Fall Eats
Nick Rufca

Fall is finally here, and with it comes a new culinary season that is so much more than pumpkin lattes at the usual coffee chains (although, admittedly, I’m addicted, too). As the weather in Los Angeles steadily grows cooler, popular restaurants are using the year-round farmers markets to their full advantage. Autumn is all about transition, so shift your perspective a bit with this rundown of the finest menu updates, from cocktails to desserts, that the city has to offer.

Jersey Mike’s Subs
For those of us originally from the East Coast, a Southern California autumn can never truly compete with stunning fall foliage and true temperature transitions. If this is the case, perhaps an authentic East Coast-style sandwich will help put you in a seasonal mood. At Jersey Mike’s, every sub is made to order, sliced right in front of you on freshly baked bread. The signature blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar and spices tops it all off. The turkey provolone is a must-try. Various locations. jerseymikes.com

The Golden Bull
For those who like their dinners without frills but still long for a classic and unique setting, I suggest the Santa Monica canyon steakhouse The Golden Bull. Here, you dunk your shrimp in ketchup-y cocktail sauce as a starter, and your house salad begs for a heaping pour of ranch. Then, move on to your steaks and chops, just like momma used to make. Prime rib, T-bones and center-cut pork chops topped with applesauce are all on the menu. I vote for the pepper steak—a 10 oz. New York strip cut, topped with cracked pepper, mushrooms and onions. During the colder season, you can stroll nearby Will Rogers beach at sunset and still make it to the Bull in time for the weekday early bird special. 170 W. Channel Rd., Santa Monica, (310) 230-0402; goldenbull.us

Kung Pao Bistro
West Hollywood’s popular Chinese restaurant has always been a notch above the rest. One reason is their famous tea-steamed duck, cured with Chinese spices and smoked over tea leaves. Another is the flavorful salt-and-pepper shrimp, fried up with garlic, chili and cilantro. Kung Pao is truly a place where carnivores and vegetarians can happily dine side by side, as almost every dish can be made with their tasty soy-based meat substitute, and is equally as good. 7853 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo, (323) 848-9888; kpbistro.com

Red O
Esteemed celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ riff on upscale Mexican food has made Red-O red-hot since it opened. It’s unlikely you’ll find anything in town quite like the tostaditas on this menu—sashimi-style Alaskan salmon, Dungeness crab with grilled pineapple and fresh heirloom tomatoes are amongst the choices. The classic Mexican dishes are anything but standard. The Maine lobster with banana leaves, crispy cod croquettes and pickled ramps has a stunning flavor; the grilled Northern Alaskan halibut with smoky Oaxacan pasilla chile sauce is unforgettable. For dessert, there’s a cheesecake made with goat cheese and caramel corn. 8155 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 655-5009; redorestaurant.com

Quality Food and Beverage
This long-standing popular café on busy 3rd Street is known for both its decadent breakfast choices and satisfying sandwich selection. In the early hours, opt for the Mediterranean-style merquez sausage omelet. It’s made with spicy lamb meat, kalamata olives and feta cheese. At lunch, the crab cake salad topped with horseradish mustard sauce is hard to beat. 8030 W 3rd St., L.A., (323) 658-5959, qualityfoodandbeverage.com


Flavor of India
The West Hollywood location has authentic homestyle Indian food and a funky, eclectic patio to enjoy it on. The Vegetable Korma—with vegetables, raisins and nuts in a garlic and saffron curry—is a standout. The Masala Dosa—a crispy crêpe filled with spiced potatoes—shouldn’t be missed. West Hollywood and Burbank locations. flavorofindia.com


