were starting to fade away. But as that memory was fading, my longing for a trip to Italy was waxing, and, knowing that I didn’t have the resources to get to Europe anytime soon, I figured a dinner at Mozza would be a fair stand in. It did so and then some with exquisite service, a tome of a wine list, and the best octopus I’ve had in years.
Roy Choi became the sweetheart chef of Los Angeles after his Kogi trucks created a craze and gained a cult following. His food empire has moved beyond his fleet of taco-flinging trucks and has spilled over to restaurants. In November, he opened his second restaurant, A-Frame, with David Reiss in a former IHOP space in Culver City. The restaurant so far west in Culver City that my dining buddies tried to tell me it wasn’t even L.A. anymore. No matter how far west it was, it was worth the drive. Some of the food was a tad too sweet, one dish was slightly undercooked, but those were minor hiccups as all of if was raucous, fun, and lighthearted.
This place got a bad rap before it even started for a run-in with a reputable LA food critic. However, chef Jordan Kahn‘s pedigree and one look at the menu convinced me to let my taste buds do the judging. The location is a bit of a no-man’s land part of Wilshire but it’s worth the trek. The platings look like mini art renderings of zen gardens, but the fresh, seasonal spins on Asian flavors prove that the gorgeous dishes have flavor to back them up.
This place had big shoes to fill as it took over the old Grace space on Beverly Boulevard. I knew I was on to something when I ran into a handful of food-loving friends when I stepped inside. The food is, as chef John Rivera Sedlar desires, a modern slant on Latin food that’s as much artistic as it is flavorful. The drinks too aren’t to be missed either with as much attention paid to Averna as to tequila — a rarity in Los Angeles — and a bar staff almost as big as the kitchen staff.
I’m biased toward this place because my own cooking is very much rooted in the same modern Mediterranean flavors of Momed. With a deli case full of vibrant, colorful (and healthy) salads, and a flatbread that may induce fights, it’s almost hard to go wrong here.