99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Rivera

photo by Anne Fishbein

In the five years since John Sedlar opened Rivera, the restaurant has sometimes seemed less an ode to pan-Latin cooking than a kind of evolving art installation. Of course, it’s both, not least because Sedlar’s works of art have always been on his plates anyway. As other restaurants come and go (including Sedlar’s own Playa, some dishes from which have happily been assimilated into Rivera’s menu), it has become a mainstay of Los Angeles cuisine. At Rivera — both the chef’s middle name and his mother’s family name — there are still the flower tortillas, the duck enfrijolada, the sous-vide pork wrapped in banana leaf in the manner of the Yucatán. There are the bottles of mezcal, the tequila chairs, the agave-field-to-cocktail-bar drinks. There are the spice stencils on the plate like edible graffiti. Most nights, there’s Sedlar, too, immaculate in chef’s whites, which increasingly match his hair. He’ll probably stop by, maybe tell you about the art on the walls as well as the plates, maybe treat you to a story culled from his decades of cooking in Los Angeles, maybe point you toward your very own tequila chair — and call you a cab home if necessary.

-- Amy Scattergood