Superlative Restaurant Design and New Visions in Hospitality
Honored in the 2021 AIALA Restaurant Design Awards
Nine restaurants, cafes, and bars (selected by acclaimed design-jury members)
and three “People’s Choice Winners” offer stellar design on the West Coast of the United States and Mexico.

+ 2021 Restaurant Design Award Winning Images

(For a complete list of winners plus jury notes, scroll down.)

Thursday, August 19, 2021 (Los Angeles)—As Los Angeles turned over its streets to al fresco dining and Angelenos returned to a timeless, worldwide tradition—the communal exchange of food—the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIALA) announced its 2021 AIALA Restaurant Design Awards.

In total the design of nine restaurants, cafés, and bars, selected by a jury, were celebrated including two not-yet-built projects. The latter were recognized through “Unbuilt” categories, new to the AIALA Restaurant Design Awards, which were first held in 2007.

Demonstrating strategies for dining in a new era, where al fresco is essential, “Unbuilt Restaurant” Honor award-winner Elementa Hotel Restaurant and Bar, designed by Design Opera, is a “great example of blurring the lines between indoor spaces and outdoor spaces,” the 2021 AIALA Restaurant Design Awards Jury noted. “The restaurant feels truly integrated with and complementary of the surrounding landscape.”

As in previous years, the award program’s jury is composed of a designer with strong restaurant design experience, a restaurateur, and a writer. This year’s designer was Michael Hsu, FAIA, IIDA, Founder and Principal, Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. With offices in Austin and Houston, Texas, Hsu is the recipient of numerous AIALA Restaurant Design Awards and the 2016 AIA Austin Firm of the Year award. Prior to launching his own firm, Hsu worked for the globally renowned design firm OMA in the Netherlands. Timothy Hollingsworth, too, has a long tradition of acclaim. As a chef and restaurateur, began his career at The French Laundry where he was elevated to Chef de Cuisine, and served in that position for four years. In 2015, he opened Otium, an ambitious all-day restaurant next to The Broad, becoming a significant draw for those interested in cuisine through its sophisticated, yet accessible menu featuring eclectic, vibrant, and seasonal flavors. Writer and editor Sarah Kuta rounded out the trio. Based in Colorado, Kuta holds bylines in Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure,, Fodor’s, and NBC News, among other publications.

In addition to the juried awards, three projects were voted “People’s Choice Winners.” Online voters selected their favorites from among 12 “finalists” chosen by the 2021 AIALA Restaurant Design Awards jury.

Winning entries were located across the West Coast of the United States and in Mexico.

The 2021 AIALA Restaurant Design Awards were announced at a party at the A+R Showroom in ROW DTLA on Thursday, August 19, 2021. Seventy-five designers, architects, restaurateurs, clients and team members joined for a lively reception amidst the internationally renowned resource’s modern furnishings, lighting, decor, and housewares, sourced from Scandinavia to Japan and points in between.

“This is the fourteenth year that the AIALA has organized the Restaurant Design Awards,” said AIALA Executive Director Carlo Caccavale, Hon. AIALA, who was the originator of the program. “The AIALA Restaurant Design Awards were initiated to highlight how designers work in concert with restaurateurs and chefs to provide a backdrop that enhances and supports cuisine. These last eighteen months have demonstrated just how much people rely on the community offered by restaurants to enliven their lives. Designers foster community through placemaking.”

(listed by award level, Honor, Merit, Citation. Honor being highest. Not all levels are awarded in each category)

Honor Award, Restaurant
Damian (Los Angeles, California). Designed by Taller ADG in collaboration with Estudio MDB. Architect of Record: Loescher Meachem Architects.
Instagram: @talleradg. Photo: Onnis Luque
Damian is the whole package. The design is simple yet stunning. Every single material, color, lighting and staging choice plays an important role in creating the overall look and feel of this space. It’s not overdone, yet the design clearly communicates an ambiance and a vibe. We also love the outdoor space, the taco shop and the fact that the design pays homage to — and even highlights — the industrial feel of this neighborhood.

