How do you define the flavors of summertime in Los Angeles? As with any attempt to classify dining in L.A., it’s a trick question: There never needs to be one answer. One day your tastes may run to herb-filled summer rolls, icy paletas and kebabs grilled over charcoal in a parking lot; the next day finds you ordering a Double-Double Animal Style from In-N-Out at 12:30 a.m.
As Californians charge into a summer that for most of us couldn’t feel more different than a year ago, I’m catching up on new restaurants — some open for mere weeks, others that started off in takeout mode and are recalibrating to welcome diners indoors. These half-dozen places feel right to enjoy during the Fourth of July weekend: casual and comforting, with some flashes of brilliance, and ideal for lingering on a cloudless, 82-degree afternoon.
Moo’s Craft Barbecue
Four years after Andrew and Michelle Muñoz began hosting pop-ups in their East L.A. backyard, translating Central Texas barbecue traditions to Southern California, they’ve opened their first restaurant. You know it as soon as you reach its block of North Broadway in Lincoln Heights; the air is humid with the perfume of smoked meats.
Excellent barbecue requires constant vigilance, and the Muñozes are inching into full-time operations with limited Saturday and Sunday hours as they settle into the space. It’s an effective strategy. If you’ve ever known the specific altered state smoked brisket can induce — the intensity of flavors that plays with your brain chemistry, the delirium from textures that have you reaching for a spoon or forgoing utensils altogether — the beef at Moo’s can take you there. I love the hunks of tar-black bark scattered over for crunch.
Most groups order trays arranged in photogenic collages of meats and sides: pork ribs crusted with coarse black pepper; Michelle’s magnificent sausages filled with chiles and cheese (home in on the roasted poblano peppers and queso Oaxaca combo with its green tint); dilled potato salad; custardy mac and cheese; and sunny, limey esquites. Complimentary pickles are a small mercy for cutting the richness. Customers have figured out an early power move: Order draft beers separately from the bar while waiting in the queue. Gigil, a rice pilser from Burbank’s Trustworthy Brewing, has the right summery lightness.
The line for Moo’s is already drifting a few yards out the door. Expect it to only grow longer.
2118 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, (323) 379-3635, mooscraftbarbecue.com
The silver taco trailer run by taquero Walter Soto and tortilla master Julia Silva recently relocated from Boyle Heights to the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Descanso Drive in Silver Lake. It completes a golden triangle of dining: All Day Baby, Playita Mariscos, Spoon & Pork and coffee geek favorite Dayglow thrive at the same intersection. As El Ruso has settled into the next-level popularity it achieved over the last couple of years, its greatest contribution to L.A. has arguably been the sobaquera, a specialty of Silva’s native Sonora. A flour tortilla is stretched to the size of a hubcap, filled with meat and rolled like a burrito: Ask for it bundled with chile colorado, a thick beef stew whose spicy redness nearly bleeds through the tortilla and stains your mouth after every bite. It’s fantastic.
3140 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, elrusola.weebly.com
Auld Chip Shop
I had no idea how much I’d missed a properly poured Guinness until I was sipping its chocolatey coolness at one of Auld Chip Shop’s outside tables on a warm evening. As its name alludes, the 3-month-old Burbank restaurant aims to channel the Irish pub vibe. The menu bounces all over the place; focus on the fish and chips. Of the three piscine options — cod, haddock and rockfish, and the differences are indeed palpable under their bronzed batter — the good-natured staff tends to steer customers to haddock for its lightness. I’d suggest the cod for its flakier midweight savor. If there are two of you, order a piece of each and reach your own conclusion.
Fries can be entombed in toppings: Combinations like shepherd’s pie filling, cheese sauce and caramelized onions remind me of caloric blowouts I would indulge in during my adolescent summers. Now I’ll just dip them in garlic aioli and have a second Guinness.
4007 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 861-7777, instagram.com/auldchipshop
For the Win
The parade of new burgers in Los Angeles marches onward endlessly; I’ve kept pace with the latest entrants but also keep circling back to For the Win. Last summer Santos Uy made the decision to convert his edge-of-Hollywood-Hills bistro Papilles to a smashburger joint. It’s a classic formula that purrs from fine tuning: flat, crisped patties on a Martin’s potato roll with American cheese and a Thousand Island-ish sauce melting into oneness. Griddled onions dangle off the side like commas, reminding you to pause between bites. I make mine a double, sometimes with crackly bacon added, but its presence doesn’t feel crucial. This may sound heretical, but choose the crisp Brussels sprouts over the thin fries.
Columnist Jenn Harris included the restaurant in our recent roundup of great places to eat outside; the now-open inside dining room triples the number of tables. They’re frequently filled but turn quickly, and if you’re in a hurry, takeout remains an option.
6221 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 871-2026, forthewinla.com
In the Kitchen
In the Kitchen has been open for carry-out in Long Beach since February, but it’s uplifting to finally sit at one of Nora Tatum’s wood-planked tables and settle in for a spread inspired by family recipes: fried chicken smothered in peppery gravy; saucy, long-simmered oxtails; and, my favorite, righteously crisp fried catfish. Pulled chicken adds novel texture to mac and cheese, though I’m most partial to collard greens and cabbage. A sweet cornbread roll comes on the side for sopping pot liquor.
Tatum’s cooking tastes like homecoming to a Southern expat like me; if you’ve watched Netflix’s “High on the Hog” (which you should), you also might be feeling hungry for these dishes, which express but a meaningful fraction of the Black contribution to American cooking. Tatum makes them beautifully. Banana pudding for dessert, please.
900 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 676-4106, instagram.com/inthekitchenlbc
Ginger’s Divine Ice Creams
In April Margaret Schniderman opened the second location of Ginger’s, housed in a brighten-your-day yellow storefront nestled between Kreation Organic and a Monty’s Good Burger outpost on West 3rd Street. She started her flagship in Culver City early in 2017. Frozen treats are a thesis project unto themselves in Los Angeles; former Times colleague Amy Scattergood made a heroic tour of duty a couple of years back.
Ginger’s approach lands in a versatile, gratifying sweet spot. Flavors run seasonal and a little brainy but never ridiculous: Pickled strawberries, which come off as intensified rather than vinegary, make perfect sense on the palate combined with blueberries and crushed graham crackers. Vegan variations, many made with coconut milk, have the yearned-for creaminess that holds up to additions such as cherries soused on whiskey. Yes, I lean to fruit in my ice cream. Chocolate, coffee, caramel and nuts also appear in plenty of the three-dozen choices.
Schniderman’s fresh waffle cones have an appealing delicateness. Recently mine started to crumble halfway through devouring (a friend ran in to get more napkins while I had ice cream dripping down my chin), but I won’t stop ordering it. I know now to ask for a cup alongside as a safety net.
12550 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 437-0246; also at 8430 W. 3rd St., (323) 397-3245, gingersicecreams.com
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