LA chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo pay homage to the city’s classic food and drink institutions.
Los Angeles may be obsessed with its forward thinkers and hot young things, but it is also a city that values and preserves its own history. You don’t need to dig deep to find evidence of LA’s nostalgia: You can see it in the ongoing efforts to restore movie palaces and vaudeville theaters downtown, or in the historic hotels that take pride in having fluffed pillows for the likes of Mary Pickford or Greta Garbo. The city’s oldest restaurants and bars are equally sentimental, especially for Jon and Vinny. The chefs didn’t grow up in Los Angeles, and so eating a burger at the Apple Pan or sipping an umbrella-topped cocktail at Tiki-Ti is a way of paying respect to the city that has embraced them. Here are a few of their favorite spots that have stood the test of time.
Tiki-Ti founder Ray Buhen was around for the first wave of Polynesian kitsch in 1930s Los Angeles. He worked for the godfather of the genre, Don the Beachcomber, and would go on to mix drinks at legendary, long-closed tiki haunts like Trader Vic’s. Buhen opened Tiki-Ti in 1961, and it is still kicking today on the Sunset Strip. His son Mike is behind the bar these days, working off original recipes for cocktails like the Blood and Sand—tradition dictates that customers chant ‘toro toro toro’ each time the drink is prepared. “We know how hard it is, and how much has to change every year to make a restaurant survive, so there’s something to be said for a place that has weathered the storm,” says Vinny who loved to drink at Tiki-Ti with Jon when they lived in Silver Lake. “The drinks are awesome and there are so many of them, all served in the classic tiki cups,” says Jon. “It’s amazing just to look around this place—there’s a nostalgia that isn’t possible to create in a new restaurant.” Tiki-Ti: 4427 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles; 323-669-9381; tiki-ti.com
The Apple Pan
This West LA luncheonette is a taste of home for Angelenos, who have been lining up for a seat at the u-shaped counter since 1947. Eating at the Apple Pan is a ritualized experience: Sunny Sherman, granddaughter of the original owners, sees to it that the soda will always be served in paper cones; ketchup will always be squirted into its own side plate; and cold cups of buttermilk can be had for a buck and change. But the real draw at the Apple Pan comes off the griddle—steakburgers are topped with sweet relish, hickoryburgers with barbecue sauce, and both can be crowned with a slice of melted cheddar if you wish. “I’ve been going to the Apple Pan for a decade,” says Jon. “When my daughter was just starting to eat real food I couldn’t wait to bring her there.” The Apple Pan: 10801 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles; 310-475-3585
Philippe the Original
The eponymous Philippe Mathieu was a French immigrant who began operating restaurants in Los Angeles in the early 1900s. Although its origins are disputed, Mathieu is often cited as the creator of the French dip, a jus-soaked sandwich that has been served at Philippe for more than a century. Vinny likes the lamb sandwich, and Jon goes for beef or turkey, but they both ask for a double dip of gravy and plenty of hot mustard. “Phillipe is fundamental LA, and it’s the kind of place where anyone can eat,” says Jon. “It’s been a worker’s hub since the early days of LA and it’s still affordable and approachable. I wish it was closer to my house, I would eat there even more often.” Philippe the Original: 1001 N Alameda St, Los Angeles; 213-628-3781; philippes.com
This 1960s institution nails the East Coast Italian-American vibe, with its jacketed servers, checked tablecloths, deep red banquettes and bottles of Chianti dangling from the ceiling. You’d never know the eponymous founder wasn’t a New York defector homesick for red sauce, but rather a Yugoslavian soccer player turned restaurateur. Even as the Los Angeles food scene has come into its own, Dan Tana’s time-tested menu of scampis and scallopinis hasn’t changed much, save a few nods to famous fans like George Clooney and the late Columbia Pictures exec Mo Rothman. “If you want to really feel like you’re in Hollywood, and like you’re rubbing elbows with celebrities, even if there aren’t actually any celebrities there, this is the place. We’ve been going there forever,” says Vinny, who usually orders the chicken parm. “Jon & Vinny’s stems from Dan Tana’s a little bit; we’re trying to channel a similar thing,” adds Jon, who likes the ‘Helen,’ a New York strip steak. “If you’re going to talk about LA food history, this is a place you have to hit. Every time we go we are blown away by how busy it is and how interesting the servers are.” Dan Tana's: 9071 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles; 310-275-9444; dantanasrestaurant.com
Ralph and Celia Primo bought this Westside bakery from its original owner on a whim one afternoon in 1956, and they’ve been running it together ever since. The Primos don’t follow the zeitgeist when it comes to stocking their case—there are no kooky maximalist flavors here, just yeast and cake rounds and twists in classic configurations like chocolate, cinnamon and maple. Jon likes to mix it up at Primo’s, but Vinny favors the oblong buttermilk bar: cottony inside with a crisp, glazed shell. “These are my favorite donuts in the city, I’m obsessed with the place,” says Vinny, who likes to take his youngest son there on weekends. “There’s a neighborhood donut spot in every region of LA—places like Primo’s, Randy’s and Bob’s have been around forever,” adds Jon. “We don't have a huge pastry scene in LA but the donut culture here has always been pretty big.” Primo's Donuts: 2918 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles; 310-478-6930; primosdonuts.com