Have you ever swung by the summer season’s hottest eating sensation but? The sports activities bar that serves Indian American meals within the Silver Lake strip mall the place the legendary Happy Foot Sad Foot sign spun for 30 years?
That’s a enjoyable sentence to kind, although Pijja Palace is way extra joyful to expertise in particular person. Its crisscrossing influences and proprietor Avish Naran’s we-do-what-we-want irreverence really feel innate to town, however there’s additionally nothing else fairly prefer it in Los Angeles.
The restaurant certainly dwells within the house previously occupied by Sundown Foot Clinic, which moved in 2019. When Pijja Palace opens at 5 p.m., vehicles rapidly fill the few parking areas within the advanced’s tight lot. The remainder of us drive round, discovering what we will alongside Sundown Boulevard or on neighboring residential streets. Approaching the doorway, the eyes start monitoring the rapid-pace photographs flashing inside: 13 TV screens mounted across the eating room are broadcasting no matter sport occurs to be taking part in regionally that night time.
In any other case, the decor upends any cliched notions of a “sports activities bar.” Beige banquettes, gentle woods, chairs with rounded backs in a vaguely Midcentury Fashionable model, smallish tables in pinks and greens: It provides off the air of a business-class lounge in a Scandinavian airport. Noise-wise, it’s the other of preflight calming: Cement flooring make the small house — which is all the time packed by 6 p.m., together with the dozen unreserved seats alongside the back-wall bar — a ricocheting din of voices and consumption.
All these competing components pleasantly jangle the mind and set the temper for the night forward.
On most tables you see no less than one chai whiskey bitter, shimmery with heat spices and nearly too straightforward to gulp down. Cocktails lean candy and fruit-laced: rum in a tropical squall of guava, pineapple and coconut; a martini’s distant cousin honeyed with mango and apricot liqueur. I am going for the driest possibility in the home: vodka from India’s Smoke Lab label scented with lemon and holy basil and splashed with Dolin Blanc and seltzer. Amongst a lighthearted checklist of cream sodas and different nonalcoholic drinks, search for the one made with tamarind, lime and Rooh Afza, a fruit syrup focus with notes of rose and citrus that was formulated as a summer season refreshment in Delhi in 1907.
This technically being a sports activities bar, there are greater than a dozen beers on draft, checking the acquainted bins of IPAs, lighter ales and stouts. The cooking follows no such conventions. For a menu dominated by wings, pastas and pizzas reimagined with broadly Indian flavors, Naran and govt chef Miles Shorey create their very own cohesive logic.
Nibble onion rings battered in lentil flour and swiped by means of a sticky mango chutney, or skinny pods of fried okra dusted in chile powder, whereas ending your first spherical of drinks. Sliders are constructed two to an order beneath a pull-apart bun that arrives nonetheless conjoined. Select between a flattened lamb kebab or satisfying, squishy-crisp aloo tikki; think about a spiced potato filling for a samosa formed right into a patty. Each might be topped with onion salad and a melty white slice of Amul, India’s reply to American cheese.
Wings come color-coded: “pink” brilliant with chile and infused with the attuned trinity of garlic, ginger and garam masala; turmeric-dyed “yellow” slicked with honey and a mix of horseradish and spicy mustard that might each be turned up in quantity; and my favourite, “inexperienced” wearing a cilantro-mint-chive chutney. The cool, brilliant style of the herbs pops in distinction to the uniform char across the rooster. A vegetarian counterpart of spicy-sweet cauliflower fried into crisp blocks brings to thoughts gobi Manchurian, a ubiquitous dish when Indo Chinese language delicacies, nonetheless common in India, had its largest American second within the 2000s.
By the point the malai rigatoni lands, you might have reached the middle of Pijja Palace’s culinary maze. A simmered combination of mild tomato masala and cream blankets the pasta; the reedy twang of coriander seed cuts by means of all of the velvetiness.
It is a prime instance of Naran’s thoughts at work and play. He studied each restaurant administration and cooking in skilled settings, together with transient stints in a number of the Bay Space’s fancier Indian eating places, earlier than casting apart as many guidelines as attainable.
Have you ever ever had vodka tomato sauce from an Italian American menu? Have you ever ever ordered butter rooster in a northern Indian restaurant? Then malai rigatoni will make straightforward, innate sense, even when the loungey sports activities bar context during which it’s introduced feels odd and thrilling.
