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A selection of cocktails from Fable & Spirit
The beverage program at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach features creative cocktails with a smart sense of restraint.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Coffee, tea, wine, sake and mezcal: Our critic’s favorite spots to drink in L.A.

Our region’s drinking culture, alcoholic and otherwise, stays the pace with our exceptional restaurant scene. Rather than a sweeping survey of the “best,” these dozen bars, restaurants and shops are personal favorites — places that I often return as much for the committed people who run them as for the pleasures I find in their glasses, stemware, mugs and cups.

If you’re searching for the essential food of L.A., let our critic’s 2023 restaurant list be your guide! Find the best vegetarian, Japanese, Mexican cuisine and more.

Dec. 5, 2023

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Jack Benchakul makes a coffee drink at Endorffeine in Chinatown on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Endorffeine

Chinatown Coffee $
Jack Benchakul has made every drink since he and his cousin Ttaya Tuparangsi moved into the space on the ground floor of Chinatown’s Far East Plaza in 2015. A biochemist turned pastry chef turned coffee pro, Benchakul is also a barista’s barista, the kind of maestro to whom other coffee professionals come to study his moves. I’ve found no better place to drink a pour-over in Los Angeles, and that’s saying something given the city’s astonishing breadth of options. He favors a Nordic style of coffee roasting — lighter, more expressive of the bean’s terroir than its roasted flavors, notes of berries or citrus or stone fruit or spices, sometimes combined, as you can discern in elegantly made wine and carefully crafted loose-leaf tea. Come on Monday, Endorffeine’s calmest day, when Benchakul breaks out rarer varieties served as espresso drinks.
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Santa Monica, CA - November 08: Wine at Ester's Wine Shop and Bar on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023 in Santa Monica, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Esters Wine Shop & Bar

Santa Monica American Wine Shop Cocktails $$
The restaurants of the Santa Monica-based Rustic Canyon Family group all have one common denominator: great wine lists. Kathryn Coker is the wine director overseeing all the programs, but Esters is her domain in particular: She co-owns the shop-bar-restaurant hybrid with her husband, Tug Coker. It’s in the same building as Cassia (also under the RCF umbrella), though Esters is smaller and far quieter. The by-the-glass list bops easily around the globe — a Swiss white, Australian skin contact and cherry-forward Nebbiolo, coming home to California Pinot and cabernet — and Kathryn breaks up the bottle selection into helpful categories such as “If you like Chardonnay” and “Lovely light reds.” My forever favorite menu item: gushy, crusty grilled cheese, with prosciutto added.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 8, 2016: Eagle Rare Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey at Everson Royce Bar. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Everson Royce Bar

Downtown L.A. New American Cocktails $$
My vote for the best all-around place to imbibe in Los Angeles goes to Everson Royce Bar. Choose your mood: the narrow, intimate interior with blue tufted-leather banquettes and shelves of bottles backlit against scruffy brick, or a back patio arrayed with picnic tables and shaded with strung material that resembles mainsails catching the wind. The collection of spirits fills a literal volume, diving particularly deep on bourbons, whiskeys and single-distillery scotches. Randy Clement of Silverlake Wine is one of the co-owners; the wine list is succinct but still covers a range of styles and regions. Beer lovers have a half-dozen options on draft, and the green michelada brings no-joke chile heat. Food here has always been better than it needed to be, which is to say that the patty melt and a plate of biscuits hold far more appeal than just soaking up booze.
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Newport Beach, CA - October 29: Fable and Spirit in Newport Beach cocktail A Millie Here, A Millie There on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023 in Newport Beach, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Fable & Spirit

Newport Beach American $$
An always-busy modern American restaurant in Newport Beach with the heart of an Irish gastropub, Fable and Spirit has a back bar with a dozen seats; it makes a fine perch from which to delve into its comprehensive beverage program. Drew Coyle, son of husband-and-wife restaurateurs Darren and Jean Coyle, has a smart sense of restraint with cocktail creations. Splashing blood orange juice, for instance, in a mix of gin and two aperitifs, Lillet and Suze, is breezily refreshing and needs nothing else. His sister Ali Coyle curates a wine list that surveys global regions without overwhelming, and slips in some worthy diversions to Armenia and central Mexico. Know what pairs well with a gamut of booze? Fish and chips.
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Culver City, CA - November 03: Beer at Father's Office gastropub in Culver City on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 in Culver City, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Father's Office

Santa Monica Burgers Craft Beer $$
The three locations of Sang Yoon’s gastropub — the Santa Monica original, opened in 1999, and newer outposts in Culver City and downtown — are excellent places to consume beer. From the long rows of draft taps flow IPAs, porters, lagers, tripels, quadrupels and saisons in prisms of styles. This is the place to sip Dokkaebier’s gingery kimchi sour alongside citrusy Hitachino Nest White, and to invest in Belgian and Belgian-style ales (including modern classics like Allagash Curieux aged in bourbon casks) by the bottle. Downtown has the mellowest vibe of the trio, though none of them allow modifications to Yoon’s famous cheeseburger.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 05: One of five bottles of this Primo Primo wine is available at Kippered Bar on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. This bar, specializing in wine and bubbles, tinned fish and cheese, in what used to be Bernadette's space is set to open in the coming weeks. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Kippered

