What to do this weekend in L.A. Critics Picks: Dec 22 - 28, 2017

Los Angeles Times entertainment, arts and culture critics choose the week’s most noteworthy openings, new releases, ongoing events and places to go in and around Southern California.

The latest “Star Wars” movie is among the best, and food critic Jonathon Gold recalls the best dishes of the year.

Click through to explore more and, where applicable, find directions to venues.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Building and improving on “The Force Awakens,” writer-director Rian Johnson’s grand space opera is the first flat-out terrific “Star Wars” movie since “The Empire Strikes Back,” full of dramatic echoes of George Lucas’ original trilogy but also rich in surprise and imagination. Read more

Justin Chang

Los Angeles Times Movie Critic

Topol. (United Artists/Getty Images)

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ singalongs

Talk about tradition, and a milestone. For the 10th year running, the Laemmle chain will present its annual Christmas Eve “Fiddler on the Roof” singalong, so successful that it’s now a fixture at no fewer than six theaters, complete with guest hosts. Director Norman Jewison turned the hit Broadway musical, based on the classic Tevye stories by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, into an Oscar-winning film (for Oswald Morris’ cinematography and John Williams’ score as well as sound). The Laemmles provide lyric sheets for the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick songs so you can sing along with the irrepressible Topol and the irreplaceable Molly Picon on classics like “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” not to mention the always appropriate “If I Were a Rich Man.” Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

The Disaster Artist’

James Franco’s shrewd, affectionate and frequently hilarious comedy re-creates and deconstructs the making of Tommy Wiseau’s cult landmark “The Room,” with Franco giving a fully committed, even haunted performance as Wiseau. Read more

Justin Chang

Los Angeles Times Movie Critic

The Shape of Water’

Magical, thrilling and romantic to the core, a sensual and fantastical “Beauty and the Beast” tale with moral overtones, Guillermo del Toro’s film plays by all the rules and none of them, going its own way with fierce abandon. Read more

Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Call Me By Your Name’

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer give superb performances as two young men falling in love in the northern Italian countryside in this rapturously beautiful collaboration between director Luca Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory. Read more

Justin Chang

Los Angeles Times Movie Critic

Other recommendations:

1945

A lean, unadorned parable about guilt and the nature and consequences of evil. A quietly furious Hungarian film that puts a particular time and place under a microscope, revealing hidden fault lines and differences that have been ineffectively papered over. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Blade Runner 2049'

You can quibble with aspects of it, but as shaped by Denis Villeneuve and his masterful creative team, this high-end sequel puts you firmly and unassailably in another world of its own devising, and that is no small thing. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'The Florida Project'

Absorbing us in the day-to-day rhythms of life at a dumpy Florida motel complex, home to a wildly spirited 6-year-old girl named Moonee (the startling Brooklynn Prince), Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) goes to a place few of us know and emerges with a masterpiece of empathy and imagination. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Lady Bird'

As warm as it is smart, and it is very smart, this portrait of a high school senior year marks actor-screenwriter Greta Gerwig's superb debut as a solo director and yet another astonishing performance by star Saoirse Ronan. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Last Flag Flying'

Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell give richly felt performances as Vietnam veterans reuniting 30 years later in Richard Linklater's warm, ribald and elegiac quasi-sequel to Hal Ashby's 1973 classic, "The Last Detail." (Justin Chang) Read more

'Mudbound'

Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan are part of a superb ensemble in writer-director Dee Rees' sweeping epic of World War II-era Mississippi, the rare film that grants its white and black characters the same moral and dramatic weight. (Justin Chang) Read more

'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

Uncommon writer-director Martin McDonagh and a splendid cast toplined by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell present a savage film, even a dangerous one, the blackest take-no-prisoners farce in quite some time. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

Peter Sarsgaard. (Zach Dilgard / Netflix)

‘Wormwood’

Army scientist Frank Olson plunged to his death from a Manhattan hotel window in 1953. The authorities deemed it a suicide. His son contends he was murdered by the CIA. Director Errol Morris examines both possibilities in painstaking detail — exploring Eric Olson’s lifelong obsession with discovering the truth surrounding his father’s mysterious death — in “Wormwood,” a six-episode docu-series streaming Friday on Netflix. In Morris’ hands, it’s as much a true-crime whodunit as a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, replete with covert, Cold War-era CIA operations, chemical and psychological warfare, government espionage and state-sponsored murder. The results are a mixed bag of gripping narratives and thinly sourced theories, firsthand accounts and cinematic re-creations, exhaustive research and flagrant conjecture. Read more

Lorraine Ali

Television Critic

Chris Meloni. (Syfy)

Happy!’

