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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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CultureFood & DrinkGood Taste: Falling in love with LA's food scene

Good Taste: Falling in love with LA’s food scene

An all-pink taqueria, a punk cafe in a vintage arcade, a restaurant in a dispensary and more spots that spark joy.

Welcome back to Good Taste! We normally focus primarily on the Bay Area, but this week, I’m sending a postcard from Los Angeles, where I also spend a lot of time covering the food scene. Here are some recommendations that I think both Northern and Southern Californians would enjoy visiting when looking for a little more than just tasty food.

 A wall at Pink & Boujee
Pink glitter cappuccino and heart-shaped mulita at Pink & Boujee

Pink & Boujee

Every day is Valentine’s Day at the super cute, year-old Latina-owned taqueria known as Pink & Boujee in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Stop in for breakfast or lunch and sip pink glitter cappuccinos and eat heart-shaped pancakes, mulitas, aquas frescas in giant Capri Sun-type pouches, and more cute items. It’s unapologetically all pink everything in here, and even though I wear all-black pretty much every day, it didn’t take much convincing to try on a fuzzy pink cowboy hat and take a picture. What a lovely place to find some joy! 1908 First Street, Boyle Heights

Mushroom and veggie bowl at Le Great Outdoor

Le Great Outdoor

Los Angeles is a good place to eat outside most of the time (when it’s not apocalyptically raining, as it was last week). Opened in January 2023, Le Great Outdoor is a healthy outdoor restaurant located at the Bergamot Station Arts Center, a creative arts complex that’s certainly not just for tourists, but is a particularly good stop for those who want to take in some art while in the area. 

Despite its upscale environs, I like that Le Great Outdoor is independently owned by two friends, Rudy Beuve and Pedro Mori, and isn’t some corporate chain hogging this beautiful space. I hear the menu gets fancier and a bit pricier at night, so that’s maybe more of a splurge, but I would go back for another sunny mushroom and veggie bowl, sandwich, or salad during the day for sure. 2525 Michigan Avenue A3, Santa Monica

A booth at Lucky Mizu
Seiro meshi steamed seafood set at Lucky Mizu
Faux stickers on Ray Garcia’s The Brown Sheep

Level 8

The youthful and clubby Moxy Hotel in downtown Los Angeles (commonly abbreviated as DTLA) opened last April and debuted Level 8, an unfathomably huge floor with eight restaurants and bars, in September. A few weeks before it opened, I got an invitation to dine at Lucky Mizu, a beautiful shabu shabu and seiro meshi (steamed cooking) restaurant, and got a tour of an incredible carousel bar out by the pool as well as Sinners y Santos, a Lucha Libre-themed, DJ-driven bar from the over-the-top Houston Brothers, who are well-known in Los Angeles for their elaborate establishments. I also got a peek at Qué Bárbaro and The Brown Sheep, which are, respectively, a restaurant and late-night taco truck from acclaimed Los Angeles chef Ray Garcia.

I haven’t even gotten to experience everything on Level 8 yet, but I have been recommending it all as a place to explore in DTLA before or after a concert or event in the area. There are a dizzying amount of options for drinking, grazing, or a leisurely sit-down meal, whether or not you’re actually staying at the Moxy for the night. 1254 S. Figueroa Street, DTLA

The Poltergeist menu
Vegan burger from the Button Mash bar menu

Poltergeist

Another year-old spot, this one in the Echo Park area, Poltergeist is what I think of as an experimental punk cafe situated inside of Button Mash, a bar with vintage arcade games, pinball, skee-ball and some crazy Pac-Man “Chompionship” game that I’ve never seen, and I thought I was a connoisseur! Chef Diego Argoti has the kind of culinary imagination that would be well-appreciated in the Bay Area and works both on paper and on the plate. I can confirm that dishes such as honey walnut New Caledonian blue prawns with celeriac Kewpie, candied walnuts, horchata panna cotta, and crispy rice salad as well as tres leches carrot cake with purple carrot sponge cake, cream cheese Bavarian, carrot top tapioca, and Thai iced tea sorbet taste as good as they sound.

Poltergeist isn’t a quiet place to eat; there’s a cacophony of people having fun, pinball and game noises, and loud music that isn’t for everyone, but it sure is for me. I’ve been following Argoti’s work for a few years since he held his chaotic, DJ-powered Estrano pop-ups in the Button Mash parking lot during the pandemic, and love that you’ll learn the name of everyone in the back of the house on the Poltergeist menu — many of his colleagues started volunteering with him during the Estrano events.

I just learned the other night that the Poltergeist menu stops at 9 p.m., but Argoti also designed the bar menu that’s available at Button Mash all night. Items are not as elaborate-sounding, but don’t be fooled: there’s still tons of technique and labor behind them. We ravished a vegan burger with a patty made of mushroom duxelles, which is traditionally a French dish made with minced shrooms, and a bowl of thick yet crispy Parmesan fries with garlic confit and aioli. 1391 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park

Moving projections outside of Irie and PleasureMed
Beef nduja pizza and Zombae Abduction at Irie

Irie

West Hollywood is the first place in Southern California to welcome cannabis dispensaries with elaborate consumption lounges and restaurants, and it’s an enjoyable place to go now if you want to have a little weedy holiday or daytrip in the United States. I was delighted to be invited to Irie at PleasureMed, a lounge, restaurant, and dispensary which opened in October from the minds behind the old-school West Hollywood sex-positive shop, the Pleasure Chest. That’s next door, as is their new Hind cocktail bar, for alcohol and cannabis can’t be served on the same premises. 

Irie has a “flight attendant” for pairing prerolled joints and THC-infused beverages with non-infused but high-level Scooby snacks — we paired a beef nduja pizza with fontina cheese with a Zombae Abduction preroll, and it was a fun way to spend a meal. Note that cannabis products are cash-only at Irie and in the downstairs shop, but the regular food can be paid for with a credit card, a little bit of a confusing rule in order to satisfy city requirements. In addition to Hind, Pleasuremed has a third neighboring space for the food menu and alcoholic beverages, as well. 7715 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood

Tamara is the publisher of California Eating and the founder of the new online Music Book Club.

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