12 stellar places for springtime takeout and outdoor dining
Just over a year after the COVID crisis disrupted the restaurant industry, tangible signs of hope are appearing. On March 1, residents of Los Angeles County designated in tier 1B were prioritized for coronavirus vaccinations. The group includes restaurant workers and food delivery drivers. It’s bolstering to see chefs and restaurant owners and servers repost their vaccination cards on social media. Searching the myturn.ca.gov site, I see some vaccination locations are even starting to offer the option of one- or two-dose injections.
The California Department of Public Health announced this week that by April 15 all residents 16 and older will be eligible for a vaccine. And with the memory of several particularly grim months in Southern California still hanging overhead, the rate of vaccination can’t be fast enough.
Writing about dining culture remains a seesaw of questions and emotions: Will spring break travel thwart our recent decline in COVID-related cases and deaths? Could the return of indoor dining endanger workers or the families of workers who don’t yet have access to vaccines? Will health authorities finally provide clearer, more consistent information and help us make better-informed decisions as the crisis continues to evolve?
Throughout everything, the culinary talents of Los Angeles carry on feeding us with soul, skill and resilience. It’s hard once again to snag a reservation at the most popular places; the hottest takeout bentos still sell out in minutes. On the other hand, many restaurants outside the buzziest dining corridors are hurting for customers.
I’ve tiptoed into outdoor dining (I’m not yet vaccinated and decline to eat indoors) but I’ve still stuck mostly to takeout, picking up from the restaurants if at all possible to help them sidestep the grotesquely high fees charged by delivery apps. These 12 terrific places — new pop-ups, cherished institutions and restaurants that fall somewhere in the middle — will keep your body and mind nourished as we all squint at the pinhead of light we’re glimpsing at the end of the tunnel.
Adda the Hangout
For his twice-monthly pop-up that operates out of Crafted Kitchen in the Arts District, Pranav Sinha keeps the menu to four or five dishes often themed around the cuisine of an Indian state. Punjabi-style murgh makhana (a.k.a. butter chicken), attuned so that the ginger and spices chime through the creamed tomato gravy, might be offered with chole (soft, oniony chickpeas), potatoes sparked with cumin and rice with peas. Or the peas could show up in a brothy matar paneer, the squares of fresh homemade cheese more delicate than any version I’ve had in a restaurant. Keep an eye out for gajar (carrot) halwa scented with cardamom and flecked with pistachios. This is a philanthropic endeavor — Sinha donates proceeds and meals to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank — making this doubly worth the effort to set reminders to check Instagram for the next pop-up date. Pickup only. instagram.com/adda_thehangout
In the seemingly infinite multiverse of Los Angeles dining, the galaxy of North African cuisines feels comparatively under-represented. Thinking this over led me to Barsha in Hermosa Beach. Owners Adnen and Lenora Marouani opened the restaurant in late 2019 (they have a wine bar with the same name in Manhattan Beach), entwining Tunisian flavors into their Cal-Med menu. Subtle, dusky-sweet spice runs through mosli (seared chicken in a vegetable stew, here reimagined with quinoa); light-handed lamb meatballs float atop m’hamsa (Tunisian couscous) in tomato broth and a dollop of herbed labheh. Among the to-go cocktails, A Night in Tunisia appealed with its start-the-evening combination of three vermouths and sherry. “Do you have bourbon or rye in your own bar?” Adnen asked as he was handing over my order. “You’re drinking this at home, so you might as well make it a full-strength variation on an Old-Fashioned.” Very persuasive. Pickup only. 1141 Aviation Blvd., Hermosa Beach, (424) 452-6266, barshalife.com
Like so many caterers, Yonette Alleyne — who specializes in dishes from Guyana, a country on South America’s northern coast with close cultural ties to the Caribbean — had to reinvent her business model in a blur last year. She currently sets up regularly at two farmers markets, Crenshaw on Saturdays and Atwater Village on Sundays, and delivers throughout the metro area on Fridays. Her oxtail stew, savory-sweet in its umber depths, is a spectacular weekend meal: It comes nestled against rice and pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk, sweet plantains and sauteed vegetables. Alleyne follows a plant-based diet, and her vegan curry, aglow in freshly ground spices, is among the best meat-free dishes I know in Los Angeles. For dessert, home in on the triangular Guyanese tarts filled with pineapple jam.