As viewers of HBO’s “Oz” and NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” know, few actors glare quite as effectively as Chris Meloni. Gruff and intense, Meloni could have built a solid career as a character actor solely by playing square-jawed tough guys and chiseled men of few words. But something was clearly awakened in him in 2001, when he costarred in the cult comedy “Wet Hot American Summer” as Gene, the gruff and intense summer camp chef whose best friend was a can of vegetables. Thus, in addition to later roles in relatively straightforward dramas like “Underground” and “True Blood,” Meloni has become a reliable source for a uniquely taut and wild-eyed brand of weirdness in comedies such as “Wonder Showzen,” “Veep” and now “Happy!,” a new action-comedy series that arrives Wednesday on SyFy. Here he portrays Nick Sax, a fallen ex-cop turned conflicted but very adept hit man who would probably be described as “a Chris Meloni type” even before you’re introduced to his eventual costar — a small, pale blue flying unicorn, voiced by comic Patton Oswalt. Read more

Chris Barton

Jazz critic

Matt Smith and Claire Foy. (Coco Van Oppens / Netflix)

The Crown,’ Season 2

The story of Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown” provides plenty of ‘50s and ‘60s nostalgia when it returns Friday. But it’s the eloquent depictions of governing protocol, diplomatic decorum and a leader who puts country above self-interest that lends the series a new relevance. Season 2 of the award-winning royal drama arrives with high expectations as it follows the story of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth (Claire Foy), from 1956 to 1963. The 10-episode season does not disappoint as it advances the narrative of a young queen — grappling with limited political power, immense cultural influence and a fraying marriage — into the second half of the 20th century. Netflix, any time. Read more

Lorraine Ali

Television Critic

Alex Borstein, left, and Rachel Brosnaha. (Nicole Rivelli / Amazon / AP)

‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

Sexism and empowerment are the main themes throughout “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a ‘50s-era comedy drama about one woman’s metamorphosis from pampered Upper West Side housewife to raunchy stand-up comedian in bohemian New York City. We know the setting well now thanks to “Mad Men” and every other midcentury-obsessed show that followed — the furniture was streamline exquisite, people smoked on planes and sexual harassment was as prevalent as pencil sharpeners around the office. Look how far we have, or haven’t, come. Amazon, any time. Read more

Lorraine Ali

Television Critic

Other recommendations:

'Dark'

“Dark,” which begins streaming Friday on Netflix, is a beautiful, German-made minor-key tone poem in the shape of a puzzle-box sci-fi mystery television series. Created by Jantje Friese (who writes) and Baran bo Odar (who directs), the series is set in 2019 and 1986, in and around a smallish German town, surrounded by fairy tale forest and dominated by the squat concave cooling towers of a nuclear plant. Its presence casts a shadow across the story — if not a shadow across the scene, given there’s no sun out to make that happen. Long inhospitable to any television not delivered in English, domestic audiences have grown more amenable to the idea in the age of acquired content; we understand that “Scandinavian mystery” is its own genre. Unlike many subtitled series that have been imported to our television-shaped shores, “Dark” is an original production, the first German-language production for Netflix. Of course, we have heard German spoken on our TVs before, with characters allowed an occasional “Was ist los?” or “Jawohl, Herr Oberleutnant.” But it is good to get the full immersion package. (Robert Lloyd) (Any time, Netflix) Read more

'SMILF'

Motherhood is messy. Single motherhood in your 20s is messier. Add to that poverty, co-parenting with an unemployed ex and dreams of making it as an actress — in South Boston — and you have the basic ingredients of "SMILF." Showtime's half-hour comedy drama, created, written by and starring Frankie Shaw, goes where most series television doesn't care to venture: the lower end of the U.S. economic strata. (Lorraine Ali) (Showtime, Sundays) Read more

'Stranger Things' second season

The element of surprise and Reagan-era nostalgia rendered the Netflix series “Stranger Things” a breakout when it arrived last year complete with monsters, mad scientists and mullets. When Season 2 arrives Friday, there’s a new mystery to solve: How will this Emmy-winning and now beloved streaming obsession follow up on that success? (Lorraine Ali) (Netflix, anytime) Read more

'Spielberg'

A surprisingly intimate and thoughtful examination of the life and career of one of the most successful and influential of filmmakers, "Spielberg" pulls back the curtain on the former boy wonder as he turns 70. Veteran director Susan Lacy, creator of the PBS series "American Experience," convinced Steven Spielberg to sit down for close to 30 hours of interviews and also spoke to his parents, siblings, fellow directors like George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. HBO. (Kenneth Turan) Read more

'Jerry Before Seinfeld'

Seinfeld returns to the stage of the Comic Strip, the New York comedy club he worked for no money and many hamburgers while getting his act together in the 1970s. Much – most? – of the material he performs here predates the series that took his name and magnified it: "Seinfeld," which translated a comic's obsession with life's illogical annoyances into a world-conquering situation comedy. (Robert Lloyd) Read more

Diana Yanez, left, in "The Latina Christmas Special." (Xavi Moreno)

‘The Latina Christmas Special’

Under the direction of Geoffrey Rivas, the massively talented trio of Maria Russell, Diana Yanez and Sandra Valls, who all play themselves, hilariously and heart-wrenchingly recapitulate memories of Christmases past in this very special “Special” — which is most distinctively and most memorably a loving tribute to their feisty, funny Latina mothers. Ends Jan. 7. Read more

Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.

