The diner is a staple of American food culture, and many L.A. restaurants, from Swingers to Fred 62, have put their own modern spin on it. Ingo's Tasty Diner, which is scheduled to open at the end of March in a historic Santa Monica storefront, is looking to introduce yet another riff: the city's first farm-to-table diner.
"There's this stigma attached to diners that they have boring food and rhinestoned glasses," says Ingo's executive chef Shaun Werth. "What we're really doing is taking it back to what diners originally were — open houses for everyone in the neighborhood to come in for a meal and feel comfortable."
So far, the menu plans include twists on traditional American comfort food, such as patty melts made with grass-fed beef, hearty yet vegetarian chili and spaghetti and meatballs using house-made noodles (crafted from organic eggs). A rotisserie station will roast Mary's Free-Range Chickens in sight of the dining room.
For Werth, a farm-to-table diner using SoCal producers is the manifestation of the hyperlocal emphasis throughout the Ingo's operation. His connections with vendors from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market are the result of relationships he built while working as sous chef at the Misfit, a Santa Monica spot owned by the same company as Ingo's. (The Misfit's executive chef, Jordan Lynn, will be helping out.)
That company, LGO Hospitality — the firm also behind La Grande Orange and the Luggage Room in Pasadena, and a half dozen Arizona restaurants including Ingo's Tasty Food — has experience developing eateries in historic buildings. So when the nearly 70-year-old diner on Wilshire Boulevard called Callahan's closed last year and its Streamline Moderne structure was offered for sale, LGO owners Bob Lynn and artist Sara Abbott, his wife, jumped at the opportunity to keep the architecture intact and make the space something both useful and special for the neighborhood.
"We want people that live on 12th Street to come by for coffee in the morning and a couple who lives on Euclid to come in for date night on Saturday," says general manager Matt Kretschmer. Ingo's initially will offer dinner service, with lunch and breakfast to follow in coming months.
Inside the revamped space, the curved countertop where Callahan's patrons posted up every morning for coffee received a new layer of wood and the green speckled terrazzo floors were waxed to their original glory. Outside, a neon sign bearing the new restaurant's name was designed according to period-appropriate specs.
Only Abbot's modern-leaning artwork and an application of chalkboard paint above the counter station (where the names of current suppliers and farmers will be displayed) give aesthetic clues to Ingo's new owners. The restaurant fits right in with its neighbor Vienna Pastry, which has been open since 1946.
Many of the entrees — including chopped salads and omelettes — will cost less than $20. And a new liquor license will bring craft cocktails to the space, though there won't be a separate bar area.
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"Our intention is to present items that people are familiar with but offer a new experience," says chef Jordan Lynn. "That's what great about a diner: the integration it can have into your daily life."
Ingo's Tasty Diner, 1213 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, ingostastydiner.com