In the Where to Eat: 25 Best series, we’re highlighting our favorite restaurants in cities across the United States. These lists will be updated as restaurants close and open, and as we find new gems to recommend. As always, we pay for all of our meals and don’t accept free items.
This family-run Thai restaurant in Sherman Oaks has a superpower: shape-shifting. Tuesdays are for Thai-inspired tacos and tostadas, which make sense the second you taste them, or for cheffy, one-off collaborations, while the last weekend of each month means it’s time for Justin Pichetrungsi’s freestyle tasting menu. But what some might consider the ordinary days in between are a joy, too, with dishes like the mouthwatering fish custard haw mok or Southern Thai fried chicken. That’s when the restaurant plays the part of neighborhood gem and you can see all the loving updates that Mr. Pichetrungsi made after he took over from his parents and bulked up the wine program.
14704 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks; 818-501-4201; anajakthai.com
Italian country cooking is an endlessly replicated genre in Southern California, but a visit to Chad Colby’s open kitchen and glowing, grown-up dining room is an energizing reminder of how irresistible it can be when handled with focus and skill. Go for the slightly esoteric, perfectly made pastas, like dimpled foglie d’ulivo, perky malloreddus and slippery, thin-skinned plin dell’ alta langa, but don’t let it be at the expense of the olive oil-soaked focaccia, the beans baked with bread over a wood fire or the intensely flavored ice creams.
4653 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323-510-3093; anticonuovo-la.com
North African, Middle Eastern
Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis built their reputations on rigorous Italian fare at their downtown ace Bestia, but this is the restaurant that showed us what they could really do. Bavel is a roaring, pleasure-driven powerhouse of North African and Middle Eastern cooking, and even dishes that were on its opening menu five years ago, like the laminated strips of malawach with crème fraîche and strawberry zhoug, feel fresh, fundamental and totally uninhibited.
500 Mateo Street No. 102, Los Angeles; 213-232-4966; baveldtla.com
Jewish, New American
The steaks at Birdie G’s may be impeccable, but some of the restaurant’s most exciting maneuvers are often vegetarian, or almost vegetarian, or entirely vegan. (The chef, Jeremy Fox, did write a cookbook called “On Vegetables,” after all.) The kitchen seems to delight in sneaking cheeky, technical marvels and from-scratch fermentations, pickles and preserves into the most casual of dishes, without drawing too much attention to them. And the kids’ menu, with its matzo margherita pizza and fresh pasta with butter, is one of the most charming in the city, if you’re keeping up with that sort of thing.
2421 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica; 310-310-3616; birdiegsla.com
There aren’t many places I’d rather be in the late afternoon when it’s time for a drink and a bite than Found Oyster’s narrow bar, or its cluster of sidewalk seating. The no-reservations policy is only a tiny nuisance — you can wait around with a glass of wine until you’re sitting down happily with some head-on prawns, a crab cocktail and a dozen just-shucked oysters. Considering that seafood is the point here, the bar steak and fries are far better than they ought to be, as is the weekend schnitzel hidden under a big salad draped with white anchovies. And while the restaurant doesn’t make dessert, it’s hard to complain when they sell slices from Nicole Rucker’s pie shop Fat + Flour.
4880 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles; 323-486-7920; foundoyster.com
Bay scallops and chocolate clams from Baja. Line-caught tuna from around the Channel Islands. Spot prawns from Santa Barbara. Gilberto Cetina runs a mariscos stand inside Mercado La Paloma that seems fairly unbuttoned, but don’t be fooled: He’s serving some of the highest quality and most beautifully prepared seafood in Los Angeles. Order these not just in sunny ceviches, cocteles and tostadas, but also grilled, fried, roasted and stewed with stacks of hot tortillas on the side — Fátimah Juárez nixtamalizes and mills the corn in-house. Once you understand the draw of Mr. Cetina’s counter, you’ll want to reserve a seat for the eight-course tasting menu he serves two nights a week.
3655 South Grand Avenue No. C9, Los Angeles; 213-986-9972; holboxla.com
Wedchayan Arpapornnopparat and Tongkamal Yuon first got my attention during the pandemic with their sai oua, each link of the Northern Thai-style sausage holding more deep and vivid flavor than seemed actually possible, packed for easy pickup and cooking at home. Though their space has grown to include a fuller menu, and tables, the best part of Holy Basil is that it still treats simple kra pow, that habit-forming Bangkok street-style stir-fry seasoned with red chiles and herbs, with all of the care and attention it deserves (and makes the unusual addition of juicy snap peas seem essential). Most of the dishes come with a heap of purple riceberry, dark and pleasingly chewy. Just because you can swap it out for white rice doesn’t mean that you should.
718 South Los Angeles Street, Space A, Los Angeles; 213-559-4994; holybasildtla.com
The wait outside Kenji Tang’s Malaysian coffee shop starts at the beginning of breakfast service and goes on throughout the day, as locals pop in to chat over cups of white coffee and dark heaps of sticky rice, ripping through layers of roti to scoop up shimmering beef rendang, or sharing kaya toasts stuffed with delightfully thick slices of butter, dripping with homemade, caramel-colored coconut jam. The place isn’t built for lingering — tables are crunched together and someone is always waiting for yours, usually right in view — but it’s hard to resist staying for one more egg tart, or one more cup of frothy milk tea.
