One of L.A.’s most popular chefs hit months of setbacks while trying to open his Culver City pizzeria, but the years-long delay ended in late July when Best Bet — with three styles of pizza, multiple fresh pastas and a rainbow of farmers market salads and small plates — opened in the former A-Frame building.
Best Bet is the latest project from the Rose chef Jason Neroni (formerly of Spago, Le Cirque, Blue Hill, Club 33 and more) along with his wife and business partner, Jennifer Horan. They characterize the new restaurant as a familiar California-meets-Italy concept as well as a more intimate experience than the Rose, and one that features design touches such as photographs, vintage posters and movie replicas or set pieces pulled from their home.
Now, vintage Chef Boyardee ads, personal photos and high art all stare back from the walls at tables full of round zeppole giostra piled with black truffle and avocado honey, tomato salad with black garlic and buffalo ricotta, skillets of rabbit confit saltimbocca and fried, wood-fired and focaccia pizzas.
In early 2020, the pair planned to simply redesign the kitchen to better suit their menu’s needs. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and they pressed pause. When they began construction on the former 1960s IHOP last spring, removing the wall revealed there had been a fire before their ownership, which in turn revealed foundation and structural issues, triggering a chain of repairs that required them to take much of the restaurant down to the studs.
“It became like Groundhog Day, because L.A. was 60 degrees overcast, and it was two more weeks [until inspections] and it was two more weeks, two weeks, and we were pulling our hair out,” Neroni said. “But for better or for worse, all the delays gave us the opportunity to really hone into it. There were a number of different iterations that came down.”
The focus is now on pizza, where the main dough — what Neroni calls a blend of New York- and Naples-style — ferments three days and cooks in an oak-and-charcoal oven, a variant of his pizza at the Rose (this leftover dough becomes massive garlic knots served piping hot in skillets). A Sicilian-inspired round focaccia pizza ferments 24 hours, sitting in olive oil with sides coated in two-year-aged Reggiano, while Neroni’s favorite but most difficult is the fried Montanara, inspired by a visit to Naples wherein a street vendor frying dough on the sidewalk proved one of the family’s favorite bites of the trip. All three get topped with farmers market produce and items such as clams, caramelized onions, pesto powder, ’nduja, garlic sausage, miso mayo, fonduta and more.
Dave Purcell, of the Waterfront, designed a cocktail program of reimagined Italian and otherwise classics, while wine director Aaron Watty’s menu highlights Italian and Californian wines, all meant to pair with Best Bet’s pizza and other shareable plates. Best Bet, which seats roughly 110, launched with dinner only, but will debut lunch, then brunch, in the coming months, as well as a to-go program called Little Jabroni’s. Best Bet is open 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
12565 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 853 8096, bestbetpizzeria.la
With a transportive dining room, spins on generational recipes and some of the dishes that catapulted her to online fame, chef and social media star Tue Nguyen — known online as @twaydabae — has opened Di Di, her first restaurant. The modern Vietnamese concept is a partnership with the prolific h.wood Group and, she says, gives Vietnamese food not a fusion sensibility, but “a fresh sense of taste.”
Nguyen, born in Vietnam and raised both there and in California, rose to internet fame during the pandemic with home cooking videos that shared recipes for honey-glazed prawns, fish-sauce wings, fried rice and Vietnamese coffee crème brûlée. A number of these dishes can be found in her West Hollywood restaurant, alongside options such as Kevin’s Pho: a large-format dish in ode to her stepdad‘s closely guarded pho recipe that involves Wagyu and bone marrow. There are sesame noodles, Vietnamese spring rolls, fried lobster curries, shrimp toast slices dotted with house-made shrimp aioli, a bright Caesar salad that swaps croutons for crispy chicken skin, an almost porchetta-like pork shoulder steak with lemongrass jus over sticky rice and more.
“People have re-created those recipes so often [and] now they get to actually sit down in a place and try those recipes themselves,” she said of her TikTok-famous dishes. “I felt like for this to be a true reflection of me and my cooking, and to really tie in my story to the menu, it was important for me to have those items.”
Nguyen wasn’t initially supported by her family when she decided to attend culinary school, but she felt she “had a place in that world” and pursued it, graduating and then staging at Spago but living out of her car as she chased her dream of working in a professional kitchen. Feeling disillusioned, she began creating content online — and when everyone was cooking at home and quarantining, she posted her first recipe video. To her surprise, it blew up, leading to more followers, more recipes and eventually, in-person collabs and pop-ups.
After a sold-out two-night event held in Petite Taqueria, which would eventually become Di Di, a partnership formed between Nguyen and h.wood Group, whose owners, Brian Toll and John Terzian, also operate Delilah, Slab, the Nice Guy, Bootsy Bellows and more. They transformed their former taqueria for Di Di, knocking down walls and redesigning the roughly 90-seat space using tropical light fixtures, bright colors and patterned wallpapers, and creating a beverage program that uses ingredients like coconut-washed rum, chile-infused tequila, tamarind and passion fruit. “They have supported what I do since the beginning,” Nguyen said, “Anything that I wanted to do, they wanted to make it happen. Walking into this made me feel like I was really supported.”
