Otoño's pan con tomate
Photo by Krystal Thompson Photo, courtesy of Otoño

Letter of RecommendationLos Angeles

For Spanish Vacation Vibes, Look No Further Than Otoño


A good pan con tomate is a perfect combination of simple and delicious things: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and bread. Unpretentiously luxurious, it may be the most comforting snack on the planet.

Since 2018, chef Teresa Montaño’s version at Otoño has been the one of my dreams, with golden-toasted focaccia acting as the perfect vehicle for the rich tomato-garlic slurry, imbuing every bite with pervasively delicious flavor. Be still my pintxo-loving heart! Barely a week passes that I don’t find myself slipping into the restaurant for a hit of the stuff to keep me in good spirits.

Otoño is housed within the airy confines of a former Kress’ department store – and later the famous Frank’s Camera emporium – on Highland Park’s charmingly historic main drag, Figueroa Street. And while the neighborhood is buzzing, stepping in to Otoño is the definition of transportive. Crossing the threshold into the airy space, you’re confronted with a sun-bleached, lightly Deco-inspired rustic elegance, complete with the tangerine-hued urban wit of Valencia artist PichiAvo’s mural. Here, time moves a little slower, and the air blows sweet and spiced, enticing you to come in, sit down, take a load off. There is no faster way to get to Spain, or the Spain of my imagination, at least. 

First date? Hit the bar and grab some expertly mixed cocktails from bar director Tad Tobey, or sample the well-curated selection of vermuts and jerez, accompanied, of course, with bar bites. Maybe some olives marinated in Valencia orange juice? And definitely the croquetas de jamon. 

Otoño is the one place in Los Angeles — the United States, really — where I will happily order a gin and tonic. Lesser versions of the drink hit like a sip of Lemon Fresh Pine-Sol, trying and failing to use medicinal over-sweetness in the attempt to make it go down easy. Here, the bar staple reveals its true form: an aromatic, astringent, and saline concoction, the tonic supporting the gin to connect the sipper directly to its source. There are typically a few versions on offer: go directly to Spain with the Classico, or get a hit of the Southwest with my go-to, the Sanctu, with housemade palo santo bitters and sage. 

There is no faster way to get to Spain, or the Spain of my imagination, at least. 

For a soul-warming dinner, the paella selection can’t be beat. The Mariscos version is undeniable, with its classic mix of prawns, mussels, and squid cooked in a lobster fumet, but don’t sleep on the other choices as well. In the Negra, Montaño integrates Japanese ingredients like dashi alongside fresh SoCal produce and lemon cream to create a delicate twist on the genre. Each paella is technically big enough to share, though honestly, you may not want to. 

Come hungry and round out the table with some selections from the Raciones menu – I’m partial to the succulently braised oxtail in the rabo de buey and the classic pulpo a la brasa. (Honestly, bring the whole crew so you can try it all.)

If Girl Dinner is more your thing, the embutido board perfects the form, with its sprawling selection of Spanish charcuterie, supported by Bub & Grandma’s bread and the piquant tang of guindilla peppers. Finish it all off with a bit of sweetness, naturally. The crema catalana never fails, a classic in Montaño’s repertoire ever since her time helming Raçion in Pasadena.

Photo courtesy of Otoño
Photo courtesy of Otoño

And if all of that isn’t enough, the weekend brunch is my lazy morning must, the menu a tight edit of tapas classics and select larger plates. Sit out on the sunny patio and sip vermouth spritzes or chorizo-garnished Bloody Marys while lingering over the chestnut honey-drizzled Monte Cristo or the homey Huevos Revueltos y Tocino. Montaño also nods to her New Mexican roots with a green chile cheeseburger, and pop-ups like her recent Thunderbird lunch service, which featured fry breads, burritos, and other updated classics inspired by the Land of Enchantment.

What really does it for me at Otoño is the restaurant’s devotion to cultivating a true sense of leisure for its patrons.

But I don’t want my passionate recounting of the menu’s greatest hits to overwhelm what really makes Otoño singular. After all, Los Angeles is currently having a bit of a Spanish moment (Gasolina, Flor y Solera, Xuntos, etc).

What really does it for me at Otoño is the restaurant’s devotion to cultivating a true sense of leisure for its patrons. Otoño is the embodiment of a restaurant that delivers just what you need, whenever and whatever that may be. It’s equal parts neighborhood hang and destination dining, a hard-to-find sweet spot in Highland Park and beyond. 

One who stops here is considered and cared for, whether just a solo swing for pan con tomate and a quick drink or a big splashy spread. There’s never a rush, despite the steady bustle, and neither explicit table-turning behaviors, nor the equally irritating upselling one encounters at other similarly-positioned spots nearby. The maturity and confidence of Montaño’s vision and an overall free-handed creativity and open-heartedness allows me trust that time and money spent here will always be well worth it. 


Julia Bembenek is a bon vivant and appreciator of the dying art of hospitality. She is also a writer, teacher, cook, and yogi who brings those (and infinite other) threads together through weekly in-person and online offerings via her project in practice: WINDOW