Liam Brown
Chef Phillip and Margarita Lee of Pasta|Bar and Sushi|Bar, who were both just awarded their first Michelin stars.

Plan your next California road trip with stops at the newest additions to the Bib Gourmand and Michelin lists.

Magdalena O'Neal  – September 28, 2021

A handful of new California restaurants received their first Michelin stars this week as inspectors lauded the Golden State as “an international culinary destination and leader of the industry,” according to the guidebook released on Monday.

There are five new two-star restaurants and 22 new one-star additions to the acclaimed dining list. Additionally, 45 restaurants were named to Michelin’s Bib Gourmand, or “Good Little Restaurants” guide, which highlights restaurants offering exceptional meals at reasonable prices. In the United States, these are places that you can dine for under $40.

Two standout restaurants receiving stars for the first time this year also happen to be housed in the same building: Sushi|Bar and Pasta|Bar in Encino. As you walk through the door, you are served a cocktail in the speakeasy lounge before being escorted to either an Italian or Japanese masterpiece of a meal.

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One of the 17-courses at Sushi|Bar in Encino

Liam Brown

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“Head sushi chef, Lennon Silvers-Lee, hails from Van Nuys, not Japan, and his nigiri are not just supremely finessed but also infused with original touches—like the dab of sweet corn “pudding” and crunchy sourdough breadcrumbs dressing slices of hamachi,” inspectors said of Sushi|Bar.

In praise of Pasta|Bar, under the same ownership, inspectors added: “The mastery of this team lies in their ability to take full advantage of California’s natural bounty, with thrilling results, as seen in cavatelli with a glossy, butter-rich lobster sauce, with spring peas and chunks of sweet meat; or an exalted take on the caprese by way of marigold tomatoes, mozzarella, fennel flowers, and avocado.”

Also in Southern California, Pasjoli in Santa Monica received its first star. After opening in 2019 and managing to stay afloat throughout the pandemic, the team churned out heat-at-home style meals, Thanksgiving dinners, and fried chicken on Sundays.

“Chef Dave Beran has upped the ante with this captivating French bistro, where standards like onion soup and beef tartare are elevated to their highest reaches,” inspectors said of the Santa Monica bistro with a new chic sidewalk addition to accommodate those looking for outdoor dining.

In all of Western America, Michelin only recognizes restaurants in California. It first highlighted San Francisco starting in 2006 and included Los Angeles in 2007 before discontinuing the Southern California city. In 2019, the guidebook expanded into more southern cities as well as central California, including Sonoma, San Diego, Oakland, Orange Country, and Santa Barbara. Inspectors skipped 2020 due to the pandemic.

Charred squid with confit potatoes, green and black olives, Lady Edison ham with buddha’s hand citrus and fennel in an aged pork broth from Jeune et Jolie 

Sam Wells

Closer to the coast, Carlsbad had only seen one restaurant receive a star until this year, thanks to the husband-and-wife-run Jeune et Jolie. The restaurant offers a four-course menu that lets diners choose from a few different options, veering from the pre-fixe style of many French-inspired eateries. If you’re not in the mood for a formal sit-down dinner, there are also walk-in seats at the bar with a more casual but equally elevated menu.

“Partner John Resnick and Executive Chef Eric Bost are behind this very appealing and well-orchestrated French restaurant oozing with style and elegance at every turn,” inspectors noted. “This cooking displays a mature direction, with solid ingredients, unique combinations, and beautiful presentations.”

Three Santa Barbara spaces were also awarded their first stars. Bell’s is a family-run affair, with a newly opened sister restaurant Bar Le Cote that stands out from the crowd. “After cutting their teeth at top New York City kitchens, Daisy and Greg Ryan headed to the West Coast—settling into the confines of the Santa Ynez Valley,” inspectors said. “This is cooking that tastes as good it looks, shining a spotlight on local purveyors. Naturally, the crowds keep coming for the unpretentious dishes.”