Some pastas have apparent magnetic attraction. Saffron and the candy musk of Indian lengthy pepper fragrance a dish that in any other case appears and comforts like Kraft shells and cheese. Brief, porous tubes meant to resemble the form of rickshaws — they’re cute — snare cilantro-mint pesto and the scattered cashew bits that add appreciated crunch.
However the inconspicuous sleeper hit? That’s the chaas dumplings. If I’m sharing, I’ll admittedly solely eat one of many doughy balls, lightened barely with yogurt within the recipe. However beneath the dumplings is softly textured dal, heightened by chhonk (additionally known as takda, a method of frying spices in ghee or oil and pouring them over a dish as a remaining layer of taste) thrumming with cumin. Its flat-out excellence is a reminder: In a metropolis the place one can discover numerous, particular expressions of world cuisines — Mexican, Korean, Japanese and Chinese language on the forefront — we now have a dearth of remarkable Indian eating places. The individualism of Pijja Palace is welcome on many ranges.
As for the namesake pies, Naran and Shorey do their greatest to eschew labels, however I’d slim the inspiration right down to East Coast-style bar or tavern pizzas: skinny, chewy-crisp crusts with loads of sauce and cheese all the way in which to its blackened edges. The notion of “Indian pizza” isn’t new, neither in India nor stateside. I recall encountering variations on the theme within the Bay Space whereas working on the San Francisco Chronicle 15 years in the past. However this pair carves out house even within the midst of a golden pizza moment in L.A.
No must go too loopy with the build-your-own combos. A comparatively gentle vindaloo sauce topped with rooster tikka and tandoori onions? Belief me, that’s a lot. For good motive, the restaurant sells lots of its customized “inexperienced chutney pijjas”: a tomato pie, its sauce threaded with dried fenugreek leaves, served with an arty splatter of inexperienced chile chutney over prime. The pizzas typically are wealthy, and the inexperienced chutney pijja greatest brings the acidity for stability.
It’s round this time, often feeling very full, that I search for from my meal and admire not simply the house however the individuals, each employees and prospects.
The affected person souls who preserve this practically 4-month-old, busy-from-Day-One operation working easily are as splendidly distinctive because the place itself. One wears a handheld gadget for ringing in orders on his wrist “like an Apple watch,” they quipped. I’ve watched one bartender disappear right into a trance lip-synching Kygo’s remix of “What’s Love Received to Do With It” whereas pouring a Guinness and stirring an old school just about without delay.
Angelenos can typically exist in a collection of homogenous bubbles, and it’s heartening to be in an area the place prospects of all types are commingling. I’m speaking not solely about racial backgrounds however chosen tribes: sports activities geeks alongside fashionistas and meals obsessives enthusiastic about a spot making riskier selections and succeeding.
Any restaurant as instantly mobbed as this one could have some development edges — the rigatoni can sometimes be gummy, positive — and it wants time to settle into what it’ll grow to be. The kitchen just lately started making sq. pies for takeout and supply. They aren’t as blackened as a strict Detroit-style pie and never practically as ethereal as a Sicilian variation. If Naran and Shorey revealed that they used a Pizza Hut pan pizza as a mannequin for his or her sq. pie, it wouldn’t shock me.
I take into consideration how chill and even somewhat spoofy Pijja Palace comes off at first go, and the way in the end transformative it’s as a reminder that eating places needn’t take the protected route even in tumultuous occasions. Then I flash on its brand. It’s an anthropomorphized slice of pizza, dripping cheese, sporting sun shades and sticking its tongue out irreverently. Its form just isn’t altogether totally different from the emotive illustrations on the advanced’s Sundown Foot Clinic signal, now coated in brown tarp.
That may’t be a coincidence? In any case the pizza slice strikes me as comfortable, undoubtedly not unhappy.
2711 Sundown Blvd., Los Angeles, pijjapalace.com
Costs: Appetizers $7-$14, wings $13, pastas $17-$22, pizzas $13-$26, comfortable serve $8.
Particulars: Open 5-9:30 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m Friday and Saturday. Full bar. Lot and avenue parking.
Beneficial dishes: Onion rings, inexperienced wings, lamb kebab sliders, chaas dumplings, inexperienced chutney pijja.