F. Kathleen Foley

Theater reviewer

Other recommendations:

'Rotterdam'

A big change can knock any couple out of alignment. For Alice and Fiona, the change goes to the very core of their identities. In her late 20s and several years into the relationship, Fiona reveals that she feels she’s a man. With insight and humor, British playwright Jon Brittain charts the pair’s journey as they rediscover who they are in this Olivier Award-winning play. Michael A. Shepperd crisply directs a perceptive cast. (Daryl H. Miller) (Ends Jan. 28) Read more

Skylight Theatre, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz

‘I Am Not a Comedian… I’m Lenny Bruce’

In this meticulously researched solo biography tracing the life and prosecution of the groundbreaking early 1960s comic provocateur, actor Ronnie Marmo and director Joe Mantegna offer subsequent generations not only a sense of who Bruce was but more importantly why he mattered. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Jan. 28) Read more

Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

‘Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol’ (Rubicon Theatre)

Even the most jaded of “Christmas Carol”-inundated audiences may well find themselves pleasurably surprised by the Rubicon Theatre's literate new version, owing to both the scrupulous textual fidelity to the source novella, as well as the allocation of narrative and dialogue among the cast to better illuminate their characters' back stories, perspectives and interior mental states. (Philip Brandes) (Ends Sat., Dec. 23) Read more

Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura

‘A Christmas Carol’ (A Noise Within)

Amid many worthy area stagings of Charles Dickens' immortal classic, this deftly performed, meta-theatrical edition stands out for fidelity to text, witty stagecraft and heartfelt embrace of message. There are fleeting oddities, but only a die-hard humbug could remain unmoved by so charming a Yuletide treat. God bless us everyone. (David C. Nichols) (Ends Sat., Dec. 23) Read more

A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

Sharon Jones. (Jacob Blickenstaff / Abramorama)

Album ‘Soul of a Woman’

Sharon Jones struggled as a singer for too long to let anything interfere with her success when it finally arrived. That’s the impression you get from “Soul of a Woman,” the final album this tough, leather-lunged R&B belter made before she died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. Due Friday, nearly a year to the date after her death, the 11-track set was recorded in the wake of some serious professional accomplishments, including Jones’ first Grammy nomination and an acclaimed documentary that examined her unlikely breakthrough at age 40 following years of unnoticed labor in gospel choirs and wedding bands around New York. At the same time, Jones’ body was slowly failing her. Bosco Mann, who produced “Soul of a Woman” and plays bass in the singer’s longtime backing band, the Dap-Kings, says they scheduled their studio sessions around her treatment plan. Read more

Mikael Wood

Pop Music Writer

Taylor Swift. (John Salangsang/ Invision / AP)

Album ‘Reputation’

For Taylor Swift, love — or the idea of it — has always represented a refuge, an escape, a shelter in a storm. When she emerged, just over a decade ago, romance was a means of lifting herself out of the too-smallness of high school; later, its enduring promise cushioned her after any number of messy breakups. Swift’s idealizing impulse resonated with fans, who were using her music the same way she was using her imagination, and she quickly became one of the biggest and most closely observed pop stars on the planet. Now, on her sixth studio album, “Reputation” love is an antidote to the celebrity she so doggedly cultivated (and then fumbled as soon as everyone was watching). Read more

Mikael Wood

Pop Music Writer

Sam Smith. (Lauren / Rex / Zuma Press)

Album ‘The Thrill of It All’

Who is Sam Smith kidding? “Every time you hurt me, the less that I cry,” he sings, vowing to guard his fragile heart, in “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the gospel-inspired opener from his new studio album, “The Thrill of It All.” But if there’s anything this young British soul star has made clear since he emerged five years ago, it’s that he’ll never, ever run out of tears. Read more

Mikael Wood

Pop Music Writer

Tim Buckley. (Handout)

Tim Buckley recordings

In early September 1969, the dynamic singer and songwriter Buckley played three nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. A tireless explorer influenced more by Nina Simone than Bob Dylan, he was accompanied during the gigs by himself and musicians playing a Fender Rhodes electric organ, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums and congas. Reissue producers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas recently unearthed a bounty of tapes from those three nights in September, some of which already had been mined for an earlier concert recording, “Live at the Troubadour 1969.” The results of their effort can be found on “Greetings From West Hollywood” and “Venice Mating Call,” which come out Oct. 13. the two new releases, the former available on LP and the latter on compact disc, present wondrously remastered, previously un-issued versions from those Troubadour nights. Read more

