A beloved Leimert Park restaurant has returned after an absence of more than three years. Earle’s, formerly known as Earlez Grille, has relocated to a bright new space a few blocks south of its previous location. The new site means the Earle family and their crew are back to serving up hot dogs, from beef to vegan, something they’ve done for more than 30 years now.
The business started as a hot dog cart, and in 1992 the Earles opened their first permanent location, eventually moving to larger digs at the corner of Crenshaw and Exposition by 2007. That location, the last surviving building of the short-lived Lone Ranger fast food chain, made way for construction of the Expo/Crenshaw Station plaza in 2013. Cary Earle says that he’s grateful to the MTA for its help with the relocation and assistance, including picking up the tab on most of the buildout. “It’s allowed us to finally open up something that is really classy," Earle says. "It’s got an art deco, Westside look to it.”
However, the overall format more closely resembles Earlez' first location, with counter service and an open kitchen, and no seating. Instead, there’s a dining rail along the perimeter. Along with a simplified design comes a pared-down menu. For now, there are no burgers.
The restaurant plans to bring back most of the items, but not all, Earle says. Sandwiches are probably gone forever, but do look for the return of the turkey, salmon and veggie burgers, all popular items at the previous location. The next couple of months will be an adjustment period, while the restaurant explores higher-quality beef and veggie burgers.
The vegan options are a calling card at Earle's. The restaurant added both the vegan dog and veggie burger to the menu by the mid-'90s, well ahead of the curve. Earle said this was prompted by the high rates of high blood pressure and diabetes in the African-American community, along with changing eating habits. He is also quick to credit the vegan options to good advice he received from Lydia Taylor, a friend who ran the Vegetarian Affair out of the Baldwin Hills Mall parking lot, and Purcell Keeling of Simply Wholesome, a longtime South L.A. favorite for healthy fare. But, Earle says, "There will never be a substitute for a good old American beef dog. We are to this day trying to balance the vegans with the meat eaters under the same roof."
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For all the changes, either temporary or permanent, there is far more that is unchanged. The hot dogs (beef, chicken, turkey and vegan), chili and vegan chili are the same. You can still get the beloved tomato and onion mix to top your dog, as well as a side of fries. The beverage of choice remains Playa's Punch, a sweet, Kool-Aid–based concoction. More important, some of the same employees from the old location remain on staff.
In 2008, Jonathan Gold wrote that all of South Los Angeles could pass before your eyes were you to stay at Earlez long enough. That has not changed with the new location. Neither has the vibe. That’s the best news of all.
3864 Crenshaw Blvd., Leimert Park; (323) 299-2867, facebook.com/earlesoncrenshaw/.