It’s no secret that L.A. is full of some of the country’s top restaurants and some of the world’s most renowned chefs, and while we’re all about fine dining and splurge-worthy menus, we’re also about finding great, inexpensive meals that take you to all corners of the globe. It’s easy for some of the smaller spots to get buried by news of big openings, so here’s a guide to a few of the best new, quality quick-and-casual restaurants to put on your radar.
What comes to mind when you think of French food? Bistro fare, laminated pastries and decadent desserts, most likely, but there’s a go-to comfort food the French truly love, and it’s been staring you in the face, sitting on your grocer’s shelves and waiting in the bulk section: couscous. France’s centuries-old conquest of Tunisia brought these tiny, delicate steamed balls of wheat to their country, and it’s been a staple ever since. Served with aromatic stocks, harissa and roasted vegetables, the French created a style all their own, and you can now find it in a tiny fast-casual spot in DTLA. Lionel Pigeard’s Palikao offers standard, whole wheat and gluten-free couscous, all of which you can top with a daily-rotating selection of nine or so vegetables, plus meatballs, matzo, chicken tagine, broth, herbs and more. Grab some house-made harissa and pickled vegetables from the refrigerated section and craft some couscous magic in your own home later. (Oh, and in true French fashion, there’s also a full coffee bar.)
Authentic Indonesian food now has a home in Glendale, tucked in quietly along the city’s busiest stretch. Mira and Rebecca Setiabudhi’s new restaurant is minimalist in its design but intricate in flavor, bringing curries, house-made tempeh, oxtail soups, grilled whole fish, avocado smoothies and a slew of satays, all with depth. Can’t decide what to order? Go for the rijsttafel, or "rice table," a traditional sampling of popular dishes and a meal that dates back to Indonesia’s years as a Dutch colony. Order this and expect chicken curry, vegetables in coconut broth, garlicky potato cakes and more.
This Highland Park Trio
The Northeast L.A. neighborhood’s seen nothing short of a recent restaurant boom. Along Figueroa alone, within the last few months we’ve in Highland Park seen the opening of tropical-cocktail-slinging, Mediterranean-inspired shared-plates haven Checker Hall; neighborhood market and deli Cookbook, sibling to the Echo Park concept; Japanese izakaya and robataya, RBTA (which just so happened to launch new donburi lunch specials this week); and the freshly opened Blind Barber’s "backroom," a sleek cocktail bar hidden behind a trendy barber shop. But perhaps most exciting of all is this trio of quick-and-casual concepts that just opened within one block of each other, all worth repeat visits in their own right:
First came TOPO, Kitchen Mouse’s new bakery and deli, which sits beside the beloved vegan cafe. You’ll recognize it by the giant space invader on the facade near the door, and you’ll be bowled over by what waits inside: an all-vegan menu that includes some killer cookies (don’t skip the orange, almond and olive oil variety), not to mention sandwiches on house-baked bread. Look for the caprese (sporting house-made cashew burrata cheese, naturally), and the mushroom pate bành mí, with golden raisins and pickled veggies. Grab whole loaves of fresh bread to-go, cookies and cupcakes from the pastry case, and salads and prepared meals from the fridge—and remember, everything’s vegan.
Then came Mason’s Dumpling Shop, an authentic dumpling and bao outpost of Monrovia’s Luscious Dumplings. This fast-casual sister restaurant serves fried, steamed and boiled pockets of hand-rolled dough packed with fresh pork, chives, shrimp, tofu, broth, fish, leeks, you-name-it. All dumplings are handmade daily, and they sell out fast. Get there early, and don’t forget the house-made seaweed salad or lotus root in chili oil, either.
Last week saw the launch of the hotly anticipated Triple Beam Pizza, and every slice is worth the hype. Brought to us by an all-star lineup of Mozza’s Nancy Silverton; E.R.B. (and former Mozza) chef Matt Molina; and the owners of Silverlake Wine and E.R.B., this Roman-style pizzeria scissors-cuts pieces and charges you by the ounce. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the five-or-so varieties, but the patate (with potatoes, fontina, truffled cheese and rosemary) is worth a drive across the city. There’s also beer and wine, plus a great little patio for your dining bliss. Keep an eye out for a neighboring, forthcoming full-service restaurant—also fronted by Molina—plus a Highland Park location of Go Get ’Em Tiger. With all these great new restaurants and bars moving in, maybe it’s time to consider a move to Highland Park yourself.