At press time, California was moving toward fully reopening its economy. That means Southland restaurants will again be welcoming customers back into their indoor dining rooms. However, for those who are not quite ready to dine among strangers or for those who simply enjoy restaurant-quality meals at home, we present a roundup of some of Westways' restaurant critics’ favorite takeout spots. Contact the restaurants directly to check if they offer their own delivery services, or order from food-delivery apps.
The pandemic may have been disastrous for most restaurants, but for pizzerias, especially those that deliver, it’s been a bonanza. Pizza pop-ups were already popping when the March 2020 shutdown happened, at a time when L.A. was discovering the high-fat joys of Detroit-style pan pizza, and several of these Detroit-style pop-ups (Dtown and Dough Daddy among them) are thriving for pickup and/or delivery. One that has transitioned to storefront is Bootleg Pizza, in the Pico-Fairfax area. Unlike the others, Bootleg does not make a Detroit purist’s pie. Kyle Lambert combines the best of the Motor City version—the thick, focaccia-like sourdough crust, the pan baking, and the crisp, deeply browned but not burned sides and edges—with the best of the New Jersey pies he grew up with—the grandma-style tomato sauce and the whole-milk mozzarella, instead of Detroit’s heavy, super-rich Wisconsin brick cheese. The result is a small, square-pan pizza that is so hearty it could feed up to three, especially if you add the crisped pepperoni, but so freakin’ good that two people will want to eat the whole thing.
Cheko El Rey del Sarandeado
Now that summer has kicked in, our thoughts turn to beach food, especially seafood. And nobody in the greater Long Beach area does mariscos better than Cheko El Rey del Sarandeado. After a day on the beach, nothing goes down better than El Rey’s smoked marlin tacos; shrimp ceviche with mango, cucumber, tomato, and onion; camarónes borrachos (shrimp sautéed in tequila and garlic); cucarachas (addictively crisp fried shell-on shrimp with butter sauce); and the namesake sarandeado (grilled chile-rubbed Pacific snapper). The owner used to cook at one of Southern California’s best mariscos places, Coni’Seafood, and he is a master of flavor balance. The food packs well for takeout, or you can eat outside and add a cold beer. (562) 422-4888.
The Wood BBQ and Sports Lounge is one of many Southern California restaurants whose planning process began well before COVID-19, so it had the misfortune of opening in the midst of a shutdown. Fortunately, The Wood’s specialty—barbecue—is takeout-friendly, and it is first-rate. The best dish in the house is the incredibly tender and savory brisket; other winners include the mac-and-cheese, Mexican street corn, potato salad, and spareribs. There’s a patio for pandemic-friendly dining, and by the time you read this, the interior is likely to be open, with sports fans watching games on TV, just like the owners planned way back when.
The two-level mall at the southeast corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura boulevards has seen many restaurants come and go, but I’m hoping Mazza Modern Kitchen has staying power. This is no ordinary Middle Eastern spot; Mazza has its own point of view and a menu studded with distinctive specialties from Iran, Morocco, and Uzbekistan, the owner’s homeland. Try the “world famous” Uzbek plov, a hearty lamb-and-rice pilaf served with a homey side salad of cherry tomatoes, a dish ample enough to serve two. The Trio Mazza Platter comes with Moroccan-style braised tomatoes, baba ghanoush with truffled mushroom, grilled eggplant caviar, and assorted olives. The masabacha hummus features creamy whole chickpeas in the mix, and the Florentine Khachapuri is akin to a cheesy Mediterranean flatbread.
Out of all the barbecue spots in the San Fernando Valley, why this one? The quality of the ’cue—full stop. Baby back ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and perfectly sauced; the pulled pork is spicy and smoky, and I could make a meal out of the side dishes alone. An array of sandwiches makes this a great lunch option; I like the Cali Reuben with slaw instead of sauerkraut. If you need another reason besides the food, Barbie-Q is owned by a former food truck operator named Fortune Southern, who opened this, her first brick-and-mortar spot, in Encino during the pandemic. Come for the story, stay for the food.
Located in Old Town, Perle serves classic French fare in a “mirrored” menu that showcases authentic bistro specialties along with vegetarian interpretations. If the piquant steak tartare isn’t your thing, how about marinated beetroot tartare with cashew crumble and an herb cream? It’s terrific to find a restaurant that puts vegetarian cuisine front and center, but Perle offers plenty for lovers of meat, chicken, and fish, including a fine steak frites with béarnaise sauce, and a coq au vin that tastes like a French grand-maman prepared it. The limited takeout menu offers just one dessert, Perle’s acclaimed tarte Tatin with a tangy labneh cream.
