6 places to find low-key gourmet food in Los Angeles:
- Star chef: Susan Feniger—Border Grill and Ciudad co-owner, Too Hot Tamales TV star, Top Chef Masters’s best-natured contestant, and all-around culinary guru. Ethnic street food gets a crazy-flavored twist at her newest venture—a strong contender for most fun restaurant in L.A. Nab a spot on the outdoor patio.
- Don’t miss: Spinach varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings) with lemon marmalade; Moroccan winter squash with pepitas, chestnuts, and popcorn. $$; 742 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; 323/203-0500.
2. 25 Degrees
- Star chefs: Tim and Liza Goodell, whose empire brought us the posh Dakota steakhouse, now have this burger bar in the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Take in the old-Hollywood atmosphere—all red leather and mirrors—as a burger drips juice down your chin. Open 24 hours for late-night cravings.
- Don’t miss: The Number One burger, with crescenza and gorgonzola cheeses, bacon, arugula, and Thousand Island. Add the half-and-half onion rings and sweet potato fries, plus a vanilla malt. $; 7000 Hollywood Blvd.; 323/785-7244.
3. The Oinkster
- Star chef: Andre Guerrero, who has shuttered his Cal-Asian favorite, Max, and opened this American-style sandwich joint. The house-cured pastrami, pulled pork, and hamburgers arrive in paper-lined red plastic baskets, and the shiny white counter design is decidedly In-N-Out.
- Don’t miss: The Oinkster pastrami with caramelized onions, gruyère, and a fresh red-cabbage slaw. Add Belgian fries with garlic aioli, and a lemon-orange Oinksterade, which tastes fresh enough to have been squeezed straight from the trees. $; 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; 323/255-6465.
4. 8 Oz. Burger Bar
- Star chef: Govind Armstrong, Top Chef Masters competitor, who once helmed Table 8, his Cal cuisine mecca, at this same spot. What makes a Top Chef–worthy burger? The beef is hormone-free, hand-ground, and house-cured, and the pickles are house-made.
- Don’t miss: The classic 8 Oz. burger vies with the oozier short-rib grilled cheese for most popular dish here. Try both, and wash it all down with small-batch beers on tap. $; 7661 Melrose Ave.; 323/852-0008.
5. Pizzeria Mozza
- Star chefs: La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton and TV star Mario Batali. Need we say more? Mozza is the queen bee of the new upscale-downscale scene, where a wood-burning oven turns out stunning pizzas with super-fresh tomatoes and mozzarella—not to mention broccoli rabe, burrata cheese, and guanciale (cured pork cheek). Try the $19 two-course special weekdays between 2 and 5 p.m., when you also have the best chance of avoiding a wait.
- Don’t miss: The squash blossom pizza. To finish, let the butterscotch budino (pudding) rock you back on your heels. $$; 641 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; 323/297-0101.
6. Coming soon: Grilled Cheese
- Star chef: Eric Greenspan, a competitor on The Next Iron Chef, still roasting squab at the Foundry (see above right), his Cal-French spot next door.
- Don’t miss: When Greenspan opens this cheapie spot in a month or so, look for the Champ—taleggio and short ribs on raisin bread with an apricot-caper schmear—which grabbed first prize in L.A.’s 2008 Grilled Cheese Invitational. $; 7461 Melrose Ave.; thefoundryonmelrose.com