“We’re bringing Midwestern comfort food to the first floor of the Hoxton,” says Chris Pandel, the Chicago-based chef behind many of the Windy City’s most respected restaurants, including the steakhouse Swift & Sons and the now-closed pasta palace Balena. Together with Boka Restaurant Group, Pandel is opening Moonlark’s Dinette in Downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 1. Drawing inspiration from the Midwest’s storied diner and supper club traditions, Moonlark’s Dinette delivers a thoroughly unfussy, enticing exploration of Americana on a plate.
The ground floor restaurant, which was most recently chef Daniel Rose’s Café Basque and the Brooklyn-founded diner Sibling Rival before that, will look mostly the same save for a few swapped fixtures and updated art choices. The best seats in the house, day or night, are still at the cushy oxblood banquettes running along the dining room’s expansive windows. But under Pandel’s direction, the restaurant’s all-day menus will be different from its predecessors.
Pandel grew up eating in greasy spoons near his hometown of Riverside, a suburb of Chicago. Moonlark Dinette’s menu is a distillation of what he liked to eat in those places — sweet and savory Monte Cristo sandwiches and crispy fried shrimp — coupled with what makes sense in the location and space. “All the restaurants I’ve opened up previously are either a high-end steakhouse or Mediterranean or Italian-focused,” says Pandel. “To lean into Americana, the kind of everyday cuisine, was a super-fun challenge.”
Find amply portioned sandwiches on the daytime menu, including a tuna salad on challah with a “big slice of iceberg lettuce running through it”; a Monte Cristo sandwich stuffed with turkey, Canadian bacon, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard, and housemade raspberry jam served on the side; and a proper New Jersey Taylor ham, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich served on homemade English muffins. It is “one of the greatest breakfast sandwiches of all time,” says Pandel. “My mouth is watering just thinking about it.” Rounding out the breakfast and lunch offerings are salads, like a classic wedge and an ode to the “big salad” from the television show Seinfeld, and breakfast staples like eggs, pancakes, and pastries.
While the daytime menu is chock-full of diner hits, evenings at Moonlark’s Dinette lean heavily into the Wisconsin supper club aesthetic. Imagine a dimly-lit restaurant with knotty pine paneling in the middle of the woods serving relish trays, prime rib, and brandy Old Fashioneds. “It’s a place to come and hang out and have a drink or a nice dinner,” says Pandel. “The sun will be setting over whatever little lake you’re around, people will be canoeing over from the other camp across the way to come to the supper club. There’s no better way to spend a summer evening.”
The throwback dinner menu, which starts on November 8, includes a plethora of small plates like baked brie (“It’s 1984 all over again,” says Pandel, with his characteristic chuckle), shrimp cocktail, and vegetable crudites. Larger plates include grilled spareribs served with pickles, a kohlrabi and poppyseed slaw, and Texas toast-style challah garlic bread. The grilled chicken panzanella is served with little schmaltzy croutons, tomatoes, greens, and pickled onions, while the fish tacos are made with griddled local rockfish.
Boka Restaurant Group’s culinary operations director Kristine Antonian oversees a tight menu of sweets. “Dessert is small from a quantity standpoint but large from a plate-size conversation,” says Pandel. Antonian’s cheesecake comes drizzled with sticky strawberry jam; Pandel describes her chocolate cake served by the slice as “giant.” Various pies and fruit cobblers are also in the dessert mix.
To drink, the bar features a bevy of old- and new-school cocktails including a thoroughly vintage grasshopper made with creme de menthe, wines by the glass, beers, and cider curated by beverage manager Chris Maxwell.
Both the daytime and evening menus will likely evolve as Pandel familiarizes himself with local purveyors, growing seasons, and ingredients. “I’m kind of a foreigner, you know, it’s gonna take me a minute to learn what’s available,” says Pandel. “Our growing season in Chicago is a few months and then it’s root vegetables on all sides of that, so I think that seasonality here will end up playing a huge role in how this menu rolls out.” While Pandel and Antonian will be traveling to and from Chicago regularly, chef de cuisine Aneliese Merlino will handle day-to-day operations at the restaurant.
Los Angeles is no stranger to Midwestern culinary charms. Chefs Jeremy Fox and Thomas Tilaka Kalb point to the region as a muse for their successful restaurants Birdie G’s in Santa Monica and Agnes in Pasadena, respectively. While both of those establishments are embraced by transplants and native Angelenos alike, time will tell if Moonlark’s Dinette resonates with a local audience, too. Soup’s on at the Hoxton.
Moonlark’s Dinette is located at 1060 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. from November 1-7 and 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting November 8.