On Monday, Eater announced its second round of giveaways for next week's Taste of Beverly Hills. On the table, a full weekend pass for two to the festival, as well as a pair of tickets to any one event for the runner up. All we asked of you: tell us the best LA dining or drinking secret that you swore you'd never tell anyone. We received mentions of Groupon-y deals, not so secret bars, not so secret dining rooms, zzzzzzz. Gotta say, we were a little bit underwhelmed. But, the show must go on, and two winners must be selected. Aside from getting an A for effort, our first place winner did shed light on some lesser known spots around town that seem worthy of a visit.
"If you draw a wide circle around the vaguely triangular sprawl that makes up Los Angeles and environs, I'd venture to guess that the majority of the "Under the Radar" food and drink finds rest near the edge of that ring. If you stick to the neighborhoods that make up the majority of the color real estate classifieds, you're bound to run into competition. Sure, there are hidden gems in Santa Monica, Los Feliz, and Hollywood, but the holy grail of undiscovered establishments must have more than a menu to beckon the uninitiated. Atmosphere, style, and a sense of place- this is what brings a place to life and infects the first-timer with excitement, and the will to return time and again. It's also what makes one want to keep it private. A great menu in itself, is rarely ruined by sharing it with a wider audience. In contrast, the elements mentioned before are rarely maintained.
While there's personal risk at stake in the publishing of this list, I share this from my heart. To my fellow Angelenos, this is my gift:
1. Sugar Suite
In a strip mall not far from the Balboa Highlands and tract homes of Joseph Eichler sits Granada Hills' best kept secret: The Sugar Suite (11858 Balboa Blvd, Granada Hills), It's dark. Very dark. But very clean. And there's a firepit with a micro-tile shelf for drinks. Undulating booths of burgundy are polished to a shine. No neon spuds mcKenzies, no dart boards, no Clydsedales... Blessed air conditioning. You'll never have trouble finding a seat, and the liquor selection is a surprise for its attention to detail-- High end Scotches and light proseccos- something for everyone. It's what a bar should be. A place to drink in style, set in the blandest of buildings, forgotten by all but the neighborhood.
2. The Tamarack Inn
Who doesn't want to sit in a log cabin of hand-hewed wood and while the hours away after a hard days work in... Pico Rivera? The Tamarack Inn (9257 Slauson Avenue Pico Rivera) is about as close as you'll get to Ralph Lauren's hunting lodge back porch watering hole. Backlit stained glass pheasants and other game birds frozen in mid-flight adorn every wall. It's dark here, too. Mostly because of all the wood. it's everywhere, and it's warm glow further mellows that scotch you're nursing while you tell your new best friend at the bar about your last hunt. Whiskeys are the drink here. An incongruous jukebox is visually jarring and looks as if it were sent from the future, but in the best possible way. It gets rollicking in here, and why shouldn't it? This isn't a bar, it's a vacation.
3. Sanuki No Sato
While we normally sink into a corner booth for privacy, sometimes only a private room will do. The tatami rooms at South Bay's Sanuki No Sato (18206 South Western Avenue, Gardena) are some of the most relaxing we've found in the city. Udon is the LAW here, and the spot is known to host foriegners with finicky palettes. Sashimi, sushi, and tempura are all top notch. A $15 charge gets you your own room- A pittance, really, for the luxury. On slow weeknights, ask for one of the large private rooms for the same price- they seat up to 8, but they'll gladly accomodate your party of two if they're not booked. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors (or shoji screens). Service and decor is impeccable.
4. The Magic Lamp
In Rancho Cucamonga we found The Madonna Inn of meat, The magic Lamp Inn (8189 Foothill Boulevard, Rancho Cucamonga) has it all. An incredible bar scene of the most enjoyable octogenarians who know how to have a damn good time. Cavernous, dim, and inviting, on our first visit, a few friendly questions to the bartender about the place garnered us a round on the house... spend an hour at the bar before you are tempted into the massive blood-red fire-pit room, complete with picture windows looking out onto Route 66 - the road that made this restaurant what it is. Steaks are enormous, and well above average. Tableside preparation brings an air of sophistication. Live bands in the lounge occasionally. It's pretty far out there, but with all it's got going for it, its a one-stop destination. Get there at 4pm, leave at 11. Repeat as often as possible. A great stop on the way to (or from) Palm Springs.
Montrose is quaint and quiet. Glad it has Avignones (2321 Honolulu Ave, Montrose) to spice it up. Last time I set foot in this pleasant hole-in the wall, Waylon Jennings was belting out "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" while a group of vets traded stories about Nam at the cork-ceilinged bar. Everyone here is willing to be your friend, no strings attached. It's like going to your distant relatives favorite place- you know, the one who lives in Chula Vista in a double wide, and has since Nixon was in the White House. If they ever make a stamp with a picture of the quintessential American Dive Bar on it, I vote for this place. Like a brothel reborn as a steakhouse that closed and re-opened as a dive bar, this is as good as it gets. Wear cowboy boots, both for style and protection from the floor. An idle fireplace reminds you it used to be a class joint. Waylon brings you back to your senses.
6. The Safari Room
The Valley has it's share of dine/drink spots, to be sure. but there is no other to rival the Safari Room. Defiantly turning it's back on Los Angeles to the south, it faces North on a weathered stretch of Devonshire (15426 Devonshire St. Mission Hills). Come for the steaks in the tasteful African jungle hunt atmosphere. Their claim to fame is that they make their own soups, sauces, dressings, and gravies. In an area where this is certainly a unique selling proposition, this place shines brightly. Family owned for generations, they treat you like you're one of the regulars.
So this is my love letter to Los Angeles. Where the hippest places turn over every year, and we tear down a classic to put up a temporary... It's still a city with soul, with neighborhood identity, and with incredible people, most of which are saddled up to a hidden haunt somewhere in the city, ready to tell their story to whoever ends up on the next stool. And the people at the places we want to keep "secret" usually have real stories to tell. We've met a Disc Jockey from the 60's l.a. radio heyday, a retired astronaut, and one of Frank Lloyd Wrights dancers from Taliesin. LA is rich with history and interest and these spots are overflowing. Food for the body, food for the soul."
And the runner up: "The last Thursday of every month, Mo-Chica in Downtown LA serves a price-fixed 5 course, chef’s tasting menu that is out of this world for $35.00. I think it’s by invitation only, but all you have to do is eat at or call the restaurant to be invited. It’s this Thursday too, if you want to have the best meal in town. Every single bite is like a mini-orgasm! And if you get on their guest list, they will call to remind you and if you make a reservation on the spot, it’s $30.00. They also have live music and dancers, it’s a true Peruvian celebration."