99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Pico-Union/Westlake

El Parian

photo by Anne Fishbein

If you have yet to have a bowl of goat stew in Los Angeles, and especially if you need to take a moment to contemplate your state of being, you would benefit greatly from a visit to El Parian, an unassuming restaurant on Pico Boulevard near downtown, which is home to the best birria in the city. The stew will arrive piping hot, tinted red from the consommé, with generous, meaty slabs of long-simmered goat; the server also will set down a plate of cilantro and diced onions and a stack of terrific homemade tortillas. You’ll shower the stew with the cilantro and onions, take a spoon in one hand and a piece of tortilla in the other, and slurp the broth and gnaw on the meat and chew on the tortilla — and repeat for however long it takes until you’ve reached the bottom of the bowl. Whether it’s your first time here or your umpteenth, this will be, if not the best meal of your day, then surely the most replenishing. Take all the time you need.

-- Tien Nguyen

Guelaguetza

photo by Danny Liao

Driving by, you can’t help but notice Guelaguetza, the Oaxacan restaurant in the midst of Koreatown. The dazzling orange paint job added last year blots out everything around it. Inside, there’s also something new, a yellow tiled open kitchen and grill, where you can watch the preparation of grilled meat platters and tlayudas, the outsized tortillas topped with black beans, Oaxacan meats such as tasajo and cecina, and the shreddy cheese quesillo. In this location since 2000, Guelaguetza is a gathering spot for the Oaxacan community, not just to eat but to listen to Oaxacan and Latin jazz. Trendy drinkers gather at Mezcalería, the mezcal bar, for tastings. If they want to eat, the bar has an appetizer menu. Apart from these innovations, Guelaguetza runs a traditional kitchen. It’s the place to eat the famous Oaxacan moles — there are six on the menu. The most festive is mole negro, or black mole, which is served as a main dish, as tamale filling or as the sauce for mole enchiladas. After eating, you can shop. The store in the restaurant sells three of the Guelaguetza moles in jars, along with chocolate from Oaxaca and the spicy beer cocktail michelada to put in the fridge at home.

-- Barbara Hansen

Langer’s

photo by Anne Fishbein

How good can a pastrami sandwich be? How quintessentially Los Angeles can an L.A. restaurant be? These questions and more can be answered with a trip to Langer’s, the deli that serves the universe’s best pastrami sandwich. And while Langer’s wouldn’t have its fame or glory without that sandwich, the restaurant is also so much more. Langer’s is amazing for its worn brown decor, for its brusque but comradely service, and for the construction workers and slick gangsters and little old ladies who all sit at the counter elbow to elbow, gleefully eating sandwiches and chopped liver and slices of very good cheesecake. The walls are plastered with awards and recognition: Everyone from the City of L.A. to the James Beard Foundation recognizes the value of a deli that has barely changed since 1947. It’s a glimpse back into how L.A. used to feel, yes, but perhaps more important, it’s a glimpse into how L.A. still feels, if you know where to look.

-- Besha Rodell