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Union is One of LA Weekly’s 99 Essentials!

February 19, 2016

Thank you LA Weekly for putting us right at the top of your list! You can see their write up on Union below or read the entire feature at their link here.


This year’s list has greater turnover than we’ve seen in recent years — and some surprises

This past December, in the midst of the four-month flurry of eating and parsing and thinking and writing that precedes our annual 99 Essentials issue, I stopped in for a quick bite at Girasol in Studio City. The restaurant has never been on the list, seeming not quite up to the distinction when I reviewed it back in 2013, but I kept hearing great things about the food from other eaters I respect, so I stopped by, sat at the bar and ordered a plate of hamachi crudo. And, man, that crudo blew my socks off. A wild sorrel broth that pooled around it was touched with white fir and finger lime and tasted like nothing I’d eaten all year. With a schedule that includes three meals out on regular weeks and up to nine per week during 99 Essentials research, that’s saying something. Chef C.J. Jacobsen’s dish was so bright, so new, so refined — and in that moment his restaurant earned its move from the “maybe” to the “definitely” column.

It’s moments like this that make the planning and research for 99 Essentials, which this year I shared with L.A. Weekly food editor Garrett Snyder, such a pleasure. Each year we get to rediscover L.A., return to the places that make this city a joy for food lovers, discover new flavors and chefs and taqueros, and catch up with chefs and restaurants that have new and exciting things to offer. The scenario above happened in some form or another at so many places around town: A quick bite revealed more than I’d been hoping for. Of course, these discoveries present their own set of issues. In any given year, there are never enough closures among the previous year’s 99 to make room for all the new entries we’d like to include. This year — more than any in the four years since I’ve been overseeing the list — we’ve added new discoveries and places that, like Girasol, have earned their spot years after opening. Of this year’s 99 restaurants, 38 are new. This means we had to say goodbye to some long-standing honorees we love and admire and still consider essential. But the headline says 99, so 99 it is.

There are other firsts on this year’s list. It’s a the first time we’ve included a supper club, which I’m sure will be just as controversial as the first time a food truck appeared. No, it’s not a traditional restaurant. Is the food incredible? Is it essential to L.A.’s dining scene? We think so. These days, great food arrives in all kinds of formats. For 2016, we’ve broken out purveyors from Grand Central Market rather than having an entry for the market as a whole; we adore the market and all it stands for, but we think certain folks deserve individual recognition.

We’ve left Mozza, however, as a conglomerate, encompassing all three of Nancy Silverton’s restaurants on the corner of Melrose and Highland. Yeah, yeah, we know it’s a copout. Maybe next year we’ll break them out, too. There were a lot of places and things on this year’s list we couldn’t bear to let go of, especially after experiencing them again. Who could imagine L.A. without a Langer’s pastrami sandwich? How would we live without Ricky’s Fish Tacos? Is Animal any less delicious than it was last year? (It is not.) Some things are just tried and true, and the 99 Essentials celebrates those places as well.

We hope you find the 99 Essentials as inspiring as we did while putting them together. Here’s to all those moments — at tables and at bars and at food stands and in supper clubs across the city — when that plate of food arrives and practically knocks you off your chair. We hope we can help bring more of those moments into your life. —Besha Rodell



(Spaghetti Alla Chitarra photo by: Anne Fishbein)


There are few restaurants as tiny, bustling and convivial as Union, Bruce Kalman’s 2-year-old Cali-Italian restaurant in Pasadena. Large family groups commune at long tables, the babies among them happily gobbling meatballs as their parents drink interesting Italian red wines. It’s the type of place where people stop in for a quick plate of pasta and a glass of wine at the bar, a perfect first-date spot, a perfect 100th-date spot. Starters, such as a beautifully spiced cotechino sausage served with braised collard greens and a soft poached egg, are inventive but comforting above all else. The handmade pastas are the star of the show, however, from the simplest tomato sauce-dressed spaghetti chitarra to heavier ragus. This is the type of restaurant we all wish we had within walking distance of our homes: laid-back, friendly, relatively affordable and with food you could eat happily over and over again. —Besha Rodell
Read our full review.

37 E. Union St., Pasadena, 91103


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