Since the shutdown of dine-in restaurants on March 15, I’ve been eating mostly carryout, doing what little I can to help while watching chefs, restaurateurs and their employees fight for their livelihoods. These businesses are devising ever-evolving strategies; every day brings fresh options announced on social media and delivery apps, conceived from dire necessity and on-the-fly creativity.
Given economic feasibility and concerns for the health of their employees, some places I ordered from last week have already closed. Josef Centeno shut down his four restaurants; he’s cooking solo in his kitchen, preparing meals for staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. After a fire sale to get rid of its remaining produce and premade food, Silver Lake’s All Day Baby is reopening sporadically. I felt richly nourished by the vegetarian combination and garlicky lamb stew over injera from Meals by Genet in Little Ethiopia, but chef-owner Genet Agonafer has stepped away from her stove to be with her family.
Workers have shown uniform care in my interactions with them. Drivers practiced contactless delivery or have done so graciously when asked. For takeout, I find more restaurants marking spots on the ground for customers to stand safely apart, placing to-go orders outside or smartly scheduling staggered pickup times to avoid crowds.
Still-employed restaurant workers, on the front lines of a society in crisis, are emergency workers: I tip as open-handedly as I can.
As with many, I feel conflicted about leaving my home to pick up food at a time when we are being told to shelter in place. But restaurants remain my beat, and many cannot afford to shoulder the high commissions charged by some delivery apps; by retrieving my own food I save them that added expense, which can be as much as 30% of the meal’s cost. For now, while taking crucial precautions — vigilant handwashing and sanitizing, maintaining an appropriate distance — I plan to keep reporting on the pluralism that gives Los Angeles its soul.
So here are seven highlights from my first week of takeout and delivery. These restaurants are in operation as of publication. Like you, I’m looking for comfort in every form; it’s the theme that unites these meals. Check restaurants’ websites and/or social media — or, a throwback idea, pick up the phone and call — to be certain of current hours and menus, which are frequently changing. We have an incomplete but ever-growing list of takeout and delivery options online too.
Mujadara and fried kibbeh, Kobee Factory
What’s especially hard for many of us right now is the feeling of ineffectiveness. We need to support small businesses; we want to do more. The drumbeat of these thoughts compelled me back to Kobee Factory, a tiny Syrian restaurant in Van Nuys I love deeply. You might too. Order the mujadara, a mix of lentils and bulgur made special by an overlay of golden fried onions. A swirl of hummus alongside lends creaminess. Kibbeh, the combination of bulgur and spiced meat (typically lamb throughout the Middle East; beef here) comes in several shapes and variations; best is the fried kibbeh formed into tapered croquettes and riddled with pine nuts. I asked the woman behind the counter how the restaurant was doing. She shrugged. My heart cracked. I’m coming back for more this week. Pickup and delivery.
14110 Oxnard St., Van Nuys, (818) 909-2593, kobeefactoryla.com
Pork banh mi, Porridge & Puffs
It is a given that Minh Phan’s porridge — especially the one with mushrooms, ground turkey and strands of chicken — is balm at anytime, and certainly for these times. Her banh mi variation, something I’d never tried, shows off her gymnastics with acidity and texture in sandwich form. She roasts pork in sake and lays it across a hunk of halved baguette with spiced mayo, herbs and red onion-rose pickles. The clincher ingredient is apricot-scented jicama, which gives juicy, unexpected crunch to every third bite. A vegetarian version swaps in crispy tofu. We probably all could use more vegetables right now; the salad built on fermented jasmine tea leaves is an ideal way to stay connected to the seasons. Pickup only; also check out the ad hoc provisions shop Phan has set up at the entrance, where pickles, flowers and other goods are on offer.