Randall Roberts

Pop music critic

Other recommendations:

Song: 'Soft Collar Fad'

The first song from the stellar L.A. punk band No Age’s first studio album in four years rips into its riffs like a pitbull into a rib-eye. Over the past decade the duo, Dean Spunt (drums) and Randy Randall (guitars), have helped redefine L.A. punk for a new century, adding its own distinctive washes of noise and melody into a mess of hardcore distortion. “Soft Collar Fad” is as unyielding and aggro as anything the two have done. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'The Long-Awaited Album'

During more than a half-century as an artist and entertainer, Steve Martin has consistently pushed and prodded at the boundaries of many an art form. And he’s doing it again with “The Long-Awaited Album,” his fifth collection of original music in the last eight years. (Randy Lewis) Read more

Box set: ‘Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981’

Bob Dylan’s so-called Christian period in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is the focal point for the next installment in the ongoing “Bootleg Series” of archival releases, with the deluxe box set featuring eight CDs and one DVD that bring to light a raft of live recordings from his tours of that era along with previously unreleased studio takes. “Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981,” due Nov. 3, explores in unprecedented depth the trio of albums he recorded after delving deeply into Christian theology: “Slow Train Coming” (from 1979), “Saved” (1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981), a trilogy that sparked as much debate over Dylan’s direction and relevance as his dramatic shift from acoustic folk music to electric rock ‘n’ roll a decade and a half earlier. (Randy Lewis) Read more

Album: 'Gone Now'

Five years ago, Jack Antonoff reached an audience of millions thanks to “We Are Young,” the Grammy-winning No. 1 single by his band Fun. And this week he’s likely to do it again with Friday’s release of “Melodrama,” the highly anticipated Lorde album that he co-produced with that young New Zealand pop star. (Mikael Wood) Read more

Album: 'Joan Shelley'

Amid today’s onslaught of breaking news notifications, it’s comforting to know that this Louisville singer and songwriter’s brand of pastoral beauty is out there. Shelley’s new self-titled album continues her focus on earthen themes that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago when another Shelley, poet Percy Bysshe, was romanticizing them: love and desire, dawning and fading light, natural beauty and the delicacy of emotion. (Randall Roberts) Read more

Album: 'You Don’t Own Me Anymore'

The third album from Muscle Shoals, Ala.-reared sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers (the Secret Sisters) shows no hint of anyone going Hollywood. Here, they’ve turned to Brandi Carlisle to co-produce with brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth after being guided on their previous two efforts by their mentor, T Bone Burnett. If anything, they’ve stripped things down further with hauntingly spare arrangements of songs that revel in Southern Gothic themes, which soar through their exquisite sibling harmonies. (Randy Lewis) Read more

'The Perfect American'

“The Perfect American” is the operatic portrait of an idealist American artist as a less-than-perfect old man, which is to say a blend of sunshine, supremacy and insecurity. In Philip Glass’ most recent portrait opera (a great lives series that has included Einstein, Gandhi, Akhnaten, Columbus, Galileo and Kepler), Walt Disney takes stock as he confronts a virulent lung cancer. (Mark Swed) Read more

Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

Single: 'Sign of the Times'

Heeeeeere’s Harry! Months after his bandmates in One Direction launched their inevitable solo careers, Harry Styles finally released his debut single under his own name Friday. It’s a sweeping power ballad called “Sign of the Times” that strongly recalls music from the early 1970s, such as David Bowie’s album “Hunky Dory” and “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (which Bowie helped create). (Mikael Wood) Read more

Album: 'Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge'

Among the many things Thomas Edison famously said, he remarked that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration," and he also insisted that "I have not failed once. I have simply found 10,000 ways that do not work." Both precepts are clearly evident in "1965-1966: Bootleg Series Vol. 12," the revelatory latest release of Dylan archival recordings that comes out Nov. 6. Culling a mind- and ear-boggling wealth of outtakes, alternate versions and rehearsal snippets during sessions over the 14 months of an astonishingly fertile period for Dylan, which yielded three of the most influential albums in rock history — "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde" — the new set throws open a panoramic window into the creative process of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. (Randy Lewis) Read more

Album: '25'

