For around four decades Crenshaw's Holiday Bowl was not just a bowling alley, bar and coffee shop but a cultural hub for South Central L.A. Founded in 1958 by Japanese entrepreneurs who had been released from Manzanar's internment camps a decade earlier, it became a neighborhood enclave for the blue-collar and avant-garde characters who were relegated to L.A.'s cultural fringes during the latter half of the 20th century. A 1999 article in L.A. Weekly retells an anecdote from late owner Duke Kim: "Not only was [the] establishment not damaged during the '92 riots, but people came in and bowled that night, April 29." Sadly, the Holiday Bowl complex, which was considered one of the city's finest examples of Googie architecture, was torn down in 2003 and replaced by the Santa Barbara Plaza shopping center.
The good news? Holiday Bowl coffee shop has a spiritual successor in Tak's, a place that opened shortly after the local landmark closed, located in the back of a dense strip mall just across the street from its old habitat. It's run by Holiday Bowl's former waitresses and cooks, and has many of the same aging customers filling its vinyl booths, a eclectic mix of the African-American and Asian-American community.
The menu, which stayed pretty much the same, reflects that cross-cultural intermeshing. You could order fresh biscuits loaded with white gravy, Louisiana hot links, or fried chicken wings -- some of the most succulent you'll find -- alongside bright red slices of char siu pork, saimin noodles or sides of sunomono, a type of flash-pickled cabbage salad.
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But the real gem -- the kind of thing that some grad student in cultural anthropology should consider writing a dissertation on -- is Tak's loco moco. You've probably had a version of the hamburger-egg-gravy combo before, either at one of the greasy-spoon Hawaiian diners in the South Bay or at Animal, where it comes topped with a decadent slice of seared foie gras. (Well, at least it does at the moment.)
Tak's lovingly crafted version embraces a ruddy Southern heritage; it's smothered in an improbably rich tomato gravy, a heavy pile of skillet-cooked onions and sliced scallions, and topped with a fried egg soft enough that the yolk dribbles down the rice and flows over the seared hamburger patties before your fork even has a chance to puncture it. They'll even substitute a ladle full of grits for the requisite white rice if you ask. This loco moco, as Indiana Jones would say, belongs in a museum. But good luck finding a plate that's not scraped clean moments after it hits the table.