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10 LA-Based Chains We Love

By Lesley Balla
January 20, 2014
Photo by: Umami Burger

Los Angeles is the birthplace of many delicious things, like chopped salads and French dip sandwiches, but it’s also ground zero for growing food chains that go beyond the norm. Fresh market salads, quick-fire customizable pizzas, garlicky rotisserie chicken and big beefy burgers are just a few of the specialties that have multiplied across the culinary landscape in recent years, and for that, we’re eternally grateful. Here are 10 local chains - defined as businesses with at least three locations - that we love and that other cities wish they had.

  • Photo by: Tender Greens

    Name: Tender Greens
    The Formula: Three local chefs - Erik Oberholtzer, Matt Lyman and David Dressler - came together in 2002 and created a casual spot for market-friendly food, sourcing ingredients directly from farmers and keeping it easy on the wallet. Socially conscious salads made with locally grown greens, hearty sandwiches, and inspiring comfort-food entrees and dessert are available daily.
    Number of Locations: Six around LA, with three coming soon (Downtown LA, Burbank and Westwood), plus four in San Diego, two in the Bay Area, and one in Orange County.
    Lunch for One: $16 for a big salad and a drink.
    Menu Highlights: Buttermilk fried chicken salad, tuna nicoise, marinated steak plate with mashed potatoes and salad, and any dessert (vegan and gluten-free too).
    Tasting Notes: The salad greens are grown specifically for Tender Greens and are always super fresh. Specials change at each location daily.

  • Photo by: Loteria Grill

    Name: Loteria Grill
    The Formula: Authentic Mexican tacos, enchiladas and more from Mexico City native Jimmy Shaw.
    Number of Locations: Six, including the newest (and the Torta Co.) at FIGat7th in Downtown LA.
    Lunch for One: $15 for three tacos and an agua fresca.
    Menu Highlights: Cochinita pibil, lengua, pollo en pipian and calabacitas tacos; snapper à la Veracruz entrée; chilaquiles; chicharron de queso (Hollywood, Studio City and Santa Monica only).
    Tasting Notes: The freshly made tortillas make all the difference with the tacos. Aguas frescas are made daily and change per location.

  • Name: 800 Degrees Pizzeria
    The Formula: Customizable wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza from chef Anthony Carron and the Umami Restaurant Group.
    Number of Locations: Three, including the newest in Santa Monica and at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. Two more (Pasadena and Downtown LA) are on the horizon, plus two more coming soon to Las Vegas.
    Lunch for One: $15 for a pizza and a drink.
    Menu Highlights: Choose your own toppings or any of the specialty pies, like the sausage and peppers; the Filetti with pesto, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella; and the Piccante with soppressata, garlic and Calabrian chiles.
    Tasting Notes: It’s fun to build your own pizza, but beware of choosing so many toppings that you can't pick your own creation up. The crust comes out bubbly, charred and thin in the middle, with good sauce.

  • Name: Sugarfish
    The Formula: “Trust-me” sushi from chef Kazunori Nozawa (Sushi Nozawa) served in a regular dining room - no sushi bar, no tipping and good prix fixe deals.
    Number of Locations: 8.
    Lunch for One: $30 price for the basic “Trust Me” menu, which includes edamame, sashimi, six nigiri, two hand-rolls and a drink.
    Menu Highlights: Stick with the prix fixe menus ($17, $25 or $35) for the best bang for your buck. If you must, you can order à la carte too.
    Tasting Notes: Nozawa’s classic warm rice, homemade soy and good fish. When the sushi craving strikes and you’re on a budget, this does the trick.

  • Name: Lemonade
    The Formula: A counter filled with premade salads, pot roasts, braises, mac 'n' cheese, desserts and various flavors of lemonade.
    Number of Locations: 11 around Los Angeles, one each in San Diego and Orange County, and coming soon to Dubai (!).
    Lunch for One: $12 for three salads and a lemonade.
    Menu Highlights: There are so many salads to choose from, and they change regularly and by location, but the curried cauliflower with raisins and almonds, snap and snow peas with edamame, kale with kumquat vinaigrette and red quinoa with apples never disappoint.
    Tasting Notes: For heartier meals, get two sides with a pot roast or braised chicken and a side of basmati rice. For a less-sweet lemonade, mix whatever sugar-free option with a regular one (watermelon with mint lemonade is a winner).

