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In L.A. and Las Vegas, massive planned communities are getting excellent restaurants.
When you're opening a new restaurant, it helps to be part of someone else's master plan. Sure, you could wing it by finding a space at an unlikely location in an on-the-rise neighborhood. You might even get called a "pioneer" when you do this. Or you could sleep easier at night knowing that somebody else has spent millions of dollars to make sure when you open, you have a customer base.
It turns out that in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, massive planned communities that blend housing, shopping, office space and family-friendly event venues have become great places to eat.
"With the combination of live and work spaces, the potential for business was really great," says chef Brooke Williamson, who with her husband/business partner Nick Roberts, serves Hawaiian food at Da Kikokiko in the Westside of L.A.'s Playa Vista development. "It's booming with the tech scene here. But it really feels like a neighborhood with all the outdoor space."
Williamson is a celebrity chef who you can watch battle Shirley Chung for this season's "Top Chef" title on Thursday, March 2, but she's also a mom who appreciates the walkability and child-friendly greenery of Playa Vista. She's so keen on the area that she might even end up residing here if she can find the right deal. And she plans to move Tripli-Kit, her cooking-focused store in nearby Playa Del Rey, to a space across from Da Kikokiko.
The key to success for a planned community is actually making it feel like a self-sustaining community, a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where you can find whatever you need, day or night.
"Not only are there shops and residential expanding, there are two office towers and the giant luxury movie theater," says Vegas restaurant mogul Elizabeth Blau, who runs Andiron Steak & Sea in the Downtown Summerlin community, about 20 minutes from the many high-end restaurants Blau developed on the Strip. "And there's programming, art festivals, the farmers market. During the winter, they had an ice skating rink."
So even if you're not ready to live in a planned community, you might want to visit for lunch or dinner. Here are three communities with some serious destination restaurants.
Playa Vista, Los Angeles
Playa Vista is well on its way to becoming the epicenter of Silicon Beach's tech community. Google is building its new campus in Playa Vista, and Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft, Electronics Arts and IMAX are already here. Playa Vista is also a family-friendly oasis with spacious residences, a surplus of playgrounds and its own school, security team, concerts and farmers market.
This is one of the few places in L.A. where you can let your children roam freely, something that Da Kikokiko chef Brooke Williamson realized one day when her 9-year-old son asked if he could stroll over to Starbucks and buy himself a Frappucino. She thought about it for a moment and said yes.
"The sense of security: Not only do I know he will be safe, but there are so many familiar faces here," Williamson says. "It really feels like a neighborhood, but in a world where everything is at your fingertips."
Da Kikokiko, part of Playa Vista's new Runway development along with a Whole Foods, CVS and a movie theater, serves top-tier poke bowls made with yellowfin tuna, hamachi, lomi-lomi salmon, octopus, Japanese eggplant and more. There's the requisite Spam musubi and also musubi featuring yuzu kosho salmon, sesame miso zucchini and chicken teriyaki. There's a chicken teriyaki bowl for kids, who will also enjoy all the shaved ice toppings and the housemade vanilla or coconut ice cream.
Beyond Da Kikokiko, Runway also has the superb crab fried rice and soul-warming soup dumplings at ROC Kitchen. For Baja-style seafood tacos and margaritas on a lovely patio, there's Sol Cocina. Hopdoddy Burger Bar and the 800 Degrees pizzeria are popular casual options for families. And the Whole Foods here has a bar that serves craft cocktails and local beers.
The Americana at Brand, Los Angeles
The Americana at Brand in Glendale is a glorious outdoor mall from L.A. developer Rick Caruso, who's done this kind of thing before at The Grove. You can shop at Nordstrom, take your kids to the Thomas the Tank Engine train set at Barnes & Noble or go to the movies at The Americana, but the best thing to do here is eat.
