Rivera in downtown Los Angeles. A couple of blocks from L.A. Live and its chain restaurants is Rivera, the distinguished Latin restaurant from French-trained, New Mexico-raised John Sedlar. I love sliding onto a seat at the bar or at the massive square communal table and ordering this and that from an eccentric and exciting menu that includes dishes from Mexico, Spain and Latin America. Sedlar is that rare chef whose cooking is incisive and sensual. His wild mushroom carpaccio, tortillas florales, kurobuta pork chop napped in black molé and puerco pibil (pork shoulder braised in banana leaf) all figured into a terrific fall meal. Rivera is always changing as Sedlar redefines the menu. The possibilities are almost endless, and each visit can be entirely different depending on which menu (or room) you choose. Lately, he's added dishes from St. Estèphe, his late, great modern New Mexico restaurant. Playa, his more casual L.A. restaurant, may be more lively, but for the best of Sedlar's cooking, for me, it's Rivera.
M.B. Post in Manhattan Beach. One of the most surprising openings of the year. Who knew that former Water Grill chef David LeFevre had this kind of gutsy global cooking in him? Breaking out of fine dining, he's having exuberant fun turning out vibrant small plates from the Mediterranean and Asia. Every night he adds handwritten specials to a menu that is already prodigiously ample. He's got house-baked breads — crumbly biscuits, shiny pretzels and grilled nan — salt-roasted beets in a beet green pesto dotted with pistachios, or "blistering" green beans with Thai basil, hot peppers and crispy pork bits. In late spring, I loved the couscous with feta, lavender and pomegranate and the grilled nectarines with whipped ricotta. And his sword squid grilled over white oak and presented on a bed of fat white beans. And his caramelized Vietnamese pork jowl with a green papaya and lime salad. Remember the film "Around the World in 80 Days"? This is the culinary equivalent, and the fact that it's in Manhattan Beach makes it all the sweeter. The only downside? The noise.