When Adele sings on her new album, "25," about an emotional experience so vivid that "It was just like a movie / It was just like a song," she's probably thinking of a tune by one of her idols: Roberta Flack, say, or Stevie Nicks. But for fans of this 27-year-old British singer, such a moment could only be captured by one thing: an Adele song. With her big hair and bigger voice, Adele broke out in 2008 as part of the British retro-soul craze that also included Duffy and Amy Winehouse. Her debut album, "19," spawned a hit single in "Chasing Pavements" and led to a Grammy Award for best new artist. Yet she outgrew any style or scene with the smash follow-up, "21," which presented Adele as a great crystallizer of complicated feelings, an artist writing intimately about her own life (in this case about a devastating breakup) in a way that somehow made the music feel universal. Clearly, the pressure is on to duplicate that commercial success with "25," which comes after a long period of public quiet in which Adele recovered from throat surgery and gave birth to a son (and tweeted no more than a few dozen times). "Hello," the record's brooding lead single, set a record when it was released last month, racking up 1.1 million downloads in a week. But the song's enthusiastic embrace only underscored the other, more pressing demand on the singer as she returns: that her music still provide its trademark catharsis. Put another way, Adele's fans have been waiting for years for new Adele songs to explain their experiences to them. And they get a worthy batch on "25." (Mikael Wood) Read more

Neo Margarita pizza at Pizzana restaurant. (Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times)

Jonathan Gold’s 10 best dishes of 2017

I’m wondering whether there has ever been a dining year quite like 2017 here in Los Angeles. The most interesting new kitchens seemed to be either in fantastically expensive tasting menu restaurants or in food courts; they stock their wine lists with either dreary classics or puzzling natural wines; and fill their pantries with farmers market vegetables or the product of their own backyards. Some of the best food came from what marketing people call brand extensions, others from the world of haute cuisine. As always, inspiration came from nearly every part of the world. Can 2017 be summed up in 10 dishes — 10 dishes that don’t happen to include well-done steak, double ice cream and Big Macs inhaled in silence? We’ll try. Read more

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Gusta Gourmet Tamales. (Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times)

Where to get your holiday tamales

If you have followed the essays about tamales I tend to write at this time of year, you know the basic drill. I wander through Boyle Heights, following a well-worn trail between Liliana’s and La Mascota. I seriously contemplate the virtues of each, and discuss the merits of including unconventional (for Los Angeles) tamale-like objects from Peru, El Salvador or Guatemala; banana-leaf-wrapped tamales from Oaxaca and the Yucatán; even such outliers such as Taiwanese zongzi or Hong Kong lo mai gai, Vietnamese bánh lá or the Nicaraguan nacatamal. I decide that anything that isn’t a traditional tamale stuffed with red chile and pork is beside the point, at least on Christmas Eve. Read more

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Vespertine chef Jordan Kahn. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants 2017

Let us address the spaceship in the docking port here — not everybody is going to be ecstatic that we are naming Vespertine the best restaurant in Los Angeles. The entire experience at Vespertine, from the lack of right angles in the dining room, to the throbbing four-note soundtrack, to the overwhelming abstraction of the food, to the stunning cost of dinner, is going to drive many of you insane. Yet looked at as an artwork, where the architect Eric Owen Moss, the ceramicist Ryota Aoki and the musicians in the post-rock band This Will Destroy You are as vital to the experience as the chef, Vespertine is in its way perfect. Read more

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Buko Pie at Sari Sari Store. (Kirk McKoy /Los Angels Times)

Sari Sari Store

I have stopped by Sari Sari Store five times in three days, and I’m not sure if I should be admitting this to you or to a therapist. My colleagues and I have probably adored Sari Sari Store a little too much lately, partly because we’re as likely to become crushed out on a new restaurant as a 14-year-old is on the latest Zayn track, and partly because the idea of a Filipino-style lunch counter run by République’s Margarita and Walter Manzke is just too much, especially in downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market. Read more

Sari Sari Store, Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

Jonathan Gold

Restaurant critic

Other recommendations:

Nothingness

If you gaze long into Nothingness, or at least into the San Gabriel Sichuan restaurant of that name, the Nothingness that stares back at you is likely to include steamed whole fish, braised lamb with jelly noodle, and pig feet with hot pepper. The steam rising from hot pots may suggest an infinite void, but only for that moment before the vivid red of the roiling broth becomes visible through the mist. Also, I imagine the empty world does not smell quite so strongly of garlic and toasted chiles. Why is there something rather than nothingness? Because the presumption of nonexistence does not allow for the possibility of live crawfish steamed in chile sauce, while Nothingness the restaurant does. Does existence precede essence? I haven’t read a lot of philosophy since college, but I maintain that the snap of the shell, the softness of the flesh, indicate that it probably does. Read more

288 Nothingness, San Gabriel Blvd., Suite 103/104, San Gabriel

Rosaliné

A juane is an unusual dish in the Peruvian repertoire, a huge, overstuffed tamal from the headwaters of the Amazon, a kind of combo meal made in its area of origin as a convenient takeaway lunch for travelers. Juanes take their name from John the Baptist — the bulging roundness is said to resemble the severed head of the saint on a plate — and they are often served on his saint’s day. When wrapped in the traditional bijao leaf, the late chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi wrote, it looks a little like a hobo’s bundle on the end of a stick. You can stow almost anything in a juane before you boil it — rice and chicken, yuca root, plantains, hearts of palm, ground peanuts, sometimes boneless fish. At Rosaliné, the buzzy new Peruvian restaurant on Melrose, Ricardo Zarate makes his with chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs and pork shanks. Bijao is a little hard to find in California, so he steams everything in banana leaves. Read more