When Secret Bao flung open its doors, foodies who knew co-proprietors/chefs Peter Lee and Felicia Medina’s cooking from their pandemic-era pop-ups and tenure at Santa Barbara’s Loquita jumped for joy. The couple, who between them have experience working with the likes of Joël Robuchon, José Andrés, and Nancy Silverton, started with a takeout-only lunch and dinner menu that spans techniques and flavors from Korea to Italy. The menu is evolving, but you can’t miss with any of the pillowy bao buns with fillings such as Korean fried chicken, maitake mushroom, six-hour-roasted pork belly, and fried shrimp. In the “Not Baos” section, you might find a flavor-packed fusion dish of curry yaki soba or silky jap chae made with sweet potato glass noodles. Rice dishes, snacks like gyoza, and a kids’ menu including a PB&J bao round out the offerings. For outdoor dining, you can eat on the restaurant’s patio or order takeout and head across the street to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden.
SAN LUIS OBISPO
Jason Barringer established a loyal following with his mobile wood-fired-cooking catering company, and fans were thrilled when he opened a restaurant in the historic Creamery Marketplace in January 2020. Soon after opening, Barringer adapted the menu for takeaway to accommodate COVID-related restrictions, but nothing gets lost in the translation. Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas sport crusts that perfectly balance chew and crispy char. Standouts include a version topped with pepperoni and house-made fennel-flecked sausage. Bear Squares, the restaurant’s focaccia-like take on Detroit-style pan pizza, include the zippy-sweet Bee Stang with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella, spicy Calabrese salami, basil, and house-made spicy honey. Seasonal starters are fresh and creative, and draft beers and Central Coast wines are ideal companions. The chocolate chip cookies are out of this world. Outdoor seating is on the pleasant patio.
The husband-and-wife team of Michael and Sarah Cherney opened Peasants Feast on April 1, 2020, just after the pandemic-induced lockdown began, so the restaurant was takeout-only from the get-go. The hospitality industry veterans (chef Michael Cherney is an alum of Las Vegas’ L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon) pivoted with their menu but maintained focus on ingredients sourced mainly from nearby organic farms and artisanal producers. The results are uniformly superb, and include the Solvang Hot Chicken sandwich, The Grotto (a smash burger), and a rotating array of tacos on house-made tortillas, with fillings ranging from mushroom to local whitefish. Sweet treats crafted by the Cherneys’ daughter, Reina, include ice cream sandwiches and ice cream by the scoop, in flavors like brown butter and peach. Take your feast to nearby Solvang Park.
Rustik Fork offers an eclectic seasonal menu created with local, organic ingredients. Start with Cajun-seasoned seared ‘ahi with avocado-mango relish or relatively tame Nashville hot chicken strips before moving on to the Wagyu steak with an Ethiopian-spiced sauce or the pan-seared salmon, a smart Mediterranean composition featuring hummus pesto, Israeli couscous, and pistachios. Burgers stuffed into branded buns can be paired with local beers, while vegan options include Chinese-inspired cauliflower tossed in an orange sauce that’s more sweet than spicy. Desserts range from a root-beer float to an organic chocolate mousse. For takeout meals, creative cocktails and wines from a nicely edited list can be packed to go.
Occupying an Old World–inspired space tucked off a Claremont Village alleyway, this local favorite has brought a taste of the Spanish capital close to home for 23 years. Michelin-starred restaurants have transformed Spain into a trendsetting culinary destination, but the cuisine at Viva Madrid focuses on unpretentious classics. Even for takeout, an exhaustive list of tapas is offered. One could compose an entire feast from the omelet-like tortilla Española, the smoked paprika–scented octopus, the bacon-wrapped shrimp in piquillo pepper sauce, and croquetas filled with chicken or seafood. Paellas, available in two sizes, are natural crowd-pleasers. If you dine at the restaurant, don’t miss the crema Catalana, Spain’s version of crème brûlée that is finished tableside.
Fans of Chinese dumplings may remember a San Gabriel Valley hole-in-the-wall—it was a favorite of legendary food writer Jonathan Gold—that served incredible pot stickers. Its name, Dumpling Master, has now resurfaced in Rancho Cucamonga a decade later (no relation to the original). The restaurant prepares hand-pulled noodles well worth slurping, but, as the name implies, dumplings take center stage. A variety of fillings (e.g., shrimp and pork, fish, chicken and corn) go into both pan-fried and boiled dumplings, while fluffy bao-like buns get stuffed with tender pork and brushed with a sauce that lacks intensity. Unexpected Japanese specialties like shrimp tempura and tonkatsu ramen share the menu with traditional Chinese dim sum, and sesame balls provide a sweet finish.
