2022 was a year of extraordinary diversity in the dining scene
by Richard Foss
Sometimes I look at previous columns about the best restaurants of a particular year to analyze patterns. The year of Italian restaurants was followed by the march of sushi and ramen joints, and another year the sound of burgers flipping was loud in the land. No particular culinary trend dominated the local scene in 2022. But as I looked at that list, I noticed one unexpected trend. Among the almost forty restaurants that opened locally, two people could have a typical meal without spending over $75 at all but seven of them. The corresponding number for 2021, when almost the same number of eateries opened, was eighteen.
This is a remarkable thing in a year in which food prices have been rising, and it’s hard to figure out why. Two years into the pandemic, were investors fast-tracking casual restaurants, or was this just random chance? It’s impossible to know, but it’s no accident that the restaurants on my list of the best openings of 2022 includes some modest places where you can get very good food. The ones that made the cut don’t just serve good food for an inexpensive restaurant, they serve good food, period.
This year’s review comes out later than usual because many places opened at the end of the year, and as always there were tough judgment calls. Banana Leaf Indian serves excellent food, but has hit or miss service and is co-located with the well-established Zayna’s, so it’s arguable whether they qualify. Perfect Storm would be a shoo-in if they were really a new restaurant rather than a changed concept in an existing space. Encanto didn’t quite make the cut because the food is inconsistent, the kitchen sometimes mysteriously slow even when the place is almost empty.
I give these three places honorable mentions.
Following are my selections for best new restaurants of 2022, listed from south to north.
Yes, a restaurant inside a grocery store is easily one of the best of the year. Lunada Kitchen’s patio isn’t going to win awards for comfort or style, but their updated versions of American classics are excellent. This may be the best fried chicken in the South Bay, the pizzas are excellent, and they turn out a fine steak frites with bearnaise sauce. It’s worth a drive from the beach cities to enjoy this hidden gem. Lunada Kitchen is at 2201 Palos Verdes Drive West, south of the St. Honore bakery cafe. Open Fri. through Sun., 11 a.m – 8:30 p.m. Parking in adjacent lot. Patio dining with heaters, or take-out. Beer and wine served. (424) 206-2880. LunadaMarket.com
This tiny spot offers creative vegan food with attention to both flavor and presentation. Their menu descriptions need to be tweaked to let customers know what they’re getting, but once you get that sorted out, you’re in for an enjoyable experience. It won’t surprise me if this operation moves to a location with indoor tables, because they’re deservingly popular already. Lil Vegerie is at 800 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 6A in Redondo. Open daily at 11 a.m., close 8 p.m. Mon.-Sat. 7 p.m. Sun. some covered outdoor tables or take-out. Parking lot. No alcohol. (310) 504-0236. LilVegerie.com
There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in the South Bay, so what makes this one special? They’re the only one serving Mexico City-style food, which focuses on braised meats with a simmering chili and herbal heat. Vegetarian options are available and very good, and very spicy seafood tostadas will make pescatarians happy. The staff are cheerful and offer tastes of many items so you can sample before you order, and service is both friendly and fast. Guisados is at 1031 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa. Open daily at 9 a.m., close 10 p.m. Mon.– Sat.; 8 p.m. Sun. Parking lot or street parking. Wheelchair access good, patio dining, some vegan items. (310) 374-3033. Guisados.la
Cultured Slice Sandwich Shop
What can be special about two pieces of bread with some proteins and vegetables in between them? Cultured Slice offers not just a large selection of fillings, but inventive and successful combinations that pair fruit, cheese, meat, and vegetables. The menu is constantly changing as they experiment with ideas, and the owner’s love of wordplay means that punsters will groan at some of the names. Relax. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet, and the same is true of a sandwich’s flavor. Cultured Slice is at 136 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. Tues. — Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Street parking. 424-237-2032. CulturedSlice.com