1411 South Garfield Avenue No. 104, Alhambra; 626-703-4198; ipoh-kopitiam.com
You don’t have to know Jon Yao’s story to enjoy his restaurant. You could be oblivious to his journey from a scrappy, ambitious Taiwanese-leaning restaurant in a strip mall to this chic, decidedly luxurious space downtown, complete with all the bells and whistles required of a serious, big-budget fine-dining restaurant. You could simply go, sit down for the $275 tasting menu, and let it work its magic — revealing to you, moment by carefully choreographed moment, exactly what this format is capable of and why submitting yourself to it can be such a worthwhile pleasure.
777 South Alameda Street, Building 1, Suite 114, Los Angeles; 213-797-5770; katorestaurant.com
Lasita bills itself as a Filipino rotisserie and natural-wine bar, but in addition to the beautiful chicken Inasal, marinated in vinegar and calamansi juice, served crisp and practically hairy with the fibers of so many crushed aromatics and spices, there’s a whole menu to fall for here. Swirls of fatty lechon, whole fish, lumpia, pancit and all sorts of stylish and surprising specials that come and go quickly.
727 North Broadway No. 120, Los Angeles; 213-443-6163; lasita-la.com
One of the many joys of living in Los Angeles is that a quick breakfast around the corner might involve tacos — specifically soft, hot, housemade corn tortillas piled with daikon pickles and thinly sliced, grilled rib-eye, dripping with lime juice or sweet, smoky beets al pastor. Macheen, an energetic taco pop-up with a residency inside Milpa Grille in Boyle Heights and regular appearances at Smorgasburg and Distrito Catorce, continues to expand on the form with equal parts finesse and playfulness (and isn’t above adding an egg to a taco, if that’s what your heart desires).
2633 East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles; 323-269-2995; instagram.com/_macheen
Andrew and Michelle Muñoz started out hosting pop-ups out of their home in Los Angeles, inspired by the style and flavor of Central Texas barbecue, getting better and better with each time. Wobbly, still-steamy slices of brisket, housemade sausages and ribs (with excellent sides and soft slices of potato bread) are still the touchstones of the menu at their busy brick-and-mortar restaurant. But it’s also fun to enjoy Moo’s smoked meats in the form of single-subject sandwiches, whether the juicy, smoky pulled pork, the chopped brisket or the excellent smoked burgers — specials that developed such an intensely loyal fan base, they became a permanent fixture.
2118 North Broadway, Los Angeles; 323-686-4133; mooscraftbarbecue.com
The first bite at Morihiro tends to be a creamy, bite-size piece of homemade tofu, an awfully quiet start at a luxurious sushi restaurant, but one that’s startlingly rich and unexpectedly satisfying. Pay attention and you might notice the rice mill in the dining room — it’s where Morihiro Onodera, a chef and potter who made many of the ceramics in the restaurant’s collection, and a star in the Los Angeles sushi scene, spends each morning polishing the rice he imports from Japan. If you’re lucky enough to sit at the counter, you’ll be able to measure the evening in clusters of that warm rice as they move through his hands, one by one, tinting with vinegar before they’re finished with transcendent shivers of fish.
3133 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323-522-3993; morionodera.com
The most luxurious of the French toast options at Ryan Wong’s Cantonese diner is made from milk bread enclosing a rich, salted duck egg custard and drenched in sweetened condensed milk, all unexpected lightness and crunch. You might order at the counter, then have food delivered to your table on paper plates, but Needle’s menu is full of glorious overachievers, tweaked in so many tiny, invisible ways to be the very best versions of themselves, from the exquisite pork chop bun to the spare but ideally textured cheung fun, tenderhearted and crispy-edged.
3827 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; no phone; instagram.com/needle.la
Let’s say you don’t have a soft spot for the gorgeous, grisly, Escoffier-era grandeur of canard à la presse, a specialty of Rouen in which the duck’s carcass is crushed in a wheezing, torturous contraption — bones crunching, blood rushing — to build a rich sauce. That’s all right. You can still have a very good time at Pasjoli. Plenty of other very French dishes at Dave Beran’s bistro are as meticulously calibrated for maximum flavor and interplay of textures, and they won’t cause as much of a scene.
2732 Main Street, Santa Monica; 424-330-0020; pasjoli.com
The little banchan shop spills into a courtyard where you can feast on warm seasoned rice, sweet pepper muchim, marinated okra, perfect spirals of rolled omelets and more of whatever Jihee Kim has cooked in her tiny open kitchen that day. Ms. Kim, who started Perilla as a pop-up during the pandemic’s first wave of restaurant shutdowns, is guided by Korean cooking and fermentation techniques as much as by what excites her at the farmers’ market. The results are as unpredictable as they are delicious.
