For a while now, Elysian has been one of those tucked-away L.A. secrets, a kind-of restaurant that feels more like a garden party at a friend's house, which has gained popularity mainly through word-of-mouth. The Frogtown venture run by chef David Thorne used to be open only on weekends, and its shared space with Clockshop, an arts organization run by Thorne's wife, Julia Meltzer, gave it a mixed-purpose feel, hidden behind a tall fence off an unassuming street. As of January, Elysian is now operating more like a traditional restaurant, with a remodeled bar, expanded menus, and dinner hours Wednesday through Saturday. There's also a new happy hour in the late afternoon on Fridays and Saturdays.
Thorne and Meltzer are great fans of the neighborhoods surrounding Elysian, and when they eat out it is usually with their daughter in tow. "I am not living the youthful chef late-hours nightlife or doing an early-morning hangover cure search these days," Thorne says. "My wife Julia and daughter Amina and I usually have pretty simple and easy dinners at home — lots of rice and beans, rice and tofu and veg, soups, and so on — but when we do get out we don't go far." From great places to meet up with big groups to easy weekday lunches, Thorne was kind enough to share his favorite places he and his family go when they do hit the town.
Pine & Crane
"For pea tendrils, cabbage, ma po tofu and any dumplings on the menu. Everything is tasty and it is a lively, easygoing place. Ma po tofu and some kind of white wine by the glass never fails." 1521 Griffith Park Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 668-1128, pineandcrane.com.
Din Tai Fung
"Din Tai Fung at the Americana is nearby for us and an easy option, though it is a complicated corporate beast. ... Amina loves dumplings, and they have sauteed broccoli or green beans that she can take down so we get to feel good about ourselves as parents. We have an almost weekly meal there with a close friend and her kid; the kids draw pictures and drink boba, and we eat wontons and talk politics while people with headsets buzz around the room. It is oddly comfortable." 177 Caruso Ave., Glendale; (818) 551-5561, dintaifungusa.com.
DeSano Pizza Bakery
"DeSano is a good place to meet up with a few other families and kids. The service is fast and the pizza is good. I am not a pizza craver but I seem to be able to cram it in at this place." 959 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 913-7000, desanopizza.com.
Wax Paper Co.
"We get lunch during the week from Wax Paper Co. — solid sandwiches, lovely people. The sandwiches are far better than most of the reporting and programming on NPR. [Ed. note: All of the sandwiches at Wax paper are named after National Public Radio personalities.] I am a creature of habit and though I have tried most of their menu, I almost always get the Ira Glass — cheddar, avocado, pickled onion and sprouts on fantastic seeded bread. It has not converted me into a fan of This American Life." 2902 Knox Ave., Frogtown; (323) 284-8857, waxpaperco.com.
"They recently expanded their menu and the eggplant sandwich is delicious, as well as the unmanageable roasted beet number with an egg, tapenade, feta, and there might be some lettuce in there. It falls apart into a heaping mess but you just keep stuffing it in your face with your fingers." 3143 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 486-7073, dune.kitchen.
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India Sweets and Spices
"Staggeringly inexpensive, cafeteria service, vegetarian, and pretty good. I like that is very other-end-of-the-spectrum in relation to so much of what's going on in the food scene. In other words, I'm not bothered by the fact that they don't have hand-curated lacto-fermented dal (and that would probably be a health code violation anyway). You can get any of the combo deals and come away feeling pretty replenished and possibly even a touch sweaty." 3126 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 345-0360,indiasweetsandspices.us.
"Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Proof Bakery’s little sandwiches, especially the stripped-down classic jambon de paris, cornichon and butter on a super-salted ficelle, pretty consistently hit the spot. You have to get a cookie, too, because they're piled up at the point of purchase and the cookies don't suck at all." 3156 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 664-8633, proofbakery.com.