2011 Zagat Los Angeles Restaurant Survey Reveals That Meal Costs Decline for First Time as Diners Cut Spending Restaurants Respond With Better Deals and Service

LOS ANGELES  (RestaurantMagazine.com)  The results of Zagat Survey’s 2011 Los Angeles/ So. California Restaurant Survey were released today, available in bookstores, on ZAGAT.com and via ZAGAT TO GO for iPhone, iPad and Android. The survey covers 2,016 restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area as well as Orange County, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Over 10,800 local diners participated, averaging over two meals a day at the typical restaurant surveyed.

Top Food: The award for Top Food went to shopping mall phenom Sushi Zo, replacing last year’s winner, Urasawa, which fell to No. 21. The “brilliant” yet “subtle” cuisine of chef-owner Keizo Seki, rated a rare 29 rating out of a maximum possible 30, despite its “austere” strip-mall setting which scored a 13 out of 30 for decor. Other restaurants whose standings soared are Brandywine, Shiro, Sushi Nozawa and Wa. The award for Top Decor went to Cicada and Edison, who tied. Top Service went to Melisse, also No. 3 for its food, while Pizzeria Mozza remained L.A.’s Most Popular restaurant, followed by its next door sibling Osteria Mozza in 4th place. The five leaders in these main categories are as follows:

Top Food Top Decor Top Service Most Popular  
1) Sushi Zo 1) Cicada* 1) Melisse 1) Pizzeria Mozza  
2) Matsuhisa 1) Edison* 2) Belvedere 2) Bazaar/Jose Andres  
3) Melisse 3) Belvedere 3) Providence 3) Spago  
4) Brandywine 4) Bazaar/Jose Andres 4) Sam’s by the Beach 4) Osteria Mozza  
5) Shiro 5) Bistro Garden 5) Brandywine 5) Angelini Osteria  

Economic Overview: In the City of Angels, the recession continues to affect diners. Notably, the cost of a meal has gone down for the first time since the survey has launched in LA in 1987, from $34.95 last year to $34.85 this year. This marginal decrease is all the more significant since 40% of surveyors say they are eating out less, 44% report being more attentive to prices and 41% are eating in less expensive places due to the economy. When they do go out, 23% of diners are skipping appetizers/dessert, and 16% are cutting back on alcohol. Also, a 12% group say that they’re less likely to try new restaurants. However, restaurant service seems to have improved since the downturn. This year, 63% of surveyors cited service as their top dining irritant, down from 74% prior to the recession. Also, the 119 newcomers in this year’s survey suggest that restaurateurs are optimistic about the future.

“In a city as dynamic as Los Angeles, there’s no shortage of options for diners, especially when dining out has become more affordable,” said Tim Zagat, CEO and Co-Founder of Zagat Survey. “Of the 2,000+ restaurants in our guide, 1483 boast average meal costs of under $40 for dinner and roughly $30 for lunch – that’s good news to wallet-weary diners and a sign that the LA restaurant scene continues to meet the public’s needs.”

Neighborhood Newcomers: This year’s crop of newcomers is led by Pasadena’s Noir, which features an eclectic roster of small plates. Diners are discovering their neighborhood eateries; in Downtown, a variety of notable newcomers debuted: First and Hope (American), Starry Kitchen (Asian) and NYC import, Rosa Mexicana. Culver City is gaining momentum thanks to affordable options including, Father’s Office (pub fare) and Libra (Brazilian). The unveiling of Santa Monica Place, and its notable tenants Xino and La Sandia, has also brought buzz to the beach.

Trucks are Trendy: The food truck trend owes much of its success to the rise of the Kogi Korean BBQ truck in 2009, and other mobile eateries with active Twitter and Facebook followings. This year, 28% of diners report frequenting food trucks – a clear sign these trucks have staying power. Some new and notable food trucks and pop-ups include tasty-taco purveyor Border Grill, flavorful pork belly buns from the Flying Pig truck, Vietnamese options at Phamish and chef Ludo Lefebvre’s uber-popular LudoBites.

