Bar Amá | 99 Essential Restaurants 2015

Bar Amá

photo by Anne Fishbein

There’s something intensely personal about Josef Centeno’s Bar Amá, a restaurant that seems to take the many disparate threads of the chef’s life and tie them up in a joyous bow. The Tex-Mex food of his childhood, the old/new charm of downtown L.A. where Centeno has made his life, the bright, wild cooking he’s become known for, all come together in this room. A long menu incorporates the sloppy glory of Frito pie, queso dip and other Tex-Mex classics but also has space for inventive veggie dishes such as broccolini with chile, walnut oil, anchovy and cotija cheese. You can get a mound of fajitas, a bubbling vat of cheesy enchiladas, or slow-cooked salmon with jicama, parsley, yogurt and pine nut. You can stop by for a well-crafted mezcal cocktail and stay to indulge in “super nacho hour.” That Bar Amá has become a favorite hangout for other chefs (must have something to do with the mezcal flights and queso dip, a match made in chef heaven) makes perfect sense.— Besha Rodell