Plugs — Avish Naran
L.A. food and drink recs from the owner of Pijja Palace
Plugs* is The Angel’s recs column. Every Saturday, you’ll get six picks — a restaurant, a bar, a shop, an ingredient, a person, and a treat — from someone in Los Angeles who knows what they’re talking about.
Second up is Avish Naran, the owner of Silver Lake’s Pijja Palace, the cheffy Indian sports bar that everyone is (rightfully) obsessed with. I’ve been a fan of Avish since the day I met him. He’s got a no-bullshit attitude and an original vision. He’s also an Angeleno through and through. He grew up in Echo Park watching sports and eating wings and pizza, plus desi food at home. Pijja Palace is a wholly personal expression of who he is and what he’s passionate about, and his chef, Miles Shorey, has done a next-level job at helping him realize it. IMO, Pijja Palace deserves all the accolodaes, and I’m happy to see that they keep rolling in. Here are Avish’s L.A. plugs.
Restaurant — Donna’s
Michael Francesconi and Matthew Glaser’s Donna’s is the neighborhood restaurant Echo Park needed. I love everything about this place. The campus itself, including Lowboy and Bar Flores, really gave life to a stretch of Sunset Boulevard that no one frequented previously, and yes, I was there when it was The Lost Knight and Barragan’s (I still love the Burbank outpost of this joint, btw). It’s quickly become my favorite red sauce restaurant in the city and it’s always busy for a reason. The giardiniera is superb, a zingy acidic bite and a hearty amount of oregano make these pickles very memorable. I need them to put it in a sandwich at the pick-up window. The garlic bread is top notch, I love their chicken marsala. The crew has been in the bar game for a while so as expected the bar program is excellent. I have inspired myself to try and walk in tonight.
Bar — Thunderbolt
Has to be Thunderbolt. I love Mike Capoferri’s Thunderbolt so much. This bar has become a reflex for me when people ask me where to drink in L.A., or if I’m looking for something to do after dinner or before. The drinks are so comprehensive, and they’re topical to the neighborhood — you’ll see things like the La Frutera iterations throwing some homage to all of our awesome street fruit vendors and the P-Town Boxing Club, the old fashioned ode to the neighboring Historic Filipinotown. The place is affordable, has a great small plates menu and features my favorite martini in the city, The Liquid Picnic. Batched and refrigerated just as it should be, I said what I said.
Shop — Gus’s Drive-In
I might be cheating here, but I don’t frequent too many places selling packaged goods. In my mind, if it has a drive-thru, it’s gotta be a “shop,” right? That doesn’t make any sense, but this is some real local Belmont High School, Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, Edward Roybal Learning Center, Fire Department Station 3 type shit right here. Everyone has their order at Gus’s, mine is the turkey burger. A classic. I’ve been eating at Gus’s since high school and there are a lot of hits. The menu is massive. L.A. is crazy about smash right now but the turkey burger, along with their perfectly seasoned fries, pointless but still necessary Greek salad, a couple of banana peppers, and an orange bang will always feel like home to me.
Ingredient — Saffron
At times, saffron feels like something 6 people in Los Angeles like. I am one of those 6 people. Ben Mims wrote a piece in the Times on how polarizing saffron is and how ambivalent people can be towards it after visiting Pijja Palace. His experience here isn’t an anomaly among our diners. Saffron can be confusing, it’s applications can be both sweet and savory and it’s not a flavor, I’m learning, that a lot of Americans have grown up with or are accustomed to. Last week at Bestia I enjoyed a ricotta gnocchi dish that included saffron. It was faint and lovely and this week I plan on working these flavors into a martini for research but mostly for fun. It doesn’t take much for the ingredient to make its presence known, but did you know there are only 3 stigmas per saffron flower?
Person — Ralph Hsiao and Andrew Marco
These two might be the coolest duo in restaurants right now and if you haven’t been to Open Market in Koreatown, you need to change that. It’s a must. Ralph and Marco are slinging some of the tastiest subs in the city. Don’t miss the Normandie, their Japanese flip on a French dip sandwich (popularized in L.A. at Cole’s and Philippe’s).
They’ve captured a real bodega feel at the foot of an office building where locals and office folk alike can pick up a cup of coffee, some highly coveted Awan “not ice cream,” wine, and some very badass cookies. Don’t sleep on the damn cookies! All three on offer, when I went last, were phenomenal. The ube latte should never leave the menu. I could drink gallons of it! I’m so excited for what’s in store for these two because they’re talented, passionate, and just two good dudes.
Treat — creamy rosewater ice cream from Mashti Malone’s
Clearly I’m an Eastside brotha and I’m excited to have Mashti Malone’s within walking distance to my spot. There’s a lot of crossover between Persian and Indian flavors and the floral bits always hit for me. The creamy rosewater is my jam. Mashti’s has always perfected the sweet spot of flowers in that they don’t taste perfumey but are still very prevalent.
*Eventually, Plugs will be paywalled. But for now, The Angel is entirely free. :)
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