Chelou means ‘unexpected,’ and its modern bistro menu doesn’t fail to surprise

Bar Chelou has taken over the restaurant space adjacent to the Pasadena Playhouse, serving global, modern bistro fare.
Bar Chelou has taken over the restaurant space adjacent to the Pasadena Playhouse, serving global, modern bistro fare.
(Wonho Frank Lee / Bar Chelou)

Bar Chelou

Modern bistro Bar Chelou is now open in Pasadena, bringing clam toasts, morcilla “cigars,” a vegetarian take on steak au poivre, and boudin blanc with Japanese curry to the space next to the historic Pasadena Playhouse. Chef-owner Douglas Rankin (formerly of Bar Restaurant, Trois Mec and Petit Trois) and Whole Cluster Hospitality (Dunsmoor) recently took over the restaurant that was formerly Saso and launched a global take on the French bistro.

“Chelou,” French for “unexpected” or “weird,” builds on European classics in shareable and surprising formats — a shredded-carrot salad in a pile with coconut dressing, lime leaf and a covering of shoestring potatoes, say, or crispy-skinned trout, served butterflied over corn rice and a tie-dye-like swirl of chive oil. Chelou offers Rankin more room to play with format, he says, and also a new chance after the closure of Bar Restaurant, which shuttered in June last year and left the chef unmoored.

“At the time, it was a really hard thing when the restaurant closed,” he said. “For me, it was emotional and we had gone through so much and the team had stayed together. So it was really rough, and I really wasn’t ready to do that right away.”

Bar Chelou has taken over the restaurant space adjacent to the Pasadena Playhouse, serving global, modern bistro fare.
(Wonho Frank Lee / Bar Chelou)

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After its closure, Rankin says that a number of restaurant groups offered possible collaborations, which he dismissed — but eventually, one got through. One of Rankin’s former line cooks, now working with Whole Cluster, called regarding the restaurant group; initially brought on to consult, then open his own restaurant, Rankin felt a kinship with the team. “We are exactly aligned in how we want to run the business in terms of equality,” he said. The new restaurant’s tips are pooled between back and front of house — atypical in a traditional restaurant setting — and leadership is encouraging growth within their ranks.

He especially feels a closeness to the group’s Taylor Parsons, who oversees Bar Chelou’s beverage program and whom he views as “old guard,” like himself, coming up through decades of more traditional, rigid hospitality systems. “We’re trying to reshape the way things have been for us, like through our career that was negative — people treating us like s-, or super long workdays for no reason — abusive situations, I would say. We’re really trying to correct that and and still create places where people are thriving and growing in their roles,” Rankin says.

Bar Chelou is open Tuesday to Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m.; menu expansions are in the works, as is patio service.

37 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 808-4976,

Villa’s Tacos

Victor Villa’s labor-of-love taco stand has been drawing lines down various blocks of Highland Park since 2018, and now Villa’s Tacos — one of the L.A. Times’ 101 Best Restaurants of 2022 — has landed its first bricks-and-mortar. The Villa’s Tacos restaurant opened this week in a strip mall on Figueroa Street, serving Villa’s signature and singular tacos that pile blue corn tortillas with nopales, grilled steak, chicken, beans, chorizo, soyrizo and potatoes, all available cradled by a lacing of crispy cheese as a quesotaco, or as mulitas. The new restaurant is dedicated to Villa’s grandfather, Alberto Pineda Celis, whom Villa tells The Times was like his best friend. On Figueroa, the setup allows for takeout only, though two alfresco picnic tables offer casual seating, open Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. The taco stand, a regular fixture along nearby York Boulevard, will remain in operation, according to Villa.

5455 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles,

An exterior photo of a restaurant space in a strip mall with a blue-and-red sign reading "Villa's Tacos Los Angeles"
Villa’s Tacos, maker of some of L.A.’s best tacos, now has a bricks-and-mortar shop on Figueroa in Highland Park.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Afuri Ramen Culver

This summer, the Arts District ramen specialist is expanding to Culver City. Afuri Ramen launched along the Tanzawa mountains in Japan in 2001 before opening locations in Portland, Ore., and, in 2021, Los Angeles. Notable for its use of mountain water for its broth both in Japan and the U.S., the chain serves ramen with broths such as yuzu, tonkotsu and spicy miso, as well as crispy gyoza, karaage, agedashi tofu and stuffed bao. In late July, Afuri will launch its second L.A. ramen shop on the ground floor of the Culver City Steps development project in a 3,000-square-foot space with the same menu as its Arts District counterpart, including a full bar program. Afuri will open in Culver City daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. A future location, near Pomona, is in the works.

9300 Culver Blvd., Culver City,

Correa’s Market

Edgar Nava opened his mariscos stall in 2017, operating out of his uncle’s long-standing Lincoln Heights carniceria. Last year, he says their landlord of nearly 20 years requested a rent hike from $1,800 to $4,000, leaving Nava and his uncle with a difficult choice. “It was really unexpected to me, and we took on the decision to close down,” Nava said, “to no longer be, or to no longer be at that spot.” Nava instead began hunting for a new space and popping up as a weekly vendor at Smorgasburg. Now, he’s readying his new bricks-and-mortar mariscos location — roughly half a mile from his previous site. Staying in the neighborhood was of utmost importance for the family, who moved to the area in 2003 and wanted to remain serving the community with their tacos dorados, tostadas, ceviches and aguachiles. After a brief opening, operations are currently paused due to permitting, but Nava hopes to launch the new Correa’s Mariscos later this month or in March, complete with limited indoor seating and a patio. Taking over what was Art’s Coffee Shop will give Nava a larger kitchen and room for more equipment, which means an expanded menu. Nava anticipates adding meat tacos and other items to the menu in collaboration with his uncle, Marcos the butcher, plus salads and breakfast burritos. Pending a license transfer, they hope to serve micheladas and beer and wine and stay open later. Correa’s Market will first open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; hours are expected to expand in the future.

1917 Zonal Ave., Los Angeles,

An overhead, vertical closeup of a brisket taco, served on a flour tortilla and topped with cheese and pico de gallo.
One of the offerings at Heritage’s second restaurant is the brisket taco, served on new house-made flour tortillas.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Heritage Brewery & Barbecue

One of the L.A. Times’ 101 Best Restaurants of 2022 just expanded with a second spot, riffing on its signature smoked meats with more composed plates and snackable bar food. San Juan Capistrano’s Heritage Barbecue recently debuted Heritage Brewery & Barbecue in Oceanside, unveiling even more vehicles for pitmaster and co-owner Daniel Castillo’s Texas-style but globally inspired barbecue, plus house beers brewed by Mike Aubuchon (formerly of Pizza Port). Whereas the original Heritage focuses on trays piled with sliced meat and a rotation of sides, the new restaurant features tacos served on new house-made, beef-fat flour tortillas; a range of sandwiches, including a hearty smoked brisket burger; Texas-chili-topped fries or nachos; Sunday brunch; classic sides; cocktails; boozy slushies; and more. Heritage Brewery & Barbecue is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

2002 S. Coast Hwy., Oceanside,