Beverly Boulevard, long the quiet stepsister to parallel strips like hip Melrose, cultured Wilshire, and glamorous Sunset, has at last found a way into L.A.'s heart ― through its stomach. With 42 eateries now scattered along a 2-mile stretch between La Brea and La Cienega, Beverly has become a culinary success story.
"I never thought of it as a restaurant address, but all of a sudden I started opening my eyes and the whole place has become chic," says Roger Hayot, chef/owner of Authentic Cafe, which has the unpretentious atmosphere and soul-pleasing food that are Beverly trademarks.
Hayot opened his cafe 16 years ago in the building that had housed his father's butcher shop. That generational turnover is typical of the changing neighborhood. Aging residents of elegant Spanish apartment houses moved out, and creative types of all ethnicities moved in. The commercial district along Beverly started catering to a hipper clientele, and a half-dozen Jewish temples held on and grew. When top L.A. chefs started opening experimental cafes 18 months ago, the whole boulevard came to life. "Every night is like a Saturday night," says Elizabeth McLaury, who owns Angelini Osteria with her husband, chef Gino Angelini. "It's triple what we expected."
Pull your own cork
One cafe that captures the neighborhood's personality is Cobras & Matadors. Spanish tapas ― clams in garlic broth, deep-fried garbanzo patties ― arrive in metal pots from the stovetop. Cobras has no liquor license, so diners buy Spanish wine from the shop next door and drink it from jelly glasses over brown paper tablecloths.
High tea at Buckingham Palace, it isn't. But the room is so redolent with the aroma of garlic and olives, the air is so thick with the ideas of gesticulating artists and writers, you'll remember Cobras as a smoke-filled room, even though ― this being smoke-free Los Angeles and not Madrid ― there's not a cigarette in sight.
Restaurateur and attorney Richard Drapkin and his partners planned to open much-anticipated Grace Restaurant in January, 2003, on Beverly. Commenting on Cobras, he says, "It reminds me of the crowd that used to hang at the West Beach Cafe and 72 Market Street in Venice 15 years ago. It's exciting. It's about being around creative people."
It's also about eating food that makes you close your eyes and savor. At Angelini Osteria, a matchbox of a cafe with just 25 tables, the pasta will transport your taste buds to Italy so quickly that you'll have jet lag.
Pastis is an earthy French country inn that serves cassoulet and savory tarts. Hirozen specializes in Japanese delicacies such as ankimo (monkfish liver). For American fare, there are über-cool, burger-slinging waitresses in miniskirts and army boots at Swingers. The pot roast at Jar will melt so smoothly on your tongue, you won't care that it's frying a hole in your pocketbook too.
On Friday nights, waiting diners spill onto the sidewalk. The pierced and tattooed crowd rubs elbows with gray hairs from Beverly Hills and Hasidic Jewish men walking home from temple. The scene is relaxed and lively, a glimpse of a Los Angeles that is more urban and more complex than you might have ever imagined.