Krista Simmons is the Food Editor at LAist and a judge on Season 4 of Top Chef Masters. She has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, and the LA Weekly, among others. To stay up to speed with her culinary wanderings, you can follow her on Twitter @kristasimmons or visit her site, www.kristasimmons.com. Here are her picks for dineLA's Summer Restaurant Week!
If you're a fan of Roy Choi's Kogi truck (and the price tag that comes along with it), dineLA is your chance to check out his Asian-American gastropub on a budget. For $35, you'll get a three course peek at one of our city's most celebrated street chefs. Adventurous eaters can opt for the Naples center tripas (tripe, beef tendon, cranberry beans and kimchi), then move on to the Thai-style blue crab cakes or buttermilk fried chicken with sweet potato salad and zucchini salw. Choi's dineLA menu is also super-sensitive to vegetarians, with dishes like the island farmers market salad for starters and a veggie nest made with jerusalem 'chokes, mustard greens, turnips, cauliflower, and mushrooms sitting atop a celery root puree as a main dish. Even though there are two dessert choices, there's only one way to end this dineLA meal: Choi's "thick ass" ice cream sandwiches, made by placing a heaping scoop of peanut butter ice cream in between two rice crispie cookies.
Located in the lobby level of the O Hotel, Bar | Kitchen is one of Downtown L.A.'s better kept secrets. It sits far enough outside the 6th and Spring hipsterville to attract a more well-heeled, young professional crowd. The draw here is the solid cocktails and elevated bar food. For dineLA they're doing a two course lunch special at $20 and a three course dinner deal for $35. Try the tuna crudo with avocado yuzu puree, the crispy pork belly with korean chili sauce, or the shrimp and grits.
If I had the guts to open up a restaurant, Farmshop would be my dream concept. The space is made up of a farm-fresh market with beautiful deli and cheese cases on one side, and an airy yet rustic dining room on the other. Chef Jeffrey Cerciello's cooking is always incredibly comforting -- elevated but never fussy. Cerciello, who also happens to be an alum of Thomas Keller's famous kitchens, created a $45 dineLA menu that includes an avocado hummus starter. Could there be anything more Californian than that? I think not.
This Little Tokyo gastropub has become one of my go-to Friday night eateries. There are always excellent specials, and there's a sizeable selection of craft beers on tap. Most of their items are meant for sharing (save for their stellar burger), which makes sense considering chef Perfecto Rocher's Spanish background. Rocher will be doing a $20 lunch option as well as a $35 for dinner, but no matter what time you dine, you do not want to miss Lazy Ox's epic rice pudding.
Sang Yoon is taking advantage of the newly-introduced small plates option for the summer edition of dineLA, offering a selection of 3 plates for $25. Burmese tea leaf salad, steamed black cod with spicy citrus broth, and the famous spicy chicken pops would be my pick, but there's plenty else to choose from, too. If you're looking for lunch, there's a $15 special that includes Asian fare like dan dan noodles and green papaya salad, plus dessert and a glass of wine or a craft beer. Talk about a steal.
Peruvian cuisine is having its moment, partly thanks to the likes of super-chef Ricardo Zarate. He moved his small-but-popular Peruvian eatery from Mercado la Paloma to a larger location Downtown just a few weeks ago, and this is a great chance to check it out. The quinoa risotto, alpaca stew, and traditional Peruvian alfajores cookies are on my personal to-try list. They'll be doing three course lunches and dinners at $20 and $35, respectively.
If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a sucker for Southeast Asian cuisine. Night + Market serves up seriously legitimate Thai street food that could just as well come from the Bangkok night markets. Tucked inside Talesai, Night + Market really allows you to travel without having to leave the confines of L.A. Their $35 dinner option includes deeply complex Thai dishes like miang pla tu (spicy mackerel salad) and simple satisfiers like grilled short ribs with chili, garlic, and lime.
Hospitality and seasonality are the calling cards for Govind Armstrong's Baldwin Hills restaurant, Post & Beam. Sit outside on the retro-inspired patio near his summer garden, and you'll probably notice some of the ingredients in your dishes. Armstrong is offering lunch and dinner specials at the $20 and $35 price points. Standout dishes include the turkey sausage meatballs at lunch, and the boneless beef short ribs for dinner.
Ray's & Stark Bar elevated LACMA's cool factor when it opened in early 2011, and it has been sweeping up culinary awards ever since. Everything about the restaurant is great, from the poppy yet playful retro design to the carefully-crafted cocktails and the thoughtful California cuisine. Do what you will with the $35 tasting menu, but do not miss pastry chef Josh Graves' orgasmically silky chocolate mousse with hazelnut brittle and milk chocolate whipped cream.
Steve Samson and Zach Pollack take pizza and house-made pastas seriously -- very seriously. Their Southern Italian restaurant shines a light on an under explored region when it comes to the restaurant world here in L.A. One of my favorite dishes in town is actually on their dineLA menu too: a warm octopus insalatina, which is basically a fava bean hummus topped with tender grilled octopus. An amaro cocktail crafted by Julian Cox would be a perfect accompaniment to their $20 lunch or $35 dinner options.