10 exciting restaurants slated to open
By Frier McCollister
The local landscape for restaurants has been in a churn for the last few years, given the pandemic’s wild ride. There have been as many unexpected closures as there have been surprising openings in the area.
Thankfully, life is trying to return to a more stable state of relative normalcy. That said, restaurant culture at large seems to be confronting a looming reckoning with the sustainability of fine dining.
Between inflation, ingredient scarcity, and an ongoing labor shortage and accompanying costs, it’s possible that the era of the $500 tasting menu may be coming to an end. When one of the top-rated restaurants in the world — Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen — says it’s in its final year of service, citing these insurmountable challenges, it’s a harbinger of a trend that is likely to be seen everywhere soon. Ultimately, it should be a correction that benefits us, the guests.
In this survey of recent and impending openings locally, there is an emphasis on accessibility and relative informality. These new ventures truly reflect the range of diversity and talent in the area. There is also likely something for everyone here. The list is grouped by neighborhood and listed alphabetically.
In any economic climate, few enterprises are riskier to deploy than opening a restaurant. Peruse this list and then get out there and support the newcomers.
Sundays the Bakery
The team behind DTLA’s popular breakfast takeout window — Wake and Late (on Sixth Street) — is now in rapid expansion and rebranding mode. It’s soon relaunching as Sundays the Bakery, set to open in April as a takeout operation initially, before expanding into a 150-seat dining room.
The original partners John Shoemaker, Alex Sauciuc and Ben Richter started the business in college as a delivery service. On the success of their Sixth Street location, they have hired Chicago’s Alexander Roman as bakery director to help roll out their new campaign. With plans also in place for openings in Hollywood in April and Santa Monica in May, the trio sought a centralized location that could function as a daytime cafe as well as a commissary and staging area for the other locations. They landed on the former site of the Cordon Bleu culinary academy on East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena.
Wake and Late is known for its well-regarded breakfast burritos and coffee service. Sundays the Bakery will present an expanded breakfast menu when the dining operation opens at the upcoming Pasadena location, later in the summer.
Sundays the Bakery
(Opens in April for takeout)
525 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena
The first version of dim sum shop Bistro 1968 opened as Enlighten Bistro 168 in 2021, amid much positive anticipation and initial approval — particularly on Chinese social media — and then closed abruptly without explanation just three months later. Several stuttered attempts at reopening followed.
Fortunately for local dim sum enthusiasts, the venture reopened in December as Bistro 1968 in an expansive 7,000-square-foot space. The uptick of confusion around the initial closure has dissolved into raves for the dim sum experience presented at the newly opened second-take iteration here.
While the dim sum prices are a bit higher here than other spots in the San Gabriel Valley — $4.88 to $8.88 — the dishes are all made fresh to order and the menu sports a variety of novel plates not seen elsewhere.
While all the classics are here, more unique takes on dishes like the crispy lobster roll, the pumpkin and sweet bean sesame balls, baked peanut mochi and abalone tarts are among the more exotic and original options. While dim sum is served all day, there are also entrees incorporating ma la Sichuan numbing spice. They include Sichuan hen, Wagyu steak bites as well as a char siu take using Iberico ham and honey.
Bistro 1968 is open seven days a week 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weekend waits for seating can climb to an hour, so plan ahead!
(Opened December 3)
402 S. San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel
When Humberto Leon and his extended family opened their Peruvian Chinese mashup bistro Chifa in Eagle Rock in November 2020, a buzz quickly began building around its novel dishes. Formal acknowledgement and acclaim followed with a Bib Gourmand citation from Michelin in 2021.
Chifa’s notably brisk wave of success propelled the momentum for the very recent opening of the family’s new venture, Monarch, in nearby Arcadia. The new dining room sports a stunningly original and contemporary interior design engineered by Leon, in conjunction with architect Michael Loverich. The overall design of the restaurant — from the furniture and wallpaper to the flatware and merch — has been getting as much popular attention as the food.
As commandeered by Leon’s brother-in-law chef John Liu, the menu at Monarch leans into the family’s Hong Kong background and influence, appropriate to its neighborhood in the SGV, where there is no lack of competition.
Still, the novelty that informed Chifa’s dishes has been easily translated here as well. This is not the usual Cantonese fare encountered in the area. Standout items include black pepper lobster tail ($51); “addicting” curry noodles ($37); and baked pork chop rice in tomato sauce, topped with gruyere cheese ($25).
Monarch is open for dinner from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays to Sundays. Expanded days of operation as well as lunch service should be coming.
(Opened January 14)
1212 S. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia
Highland Park/Eagle Rock/Glassell Park
Bub and Grandma’s
Andy Kadin’s notably successful bakery and fresh bread pop-up has been dominating local farmers markets (including Altadena’s) for several years. He and his team have now opened their first sit-down cafe. Opening formally in January, Bub and Grandma’s bread-baking brilliance has been channeled into a menu that features breakfast and lunchtime fare.
The menu is composed of a selection of five breakfast sandwiches ($7 to $8) including an onion omelet version; 11 lunch sandwich options ($9 to $12) including a braised brisket, a crab and a vegan “rainbow” with pickled veggies; “Bub’s Toasts” with a choice of house-made sesame, seeded, challah or focaccia bread ($3 to $8); and a salad selection ($12 to $14), featuring a smoked trout turn and a veggie “chop suey” that uses “ranch cottage cheese.”
Imagination and acute artisanal attention typify the fare at Bub and Grandma’s. It’s been fielding a bit of neighborhood attention, so get down there and get in line.
Bub and Grandma’s
3507 Eagle Rock Boulevard
Locally beloved Iberian-influenced chef Teresa Montano is expanding on the sustained success of her restaurant Otono in Highland Park, with this new concept. While Otono presents as a rustically elegant Spanish tapas and paella salon, with a tightly curated wine list, the new space will be quite different.