Merit Award, Restaurant
Kemuri Ramen Bar (Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico). Designed by Design Opera
Instagram: @designopera. Photo: Francisco Palacio
Simple, classic, understated and perfectly executed. Great, bold design for such a small space. Incredible details and material selection. Every color, tone, texture and even material reflectance was considered. The jury loved the countertop, the black on black back of line and use of different woods.

Merit Award, Restaurant
LA Puglia (Santa Monica, California). Designed by: Twichell Studio: architects
Instagram: @danetwichell. Photo: Dane Twichell
LA Puglia is a neighborhood gem. It’s both charming, chic in places, gritty in others and, clearly, from a single point-of-view but it’s not fussed-over and maintains a casual warmth the jurors enjoyed. The new facade, storefront, patio and planting should be commended, a huge improvement on what was there and it dramatically increases the identity and presence of the restaurant from the street. The way the designers reused parts of the existing building added layers of visual interest.

Merit Award, Restaurant
Verve Coffee Roastery del Sur (Los Angeles, CA). Designed by Design, Bitches.
Instagram: @design_bitches. Photo: Bruce Damonte
Verve Roastery Del Ser embraces the classic Southern California feeling. Just breezy, welcoming, warm, and a place you want to stay for awhile. The curtains are not closed here: their design allows you to see all the behind-the-scenes and production of the coffee they are making.


Citation Award, Cafés (Built)
Lido Cafe & Bar (Santa Barbara, California). Designed by Beleco.
Instagram: @belecodesign. Photo: Bethany Nauert
Lido Cafe & Bar has a great open and airy feeling to it. The arches and floral hand drawn artwork on the walls even add to this breezy feel, which makes a lot of sense for a Santa Barbara Café.


Honor Award, Bar (Built):
Rupee Bar. (Seattle, WA). Designed by Heliotrope Architects.
Instagram: @heliotropearchitects. Photo: Noah Forbes
It’s obvious that every element of this space has been carefully and thoughtfully designed. The Sri Lankan-inspired design is not overdone or overwhelming, it’s subtle and nuanced, but still hints at the cuisine. The warm, rich wood tones balance the peacock green perfectly, with just enough tile for this very small space. The lighting fixtures and the polish brass accents help complete the full picture. The end result is a bar that is cozy and intimate; we’d like to spend a few hours sipping cocktails or having a date night here.

Citation Award, Bar (Built):
Alma’s Cider & Beer (Los Angeles, CA). Designed by Design, Bitches
Instagram: @design_bitches. Photo: Yoshihiro Makino
A great example of bold design in a very small space. This feels like a true neighborhood bar — warm, welcoming, comfortable, cozy and fun. The blue color throughout the space is spunky and fun, without overpowering the footprint. We also particularly loved the addition of the diorama!


Honor Award, Restaurants (Unbuilt)
Elementa Hotel Restaurant and Bar (Valle De Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico). Designed by: Design Opera.
Instagram: @designopera. Photo: Braulio Lozano
Even though this one is unbuilt, it’s obvious that the architects and designers have a laser-focused vision for this restaurant and bar. This is a great example of blurring the lines between indoor spaces and outdoor spaces; the restaurant feels truly integrated with and complementary of the surrounding landscape.


Citation Award, Cafés (Unbuilt)
The Art Room (Los Angeles, CA.) Designed by AUX Architecture in collaboration with PanoramAH!.
Instagram: @auxarchitecture Photo: AUX Architecture
The risk-taking and innovative design of the kinetic facade is impressive. We also appreciated that the dining spaces were designed with flexibility in mind, and we liked the mixed uses of this development.


Winner, Restaurant:
LA Puglia (Santa Monica, California). Designed by Twichell Studio: architects.
Instagram: @danetwichell. Photo: Dane Twichell

Winner, Café:
Café Name: Lido Cafe & Bar (Santa Barbara, California) designed by Beleco.
Instagram: @belecodesign Photo: Bethany Nauert

Winner, Bar:
Rupee Bar (Seattle, WA) designed by Heliotrope Architects.
Instagram: @heliotropearchitects  Photo: Noah Forbes



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Tibby Rothman, Hon. AIA|LA
Director, Marketing and Public Relations
t: 213.639.0763