We're only six months into 2012 and we've already seen our fair share of restaurant closures and changes -- the shutter of Palate Food & Wine and The Tar Pit, and Lou Amdur's departure from Lou on Vine -- but there have been quite a number of notable openings across town. And there's so much more on the horizon: Spago closing for renovations, Jason Neroni's Superba Snack Bar coming to Venice, and not one but two new spots for Tasting Kitchen's Casey Lane, among others.
What's hot now: The most popular spots have a more relaxed aesthetic and vibe -- think gastropub, but taken to a whole new Los Angeles level. Our chefs are redefining what it means to cook 'California cuisine,' and it's usually very seasonal, global-hopping and personal. Sharing is encouraged; using utensils is optional. Here are the 10 hottest openings so far this year, from Downtown to Santa Monica and everywhere in between.
<strong><a href="https://plus.google.com/103486807298306133073/about" target="_hplink">Umamicatessen</a></strong> This new concept from Umami Burger fuses several different ideas in one large open space -- a deli with some pretty dynamite matzoh ball soup and pastrami; PIGG, an all-meat from SF chef Chris Cosentino; Umami Burger itself; a coffee program run by Spring Street; and a doughnut shop called And a Donut. Order whatever you want from the menu, and it all comes as the kitchen pleases. Save room for cocktails (or just go and have one, the bar is fantastic), and definitely a <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/05/best-thing-we-ate-last-night-in-la.html" target="_hplink">tres leches doughnut</a>. 852 S. Broadway; 213-413-8626
<a href="https://plus.google.com/114339275085918283612/about" target="_hplink"><strong>The Pikey</strong></a> When word spread that Sean MacPherson and Jared Meisler (Il Covo, Bar Lubitsch, Jones, Roger Room) were taking over the beloved Coach & Horses dive bar on Sunset, people were worried. Naturally, their fears were unfounded. The Pikey reopened with a new look that's perfectly constructed to look very, very old. They have a knack for vibe, that's for sure. The kitchen is overseen by a former <a href="https://plus.google.com/117625662689955634832/about?hl=en" target="_hplink">Spotted Pig chef</a>, so think heavy English pub food with a few California twists (fresh greens with delicately sliced pig's ears, anyone?). <em>7617 Sunset Blvd.; 323-850-5400</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/115734740105276854921/about" target="_hplink"><strong>L & E Oyster Bar</strong></a> The closest body of water might be the Silver Lake reservoir, but that doesn't mean you cant have great briny bivalves in this eastern neighborhood. From the same guys behind the superpopular Bar Covell, L & E delivers perfect oysters in a variety of ways -- broiled, fried, in sandwiches -- but our favorite is on the half shell swimming in their own liquor. Add a glass of Muscadet, and you're good. <em>1637 SIlver Lake Blvd.; 323-660-2255</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/115495065545574102471/about" target="_hplink"><strong>BierBeisl</strong></a> There's a new Austrian chef in town, and at 6'7", Bernhard Mairinger barely fits in his tiny kitchen. But what he does there is fantastic. This Beverly Hills newcomer is the perfect spot for a plate of schnitzel and really great potato salad, German sausages and ice cold radlers (beer and lemonade). Definitely try a shnapps -- it's an impressive list. <em>669 S. Santa Monica Blvd., 310-271-7274</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/108882066641332230905/about" target="_hplink"><strong>Black Hogg</strong></a> The space is as minimalist as can be, but that leaves more room for robust, meaty dishes like roasted bone marrow, a terrific lamb burger and <a href="http://blog.zagat.com/2012/06/best-thing-we-ate-last-night-black.html" target="_hplink">these fried olives</a> that we can't get enough of. Even without a liquor license, the lines to get in are out the door every night. Just wait until you can actually have a beer with those fried bacon nuggets. <em>2852 W. Sunset Blvd., 323-953-2820</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/115072921113050315191/about" target="_hplink"><strong>Tom Bergin's</strong></a> It was a long time coming, but the Tom Bergin's redo, courtesy of Warner Ebbink and Brandon Boudet (Dominick's, Little Dom's, 101 Cafe), was worth the wait. As you can see, we didn't lose the decor (or the shamrocks), but everything has been spruced up and brought to code. That means we'll get at least another 50 years out of it. We like what Boudet's done to the menu: cast-iron seared cod, corned beef and cabbage, excellent fish and chips and weekend brunch (oatmeal pancakes!). <em>840 S. Fairfax Ave.; 323-936-7151</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/104999039918227283072/about" target="_hplink"><strong>Post & Beam</strong></a> Govind Armstrong (Table 8, 8 oz. Burger Bar) is back, this time with a seasonal, rustic soul-food charmer in Baldwin Hills. The locals love it, but it's worth the trip from other parts of town too. We're pretty fond of the pizzas, salads and entrees like the pork chop. A side of greens cooked with ham hocks never hurt anyone, either. There's a nice bar program, good wines and beers, and an on-site garden that supplies the kitchen with plenty of fresh-picked ingredients. <em>3767 Santa Rosalia Dr.; 323-299-5599</em>
<a href="http://mo-chica.com/" target="_hplink"><strong>Mo-Chica</strong></a> Ricardo Zarate closed his original Mercado Paloma stand and opened right Downtown. The new space is much more open with an urban, industrial vibe -- walls tagged with vibrant graffiti, sneakers dangling from the ceiling. The menu features some Mo-Chica originals, like lomo saltado and causa, but also a number of new dishes, including sangraecita, a sort of blood sausage and alpaca stew. Zarate's hoping to make guinea pig happen, too. <em>514 W. 7th St.; 213-622-3744</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/108181386452065997905/about" target="_hplink"><strong>Plan Check</strong></a> Where most of the restaurants on Sawtelle have a Japanese slant, this pub and restaurant is more American -- although you'll see some Asian influences in dishes like the baked crab dip that's layered with dynamite sauce (and it is dynamite). Chef Ernesto Uchimura was pretty instrumental in the development of Umami Burger's recipes, so expect some fantastic burgers. But no matter what you do, go for the fried chicken with sweet yam preserves. Fun cocktails and a great beer list clinch the deal. <em>1800 Sawtelle Blvd.; 310-288-6500</em>
<a href="https://plus.google.com/111450703528593772100/about" target="_hplink"><strong>Tar & Roses</strong></a> Chef Andrew Kirschner did great things at Wilshire Restaurant, but the chef really shines here in his own space. Whatever comes out of the wood-burning oven -- vegetables, seafood, steaks -- is always deliciously caramelized in just the right ways. Flavors are bold and personal; you know the chef loves what he's doing. The roast chicken is probably one of the best we've ever had in L.A., maybe anywhere. <em>602 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310-587-0700</em>