Los Angeles has always been a city that pulls in a lot of different directions at once. There are thousands of street vendors selling everything from barbecue plates to tacos to hot chicken across the county, and there are tasting menus and nationally-known chefs with big, expensive restaurant build-outs, too. But lately, with an increase in international attention and lots of money (often from big-name backers both locally and from out of town) to throw around, some Los Angeles restaurants are beginning to think rather maximalist about their menus.
Takeaway spots and two- or three-item pop-ups will always have their place, but perhaps in 2020, Angelenos will come to embrace the places in their community that instead try to do a little bit of everything.
Perhaps the most talked-about 2019 opening to embody the “go big” menu lifestyle is Birdie G’s, chef Jeremy Fox’s eastern Santa Monica compound that mixes and matches dishes and ideas from the midwest, from the Jewish diaspora, and from right here in Southern California. The restaurant was billed as a “dream” home for Fox’s culinary talents, and the opening menu reads like a compendium of everything the chef has ever touched or tasted in the kitchen.
The first night, the menu at Birdie G’s listed more than 50 different possible dishes — an almost Cheesecake Factory-esque number of items for one non-chain restaurant kitchen to produce. There’s caviar service, matzo ball soup, a variety of toppings spread over Texas-style toast, noodle kugel, a chopped salad; that’s before getting to the main dishes, or the rotating daily specials. Or the dessert, which has garnered its own fair amount of press since Birdie G’s opened.
A similar level of head-spinning possibility now exists at the new All Day Baby on Sunset in Silver Lake. The follow-up restaurant from Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener of Here’s Looking at You is meant, as the name implies, to be a sun-up to sun-down anchor for the hip neighborhood, offering ten different breakfast items all day (think hot cakes and country-fried skirt steak) and a slew of lunchtime classics. There are six sandwiches (including a smoked beef and cheese, and a patty melt), four salads, five items available from a meat smoker, and that’s to say nothing of the entrees, vegetables, and spreads and dips sections. Currently, All Day Baby only keeps hours until the early afternoon; they haven’t even rolled out a dinner menu just yet.
So who else is going big in 2020? Socalo, the week-old Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger Mexican restaurant, offers a daily mix of breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinnertime food across an overlapping menu with well north of two dozen different options for all to try. It helps that Socalo is attached to Santa Monica’s Gateway Hotel, which means there is an increased expectation to offer a variety of dishes around the clock.
The same is true for Sibling Rival at the Hoxton Hotel in Downtown’s South Park neighborhood, where the all-day menu offers something like 45 items across mains, salads, and sides. There’s a standalone breakfast menu addendum available as well, and an upstairs restaurant, cocktail hangout, (with its own menu) and lounge called Pilot.
2020 will also usher in hotel-linked restaurants from big names like the Lucques Group (they’re doing Caldo Verde and Cara Cara at the Proper Hotel in Downtown) and Wolfgang Puck (he’s got unnamed projects happening at the Pendry on the Sunset Strip), and while opening menus aren’t set just yet, there’s a good chance that there will be a whole lot of variety inside.
Walter and Margarita Manzke of Republique have not one but two large openings coming in 2020, in Downtown and greater West LA respectively, and they’re certainly known for adding a bit of excess to their flagship La Brea restaurant. There are roughly 30 dinnertime items available to order at Republique on any given night (not counting drinks or dessert), in addition to an ongoing tasting menu in the back; the restaurant’s daily breakfast/lunch menu, not including dozens of pastries, spans more than 25 items.
Of course, big restaurant menus aren’t exclusive to this new decade. Los Angeles has always had places willing to go big, from sprawling San Gabriel Valley Chinese dim sum restaurants and Woodland Hills sub shops to the 300-item behemoth that is the menu at Jitlada in Thai Town. Even David Chang’s relatively new Majordomo counts dishes by the dozen.
Still, it’s amazing to see new and incoming restaurants continue to embrace the more-is-more philosophy, particularly in this age of thin margins, rising overhead costs, and dining saturation. Minimum wage hikes and high rents mean that creativity is more important than ever for success in the restaurant industry, but while some folks are scaling back and changing service models as a way to survive, others are betting big (really big) on being a one-stop shop for everyone in any neighborhood, much like the classic American diners from generations ago. So far, at least for Birdie G’s, All Day Baby, Sibling Rival, and the rest, it’s working.