2014 was an epic year of restaurant openings.
From bistros and delis to the celebrity-chef and fine dining restaurants, L.A.'s newest food places were as varied as the city itself.
Though there were just as many misses, we rounded up the hits. Here, our favorite new restaurants of the year, plus the best bites of 2014.
Best Classic French Comeback: Petit Trois
Ludo Lefebvre gets back to the basics. Located next door to his fine dining mecca, Trois Mec, Petit Trois is the perfect kind of bistro: an intimate, postage stamp-size dining room; stools at a small counter overlooking an open kitchen; a basic list of French wines; crusty bread with pots of soft, salted butter to start; and a Francophile's menu of comfort foods. The dish we crave most is also the best version in town: Croque monsieur ($18) is an utterly simple masterpiece of gooey Gruyère, Parmesan, ham and creamy béchamel on toasted bread.
Best Reason to Play with Your Food: Alimento
Zach Pollack proves it's okay to get playful. His Silver Lake ristorante elevates ordinary pastas, primi and large platters to share with primo ingredients and masterful technique. But the food doesn't take itself too seriously. Case in point: The pig in a blanket ($11) gets done up with mortadella, melted stracchino cheese, pickled turnip, mustard seeds and tomato jam in between buttery pastry. It's the tastiest lowbrow dish we've had this year.
Best Wine List: Marvin
Marvin is a neighborhood restaurant that prompts you to sit at the bar. For one, the owner greets you as you walk in and will most likely pour your drink and list the day's specials. As many solo diners as groups ponder the menu over pan con tomate with jamón ibérico or house-made bread and Echiré butter. And the raison d'être to sit at the bar: wine. The rotating list of a dozen or so whites, reds, rosés and bubbly actually get us excited about wine. Discover new, small-production (mostly French) vintages you likely have never heard of.
Best Steakhouse with an Italian Accent: Pistola
What exactly is an Italian steakhouse? Pistola answers the question with its menu of Italian aperitifs, classic sides and prime steaks. Add a sleek, boys' club dining room, and the name seems obvious. But while dry-aged tomahawk ($95) or Fiorentina porterhouse for two ($125) is nothing short of impressive, the pastas alone are worth the visit. If you must pick one, go for the carbonara ($23): whole wheat bucatini mixed tableside in buttery soft-boiled egg and Pecorino coating with guanciale, smoked trout, caviar and chives.
Best Celeb Chef Restaurant: Maude
We were skeptical of this celebrity chef-run newbie. But Curtis Stone proves his chops with his tasting menu-only restaurant. Dinner unravels over nine courses showcasing a peak-of-the-season ingredient: One month can be peas, while another month may be white truffles. Each plate is thoughtful and beautiful, highlighting the flavors of each ingredient that transform from puréed and candied to puffed and bruléed. And two hours later, the proof was on the plate: We polished everything off (and it set us back just $80 or so).
Best Lunch Deal: KazuNori
We're suckers for a good meal deal, and KazuNori has one of the best (and most delicious) in town. Fans of the Nozawa name (Sugarfish, Nozawa Bar) can get their fill of what we think is the menu highlight: hand rolls. And this Downtown canteen serves only its specialty. You can't beat the five hand roll set, a $17.50 steal that includes lobster, blue crab, scallop, salmon and the special of the day.
Best NYC Throwback: Wexler's Deli
L.A. takes a cue from NYC at this Grand Central Market newcomer. Wexler's Deli serves all the classics: bagel and lox, smoked fish, pastrami on rye. And Micah Wexler does it right. Take the pastrami on rye ($11), for example: Pastrami is cured, smoked and steamed in-house and served in between dense rye sliced with pickled spears. With spot-on sandwiches this good, we're certain there's a place in every Angeleno's (or homesick New Yorker's) heart for this adopted tradition.
Best Food Ambassador: Night + Market Song
Kris Yenbamroong knows Thai food and is eager to share it. His sophomore Silver Lake restaurant schools diners on the regions of Northern Thailand, street food, late-night snacks and dishes that don't hold back on flavor or heat. Need proof that Song keeps it real? Try the luu suk ($10): pork's blood stew topped with fresh herbs, crispy noodles, chiles and cracklings.
Best One-Stop Shop: Gjusta
As if Gjelina couldn't be more popular, the Abbot Kinney institution expands with its all-in-one bakery/cafe/larder. Venice locals convene here for their daily breakfast bialy and coffee. Pastry fiends, get an early start to catch the last baklava croissant (yeah, it's that good; $4). You name it, Gjusta makes it, all in-house: bread, rillettes, pickles, rotisserie chicken, porchetta. But our favorite isn't what you'd expect from this oh-so-Venice hit. The chicken potpie ($12) wows from first bite: Huge chunks of chicken with peas and carrots and a buttery, flaky crust puts it on the top of our list.
Breakfast burrito at Cofax | Photo: Courtesy of Cofax
Best Comfort Food: Field Trip
Nothing nourishes quite like congee. The comfort food is simple enough: rice porridge. But ask Minh Phan to create this classic, and you'll get a bowl of Koda Farms heirloom rice topped with shreds of short rib, pickled mustard greens, egg and Asian pear. She'll also serve her congee ($14) with a side of fried dough puffs ($5).
Classic Rediscovered: Providence
L.A.'s fine dining mecca underwent a revamp this year. The dining room's nautical theme got an update with colorful, upholstered walls, art deco touches and a sleek new bar. But thankfully, Michael Cimarusti's food hasn't changed and is still as good as ever. Tasting menus ($210) highlight the season and signatures (i.e., Uni egg, shellfish and panna cotta "Ugly Bunch") all starring sustainable seafood. Add a wine pairing and the dinner is nothing short of spectacular. It's good to see not much has changed and that dining out is still alive and well in this fine dining-depraved town.
Best Thing We Ate This Year (Lowbrow): Breakfast burrito, Cofax
We can't stop thinking about this breakfast burrito ($6). It starts with smoked potato hash with onions and peppers, then layers in scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo and chorizo. The game-changing ingredient: tortilla chips for crunch and to soak up the chorizo drippings. Add house-made salsas—spicy roja or bright smoked-tomatillo verde—and you'll see what all the fuss is about.
Best Thing We Ate This Year (Highbrow): Pork tomahawk, Chi Spacca
How do we love this meat-centric Mozza sibling? Let us count the ways: revelatory focaccia di Recco, decadent beef cheek and marrow pie, house-made salumi. But our top bite of the year goes to Chad Colby's pork tomahawk ($85). The Flinstonian, 42-ounce, bone-on cut is grilled to perfection and dusted with fennel pollen. It arrives to the table two ways--belly and loin. The only decision to make? Who gets the bone.
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