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Steak Tartare at Bell’s in Santa Barbara

Bell’s

Since 1889 (a decade longer than Sunset has been around) the Michelin guidebook has served as a tool for those in search of culinary excellence from restaurants around the world. However, it has not always been renowned with such high authority and praise. The Michelin brothers created the guide to encourage people to buy more cars and hit the road, thus leading to more tire purchases for their famed tire company, Michelin. The Bib Gourmand icon is the Michelin tire man we know and love, licking his lips in admiration of the restaurants awarded the title. But as the definitions of “fine dining” shifted to include new styles of cuisine outside traditional French practices and elegant Japanese Kaiseki meals, so did the Michelin awards. In 1997, Michelin announced the Bib Gourmand list.

Matt Horn sliced brisket with pickled onions
Sliced brisket with pickled red onions from Horn Barbecue in Oakland, California

Thomas J. Story

This year, the Bib Gourmand list includes not only reasonably priced fine dining offerings, but it has been expanded to include Indian, barbecue, and dumpling specialists across the coast. In Southern California, Michelin recognized restaurants like Konbi in Lost Angeles’ Echo Park and La Azteca in East L.A. The guidebook also added Loquita in Santa Barbara and Horn Barbecue in Oakland.

Some of the most amazing barbecue spots in California are recognized by a line of hungry patrons wrapping around the block, and Bib Gourmand honoree Heritage in San Juan Capistrano doesn’t differ in that department. It does, however, differ with an ever-changing menu of specials, sweets, and rotating craft beers. There’s no doubt you will get more than just a bang for your buck at this barbecue joint from Daniel and Brenda Castillo.

“His creations draw inspiration from central Texas, so when that sweet scent of California white oak gets going, find yourself transported on a riotous journey, starting with slices of glistening brisket,” inspectors said.

Back in Los Angeles, Chifa is an amazing example of what can come from two cuisines in the same kitchen. The menu features Cantonese and Peruvian dishes inspired by both sides of the Leon family’s heritage, with dishes like filet mignon Lomo Soldado and head-on black pepper prawns prepared in a wok with spicy black pepper sauce. “Chifa is the term used by Peruvians to refer to ‘Chinese restaurant,'” inspectors said. “The succinct menu pulls from family recipes and childhood memories to pack in flavor at every twist and turn.”

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One of the specials from the chef’s tasting menu at Tumbi Bar in Santa Monica

Tumbi Bar

Hop over to Santa Monica, and you’ll find another new addition just steps away from the popular promenade. Tumbi Bar is taking a modern approach to how Indian food is offered in the West. With a rotating beer and wine list, Indian sodas, and dishes from all regions of the country, the restaurant aims to showcase the best of what Indian cuisine has to offer.

“Tumbi feels worlds away, offering inventive Indian cooking in an industrial-chic setting,” inspectors said.

As many of us craved comfort and cozy dishes throughout the last year, Dumpling Home offered an answer. A gem located in the Lower Haight area of San Francisco, Dumpling Home’s dumplings have caught the eye of locals and visitors for years now, so Michelin recognition comes as a surprise for few. “This casual eatery excels in the delicate art of soup dumplings, which arrive with supple skins and spoonfuls of delicious broth far clearer and more distilled than most,” inspectors said.

Seasonal veggies at Valley Bar + Bottle Shop

Emma K. Morris/Courtesy Valley Bar + Bottle Shop

And for an affordable bite in California’s wine country, Valley is one of the coolest new spots in California’s wine country due in part to the natural and organic wines offered tableside or through its bottle shop. “The affordable wine list is a veritable call to adventure, highlighting organic and biodynamic favorites from California and beyond,” inspectors said. “The kitchen serves items such as soft-boiled eggs finished with a savory XO sauce and duck breast tortillas served with house-made hoisin that is best in class.”

Now, more than a century after its initial inception, Michelin’s guides have become one of the highest forms of praise for restaurants across the globe. In 2019, Michelin also launched an interactive map on its website that allows prospective diners to plan the ultimate culinary road trip up and down the California coast. So, waste no time in booking your reservations at the newest restaurants awarded new stars and Bib Gourmands.

For the full list, head over to the Michelin website or pick up a guidebook at local retailers.


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