Anyone driving down the 405 near the 110 intersection might see a curious sight on the southern side. A building with the large name of Porsche and an array of driving tracks sits just next to the busy freeway looking like a fancy car dealership with a testing ground attached. But the Porsche Experience Center, one of just two in the United States, is a special place to drive fast cars without fear of getting a speeding ticket, and also one of the most underrated places to get lunch in Los Angeles.
Restaurant 917 opened five years ago featuring Porsche 911-shaped pats of butter and seasonal fare. With years of operation under its belt and an enthusiastic kitchen team that has stayed the course, 917 has rounded into a consistent, reliable South Bay gem. There’s even an impressive pastry program pushing fine dining-level desserts in this part of town.
The first thing to know about 917 is that it’s fully open to the public. Just make a reservation on Open Table and check in at the front before being escorted to the second-floor dining room that overlooks the testing tracks. Second, know that the food is really engineered to be eaten after driving around in fast cars for the morning.
The Venn diagram of food and driving enthusiasts is certainly not a wide one, but Porsche felt that having a good restaurant was an important part of making a day here feel special. One cannot bring their own cars (except for one day a week) to the track, which means everyone who visits gets an assigned instructor. My guide for the day, Aaron, said that working at Porsche Experience Center requires a minimum of three years professional racing experience. He was hospitable, calm, and encouraging, something that left a smile on the face while navigating the twisty track.
On weekends, I like to take my Honda up into the Angeles Crest mountains for some old fashioned corner carving, but spending an hour-and-a-half with an actual race car driver with a trained instructor learning how to throw an all-electric Taycan Turbo or a 911 Turbo S around a circuit is another thing altogether. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that the 90 minutes is a thrilling adrenaline rush.
After finishing the driving session, step up into Restaurant 917, where one imagines the vaguely European ambience of the second-floor restaurant and its clean lines were meant to reflect the purposeful and tasteful design of the German car manufacturer: The main dining room felt as utilitarian as an airport lounge in Frankfurt, except with a view of colorful cars instead of planes. The menu, however, feels much more modern American, with splashes of Latin American or Asian flavors. Chef Matt Lee went to culinary school in Pasadena and cooked at the iconic Saddle Peak Lodge, a nestled mountain temple to grilled meats and elegant cooking. Lee, a South Bay native, has been at Restaurant 917 since the beginning.
Porsche didn’t need to set up this kind of dining situation for visitors, but it does fill an important niche in this part of LA. The restaurants around Carson are mostly casual, with a few mom-and-pop Filipino and Hawaiian spots, plus Creole institution Darrow’s New Orleans Grill. Nearby Torrance has a wealth of good Japanese restaurants, but otherwise, the area lacks a more formal sit-down place for lunch with great cocktails and wine.
In comparison, lunch at 917 is polished, with Lee’s cured Peruvian scallops with tangy aji amarillo or hamachi crudo with tobiko wasabi more likely to be seen on Santa Monica or Hollywood menus, not here in Carson. One would think car folks would prefer to order the very good cheeseburger, but the most popular dish is actually the grilled Spanish octopus with harissa aioli.
It speaks to the effort Porsche is making to have better than expected food for a captive audience of car enthusiasts, a way to create a well-rounded day marked by tasty fare and drinks instead of just driving pleasures. Like Coachella, the Hollywood Bowl, or Disneyland, destinations like the Porsche Experience Center aren’t really about the food, until the operators realize that people now expect great experiences — a music concert, a theme park, a day of fun driving — to come with delicious things to eat.
And that’s what makes 917 all the more unexpected and cool for car enthusiasts in LA. Loops around a track are simply a better memory followed up by a well-plated charcuterie board or grilled Japanese wagyu steak. Somehow it tastes better to sip a sparkling rosé after driving around in a maroon Taycan (note: they stamp your guest badge as you order alcohol so no one is driving under the influence on the track).
Desserts were the real surprise at 917, with pastry chef EunBee Lee making a yuzu mousse entremet with white chocolate matcha cremeux and a milk chocolate namelaka over cocoa cookie with a side of toasted marshmallow ice cream. The refined finish of fancy pastries felt like a sweet coda to an afternoon that started with fast driving. Restaurant 917 isn’t necessarily new, but coming in to experience sports cars with wagyu burgers will never really get old.
Restaurant 917 is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.