There are certain restaurants you visit and wonder How haven't I heard about this place? That's how I felt after recently wandering into Running Goose, a cozy spot in Hollywood that's been developing a quiet following in the year or so since it opened. Known for its cozy, light-strung patio, its eclectic menu of Central American–leaning small plates and its $15 pitchers of sangria, Running Goose has plenty going for it.
Perhaps part of the reason for Running Goose's semi-secret vibe, despite its location on a crowded stretch of Cahuenga among sports bars and tattoo parlors, is that the restaurant's indoor dining room usually sits empty. Most of the guests are seated on an adjacent covered patio, removed from the commotion of the street by a wooden fence and a row of planters (in which the kitchen grows its herbs). If you were to walk by, you might think the two spaces aren't connected at all, more that an empty restaurant happened to be located next door to someone's bustling dinner party.
And when you sit down to order, you aren't quite sure what to make of the place. Is it a gastropub? A casual farm-to-table joint? A bar with a sprawling food menu? The answer seems to be a little bit of each.
There are good West Coast craft beers on tap and a handful of mostly California wines, but most of the tables seem to be ordering that sangria, red or white, which arrives brimming with diced fruit. A "small" pitcher that will easily inebriate two or three is $15, or you can get a giant pitcher for $25 that's the size of the Kool-Aid Man, which the menu claims "will feed a family of four."
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There's a range of vegetable tostadas to start — such as one topped with avocado and arugula flowers — that resemble lighter, crispier versions of crostini. You probably should try the salt cod churros, too, something of a signature here, which the waitress affectionally describes as "adult fish sticks." Crunchy and savory, they're oddly delicious with a squeeze of lime and the accompanying saffron aioli.
Many of the dishes resemble the usual array of California-inspired small plates, but each has enough of a global twist to keep them interesting. Ricotta "gnocchi" are made from corn masa rather than potato and tossed in brown butter sauce with mushrooms and kale. Crunchy duck confit seasoned with Chinese five-spice is served atop chili oil–zapped chow mein, along with some raw green onions that needed more char to soften their sharp crunch.
Running Goose might not yet be a destination restaurant, but it is an interesting place to eat in an unexpectedly gorgeous setting (and not a bad place to take a date, either). Along with nearby Birch — Brendan Collins' starkly elegant New American restaurant — and the recently debuted Demitasse Roastery and Kitchen, this once-gritty section of Hollywood is slowly gaining a reputation for solid cooking rather than cheap fishbowl cocktails and vape shops.
Running Goose, 1620 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 469-1080, runninggoose.weebly.com.