Last year’s top eleven new restaurants in the South Bay
Restaurateurs in the South Bay are usually selling something more than food; they’re selling a vision of their eatery as a reflection of the Good Life. That means different things in different places, but usually involves a lively, exciting environment, dining very well while not having to dress up to match, and eating something that is artisanal, farm-raised, or eclectic.
This year’s crop of new restaurants delivers on those promises remarkably well, whether your idea of the good life is sitting at a rustic outdoor table with plastic cutlery or lounging in a high-style booth with crystal on the table. As always, when it came to deciding which restaurants could be considered for a list of the very best, I had some difficult judgment calls. American Farmhouse Tavern & Dining Hall is substantially different from the American Farmhouse Grill, has a greatly expanded menu, and is in a different location – should it be regarded as a new establishment? There is enough continuity that I decided it should not be in contention, though it would have been an obvious winner otherwise. Should Bar Comida be regarded as separate from Chez Melange? They share the same management and items from both kitchens are served in the Bar Comida space, so again I erred on the side of favoring truly new establishments. To get a new restaurant up to speed involves training front of house and kitchen staff to do both their own jobs and to work together, and places that start out with established teams would have an overwhelming advantage.
There were some fascinating near-misses, places that came very close to making the cut. One Redondo restaurant would have made the cut if the service hadn’t been so chaotic – in multiple visits I never received the correct meal. The kitchen and servers seem to barely communicate, which profoundly affected the dining experience. At another, the servers were downright grouchy and argued loudly right next to customers, shattering any sense of a comfortable dining experience. The tight job market has not apparently made some servers decide to learn their job well in the hope of keeping it and of getting higher tips, but there have still been problems at all price levels with staff who knew little about their menu or the art of pleasing customers.
The restaurants that did make the cut include some of the most and least pricey of last year’s openings, and showed inspiring ingenuity in creating original environments that suit their cuisine. As occasionally happens when I try to create a top ten list, I found that the list just didn’t feel complete without one more – therefore, it’s a top eleven this time, listed in alphabetical order.
If flavors were sound, these would be shouting – Hot’s Kitchen is as bold and brassy as any restaurant that has ever existed in the SouthBay. Wild things happen here, like the Thai green curry fish tacos, an extraordinary idea that is very well handled. Menus change constantly, and the house beer expert brings in all manner of seasonal suds to charm those who like their ales and stouts. The ambiance is a problem for some people, an echoing, cavernous space, but the first-rate food keeps bringing people in.