This hidden gem in Santa Monica serves traditional Polish fare with a contemporary touch. The ambiance, both inside the former house and on the charming rear patio, is inviting and relaxing. Start your meal with a classic pierogi appetizer—filling choices include mushrooms and cabbage, braised beef and carrots or cheesy potato with caramelized onion. For the main dish, lamb dumplings in a spicy Dijon sauce are an excellent choice. To sample something a little more daring and unique, I suggest the golabki, beef and jasmine rice wrapped in scrumptious steamed cabbage leaves. 1414 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-8831; warszawarestaurant.com

The popular, casual West Hollywood café has one of the best patios in town for enjoying both the autumn weather and the eclectic pedestrians passing by. The eatery’s seasonal pumpkin pancake stack, alongside a cup of their robust coffee, makes for a perfect al fresco breakfast on a cool morning. If you’re in the mood for something smaller, the delicious freshly baked pumpkin muffin will do just fine. 8333 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo, (323) 848-2460; basixcafe.com


The Republic of Laughter Café (they’re well aware what immediately comes to mind when you see their name) is serving up a delicious seasonal menu crafted by Chef Govind Armstrong, featuring locally sourced items. You'll find a little bit of everything at this café on Melrose—scrumptious hand-stretched pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, garden fresh salads and vegetable plates. Try the pan-roasted salmon or the braised short rib pressed grilled cheese, which became a wild favorite after it was mentioned on Oprah. Breakfast is served up weekdays from 8 to 11 a.m. 7661 Melrose Ave., WeHo, (323) 951-1536; facebook.com/ ROFLCafeLA

This ever-expanding salad marketplace is the perfect place to grab a healthy bite during the otherwise belt-widening holiday crunch. Some of the tantalizing standouts on its current fall menu include its version of a niçoise salad with cedar smoked salmon and green beans, a curry salad with cauliflower, golden raisins and almonds, and an apple-braised cabbage and goat cheese slaw. For a dish with more heft, try the sliced turkey braised in cranberry, with the jalapeño bacon mac ‘n’ cheese on the side. Various locations. lemonadela.com

Steingarten L.A.
Speaking of widening belts, there’s no better time than the fall to indulge in a rich craft beer paired with a savory sausage. Both are plentiful and varied at Steingarten L.A., the Westside’s cozy German sausage hall. Order up a beer tasting flight, and be sure to include one of Steingarten’s outstanding dark porters. Go with the chicken apple sausage on a pretzel bun topped with mustard and kraut, and suddenly it’s Oktoberfest whenever you want it to be. 10543 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A., (310) 441-0441; steingartenla.com

This Santa Monica staple is a popular after-work drink and dinner destination for good reason—it rarely disappoints. As the weather gets cooler, dining on the spacious, tree-lined rear patio gets that much better. The maple leaf duck breast with black quinoa, confit chestnuts and pomegranate jus is just about perfect under the stars. The Walnut Julep cocktail is a complex but delightful companion for this and so many of Wilshire’s other entrees. 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 586-1707; wilshirerestaurant.com

Pitfire Pizza
The artisanal pizza chain has a surprisingly substantial fall menu, including highlights like the sausage and fall vegetable rigatoni pasta, roast pear and ricotta salad and Portobello mushroom panini. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but it’s the addictive roast pumpkin pizza that I find myself craving this time of year. Made with brown butter, sage-roasted winter squash and pumpkin seed oil atop their perfectly charred and airy woodfired crust, it defines seasonal specialty. Various locations. pitfirepizza.com

Fig & Olive
Crostini is the specialty here, and arguably the best in the city. It’s hard to choose favorites, but I’ll venture if you sample the goat cheese, fig, honey and almond and copa, you won’t be disappointed. Pair a few with the Pera au Poivre cocktail, a smooth mix of scotch, maraschino liquor, lemon juice and pear & clove syrup, which will undoubtedly warm you from the inside out. A tantalizing Pumpkin Spice Martini is another seasonal special, but I suggest satisfying that craving with the outstanding pumpkin sage ravioli instead. 8490 Melrose Pl., WeHo, (310) 360-9100; figandolive.com

