welp, looks like nobody’s getting a res now.
N/Naka, Los Angeles, California, USA
I said it the first time I ate at n/naka more than five years ago, and I’ll say it again now: Meals at Niki Nakayama’s small, elegant restaurant unfold like poetry, flavors and dishes acting as phrases and stanzas in one long, lyrical, and utterly profound experience.
Nakayama was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles but spent years in Japan training in the art of kaiseki, the traditional, multi-course Japanese style of dining that focuses on seasonality and ritual. In 2011 she opened n/naka in an unmarked building on an unremarkable stretch of road in Palms, a mostly residential neighborhood in West Los Angeles. There, along with her sous chef and wife Carole Iida-Nakayama, Nakayama presents an intensely personal version of kaiseki, one that is almost as Californian as it is Japanese.
Over 12 courses, diners move through a series of complex dishes that showcase seasonal Southern Californian ingredients assembled in elaborate and beautiful combinations. Raw wild sea bream comes curled on the plate, intertwined with celtuce, Jade Beauty green tomato, buddha’s hand citron, and hibiscus and begonia flowers, and seasoned lightly with ume ponzu. Traditional sashimi is followed by a grilled dish of Spanish mackerel with kelp and black garlic oil, then a steamed dish of sweet shrimp with Santa Barbara uni.
Nakayama and her staff practice omotenashi, a style of service that places empathy above all else. N/naka exudes a quiet welcome that touches every aspect of the meal, from when you’re greeted by name at the door to the moment just before you leave when Nakayama appears at your table to sincerely thank you for visiting.
Almost all of the restaurants selected for this list are highly representative of their locations, a way of tasting the true nature of a place through its dining. So why, in Los Angeles, choose a restaurant that looks to Japan for much of its inspiration?
Because L.A.’s greatest asset is its diversity and its cultivation of culture that blurs the lines of influence and origin and arrives at something wholly new. N/naka is not a restaurant that would exist anywhere else: a chef born in Southern California but trained in Japan, working in a format traditionally reserved for men, growing her own produce and paying homage to the incredible edible bounty that’s possible in this specific part of the world. n-naka.com