Our Favorite Restaurants—and Recipes—of 2021
We learned a lot from chefs across the West this year. These are some of our favorite recipes from 2021.
We made our way across the West and back a few times this year to taste some impressive food and drinks. From Hawaii to the high desert of California, the opportunities to learn from the people who inspire us in the kitchen—and behind the bar—left us with recipes, lessons, and dinner inspiration galore. We’ll be taking everything we learned with us into the new year, and we want to share the insight with with you, too.
For starters, we kicked off 2021 in Hawaii with two-time Top Chef veteran Sheldon Simeon, who grew up in Hilo. The chef behind Maui’s Tin Roof restaurant shared dishes from his childhood like chicken arroz caldo that will forever expand your notion of what Hawaiian food can be.
“Whether it’s the nostalgic flavors of ranch-dressing-draped blistered shishito peppers or classic Huli Huli chicken enriched with koji paste, these are simple but smart combinations of a few good ingredients that will nourish you at home,” Sunset editor-in-chief Hugh Garvey wrote, “until you can get to Maui and try Simeon’s food firsthand in the land where it came from.”
Next, we headed to Sonoma to see what’s been cooking at the farm and vineyard of the family behind Scribe winery. Brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani took over the vineyard in 2007, and have, as Garvey writes, “transformed a neglected turkey farm into a thriving winery that’s now a must-stop for southern Sonoma daytrippers looking for a vinous respite from the city.” The family shared recipes that have become favorites on the grounds, like soft-boiled farm eggs with asparagus salsa, marinated chunks of feta cheese, and more to set the table with on a warm summer’s day.
From there, we made our way back to our home base of Los Angeles to learn all about the practice of Ayurveda with Radhi Devlukia-Shetty. High up in the Hollywood Hills, she shared a recipe for kitchari, which she says is the “mother of all dishes” in an Ayurvedic diet, as lentils and rice come together to create a complete protein.
“Made of stewed lentils and warming spices, it’s a classic dish in Ayurvedic medicine that’s meant to balance, cleanse, and nourish, three principles of the 5,000-year-old practice that Radhi celebrates and shares with her million-plus followers across YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and her blog,” Garvey wrote.
Radhi’s menu of dishes were “vibrantly colored, boldly seasoned, deeply satisfying (some might say indulgent),” Garvey added. “Even if you’re not a practitioner of Ayurveda, the benefits of these dishes are clear: They’re nutrient-rich, stunningly beautiful, in sync with the seasons, and, most of all, undeniably delicious.”
To stay on that health and wellness journey, we caught up with Julia Bainbridge, who spent a year traveling across the United States to learn from the best bartenders about how to make nonalcoholic cocktails that don’t resemble kid-friendly versions of piña coladas or mojitos. She shared her findings in her book, Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason.
We’re still sipping these recipes for delicious mocktails. A personal favorite is the Yu the Great, which combines matcha, basil, coconut milk, and more to create a drink that’s balanced and offers an added energy boost.
“Flamingo Estate is 7 acres of botanical delights crowned by a 1940s hilltop Spanish house that’s been meticulously reimagined by French design firm Studio KO,” Garvey wrote of the farm, gathering place, shop, and more nestled in the hills on the east side of Los Angeles. “Flamingo Estate owner Richard Christiansen was born in Australia to horticulturist parents, and his love for the land is palpable.”
While on the grounds, we indulged in fresh pasta with mint pesto and burrata prepared by chef Josh Buckwald of Orso Pasta, who is now working as the executive chef at Hollywood’s Employees Only. Amid citrus, wild herbs, and flowers, the fantastical Flamingo Estate also produces soaps, candles, jams, and tinctures to delight the body and feed the soul.
From Southern California, we took a hop and a skip north to Mister Jiu’s, the modern Chinese restaurant with a Michelin star in San Francisco. Chef Brandon Jew wrote the book on Chinese-American food—luckily, it’s a cookbook.
“Of all the chefs working in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Brandon Jew might be the most devoted student of the neighborhood’s foodways,” Garvey wrote. “Trained in high Italian cuisine, the protégé of legendary San Francisco chefs Judy Rogers of Zuni Café and Michael Tusk of Quince, Jew, a third-generation Chinese-American, pivoted hard from European traditions in 2016 when he opened his modern Chinese restaurant Mr. Jiu’s.”
