When a restaurant gets to be as iconic as Joan’s on Third, it doesn’t need to change very often. The all-day eatery that helps in large part to feed the studios and writers rooms throughout Hollywood with short rib melts and Chinese chicken salads has become a standby on West Third and, more recently, Studio City, with a heavy flow of morning and afternoon crowds.
But it has historically been easier to find a table at dinner, when the families of the neighborhood congregate to enjoy unfussy fare that tastes as close to mom’s home cooking as one can reasonably fathom in a commercial setting. But Joan McNamara, the powerhouse who runs what may very well be LA’s most complex restaurant operation along with her two daughters, was in search of a solution to the evening lull.
Over the past year, the solution kept pointing to one thing: pasta. So Joan called up Dominick DiBartolomeo, the man behind farmer’s market staple Dom’s Foods, to partner up on a pasta collaboration. DiBartolomeo would handle the fresh pasta, in this case pappardelle, penne, and linguine, and Joan would take the lead on the sauce.
But why pasta? Joan explained, “Some nights we would want to go to Jon & Vinny’s, but we couldn’t get in! So we wanted to create something for families who aren’t making reservations weeks in advance to get good pasta. Here, families can order salad, pasta, and ice cream, then leave and get to doing homework.”
As for the sauces, Joan created a menu that would be pleasing for adults and children alike. There’s a wild mushroom cream sauce built with porcinis and its soaking liquid. The bolognese is an early crowd pleaser, a rich blend of veal, beef, pork, and pancetta. Classicists may opt for the marinara or punchy arrabiata, kicked up with a generous sprinkle of chili.
But the sleeper hit of them all? Joan says it’s the buttered penne. “There have been times we go to restaurants and the kids ordered buttered pasta and theirs is better than ours, so we end up eating this.” She isn’t wrong. The simplicity of the dish allows the nuttiness of the toasted butter and al dente penne to shine.
In an appeal to the needs of her customer base, Joan is selling the pasta both prepared in the restaurant, or pre-cooked, requiring a quick boil of the fresh pasta and heating of the sauce. And at $14 for a bowl of bolognese served with that standout pappardelle, there are few better pasta deals in this part of town.
While nightly pasta became available at the original Joan’s on Third just last week, McNamara hopes to launch soon at the Studio City location, which she describes as “a stroller park on weekends.” She also plans to roll out a cacio e pepe compound butter tube that will join the already strong roster of new pasta plates.