99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Century City/Pico-Robertson

Hinoki & the Bird

photo by Anne Fishbein

A year after opening, David Myers’ Japanese/Californian restaurant Hinoki & the Bird hasn’t changed much. The menu is basically the same as it was upon launch, and the room, tucked away in a Century City condominium building, feels no less vibrant. But these things wowed originally and they wow still — that hinoki-scented cod is still one of the best dishes in town, the fish so tender that it seems poised on the precipice between fatty liquid and silken solid, the skin blackened and sweet. The lobster roll, with its sweet flesh set against a black charcoal roll, is still as exciting as before, a triumph of subtle spicing and bold conception. The crudo dishes are still delicate, complex and surprising. Vegetables, from salty grilled mushrooms to a decadent baked yam, show off the chef’s mastery of doing things simply and well. And the patio portion of the dining room is still one of the most magical places to eat in town, like a darkly enchanted dream.

-- Besha Rodell

Picca

photo by Anne Fishbein

Of all chef Ricardo Zarate’s restaurants, and there are now quite a few, Picca might be the most honest. This seems counterintuitive, as Picca is all flash and sex. Relentlessly trendy and terribly loud, it’s the very definition of a hot spot. Yet it inhabits this space so well — and Zarate’s radiant Peruvian flavors, here mixed with both Japanese and Spanish ideas, fit the cocktail lounge vibe so perfectly — that the restaurant succeeds in every way. It’s an exceedingly fun place to eat. Where else in L.A. might you find a cocktail made with avocado, the viscosity and green of the fruit working gorgeously with its tangy citrus counterpoints? Most dishes are small, bright and carefully constructed. A dish of Japanese eggplant comes geometrically arranged and topped with violets, along with aji amarillo-honey. Melting black cod coated in miso comes bite-size on skewers, with crispy sweet potato chips. Locro de quinoa, a pumpkin quinoa stew topped with a fried egg, is one of the most creative and delicious uses of the grain around. Plenty of restaurants in town have a giddy party vibe — but at Picca, the food feels like a celebration as well.

-- Besha Rodell

Sotto

photo by Anne Fishbein

Even with our current glut of shiny new Italian restaurants, Sotto still seems like the most exciting, most fully realized rustic-Italian joint in town. In the three years since it’s been open in the bottom half of a Pico-Robertson duplex (downstairs from Picca), Sotto chefs Steve Samson and Zach Pollack have steadily stuck to their vision of serving the food of Southern Italy, filtered through the lens of Los Angeles sensibilities. So that means fantastic, crisp-bottomed pizzas cooked in an oven imported from Italy. It means gorgeous pastas bathed in meaty ragus. And it means hearty, bold dishes like clams in a wickedly spicy broth, or pulled lamb’s neck nestled among the leaves of a perky parsley salad. A smart cocktail program, fantastic wine list and genuinely good service make Sotto shine bright, maybe even more so because of all those newcomers: No one who’s come along since does it better.

-- Besha Rodell