Meet the LA Restaurants That Miraculously Opened During Coronavirus
Sushi. Fried chicken fingers. Lots of bread. Let’s review.
To keep tabs on every Los Angeles restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past 30 days. Let’s eat.
Opening a restaurant in good times is a risky proposition. Opening one now, when no one can dine in and spread the good word on social media, must feel like sailing into a storm without a rudder.
But we all need food, and not just because it sustains us. Food can also lift spirits: carbohydrates increase the body’s capacity to create serotonin, which quite literally makes us happier. In fact, most of the body’s feel-good hormones are created in the gut; hence why we “eat our feelings” and have “gut” reactions. Celiacs notwithstanding, most of us with intolerances to gluten can sidestep them with bread made the old way, using organic grains and a long fermentation process that reduces the amount of gluten.
Several bakers have emerged as of late doing just that, and they are featured in this Table Stakes alongside keto-friendly sushi, fusion burritos and the best box of fried chicken west of the Mississippi. You may not be able to dine-in, but you can still dine well via pickup and delivery, and doing so will support our talented culinary community at the time when they need us most.
That it’s housed in a historic church that first opened during the Great Depression makes Tartine’s new Santa Monica bakery somewhat timely. While you won’t be able to take advantage of the stunningly remodeled sanctuary or its charming patio, Tartine is still serving the hungry and stir-crazed, who queue up six feet apart down the sidewalk outside. The chapel was a funeral home for a spell, too; now it’s raising the bread, a rustic rye-sourdough variety that’s chewy and sturdy enough to take on your messiest sandwich creations. Flaky croissants, sweet bundt cakes and glistening tarts are all welcome diversions from the bad news cycle as well. Plus: a to-go case with rotisserie chicken, roasted veggies and a turkey club that comes with crisp romaine, a ranch-like sauce and fried chicken skin that packs an umami crunch.
A gluten-free bakery that started at farmer’s markets, Breadblok has now opened their first brick-and-mortar store. They’re not doing delivery, but if gluten gives you trouble, these folks make a solid alternative for pickup. The quiche has to be the most impressive dish; it’s every bit as delicate and flakey as a glutenous version. The rye and the sourdough hold up when used for a sandwich, and they freeze well, thus extending their life.
Camilla Gibson moved to L.A. to become a cinematographer and along the way started baking bread. After friends convinced her to sell it, she posted up at her boyfriend’s shop, The Love Shack, a roadside furniture store in Venice. Now she has an online business that delivers around the beachy hood and is available for pickup. Order online ahead of time to ensure that she’s not sold out before you get there. Her sourdough comes with a really crisp crust but an interior chewiness that’s slightly salty, which is great for morning toast or to dip in soups. The rye sourdough has a spongy density ideal for sandwiches and has a complex nutty flavor that flourishes over the course of the week. She says this loaf will last three weeks in a paper bag outside of the fridge, with its flavor growing more interesting over the duration. To fully soothe your soul, order her pillowy cinnamon rolls — great served warm with that lazy Sunday morning coffee.
Chris’ Dippin’ Chicken
Chris’ Drippin’ Chicken reminds me in a lot of ways of Bojangles, a southern chicken-and-biscuits chain. Some of this can be attributed to the folded box that houses the palm-sized tenders over a bed of fries. But it’s mostly the manner in which the chicken is fried, how it’s more crunch and bird than bread, and how it’s seasoned. Bojangles uses Cajun spices; Chef Chris Requena relies on either pastrami or lemon-pepper seasoning (or no seasoning), which he cribs from his other role as Wexler’s Deli Executive Chef. This concept is being rolled out through Wexler’s locations, and is thusly available throughout town. You get to pick between a few sauces. The ranch has a nice dill flavor and the Sawtelle is essentially a thick lemon aioli that’s also great with French fries. They sell a massive dark chocolate chip cookie that is burnt around the edges and grows softer and richer as you reach its center.
Chef Ei Hiroyoshi was the head sushi chef at Sasabune, which is credited as LA’s original omakase spot. So as he launches Skinny Fish, a delivery-only concept specializing in sushi and keto-friendly bowls made with cauliflower rice over the staple grain, he quips, tongue-in-cheek, that it could get him disowned by the master sushi chef he trained under. Sushi rice is cut a specific way, and then boiled using vinegar. Hiroyoshi does his with cauliflower, a process that took him countless iterations before getting the plant to resemble the grain. However, it paid off. Hiroyoshi has elevated the cruciferous keto trend tenfold, with visually stunning, keto-friendly bowls full of thinly sliced salmon or tuna, radish and greens and the previously mentioned cauliflower rice. The rolls are tight, bite-sized versions with a little dollop of cream cheese to smooth them out.
Westwood, Playa Vista, Downtown, WeHo, Hollywood
The folks behind Tocoyana and Toca Madera have rolled out (or up?) a new burrito concept called Burrito Locos that appears to be the most ideal stoner food ever furled in tortilla. As their landing page bluntly proclaims: We Roll Fatties. Despite the wild flavors, this joint uses all-natural and organic ingredients, meaning that the flavors in the “Diablo” hot fried chicken and “Beyond Ridiculous” veggies don’t rely on intense spices alone.