99 Essential Restaurants 2014

South Bay

Coni’Seafood

photo by Anne Fishbein

If you’ve driven all the way to Inglewood to seek out Coni’Seafood, chances are you’re here for the snook. That snook, or pescado zarandeado, is the dish that has garnered the most adoration from devotees of chef Sergio Peñuelas, and there’s no doubt the whole split, grilled, tender white fish is one of the city’s great seafood dishes. But really, it’s only the beginning of what this small, slate-gray restaurant has to offer. In a dining room one wag describes as resembling “the Flintstones’ living room,” there are smoked marlin tacos, which are like the best tuna melt ever, only in taco form. There are all manner of cocteles, such as the ceviche marinero, a jumble of shrimp marinated in lemon, cucumber, cilantro and tomato, topped with hunks of sweet mango and bathed in a wicked, dusky “black sauce.” Then there are the camarones, giant, head-on shrimp that come in many different variations of sauce: diablo for the spice lovers; borrachos — in a broth made from tequila, lime, cilantro and crushed peppers — for the hungover. There’s a brightness and complexity and pop to this food that makes all of it — not just the snook — well worth the pilgrimage.

-- Besha Rodell

Pann’s

photo by Anne Fishbein

If you believe the press releases, LAX at last has great eating options or, at least, great enough that you might not mind being stuck in its international terminal for a few hours while New York digs itself out of a blizzard. While we’re just as excited as anyone else about 800 Degrees and the other eateries that will make flight delays that much more bearable, they still won’t quite replace the mandatory pre- or post-airport stop at Pann’s, the Googie-style diner that opened in 1958. Designed by Helen Liu Fong and Eldon Davis of Armét & Davis, the diner remains a potent symbol of Americana: the upswept roofline angling high into the sky, the bright red booths inside, the long line of counter stools. Beyond architecture, Pann’s is one of the few bona fide classic American diners that does classic American diner food very, very well. Thus you could be happy at the counter slurping a strawberry milkshake with your patty melt, or sipping a mug of hot coffee alongside a plate of terrific chicken and waffles. No airport food could ever top that.

-- Tien Nguyen