2801 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 908-5313, porridgeandpuffs.com
Hainan chicken, Cluck2Go
Brandon Hayato Go mentioned this place when we were emailing about the temporary closure of his Row DTLA restaurant, Hayato. Off I went to Rowland Heights for Singaporean-style Hainan chicken, one of the most soothing dishes on the planet. Owner Qi Yang and his daughter Jenny Yang use fresh, locally raised chickens poached with lemongrass and other spices. The essence of the bird chimes through the rice and broth served on the side. Two sauces, a vinegary chile number and a gingery scallion puree, add crucial oomph. Buy extra; this makes for sustaining leftovers. The Yang family runs four locations (other outlets are in Pasadena, Hacienda Heights and Diamond Bar) but only the Rowland Heights original is currently operating. Pickup only. [Update: As of March 25, Cluck2Go is closing all locations until at least April 5, via the restaurant’s Instagram feed.]
19255 Colima Road, Rowland Heights, (626) 965-1348, cluck2go.com
Grilled cheese from Pasjoli and Basque cheesecake from Dialogue
I swung by both of Dave Beran’s Santa Monica restaurants in one recent outing. At Pasjoli, his cooks are riffing on familiar pleasures: spicy fried chicken, burgers, baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies. Chef de cuisine Matthew Kim can’t quite let go of the restaurant’s Gallic spirit: He reengineers the restaurant’s caramelized onion tart into a grilled cheese for the ages. Gruyère cheese melts and crisps directly on a pan, topped with slices of country bread that turn bronze around their edges. Layers of mornay sauce, caramelized onions, more cheese, ridiculousness. As I said in an Instagram post: I went feral on this thing.
Over at Dialogue, Beran is creating three-course heat-at-home meals (a meat option and a vegetarian option) for $35, with entrees like ponzu-glazed pork belly or curry-roasted cauliflower with harissa. A slice of Beran’s famous take on Basque cheesecake, its crown burnt and its base oozing, is downright life-affirming. Should you desire a splurge, whole cheesecakes are available for $65. Pickup only.
Dialogue, 1315 3rd St. Promenade, Santa Monica, dialoguerestaurant.com
Pasjoli, 2732 Main St., Santa Monica, (424) 330-0020, pasjoli.com
Black cod bento, Iki Ramen
At Iki, a restaurant anchored by its polished take on tonkotsu ramen, there is a standard lunchtime bento, but look instead for the selections listed on delivery apps under “Iki Bento.” They come in black boxes mixed with soft floral patterns; it’s as beautiful as cardboard can ever hope to be. The black cod bento includes a sliver of miso-marinated and grilled fish radiating umami along with a panko-encrusted shrimp with yuzu aioli, kale in a splash of spicy broth, seaweed sunomono, a small pickled tomato and a heap of white rice. Rather than cod, you can opt for braised pork belly, fried chicken, beef sukiyaki or a vegan version served with crumbled Impossible burger. Not a huge serving of food, but a beautiful, calming, just-filling-enough presentation. Pickup and delivery.
740 S Western Ave., Los Angeles, (424) 335-7749, ikiramen.com
Oxtails and sides, Dulan’s on Crenshaw
I’m a Southerner; oxtails taste like home. They should be simmered until the meat is somewhere between tensile and melting, barely cohering to the bone. Dulan’s does them right. For sides? The same three choices I’d choose in soul food institutions from Virginia to Mississippi: collard greens, mac and cheese, and black-eyed peas. There are corn muffins to sop up the collards’ pot liquor; order a slice of sweet potato pie for later (because you’ll likely be too full for dessert). If oxtails don’t appeal, the fried chicken is righteous — and satisfying the next day, straight from the refrigerator. Pickup or delivery.
4859 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 296-3034, dulans-crenshaw.com
“Meatball-za,” Hail Mary Pizza
Last July I did a short roundup of favorite pizzerias in Los Angeles, and my writer pal Adam Roberts made sure to let me know I’d missed a standout near his home in Atwater Village. It shouldn’t have taken this long to try Hail Mary. Its flavor combinations (lamb neck, with the texture of pot roast, strewn among nettles and Calabrian chiles; potato, chard, lemon and lemon zest) lean boldfaced without becoming too zany. The meatball pie brings the fundamental Italian American gusto: polpette with mozzarella and oregano under a dusting of Parmesan. A salad of avocado and blood orange alongside brought my senses back to California. Pickup or delivery.
3219 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 284-8879, hailmarypizzala.com