Rosalinén, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood

Favorite dishes from Food Bowl 2017

I’m not sure what you’ve been doing this month. I’ve been spending most of my evenings at the first edition of Food Bowl, The Times’ month of food events that’s been a welter of special dinners, film screenings, art displays, farmers market events, visiting chefs from some of the best restaurants in the world, panel discussions on everything from Filipino cooking to sustainable seafood to the problem of food waste, and a vast night market in the glow of City Hall. I’ve mourned dozens of dinners and events I was unable to attend. And I’ve eaten really well. Read more

Pizzana

Pizza, as every New Yorker is fond of telling you, is the food of the people; cheap, tasty sustenance sold by the slice. But in Los Angeles, pizza has another dimension, as anyone who has ever considered dropping six grand on a custom pizza oven can attest — in certain circles a wood-burning Italian-made behemoth is as necessary as a fire pit or a screening room. Famous pizza virtuosi make regular stops at the homes of talk show hosts and sitcom auteurs, who know that a perfectly made Margherita is worth its weight in osetra caviar. Pizza is also the food of the rich. Daniele Uditi, chef of the chic Brentwood pizzeria Pizzana, earned his bones at his family’s bakery near Caserta, the buffalo mozzarella capital of Italy, and in Naples, home of modern pizza, before he moved to Los Angeles. He probably became well known when actor Chris O’Donnell rescued him from a dead-end restaurant job and hired him to cook for him and his friends. Uditi’s pizza was a poorly kept secret, even among a lot of people who don’t run in Hollywood circles — he was regularly touted as a celebrity chef in Italian newspapers. So it became almost inevitable that he end up with a Brentwood restaurant of his own, in partnership with O’Donnell, wife Caroline O’Donnell, and Candace and Charles Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes. People line up for hours outside Pizzana’s blue, tiled dining room. Read more

Pizzana, 11712 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles

Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant

Have you stopped by Mas’ Chinese Islamic Restaurant? Because it’s kind of wild on a Sunday afternoon, a world of head scarves and bright dresses, skinny suits and skullcaps, and children dumbstruck at the massive piles of sizzling black-pepper beef. The green-onion flatbreads — every table has one! — are as big as birthday cakes, and when you pick up a wedge you can see dozens of strata. Crisp shards of beef short ribs, cut laterally and thin in what Korean restaurants call “L.A. style,” are stacked 6 inches high. The air is heady with garlic and cumin, burnt chiles and charred meat. The tables are set with forks — you have to ask for chopsticks. Jamillah Mas’ cooking is hearty and full flavored, spicy except when it isn’t, and unafraid of excess. Read more

Mas' Chinese Islamic, 601 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Anaheim

Holbox

In Los Angeles, Holbox is the new Yucatán-style seafood restaurant from Gilberto Cetina Jr., whom you may know from Chichen Itza, which he founded with his father. (Gilberto Sr. is back in the Yucatán at the moment, building his own island dream house.) Like Chichen Itza, Holbox occupies a corner of the Mercado La Paloma complex near USC, sharing tables with a vegan Ethiopian restaurant and a Oaxacan juice bar. Read more

Holbox, 3655 S. Grand Ave. (inside the Mercado La Paloma complex), Los Angeles

Maestro

The morning after my last meal at Maestro, Danny Godinez’s new Mexican restaurant in Old Pasadena, I pulled the leftover barbacoa out of the refrigerator to see if I could salvage enough for a taco. There were still a few scraps of lamb left, but the container seemed half-filled with a mysterious goo. I was about to abandon the project – congealed lamb fat is no fun. I dipped in a spoon to see whether it might be worth reheating. And I was flabbergasted to discover that what I’d thought was grease was in fact beautifully jellied consommé, clear and as richly flavored as a demi-glace, without a speck of fat. This was Mexican food with a different point of view. And while I’m not sure I don’t prefer the magnificent hangover barbacoa from the beloved Aqui es Texcoco in Commerce or the dense, oily barbacoa from My Taco in Highland Park, Godinez’s version is very, very good — more delicate than its counterparts, slightly stringy, and without the insanely delicious pockets of fat that burst on your tongue, but still lovely and substantial. Read more

Maestro, 110 E. Union St., Pasadena

Where to dine in Southern California if you love tasting menus

You can call it a tasting menu. You can call it omakase. You can call it dégustation, a banquet menu or modern kaiseki. What it tends to be is a meal made up of dozens of small tastes, served in exquisite rhythm, where the courses, their order and their precise composition has been determined for you the second you walk in the door, so that your only choice is really whether you want to gut it out with a bottle of Lodi Verdelho or submit to a relentless wine pairing. The chef is the artist and your belly is her canvas. And when a tasting menu is done well, it can be the summit of cuisine. Read more

