My next leg took me to Sunset Junction, the hub of trendy Silver Lake north of Downtown Los Angeles, to lunch with Stacey Sun, executive director of dineL.A. (www.discoverlosangeles.com/eat-drink), the culinary marketing arm of Los Angeles Tourism.
We met at Scout (3707 W. Sunset Blvd. Tel: 323.451.9750. www.scoutsilverlake.com). Part of a trifold concept from renowned L.A. chef Beau Laughlin, this intimate California cafe connects to seafood-focused Sawyer Kitchen & Bar and adjoins rustic Italian-driven Kettle Black.
Scout’s “bits, bites, booze” menu includes picnic-ready artisanal foods and other products from L.A.-based purveyors including Bierknacker sausage, Donut Farm vegan donuts, and Bub & Grandma’s bread. The brownies and cookies are made in-house.
Seated in Sawyer’s idyllic backyard patio, we shared the warm red rice and kimchi, avocado toast topped with a seven-minute egg, and roasted mushroom banh mi sandwich.
Of Chinese descent, Sun’s passion for food is culturally ingrained. “It started with those 20-course banquets when I was growing up,” she mused with a smile. Discussing our L.A. roots, it turned out we went to the same high school.
“What L.A. does best is put our own spin on things,” said Sun. “That’s why you find fine dining in unassuming locations like strip malls and shopping centers. Breaking tradition and setting new contexts for diners, the quality is refined but the style is casual.”
Innovation is another hallmark. “Angelenos are very open-minded about food, which plays a big role in inspiring adventurous new menus,” she continued. “Chefs are not afraid to take risks. With access to the best produce in the country year-round, and so much market-driven food content, they are constantly exploring new frontiers. And food is a great way to market the city’s $36.6 billion tourism industry.”
Yet another trend is “old school meets new wave,” which Sun said is especially prevalent in Asian cuisine.
“Later-generation immigrants born and raised here are opening restaurants that incorporate influences from their upbringing with updated ideas,” she said. “Along with Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles, there’s an emerging Taiwanese and Szechuan presence in San Gabriel Valley areas like Alhambra and Monterey Park. Another example is former pop-up Porridge + Puffs (2801 Beverly Blvd. Tel: 213-908-5313. www.porridgeandpuffs.com) in Historic Filipinotown, where Chef Minh Phan puts an amazing spin on rice dishes.”
Sun named Middle Eastern sensation Bavel (500 Mateo Street. Tel: 213-232-4966. www.baveldtla.com) in Downtown’s Arts District as “the hottest” ticket in town right now.
L.A.-born married couple Ori Menashe and Genieve Gergis have family roots in Israel, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, and a sharing plate menu to match. Having experienced this same cross-regional mix at two other excellent restaurants, Saba in New Orleans and Byblos in Miami Beach, I had requested Bavel for my visit, but the scheduling did not work.
“Next time!” said Sun. “They offer a full menu at the bar, and their original restaurant, rustic Italian-influenced Bestia, is down the street and still going strong. About a mile away at Grand Central Market, Wexler’s updates the classic Jewish deli. Cross-border innovation defines L.A. like few other cities.”
Steps from Scout, Sunset Triangle Plaza is L.A.’s first pedestrian plaza. Protected by street-side planters, the green polka-dot painted surface offers movable tables and umbrellas and is flanked by graffiti art including a giant rendering of grizzled Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards. There was a weekly farmer’s market in full swing that day, and plaza-side eateries,
including Taiwanese restaurant Pine & Crane (1521 Griffith Park Boulevard. Tel: 323-668-1128. www.pineandcrane.com), were buzzing with locals.
“That’s another cute younger generation restaurant with counter service and great small plates like pan-fried pork buns and beef rolls and rice dishes such as three cup jidori chicken,” said Sun as she left me to explore more of Sunset Junction on my own.
Bustling with restaurants, bars and boutiques, the neighborhood has attracted comparisons to Brooklyn thanks in part to the Beastie Boys’ one-time residency here. Launched in 2014, Yeastie Boys Bagels (www.yeastieboysbagels.com) is L.A.’s first bagel truck.
Diverse dining includes Trois Familia, another Lefebvre-Shook-Dotolo concept serving a fusion of Mexican, French, and California breakfast and lunch dishes. Roo Silver Lake is an Australian coffee shop, and El Cochinito (The Little Pig), which has served award-winning Cuban food since 1988. Thai street food haven Night + Market Song is also here, along with Japanese-inspired Konbi and Filipino newcomer Ma’am Sir (4330 W Sunset Blvd. Tel: 323.741.8371. www.maamsirla.com). Named for the country’s customary tourism industry greeting, this lively concept from Manila-born chef Charles Olalia made GQ’s “Best New Restaurants in America” for 2019.
Olalia’s Michelin-starred resume includes Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and The French Laundry. His L.A. credentials include Michelin-starred Patina at Disney Hall and Downtown hole-in-the-wall fan favorite Ricebar.
Opened in 2018, Ma’am Sir offers an inviting, colorful space with hanging vines, big rattan lampshades, and groovy music. Joining the energetic happy hour crowd, I sat at the bar for my first-ever taste of Filipino food. I loved the Hangover Fried Rice, featuring Chinese sweet sausage and smoked fish topped with an egg. I’d also go back for the fire roasted mushrooms and HBD (Happy Birthday) fried chicken. Homestyle headliners include Pork Sisig, a sizzle of sweetbreads, serrano chilies, and calamansi citrus served hot in a cast-iron skillet.