Los Angeles is no stranger to creativity and innovation—it’s home to Hollywood, the birthplace of the modern supermarket, and where popular fast food chains including In ‘N’ Out got their start. Iconic establishments like Lawry’s, BCD Tofu House, and Grand Central Market have long cemented LA’s position as a global dining destination, and now a new group of restaurants are taking it a step further.
These cutting-edge restaurants are pushing the envelope in terms of sustainability, the combination of new cuisines, and highlighting underrepresented food regions. Echo Park’s Lonely Oyster has dedicated staffers educating diners on oysters and other seafood; Jordan Kahn’s Meteora is showcasing what it dubs ancestral eating; and Yangban Society is combining Jewish and Korean food.
Read on for 7 restaurants that are changing the game in LA.
The Lonely Oyster (Echo Park)
This newly opened oyster bar in Echo Park is dedicated to educating diners on all things related to saltwater seafood, including sourcing, flavor profile, and sustainability. A team of seafood educators, led by fish biologist Dillon Turner, takes diners on a culinary journey, including touching on the process of procuring oysters while respecting the environment. The aim is for diners to walk away with a better understanding of the environmental factors that influence the flavors of The Lonely Oyster’s food, while also recognizing why this type of sustainability work is critical to the restaurant industry. Dishes include wild uni topped with caviar and a fiery ginger wasabi aioli; oysters sourced from Washington state; and a fish and chips preparation featuring red snapper fried in a tempura batter and served with malt vinegar and a dill tartar sauce.
Matu (Beverly Hills)
At Matu, steak lovers can enjoy a 100% grass-fed Wagyu beef tasting menu that’s sourced entirely from New Zealand. Matu’s concept was inspired by chef Jeffrey Greenberg’s travels around the world and discovery of grass-fed beef, which he preferred to the taste of the dry-aging process he was used to. All of Matu’s beef is flown in from First Light Farms in New Zealand, which practices cattle farming on grazing pastures—a much more sustainable but rarer process, particularly in the United States, which relies mainly on corn-fed cattle. The result is flavorful, tender Wagyu that’s served in a one-of-a-kind omakase-style dining experience in the heart of Beverly Hills. A five-course menu changes every night and can feature dishes such as a bone broth appetizer, tartare, and braised beef.
Meteora (Hancock Park)
Step past a doorway draped in willow branches to acclaimed chef Jordan Kahn’s multi-sensory experience, Meteora. Here, organic and foraged ingredients are minimally processed, part of what Kahn calls ancestral eating, an effort to eat the way people did 5,000 years ago. While there are plenty of restaurants spotlighting seasonal and local produce, what sets Meteora apart is its minimal use of added ingredients. For instance, cocktails at Meteora have no refined sugar or sweeteners added. What’s more, it’s rare to see a fine-dining restaurant actively encouraging diners to eat with their hands, another nod to eating traditions from the past. To that end, there’s a heavy emphasis on dishes cooked with smoke and fire, and all are meant to be shared among friends. These include chanterelle mushrooms cooked over a smokeless coal flame that chars them without imparting a smoky flavor, and beef ribs rubbed with pine resin and smoked overnight. Kahn’s first restaurant, Vespertine, was ahead of its time in its own way, imagining what the restaurant of the future might look like, and at Meteora Kahn is traveling back to the past.
Pijja Palace (Silver Lake)
Though the idea of a sports bar often conjures up images of pints of beers and Buffalo-style wings being consumed inside a noisy space, Pijja Palace is taking a different approach. The Silverlake newcomer is a sports bar serving up Italian and Indian fusion, two cuisines that are rarely—if ever—combined in the United States. Owner Avish Naran came up with the concept and recruited former Culver City Roberta’s sous chef Miles Shorey to create the menu. The latter has put together dishes such as tandoori spaghetti with smoked chile powder or a green chutney pizza topped with onions and spicy pepperoni, all of which can be enjoyed at wooden tables, booths, or at a bar across from a dozen flat-screen televisions lining its walls. Here, come for the sports, and linger on long afterward for the top-notch cocktails and food.
Yangban Society (Arts District)
Yangban Society manages to achieve several winning combinations: It’s a rare Korean-Jewish deli and a restaurant that also operates as a super, an inbuilt shop at the restaurant that’s modeled after Korean minimarkets by the same name. Chefs Katianna and John Hong have created dishes that would be hard to find elsewhere such as a sujebi-matzo ball soup, combining the hand-pulled noodle soup with the classic Jewish deli fare; and Korean dumplings served with housemade bacon and a dipping sauce of warm bacon fat, sherry, and soy. The second-floor minimat features Korean products including cold brew teas, canned cocktails, and pickles all made by Los Angeles residents. In an industry ravaged by the pandemic, the Hongs have set up a business model that allows their more upscale restaurant to thrive alongside the steadier market.
Savida (Santa Monica)
At this newly opened Santa Monica raw bar, chef Dan Smulovitz uses just three to four ingredients per dish—and no oven—to create the raw seafood dishes he became known for at his restaurant in Israel. Simplicity guides Smulovitz, who intentionally cooks without kitchen appliances or an extensive ingredient list so that he can focus on what he loves most: the fresh flavors of seafood. It’s practically unheard of for a restaurant to operate without a stove or oven (or any heating element), but it’s central to Smulovitz’s philosophy of keeping his food fresh. Cured bonito with a tangy creme fraiche topping and a fragrant lobster roll flavored with lemongrass, coconut milk, vanilla, and celery are a couple options Smulovitiz serves in the tiny, 80-square foot space. It’s already joined the ranks of the most popular raw seafood destinations in the city.
Socalo (Santa Monica)
Chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are well-known for their devotion to Mexican food. The former owners of Santa Monica’s famed Border Grill opened the canteen-style Socalo in 2019 with a focus on comfort foods such as chicken poblano enchiladas and pork carnitas served with a roasted garlic citrus sauce. But where Socalo stands out is with its wine list, which is entirely sourced from Mexico. Varietals featured include a zippy viognier and sauvignon blanc from Valle de Guadalupe, and a Parras Valley cabernet sauvignon that’s full of ripe black fruit and hints of rosemary. Mexican wines are rarely in the spotlight in the U.S., and Feniger and Milliken have dedicated an entire restaurant to it.
Kristin Braswell is a journalist and founder of CrushGlobal Travel, a company that customizes travel guides and authentic experiences around the world.