Gadget Gurus: Not surprisingly, 24% of surveyors say they have downloaded a restaurant-related application onto their smartphone. However, users should take caution – while 87% of surveyors think it’s acceptable to take pictures of food or companions while dining out, 67% think that it’s inappropriate and rude for diners to talk, tweet, text or email at the table.

Waste Not, Want Not: Nose-to-tail cooking is still the rage with newcomers and standouts Lazy Ox Canteen (Downtown), Waterloo & City (Culver City) and Bistro LQ (Fairfax) serving everything from sweetbreads and smoked tongue to chicharrons. These newcomers should make locavores happy – 64% of surveyors consider locally-sourced, organic or sustainably raised menu items important. Additionally, 70% want to have low-carb, low-fat, heart healthy items available on the menu, and 57% are willing to pay more for “green” items.

Celebs and Chefs: In Los Angeles, stars of movies and TV can be found in coffee shops, retail stores and cafes, but when it comes to restaurants, celebrities aren’t simply at the tables. As chefs have amassed their own level of celebrity, it’s noteworthy that 39% of surveyors say they are more likely to dine at a restaurant with a celebrity chef. The good news for them is that Los Angeles has some high-profile newcomers including Bouchon and Bar Bouchon (Thomas Keller), Red O (Rick Bayless), the Tar Pit (Campanile‘s Mark Peel) and Wolfgang Puck’s WP24. Reality-series ‘Top Chef’ alums added to the mix this year, with Season 5 runner-up Stefan Richter’s Stefan’s at LA Farm and Season 2 winner, Ilan Hall’s The Gorbals.

Winners by Cuisine Type: Here are the winners by cuisine type.

American (New) – Melisse Indian – Addi’s Tandoor  
American (Trad.) – Grill on Alley Italian – Angelini Osteria  
Asian/Asian Fusion – Mako Japanese – Sushi Zo  
Bakeries – Susina Korean – Park’s BBQ  
Barbecue – Phillips BBQ Mediterranean – Lucques  
Burgers – In-N-Out Mexican – Babita  
Californian – Leila’s Middle Eastern – Carousel  
Caribbean/Cuban – Porto’s Pizza – Pizzeria Mozza  
Chinese – Yujean Kang’s Seafood – Providence  
Coffee Shop/Diner – Cora’s Coffee Small Plates  – Orris  
Continental – Brandywine Soul Food/Southern – Les Sisters  
Deli – Langer’s Deli South American – Carlitos Gardel  
Dim Sum – Sea Harbour Steakhouses – CUT  
Eclectic – Saam/The Bazaar Thai – Jitlada  
French – Melisse Vegetarian – Veggie Grill  
French (Bistro) – Julienne Vietnamese – Crustacean  
Greek – Papa Cristo’s    

Details: The 2011 Los Angeles/So. California Restaurants guide ($15.95) was edited by Michelle Golden and Cynthia Kilian, along with Senior Consulting Editor Merrill Shindler and local editors Todd Cohen, Cynthia Furey, Elizbeth Hurchalla, Grace Jidoun, Gretchen Kurz and Helen Sillett. For information on Zagat’s mobile products, please visit http://www.zagat.com/mobile. Both the guide book and the digital products break top lists out by cuisine type, neighborhood and other special features. Be sure to follow Zagat on Facebook and Twitter @ZagatBuzz for daily news and updates!

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Known as the “wildly popular” “burgundy bible,” Zagat Survey is the world’s most trusted source for consumer-generated survey information. With a worldwide network of surveyors, Zagat rates and reviews restaurants, hotels, nightlife, movies, music, golf, shopping and a range of other entertainment categories and is lauded as the “most up-to-date,” “comprehensive” and “reliable” guide, published on all platforms. Zagat content is available to consumers wherever and whenever they need it: on ZAGAT.com, ZAGAT.mobi, ZAGAT TO GO for smartphones and in book form.