Hollywood/East Hollywood | 99 Essential Restaurants 2015

Hollywood/East Hollywood

The Hungry Cat

photo by Anne Fishbein

With all the new restaurants vying for our attention, it can be easy to forget the places that were the new hotness just a few years back. And the truth is, when you return to those formerly hot eateries, too often the food and ambiance have not stood the test of time, and you get a feel for why this business is so, so difficult. The Hungry Cat certainly has its share of devoted customers, but if you’re not already among that company, I’d like to implore you to revisit one of the restaurant’s locations. Unlike so many of its brethren, these seafood-focused spots from chef David Lentz have not only stood the test of time but are, in fact, far better than much of what now qualifies as the new hotness. It’s a recent trend to open oyster bars and serve lobster rolls, but Lentz has been doing that for 10 years now, as well as delivering a menu of beautiful seafood dishes that aren’t built on nostalgia but rather a foundation of creativity and old-school technique. For its cocktails, its bright, airy dining room, its convivial brunches and fantastic dinners, the Hungry Cat is deserving of our renewed attention, even as it ends its first decade.— Besha Rodell

Jitlada

photo by Anne Fishbein

We’ll be the first to admit it: A meal at Jitlada isn’t without its hiccups. On a given day, the spicy kidneys poached in coconut curry might take the better part of an hour to land on your table, or the jungle curry with “dragon egg” fish balls you’d finally mustered the courage to order might be inexplicably unavailable. But when a restaurant serves a roster filled with hundreds of rare Southern Thai specialties, each radiating exotic brightness and vibrancy, you tend to grant a little leeway. At least, many of Jitlada’s high-powered Hollywood clientele do, as they hit the East Hollywood hangout for larb and tom kha the way previous generations frequented La Scala for the chopped salad. If anyone wants to point out the mundanity of celebrity palates, retort with a photo of Ryan Gosling next to co-owner Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong, beaming the way someone does when he’s just finished a herb-flecked toasted rice salad spicy enough to make the most well-groomed hair stand on end. —Garrett Snyder

Musso & Frank

photo by Anne Fishbein

There’s plenty of food in L.A. more exciting, more thoughtfully prepared than what comes out of the kitchen at Musso & Frank, and yet I’d pass over a lot of them for a chance to sit at that bar, or in that dining room, and eat the food my grandfather might have eaten in this exact spot when he was a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s. There’s the grand literary history, of course — which we are outrageously lucky to see enshrined not just in our cultural institutions but also in our dining institutions — the giddy thrill of sitting and drinking where Fitzgerald and Faulkner and Chandler sat and drank. But there’s also a foodist’s anthropology available here, a chance to eat Welsh rarebit and marinated herring and lobster thermidor, items that were popular at some time over the almost 100 years Musso & Frank’s has been open but certainly are not anymore. It’s one of the first places we’re likely to send newbies or visitors to L.A., and it’s hard to imagine this town without it. If that’s not essential, then what is? —Besha Rodell

Pa-Ord Noodle

photo by Anne Fishbein

Of the many terrific items on Pa-Ord’s menu, it’s perhaps the boat noodles for which the restaurant is most famed, and rightly so: It’s a terrific, especially finessed bowl of soup, the sort of thing you want when it’s blistering cold outside and need to spice things up inside to stay warm. Pa-Ord, in fact, is a noodle specialist, and you can’t go wrong with most anything within its specialty here. Indeed, the restaurant is so serious about its oodles of noodles that you can specify the type of noodle you want in your order (in case you’re lost, the restaurant helpfully displays its different types of noodles in numbered jars near the front counter). In addition to its acclaimed noodles, Pa-Ord also happens to make crispy pork exceptionally well; try it tossed with Chinese broccoli. The “pa,” or auntie, in the kitchen here is Lawan Bhanduram, a fantastic chef whose name you’d probably know by now if the media found auntie chefs as sexy as tattooed ones who speak bro. Alas. —Tien Nguyen

Providence

photo by Anne Fishbein

Chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti will challenge anyone who trots out the tired “fine dining is dead” trope with the fact that Providence, perhaps the finest of fine-dining restaurants in Los Angeles, had its best year on record in 2014. That could have to do with a spring freshening, which gave not only the dining room but also the menu a subtle rejiggering, but probably not. The things that were always great about Providence remain great: the dedication to sustainable seafood; Cimarusti’s ability to coax the purest pleasure from each piece of fish and shellfish that goes through his kitchen; the outstanding formal but personable service; the showers of truffle over your soft-cooked eggs; the utter beauty of a dish ironically named “the Ugly Bunch” (there’s gold leaf and geoduck involved, and it’s astounding). Hooray for luxury, may it never, ever die. —Besha Rodell

