Los Angeles residents’ waistlines may have suffered, but their taste buds rejoiced this year, as the City of Angels welcomed an abundance of new restaurants to its already flavorfully-lined streets. Let’s dig in to the best restaurants to hit the LA culinary scene in 2011.

Hours: Monday-Wednesday: 11:30 a.m.-1a.m.; Sunday: 11a.m.-1a.m; Thursday-Saturday: 11a.m.-2a.m.
Reservations aren’t necessary, but are recommended

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Seated in one of the oldest standing buildings in the San Fernando Valley, The Federal Bar brings a casual cool to North Hollywood’s Art District. With two dozen American craft beers, an artisan menu of gastropub fare and unpretentious locals, this latest edition from the creators of The Knitting Factory has become a must for valley nightlife.

Having opened in early 2011 after many delays, The Federal has enticed customers with its Prohibition decor, exposed brick and industrial copper ceilings, but the food is what keeps people coming back. Desserts from Grand Marnier-pecan bread pudding and a cupcake trio to entrees of fancy fried chicken and lamb meatloaf topped with Moroccan tomato jam over mashed potatoes are more than adequate for a night out at one of the many local theaters that line Lankershim. And let’s not forget the good old hands-on meals like IPA braised shortribs and hearty burgers of beef, lamb and turkey that are good just about any time. If the menu doesn’t grab you, there’s always the gourmet taco truck out front on weekend nights.

The Federal Bar sits across the street from the red-line and has a free parking lot in addition to ample street parking. You can follow them on Facebook for upcoming events and filming closures.

Hours: Monday-Wednesday, Sunday: 7 a.m.-12 a.m.; Thursday-Saturday: 7 a.m.- 2 a.m.

Located in the buzz of West 3rd Street in the Orlando Hotel, The Churchill opened its doors early October to great reviews. Designed as “Industrial Chic” with polished concrete floors, antique mirrors and large reclaimed wood communal tables, The Churchill has all the turn of the century charm and ambiance the name implies.

The Churchill menu is derived from local, sustainable ingredients, cured meats, pasta and fish. Pickled vegetables, breads and desserts round out the American gastropub fare. Not-so-common items like potato gnocchi with braised rabbit pepper the menu for the more adventurous, as well as a hearty list of wood-oven pizzas and sandwiches for the more traditional diner.

The Churchill offers a daily happy hour from 3-7 p.m. with a late night happy hour from 10-midnight for all you workaholics. There’s also a take-away window on 3rd Street that opens at 7a.m. until midnight that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, homemade ice cream and pizza by the slice for those of you in a constant state of motion this holiday season.

Hours: Monday-Wednesday, Sunday: 6 p.m.-11 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday: 6 p.m.-12 a.m.
Reservations are required

In the spirit of authentic Italian cooking, Mercato di Vetro celebrates each dish with fresh ingredients and an enthusiasm for delicious food that, as most Italians will tell you, can only come from the heart.

The menu consists mainly of antipasto, small plate entrees and hand selected cocktails that are made in open three kitchens; one for cocktails, another for antipasto and a third outfitted with a wood burning stove for gourmet pizzas. And let’s not forget about the vintage Rosito Bisani pasta machine and wine cellar.

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From the powerhouses of SBE (Katsuya, Cleo, The Bazaar) this contemporary eatery spans over two levels with an open market feel. The idea behind the design is to give the diner more of a social setting, which is found in true Italian dining. The marble table tops, leather booths and oak paneling offer luxury as well as comfort.

Hours: Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Crushed tomatoes, pancetta, wood oven roasted fennel sausage, roasted mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil are just a few of the exquisite culinary treasures you will find at Settebello in Pasadena. Following the latest trend in authentic Italian fare, Settebello is more traditional cuisine than gastropub conversion.

Adhering to the strict guidelines of Neapolitain pizza making, all pizzas are thin crusted and wood-burning oven cooked to traditional imperfection with slightly charred edges. Designed to be eaten with a knife and fork, you will be given the option of having your pizza arrive cut or uncut. Uncut is recommended as the abundant and luscious toppings are easier to control with utensils.

Aside from the impressive oven and pictures of Italy on the walls, there’s really nothing Italian looking about Settebello. The tables and chairs are restaurant standard with clean lines with long-legged stools at the kitchen “bar.” While the decor won’t make you feel like you’ve been transported to the motherland, the dining area is comfortable, but not so much so as to cause you slip into a food coma from a delicious and hearty meal.

Monday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday: 12 p.m.-9 p.m.

(credit: sugarfishsushi.com)

House made soy sauce and ponzu are only two of the chef’s many artisan specialties on the menu. In fact, the entire menu at Sugarfish is the chef’s specialty, as its website boasts that it “proudly upholds the Trust Me-style of Sushi Nozawa, Chef Kazunori Nozawa’s interpretation of the centuries-old Japanese tradition called omakase, where the master chef determines the menu.”

Sugarfish offers a lunch and dinner Trust Me menu with a “lite” option which cuts the portions in half. There’s also the Nozawa that includes a daily special. For the particular sushi diner, you can mix and match on your own a la carte.

Sugarfish’s latest location in Santa Monica is a popular haunt for area locals. All locations including Downtown LA, Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica, and the original  Brentwood location, do not represent “American-style” sushi. You will not find knife wielding chefs behind a bar slicing and dicing tender fillets into petite portions. Instead, all culinary flair and razzle dazzle is done in the kitchen for maximum efficiency as is pure traditional sushi preparation. The quality of fresh fish combined with painstaking care and skill has no need to hide behind gimmicks. It will be evident with every bite. For Chef Nozawa, sushi is a philosophy, not a circus.

Kristine G. Bottone is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work can be found at http://www.examiner.com/la-bartender-in-los-angeles/kristine-g-bottone.

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