A little more than a year ago, Overland Avenue's dining scene was beyond lackluster, with few restaurants and even fewer to recommend. But this bridge between West L.A. and Palms has enormous potential given its geographical balance, and three intrepid owners have the foresight to see a future when the corner pocket parking lots on this stretch are buzzing with neighbors. Kogi creator Roy Choi changed the game with Chego in April 2010, serving rice bowls that mash up L.A.'s homegrown flavors with international bloodlines, followed not long afterwards by an infusion of innovative ice cream flavors and Intelligentsia Coffee at Matt Kang's Scoops Westside. Recently, acclaimed Japanese chef Niki Nakayama set up shop on the same block and suddenly, Overland's potential has snapped into focus. Follow us as we take a look at three pioneers bringing good food to Overland Avenue in today's Strip Search.
We're tired of trying to score a carton of ice cream, only to be confronted with overambitious flavors. We love creativity, but we don't need anyone cramming an entire movie theater concession stand into one pint. Scoops maintains a high level innovation while stopping well short of overboard, with daily changing flavors that on any given occasion might include blueberry tea, Grape Nuts-infused brown bread, pandan coconut, pomegranate blueberry, coconut white chocolate wasabi, green tea roasted rice, and a non-dairy peanut butter chocolate that is actually awesome. Masterminded by Scoops' Tai Kim, the ice cream tastes exactly like its ingredients do while showing remarkable restraint on the add-ons.
"How's the Guinness Coffee?," we ask Matt Kang, staring at about seven flavors in a simple shop with local art on the walls. "Very good, very Guinnessy," the shop-keep replies, telling us exactly what we'd hoped to hear. Kang, a well-known and well-liked L.A. food blogger, opened up the Westside depot of Scoops in December, having been an allegiant customer of the Hollywood locale for years. Kang has received lots of press, naturally, as he has plenty of acquaintances in the food-writing world. But Scoops Westside is clearly a passion project that has caught on with his peers, who often come to work from his store.
Friendly and helpful, Kang guides us through the flavors and recommends nearby SIimpang for Asian food. Deals abound at Kang's store. Ordering one scoop for $3.50 really gets you two scoops and single-origin Intelligentsia coffee is made using the pour-over method. Better yet, at $3.50, it costs less than what you'd get at the Intelligentsia store itself and this won't gobble up half your morning in line. Kang even considers a chalkboard on which customers doodle their own combination of insane and scrumptious flavor suggestions (churro sounds great) and recently caused a smash with a limited edition bacon jalapeno cheddar ice cream. Part of the beauty of Scoops Westside is knowing there's a friendly face here, dependable quality, and still something new and electrifying every time you come by (Kang estimates 40 flavors a week and writes "Take that Baskin-Robbins!" on his Facebook page).
Scoops Westside, 3400 Overland Ave. Palms. 323-405-7055.
Days after being named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2010, Roy Choi dropped this successful sequel to Kogi on Palms. Though he predicted early that the parking lot would be perpetually car-jammed, Chego quickly revealed itself to be more of a neighborhood spot, a funky little cafe with good music, obscure Angeleno gee-gaws, and original soul food. This time around, the medium that this bulgogi-and-masa uniter uses to express his love for L.A. is rice bowls, though the ingredients, in Choi's typical trademark, conjure L.A. street food as much as they resemble traditional Asian comfort.
Kurobuta short ribs are slicked with gochujang and paired with cotija cheese, cilantro, and pickled watermelon radishes; his buttered kimchi chow combines chicharonnes with edamame, red chili tofu, gaenip, and furikake; and you'll find Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, and red jalapeno playing nice in a Sour Cream Hen House. Despite far-flung ingredients, each bowl, when truly on, has the power to feel like home to the Angeleno spirit. There are times when Chego's indulgent bowls seem to be just what you want to be eating, which goes double when you've got a swerve on.
Chego, which is only open for dinner, has raised its prices but everything is still kept under ten bucks. The kitchen occasionally adds a new menu item on the fly (such as the C+C Music Factory chicken congee) and not to be overlooked one bit are its starters of charred asparagus with parmesan, kim chi quintet, or Korean-fried meatballs, which for us, connect some of the dots between Chego and Choi's other new restaurant we adore, A-Frame.
At Chego, it's a requirement that you stay for dessert, (no matter how stretched your belly may be) which springs from the mind of pastry chef Beth Kellerhals. Will it be a Sriracha bar, a cayenne and cinnamon-infused tres leches, a mini-rhubard pie that's to kill for, or maybe a Hawaiian shaved ice with homemade strawberry syrup and fresh and preserved fruits? Then there's the melty mainstay called "Rock yer Road." It's better you just come with friends and try to get your hands on them all.
Chego, 3300 Overland Ave. Palms. 310-287-0337.
This spring, former Azami and Inaka chef Niki Nakayama opened her own kaiseki opus just across the street from Scoops. You can expect sterling successive plates of Japanese and European-influenced beauty, but should also expect to drop a couple hundred of bucks. Seeing as this is a cheap-eatsy column and we haven't broken our piggy banks to eat here yet, we'll demure for the time-being. Still, the arrival of Nakayama to the street further demonstrates the potential of once overlooked Overland. Whether or not these restaurateurs are prescient or simply carving out their own paths, they are bringing quality, innovation, and excitement to Palms, suddenly making Overland a thoroughfare to keep your eyes on.
N/Naka, 3455 S. Overland Ave. Palms. 310-836-6252.