Ruen Pair

photo by Noah Galuten

It’s hard to convince people that one of L.A.’s must-try dishes is something called “salty turnip and egg,” but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Ruen Pair is known mainly as one of Thaitown’s best purveyors of late-night eats, a post-bar savior where you can gobble enough crab fried rice and spicy noodles to absorb some of the boozy damage you’ve done. But it’s also a great place for a ridiculously cheap lunch, or an outing to impress friends who might be in the market for some duck feet soup. It’s one of those restaurants where diners who would prefer to stick to basics can get a fantastic red curry, for instance, while others might feast on pork blood soup or raw crab salad. Go for whatever floats your boat, but be sure to get that salty turnip and egg, a kind of crispy omelette/patty that is slightly sweet and slightly salty and goldenly delicious, at any time of day.— Besha Rodell

Sapp Coffee Shop

photo by Danny Liao

Who makes the best boat noodle soup in Thai Town? It’s destined to be a debate that won’t be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction, but it’s perhaps enough that most everyone agrees on the primary contenders. Which, of course, include Sapp Coffee Shop, the homey restaurant in a tiny plaza on Hollywood Boulevard. Sapp’s version of kuay teow reua arguably is just as deeply funky, just as laced with blood and bobbing meatballs, as most other versions in town, but maybe it’s because the dining room feels like the extension of someone’s kitchen that it tastes somehow more comforting and the ambiance feels more comfortable. Note that there’s not much on the menu at Sapp that will leave you unsatisfied; its cold jade noodles with BBQ pork, duck breast and bits of crab is almost as famous as its boat noodles, and its sen chan pad pu, a stir fry with rice noodles, chile garlic and crab, is pretty terrific. Terrific enough, anyway, that you’ll forget you were debating anything at all. —Tien Nguyen

Spicy BBQ

photo by Anne Fishbein

Spicy BBQ has come to feel like a kind of second home to us, complete with a warm, no-nonsense maternal figure, a small cluttered dining room and the gratification of soulful home cooking. That this particular home cooking is the often burningly spicy curries, soups and dips of Northern Thailand makes no difference to its emotional content. This is intensely comforting food: the khao soi sweet and funky, its coconut-rich broth topped with house-made pickles and crunchy fried noodles; the nam prik ong pork dip like a salty, spicy sludge of ragu with cooling cabbage and cucumber on the side; the pork patties meaty pucks garnished with fried garlic and mint. Chef-owner Kanlaya “Nong” Sriyana is known to bring back ingredients from her homeland in order to create dishes you can’t easily get in the United States — turn directly to the back of the menu for the good stuff. Oh, and don’t miss the restaurant’s namesake dish, ironically one of the least spicy things on the menu but no less wonderful for it.— Besha Rodell

Sqirl

photo by Anne Fishbein

If Jessica Koslow’s East Hollywood cafe were just a little less inventive, just a smidge less delicious, perhaps it would have gone unnoticed by everyone except the coffee- and toast-hungry surrounding neighborhood. But despite Sqirl’s guise as an unremarkable hipster coffee shop, Koslow’s cooking tells a different story. It tells of her experience in stellar restaurants and bakeries all over the world, from Atlanta to Melbourne. It tells of someone deeply invested in her city and her region, and the ingredients native to both. Mostly, it tells of a chef who combines an urge to cook for her neighborhood with a keen sense of creativity and flavor — where else in L.A. (or America) could you get a smoked whitefish and cured salmon salad, alongside seared turnips and shishito peppers with mojo picón and garlic greens, or a Beecher’s cheddar sandwich with kale and house-made tomato/coriander jam? (Koslow’s line of Sqirl jams is perhaps our favorite gift for out-of-towners when we want to show off our local bounty.) The lines to order at the counter are long (particularly on weekends), the parking is difficult, the seating scarce. The hassle is worth it, always. Sqirl proves, again and again, just how far a little inventiveness, deliciousness and skill can go.— Besha Rodell