People outside of California would probably recognize Nyesha Arrington as a contestant on Top Chef, Chef Hunter, and The Taste, but back home in Los Angeles, she’s known as the rising star behind the acclaimed Santa Monica restaurant Native. Like the name, Arrington was born and raised here; she fondly remembers cooking alongside her Korean grandmother while other kids were outside playing. In the decades since, she worked her way up the line at Mélisse and Wilshire and Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier and The Mansion in Las Vegas. “I love the community in Santa Monica and L.A.’s westside,” she says. “You can ride your bike through there and be invited to some random stranger’s backyard barbecue—that’s just the culture, man.” When she’s not fine-tuning inventive dishes like curried lamb belly tortellini with spring peas and currants or a gochujang-glazed Kurobuta pork chop with heirloom rye porridge and Japanese turnips, this is how Arrington spends her rare time off.
Where to Eat and Shop for Food
“Gwen [in Los Angeles] celebrates local and seasonal ingredients in a progressive and thoughtful way. The aged lamb is absolutely stunning, but the tasting menu is also killer. And [chef] Curtis Stone actually cooks there! That’s what I love about him; the guy is a chef. He’s truly passionate about cooking. Gwen also works with a foundation called Chrysalis, which gives people who may have made some mistakes in the past a second chance at life. I think that’s really admirable. “chi SPACCA is a smaller restaurant, but it’s heavily rooted in service. Nancy Silverton is a great chef, really progressive. Charles Olalia is another quintessential Los Angeles chef, someone we’ve seen come up through fine dining restaurants and now you see his Filipino side coming out at Rice Bar. He’s one of the chefs pushing Los Angeles food in a positive direction.
“The San Gabriel Valley is not to be missed. Chengdu Taste has killer dim sum, and for Korean food, I love Parks Barbecue. Susan Park is amazing and so is her banchan.
“For the freshest, most inspirational produce, my favorite farmers’ market is on Wednesdays in Santa Monica. It’s the one most chefs like, where everyone goes to network. The Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Sundays is also pretty huge. The Japanese market Mitsuwa is also amazing; the store has fresh ramen and a nice prepared foods section.”
Where to Go for Fun
“I can only speak from my childhood experiences, but I still have nostalgia for the La Brea Tar Pits and the Griffith Observatory. Another quintessential Los Angeles experience is seeing the mountains and the beach in one day. You spend the morning hiking, go to the beach in the afternoon, and enjoy dinner at some compelling, thriving restaurant at night. Being able to see all of L.A. through that lens is super cool. “I’m also very into art: The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and The Broad are my favorite museums. I love to paint and sculpt at home, and I’m very dedicated to the process. Food is a medium of self-expression. It’s the process of making something intangible tangible. Whether you’re a painter, a photographer, a sculptor, a musician, or a chef, it’s about making magic happen.”