Meatballs are not limited to Italian restaurants anymore, and forget the classic trinity of beef, pork and veal. Anything that walks, flies or swims is now fair game for making a meatball. Here are 21 of my favorite L.A. meatballs, some recognizable classics, others highly original.
Numbered establishments on the map correspond to information below for easy reference. Establishments also appear in alphabetical order instead of in order of preference. Sadly, some of these meatballs are subject to availability.
1. Bestia Beef Meatballs: At the buzzworthy California-influenced Italian restaurant led by chefs Ori Menashe and pastry chef/wife Genevieve Gergis, most dishes have original twists, and their Beef Meatballs ($13) are no exception. Top round, ricotta soaked bread ends, fennel, oregano, fermented chile, a hint of anchovy and pork fat all factor into their meatballs, which sport a good sear and arrive on an intensely flavorful bed of braised beet greens, soffrito, and tomato.
2. Bucato Spicy Pork Meatballs [CLOSED]
Executive chef and co-owner Evan Funke installed a prolific pasta laboratorio in this unique Helms Bakery restaurant, but this is also the man who created a textbook porchetta sandwich, and when he was at Rustic Canyon, a brilliant burger. Clearly, Funke knows meat. His meatball preparations change, just like everything on Bucato’s menu. One recent incarnation consisted of Spicy Pork Meatballs ($15), fluffy, herb flecked orbs served atop roasted tomatoes, escarole and a soft pool of polenta in a cast iron skillet. Arugula completes the vivid picture.
3. Cast Lamb Meatballs: Plenty of dishes arrive in cast iron skillets at the retooled restaurant inside Santa Monica’s Viceroy hotel, including chef Tony DiSalvo’s Lamb Kefta Meatballs ($10), which are Greek inspired and host a thatch of orange rind and crushed pistachios. A swoosh of tangy yogurt helps to balance the richness and sweetness.
4. Cooks County Lamb & Farro Meatballs [CLOSED]
Cooks County is another restaurant where nothing’s constant, to account for creativity and seasonality. For fall, executive chef Daniel Mattern prepared Lamb & farro meatballs ($8) using lamb shoulder, the nutty Italian grain, cumin, coriander and cilantro. The balls, which aren’t entirely meat, are pan seared to provide crisp coats. They arrive in a chickpea broth with a dollop of enlightening yogurt and a parsley finish.
5. Corazon y Miel Albondiga [CLOSED]
At this pan Latin restaurant and bar in the south L.A. city of Bell, chef Eduardo Ruiz crafts a single oversized Albondiga ($7). The beef, sage and mint meatball is kind of like a Mexican lion’s head, which comes in a flavorful beef consommé with a slick of tangy salsa verde. Fuzzy sage leaves adds nice levity.
6. Culina Polpette: At the Four Seasons’ signature restaurant, Mette Williams took over for Victor Casanova after winning the Food Network’s “Chef Wanted” competition. Williams worked with Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Postrio and helped open L.A.’s SoHo House. Culina’s Polpette ($12) consist of American Wagyu meatballs, bright San Marzano tomato sauce, sharp Parmigiano Reggiano shavings and bright green crushed pistachios.
7. Haven Gastropub + Brewery Beer Marinated Meatballs [CLOSED]
Since Haven brews beer in-house, why not cook with it? Former Chef de Cuisine Mike Garber crafted Beer Marinated Meatballs ($9) that balanced pork belly with ground pork shoulder. The mixture’s marinated overnight in a blend of house IPA, fennel seed, garlic and rosemary. They cook slow in marinara and beer, and come topped with light dusting of Parmesan. The meatballs are crumbly, seriously juicy, and served with Texas toast to soak up the sauce. CLOSED