We got to share a few recipes from Jew’s cookbook, Mister Jiu’s In Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food. Get ready for a flavor-packed feast featuring spicy crispy peanuts, Taiwanese-style eggplant, and salt and pepper squid.
As the weather warmed, we again fell in love with the beach views at Surfrider Hotel, not to mention walks on the pier at Malibu City Farms, two staples just a short walk across Pacific Coast Highway. The Surfrider has “more dishes and drinks on its menu than the hotel has rooms,” Garvey said. Think “crudo bathed in coconut milk and lime and fish sauce served with chips, numerous healthy bowls studded with pickled produce, and jammy eggs and grains.”
Malibu City Farms Cafe is just across the highway from Surfrider and offers casual breakfasts and late lunches in a cozy, bustling space at the end of the long stretch of the pier. At the start, you’ll find the full-service Malibu Farm Restaurant serving coastal-inspired dinners overlooking the ocean. Owned by Helene Henderson, the spaces are fueled by her infatuation with local and fresh ingredients, and they offer a reprieve from the speeding cars and crashing waves of PCH.
From her latest book, Malibu Farm Sunrise to Sunset: Simple Recipes All Day, Henderson shared recipes you might recognize from the menu if you’ve attended brunch, like gluten-free heart-shaped waffles and open-faced omelets.
Back up the highway in Los Angeles, we spit-roasted a whole slab of pork belly with Nico de Leon and Chase Valencia of Lasita, a Filipino-inspired rotisserie located downtown. At their brick-and-mortar, there’s a limited 32-seat dining room where the duo serves an extensive natural wine list and unique takes on traditional Filipino dishes like chicken inasal, pork belly, and seasonal vegetables.
When you’re ready to cook succulent grilled chicken or rotisserie pork belly slow and low over coals, the folks behind this breakout takeout hit can show you how it’s done.
We then caught up with the team at Damian, the new L.A. Arts District restaurant from legendary chef Enrique Olvera, who is known for New York’s Cosme and Atla, as well as Pujol in Mexico City. We reveled in their take on carne asada, simple and humble in preparation and full of flavor with a guacachile sauce spooned on top. Behind Damian is a back-alley taco stand called Ditroit, where the same kitchen churns out tacos, tamales, and margaritas prior to dinner service.
We also got a sneak peek of Yangban Society, a Korean-deli-style restaurant that is slated to open in downtown Los Angeles in early 2022. The combination of cuisines comes from Katianna and John Hong, who wanted to create a casual dining experience that paid homage to both of their backgrounds; and one that differed from the upscale Michelin restaurants where they worked for years. They shared recipes that varied from sticky gochujang spareribs to grilled snap peas with everything bagel seasoning and egg salad.
“We designed it to be a place where we’d want to hang out,” Katianna told us. “You’ll be able to take a number, banter with the staff at the counter, and grab a bottle of Hite beer or mini bottles of Johnny Walker Blue from the cold case.”
While we wait with anticipation for Yangban Society to open, we’ve been preparing for the holidays. For a healthier approach to Santa’s cookies this year, we sourced recipes from Edgar Castrejón’s new vegan Mexican cookbook, Provecho: 100 Vegan Mexican Recipes to Celebrate Culture and Community. Gluten-free, plant-based, and just sweet enough, these desserts are sure to please.
For a few more seasonally-inspired holiday menu items, we met up with the Pham family, who owns and runs Red Boat Fish Sauce. “While Red Boat was once the go-to secret ingredient for cooks and chefs who used it to boost the flavor of marinades, sauces, dips, and more, now it’s on the shelves of just about every grocery store in the U.S.,” Garvey wrote.
The family shared recipes for a fish sauce-marinated turkey that can brine in a wet rub for up to four days, blistered vegetables in scallion oil, and a salted meyer lemon cocktail to wash it all down with. “Whether they’re classic or brand new, one and all they’re fresh, vibrant, and guaranteed to become instant classics at your holiday feast,” Garvey added.
This year brought many amazing (and edible) moments for us and our readers. We can’t wait to fill the coming year with more dishes, drinks, and delectable moments from across the West.
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