Let us toast the fantastic local eateries lost to COVID-19.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, hungry and sad, nostalgic for the days when we could grab a small table at a packed eatery or perch atop a dirty barstool to pick at communal peanuts.
As restaurants confronted the pandemic, they evolved to meet its challenges. They distanced, they patioed, they manufactured storefronts and created takeout menus, servers and cooks alike wore face shields and gloves; but the virus didn’t care if you were a city treasure or dirty spoon or how many Michelin stars you had. This year, more than 15,000 restaurants lost the fight to economics and public health, their rich restaurant lives dramatically cut short. 2020 has created unprecedented heartache in so many sectors of our lives in ways far more serious than “where we eat.” Still, I’m mourning L.A.’s pre-COVID culinary identity, not altogether gone, but forever changed. Join me in remembering some fallen treasures of the L.A. Restaurant Scene:
I have big regrets over this restaurant that never was, but had so much potential to be, a favorite: DTLA’s Preux & Proper. I don’t think I’ve been recommended a restaurant more, and yet, I never made it there. It had everything I wanted in a restaurant — proximity to my home, an unexpected fusion (Lebanese and Southern) and the executive chef’s ominous use of his “CIA training.” What brunches could have been …
Not far from P&P, however, was a spot I was very familiar with: Broken Spanish, a modern Mexican restaurant whose chicharrón will haunt me till The. Day. I. Die. It might be a cliche to call a restaurant and its cuisine “sexy,” but sorry, Broken Spanish was the home of many sexy meals that stayed on my mind long after I washed them down with mezcal.
If we’re really talking sexy, though, we have to venture to Mid City’s The Bazaar, José Andrés’ seductively fun food dreamscape and one of the first truly “upscale” meals I ate in Los Angeles. The Bazaar made diners feel like Alice down the culinary Rabbit Hole, wondering what smoke or jam or deconstructed Philly cheesesteak would be plated next. You can get some of that wonder at a Vespertine or Providence, but there will be a lot fewer see-through countertops and pink neon accents.
If you like a little neon with your meat, then you’ll be missing Swingers. This 27-year-old staple of the late-night diner scene was the biggest surprise among all the restaurant closures. Both the Santa Monica and Mid-City Swingers shuttered this year, both of which had an incredibly delicious and versatile menu. After a night out anywhere, you could bring your vegan, gluten-free, paleo, whatever friend there, and they could eat like the diet-restricted kings and queens that they are.
The owners of Swingers also confirmed the closure of another one of their surprisingly delicious restaurants, The Pikey. It was 2014. I had experienced my first escape room, and I needed BOOZE. So I popped into The Pikey, just a couple doors down. Though it felt like I was inside yet another escape room (gross), the British pub won me over with a STUNNING menu (yay) that I would compulsively revisit, especially for the fish and chips and rarebit — seriously, get into your time machine, hit The Pikey and try it.
If you’re a “Vanderpump Rules” fan, you know where I’m going next. Today, we also mourn restaurants whose food was total dog shit, but whose spirit transcended food (or ambiance, or comfort, or price). No, Villa Blanca was not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, it was hardly anyone’s cup of tea, but it was ours. With SUR opening back up again, this gaudy jewel will truly be missing in the crown of Lisa Vanderpump, and I will likely get less food poisoning from a partially frozen steak tartare.
Other TV fans might be saddened by the closing of Moore’s Delicatessen, a tiny, retro treasure (WITH FREE PARKING) in downtown Burbank across from the Cartoon Network headquarters. Whenever I had a meeting over there, I would pop into Moore’s and get a gigantic sandwich stuffed with the meat of my choosing and escape into the hand-drawn artwork that covered its walls. Did I mention the FREE PARKING IN THE FRONT? Heaven.
My saddest moment came when I heard that Here’s Looking At You was closing, arguably my favorite restaurant in L.A. (aside from Sizzler, which we’ll get to later). Lien Ta’s Here’s Looking At You was one of the most inventive, vibrant restaurants that served a consistently great and ever-changing menu (at one point, they had a cocktail list based on astrology signs — and yes, I got drunk on Libras). Thankfully, there are many more incredible restaurants still open in Koreatown, but Here’s Looking At You was like an old magic trick: delightful, never disappointing and somehow, calming? HLAY, you are sorely missed.
You understand the power of this pandemic when a restaurant that’s been open since 1921 is forced to close because of it. Nestled in MacArthur Park, the Pacific Dining Car was the kind of place I took my dad to, as an L.A. Native with a knowledge of local restaurants that tapped out around ’85. The food was pretty good, but the fun was in feeling transported to another era of Los Angeles — almost literally.
The final stop on this ol’ eulogy trail is Culver City, where we’ll mourn the passing of Amacita, a place I’ve only been to once — but what a time! I went there on a second date with my now-boyfriend after a visit to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I was nervous and excited and proceeded to get a whole bowlful of vegan queso dumped on me 10 minutes after being seated. I get why Amacita closed. It’s claustrophobically not COVID-friendly and, honestly, a little expensive. Still, this restaurant is a personal symbol of falling in love, of possibility, of a pre-COVID innocence that I’m not sure we’ll ever get back. At least, not anytime soon.
And then there’s Sizzler.
Yes, Sizzler. A better version of what I described with Amacita can be found at Sizzler. While I mourn the passing of all buffets, there is a special place in my heart for this Culver City-founded chain buffet LEGEND. Digging into a Sizzler steak, taco or one of their many mayo-based salads brings me straight back to Wisconsin in the ’90s. For the Leib family, a Sizzler night was a rare and wonderful treat. Sizzler filed for bankruptcy late last month, bringing an official end to the era of buffet culture: an era of possibility, of changing your mind, of food freedoms and grotesqueries whose only limit was the imagination.
R.I.P. friends. May you live happily in restaurant heaven, where large parties of amazing tippers clog your POS systems.
And a special mention to some other fallen favorites: Cafe Vita, Ma’am Sir, Kogi Taqueria, Trois Mec and the original Din Tai Fung in Arcadia.
Editor’s Note: The featured image of Preaux and Proper was originally attributed to the restaurant, but the source has been corrected to reflect attribution to Matthew Kang, editor at Eater L.A.