The ten best new restaurants
by Richard Foss
Whatever your opinion of other aspects of the year that has just passed, it was a good one in the local dining scene. Some of our homegrown restaurant operations have been getting critical recognition from a wide area, as well as expanding both in and out of our region. Many that didn’t open new offshoots expanded conceptually, broadening their menus and adding craft cocktails to their bar program.
As is the case every year, it was difficult to decide which restaurants deserve a spot in the annual list of the ten best. Kochi’s excellent South Indian food in Hermosa would have made the cut, but it was an established restaurant that changed name and menu rather than a truly new enterprise. I was tempted to include Kang Hodong in Torrance, but while they do a brilliant job at serving up Korean barbecue there’s nothing really innovative about their approach. Since all the other places on my list brought something unique to the area, I decided that they deserve an honorable mention but not a spot in the top ten.
If you liked to go out to new restaurants you could do so at least once a week and still not get to them all, because at least 60 opened within our coverage area. It’s hard to give an exact number, and I may have missed a few despite my own efforts and the help of readers who emailed tips.
For the first time since I started writing these lists in the 1990s, no place in Manhattan Beach made the list. It’s still the South Bay’s main dining destination, but only two restaurants opened in town, neither particularly ambitious. El Segundo also had few openings, Redondo stayed steady, but Torrance grew explosively. More eateries opened there than in any two of the Beach Cities combined, and though the spotlight was on the corporate chains in the mall, local entrepreneurs were busy too.
As always there are some places that opened too late for consideration, and any that weren’t serving their full menu by mid-December will be considered next year. That said, here is my list of the best restaurants that opened during the year 2016.
Baran’s 2239 – The best measure of the popularity of this place is how hard it is to get a dinner reservation. This strip mall space had been a grave for eateries for years, but it’s now a place of pilgrimage thanks to chef Tyler Gugloitta’s ingenious ideas and unerring sense of flavor. His global contemporary cooking includes Moroccan-spiced quail, Spanish seafood stew, Korean pork loin, and Italian gnocchi with crab, plus seasonal items. This could be a mess in the wrong hands, but Tyler gives each his signature, and an assured staff keeps everything moving and the craft beer and wine flowing.
(502 PCH, Hermosa Beach, 424-247-8468)
Brat & Brau – Could a new place specializing in simple, inexpensive meals make it in expensive, trendy Hermosa? Brat & Brau has proved it possible by focusing on doing one thing very well: grilling sausages and sending them hot from the kitchen with sides, condiments, and either fries or a salad. This is California so the sausages are locally sourced and hormone-free, and there are over 10 kinds, including lemongrass-spiced and vegetarian versions, but the style is still German and so are the beers on tap. It’s world class fast food served in an environment pleasant enough that you’ll want to linger for one more beer.
(1342 Hermosa Ave., HB, 310-376-6532)
Hop Saint – They opened in 2015 with a limited menu, and in 2016 Hop Saint matured into a force to be reckoned with. Co-owner Steve Roberts is a veteran who brings his love of Southern food to this operation, and their ribs, cornbread, catfish, jambalaya, and gumbo are first rate. There are modern touches too – I don’t know anywhere else where you’ll find pickled fennel on a po-boy, but it certainly works. The prices are moderate, the environment lively without tipping over into hectic, and they have fresh beer from their brewery and some sterling guest pours.
(5160 W. 190th Street, Torrance, 310-214-4677)
Jessica Gibb serves the catch of the day, sole, at Plates. The wildly eclectic new restaurant in Rolling Hills Estates has become a destination for South Bay diners. Photo by Brad Jacobson
Plates American Bistro – This stylish little restaurant in an odd corner of the Promenade on the Peninsula celebrates American food, and has an elastic definition of exactly what that is. Russian hot borscht with lamb? Cuban roast pork? All are as American as shrimp and grits, a lobster roll, or a burger, which they also offer. Whatever you order it is served with style, and a selection of wines and beers are available to wash it down. This is one of the rare restaurants on the hill that could thrive in much more competitive areas.
(550 Deep Valley Drive #145, Rolling Hills Estates. 310-541-9500)
Primo Italia – Though Lou Giovannetti was involved in both the previous restaurant in this location and this one, the new chef, staff, menu, and partnership qualifies this as a new place. The intent is different too – while Lou’s on the Hill offered stylish contemporary Italian food, Chef Michaelangelo Aliarga serves brilliantly executed traditional items, including arcane specialties that are available nowhere else, within miles. The sausages and breads are made in house, and you can tell the difference. This is world class Italian cooking in a genteel atmosphere at moderate prices, a combination that is a winner, anywhere.
(24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, 310-378-4288)
Rebel Republic Social House – Yes, the focus here is as much on the cocktails as the food, and foodie snobs may glance in and not expect the culinary offerings to be taken seriously. Foodie snobs are wrong, because this kitchen has a playful attitude toward flavors and some very good ideas. There is finesse alongside exuberance. I still remember the albacore, fennel, daikon, and manchego salad with Asian pear and grapefruit-mustard dressing that I had on my first visit over six months ago. The combination would have never occurred to me, but it was brilliant. Subsequent visits have shown this to be no fluke, and this place sets the standard to measure the rest of the Catalina eateries.
