the food guy

The Food Guy: Chicago Restaurants Expanding Into Los Angeles

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A number of successful Chicago restaurant groups have slowly been adding to their portfolios on the West Coast.

NBC 5's Food Guy Steve Dolinsky has been tracking this, and since he’s in Los Angeles, he decided to pay them all a visit.

The weather and the year-round produce are certainly big draws for chefs in LA, but there’s a lot of competition too. How do you distinguish yourself? You do what’s worked already in Chicago.

The hand stretched, artisan pizzas and toothsome pastas share a menu with plenty of salads at Stella Barra, the only Lettuce Entertain You restaurant in Los Angeles, located just blocks from the ocean in Santa Monica. Opening Chef Jeff Mahin brought the concept here from Lincoln Park, and yes, you can still use your Lettuce Frequent Diner points.

A few miles inland, the team behind Bucktown and River North’s Etta has opened at the base of a boutique Hyatt hotel in Culver City. The Mediterranean menu is very similar here.

Meanwhile, the Boka Restaurant Group made a big splash a couple of years ago near downtown, by opening the second Girl and the Goat with Chef Stephanie Izard.

“If you look around where we are here right now at Girl & the Goat in the Arts District, it feels like the West Loop or Fulton Market,” said Gabe Garza, the chief development officer of the Boka Group.

“Looked in Ann Arbor, looked in Washington D.C., looked in a few places and then one day Rob and Kevin were like ‘I think we found something you’re gonna love. We want to get you out to L.A.’” said Izard. “I walk into that space, and you could just see it happening.”

“Obviously we have a couple of crossovers. The green beans are gonna be the green beans, right? We can’t get rid of those. This menu did evolve in its own way and it is specially curated for the market here,” said Garza.

I mean, local strawberries in a salad – in April? One of many examples of the West Coast advantage.

“Chicagoans think that people in L.A. don’t eat bread and don’t eat gluten and all these things and it’s just not true, especially not on the East Side. We sell so much of our naan, which is our bread. We sell so much more than we do in Chicago,” said Izard.

A 10-minute drive into a gritty part of downtown, the Boka Group also runs two restaurants inside the Hoxton Hotel. On the first floor, Café Basque, inspired by Spanish ingredients.

“Really a celebration of Basque food in a diner type setting. Very approachable, very kind of an everyday space to go,” said Garza.

And on the rooftop, next to the pool just like the one in the West Loop, Cabra turns out vibrant Peruvian dishes like ceviche or raw tuna with cubes of fried potatoes. Izard says Angelenos have big appetites.

“They wanna eat; they wanna eat all the things we have and we sell more desserts there too!” said Izard.

Izard is actually back in Chicago, where she’s reopening her diner this week in Lakeview. It’s part of a trio of new restaurants all tucked inside the old Southport Lanes space.

Here's where you can go - if you visit Los Angeles:

Girl and the Goat

555-3 Mateo St.


Café Basque

1060 S. Broadway


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