Long a pubby, New American staple of Costa Mesa’s food scene, Social has expanded into Huntington Beach and kept much of the globe-trotting menu unchanged. Favorites like the roasted brussels sprouts drizzled with honey butter and studded with tasso ham, and the grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, chicharrónes, and smoked romesco still shine. There are a few specials unique to this location, too, like the restaurant’s clever spin on the now-essential whole-cauliflower entrée. Here, it’s fried and dressed like a crunch roll, slicked with dynamite sauce, sweet soy, and heaps of masago. Grilled Jidori chicken spiced with a harissa glaze and served over a bed of quinoa is a simple winner. Dessert is similarly basic but effective: airy tres leches cake, and house-made cheesecake with macerated strawberries.
Garden Grove’s open-air SteelCraft food hall has, by design, something for everyone. And Barrio, a stall specializing in the sweetly charred flavors of Filipino and Korean barbecue, is one of the most interesting options. The menu is simple: build-your-own plates consisting of Filipino-leaning grilled skewers (think marinated pork shoulder or garlic-rubbed shrimp) or classic Korean barbecue cuts like thin, tender bulgogi. A side of atchara (sweet-tart pickled mango, carrot, and green papaya) or classic kimchi provides necessary balance. Crunchy, almost bite-size lumpia are a comforting start. If you’re lucky, you might even catch one of the restaurant’s rotating specials, like liempo (marinated and grilled pork belly). Whatever you decide to order, wash it down with a glass of Barrio’s signature calamansi lemonade slushie.
Family-run Centro Storico is a pasta powerhouse. The Old Town Tustin spaghetteria makes nearly all of its pastas daily, a craft dedicated to perfecting pappardelle and fusilli alike. Start with a serving of polenta e ragù, squares of golden fried polenta with a cup of vibrant meat sauce for dipping. Caprese is a bright and satisfying complement, with creamy bocconcini mozzarella alongside juicy heirloom tomatoes. Every pasta dish can be ordered as a half-portion, perfect for building your own flight of, say, aglione (bucatini in a simple garlic tomato sauce), rape e salsiccia (orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage), and capperi e olive (casareccie with San Marzano tomatoes, olives, and capers). Grilled meats make up most of the entrées, highlighted by the tagliata, a richly crusted grilled porterhouse for two. The restaurant’s almond-ricotta torta makes a thoroughly delicate finish.
This casual restaurant’s chef-owners bring years of experience in cooking in Korean restaurants and Chinese kitchens to a not-so-serious menu that’s nonetheless rooted in the fundamentals of Asian cuisine. ChiKo was already an award winner in Washington, D.C., before it crossed the country to Encinitas. Among its most playful and popular dishes are the Orange-ish Chicken, a lighter take on the Chinese American standard that features tempura-fried chicken thigh tossed with Fresno chiles and candied mandarin oranges, and the furikake-buttered rice bowl topped with a soy sauce egg and Montreal-style smoked brisket. The family meal package ($50), designed for takeout, bundles spicy cumin lamb noodles, salmon with black bean butter and vegetables, and a citrus- and soy-dressed radish and avocado salad with kimchi and turmeric pickled daikon.
Hugely popular with local diners, the South Bay restaurant is named for Texcoco, the region where barbacoa, or Mexican barbecue, is thought to have roots. Typically slow roasted over an open fire or wrapped in maguey leaves and cooked inside fire pits, barbacoa can be made with several different meats, but this eatery’s specialty is borrego, or lamb, in dishes that utilize many parts of the animal. Half-pound platters offer the choice of lean meat, rib meat, tripe, or succulent morsels from the lamb’s head, served with accompaniments including tortillas and a cup of fragrant lamb broth filled with rice and garbanzo beans. Or make a meal of rolled tacos, elevated here with a filling of juicy shredded lamb, and palm-sized quesadillas folded around fresh zucchini blossoms or huitlacoche, a Mexican delicacy with an earthy, mushroom-like flavor.
Though Neapolitan pizza is still the dominant style in the U.S., the national pizza scene has seen a surge in the proliferation of pinsa, a pizza-like flatbread said to date back to the Roman Empire. This takeout-and-delivery–only spot is dedicated to the oval-shaped pies whose dough, a mix of wheat, rice, and soy flours, is fermented for 72 hours, resulting in a crisp but tender crust that’s lighter than a traditional pizza base. The 12-by-9-inch flatbreads include two with topping combos inspired by some of Rome’s most famous pasta dishes; the amatriciana features red sauce with mozzarella, pecorino, and guanciale, or cured pork jowl, while the cacio e pepe is blanketed with mozzarella, pecorino, Parmesan, walnuts, and a liberal dusting of black pepper. The bakery, which hand-stretches mozzarella as well as caciocavallo, an aged cheese molded in the form of a gourd, also offers several varieties of take-and-bake pinsa.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.