The stage was empty, workers were making repairs in front of a colorful façade, and a small group of men were huddled over a round table playing dominoes. This was a pretty typical Thursday scene at Plaza del Valle. Weekends are far busier, bringing festivals devoted to themes like Dia de los Muertos and Christmas with live music that draw flocks of families, many Latino. The new Loaded Legz storefront, which opened last month, depicts a turkey leg with a bite missing and stands out for many reasons in the evolving community hub.
For Loaded Legz, Chef Keven Alan Lee, who goes by Cheven, teamed with sister Robyn and business partner Ryan Lefton from Agora Realty and Management, Inc., the company that started redeveloping Plaza del Valle in 1999. The Lees also run My World On A Plate, a catering company with a Hollywood commissary that helps to support the restaurant.
“It’s definitely a great, upcoming area,” says Robyn Lee. “We wanted to be part of something beautiful and creative.” Longtime catering employee Salvino is not even a turkey fiend, but clearly believes in the concept. He drives daily from Long Beach, a three-hour commute, to manage the shop.
The glass-fronted restaurant houses just three stools at a wood counter, but has access to communal courtyard tables that double as the aforementioned domino dojo. Many people grab the food to-go.
The siblings first catered smoked turkey legs at off-site event for Disney about two years ago and were thrilled with the reaction. “The carnival food mentality brought to a mainstream level is something that excites us,” Robyn Lee says. “Anybody can grill a burger.” The Panorama City restaurant specializes in smoked turkey legs coated with seven different flavor combinations.
Keven Alan Lee closely guards certain turkey leg secrets, but did reveal some tidbits. They start by smoking the turkey legs with “a proprietary blend of Midwestern woods” in Hollywood until the meat forms a rosy color and smoky flavor that permeates the meat to the bone. They’re finished in Panorama City using a combi oven that hits the meat with a one-two punch of heat and steam for 45 minutes until tender. Loaded Legz finishes each turkey leg with dry heat to develop their bronzed, crispy skins.
They serve “O.G.” smoked turkey legs like one would find at Disneyland, but embellished legs taste even better. As their motto reads, “We got legs and we know how to coat them,” a play on the popular ZZ Top song “Legs.” Start with their sticky leg ($13), which the Lees glaze with honey chile butter before showering it with crispy garlic, crunchy scallions, and fragrant rosemary.
Aloha leg is a nod to Hawaii, lacquered with pineapple teriyaki sauce, garnished with chopped cilantro and arare, Japanese puffed rice beads. Buffalo is another inspiration, featuring the flavors of Buffalo wings: Buffalo “dust” and ranch sauce, plus Sriracha, which has nothing to do with the city in Upstate New York, but sure makes sense in LA.
Smoked turkey meat also factors into Loaded Chipz ($7), a heaping cardboard tray featuring Cheven’s addictive ridged potato chips piled with pulled poultry, a generous helping of crispy shallots, scallions, cilantro, and tangy, savory, and spicy Parallel 30 BBQ sauce, which Chef Lee based on the 30th parallel north of the equator, which passes through Mexico and China. He’s fairly cagey about the ingredients, but does reference “fresh produce, spices, and cheese which include cotija, Parmesan, fresh cilantro, parsley and rosemary.”
Chocolate molasses cookie ($2.25) is Loaded Legz’s only sweet bite, featuring fat chocolate chip cookies that span at least a half-inch thick, with crispy edges and a gooey center.
The Lee siblings and Lefton are so invested in Plaza Del Valle that they’re already planning three more restaurants for the strip mall by early 2019: tacos al pastor, a bakery, and a rolled ice cream parlor. They also have a supermarket called La Tapachulteca planned for late 2018 that specializes in Central American products, with a particularly strong focus on Salvadoran food and coffee. At this rate, it may become tougher to find a spare table to play dominoes. Loaded Legz is open daily from noon to 7 p.m.
Loaded Legz. 8620 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City, 818.830.3540