One of the underlying truths of the Great Restaurant Disruption that's currently upon us is this: The most delicious bites of food available in Los Angeles are oftentimes not in upscale restaurants. This isn't a new phenomenon — for as long as there have been tacos on the streets of L.A., there's been reason to celebrate our non–fancy restaurant riches. More recently, many of our most promising young chefs have carved niches for themselves by cooking on trucks or in their living rooms or out of random storefronts with little or no signage.
One of these chefs is Ria Dolly Barbosa. Barbosa was part of the opening team at Sqirl, one of the city's most famous venues for incredible cooking in an unconventional location. After leaving her chef de cuisine position there, Barbosa went on to launch a lunchtime pop-up at Canelé in Atwater Village with her then-partner (and Sqirl alum) Matt Wilson. Wild at Canelé showcased Sqirl-like themes: a natural talent for bringing out the best in beautiful, local produce; a penchant for using acid boldly, to wonderful effect. But Wilson and Barbosa also branched out at Wild, adding more of her Filipino heritage to the cooking, and flavor combinations that were downright … wild. I still think of a creamy, savory, milk curd custard, strewn with morel mushrooms, fava beans and shiso leaf; or a bowl of outrageously rich chashu dumplings in a tonkotsu broth. When the Wild residency ended, we lost one of the city's most exciting lunch options.
Now Barbosa has turned up as the chef at Go Get Em Tiger, a project that also has Sqirl to thank as a major part of its origin story. Go Get Em Tiger (often referred to by the somewhat simpler GGET) is an expansion of the G&B Coffee brand, a local roasting company started by two Intelligentsia alums, Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski. Before G&B had a stall facing Hill Street in Grand Central Market — and before The New York Times published a lengthy story about its almond–macadamia milk iced latte with the headline “The Best Iced Latte in America?” — G&B operated as a coffee pop-up inside Sqirl.
Post-Sqirl, and after the Grand Central stall became a pilgrimage site for coffee obsessives, Glanville and Babinski launched Go Get Em Tiger — a more expansive cafe with a food menu — in Larchmont Village. For a while they also took up residence in a space in Silver Lake before moving their more easterly operation to its current home, on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz.
Barbosa, who had remained friendly with the G&B guys since their early days at Sqirl, was brought on to oversee food at both GGET locations, though she spends most of her time in Los Feliz, where the kitchen has a full gas hookup and a slightly longer menu. In Larchmont, she relies on chef de cuisine Marilei Denila to run the kitchen.
Even at the Los Feliz location, GGET is a fairly sparse operation. It shares a wide, wooden patio with a new location of McConnell's Fine Ice Cream, but the shop itself is nothing more than a counter with an espresso machine and a bare-bones kitchen. The only seating is outdoors, and it would be easy to miss the fact that there's a full breakfast and lunch menu being served from that tiny kitchen.
This particular block of Hollywood Boulevard feels especially vibrant right now, with HomeState and its never-ending line for breakfast tacos; Bar Covell and Hotel Covell right next door to GGET; and the newly opened Kismet just up the street. Sitting on the porch at a small, wooden table overlooking all that energy is a fine place to be these days (as long as it isn't raining).
It's also the location where I had one of the more thrilling bites of food of the last few months, advertised on GGET's menu as a mung bean scallion pancake, which sounds interesting enough but gives little indication of the kaleidoscopic multitude of flavors this dish delivers. It's a pancake, yes, made with mung bean and rice flours, and turned magenta from the addition of pickled beets and their brine. Scallions and garlic are given enough prominence so that the dish has a prickle of spice, which is cooled by a generous dollop of creme fraiche. The pancake is served with two fried eggs, their runny yolks an intense shade of orange, and topped with a tangle of red mustard frills and a dusting of scallion powder. It is sweet and tart and spicy and cooling and rich and fresh, and basically bonkers, in the best possible way.
There are more straightforward pleasures on GGET's menu. A chicken salad sandwich served on a very good baguette with house-made pickles is only remarkable in that it's so good, and much of that goodness is thanks to the crispy chicken skin that gives the creamy salad a slight crunch of schmaltzy charisma. You can get a yeast-raised waffle with maple syrup and butter, or with berries and ricotta. It's as uncomplicated as waffles come while also being an absolute paragon of the form; it's exceedingly crispy and light yet moist and decadent.
But Barbosa's personality shines through brightest with the more inventive dishes, such as a savory rice porridge with a soft egg, topped with winter greens and shot through with sesame and chili oil; or a vegan frittata made of garbanzo beans and served with more of those vivid pickled beets. She also has a way with ramping up standard sandwiches and making them intense and wonderful — the GGETBLT with house-cured bacon and pickled green tomatoes is especially memorable.
I'd be lying if I said that this format and kitchen are doing justice to all of the potential I tasted at Wild at Canelé, where Barbosa and Wilson were turning out food that might have competed with many of the best restaurants in town. This is a cafe, and one that — for now — is still far less ambitious in scope than Sqirl or Wild. There are dishes here that could become much more dynamic if Barbosa had the space and resources, or even a format where more complex cooking might make sense. But like everything else she's done, this food excited me for what's to come.
Just as Sqirl served as an incubator for Barbosa and G&B, her collaboration with GGET may well help it produce more folks we should watch with interest. That scallion pancake? Barbosa told me with pride, via email, “This dish is special as it is the first contribution to the menu by my sous chef, Justin Dauz.” It certainly is special, and this whole team has plenty of reason to be proud.
(Oh, and the coffee is pretty great, too.)
GO GET EM TIGER | Two stars | 4630 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz | (323) 543-4438 | gandb.coffee | Daily, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.; food served 8 a.m.-2 p.m. | Dishes and sandwiches, $5-$12 | No alcohol | Street parking