(1710 S. Catalina, RB. 424-352-2600)
Restoration Wine Bar – This small place on a quiet back street is the biggest thing to happen in Old Torrance in at least a decade. Chef-owner Camden Hershberger won awards for his cooking at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, and now he’s serving French-Asian fusion with brilliant technique at astonishingly low prices. The most expensive item on the menu is a mere eighteen bucks, and for superb modern food with roots in two traditions that’s the best bargain in the South Bay. Try the chicken meatballs with milk-braised celery root and roasted mushrooms, try the oxtail ragu with fried sage – bring friends and try everything – you’ll be glad you did.
(1437 Marcelina Ave., Torrance, 310-328-8100)
Suburbia RB – The quiet and short Avenida del Norte is not an obvious space for a popular restaurant, but Suburbia has been raising the traffic level from the moment they opened. The menu has a resemblance to sister restaurant Abigaile in Hermosa, not themed or connected to any particular tradition. There are a few American and Asian favorites and a whole lot that draws equally from those and Mediterranean ideas. The decoration is minimalist but artistic, and food, cocktails, and décor all make this a place that caters to a sophisticated crowd.
(247 Avenida del Norte, RB, 424-398-0237)
21 Square Bar + Kitchen – When I recommended 21 Square to someone, the first reaction I tend to get is, “So they’re good for a hotel restaurant?” I have to explain that I’m not grading on the curve — this place stands with any in a downtown location, too. Victor Miguel’s riffs on American favorites are goofy but successful, so ale-battered fish and chips are served in an oversized can of Absolution Ale that the brewery made for that purpose. Fill the center of the table with small plates or order a few mains, but save room for their Tornado Sundae dessert, which has an element of showmanship and is also quite good.
(3635 Fashion Way, Torrance, 310-543-6034)
Silog – Over 15 years ago I jokingly wrote that the key to acceptance of exotic cuisines in California was putting it in tacos. Torrance’s Silog is doing that and much more with Filipino food, creating an appealing fusion that breaks down barriers. The vinegared pork dish called sisig, usually very oily because it is made with cheap off cuts of pork, is superb when made with crispy pork belly and topped with crunchy powdered chicharron. There are also Philippine-spiced salmon and their version of tater tots, plus more conventional dishes. It’s an exciting and successful fusion, and while I expect to see more places exploring these ideas, Silog gets points for being first in our area to do it, and they do it well.
(1555 Sepulveda, Torrance, 424-263-5961)
While Manhattan Beach was quiet in 2016, several openings are anticipated this year. Les P’tits Bretons Restaurant will debut in the former Marine Street Café, bringing classic French cuisine back to the city. Something will happen at the former Cantina Real space on PCH, and it seems unlikely that the former Sesame Moe’s in Manhattan Village will be vacant for long.
In Hermosa an Asian Fusion concept is scheduled in the former Establishment space, and healthy fast food place Rabano will open at the corner of Artesia and PCH. Tower 12 will open overlooking the Pier Plaza, and at least two nearby places are for sale so there will be some changes in this desirable neighborhood. Radici Italian is scheduled to open in the second floor space over McColgan’s Pub, but the timing is uncertain because they have major remodeling to do.
It will be interesting to see what happens at Suzy’s after the departure of owner Sal Longo. The city’s senseless opposition to a liquor permit here drove out someone who is dedicated to live music in a restaurant environment, and the new owner must be weighing their options.
There will be a lot of action in Redondo, with the new Mama D’s opening in the former Thai Tani, Chicago For Ribs where Casa Pulido was, and a new gastropub on PCH nearby. There has been interest in the former Azure space, and at least two restaurants in Riviera Village are on the market. In North Redondo, Garden Thai will open soon on Aviation at 2nd Street.
There will be action all over El Segundo, with multiple openings at Elevon to include a sports bar and a shop making Greek yogurt in-house, both owned by Petros. There will be multiple openings on Rosecrans, though they are likely to be chain operations. Much will happen downtown too. Two Guns Kitchen and the combination gourmet shop, tasting room and café Brewport are the only ones that have announced their name and concept, but at least two Main Street locations are in escrow and the new owners are expected to announce their plans soon.
The pace in Torrance may slow a bit because the Del Amo Fashion Square spaces are all up and running, but there is sure to be a lot of change elsewhere in the city. A new bakery café is planned in the L’Amande space, and I hope they can provide breads and pastries of a similar quality while running a more ethical business than the previous owners.
All in all, it’s safe to predict more diversity of cuisine, more options at every price range, more of everything. Regardless of what happens with the economy and the political scene, people are going to go out to eat and restaurateurs will keep finding novel ways of luring them in.
by Richard Foss