Los Angeles' Most Exciting New Restaurants Are Ghost Pop-Ups
But when you serve food with a sense of urgency—with a mission that's rooted in survival and caring for yourself and your loved ones—wonderful things can happen. Boundaries seem to matter a lot less.
So in Los Angeles, you end up with Saucy Chick Rotisserie's glorious Mexican- and Indian-inspired chicken, served with a harmonious multicultural array of sides, sauces, and accompaniments, so you can make rice bowls or burritos or nachos. You also end up with a space, Crafted Kitchen, that's home to Bridgetown Roti's next-level Caribbean patties, Moo's Craft Barbecue's top-tier Texas-style smoked meat, and so much more.
What you end up with is the formative stages of what might be L.A.'s next great restaurants. Here's a look at some of the city's most exciting ghost kitchens and pop-ups.
Saucy Chick Rotisserie
After Rhea Patel Michel and Marcel Rene Michel were furloughed from their corporate jobs, the married couple opened a ghost kitchen that serves free-range, hand-brined chicken with flavors from both Rhea's Indian culture and Marcel's Mexican culture. (There's also a milder chicken that their son enjoys.)
Saucy Chick was an idea that existed in their heads pre-pandemic, and both the Jeera Chick chicken and the Pibil Chick chicken pair with excellent sides like charred turmeric-roasted cauliflower; basmati rice with cumin, aromatics, and ghee; and whipped pinto beans with chorizo and cheese. The scratch-made sauces, including a thick garlic-chili paste, a creamy and cooling raita, a fierce macha chili oil, and the green and garlicky G.G. sauce, are also exemplary.
Add-ons include Burritos La Palma flour tortillas and a next-day nacho kit with tortilla chips from local manufacturer La Fortaleza along with shredded cheese, crema, house-pickled onions, cilantro, and sauces. We totally understand if you don't wait until the next day to make these spectacular nachos.
Saucy Chick's wide delivery range includes much of the San Gabriel Valley and also Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, and parts of the San Fernando Valley. Sometimes, they'll even announce special drop-offs to other neighborhoods on their Instagram account. saucychickrotisserie.com
Entrepreneur Cindi Thompson left a career in financial services and launched L.A.'s most prominent ghost-kitchen facility after doing volunteer work for an NPR station and the Los Angeles Public Library, teaching reading to immigrants, going to cooking school, and becoming a private chef. After thinking about the low margins of food businesses and how the sharing economy could help chefs, she created Crafted Kitchen in L.A.'s Arts District. Her decision was also spurred by the death of her cancer-stricken architect father, who taught her the importance of building things "for the future and not for the current."
Crafted Kitchen has 8,000 square feet (plus a patio) with kitchens and other spaces that are currently shared by vendors like Andrew and Michelle Muñoz's Moo's Craft Barbecue, Rashida Holmes' Bridgetown Roti, and Jessie Nicely's Burmese, Please.
Many TV shows, including Top Chef and MasterChef, have filmed here. And Thompson is deeply proud of her former tenants, like Broad Street Oyster Co. and The Rooster Truck, who have gone on to restaurants and other projects. Thompson spends her days handling everything from major plumbing issues to "small skirmishes" between Crafted Kitchen members, but she feels elated overall about the community she's built and the businesses she's been able to incubate.
So when a vendor leaves Crafted Kitchen for another opportunity, she has mixed feelings.
"The idea was always to help people grow and go," said Thompson, who remembers being extremely sad when The Rooster Truck's Rouha Sadighi outgrew Crafted Kitchen. "F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors. And he's noted as saying that the sign of intellect is the ability to hold two competing thoughts in the mind and be able to function."
I ask Thompson how she will feel when somebody like Holmes, who has gotten nationwide media coverage for her Caribbean patties and curries, leaves Crafted Kitchen.
"When I think about any of these people who will grow and go, it's very bittersweet," Thompson said. "It's what we are here to do. And I will miss them. It causes me on the daily to really appreciate the people who are here and gravitate to Rashida and embrace her and support her today. Because you're right, she's not always going to be here. Post-pandemic, she's going to have her own place. And I'm going to enjoy going to her place."
Sisters Tara and Celene Carrara serve Indonesian street food out of their childhood home in Glendale. The meals are in the form of a banana leaf filled with lemongrass/coconut milk rice, slow-cooked chicken curry, and accompaniments like vegetables, dried pork floss, and a hard-boiled egg topped with chili paste. Mixing everything together creates a savory, sweet, spicy, and umami symphony. A fried sambal goreng with spicy Thai chiles, shallots, and garlic adds great texture and also some seriously intense heat, so maybe be careful. Bungkus Bagus
Nan Yimcharoen makes chirashi loaded with pristine seafood like snow crab, uni, and Hokkaido scallops in Silver Lake. She cooks ultra-premium A5 Miyazaki wagyu on a smokeless grill and serves it with a jidori egg yolk atop sushi rice. She is an underground sensation who builds multi-tier bento boxes that both celebrities and in-the-know Japanese-food lovers have gravitated toward during the pandemic. Kinkan is ideal for special occasions, for those moments when you really feel like celebrating something while you're stuck at home. instagram.com/kinkanla