According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, of the nearly 43 million visitors who descended on our desert valley last year, 27 percent came from Southern California. It makes sense then that local denizens also head roughly 300 miles to the SoCal coast, be it to partake in the more temperate climate or for outdoor, social and cultural pursuits. And speaking of culture, L.A. and San Diego have seen a remarkable renaissance in terms of art (The Broad Museum’s free tickets are spoken for a month or more in advance) and dining. As for the dining, you should also plan in advance. Here are some of the Southland’s hottest eateries.
Although Brian Malarkey “fabric of social dining” is a known commodity at Aria and Caesars Palace with Herringbone and Searsucker, respectively, he honed his culinary chops in San Diego. And while his original spots remain popular, his newly opened Herb and Wood in Little Italy was the city’s best restaurant debut of 2016. It’s everything people love about San Diego: an inviting design (courtesy of partner and general manager Christopher Puffer), a spot-on bar program, a scene and bold food. Standouts include perfect scallops, hiramasa, black cod with cracked wheat, oxtail gnocchi and a bone marrow pizza.
Around the corner from Herb and Wood is Brian Redzikowki’s lively eatery Kettner Exchange. Having worked in Vegas with Joël Robuchon at the MGM Mansions and Nobu at Matsuhisa in Aspen, his cuisine is definitely inspired by French and Asian techniques. Don’t miss his bigeye tuna “pizza” and spicy shrimp tempura. For a nightcap, guests can head to the lively rooftop bar for some of the city’s best cocktails.
No visit to San Diego would be complete without a trip to La Jolla, where you’ll find chef Trey Foshee (who received a Food & Wine best magazine new chef nod when he started helming the stoves at George’s at The Cove years ago) proffering Southland’s best tacos and Baja fare alongside his chef de cuisine Christine Rivera. From the wood-burning stove comes tender octopus tostada and uni-topped fish al pastor tacos, among others.
Courtesy of Galaxy Tacos
Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum recently opened their first Left Coast outpost of Catch, and it is white-hot. If somehow you are lucky enough to score a reservation, expect to be surrounded by the super A-list in a stunning rooftop garden. On a recent Thursday, we were seated among Chance the Rapper, Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and the like. But Catch is certainly not style over substance—just try the truffle sashimi, hellfire roll and tuna-topped crisped rice cakes and you’ll see why this places has the reputation it does.
John Terzian is perhaps L.A.’s most notable curator of A-list haunts. Here, he and his partners make a sophisticated play on the notion of a supper club. This is their sophomore follow-up to their much-lauded The Nice Guy. Think well-executed American fare, a bit of cabaret and very strict reservations-only policy (that almost verges on invite-only) to help protect their understandably camera-shy clientele.
Try to plan this one three months in advance if you’re looking to land a booking after 5 p.m. or before 11 p.m. (yes, you read that right). But trust us, the wait is worth it. Chef Ori Menashe will help you see God through what is perhaps L.A.’s single best culinary experience. No superlatives will do this place justice. Everything is divine, from the veal tartare crostino to the ever-evolving mussels and clams prep to the house-made pastas (the bone marrow is served melting over gnocchi) to L.A.’s finest pizza. Oh, and the chocolate budino is the stuff dreams are made of.
When you just need to escape the neon and the chaos and can’t decide between L.A. or San Diego, head west toward Laguna Beach. Inside the Montage—The O.C.’s best hotel boasting a very Instagrammable and enviable pool/beach scene—lies Studio. Presided over by chef Craig Strong, the food matches the outstanding service. Here you will find one of the best examples of California nouveau cuisine. The menu is ever changing but always focuses on hyperfresh and often locally sourced ingredients.
Where to Stay Beyond the Montage
Our pick in San Diego is the Manchester Grand Hyatt, which is conveniently located in downtown’s Embarcadero, allowing for one to walk to the Gas Lamp and jet out to the environs. What’s more, it boasts the city’s best ocean and Coronado Island views.
In L.A., location is everything, and Beverly Hills is where you want to be to easily access the West Side, WeHo, Hollywood and downtown. While this city boasts three Four Seasons, the one on Third and Doheny (the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills) is handedly the best in terms of location and everything else—if it’s not sold out.
Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this story, we incorrectly stated that Thomas Schoos created the design of restaurant Herb and Wood. The correct designer is Christopher Puffer. We regret the error.