California Restaurants

Establishment neighborhood
The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge
1330 E. Palm Canyon Dr., South Palm Springs
If you can snag a reservation, you’re in for a real treat at this small, cozy hotel’s restaurant (seating is limited, and hotel guests get first priority; walk-ins aren’t accepted). The family-style suppers are served at long, wooden communal tables and include starters like date and orange salad before the entrée (along the lines of marinated rib eye with garlic smashed potatoes or roasted chicken with wild rice). The garden setting feels totally private, like a dinner party at a friend’s gorgeous desert compound.
Élephante Beach House
1332 2nd St., Santa Monica
In a rooftop space smack-dab in the center of downtown Santa Monica, Élephante is a breath of fresh air—quite literally, you can feel the ocean breeze from your perch on the terrace. It’s run by Nick Mathers, the force behind West Hollywood spots Eveleigh and Goldie’s, which is to say he knows a thing or two about drawing a crowd. It’s the kind of place you’ll come for cocktails but want to stay for dinner—the food, largely coastal Italian, is really good. In fact, the entire space is a love song to Pantelleria, an island that sits between the coast of Italy and Tunisia, where Mathers visited on a research trip to Southern Italy. Here, every design detail is considered: a Brazilian Tiger-wood deck, soapstone-topped bars, Moroccan rugs, plus lots of Buhera baskets brought in from Zimbabwe. Menu standouts include the whipped eggplant and tuna crudo to start, Tuscan kale salad, and the wood-fired Soppressata pizza, which is great to share with a group. If you really feel like going for it, there’s a whole lobster on offer, too. Be sure to grab a table on Resy before you…
Superba Food + Bread
1900 Lincoln Blvd., Venice
You’d never guess it with its beautifully light and airy atmosphere, but Superba Food + Bread was once an auto body shop. It’s now one of Venice’s most popular spots for healthy-ish breakfasts and brunches, with five varieties of toasts that go way beyond the ubiquitous avocado version. We love the kale toast—a slab of the house made grilled bread topped with sunny side eggs, avocado, braised kale and chili oil—and pair it with a side of heirloom tomato gazpacho with cucumber and garlic croutons. Superba is also rightly famous for its crispy brussels sprouts in dashi broth, and no visit is complete without a bowl of them.
400 S Main St., Downtown
Chef Josef Centeno scored hits with his DTLA restaurants Bäco Mercat and Bar Amá, and he’s done it again with his latest venture, P.Y.T. It sits next door to those two and across the street from another Centeno restaurant, Orsa & Winston, but here, vegetables are the stars of the menu. Ingredients are sourced mostly from an urban farm in nearby Montecito Heights, and used in dishes like charred cauliflower with lemon and walnuts, cold smoked baby carrots, and a perfectly-roasted sweet potato with nori butter and apples. Still, the place isn’t entirely meat-free. If your fellow diners are craving some protein, there’s the grilled kanpachi with seasonal greens, citrus and fried lentils, and a pork collar steak with French potatoes. We also love the space—with its soaring ceilings, huge windows that let in plenty of sunlight, and big, potted ficus trees, it almost feels like you’re eating outside.
Che Fico
838 Divisadero, Nopa
Sure, it might not feel like SF needs yet another Italian restaurant. The truth is, Che Fico (pronounced "kay-feeco") is anything but. It also happens to be one of the hardest tables in the city to land right now. GP went earlier this spring when it first opened, and it continues to live up to the hype, down to its Instagram-friendly design details—a chevron tile lined entryway, a fire engine red pizza oven, and a boldly wallpapered stairway. Chef David Nayfeld and fellow Eleven Madison Park alum and pastry chef Angela Pinkerton have assembled a menu that's at once familiar but also masterful, meaning it's all really good and leans heavily on local California produce. Pastas (orchiette with fennel sausage and broccoli rabe; goats milk ricotta gnudi with ramps) are handmade, and the pizzas are oven charred and finished with parmigiano regiano. Everything is meant to be shared, and dishes pour out of the kitchen as they're ready, so you should just go for it and order everything that strikes your fancy. For dessert, it's a toss-up between the olive oil cake with elderflower ice cream and the bittersweet…
The Mar Vista
12249 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista
Chef-owners D. Brandon Walker and Jill Davie opened their massive, light-filled space last year, adding a much-needed restaurant to the neighborhood. It’s become a go-to for Mar Vista locals for its take on California cuisine, with a menu full of healthy veggie options like the carrot hummus with beets, arugula and frisee, and the roasted broccoli and cauliflower entrée with a sweet chili puree and almonds. Heartier dishes include a black rice and farro hot pot with black eyed peas, eggplant, and kale slaw in a shiitake mushroom broth, as well as an expertly-roasted organic half-chicken with salsa verde. The raw bar, meanwhile, offers great happy hour snacks, including shucked oysters and a scallop ceviche.
1315 3rd St. Promenade, Suite K, Santa Monica
It's hard to imagine that on the second floor of a heavily touristed stretch of Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade you'll find one of the city's brightest young chefs quietly cooking a highly conceptual dinner every night. But lo and behold, Chef Dave Beran, who cut his teeth at Chicago's Alinea and Next, is telling a story uniquely his own—this one, deeply referencing cuisines from around the world while leaning heavily on southern California's farmers' market produce. All of this is to say that there's a reason why Dialogue is appearing on just about every "Best-Of" list. The result is artfully plated dishes built around the four seasons: a sorrel and fennel tart; squab with begonias and plum; kombu (sea kelp) braised for eight hours. At just 18 seats strong—eight at the counter and three tables—nightly dinner service is available via ticketed reservations on Resy. Photos courtesy of Erin Simkin and Mariah Tauger
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