Los Angeles: The Essential Best-Of List

Other places might tell you which food trend was biggest in 2008, or which new restaurant made the biggest splash. But, everybody who’s sentient knows all that stuff already. Which is why we present the five truly important best-ofs here: things under the radar, that you’ll be glad to know.

Best mobbed-up restaurant: Some of the older L.A. restaurants have a bit of a Mafia feel to them, but it’s in a fun-times, Sinatra-style type of way. That’s Dan Tana’s, Musso & Frank’s…the boy’s club places. But Murano in West Hollywood is bringing new-school mob excitement to L.A. with Chris Paciello, who has come on board in a somewhat nebulous consultant/investor role. He’s out here scrubbing “Murder” graffiti off Murano’s walls after a stint in jail and a misspent youth in Miami…and that’s all we know for now. Oh, and the pasta’s really good!

Best server to make you feel like a princess: Maurizio at Melograno. Hands down. Or up. Whatever. This Sardinian charmer has perfected the eye-twinkling accented thing, the stop-for-a-moment-and-gasp-when-he-sees-you thing, and we fall for it every time. Happily. He’ll even ask simple questions in Italian, making the ladies feel international and glamorous. If Maurizio could be eaten with a spoon…he’d be all gone already.

Best use of the ingredient of the year: If we have to talk about food for a moment, let’s at least mention every chef’s favorite ingredient: pork. We’re pretty sure even vegan places were offering it this year. But the re-vamped Max in Sherman Oaks made the best use of the piggy: Kurubota pork belly with greens and peaches. So simple, so heart-stoppingly rich. It gives carnivores a reason to look forward to peach season.

Best fusion that doesn’t know it: While fusion is a buzzword that long ago became a punch line, the concept itself is still going strong: new American wouldn’t exist without it. And the upscale joints that serve it do so consciously. Which is why Kouraku serves the best fusion in the city: they don’t care if it’s hip, they just know it’s delicious. Greasy and perfect for 3 a.m. Don’t bring your friends who think Chinese and Japanese are the same thing, as this will seem to prove their feeble point right. But man, those two cuisines are a perfect dinner match, right there on the same plate in the middle of the night, under fluorescent lights, paired with an obscenely large beer.

Best place to probably get a handjob: We’re just saying “probably,” okay? But still, Tapas and Wine Bar C just feels kind of shady. The all-female servers wear costumes, usually of the French maid variety. Is it cute because they’re Japanese? Is it dirty for that same reason? The red walls and pink carpet, along with the lack of people actually eating, makes it seem ever more squeezer-friendly. The servers sit down, and the doorman tries to assure people reading the menu that “it’s just a regular place, really!” Dude…then why are you trying so hard?

Short Stack: Openings

New YorkZorzi opens, bringing Northern Italy to Murray Hill via salt cod risotto and stewed cuttlefish with polenta. ● The LES makes room for the Sacha Petraskes’ White Star, which he calls a “sipping spirits bar.” Standouts include the cocktail “Death in the Afternoon” — equal parts Champagne and Absinthe. ● Spicy Pickle opens in Brooklyn Heights, taking DIY subs a notch higher.

● Fast food chain Empanada Joe’s opens in Morningside Heights to lukewarm reviews. ● Apotheke opens later this week, taking up residence in Chinatown’s Bloody Angle and serving up medically inspired cocktails “for whatever ails you.” ● After several months of renovations, Home reopens in West Village. The menu’s the same, and the year-round, heated-in-the-winter outdoor garden space is the same, but the kitchen — it’s brand new.

San Francisco ● No wifi, no comfy seating, no fancy drinks, just excellent brew (of the coffee bean varietal). Four Barrel Coffee is open! ● With just two booths and seven stools, mini lounge Minibar opens in Western Addition. This tiny spot showcases local artists, rotating artists every six weeks. ● Spanish eats Joya is open for lunch and dinner on University. ● From boba to booze, Bubble Zone in Richmond has reopened as Sake Zone. ● The Mission welcomes Latin American Limon Rotisserie, sequel to Limon, which closed in June.

Los Angeles ● Gouda, Swiss, Bleu — if those words are like sweet nothings to you, check out Andrew’s Cheese Shop, just open in Santa Monica. Home delivery (by bike, natch) is available. ● Opaque is back. Dine in the dark, this time in a new venue: inside the V Lounge on Wilshire, in Santa Monica. ● Mission Cantina opens in Hollywood, the third spot by George Abou-Daoud in a four-block radius, taking up residence next door to the Delancy and down the street from the Bowery. Look for an extensive Tequila menu. ● Ventura goes upscale with addition of the Watermark. Highlights include the locally grown food, the rooftop bar, and plenty of Central Coast wines. ● Tapas and Wine Bar C opens downtown. Roll out and look for French-maid waitresses in six inch heels, fur-covered walls, flat-screen TVs, and rowdy karaoke. ● Apple Lounge officially opens after Labor Day, the first of three spots to take over where Pearl left off. Apple Lounge will be joined by Apple Restaurant and the Pussycat Dolls Lounge. ● Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge opens in Manhattan Beach.

Chicago ● Asian Fusion Urban Belly opens in Avondale. Focus is on noodles, but not the ramen kind.