Restaurant of the Year: Night + Market Song
Kris Yenbamroong developed and executed what he thought was going to be his ideal Thai restaurant, on a stretch of Silver Lake that didn't necessarily have much in the way of great food. The move proved to be a good bet, with Eastsiders flocking to Yenbamroong's bright, innovative restaurant that propounds some of the best Thai cooking in Los Angeles. It's no wonder that it's a favorite Jonathan Gold destination, often the place where the LA Times critic likes to take friends and colleagues who visit from out of town to best represent Los Angeles food at this very moment. With the likes of Pok Pok opening in Chinatown and of course the greater influence of Thai Town, maybe it's time to realize that there's no better place for Thai food in America than Los Angeles.
Chef of the Year: Nyesha Arrington
2015 was a banner year for chefs, and none might've made a bigger splash on the Westside than Nyesha Arrington, who cooked under Josiah Citrin at Melisse, then went on to helm Wilshire in Santa Monica before taking a hiatus. The Top Chef contender roared back with an elegant new restaurant called LEONA in a part of Venice that was just starving for some quality fare. Infusing a heavy dose of fine dining plating with seasonal ingredients, Arrington is starting to convince Marina del Rey and Venice residents that they don't ever need to leave their Westside confines for great dining.
Biggest Comeback: Starry Kitchen
When Starry Kitchen launched an almost unrealistic goal to raise $500,000 on Kickstarter to help open a brick & mortar, most people were worried that owners Nguyen and Thi Tran were never going to return to the restaurant industry if they didn't hit the mark. Sadly, despite a wide campaign, the Kickstarter never funded. Fans who had followed the Trans since their humble underground apartment beginnings were devastated. But out of nowhere, Starry Kitchen emerged again with an ideal setup inside a fun arcade bar in Echo Park: Button Mash. Armed with a full kitchen and a rabid set of Eastside diners, Starry Kitchen has come back with the vengeance, whipping some of its best pan-Asian dishes for arcade players and craft beers fans.
So Hot Right Now: Terrine
It's almost unfair to call Terrine the hottest restaurant when so many amazing places in Los Angeles garnered both critical and popular praise. Runner-up Cassia has made waves in Santa Monica as Bryant Ng's return to the kitchen. But Terrine, fueled by celebrity diners, and a rock-solid location on Beverly Blvd, has made it the place to grab hearty Cali-French cuisine from chef Kris Morningstar. Throw in Ryan Wainwright's excellent drinks and possibly the most gorgeous patio in town, and you have a restaurant that's red hot.
Bartender of the Year: Jason Eisner
Gracias Madre might be known as a West Hollywood hotspot that just happens to serve vegan Mexican fare, but Eisner's fantastic, and often ground-breaking, drinks have been the show stopper since day one. Though his riffs on classics like the margarita are as good as you can get, Eisner's willingness to push the bar envelope puts him at the top this year for cocktail excellence. Sure there are plenty of amazing bartenders around town who shake and stir mind-blowing drinks. But 2015 was Eisner's year.
Stone Cold Stunner: Simbal
If there was one overall theme for 2015 in terms of design, it was the constant rehashing of mid-century principals, which evinced clean lines, modern furniture, and futuristic lighting. Places like The Arthur J and Vivaine are the best examples of this. Simbal, which was designed by Studio Unlimited, takes some of these ideas, but places it in an arresting, post-modern building tucked away behind the main drag in Little Tokyo. The location is admittedly a little weird, and hard to find. But once inside, the look and feel of the Simbal is both visually compelling and perfectly appropriate for Shawn Pham's Vietnamese-inflected cooking.
2015's Empire Builder: Stephane Bombet
Stephane Bombet has been on a tear ever since he first partnered with Ricardo Zarate at Picca, Mo Chica, and Paiche a few years ago. Though that partnership didn't pan out (with only Picca left open at the moment), Bombet returned with late last year with Terrine, working with Francois Renaud and chef Kris Morningstar to create one of the city's hottest new tables. This year, he's already picked up Michael Hung to open Viviane, and most recently debuted Hanjip in Culver City with chef Chris Oh. What's next? Bombet already has a second, 200-plus seat Hanjip expansion in Downtown, which means high-quality Korean barbecue will continue to proliferation beyond Koreatown.
Saddest Closure: Bucato
Once Evan Funke left Bucato in Culver City, the refined Italian restaurant's days were numbered. Just a few months later, the place shut down, with no announced future plan for the space. When it first opened, Bucato had some strange, if a bit puritanical policies such as no cell phone use in the dining room. It also didn't have reservations that one could beyond earlier than the same day. But Funke's masterful cooking brought some of the best pasta this city has ever seen, with a strict adhereance to "pasta fato a mano." The fully hand rolled and cut pasta, plus the rest of Funke's flavor-forward plates, made Bucato a hit in Culver City. Funke's already doing pop-ups around town, so it'll just be a matter of time until he resurfaces in town (fingers crossed).