This much-anticipated opening by a pair of chefs who worked in some of LA’s top restaurants brought attention to the South Bay from publications that often snub the beach. Ray Hayashi and Cynthia Hetlinger’s partnership surpassed the hype with brilliant fusions of Taiwanese and Japanese food. Other ideas are not tethered to culture – the caesar salad with peanut butter in the dressing is as unlikely an idea as I’ve encountered, and it’s great. Order with an open mind and listen to your server’s recommendations. They’re pros and good guides to the parade of delicacies coming from the kitchen. Ryla is pricey, but worth it. Ryla is at 1220 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa. Open daily at 5 p.m. Close 10 p.m. Sun — Tues. 10:30 p.m. Wed. — Sat. Valet parking, or street meters. Some vegetarian items and a flexible kitchen. Full bar. Reservations suggested, (424) 247-9881. Eatryla.com
Slay Beach Grill
This high style restaurant is in an unobtrusive residential location, which adds to the allure of knowing a secret spot. David Slay’s newest venture draws on the core strengths of his other establishments – classic dishes complemented by vegetables fresh from his own farm. The cooking is as assured as ever, with some surprises like the shockingly good grilled cheese sandwich with a Pinot grape jam that includes Calabrian pepper. The prices for both food and wine are high, but so is the quality, and the beach-adjacent location must have high rent but is a real asset. Slay Hermosa is at 2620 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach. Mon. to Thur. 5 to 9 p.m. Fri. and Sat 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sun. 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Street parking only. Some vegetarian items. Wine and beer served, $30 corkage. (310) 921-8779. Slaybeachgrill.com
Sushi Roku Manhattan Beach
Sushi Roku has an excellent reputation, and they richly deserve it. The food has the same cross-cultural and contemporary influences as their sleek, beautiful dining room, which is eye-catching but comfortable. The chefs adorn fresh seafood with an array of edible flowers, micro-greens, and dashes of kumquat jam, serrano peppers, truffle oil, and other seasonings. There are some weaknesses, like inaccurate and incomplete descriptions on the menu, but the adept servers make up for these shortcomings. Go prepared to spend some money, and to have a fantastic meal in a serene space. Sushi Roku Manhattan Beach. 3110 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. Sun. — Thurs. 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fri., Sat. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Validated, lot parking. (310) 683-4060. SushiRoku.com
Fogo de Chao
There are no surprises at Fogo de Chao, because they don’t depart from the formula that has made them famous. Make that visit to their market table to pile your plate with salads, cheeses, charcuterie, and other items, and then sit back as servers bring a vast variety of meats that have been rotisseried to perfection. Or just visit their market table, because it’s a great option for a quick meal. Seafood items are available, and someday I’ll try them, but so far, the siren song of skewered meats carved tableside has won me over every time. Fogo de Chão is at 2121 Rosecrans Avenue, El Segundo. Open daily 11 a.m, close 10 p.m. Mon. –Thur., 10:30 p.m. Fri. — Sat 9 p.m. Sun. Validated parking in structure on Nash Street. Full bar, wheelchair access okay. (424) 397-1660. Fogodechao.com
The opening of this cafe in the back of Plaza El Segundo raised the standard of Chinese food in our area. This is Chinese homestyle food, from delicate, steamed fried dumplings to the vigorously spicy and complex hot pots. The flavors are authentic, the prices moderate, and the environment is welcoming. It’s the only local Chinese restaurant with service on an outdoor patio, a plus in pleasant weather and for those who haven’t gotten the hang of being indoors after the pandemic. The Northern Cafe is at 700 S. Allied Way in El Segundo. Open daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Parking lot, wheelchair access good. Sound level moderate, patio dining wine, and beer served. No website. (310) 616-3003.
This stylish Californian/Brazilian cafe is in an unlikely location at the northern edge of El Segundo’s business district, and it’s a surprise on multiple levels. They have a unique fusion of healthy Californian ideas with everyday Brazilian food, and their eccentric vision is generally successful. Making a shepherd’s pie with a topping of pureed plantain and sweet potato is an idea I’ve never seen before, and cassava flour tortillas make a perfectly good but subtly different taco. The attraction isn’t only the novelty. These flavors work together, and it doesn’t hurt that the food is served in a beautiful, tranquil tropical environment.
Tapizôn is at 450 Main Street in El Segundo. Open daily except Monday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. except Su close 9 p.m., parking in rear. Wheelchair access good, noise level low, some vegan items. (310) 648-6401. Tapizon.com
This year, anybody’s guess
The pandemic years that were so traumatic to restaurateurs, and diners alike, spurred creativity at all price levels. What’s next? Having seen how things worked out this year, I’d be a fool to try to predict it, but it will be interesting to watch. ER