2017 has surely been a stellar year for L.A.’s restaurants, with the high-profile openings of not one but two tasting-menu-only restaurants, Vespertine and Dialogue, from acclaimed, trailblazing chefs. The year also has seen the rise of some wonderful trends affecting the diverse dining scene that makes up Los Angeles.
For instance, 2017 saw the precipitous increase in quality Chinese restaurants in the Westside, which amounts to an incredible sea change from years before. The proliferation of gourmet Middle Eastern food is something that restaurant patrons were truly looking forward, as proved by the huge crowds flocking to upscale new restaurants such as Kismet and Mh Zh. Die-hard fans were waiting years for the buoyant resurrection of NFL tailgating — we thought we would never see that in our lifetime. And this year chefs came up with the brilliant yet novel idea to make the pastas they serve from scratch on their restaurant premises. And who can forget the resurgence of classic slices of pie, which curiously no one had thought of in previous years.
For decades, it truly seemed as if a craving for authentic Chinese cuisine meant an arduous pilgrimage (in interminable Los Angeles traffic, no less) to the San Gabriel Valley, the true Chinatown of Los Angeles, situated roughly 15 miles east of downtown. The Westside was littered with saccharinely sweet kung pao chicken and gloppy moo shu pork, but authenticity was clearly missing. However, this year saw a tidal change for Chinese food on the Westside. Many SGV-based chains finally made it out West. Popcorn Chicken in West L.A. opened, serving a fine Taiwanese beef noodle soup with a deeply soulful, mahogany-hued broth in addition to a variety of Taiwanese bar snacks. The nearby Tasty Noodle House in Sawtelle (also with a number of existing SGV locations) quietly opened recently, doling out super flaky scallion pancakes, greaseless fried pork buns and the eponymous homemade noodles. In tony Beverly Hills, Little Highness Bao has been serving steamed pork bao (overstuffed buns) as well as juicy yet delicate xiao long bao — the soup dumplings prized by diehard connoisseurs of the genre. These days Chinese on the Westside is no longer merely a laughable afterthought.
Without a professional football team to call their own for more than two decades (the sheer horror!), Los Angeles’ avid sports fans might have truly missed watching their games live. But for us hearty eaters, we missed just one thing: tailgating. Now that L.A. is the proud owner of not one but two NFL teams — the Chargers and the Rams — tailgating is officially back in the cards. Who can resist a quarter-pound bratwurst fresh off the Weber grill, or maybe four, while pounding down a six-pack of Budweiser on a warm, buoyant, all too leisurely Sunday afternoon in the height of fall football? Or perhaps a platter of griddled cheeseburgers passed among some of your closest friends, speaking to the true communal connection of why you’re there in the first place? Devouring some hearty, stick-to-your-ribs grub while leaning against the back of your battered F-550 must surely be as American as apple pie (though truth to tell, you’re more likely to be leaning against the trunk of your late-model Lexus). We have gone without an NFL tailgate for far too long.
Artisanal handmade pasta
In years past, even the top-echelon temples to Italian cuisine would import their pasta from Italy. These days preeminent chefs have taken to making their pasta the painstaking, laborious way: from scratch. At his immensely popular Felix, chef Evan Funke (late of Rustic Canyon and the now-defunct Bucato) pays artisanal devotion to handcrafting fresh pasta evocative of Italy on a daily basis in his on-site pasta laboratory. The Lilliputian, homespun, no-frills Pasta Sisters offers wonderful pasta made in-house by the owner’s mother (they hail from Padua) at more than reasonable prices, from simple tagliatelle Bolognese to the luxurious spaghetti bottarga (dried mullet roe). Uovo (by the successful proprietors of the Sugarfish/Kazunori empire) serves up a well-curated list of outstanding handmade pasta in simple counter-service digs. These chefs/proprietors are definitely onto something — for decades we’ve been hankering and hungering for fresh handmade pastas made with fresh ingredients firmly situated in the locavore movement. And they delivered deliciously.