The Tsujita

Have you, by chance, tasted tonkotsu ramen? Because the Kyushu-style noodles may be at their peak in Los Angeles at the moment: thin, straight noodles served in a pork broth of maximum intensity. Tonkotsu ramen is often layered with slices of soft braised pork, garnished with simmered bamboo shoots and served with a soft-boiled egg. It is invariably a gut bomb that will stay with you longer than a double chili-cheese from Tommy’s. A Tokyo-based friend claimed that he once dropped 20 pounds just by cutting tonkotsu ramen out of his diet, and I believe him. The king of tonkotsu ramen in Los Angeles is probably Tsujita, a branch of a well-regarded Tokyo noodle shop that has clotted traffic on Sawtelle Boulevard since it opened half a dozen years ago. And now there is the Tsujita in Glendale’s Americana at Brand mall, a severely modern restaurant that gleams like a Tokyo dessert parlor, a place of long banquettes, long tables and coffered ceilings; theatrical lighting and a waitstaff that seems slightly stunned by the crowds. Read more

The Tsujita, 769 Americana Way, Glendale

6 Great Restaurants for Spicy Food

Spicy food is glorious stuff, particularly in times of duress or when the weather is unreasonably chilly or when you’ve misplaced that bottle of Double Chicken Brand Sriracha you still keep in your bag. So which restaurant to head for when the need for a dose of chiles calls? Here are a half-dozen places around town where what’s on the menu can blow both your mind and the Scoville scale. Read more

"The Divine Spouse," Miguel Cabrera. (LACMA)

Best art in 2017: Our critic’s top 10 exhibitions, plus one very big worry

Good things of course continue to happen in museums — in L.A., most notably, the Getty-funded initiative to underwrite a slew of exhibitions of Latino and Latin American art, the emergence of the long-sleepy California African American Museum as a lively destination and the announcement that a museum will be built at UC Irvine specifically to trace the development of California art. Here, in chronological order of their openings, are the 10 best museum exhibitions I saw in Los Angeles this year. Read more

Christopher Knight

Art critic

Other recommendations:

Harmony Hammond: Recent Paintings

There is a private archaeology at work in these engrossing paintings, a stratification of action and reaction. The canvases, collaged with other fabrics and painted over in near-monochrome, are embedded with the physical memory of their making. Grommets pierce the fields, crisscrossing straps invoke restraint as well as protection, and bodily allusions abound. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Jan. 6) Read more

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City.

Toshio Shibata: Japanscapes

Shibata studies places of contact, where we have altered the earth, and finds there opportunities for reflection, wonder, awe. Beauty, in his work, is inclusive, and purity a matter of compositional elegance rather than rarefied subject matter. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Jan. 20) Read more

Gallery Luisotti, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica.

Timothy Paul Myers & Andrew Barnes: 'Understory'

This brilliant installation of a suburban basement, every object and surface sheathed in pale pinkish felt, is suffused with trickster spirit — ambiguous, contradictory, unsettling. The felt acts to mute and neutralize, but the act of encasing every old baby toy and kitchen appliance amplifies each item’s significance. The perceptual friction generated by the room-within-a-room reverberates deeply. (Leah Ollman) (Ends Dec. 23) Read more

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.

Dinh Q Le: The Scrolls: Distortion

Le’s work is driven by the unresolvability of competing narratives — personal experience, collective memory, historical record, fictional accounts, propaganda and more. He’s best known for photographic weavings that unite disparate images into a pixellated field. Here, a selection of those compelling works is joined by gigantic, photo-montaged scrolls suspended high overhead and unfurling onto platforms. Visual logic is subverted, legibility is compromised, but the glossy images keep unspooling. (Leah Ollman) (Through Dec. 23.) Read more

Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica

Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell

This show, the Los Angeles artist’s first full survey, could serve as the Pacific Standard Time poster child, so vividly does it fulfill the Getty initiative’s mission to flesh out the plot and diversify the cast of characters in the art history of Latino Los Angeles As a Latina, lesbian and large-bodied woman, Aguilar personifies representational neglect. In more than 130 photographic works, mostly portraits and self-portraits, she stirringly examines identity and belonging, the friction of unworthiness and the peace of self-acceptance. (Leah Ollman) (Through Feb. 10) Read more

Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez, Monterey Park

'We the People: Serving Notice'

This brave, rousing show narrows the gap between making and making a difference. Dozens of artists were invited to weigh in on the tumult and divisiveness of this political, cultural moment — in clay. The responses: functional objects reflecting upon the nation’s present dysfunction; decorative pieces that deal with indecorous realities. (Leah Ollman) (Through Dec. 30) Read more

