Lincoln Heights' iconic century-old bar the Airliner is open once again — this time as a pan-Asian izakaya, and with a music-focused concept planned for the second floor. Long the scene for live shows and DJ sets that spanned decades and a range of communities, the Airliner closed earlier this year, with many left wondering what was to become of the cherished space.
Now a trio of restaurateurs has taken up the mantle, and with the interior newly polished and the back patio set for diners, the Airliner serves as a home for “pan-Asian izakaya” dishes and cocktails that nod to the neighborhood and the owners’ heritages.
“You go to the Smart & Final here [in Lincoln Heights] and there's Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican — such a hot, hot mix of people, so that's kind of my vision,” said chef-partner Vinh Nguyen. “This is our opening menu, but I want to continue mixing.”
The Airliner's two sous chefs lend their own backgrounds to the mix: Vanessa Salguero adds Salvadoran and other notes, with dishes such as a hojicha-tinged tres leches, while Jess Gigil of pop-up Little Imposter adds Filipino and other global touches. It is, Nguyen said, a kind of nod to the storied bar and venue’s name: It's a plane ticket to the chefs’ and owners’ heritages and past kitchens.
Building his career in New York City, Nguyen cooked at popular Southeast Asian-leaning restaurant Silent H, which he then remodeled into the wildly popular Cafe Colette. After that restaurant’s constant thrum and the sheer volume at brunch — upwards of 350 people each service — Nguyen traveled to Shanghai for a reset, where he met his future Airliner business partner, Gary Wang. They collaborated on a bar, the Grumpy Pig, before Nguyen returned to New York and opened more restaurants, including Indonesian spot Selamat Pagi, and moved to Los Angeles where he co-founded Chinese pop-up Stay Lucky.
Traces of all of these restaurants and bars now can be found at the Airliner — with many dishes hovering around $10 or $15 in an attempt to keep visits affordable. Indonesian rendang slides between toasted brioche buns, noodles get pan-fried with three varieties of onions to evoke Shanghai street food, and crispy rice gets a dousing of Thai Panang curry with wood-ear mushroom salad.
Bar director Avery Millard (formerly of Bar Agricole in San Francisco) built a collection of cocktails that are fun and fruit-forward yet serious about their spirits. “A lot of my cocktail experience comes from doing things in a minimalistic way, trying to elevate the spirit and not trying to hide it,” she said.
That’s not to say the drinks don’t involve effort. The Fly Mamacita, a sort of spin on a paloma, involves aloe liquor and a shrub made from Thai chile and rambutan; the highball is mixed with shiso and lychee; the Oingo Boingo at the Ritz, an updated Long Island iced tea, includes a house-made tomato sweet-and-sour sauce.
Randy Mariani (formerly of Damian and Melody) heads up the wine program, which involves a rotation of natural wines and various fruit ferments, as well as more classic-leaning wines from the Loire Valley, California’s Central Coast and Italy.
Another bar — set to open upstairs in 2024 — is planned as a hi-fi concept with quality sound systems, turntables and a small area for live performances in an ode to the Airliner’s legacy as a live-music venue. The Airliner is open Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.
2419 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, instagram.com/airlinerbar
BMO Stadium’s food hall returns
It’s been years since its pandemic-spurred closure, but BMO Stadium’s food hall, the Fields L.A., is back in action. The sprawling, no-tickets-required collection of restaurants from celebrity chefs launched in 2018 to great fanfare. It’s reopened with a new roster of vendors that includes an outpost of Triple Beam Pizza, also located in Highland Park and Echo Park; Alvin Cailan’s Amboy Quality Meats & Delicious Burgers from Chinatown and Sherman Oaks; and Gabriel Barajas’ international chain Tacos Way. The hall’s outdoor beer garden, which already began to operate through the season, is up and running, and more vendors and spaces throughout the food hall will be announced in the coming months. In addition to its ground-floor vendors and alfresco beer garden, the Fields L.A. will reopen its indoor bar and, eventually, an upstairs dining space that was formerly home to a restaurant and bar from Otium chef Tim Hollingsworth. The Fields L.A. is open on game days, beginning three hours before kickoff.
3939 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, instagram.com/thefieldsla
A new walk-up slice shop from the restaurant group behind Found Oyster, Queen St. and the Copper Room is now open in Cypress Park for pizza, seasonal vegetables and Italian ice. Shins Pizza is the latest from Last Word Hospitality and a collaboration with partner and creative director Shin Irvin, who fashioned the new restaurant in honor of his late mother, Donna Jean Irvin, his Korean roots and his Philadelphia upbringing. Irvin worked with executive chef and partner Melissa López (formerly of Bestia and Barbuto) to build a menu of New York-leaning slices and 18-inch whole pies in options such as cheese, pepperoni and marinara, as well as options like a mortadella-topped white pizza with ricotta and garlic or a vegetarian variety adorned with shiitakes, Kalamata olives, broccoli and pickled Fresno chiles. Sides include a range of seasonal vegetables like Japanese eggplant with peppers, hazelnuts and herbs in garlic sauce; celery salad with blue cheese, pistachios and mint; and charred broccolini with avocado purée, plus furikake-topped barbecued pork arancini. For dessert, there’s calamansi-flavored Italian ice. The casual slice shop features a standing bar and a shared patio with Barra Santos, the recently opened Portuguese-inspired bar from the same group. Shins is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended hours of 9 p.m. slated to begin in mid-September.
