The Mediterranean restaurant, with an adjacent rock club, grooves to its own beat.
You could drive yourself crazy trying to keep track of all the new dining and drinking hotness in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood. There’s Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina’s Triple Beam Pizza. There’s the Pine & Crane crew’s exuberant Taiwanese food at Joy. There’s an outpost of Tex-Mex breakfast-taco specialist Homestate that just opened this week. There’s an outpost of Mason’s Dumpling Shop. There’s the Sticky Rice crew’s RBTA, with its Japanese skewers at night and donburi bowls at lunch. There are a lot of vegan options, including L.A.’s first vegan pan dulce at old-school Mexican bakery Delicias. (Shoutout to lataco.com for keeping hyper-local food media alive in L.A. during a difficult time.) There’s Tinfoil, where a scenester deli is hidden inside a liquor store. There’s an outpost of Blind Barber, where a speakeasy is hidden inside a barbershop. And that’s just a little taste of what’s new and hot.
Our new favorite place in Highland Park, though, feels pretty old-school. The historic Highland Park Masonic Temple has been converted into a Mediterranean restaurant, Checker Hall, and an attached rock club, Lodge Room.
Checker Hall is where you can grab a comfortable booth and enjoy Mediterranean food and specialty cocktails in an airy and exceedingly pleasant room featuring vintage decor, including a giant mid-century De Bazel chandelier that originated in the Netherlands. Hovig Agop, a 28-year-old chef of Lebanese descent who grew up in L.A. and cooked at Cleo, serves delightful dips like hummus and labneh along with fragrant and flavorful merguez skewers, wondrous cheese-filled boreks and fried cauliflower accompanied by housemade tahini. Agop’s daurade with both carrot purée and heirloom baby carrots is a nice dish for a chilly winter night. For dessert, there’s a tahini brownie as well as ashta, a lovely Middle Eastern panna cotta that’s infused with rose water and topped with simple syrup and pistachio.
Checker Hall is a place that deserves to be in the conversations about the rise of L.A. Mediterranean restaurants like Kismet and The Exchange. These are all restaurants that are deftly combining Middle Eastern flavors and California edge. But Checker Hall is the only one of them with a sister rock club where M. Ward played a sold-out show on Valentine’s Day and where Rogue Wave and Wye Oak are performing later this year. Lodge Room, which also serves bar food and has boozy slushies, and Checker Hall debuted late last year. Who even opens a rock club in 2017? It turns out that real estate investor Hugh Horne did because he recognized an opportunity in a neighborhood with crowds that tend to stay out late.
On the Thursday night we visited Checker Hall, we walked over to Triple Beam for some after-dinner Roman-style pizza, which was cut with scissors and priced by weight. The streets were buzzing well after 9 p.m., which can be late for L.A. on a weeknight. Patrons were rolling in and out of restaurants and bars. The movie theater was selling tickets for a 10:25 p.m. showing of Black Panther. Happily buzzed after drinking Checker Hall’s Hall Grog (light rum, dark rum, orgeat, pineapple, passionfruit and honey), we got our pizza and started walking again. There wasn’t a show at Lodge Room on this Thursday. But had there been one, we would have been ready for a really late night.
Checker Hall, 104 N. Ave. 56, Highland Park, 323-509-7416