99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Sqirl

photo by Anne Fishbein

In years to come, when people look back on the transformation of Virgil Avenue and wonder how it all began, the answer will be Sqirl. The spot that opened in 2012 as a coffee, toast and jam café has morphed into one of the most beloved restaurants in town — paving the way for a fantastic wine shop, a florist and an antiques store to open on the same block. More important to food lovers, it has ushered in an era of insanely good breakfast and lunch. Sqirl owner Jessica Koslow trained with one of the best chefs in the Southeast, but she decided to pour that knowledge into this small, funky café rather than a more traditional restaurant. The food here is stunning. Koslow serves rice bowls that will blow your mind, perked up with sorrel pesto, creamy feta and copious amounts of preserved Meyer lemon. Daily specials might range from tuna poke — a bowl of raw tuna spiked with yuzu, shiso from Sqirl’s garden and tuna-skin chicharrón — to handmade pastas, as good as any in town and for a fraction of the price. Koslow’s baking is remarkable, and her malva pudding cake is one of L.A.’s most craveable treats. The restaurant is not for the comfort-obsessed: The line is long, the seating is wobbly and sometimes hard to come by. The place can have the feel of a slightly out-of-control garden party. But for those willing to relax and go with it, there’s hardly a place in town that will reward you more lovingly.

-- Besha Rodell