The Eater Awards recognize excellence in the restaurant industry over the past year in cities across the country. In the face of so many difficulties, from pandemic ripple effects to labor issues to increased operating costs, Los Angeles restaurants have endured and often thrived because of the incredible dedication of the many workers and creative minds that make the scene in the Southland distinct. There aren’t enough awards to go around to the unsung heroes that help uplift and feed communities in this expansive metropolis. Still, we celebrate these restaurants for helping to define what great food and dining look like in 2022, from a bustling sports bar serving chutney-topped pizzas to a dedicated 76-year-old Oaxacan chef serving homestyle classics in her backyard. Here now, the editorial staff presents LA’s 2022 Eater Awards.
Pijja Palace: Restaurant of the Year
Avish Naran wasn’t sure what to expect when he opened the doors to Pijja Palace on the ground floor of a Comfort Inn in Silver Lake this past May. While the 30-year-old first-time restaurateur believed in his restaurant’s cooking (all-American pub fare done up Desi-style), cocktails (classics crafted with Indian spirits), and ambiance (minimalist furnishings lit up with a dozen flat- screen televisions), Naran couldn’t foresee the restaurant’s glowing reception, national impact, and even A-list endorsements in the months ahead.
Pijja Palace resonates deeply with so many because it embodies the freewheeling, inventive, and rule-breaking spirit of Los Angeles — all packaged in an unexpected and wholly delightful Indian sports bar. Much like the city it calls home, the restaurant doesn’t take itself too seriously and pays little attention to those who don’t fully understand its charms. Pijja Palace is playing a game all its own where the score hardly matters, having fun is the point, and the rigatoni always comes swimming in tomato masala cream. It’s this energy and attitude, paired with some of the most creative Indian cooking anywhere under chef Miles Shorey’s watch — like hot wings served with curry leaf ranch, nihari lamb ladled over house-made pasta shells, and aloo tikki hash sliders layered with Amul cheese — that keeps Angelenos lining up nightly. “Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them,” said Tommy Lasorda, the late, great Dodgers manager. Pijja Palace shoots, Los Angeles scores. —Cathy Chaplin
Quarter Sheets: Best Pandemic Pop-Up Gone Permanent
Quarter Sheets has never taken itself super seriously: When it launched during the pandemic, quick-to-sell-out pan-style pizzas and desserts for the “Quarter Sheets Pizza Club” would be handed to guests at the doorway of Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin’s Glendale home, and the duo’s mascot was (and still is) a parrot named Roni. When the pair opened their compact Echo Park location earlier this year, it was clear that the humor wasn’t lost. Table placards were emblazoned with Glendale landmarks, while kitschy artwork and parrot-themed knickknacks bought from Etsy gave the spot the feel of a cool basement.
But despite the lightheartedness, Lindell and Ziskin take their respective crafts — he’s on pizza, she’s on desserts — very seriously. Lindell’s crisp-edged pies, available in three styles (a crisp-edged pizza available whole or by the slice; chewier Sicilian squares; and focaccia-like tomato pie) are often topped with market-fresh ingredients; even the dead-simple tomato pie sings, its fluffy dough slicked with sweet tomato. And Ziskin is one of the best cake-makers in town, offering slices of domed princess cakes and “slabs,” where airy layers of chiffon are sandwiched with thick frosting. Ziskin has likened Quarter Sheets to a “kid’s birthday party.” It’s a kids’ party, all right — but one for adults who love seriously good food. —Karen Palmer
Yangban Society: Most Impressive Transformation
When Yangban Society opened at the top of this year, veteran fine dining chefs Katianna and John Hong served an all-day, deli-style menu with a cheeky convenience store tucked away upstairs. It felt fun and casual; think fine dining execution with everyday approachability. In recent months, the Hongs transitioned to dinner-only service and finally hit their groove. With dimmer lighting and more polished service, Yangban Society feels like the dinner spot it was always meant to be. The Hongs have refined their dishes, adding clever Korean touches like a gently salt-cured sea bream and a cold plate of seafood and garlicky mussels flavored like miyeogguk. The menu feels more cohesive and features the kind of familiar Korean flavors that Angelenos understand, executed with a chef’s vision and finesse.