American Museum of Ceramic Art, 399 N. Garey Ave., Pomona

"Cuphead." (Studio MDHR)

Cuphead’

Video games often help define new entertainment frontiers, be they interactive, immersive or centered on virtual or augmented realities. Yet “Cuphead” resurrects a few nearly forgotten advances — namely the lost art of hand-drawn animation and the abandoned joy of big band jazz. Though the fast-paced and brutally difficult action game looks to bygone eras, its everything-old-is-new-again tone doesn’t exactly feel retro. By channeling the insanity of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Silly Symphonies” and the surreal but rough-around-the-edges work of Fleischer Studios, “Cuphead” possesses an anything-goes childlike weirdness with a sinisterly adult edge. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

"Monument Valley 2." (Ustwo)

Monument Valley’

Some of the most popular modern fairy tales are played rather than told. Ustwo’s “Monument Valley” spun a story about a quiet princess — Ida — who worked, often alone, to restore a colorful, geometric habitat, one inspired equally by the meticulously designed illustrated architecture of M.C. Escher as well as the joy of optical illusions. Since its release in 2014, that experience has been downloaded more than 30 million times. Gray feels confident that “Monument Valley” succeeded in its mission statement. Now the design firm is back with a new game, one that once again wants to shift the mainstream awareness of what games can — and should — accomplish. On Monday, Ustwo unveiled “Monument Valley 2,” a sequel that aims to take the calm and abstract shapes and ruins of the first title and inject even more emotional depth. Read more

Todd Martens

Video game critic

Other recommendations:

The Nintendo Switch

Not since the debut of its original Nintendo Entertainment System has the Japanese company released a home video game console with as much potential to shake up how we play as the Nintendo Switch, which is out Friday. Thirty years ago, Nintendo reinvented the video game medium. Not only did the NES lead to such genre-defining interactive entertainment as “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda,” but it also liberated games from the arcade and brought them to the American living room. Where they could increasingly be played for hours, days, weeks, months. Rather than intense, cliffhanger-like action that demanded the next 25 cents, home games had pace, tempo and rudimentary stories. They were also accessible — no obscenely pricey home computer or trip to a teenage-infested arcade needed. The Switch takes that livability to another level. It is a home video game console that’s connected to a television. But it’s also a hand-held device designed for ultimate mobility. And at least one of its games barely requires the use of a screen at all. Read more

Playstation VR

I’m Batman. I’ve waited years — since the release of 1989’s “Batman” — to say those words and mean them. Considering that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life writing rather than building a superhero’s physique, it seemed unlikely, save for Halloween, that such a day would come. This year we saw the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, which makes it possible to put on a pair of goggles and disappear into a digital landscape — as long as you have a high-priced, top-of-the-line computer. Now with Sony’s PlayStation VR, an add-on to the PlayStation 4 so many of us already have hooked up to our TVs, virtual reality is coming to the masses. Read more

'Virginia'

The opening screen of the new Variable States video feature "Virginia" welcomes players to a small town named Kingdom. It's laid before us as if it were a board game, with little trails leading to a cave or a gas station, a schoolyard or an observatory, all presented with the simple, cheery look of a brightly filled-in coloring book. Come in, stay awhile and bask in the beauty of small-town life, it seems to say. Press play, however, and things get twisted, and not with the typical things-are-not-what-they-seem subversion. Read more

'No Man's Sky'

Fourteen minutes and 54 seconds. I'm on a distant planet, and I need to get to my spaceship. Yet "No Man's Sky" is telling me that the vessel is a 14-minute, 54-second hike away. So I settle into the couch. But after three minutes of strolling through a salmon-colored rocky surface — and admiring some lavender plant life — I need a break, perhaps for good. This was the second time in one week I had quit "No Man's Sky." That's because there's another, more important number to mention when it comes to discussing "No Man's Sky": 18.4 quintillion. That is, there are more than 18.4 quintillion planets to discover in "No Man's Sky." You will not live long enough — here on Earth, that is — to collect them all. Read more

'Abzu'

There are peculiar stone structures in the shape of sharks throughout the game "Abzu." They exist not to be investigated or warn of foreboding territory ahead. Instead, these objects are built for meditating. Have a seat, they beckon, and take in marine life. Play voyeur to a whale, a jellyfish, a shark or any number of undersea inhabitants. While "Abzu" is far from a documentary or a simulation, perhaps no other video game has ever been so singularly focused on re-creating the vast, majestic and mysterious nature of an aquatic universe. It does this with no voice, no text and no conflict. Your character in "Abzu" cannot "die" in the traditional video-game sense. Instead, the game centers on postcard-worthy imagery — swarming, silver schools of fish or sparkling green leaves or warm, orange coral — and Austin Wintory's thoughtful, patient score. Read more