Where to eat now that pandemic restrictions are gone: Restaurant picks from Bill Addison

Written by Andrea Domanick, produced by Laryl Garcia

Bill Addison recommends the khachapuri from Emily Efraimov of Little Dacha. Photo by Dania Maxwell for the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles has reopened, and with it has come denizens of hungry Angelenos keen to bask in the glories of at-capacity restaurants and full bar seating. LA Times restaurant critic Bill Addison is back on the beat, making reservations and whipping his phone out to scan those lingering QR code menus. 

Addison stopped by KCRW’s Good Food to dish on where he’s going first and what diners can look forward to. 

KCRW: When we talk about LA restaurants, we should begin with the main announcement of Phenakite as restaurant of the year.

Bill Addison: “Minh Phan is the chef and owner of Porridge + Puffs, a very beloved figure in Los Angeles. Back in September, she launched into this project in a beautiful space in Hollywood called Second Home. It's a fine dining integration of the food that Minh has been cooking for years. If you've ever had her food, you know that that porridge is the foundation of what she does, and she'll just layer on flavor and flavor.

Phenakite is a chance for her to have a more expansive, multicourse vision to what she does. She comes from a Vietnamese family, but she's very quick to say that she cooks Angeleno food, that it reflects everything that she encounters and eats herself in the city. And it's a really special experience. The tricky part of Phenakite is that it's only open on Fridays and Saturdays. It had open slots before the LA Times announced it as restaurant of the year, and I believe now it's booked out several months. So this is one to put on your calendars. It's an extraordinary experience.”

What new places have recently opened that you're most excited about?

“Some things on my radar: Menya Tigre on Sawtelle is doing a curry ramen bowl that I'm hearing really good things about. Sometimes it's just fun to get back into the light, fun aspect of LA dining, and LA Cha Cha Cha in the Arts District has this incredible rooftop patio up a flight of stairs overlooking the Downtown skyline. 

I'm still excited about pop-ups that continue to emerge as well as the restaurants. I'm really enthralled right now with a pop-up called Little Dacha that specializes in Russian and foods of Georgian and Circassian culture. Khachapuri is the thing that Little Dacha specializes in. But the chef, Emily, is experimenting with other dishes, maybe a variation on stroganoff with venison, maybe pelmeni stuffed with pork, but the khachapuri are incredible. There's one that I love that is filled with spiced lamb and lebni and green chili pickle. It's out there and it's delicious.”

What's been around for a while where you just want to go and sit inside again and have a real dining experience?

“I think what a lot of us have missed most when it comes to really connecting with dining experiences is sitting at the counter or at the bar. I'm thinking of Petite Peso, the Downtown restaurant opened by Ria Dolly Barbosa and her partners. I loved her very comforting chicken adobo bowls during the pandemic and a really smart riff on a French dip sandwich with adobo jus, but I can't wait to sit at that tiny counter in that small space. She's serving breakfast now. So I'm probably gonna have a longanisa breakfast burrito at that counter before the month is over. 

Also with counters I'm thinking of Holbox in the Mercado La Paloma in South LA, a place where you can always get beautiful carry out, like smoked kampachi tostada with beautiful things like arbol peanut sauce and avocado puree over it. But the chef Gilberto Cetina also does these tasting menus. He'll grill spiny lobster over mesquite, and he makes different kinds of special ceviche, and serves these incredible Baja blood clams. So I've been waiting for him to announce when he's going to reopen.”

And what about restaurants to anticipate? 

“Just open is Bicyclette from Walter and Margarita Manzke. They run one of my very favorite Los Angeles restaurants, Republique. Walter has always really appreciated French cuisine. It was part of that momentum of the renaissance of French restaurants that was happening in LA and across the country. And so it's sort of wild to pick up that moment again with Bicyclette. That's on the top of my list of places I can't wait to get to that are brand new.”

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Evan Kleiman