The aim of the LA Times’ Best Restaurants list

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 7. I’m Ryan Fonseca.

About 99% of the time, my wife is the one who finds us new and interesting restaurants, and I’m the one who says, “Looks good” and drives us there.

But I’m about to shake up that dynamic thanks to The Times’ 10th annual list of the 101 best restaurants in LA

An interactive map shows eateries spanning from the San Fernando Valley, clustered through the heart of the LA Basin and sprinkled down to Long Beach and southeast into Orange County.

This year’s list was cultivated by Times restaurant critic Bill Addison, who confesses straightaway that he’s trying to answer “a delicious, impossible question”:

What are the 101 restaurants that best embody excellence and convey the essence of our food culture?

In his quest to answer that question, Bill visited or revisited roughly 300 restaurants, ultimately whittling that number down to the 101 places on his list.

Skimming through during a sneak peek revealed a microcosm of Greater Los Angeles, repping food traditions from Japan, Colombia, Palestine, Ethiopia, India, Korea, Lebanon and Italy — just to name several. And no LA food list would be complete without a generous helping of Mexican restaurants (my favorite).

“I hope it tells a story,” Bill said. “First and foremost, I hope it expresses the defining pluralism of Los Angeles — the many, many communities that make up its uniqueness and its infinite appeal.”

Bill told me he recognized the “immense privilege” he had in getting paid to eat food and write about it but said compiling his eventual list took “months of anguish.” Hey explained:

Restaurants are evolving organisms in so many ways. But so is the dining culture here. Being on the list or not on the list can be a tricky thing. It doesn’t mean suddenly somebody who ran a great restaurant who isn’t on the list anymore … is no longer deserving, or it’s not as good as it used to be.

Running a restaurant is a labor of love — emphasis on labor. And one industry-wide challenge that still permeates dining is ongoing labor shortages.

“In my 20 years of being a restaurant critic, I’ve never been more forgiving of an overall experience in a restaurant,” Bill shared, adding that restaurant patrons should bring some empathy to the table.

“I hope, if the intention of hospitality is fundamentally there, that everyone in the dining room is going to be understanding of labor shortages,” he said. “They’re ultimately [going] to be fed and enjoy yourself.”

For Bill, there’s a tried-and-true equation that explains the region’s gastronomical greatness.

“It’s California’s exceptional farmlands, crossed with the incredible diversity of our communities, and the innate creativity that is part of Los Angeles culture,” he said. “What’s wonderful about that is that equation is alive.”

So, were there any major food trends he noticed in 2022? Bill said the pandemic largely “derailed” his approach to trend-seeking, but there was one standout.

“We are in an amazing pizza boom,” he told me. “There are three restaurants on this list … that signify how different and how excellent expressions of pizza can be now in Los Angeles.”

Your move, New York.

Check out Bill Addison’s full list, and plot your next course to a good meal.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Check out “The Times” podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning LA Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Black Californians are among the hundreds of Black families seeking to reclaim land seized by local governments through eminent domain and other tactics. Many are turning to Where Is My Land, which offers advocacy, research and media consulting. The for-profit organization is currently working with seven families that lost property to municipalities in California. Those include Santa Monica, Hayward, Richmond, Palm Springs and Napa. CalMatters

Earlier this week, Los Angeles’ unionized teachers rallied for wage increases and structural changes in the classroom. Educators are worried about staying in the profession amid the rising cost of living and intensifying workloads. Among their demands: a 20% raise over the next two years. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Native Americans whose ancestors settled by California’s largest natural lake centuries ago are imploring the federal government to save a symbol of their heritage: the Clear Lake hitch. The large minnows have been on the state’s threatened species list since 2014. But their numbers continue to dwindle, and the region’s Pomo Indian tribes fear US government help will come too late. Los Angeles Times

They sell sea plots off the seashore (doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). For the first time in US history, ocean areas off the West Coast are being auctioned off to build wind farms. In total, five spots — each about 20 miles offshore — are up for grabs: two off Eureka in Humboldt County and three in the waters west of Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County. The bidding kicked off Tuesday but will continue today — and you can check where the bids are at on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s website. The highest bid before Tuesday’s recess: $100,300,000. The Mercury News

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Pour one out (figuratively — don’t waste good booze) for the 89th year of Prohibition’s demise. Patt Morrison takes a look back at the temperance movement that sparked our nation’s dry run and explains how California became “a prize for prohibitionists.” Los Angeles Times

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Mostly sunny 61 San Diego: Partly sunny 61 San Francisco: Mostly sunny 56 San Jose: Patchy fog then sunny 58 Fresno: Patchy fog then haze 56 Sacramento: Patchy frost and fog then mostly sunny, 53.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Kerry Olinger:

Growing up in Phoenix, we were a family of “Zoners” who descended upon Mission Bay, San Diego, annually to escape the brutal heat. Upon arrival, we would turn off the AC and roll down the windows of the station wagon to take in the balmy air. I vividly recall the salty smell of the air, the glistening sunlight on the magnificent Pacific Ocean — a sensory overload for a girl born in the desert. Eventually, we moved west, and after nearly 40 years living in Southern California beach communities, I am transported forever to the feeling of childlike wonder when I pull up to any beach, and do not take for granted the privilege of having the ocean in my figurative backyard. My youngest son was named Diego, in part because of my affection for San Diego, where I fell in love with the Pacific Ocean all those years ago.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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