Is it possible to find Chicago in Los Angeles? Travis Strickland thinks so. Baltaire's executive chef aims to mix a classic Midwestern steakhouse sensibility with Southern Californian touches on his menus. The Chicago native also looks for tastes of his hometown throughout L.A., and his opinions (particularly on deep-dish pizza and L.A.'s best Italian sub) might even cause some controversy. Here are the seven places Strickland seeks out when he's feeling homesick for the Windy city.
7. Laurel Tavern
“This place has a similar feel to my favorite bar in Chicago, the Map Room. They've got friendly staff and a good beer selection. I like to go for a day beer with my wife and waste away the afternoon. The atmosphere reminds me of back home where everyone is polite, and there always seems to be a good crowd during the day when you can sit and meet new people. It's also a big plus that the bar food is good. I pretty much order the blue cheese burger every time I go. It's served with caramelized onions and slices of green apple layered on top. Delicious!” 11938 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 506-0777, laureltavern.com.
6. Petit Trois
“This is my equivalent to Chicago's Au Cheval here in L.A. Escargot, Big Mec, moules marinieres, baguette with good butter! This place just feels right every time I go. I love the ambiance — dark, a little loud — the great music, the approachable wines and the kind of food I want to eat every day. After a Clippers or Kings game, we always find ourselves going here for some late-night eats, just like we would at Au Cheval after the Blackhawks.” 718 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood; (323) 468-8916, petittrois.com.
5. Pizzeria Mozza
“Contrary to popular belief, Chicagoans and Midwesterners don't really go for the deep dish–style pie. If you visit Chicago you'll run into the deep dish places along Michigan Avenue and around the tourist locations, but when you actually go into the neighborhoods you'll find that the locals prefer a more Neapolitan-style pizza — much thinner crust, cooked fast and hot. This place reminds me of some of our favorite neighborhood pizza joints back home. Pizzeria Mozza has seriously good pizza, consistently, and I have haunting dreams about the butterscotch budino on a regular basis. My favorite pizza is the funghi misti: fontina, taleggio and thyme. I love the casual, come-as-you-are nature of Pizzeria Mozza. We usually end up sitting at the Pizza Bar, drinking an Italian red and watching the pizza guy do his thing.” 641 N. Highland Ave., Hancock Park; (323) 297-0101, mozzarestaurantgroup.com.
4. Bay Cities
“Now we [Chicagoans] know a thing or two about Italian subs. When the craving strikes, Bay Cities is the only game in town. Period. It's not a well-kept secret, but the Godmother at its best is a perfect sandwich. I don't want to start a war, but it may beat Bari's in Chicago, and that's high praise.” 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-8279, baycitiesitaliandeli.com.
“This place looks like you could set it right in Chicago's restaurant row, which is full of huge, high-budget, chef-driven restaurants. Otium would fit right in. This is kind of a splurge meal for me here in L.A. because I always end up over-ordering. The kitchen pretty much does all things well, from sashimi to tomahawk steaks, but if I'm looking for great pasta in L.A., chef Tim [Hollingsworth] and the gang may have some of the best in the city. The squid ink bucatini with cuttlefish, arrabiatta and bottarga is an absolute standout. I've had some amazing meals here, and the vibe just feels very much like home to me. Warm service, stellar wines and cocktails, and cutting-edge food. What else could you want? (Full disclosure: My wife Melissa is the general manager, and I love to go see her whenever I can!)” 222 S. Hope St., downtown; (213) 935-8500, otiumla.com.
2. Din Tai Fung
“This is my equivalent to Chicago Chinatown. For Sunday dim sum after a busy Saturday night shift, the pork xiao long bao may be the ultimate cure to whatever it is that ails you. Kimchi dumplings, shrimp shao mai — it's all very tasty! It reminds me of all the trips we made back home to Chinatown, just without the snow boots and winter gear.” 177 Caruso Ave., Glendale; (818) 551-5561, dintaifungusa.com.
1. Black Market Liquor Bar
“This place has quickly become my neighborhood spot. The atmosphere is dark, loud, lively and has a kind of cozy underground feel to it. It evokes the same feeling as the bars in Chicago, which are set in row homes, long and narrow, with exposed brick ceilings, dark hardwood bars and dim candlelight. The staff are always super friendly, and I love how they don't shy away from richness in the food, which most L.A. places tend to do. That's why Black Market feels like home to me. They also have a deep selection of Scotch and all things brown and alcoholic. The standout here for me without a doubt is the smoked trout tartine. Smoked trout piled high on toasted bread with aioli, loads of pickled veggies, and quail eggs — it's one of my favorite L.A. dishes of all time.” 11915 Ventura Blvd, Studio City; (818) 446-2533, blackmarketliquorbar.com.