The Japanese restaurant n/naka, which is housed in a nondescript building on Overland Avenue in the Palms area of Los Angeles, was named one of the world’s 30 best eateries in a list released Tuesday by Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine magazines.
The list was curated by James Beard Award-winning writer Besha Rodell, who has been reporting on food and culture for nearly two decades across two continents. Currently the dining critic for the New York Times’ Australia bureau, Rodell accepted recommendations from a global panel of about two dozen experts across the hospitality and restaurant industries, according to the magazines that collaborated on the project.
Over a four-month period, she anonymously visited 81 restaurants in two dozen countries and across six continents, stayed in 37 hotels, spent 279 hours in the air, and traveled more than 100,000 miles to arrive at the list, according to the introduction published in both magazines, which said her mission was “to discover the best restaurants that travelers must visit right now. As much about the destinations as it is about the food, this list aims to reflect the most vibrant aspects of each location it represents, capturing dining experiences that fully express the culture of each country, city, or region.”
The list is divided into five geographic areas: North America; South America; Africa/Middle East; Asia/Australia; and Europe.
Of n/naka, which opened in 2011, Rodell wrote: “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.”
The Southland-born chief, who works alongside her sous chef wife Carole Iida-Nakayama, spent years in Japan training in the art of kaiseki, a traditional, multi-course Japanese style of dining that focuses on seasonality and ritual, to perfect “an intensely personal version … that is almost as Californian as it is Japanese,” Rodell wrote.
She concluded her review this way: “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.”