The Tsujita, which opened in November, is an outpost of the best ramen shop in L.A. The tsukemen, perfect thick noodles that you dip into a ridiculously porky and fatty broth, is one of the most cholesterol-altering and wondrous things in the city. The Tsujita is steps from a recently expanded outpost of Din Tai Fung, a Taiwan-based chain that's the king of all soup dumplings and also quite competent at making beef noodle soup. Down the block is Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak, which is good for a burger at the bar or a blowout feast in the dining room with osetra caviar, Japanese wagyu and the famed chef's signature Maine lobster pot pie.
Just across the street on Brand Boulevard is a crazy cluster where breakfast-sandwich sensation Eggslut is debuting soon and Shake Shack, Philz Coffee and Mainland Poke have recently opened. Mainland Poke is a good healthy option, which sources sustainable fish that isn't frozen and comes into the restaurant whole. It's a fast-casual operation with the quality of a high-end sushi place. And this is L.A., so you'll probably want both kale and brown rice along with your tuna, salmon, albacore and/or octopus.
Chef Lior Hillel and operators Robert and Danny Kronfli, known for their Italian wine bars near USC and in Playa Del Rey, just opened Bacari GDL at The Americana. Being in a place with high foot traffic and customers (including renters of The Americana's high-end apartments) with more disposable income has allowed Hillel to expand his menu from the "everything is $9" small-plates model of his other restaurants. He's serving pastas like foie gras cresto de gallo and beet gnocchi. He's been selling a lot of short ribs and duck confit.
Yes, this is part of what's primarily known as a mall. But after just one week of service, Bacari GDL already feels like a cool neighborhood restaurant.
"Last night, there were five or six different groups that hung out until 11:30, when everything else in The Americana was dead," says Robert Kronfli.
Before Kronfli signed the lease, he spent days walking in and out of the restaurants at The Americana, counting the customers at each spot.
"The restaurants are super busy all the time," Kronfli says. "The foot traffic is really heavy. When you see that, it's hard to ignore the dollar signs."
Kronfli focused on making his design different from what he saw elsewhere at The Americana, He wanted to created a neighborhood wine bar, something less "corporate" and more "hipster." Bacari GDL has chalkboard walls, ceilings lined with wine bottles and a facade that resembles a garage door. A 90-minute open bar starts at $25 per person, so you'll probably want to hang out for a while.
Downtown Summerlin, Las Vegas
Elizabeth Blau is known for, among other things, developing luxury restaurants for Steve Wynn and operating the late Kerry Simon's hot spots at the Hard Rock and the Palms. So it's no surprise that Blau and husband/chef Kim Canteenweela's Andiron Steak & Sea is an elegant destination. Blau wanted the restaurant, designed by Thomas Schlesser (whose portfolio includes New York's Bar Boulud and Má Pêche), to feel like a Hamptons cottage or something you might find in Malibu. And she's succeeded. You're in the Vegas desert, but the white interiors, light-filled room, big open "kitchen theater" and gorgeous patio are transporting.
Andiron serves heirloom squash soup, lobster rolls, Creekstone Farms cowboy rib-eye and serrano ham-crusted salmon. It wants to be an everyday destination as well as a special-occasion restaurant, so there's a bar menu with sliders, avocado toast and black truffle fries. You can come for $1 oysters on Tuesdays or have fried chicken and waffles for your weekend brunch.
For more fried chicken, Downtown Summerlin is also home to Bruce and Eric Bromberg's Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken as well as the excellent fried chicken and gravy at MTO Cafe and the chicken sandwiches at Shake Shack. Which is to say, kids like eating in Downtown Summerlin, where there is also a Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill and the habit-forming gelatos and sorbets from an outpost of Australia-based Gelato Messina.
"Something of this magnitude is really new for Las Vegas," says Blau, who loves that developer The Howard Hughes Corporation has brought in tenants like an Apple Store and Lululemon. "And with Andiron, we took the experience you'd get at a restaurant on the Strip and brought it off the Strip, with off-the-Strip pricing."
If you get the itch to gamble or have a spa day, you don't need to head over to the Strip. The Red Rock casino-resort is about a mile away from Downtown Summerlin.