1027 Alpine Street, Building E, Los Angeles; no phone; perillala.com
Bowls of savory soy milk, doused with vinegar and chile oil, and pork-floss-filled fan tuan made with purple sticky rice are a small, essential part of breakfast at Vivian Ku’s Taiwanese restaurant. The downtown location is informal, but the menu is more expansive and ambitious than her first Pine & Crane, with breakfast now a permanent fixture, lots more dishes through lunch and dinner, a bigger tea program and a list of Taiwanese whiskeys that you can try neat or in chilled, fizzy highballs.
1120 South Grand Avenue, Unit 101, Los Angeles; 213-536-5292; pineandcrane.com/dtla
The grill in the garden outside the offices of the Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) has long been an oasis for those seeking thin, toasted tlayudas filled with gently steamed cabbage and golden dregs of lard, but it has recently transformed into something else, too. As word has spread, Poncho’s has become a destination for blood-sausage connoisseurs of all kinds who travel from every neighborhood in Los Angeles for a taste of Alfonso Martinez’s mastery of the form: dark, sweet, delicate loops, barely marked by the grill, flecked with onion, yerba buena and dried chiles.
4318 South Main Street, Los Angeles; 213-359-0264; ponchostlayudas.com
Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin’s Echo Park pizzeria confidently shifts from thick, airy, crisp-edged Sicilian corners inspired by, say, California Pizza Kitchen’s barbecue chicken pizza one day, to cracker-thin bar pies jeweled with wrinkly, charred Jimmy Nardello peppers the next. Though Ms. Ziskin’s daily dessert specials and seasonal sheet cakes would be reason enough to join the loyal crowd that gathers outside as soon as the restaurant opens. Slices — both savory and sweet — are always worth the wait.
1305 Portia Street, Los Angeles; 424-543-4970; instagram.com/quartersheets
Walter and Margarita Manzke run several good restaurants here, but République is inseparable from the city and its rhythms — the efficient breakfast meetings, the working lunches, the birthdays and anniversaries and date nights. An important note: The breads and pastries aren’t just for looking at on the way in, and the baguette is excellent, even at dinnertime, when you can and should order it with both butter and pan drippings to start your meal.
624 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles; 310-362-6115; republiquela.com
People told Emily Bielagus and Mara Herbkersman not to bother opening a queer bar in Los Angeles in the year 2023, particularly one for the sapphically inclined. Luckily, they didn’t listen. Happy crowds testify to the popularity of an inclusive queer and lesbian bar with good vibes, yes, but also to the easy warmth of the service and the skill and joyful spontaneity of the kitchen, where loaded hot dogs are always available (both meaty and vegan), along with the occasional savory fig galette, tomato and stone fruit salad and platter of fried smelt.
3510 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323-522-6323; therubyfruit.com
Charles Namba’s nimble cooking and Courtney Kaplan’s sake expertise and knack for concise, clear tasting notes, make for a dreamy, welcoming neighborhood izakaya anchored by juicy, perfectly timed yakitori grilled over charcoal, and wobbles of chawanmushi. As summer turns to fall, kabocha squash, mushrooms and fattier fish will slowly make their way onto Mr. Namba’s menu, paired with Ms. Kaplan’s favorite autumnal, umami-rich sakes. If you forgot to make a reservation and the small room is already packed, head next door to Ototo, a fantastic sake bar run by the same team, where you can console yourself with the black-pepper tofu.
1356 Allison Avenue, Los Angeles; 213-900-4900; tsubakila.com
John and Katianna Hong’s soaring downtown space started as a kind of market and deli inspired by both Korean and Ashkenazi Jewish traditions, where dishes like a juicy pea-shoot salad and golden-capped congee potpie always made perfect sense. Recently reimagined as a more formal restaurant, with a more polished and idiosyncratic menu, it’s even easier to love.
712 South Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles; 213-866-1987; yangbanla.com
Asian, New American
Order a single, gigantic pancake and you’ll start to understand the magic of Chris Yang’s endearing all-day cafe in Alhambra, where even a pancake comes together with immense deliberation and care (and locally ground cornmeal and mochi rice and ripe, juicy fruit from the farmers’ market). But Yang’s really gets going at dinner, when you can build a feast of a meal and sip sake and wines from a short, unfussy list that somehow doesn’t look like every other restaurant’s short, unfussy list.
112 West Main Street, Alhambra; 626-281-1035; yangskitchenla.com
In such a peaceful dining room, surrounded by a suspiciously cheerful staff in all-white uniforms, it might seem as if Yess were the headquarters for an arcane Southern Californian cult. But no, this isn’t that kind of restaurant. Junya Yamasaki’s cooking is as precise and controlled as his menu is inviting and flexible: Put together exactly the dinner you feel like eating, whether that’s a long, luxurious sequence of dishes from one of the tasting menus, or simply a cold beer with a hot, crispy katsu doused in Worcestershire sauce that you order à la carte.
2001 East Seventh Street, Los Angeles; no phone; instagram.com/yess.restaurant