With new spins on Vietnamese street food as well as dishes inspired by her own culinary background, Nguyen hopes to dispel the misguided belief that Vietnamese and broader Southeast Asian cuisine must be cheap. “Having that misconception puts me in a box where I can’t really be creative, because I feel like people won’t pay for my food,” she said. “I was always really confident in the food. I know that the people that get it, will get it, and will understand.” Di Di is open from 6 to 10:30 p.m. daily.
755 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 855-7223, didiletsgo.com
The chef behind one of L.A.’s top Spanish restaurants has unveiled her latest offering, this time in Santa Monica. Chef-owner Sandra Cordero first made Iberian-inspired waves in L.A. with Woodland Hills’ casual Gasolina Cafe in 2015, highlighting local produce and sustainably raised meats inspired by her Spanish heritage and upbringing. Now, she’s launched Xuntos, a tapas bar in the former home of sandwich shop Heroic Italian, with a slightly moodier setting, new dishes and dinner-only hours. At Xuntos, meaning “together,” the menu is split between pintxos and tapas meant to pair with sherries, natural wines, vermouths and beers from Catalunya, Basque country, Jerez de la Frontera, Galicia and beyond, all curated by general manager Scott Baker, the former wine director of Somni. Cordero’s dishes, served across the bar area, a separate dining room and two mezzanines, include classics such as croquettes de jamón, pan con tomate, thick wedges of empanadas filled with tuna or chicken, squid-ink fideos with calamari, in-shell scallops with saffron butter, patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo, fried ribbons of eggplant with quince, and fried whole anchovies. Xuntos is open 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, with its bar open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
516 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (424) 744-8727, barxuntos.com
ixlb DimSum Eats Westwood
Hollywood dumpling go-to ixlb DimSum Eats has expanded to a new outpost in Westwood Village. The casual, family-run shop headed by second-generation restaurateur Gloria Shi is now open across the street from the Hammer Museum and serving the same menu as the original location, with patio seating. Look for Taiwanese and Chinese classics such as xiao long bao, braised pork, har gao, shumai, tea-marinated eggs, scallion pancakes, fried shrimp balls, curry puffs, tapioca tea, veggie-stuffed bao and more. The Westwood ixlb Dim Sum Eats is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
10905 Lindbrook Drive, Los Angeles, ixlbdimsumeats.com
For those who believe in culinary life after love, there’s Cherlato, a new roving gelato operation from actress and pop icon Cher. The food truck is a collaboration between Cher and Giapo Grazioli of New Zealand’s Giapo, a gelato shop whose slogan is “Normal ice cream is boring.” In that vein, Cherlato serves creative flavors in cups and cones, and with a gold-coated cone for an $18 upgrade. The truck, which is slated to rove throughout L.A. during the summer, offers options such as the Snap Out of It! made with kefir and cardamom; the Breakfast at Cher’s Coffee & Donuts, made with coffee from cafe and roastery Alana’s in Venice; and the Chocolate XO Cher, which tops dark chocolate gelato with cacao nibs and freeze-dried raspberries. Cherlato aims to work with a number of California purveyors, such as Santa Paula farm Kimball Avocados and L.A.’s Bill’s Bees honey business for the SoCal’s Coldest Avocado Toast flavor. The truck can be found at Venice Beach, the Abbey in West Hollywood and more, with hours and locations varying daily; check the website for Cherlato’s schedule.
The Ecology Center, San Juan Capistrano’s 28-acre farm, market and education hub, has unveiled a new restaurant on its grounds, serving the farm’s regeneratively grown produce, pickled goods from its fermentation lab and a vegetarian food and beverage program that prioritizes zero waste. Campesino Café is an entirely al fresco restaurant with a menu from Tim Byres, the cookbook author and longtime resident chef of the center, who has divided the offerings into four sections: Cover Crop, spotlighting plants such as grains and sprouts that help restore the farm’s soil; Milpa, featuring corn and beans grown on-site; Market Garden, with lettuces, vegetables and herbs grown within 200 feet of the restaurant; and Fruit Forest, highlighting seeds, berries and other fruits from the farm. Look for dishes such as blue- and gold-corn tamales with salsa macha and roasted vegetables; a squash blossom salad with sherry vinegar; almond pudding with chia seeds, farm fruit and honey; and heirloom-bean and cactus salad with roasted pepitas and charred and pickled allium. Coffee and light bites such as pastries are on offer every day, while full breakfast and lunch are served Wednesday to Sunday. Campesino Café is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
32701 Alipaz St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-4223, theecologycenter.org/campesino-cafe