This place is jam-packed at brunch, but if you haven’t been for dinner, you’re missing both a more-mellow atmosphere and a menu filled with exceptional, healthy versions of classic home-style dishes. Hugo’s Fall Platter is a great option. It includes your choice of sliced turkey, veggie patty, grilled tofu or chicken breast accompanied by an artichoke-red pepper salad, seasonal vegetables, sautéed greens and polenta cakes. The special Artic char is served on top of a butternut squash bisque and black rice. Be sure to save room for the ‘in season’ Apple Pie Martini as well. West Hollywood and Studio City locations. hugosrestaurant.com 

This Silver Lake neighborhood staple is a charming wine and food bar with a homelike ambiance. The cheese and charcuterie selection is outstanding, as are the pork and ricotta meatballs simmering in tomato sauce. I often find myself putting together a complete meal composed solely of their vegetable plates—grilled radicchio with fig vincotto, roasted cauliflower mixed with capers and bread crumbs and a polenta eggplant ‘lasagna’ are all standouts. Yet the warm mushrooms and fried egg served on crunchy toast is consistently the big winner. 2442 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 662-2442; barbrix.com

The Six
This intimate tavern, with locations in both Studio City and West L.A., has a tempting fall menu, including a seared trout over mushroom risotto, and a veggie burger composed of white beans and quinoa. Though when the special grilled cheese sandwich is made with parmesan-crusted ciabatta bread, and served alongside creamy tomato soup, it’s hard to order anything else. thesixrestaurant.com

Ford’s Filling Station
One of L.A.’s original gastropubs is the perfect place to cap off a day of holiday shopping. Just hearing the name of some of their autumn-appropriate cocktails could begin to take the edge off: Scotch Pumpkin Cider, Apple-Cinnamon Old-Fashioned, and yes, there’s even a drink called the Ferris Muler. I opt for the Bourbon Bunny Maker, a hearty blend of whiskey, fresh carrot, lemon and apricot juices. The touch of chamomile-infused agave makes it a perfect match for a fall happy hour. The smoked pork and shelling bean stew will pair with any of these drinks quite nicely. 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 202-1470; fordsfillingstation.net

Boneyard Bistro 
BBQ—it’s perfect on the grill in the summer, yet it’s an ideal comfort food companion for colder weather too. At Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks, the “Boneyard” portion of their menu offers up tasty chipotle-glazed grilled beef ribs, grilled over a live red oak fire. The “Bistro” section has several mouth-watering options tailored specifically to the season, including sage butter-sautéed shrimp served with butternut squash and apple farro risotto, and a baby kale fall salad with brandy candy bacon and dried cranberries. The brown sugar honey pork tenderloin, served with peach chutney, cheesy grits and brussel sprouts, is every bit as savory as it sounds. 13539 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 906-7427; boneyardbistro.com

Fresh seafood usually means summer, but a piping-hot bowl of freshly steamed mussels can take the bite out of a chilly night. At Meet, the bustling French bistro in Downtown Culver City, the service is as warm as the ambiance. There are over 15 ways you can order your bowl of moules frites here. The Italiano (prosciutto, caramelized onions, goat cheese, white wine and walnuts) is perfect for this time of year. 9727 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-8222; meetrestaurantla.com

Rustic Canyon
This long-popular Santa Monica restaurant is always ‘thinking seasonal’ with its farmers market-driven menu, so now is the perfect time to stop by for a scrumptious dinner. Currently on the rotating pasta menu you’ll find beet corzetti with brown butter and toasted walnuts and local black cod served with heirloom carrot puree and charred brussel sprouts. Go light on the entrees and save room for the unbelievable desserts. However, with options like maple bacon pecan pie with rosemary whipped cream, pear ginger sorbet, or the sinful “Halloween Candy” special house-made versions of Twix, Mounds and Peanut Butter Cups—the decision won’t be easy. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050; rusticcanyonwinebar.com

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