Housed in the same building as Otono in Highland Park, Otono Mercat is conceived as a market cafe, bar and event space. The retail market area will feature a variety of imported culinary products from Spain, like conservas, bocadillos, vermouth and olive oils.
The new space will host a variety of events as well. Expect everything from FC Barcelona viewing parties to guest chef and bartender pop-up demos.
(Opening late spring)
5717 N. Figueroa Street, Highland Park
The property located on the west end of York Boulevard, on the border of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, has long been rumored to be the next venture from Holly Fox, chef Ari Kolender and their company Last Word Hospitality. The couple are known for previous successes with Found Oyster and Same Same Thai in east Hollywood, as well as Red Dog Saloon in Pioneertown. The new prospective venue has been crowned with the working moniker “Queen Street.” It’s an apparent reference to legendary Queen Street Grocery in Charleston, South Carolina, and Kolender’s upbringing in the region.
It’s also a strong hint at the prospective menu’s emphasis. Low-country Southern cuisine incorporating fresh seafood and heirloom grains will likely be the focus here. She-crab soup? Let’s hope so. It’s definitely time for a fresh take on shrimp and grits!
(Opening 2023 TBD)
4701 York Boulevard, Eagle Rock
Since launching his influential local taco pop-up from his grandmother’s carport on Avenue 50 in Highland Park, the ambitious Victor Villa’s tacos and salsas have garnered well-deserved local accolades and acclaim. Villas Tacos was the first back-to-back winner of LA Taco’s Taco Madness competition in 2021 and 2022, as also featured in a short documentary film. It’s a note of true popular distinction.
Bouncing from the carport to several different regular weekend pop-up locations along York Boulevard, Villas has successfully grown his operation and is expanding it dramatically soon.
In May of last year, Villas scored a $100,000 grant from Mexican brewer Estrella Jalisco to help fund the opening of his first actual restaurant. As Villas has long promised, he will open his first formal brick-and-mortar storefront on an undisclosed block of Figueroa Boulevard in Highland Park. With a prospective opening in February, the new storefront represents one of the more anticipated launches in the neighborhood this year.
Taco connoisseurs may long for the routine of lining up on the sidewalk along Avenue 50, while watching Villas and his taqueros bustling around the three smoking grills. Still, the experience of manically gobbling down tacos off the hood of a car, while juggling salsa containers may not always be missed. The new venue’s dining room should comfortably seat a small neighborhood crowd and the menu will likely expand. Stay tuned to Instagram for updates.
Villa’s “Estilo LA” tacos are generously portioned and typically served on queso-laced blue corn tortillas (sourced from east LA’s Kernel of Truth tortilleria) always topped with fresh guacamole. In the old days, every order was accompanied by nine samples of salsa, all homemade in Villas’ abuela’s kitchen. Also note that Villas’ vegan taco preps are not to be ignored, even by adamant carnivores.
Villas makes no secret of his secret ingredient: love.
TBD Figueroa Street, Highland Park
Pasadena resident chef Debbie Lee — known most notably for her appearance and winning performance on the fifth season of Food Network’s “Next Food Network Star” — has unveiled plans to open a new venue in Highland Park.
Lee was perhaps a bit ahead of her time with her Ahn-Joo food truck launch in 2010, featuring rustic Korean comfort food. She anticipated a trend that was ultimately reflected in the success of recent Downtown operators like Yangban Society and Shiku. Notably, Lee is also the author of the cookbook “Seoultown Kitchen.”
Calling on her roots, the menu at the highly anticipated new location is to be premised around small-plate Korean delicacies in a setting evoking a Korean “hanok” gastropub format.
The spacious lot will include a generous outdoor patio and kitchen garden, where Lee plans to conduct community events and classes.
Named for the Korean expression indicating a “second round” of drinks, Yi Cha is tentatively scheduled to open in summer. The menu’s details remain to be seen. However, it’s definitely a fresh style in the neighborhood that should fit nicely in the gourmandizing wheelhouse of the locally ubiquitous, hipster foodies.
4941 York Boulevard, Highland Park
This is a long-anticipated opening from Peter and Lauren Lemos, who have been operating the successful sandwich shop operation, Wax Paper, since 2015, with locations in Chinatown and nearby Knox Street in Frogtown. Their sandwich shops are known for generously portioned and creative sandwich compositions named for local, public radio personalities (the Italian hoagie-style “Larry Mantle” for example).
The new venture is intended to be an all-day, accessible local bistro serving mindful New American comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The venture was revealed several years ago, but the buildout at the new location experienced a variety of delays. Set to open in the first week of this month, its opening has definitely been on the radar of local culinary enthusiasts for some time.
The project has been in soft opening mode for January and is advertising daily hours from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(Opening February 1)
2990 Allesandro Street, Elysian Heights/Frogtown
Za Za Za
Arroyo-adjacent Elysian Park will also soon be host to this new concept from the Mexico City-based restaurant group, responsible for the wildly successful Cha Cha Cha, which opened its stunning outdoor, rooftop dining room in DTLA’s Arts District in 2021.
Expect the new operation to feature a seafood-forward, mariscos-centric menu, inspired by the regional cuisines of Nayarit and Baja. Ceviches, agua chiles and cocteles should be expected. That said, executive chef Paco Moran presided over a pop-up preview at the Arts District space last year, which featured a spectrum of dishes including everything from an al pastor swordfish taco to an impressively composed Torre de mariscos, seafood tower.
In addition to a sleekly designed contemporary dining room, look for a menu of creative cocktail options as well.
Za Za Za
1993 Blake Avenue, Elysian Heights/ Frogtown