  • Name: Umami Burger
    The Formula: Adam Fleischman’s take on the great American burger: house-ground meats infused with special Umami sauce, umami-rich toppings and signature buns.
    Number of Locations: 16 in Southern California, four in Northern California, one in Miami, and one in New York. Soon: Vegas, and 10 more across the U.S. in 2014.
    Lunch for One: $20 for the classic Umami burger, fries and a drink.
    Menu Highlights: The original burger with Parmesan crisp and roast tomato is a good starting point, but the Hatch chile burger or Cali burger - Umami’s take on the In-N-Out - are also great.
    Tasting Notes: The burgers are always grilled just right, never dry. That even goes for the turkey burger, which is surprising. You can get any burger “poutine-style,” meaning fries on top in lieu of a bun. Bonus points: even the hot dogs are good.

  • Name: Pitfire Artisan Pizza
    The Formula: Wood-fired pizzas topped with local ingredients, pastas, salads and sides served in a chic, casual, family-friendly environment.
    Number of Locations: Seven, with one opening in Pasadena in Spring 2014.
    Lunch for One: $15 for a pizza and a lemonade or soda.
    Menu Highlights: The burrata pie with tomato sauce, caramelized onion, arugula, hazelnuts and pesto; steak panini; roasted cauliflower.
    Tasting Notes: Good crust, light on the char, sometimes crackly. While the house pies offer good combinations, it’s fun to pick your own toppings, especially if you want to keep it simple.

  • Name: Mendocino Farms
    The Formula: Elevated sandwich creations often made with ingredients from local farms and purveyors.
    Number of Locations: Seven, with three in Downtown LA alone.
    Lunch for One: $13 for a sandwich and a drink.
    Menu Highlights: Kurobuta pork belly banh mi with housemade pickles; the Drunk’n Goat on Highway 128, a goat cheese grilled cheese with French brie, cranberry chutney and green apple; any of the seasonal specials, like Wagyu meatloaf with mushrooms, steamed kale and horseradish crema.
    Tasting Notes: Chef Judy Han is a sandwich artist with just the right flavor combinations and textures. The breads come from local bakeries and are always fresh, which is key to a good sandwich.

  • Name: Zankou Chicken
    The Formula: The family once ran a Zankou chicken in Beirut. Still, their presence in Hollywood since 1984 means the shawarma and rotisserie chicken are tried-and-tested LA staples.
    Number of Locations: Eight.
    Lunch for One: $15 for a half-chicken plate (hummus, salad, garlic spread and pita) and a soda.
    Menu Highlights: The chicken and garlic spread is mandatory, but the shawarma is also great.
    Tasting Notes: The skin melts right into the meat. Chickens are always moist with tons of flavor, and the garlic spread will ward off the most tenacious vampire (or date… watch out).

  • Name: The Larders
    The Formula: Artisanal breads, fresh-baked pastries, prepared food to go, wines, cheeses and more à la Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne (A.O.C., Lucques, Tavern).
    Number of Locations: Four, including the original at Tavern in Brentwood, one on Maple Drive, another at Burton Way and a new location at LAX.
    Lunch for One: $18 for sandwich, for three sides or for one protein with a side and a beverage.
    Menu Highlights: The Pilgrim with turkey, stuffing, cranberry and lettuce; the Grande Fromage with apple or prosciutto; triple pork burger with Manchego and Romesco; young broccoli with arbol chile; brussel sprouts; slow-cooked cavalo nero.
    Tasting Notes: This is grab-and-go the Goin way. The breads are baked in-house, the ingredients are top-notch, and that cavalo nero is one of the best things you’ll ever eat.

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