99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Silver Lake/Echo Park/Los Feliz

Allumette

photo by Anne Fishbein

Allumette began as an experiment: Could a highly progressive restaurant make it without big-money backing in a neighborhood better known for its late-night tacos than for its tasting menus? Since opening in January 2013, young chef Miles Thompson has built a quiet but dedicated following for his hyper-creative cooking, even making Bon Appetit’s 2013 list of the 50 best new restaurants in the country. In recent weeks he’s gone to a tasting menu-only format, which seems a little odd for both the unassuming room and its Echo Park neighborhood. Still, at $45 for four courses (or $60 for five) it’s one of the better deals in town — a full tasting menu for the price of an app, entree and half-dessert at most restaurants of comparable quality. Thompson seems to have toned down his cooking just a smidge from his wild first days, but you won’t be bored. You might start with that vegetable du jour romanesco, served with beet sabayon and nori yogurt, followed by tight little gnochetti bathed in a rich sauce made of wood pigeon. Octopus confit comes with house-made mustard and enough black vinegar accents to make you pucker happily. End with a sunchoke panna cotta, which sounds like it won’t work but absolutely does. You can still eat à la carte at the bar, which is one of the more quietly convivial places in town to dine, with some seriously great cocktails to match.

-- Besha Rodell

L&E Oyster Bar

photo by Anne Fishbein

This is the neighborhood gem that keeps on giving. When L&E Oyster Bar opened in 2012, Silver Lake was deeply grateful for a serious oyster bar with a laid-back vibe, which served fantastic wine and the coldest bivalves in town. Two years later, L&E has grown to include an upstairs bar with a great porch overlooking Silver Lake Boulevard, as well as a wallet-friendly happy hour. Chef Spencer Bezaire continues to deliver much more than oysters. There are standbys that still satisfy: the mussels cured in oil and served with chorizo toast is one of the city’s best bar snacks, showing the virtues of two kinds of oily goodness combined. But there are also seasonal dishes that pop up and smack you upside the head with their creativity and quality. We’re still thinking about a seafood boudin noir we had at L&E a couple of months ago, a fat seafood sausage blackened with cuttlefish ink over sunchokes with beurre blanc — simply stunning. It helps that the place is damned adorable as well, all mirrored and checkered floors — like a tiny slice of Paris, only with better oysters.

-- Besha Rodell

Sapp Coffee Shop

photo by Danny Liao

Tucked between a sweets shop and a video store in a small plaza is Sapp Coffee Shop, perhaps the coziest restaurant in Thai Town, a place where you feel like you’ve walked into someone’s kitchen. It’s not uncommon to pop by after a lunch rush and see a few folks from the kitchen sitting around a table, peeling vegetables, apron and gossip on. This may have been one of the first places where you had boat noodles, a dark, rich, deeply funky bowl of beef soup made richer still with cubes of blood, all sorts of offal and the tang of lime. While boat noodles are now about as common in Thai Town as pho is in the San Gabriel Valley, Sapp remains, to this day, one of the best — and certainly the homiest — place for the dish. The restaurant also serves terrific dry green “jade” noodles with duck, pork, crabmeat, crushed peanuts and lime; sen chan pad pu, stir-fried noodles laced with chili garlic and crab; and, perhaps the comfiest food of all, fried rice. Welcome home.

-- Tien Nguyen