Who can imagine what life will be like by the time the winter holidays arrive, but set your calendar reminders now to order Alleyne’s seasonal pepperpot (a meaty stew derived from Guyana’s aboriginal traditions flavored with cassareep, a complex molasses-like condiment based on cassava root) and her rum-scented black cake. Pickup or delivery. caribbeangourmet.co
Mei Lin suspended operations at her Arts District showcase restaurant Nightshade soon after the March 2020 shutdown, but she spent the year launching a new project: a takeout window in a Virgil Village strip mall centered around her precision-engineered Szechuan fried chicken sando. The bun is little more than a mitt with which to grip a rippling, extra-crisp mass of battered thigh meat. A lightly dressed slaw of red cabbage, sliced red pepper and cilantro lightens the heft and cools the palate, although optional pickled chiles lurk for bursts of heat. Five levels of heat range from zero to extreme: “Hot” leaves your head tingling without blowing it off, and “medium” accentuates a hint of sweetness in the coating. Chicken tenders with dipping sauces and a side of fries round out the menu, but everyone’s here for the sandwich. Daybird opened this month and so far lines are usually longest around its noon opening time. Pickup only. 240 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, daybirdla.com
5 Stars Hue
One weekend in early October, I attempted to make a micro-dent in the restaurants on my list to try in Orange County’s Little Saigon community. I posted an Insta pic of bánh ít kẹp bánh ram (also seen on menus as bánh ít ram or banh ram ít), a dual-textured dumpling of glutinous rice dough encasing shrimp and pork perched atop a disc of lacy fried dough. It crackles, it squishes, it bursts; it’s awesome. Kim Dao and Hong Pham, the married pair behind the Ravenous Couple blog, left a comment urging me to try the “mind-blowing version” at 5 Stars Hue, a small but growing chain of restaurants located throughout the SGV.
As the name suggests, its menu focuses on dishes native to Hue, the city in central Vietnam with a long imperial history. Sure enough, the banh ram ít were even more extreme in their crisp-soft contrasts and lifted off in flavor with a generous hit of nuoc mam cham. To round out the meal: bún bò huế, the spicy beef noodle soup with scarlet broth and ruby blood cakes as soft as tofu, designed to be customized with herbs and lime and tangles of fresh and fried onions. Pickup or delivery. 10053 Valley Blvd., El Monte, (626) 579-3988, and other locations, fivestarshue.com
Even in takeout mode, lavish versions of brisket remain Freedman’s centerpiece dish. It’s one of three weekly entree choices for family meals that the restaurant offers via Tock on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Other rotating options — lasagna layered with winter vegetables and matzo, miso salmon with borscht and crème fraiche — ingeniously cull Jewish Americana flavors. Still, I’m here for the brisket. Some weeks, chef Ryan Costanza brushes it with red wine glaze and serves it with rye bread, horseradish cream and carrots for an Ashkenazi-inspired feast; other times he smokes and then braises the meat and pairs it with a mix of spinach and white beans sparked with mint. Abundant sides include matzo ball soup, latkes, a bitter-herb salad that winks at Passover Seder and sesame challah. They give the spread a homey sense of occasion.
Eating solo? A la carte options include a standup Reuben; vegetarians can order one made with smoked portobello mushroom. Pickup and limited delivery. 2619 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 500-0916, freedmansla.com
If your senses are deadened from isolation (or for so many other possible reasons these days), an order of tom yum goong might help bring you back. The herbs in the soup — lemongrass, galangal, a smattering of makrut leaves — waft up and merge into a woodsy-limey perfume. The scent hovers around the bowl as you slurp the broth, silky from cream, and you relish the snap of shrimp and oyster mushrooms against your teeth. Occasionally a slick of roasted chile paste hits your taste buds, and for a moment the brain lights up with the sort of pleasurable alarm you feel upside down on a roller coaster. It abates, but you want more.
The same pleasure stays with you while twirling a forkful of smoky pad kee mao, with bits of crackly pork belly tangled in the translucent noodles, then savoring chicken and Thai eggplants submerged in green curry that’s powerfully aromatic in its own right.
