It’s no secret that downtown Los Angeles has evolved into a fine-dining hub, with restaurants Alma and Bestia as anchors. Tomorrow, March 27, the Arts District adds Fifty Seven, an upscale newcomer. Located in an old Heinz loading dock, the restaurant takes an unorthodox approach: short-term stints by a roster of chefs. The opening round features Bay Area native David Nayfeld, former senior sous-chef in New York at Michelin-rated Eleven Madison Park.

Nayfeld calls his food Modern American and tells us to expect familiar flavors (asparagus with morels, black truffles with Parmesan) in new contexts. Also slow-roasted meats and fish, citrus, and seasonal produce.

Nayfeld knows that luxury means something altogether different in LA (after all, Jonathan Gold is funkier than Pete Wells). “People say LA isn’t ready for fine dining,” Nayfeld says, “but I know that’s untrue. Each place just has its own style.” For Los Angeles, that includes a diversity of casual foods, from XLBs to al pastor sliced off the trompo. In light of LA Weekly’s recent 99 Essential Restaurants 2014, I asked Chef Nayfeld to share his own short list of affordable LA essentials.

Yakitori: KokeKokko in Little Tokyo
“Chef Tomohiro cooks the yakitori himself. If you go there enough, you’ll get to eat the secret stuff. He also uses this highly skilled technique where he spirals chicken hearts. If he sees you enough, he’ll advise you to order the chicken cooked a certain way. I can’t say exactly how because I don’t want to blow his cover.”

KokeKokko: 203 E. Second Street, Los Angeles; 213-687-0690 | Chowhound

Birria: Teresitas in Boyle Heights
“The chilaquiles are great, but I really enjoy the birria [goat stew]. I like the gaminess of it, and the layer of goat fat that sits atop it. And you get those bits of floated rendered goat fat, and you drench the entire thing with lime juice. It’s like creating this vinaigrette in your mouth. I find it to be incredibly soothing.”

Teresitas: 3826 E. First Street, Los Angeles; 323-266-6045 | Chowhound

Any pasta: Bucato in Culver City
“If I’m going anywhere for pasta, it’s Bucato. I think it’s one of the most underrated pasta places in the country. Evan Funke makes everything by hand. He walked me to the pasta room and there’s not one machine in that room, not even a hand crank! That guy is so talented. For the quality, it’s a great deal.”

Bucato: 3280 Helms Avenue, Culver City; 310-876-0286 | Chowhound

Kimchi and pork mandoo: Myung In Dumplings in Koreatown
“This spot is out of this world. Anytime I feel like my staff is getting grumpy or tired, I’ll go there and pick up 10 orders of dumplings and bring them back to the kitchen. I really like the large steamed dumplings [wang mandoo] with kimchi and pork. And the pickled daikon with the jalapeños kills me!”

Myung In Dumplings: 3109 W. Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles; 213-381-3568 | Chowhound

Cochinita pibil: Guisados in Echo Park
“You know how there’s some food that feels as though it’s been coaxed into submission? The cochinita pibil has been cooking for so long, and so tenderly, and hasn’t been rushed. It’s tangy. It’s got spice elements and twang. And then they serve it with pickled onions on a fresh, chewy tortilla. There’s something transcendent about it. You taste the intent of the food over the past 100 years: Take your time, make it with love.

Guisados: 1261 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; 213-250-7600 | Chowhound

Photo credits: Top, David Nayfeld; yakitori, Flickr member Ron Dolette; birria,Teresitas; pasta, Flickr member T.Tseng; dumpling, Flickr member James; cochinita pibil tacos, KevinEats. Flickr photos used under Creative Commons.

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