99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Pasadena/Glendale

Carousel

photo by Danny Liao

Of all the notable Lebanese restaurants in L.A., Carousel is, arguably, the best — although how much you enjoy the place might have something to do with how much you like live entertainment with your excellent plate of kebbeh nayyeh. On weekends at the Glendale Carousel (the original East Hollywood location being not nearly as pretty or as fun), there are dancers outfitted alarmingly like Laker girls on the dining-room stage — maybe reason enough to take male relatives with you to dinner. With or without the dancing, though, Carousel is a fantastic place to eat. The mezes are outstanding, particularly the many variants of kibbeh and labneh and kebabs, and the larger plates are just as good, making this a wonderful place for a family gathering (Shawarma! Yogurt-style kebabs! Frog’s legs!), or even just to pick up a tub of excellent muhammara on your way home.

-- Amy Scattergood

Ración

photo by Anne Fishbein

Ración, the exquisite Spanish restaurant owned, operated and dreamt into being by chef Teresa Montaño and general manager Loretta Peng, is an unlikely place. It’s hidden a block south of Pasadena’s main drag, with the nearby Cheesecake Factory and Buca di Beppo acting as a kind of siphon along the way for many Old Town shoppers. There is no paella on the menu, and the tapas are on a wholly different level from what you’ll find on all those gastropub small-plates menus around town. Ración offers a cuisine that exists somewhere between San Sebastián and the chefs’ idea of it, glorious plates of beer-braised octopus with Asturian white beans; lamb meatballs with Basque cider; an exquisite John Dory with sunchoke purée; an ode to local vegetables that looks like a painting; a pile of bafflingly tender salt-cod fritters with lemon cream. Actually, the Buca di Beppo down the street is a very good thing: More jamón ibérico for us.

-- Amy Scattergood