East Los Angeles Tinned Fish Wine Bars $$
Lydia Clarke and Reed Herrick run the fantastic DTLA Cheese Superette, just down the block from their former location in Grand Central Market. Next door is Kippered, the couple’s cozy downtown refuge with an equal focus on beverages and tinned seafood. Wine-wise, selections by the glass and bottle favor Champagne and other sparklers; there’s also a collection of beers and ciders focused on West Coast producers, including some nonalcoholic options. The long list of revolving conservas likely includes sardines with piquillo peppers, dilled blue mussels and smoked salmon flamed with Sichuan chili crisp, a collaboration by local companies Fishwife and Fly by Jing that’s a house favorite. Yes, there are also cheeses to order and, for something warm, delicious buttered clams.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08: Madre exclusive in the USA flight, featuring mezcal from Mezonte, Real Minero, Mal Bien, Ray Campero and Lamata inside Madre on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Madre

Torrance Oaxacan $$
Ivan Vasquez, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, is one of the nation’s greatest scholars of mezcal. Of the four Madre restaurants he operates across the metro area — with locations in Palms, West Hollywood and the newest one in the Valencia neighborhood of Santa Clarita — his palatial 7,000-square-foot space in Torrance remains my favorite. Head to the bar where most everyone lands. We’re all flattered by the amber glow of the bar lined with more than 500 bottles of agave spirits. If you’re game, bartenders will line up a few bottles of mezcal and describe regional styles while you start sipping. On the food menu, home in on the distinctive mole estofado: Its twists and turns of flavor from tomatillo, raisin, almond and green olive are based on a recipe that Vasquez’s mother made for her family in Oaxaca twice a week.
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Los Angeles, CA - November 02: Wine at Mirabelle Wine Bar in Valley Village on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Mirabelle Wine Bar

Valley Village Wine Bars American $$
For the wine nerds, there has been no place in Los Angeles like Augustine Wine Bar in Sherman Oaks. Next to its counter, chalkboards spelled out a daily-changing rare and vintage selection, drawn in part from co-owner Dave Gibbs’ personal collection. Wines could appear that date back decades. Tragically, a kitchen fire closed the place in May. While waiting for its planned return in 2024, I’ve become happily acquainted with handsome sister bar Mirabelle in Valley Village, which is dipping into some of the same vintage energy with California finds — perhaps, say, a 1991 Merlot from Sterling Vineyards. Consider its age alongside a riff on pappardelle al pomodoro or a hefty grilled pork chop.
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Sake at Ototo in Echo Park.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Ototo

Echo Park Japanese Sake Bar $$
A change in a James Beard Awards category this year, from “outstanding wine program” to “outstanding wine and other beverages program,” led to a wholly deserved win for Ototo, the Echo Park sake and snack bar and next-door sibling to Tsubaki, both run by Courtney Kaplan and Charles Namba. Kaplan has spent decades understanding the complexities and varieties of the beverage and building relationships with brewers in Japan. She’s ever more focused on “nama.” The word translates as “raw” or “fresh,” a class of seasonal sakes that have gone through one or no rounds of pasteurization (most sakes we drink have been pasteurized twice) and often taste bright and energetic. Lately Ototo has been hosting more sake classes and tastings with brewers and distributors, which the bar announces on Instagram.
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Los Angeles, CA - November 03: A selection of wines at Tabula Rasa Bar in Thai Town on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Tabula Rasa

Los Feliz Wine Bars $$
Zach Negin and Nicole Dougherty’s Thai Town wine bar feels vital in all sorts of definitions of the word. Something is always happening: tastings, DJ nights, live jazz, pop-ups serving smoked trout tostadas and chicken wing confit in mole, happy hours with $5 beers and $9 Cuban sandwiches. Don’t let the fact that the owners focus on “natural wine” scare you off: They lean on the aspects of the term that emphasize sound agricultural practices, they know the difference between vinegar and craftsmanship, and they have enough range on the ever-changing list to please the classicists. Best of all, the staff makes Tabula Rasa, with its chicly battered interior and a snug back patio full of quirky furniture, feel like a welcoming community space.
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Alhambra, CA - October 30: Tea Habitat tasting room and shop on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023 in Alhambra, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Tea Habitat

Alhambra Teahouse $$
Tea is among my abiding obsessions. I’m heartened to see a handful more shops and pop-up events centering the subject around the city, but when I want an afternoon immersed in a session steeping multiple exceptional teas, there is one enduring destination: Imen Shan’s tiny Alhambra shop, open by appointment only. Shan first specialized in dan cong oolongs — teas cultivated around Phoenix Mountain in China’s Guangdong Province that, through the wonders of oxidation and roasting, taste of honeyed peach or intense florals and spices. Over the past few years she expanded her collection of rarer black and fermented pu-erh teas as well. Though Tea Habitat’s entire selection can be ordered online, nothing equals the pleasure of sipping fragrant rarities brewed by her skilled hands.
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A selection of wines at Ruby Fruit in Silver Lake
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Ruby Fruit

Silver Lake Wine Bars $$
The early overflow crowds have generally calmed in the near-year since Emily Bielagus and Mara Herbkersman opened Ruby Fruit in Silver Lake, the tagline for which on their Instagram account reads, “a strip-mall wine bar for the Sapphically inclined.” The steady, less-crushing throngs have allowed their business to fully inhabit its mission: to be a safe space for L.A.’s lesbian (and wider queer) community. Ruby Fruit is open throughout the day (with the Indigo Girls playing on repeat in the restroom), hosting weekly co-working events and serving salads and sandwiches at lunch and plates like salt cod croquettes and roasted Japanese sweet potato with anchovy butter for dinner. I tend to swing by in the evening for a vermouth spritz or a glass of Scholium Project Cinsault, cheered by the room’s popping pink, yellow and orange tones that keep spirits high even when the world outside has gone dark.
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