You gotta love L.A. When I look for chefs to profile in our "Where the Chefs Eat" column, I generally find folks who want to tell me about the best restaurants in their neighborhoods, or where to find food that reminds them of their home state or country, or perhaps food that inspires their own cooking. But Lior Hillel, the chef and co-owner of the Bacari restaurants, was something else: an Israeli-born chef who cooks Italian and Mediterranean food, and who wanted to tell me all about the best Southern restaurants in L.A.
Why Southern? “When I first came to the States, I was really infatuated with this idea of 'American' food," Hillel says. "I think Southern cuisine is the epitome of that. I was working in New York at first, and tried a few places I liked, but it wasn’t until I got to L.A. that I found what I was looking for — fried chicken and collard greens and mac and cheese. And of course, my boyfriend is from South Carolina, so he’s just taken this obsession to another level. He’s always helping me find new places to try.”
Hillel and his business partners recently opened Bacari GDL at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, and traveling there from his home downtown has introduced him to more Southern goodness. Here are his five favorite Southern restaurants in Los Angeles.
5. Foxy’s Restaurant
"Every time I passed by this place on my way to work at our new Glendale restaurant, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but let me tell you, Foxy’s is exactly what you want from a good diner. Every dish I’ve tried is solid, with service to match. It’s not necessarily a Southern restaurant (they have a lot of Southwestern dishes in addition to traditional diner fare) but their chicken fried steak was good old-fashioned Southern comfort at its finest." 206 W. Colorado St., Glendale; (818) 246-0244, foxysglendale.com.
4. Preux & Proper
"I recently checked out this New Orleans–style restaurant for dineLA, which was nice because we got to try a little bit of everything. The standout dish for me was the fried whole game hen, and the chicken liver pâté was spot on as well. This is a perfect date-night spot, and I love the interesting space." 840 S. Spring St., downtown. (213) 896-0090, preuxandproper.com.
3. Comfort L.A.
"I live in DTLA, near the original Bacaro, and I love this low-key neighborhood gem. Their fried chicken and mac and cheese are incredible; this is one of my go-to places for delivery after a late night at the restaurant." 1110 E. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 537-0844, comfortla.net.
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2. Mama Joan’s Soul Food
"Mama Joan’s is my go-to when I’m headed to LAX. I recently flew back to Israel to visit my mom for her birthday and stopped here on the way. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they just expanded and renovated— it looks great and the short ribs are still as good as ever!" 5496 W. Centinela Ave., Ladera Heights. (310) 670-5900.
1. Howlin’ Ray's
"I know this isn’t a secret, but I have to say that the hot chicken sandwich here is seriously worth the wait!" 727 N. Broadway Ave., #128, Chinatown; howlinrays.com.