Best of 2019: Restaurants

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The team behind KCRW’s "Good Food," Evan Kleiman and Nick Liao, have put together a list of five great neighborhood restaurants to visit this year.


Noodles at Joy. Courtesy of Joy management

Inside Joy. Courtesy of Joy management

As nighttime falls in Highland Park, a line of eager diners can often be seen snaking out the door of Joy, Vivian Ku’s Taiwanese cafe that opened on York Boulevard last year. Don’t be daunted by the expansive menu here; it’s easy to mix and match items, most of which are under $10. First timers would do well to get some cold salads: maybe crisp lotus root slices bathed in chile oil, savory bamboo shoots, or a garlicky shuffle of thinly sliced pig ears. For mains, try the lu rou fan (soy-braised minced pork on rice with pickles and a stewed egg) or dan dan noodles. Balance out your meal with a side of stir-fried greens. If you’re feeling especially gluttonous, convince a friend to split a thousand-layer pancake, one of LA’s great unsung sandwiches—preferably the works with American cheese, basil, sambal, and a fried egg.

Northern Thai Food Club 

Dishes at Northern Thai Food Club in Thai Town. Photo credit: Silvia Razgova

This cozy 12-seat restaurant in Thai Town is an endorsement of the local wisdom that some of the best cooking in LA can be found in strip malls. Here chef Amphai Dunne warmly greets you from behind a steam table of rotating Northern Thai specialties. Start things off right with a plate of raw veggies paired with the umami-laden chile dip called nam prik num . Grilled meats are a big part of Northern Thai cuisine, and so you’ll want an order of the grilled sausage known as sai oua , which packs a lemongrass and turmeric punch. Get a couple curries to go with sticky rice, like the gaeng hung lay (pork curry with tamarind and pickled garlic) or the jackfruit curry. And don’t miss the khao soi , considered by some to be the best rendition of the coconut curry noodles in the city.

Spoon By H

It’s not hard to see why this Korean cafe in Mid-City has drawn rave reviews from the likes of Momofuku’s David Chang and LA Times critic Bill Addison . Chef Yoonjin Hwang is a former concert pianist who originally opened Spoon by H as a sweets cafe serving Instagrammable dessert waffles, fruity drinks, and shaved ices. However, the draw here is an ever-changing savory menu, showcasing her creative riffs on classic Korean homestyle dishes. Chief among them is the mandu guk, a righteous stew of dumplings, pork belly, and glass noodles in a milky white bone broth. The kimchi fried rice with smoky bacon topped with a fried egg is also a popular standby. If the griddled short rib patties known as tteokgalbi are being served, you’ll want to order that—but really it’s hard to go wrong with any of the daily specials, especially when the coda to your meal is an order of those bruleed banana waffles.   

Mh Zh

The restaurant whose name no one can say or spell means “What is it” and is pronounced “mah zeh.”  It’s my dream restaurant. Which is to say zero frills and from a seating point of view, barely a restaurant at all. Nearly all the seating is outside on the sidewalk. It reminds me of eating in an alley in Trastevere, Rome, except that you’re on Sunset Blvd in Echo Park, which means people watching opportunities abound. Connor Shemtov’s concentration on the food above all else succeeds in creating the rare combination in our raging current food scene of a both craveable and affordable experience. His exploration is of the vegetable side of contemporary Israeli food with meat making a cameo. Menu items I can’t stop thinking about are the spoon soft wine-braised cabbage, the hummus finished with brown butter and hazelnuts, the lamb of the moment.  Everything really. One night, two of us ordered the whole menu. It changes and is always guuuud. So ignore the lack of informational website or reservations and just go. Bring a sweater and comfortable shoes for waiting.

Baroo Canteen

Various dishes at Baroo Canteen. Photo credit: Krystal Thompson

So much has been written about Baroo and the hyper focused fermentation genius at its heart, Kwang Uh. The menu is the rare affordable offering of technically sophisticated and craveable, comforting food that you want to go back to over and over again. While Uh and partner Mina Park are looking for a suitable permanent space, you can find Baroo Canteen in the Union Swap Meet in East Hollywood. With each move, the food morphs, so don’t miss this iteration of the most thoughtful grain bowls in the city. One current bowl, Barley Meets Fire in Bali combines the greatest hits of farmers market vegetables with a red goddess dressing of sesame, gochujang and perilla, and the crunch of puffed job’s tears. And if you eat meat only occasionally, use a visit to Baroo Canteen to try whatever is available like the gochujang and Calabrian chile braised pork belly with tomato jam. His Korean-Italian mashups are genius.