1215 ½ Cypress Ave., Los Angeles, shinspizza.com
Southern-style, seafood-focused Joyce is a new downtown restaurant filling the former Red Herring space with crawfish hushpuppies, biscuits, smothered pork chops, trout-roe-topped deviled eggs, seafood towers and a selection of American caviar. The kitchen is helmed by Preux & Proper veteran Sammy Monsour, who’s riffing on his own North Carolina roots as well as the Southern heritage of co-owners Prince Riley and Kassady Wiggins. Wiggins also is running a “zero-landfill” cocktail program that features house syrups and uses ingredients such as Creole-spiced orgeat, sorghum-and-chicory cold brew, Carolina Gold rice and sassafras bitters. Look for an extensive raw bar featuring Caribbean spiny lobster tail cocktail with miso-and-lime remoulade, oysters with house hot sauce and seasonal mignonette, scallop aguachile with sweet corn leche de tigre; Southern classics like cast-iron mac and cheese and blue crab gratin; and, for dessert, banana custard pie and beignets. Joyce is open Monday to Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.
770 S. Grand Ave., Suite A, Los Angeles, (213) 395-0202, joycela.com
A sleek sushi spot from Mexico City recently debuted in Silver Lake, bringing sashimi, nigiri, hand rolls, vegan options, starters like truffled edamame, and sake to Sunset Boulevard. The sushi program echoes that of Santo’s Roma Norte location, with a focus on classic Japanese sushi — though some items feature an inspired Mexican twist, such as the signature hamachi-choco nigiri, which sears hamachi and tops it with Oaxacan chocolate and salt. The menu includes sashimi seared with binchotan charcoal; a range of stuffed dragon rolls; hand rolls filled with soft-shell crab, otoro or unagi; and vegan sushi — some made with sautéed mushrooms, others convincingly made with tapioca-based Fysh to replicate salmon or tuna. Santo is open Sunday, Monday and Wednesday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Thursday to Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.
3822 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, santorestaurants.com
Italian importer and specialty goods purveyor Sogno Toscano has opened a casual Italian restaurant and wine bar in Santa Monica for Tuscan-style specials, schiacciata sandwiches, an espresso bar featuring Americanos, shakeratos, fresh-squeezed juice and pastries, and salads such as the classic prosciutto with melon. Sogno Toscano, which operates similar “lifestyle cafes” in New York, also sells many of its house-label products and imported goods such as tomatoes, dried pastas, olive oils and sauces, in its marketplace. Its menu of burrata-and-prosciutto sandwiches, butternut squash and pear soup, charcuterie and more can be found inside and across a spacious patio. Look for events such as wine tastings, Italian cooking classes and beyond. Sogno Toscano is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
1512 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (424) 248-7336, sognotoscano.com
Hi Tops Los Feliz
Popular LGBTQIA bar Hi Tops is set for an expansion. The West Hollywood sports bar with daily specials and programming like DJ sets and trivia nights is taking over the former Rockwell space in Los Feliz, below Mexican restaurant Mírate, and is set to open in late September. The newest Hi Tops is slated to offer its “gourmet stadium food” such as fried chicken sandwiches, nachos and burgers from lunch into late night, as well as offering multiple large-screen TVs broadcasting L.A. sports and beyond. A monthly lesbian night is in the works, as are cocktails from consultant Ramsey Musk (formerly of Accomplice and Ma’am Sir).
1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, hitopsbar.com
Long Beach Greek Festival
Long Beach’s annual celebration of Greek culture — and especially food — features dancing, giveaways and shopping, but when it comes to cuisine it’s host to multiple outdoor vendors, plus an indoor dining hall with more options. Look for a gyro-forward stall slinging gyros and feta fries; a meatless booth for items like spanakopita, dolmades and tiropitas; a taverna-inspired stall for grilled octopus, lamb chops and souvlaki plates; a coffee station for fresh Greek coffee hot or iced; desserts like baklava and loukoumades; and the dining hall for more intricate plates such as pastichio, lamb dinner and roasted half chickens. Entry costs $5 per person, with food and drink available for purchase. The Long Beach Greek Festival runs from noon to 9 p.m. today.
5761 E. Colorado St., Long Beach, lbgreekfest.org
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.