Chef Virgilio Martinez Tells Us His Favorite Los Angeles Restaurants - Exclusive

Central in Lima was recently crowned the World's Best Restaurant, which means that its owner and head chef, Virgilio Martinez, is the best chef in the world. A chef who travels all over Peru, Martinez loves finding new and interesting ingredients to add to his seasonal menus. The dishes he creates from these explorations are why most believe he received the top honors in Spain last summer. But Martinez doesn't just limit his travels up and down the borders of Peru; he also takes time out of his busy schedule to visit other cities and countries all over the world.

He recently came to Los Angeles for the annual LA Food Bowl to sign his newest cookbook and show Angelenos how he turns new and unusual ingredients into unique versions of ceviche and potatoes. After sampling the dishes, it's safe to say that Martinez knows a thing or two about unusual ingredients and how to turn them into a delicious dish. Unfortunately, Martinez can't make these recipes every day for every meal. So, what does he eat while he's in town? We asked him, and he was nice enough to share his favorite Los Angeles restaurants. While you may not be able to visit all the restaurants on 50's Best or even the top restaurant, Central, you could definitely visit the three Martinez hits whenever he's in town.


Before COVID-19 forced restaurants all over Los Angeles to close their doors, Martinez visited Vespertine, one of the casualties, often because he and the head chef, Jordan Kahn, are "very good friends." Unfortunately, the lockdown and several allegations of misconduct from former employees kept the restaurant from reopening. But that didn't stop Kahn from setting his sights on a new venture: Meteora, a restaurant Martinez also makes a point of visiting when he's in town.

Opening on Melrose in July of 2022, Meteora is another fine-dining restaurant similar to Vespertine. But where Vespertine focused on just a tasting menu of several courses, Meteora gives the diners a few different options. They can either enjoy a different tasting menu where they choose their favorite protein or put Kahn in the driver's seat with his "omakase" and experience a meal that will excite every one of their senses. Unlike other Los Angeles prix fixe experiences, this particular fine dining experience isn't just about taste and flavor; the diners' senses of smell and sight will be entranced as well.

If you're not interested in a full dinner, Meteora recently added a bar and lounge that allows diners to experience Meteora in a more relaxed atmosphere. Not only is there a plethora of interesting cocktails, but several small dishes will give you a taste of Kahn's expertise without all the pomp and circumstance.

Kato Restaurant

Kato has been around since 2016. But what started as a tiny, little Michelin-starred must-visit restaurant in a strip mall in West Los Angeles has turned into a must-visit fine-dining restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Although dining at Kato means enjoying a high-priced prix fixe menu, its new, larger location means diners can add wine or cocktails to their experience as well, thanks to the liquor license chef Jon Yao acquired when he opened the restaurant in its new Arts District location.

Garnering raves from several different publications, including the New York and Los Angeles Times, as well as a constant stream of reservations and three James Beard Awards from 2018-2020, confirms what Martinez told us: That this restaurant is "good. Really good." 

Reviews like these aren't a surprise as Yao did what most did during the pandemic: He experimented. Testing different breads and sampling a variety of fish led to Kato's current menu, which includes interesting dishes like Japanese tilefish in a clam sauce and Dungeness crab. Adding Austin Hennelly as the bar director to create cocktails that pair with these interesting menu options means Kato is definitely one Los Angeles restaurant worth a visit.

Mario's Peruvian & Seafood

At the other end of the spectrum from a fine dining prix fixe experience is Mario's. A little hole in the wall that allows Angelenos to experience classic Peruvian food at its best. Located on Melrose in Hollywood, this restaurant serves standard Peruvian dishes and always has a line, especially at peak lunch and dinner hours. According to patrons, this is the place to go in Los Angeles when you want classic Peruvian food, especially ceviche, which is why Martinez makes it a must-visit when he's in Southern California. "I'm just very curious to see what the Peruvians are doing here," he explains as he signs his newest cookbook: "The Latin American Cookbook."

Even though the menu focuses on a wide range of ceviches and seafood dishes, people also make the trek to East Hollywood for the lomo saltado and aji verde, a green chili sauce that adds the perfect amount of spice to an already flavorful dish. But whichever dish you order, expect to have enough leftover for another meal or two, as several items include a side of boiled potatoes, steamed corn, and pickled onions.