Through the restaurant’s various iterations, the Hongs developed some really nice dishes that have made their mark, from crispy fish sauce potatoes to pastry-topped congee and a truly fantastic wood-grilled sea bream. Order the right dishes, from the matzo ball soup to the spicy chicken wings, and go home craving them within a few days. Looking at the restaurant’s earliest menus and comparing them to the latest, Yangban Society has crystallized into a genuinely different, exciting place to eat that can stand up to the bustling juggernauts of Bestia and Damian just around the corner. — Matthew Kang
Comedor Tenchita: Best Backyard Restaurant
One of the best regional Mexican restaurants in the country is a Sundays-only comedor (a family-operated eatery located in a home, market, or standalone space) run by an Indigenous Zapoteca cook named Doña Hortensia “Tenchita” Melchor. At Comedor Tenchita, which operates from a Mid-City backyard, Tenchita and her family proudly serve breakfasts, antojitos, soups, and guisados that represent the flavors of their hometown of Tlacolula, Oaxaca. The rotating menu of slow-cooked delights is as good as any roadside shacks and market stalls in Oaxaca. Look for classic moles from Tlacolula, like a mole negro made with gentle spices, chocolate, and herbs; the smoky chichilo; or a rare segueza (an Indigenous mole thickened with broken corn and corn masa) flavored with toasted chiles and quelites (wild Mexican herbs). The empanadas de amarillo, a folded corn tortilla filled with a viscous and tangy yellow mole, is always on hand.
Tenchita devotes herself to laborious dishes including higaditos, a mixture of eggs, shredded chicken, peppers, and onions that are poached in broth, molded into a mound, and sliced to order — a plate not found at any other Oaxacan restaurant in town. There are no shortcuts at the Comedor, where crispy molotes (masa fritters) of chorizo and potato are bathed in a flavorful black bean puree and perfumed with avocado leaves. The memelas remind the mostly Oaxacan customers of their grandmother’s kitchen back home, while the menudo and barbacoa enchilada show off the brilliance of Oaxacan chiles. —Bill Esparza
Camphor: New-School Fine Dining Destination
When Camphor owner Cyrus Batchan placed chefs Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George at the helm of his Arts District restaurant, it took a moment for diners to catch on to the co-chefs’ whimsical, South Asian-inflected dishes created with classic French techniques. With hip-hop and rock and roll playing on the PA and a come-as-you-are atmosphere, it was clear from the get-go that Camphor is the antidote to stuffy French dining.
In offering a welcoming dining room and dishes that can’t be found anywhere else in the city, Camphor eventually found its niche in Los Angeles. Imagine dishes like a delicate lobster with coral bisque and an elegant shaved ice salad with pickled beets, chives, and mandarins that takes inspiration from Keralan street food, a nod to George’s birthplace. The beautifully layered pommes Anna, a classic French potato dish, is placed over a chutney and tamarind sauce. Taking those initial bites with a dining partner becomes an engaging guessing game, where servers assist in identifying the various ingredients.
Then there are Camphor’s wine lists and cocktails, where rare Burgundys — typically not found around town — intermingle with orange wines and rosés that enhance Boonthanakit and George’s dishes. Skilled servers and bartenders are eager to familiarize anyone with the menu while recommending the generous martini (washed with French olive oil, vermouth, and herbs de Provence) that comes with a full sidecar. The martini’s arrival with a small dish of olives, cheeses, goat cheese, Peruvian drop pepper, and cipollini onions makes this cocktail a meal in itself — and like any meal at Camphor, one that’s not soon forgotten. —Mona Holmes
Mother Wolf: Toughest Table That’s Worth the Wait
At one point this year Mother Wolf was statistically one of the most in-demand restaurants in the country, if one can believe data from Resy, which touted well over 1,000 people on the Hollywood restaurant’s wait list every night. Evan Funke, who clearly test-ran Roman-style pastas, pizzas, and other dishes at his Venice spot Felix, knew to streamline the menu in such a way that this 200-plus-seat restaurant outfitted with lavish chandeliers and stunning red tile could accommodate the masses. It helped, too, to have an attentive service team that donned white tuxedo jackets to really drive home the Old Hollywood feel.
Not surprisingly, Mother Wolf became a highlight reel of celebrity sightings, with everyone from Jay-Z and Beyonce to the Obamas making cameos in its plush banquettes. With a soaring dining room that manages to feel both regal and warm, Mother Wolf was the perfect sequel for Funke, who seems to have fully accepted his role as the director of a high-volume kitchen. And his LA touches on classic Roman fare are apparent, from the extra chiles he uses to spice up the spaghettini arrabbiata to the local produce studded into the panzanella salad. Sleeper hits on the menu that go beyond the expected (but outstanding) cacio e pepe include a polished puttanesca tinged with the briny kick of olives and anchovies, and a folded mortadella-stuffed pizza dripping with runny ricotta. The perfectly fancy way to end a meal at Mother Wolf? Selecting an amaro from the restaurant’s rolling cart to pair with dessert. —Matthew Kang