A new restaurant from one of L.A.’s wildest chefs opens inside a video game arcade
The chef behind L.A.’s wild, irreverent, lines-around-the-block pasta pop-up Estrano Things is opening a new restaurant inside the beloved Echo Park arcade and bar Button Mash. Diego Argoti ran a series of collaborative pop-ups in the space last fall. His latest — Poltergeist — is meant to be a departure from his popular pasta-focused alleyway appearances.
“The heart and the feeling of it is definitely there,” said Argoti, who also had worked at Bestia and Bavel. “The style of whatever people are calling it — chaos cooking or fusion or my troll-y mashups of different things I see on TikTok or that I want to cook or things I grew up with — it’s me. It’s very Asian-Italian, kind of a play on ’90s fusion.”
Poltergeist launches Friday and is meant to feel slightly more sophisticated than the one-off but still thoughtfully devised noodle dishes eaten out of disposable bowls on the street; this menu is built to last, but still built to play with format and flavor. The menu is grouped into small, medium and large plates to encourage sharing and sampling, with options such as honey walnut shrimp that involves a horchata-inspired take on panna cotta, while the Caesar leans Thai with ample lemongrass and puffed rice “croutons.” There’s game hen stuffed with chicken-gizzard dirty rice; panang lamb neck; vegan green curry bucatini with pistachio gremolata; and an off-menu dish of lamb chops with fried prawn heads, sautéed morning glory and mint tapioca — Argoti’s take on surf and turf — to round out the larger plates. He’s taking over the space and hoping to make noise doing it: a culinary poltergeist filling the dining room half of Button Mash beginning this weekend.
The Poltergeist menu will be available at the dine-in tables and booths of the space, while Argoti’s existing bar menu (with options such as a chile crisp burger, ricotta gnocchi, and Korean fried cauliflower) will still be available throughout the rest, as well as during the day on weekends, prior to Poltergeist dinner service. This marks a new culinary beginning for Button Mash, which closed with an uncertain future during the pandemic. Its previous kitchen tenants include Starry Kitchen (a former L.A. Times 101 list honoree) as well as a more recent stint from Tacos 1986, but co-owner Jordan Weiss says Poltergeist feels like a return to the format and weirdness that Button Mash does best.
“This is a place that was conceived foremost as a restaurant, and was designed this way, with a real dining room,” he said. “I think it’s something we kind of got away from. We wanted people to be here and be excited here, and [Argoti’s pop-ups] were a friendly reminder that people like weird stuff here. That’s what works here.”
Argoti still plans on popping up as Estrano Things in the future, but starting this week he’s haunting the arcade. Poltergeist will be open Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight.
1391 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 250-9903, instagram.com/eatpoltergeist
Arroz and Fun
This month the family behind Eagle Rock’s Chifa and Arcadia’s new Monarch opened a third restaurant, this time a Lincoln Heights cafe that marries Asian and Latin flavor in the former Gamboge space. “If you look at the history of Chinese and Latin immigrants, they kind of all connected in Northeast L.A., so we wanted to celebrate,” said co-owner Rica Leon. “And I’m Chinese Peruvian; we wanted to bring that whole culture together.” The Leon family relocated from Peru to East L.A. in 1977; they riff on Chinese and Peruvian flavor at Chifa and modern Cantonese and Taiwanese dishes at Monarch, but at Arroz and Fun — translating to “rice and noodles” — they offer a more casual menu with breakfast options such as savory oatmeal with mushroom, and egg-and-cheese sandwiches on sweet-savory pineapple buns (spam or bacon optional).
The lunch menu includes kabocha congee, pollo guisado, cold sesame noodle bowls and salpicon salad, with the food program helmed by Monarch and Chifa chef — and Rica Leon’s husband — John Liu. Their son, Jarod Wang, oversees the cafe, while his girlfriend, Gardi Rosales, roasts coffee under her label Cipota Coffee and fashions drinks such as espresso with lychee purée and tamarind. The cafe also serves small-batch loose-leaf Chinese teas from Tea Drunk, and Taiwanese beer. Arroz and Fun is open Tuesday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; plans for extended days and hours of operation, as well as evening service with beer and wine, are in the works.
1822 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, instagram.com/arrozandfun_la
Bang Bang Noodles
One of the Eastside’s most popular street food pop-ups now has a bricks-and-mortar stall in Culver City. Chef Robert Lee began slapping, pulling and boiling his handmade biang biang noodles on the sidewalks of Highland Park in 2019, offering the traditional noodle bowls and other specialties of the Shaanxi province, made here with a bit of showmanship. He and his brother, owner Nelson Lee, expanded the operation with a pop-up downtown as well, but this month landed a space within Citizen Public Market food hall. “Street vending is super difficult because I have to constantly set up, break down and take it home and clean it, and somehow bring it back,” the chef said. “This whole process of having things set up and stationary was the dream to make everybody’s life easier and better.”
Having a permanent cook station has meant the capabilities for new items, too, such as mala-tinged, collaborative dumplings that Robert Lee makes with their mother, who is also responsible for Bang Bang’s various noodle sauces; and a seasonal agua fresca that adds Asian fruit to the Latin staple. In the future, the chef hopes to add Taiwanese beef rolls to the Culver menu as well. The downtown location is currently closed, serving more as a central prep kitchen for the team, and the Highland Park pop-ups are on pause. A return to the Eastside, ideally with a bricks-and-mortar location, is planned. Bang Bang Noodles is now open on the ground floor of Citizen Public Market on Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
9355 Culver Blvd., Suite J, Culver City, bangbangnoodlesla.com
Taco Bell Cantina
The first L.A.-area location of Taco Bell’s alcohol-serving cantina is now open in Hollywood, filling a space that once housed Old Hollywood-beloved Pickwick Books in the 1930s. Themed to its 1920s architecture, L.A.’s Taco Bell Cantina features a faux movie theater marquee inside, along with other trappings — such as Taco Bell-inspired movie posters — of a Hollywood theme. The food menu mirrors that of every Taco Bell, but from behind the six-seat bar, it will serve slushies in a rotation of flavors that can feature whiskey, rum, tequila or vodka beginning the first week of March. A small “taco shop” stand at the front of the restaurant, near the touchscreen ordering systems, will sell merchandise from the brand. Taco Bell Cantina is open in Hollywood from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
6741 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, tacobell.com
Re: Her returns
L.A.’s women-forward food fest is back in March with 10 days of events, cooking classes and special menus. From March 3-12 the Re: Her fest — from the eponymous L.A.-founded, national nonprofit — will amplify female chefs and women-owned restaurants across the region through a range of events such as a Molly Baz dinner at Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s Caldo Verde (March 3); a full day of hands-on cooking classes through Impastiamo, where chefs such as Friends and Family’s Roxana Jullapat will share tricks of pie making and other dishes (March 4); a five-course fundraiser at Rossoblu cooked by female chefs from Hatchet Hall, Guerrilla Tacos, Love & Salt and Rossoblu (March 8); and a Smorgasburg takeover, wherein the nonprofit’s members, guest chefs and retailers will set up booths at the weekly outdoor food fair (March 5).
Various locations, regardingherfood.com
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