Chef Wedchayan “Deau” Arpapornnopparat and beverage ace Tongkamal “Joy” Yuon met nearly 15 years ago when they worked at Chan Dara. They first joined professional forces to create a line of natural sweeteners made from fruits and herbs, but their partnership peaks in this downtown takeout window serving beautifully rendered versions of classic Thai soups, noodle dishes and stir-fries. Traffic is hell along this stretch of Los Angeles Street; a few minutes of illegal parking may be in order. The food warrants the gamble. 718 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, (213) 559-4994, holybasildtla.com
At first I didn’t realize Suzanne Tracht’s Beverly Grove institution was back open for outdoor dining: When I clicked on the reservation app for a recent Saturday night, it showed no slots available. Arriving later to pick up my to-go order, I understood it was because every distanced table along the sidewalk and tucked into canvas tents had been booked. Tracht’s proven Euro-Americana brand of comfort food brought the same cheer to a meal at home. Her signature pot roast with horseradish scored, but so did a fortifying coq au vin smoky with bacon; green garlic soup hearkening to spring; and three desserts — chocolate pudding, butterscotch pudding and banana pie with caramel sauce — that harmonized in the key of cream. Pickup and delivery. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566, thejar.com
At this new fast-casual Palestinian restaurant in View Park-Windsor Hills, it would be easy enough to settle on the falafel sandwich with its prisms of crisp and crunch or on the soothing shakshuka. The starriest jewels of the menu, though, hide in plain sight. One of the them is emsakhan, more commonly Anglicized as musakhan — spice-speckled, roasted chicken set over pita and smothered in onions stained purple from sumac. Its sunny, lemony flavors are good medicine. Sita’s original chicken comes on a bed of hashweh, rice enriched with beef, mushrooms and baharat (a spice blend that includes cumin, cardamom and black pepper). “J-kooba,” fried kibbeh spheres filled with chopped beef, have a meatier texture than the Lebanese and Syrian versions of the dish found in Southland restaurants. Condiments here are important, particularly shatta (red or green chile sauces) and thick yogurt.
Jasmine Othman runs the operation with her brother, Mo. Their parents, Sami and Maria Othman, established the small local chain of Orleans & York Deli, though these days they’re also often in Jerusalem Chicken’s kitchen overseeing the interpretations of family recipes. Pickup. 4448 W. Slauson Ave., Windsor Hills, (323) 903-6280, restaurantji.com/ca/view-park-windsor-hills/jerusalem-chicken-/
For a couple of years, Ludo Lefebvre has been thinking about interpreting his version of Paris’ late-night kebab culture for Los Angeles. He never could have dreamed prepandemic that he’d run a pop-up version of the idea in the former location of Trois Mec, which he closed in July. Ludobab gently crosses culinary wires. Meats sizzle over wood fire, absorbing smoke and blackening at the edges. Vadouvan marinade spices lamb, Dijon accents chicken, and a vegetarian kebab channels ratatouille. The easiest way to approach a meal is by ordering the house plate — which includes one kebab, hummus, rice, pita and sauce of choice (the tzatziki-like “white sauce” stands out) — and adding an à la carte kebab or two if you’re hungry or two people want to share. The vanilla rice pudding with nougatine and salted caramel is straight from Lefebvre’s Petit Trois next door and is excellent. Pickup or delivery. 716 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 484-8588, ludobab.com
In the 90 seconds I was in Hiroyuki and Kyoko Naruke’s top-drawer downtown sushi place to retrieve dinner — two boxes wrapped in tissue-thin furoshiki — their solemn greetings brought back the calm, intense tone they create in their dining room. The at-home omakase is the stuff of special occasions, no question: It costs $400 for two people. The spread of edomae sushi is appropriately swoon-worthy. One box contains meticulously sliced nigiri made from Japanese seafood; akazu (aged, umami-rich red vinegar) stains rice the color of dried blood. More sushi fills the second box, as does chirashi overlaid with aquatic treasures: uni from Hokkaido and Santa Barbara, hairy dab, steamed abalone, and little piles of salmon roe and caviar. Save the sweetened tamagoyaki for last, imagining that Chef Hiro (as regulars call him) is handing it to you across the bar as a finale, nodding at you with his sly smile. Available Thursday to Sunday; pickup only. 521 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 225-6285, qsushila.com
Fans mourned when Junya Yamasaki closed Koya, his heralded London restaurant, in 2015 to return to his native Japan for a few years of refocusing. He had been quietly working toward opening a restaurant and wine bar in downtown Los Angeles when (you guessed it) the pandemic stalled his plans. In the interim he’s running a traffic-cone-orange food truck parked near the corner of Mateo Street and 7th Street called Yess Aquatic. The pared-down menu concentrates on seafood fished from local waters; Yamasaki’s Instagram account shows pictures of him in wetsuits, holding up spiny lobsters or a just-caught seabream off the shores of Santa Cruz. He transforms them into precise, austere sashimi salads; sandwiches full of textures and contrasts that frame the freshness of battered fish or bouncy prawns; and a fish curry made with a distilled, perfumed seafood stock that finds kinship with bouillabaisse. It’s a persuasive prelude to what Yamasaki could further bring to L.A. dining. 2001 E. 7th St., Los Angeles, yessaquatic.com
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