The Insider's Guide to Roadhouse LA's Global Barbecue

By Lesley Balla  |  February 3, 2014
Credit: Lesley Balla

Chef Robbie Richter isn't joking around when it comes to meat, especially the whole hog's heads he serves at Roadhouse LA, the new restaurant at the Hollywood Improv. The barbecue king partnered with Adam Fleischman from the Umami Group, hauled his grilling skills to LA from New York - where he was smokin' at joints like Hill Country and Fatty Cue - and opened this globally inspired barbecue spot as the house restaurant for the comedy club. Think: barbecue that was born in America jet-setting through Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Roadhouse soft opens this week with a full debut set for Thursday, February 6. It'll be dinner-only for now, with lunch coming soon. Here's what you need to know before you go.

8162 Melrose Ave.; 323-651-2583

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    How to Get in

    Roadhouse doesn't take reservations for tables, but there are plenty of places to sit: dining tables in a small room and mezzanine, a long bar and along the big windows that open to the sidewalk when the weather permits. You do not need Improv tickets to dine here, but if you do eat in the dining room before seeing a show, they'll escort you to priority seating in the showroom.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Start Small

    You may want to ease into the menu - or stop in for a snack - with dishes like the Hunan bacon, which you wrap up in crisp bibb lettuce leaves with dried anchovies, rice noodles and herbs. You'll also find deviled eggs with tahini, harissa and za'atar; tempura sausage with chipotle aïoli; and fries smothered in goat gravy and saag paneer. Some of the small plates and finger-friendly food, like Richter's version of nachos, is offered in the showroom.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Booze and Spice and Everything Nice

    Fernie uses Asian and Middle Eastern spices in some of the drinks to match the global flavors in the food. The Honkey Tonk Is Cheap is a perfect example, made with vodka, amaro montenegro, tamarind spice pomegranate, lemon, orange and mace.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    It's All About Balance

    Instead of serving heavy sides with boldly flavored or sauced meats, Richter goes for balance. For example, instead of pairing his Malaysian-spiced, smoked and grilled chicken wings with flaccid celery sticks and a vat of bleu cheese, he makes a light celery salad topped with shaved Parmesan. You get the same effect from the side dish without the guilt.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Artful Plates

    Richter says the rib plate with watermelon is inspired by the artist Mark Rothko, which you can see in the lineup of beautiful smoky pork ribs and fruit. You're supposed to eat the meat, then some watermelon and repeat. That way, the melon, which is compressed with lime and sugar, can cut through the rich meat.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Go Whole Hog (or Goat or Lamb)

    The 'head-of-the-day' specialty is exactly that - a whole animal head (probably pig, but goat and lamb are also fair game), smoked for hours and served on a tin platter. Meant to feed at least two, it comes with a knife to tear into the cheeks, neck and other spots. It's quite the presentation too; even the staff is in awe. Onions, roasted garlic and two giant slabs of Texas toast accompany it. There are usually a limited number of heads a day, so call ahead to see if they can hold one for you. 

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    What to Drink

    Dave Fernie (Pour Vous, Honeycut) was inspired by "dirty American" drinks, the kind of thing that goes best with sticky, smoky ribs and spiced sides. Housemade sodas are incorporated into the drinks, and the whiskey list runs the gamut from high-end bourbons to really cheap booze, for fun. The Naven Johnson (pictured), named for the Steve Martin character from The Jerk, has tequila, aloe liqueur, cucumber, amaro, salt, lime and ginger, and is perfect with the bacon lettuce cups.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    Different Cuts, New Sauces

    Richter brings in flavors from all over the globe for his menu. Lamb comes two ways - shreds of incredibly slow-roasted shoulder torn into shreds plus a rib coated with cumin and poppy seeds - with a yogurt sauce spiced with ras al hanout and amba, a tangy pickled mango condiment often used in Israeli cuisine.

  • Credit: Lesley Balla

    The Sweet Stuff 

    All of the pies come from local wholesale baker Cake Monkey, including the Banana cream pie, a chess pie, and a s'mores pie that's made exclusively for Roadhouse.