Los Angeles

The Restaurateur Behind Pijja Palace Wants You to Eat Real Food While You Watch the Game

The best places to watch the game in LA aren't sports bars, and they're worth a visit even if you're just there for Rihanna this weekend.

Photo by Eman Raif, courtesy of Pijja Palace
Photo by Eman Raif, courtesy of Pijja Palace
Photo by Eman Raif, courtesy of Pijja Palace

Restaurateur Avish Naran can’t stand bad sports bar food: “If I’m going to eat a bunch of calorie-driven bullshit, I’d rather have it be artfully done, with some care put into it,” he says. So he opened his own-Pijja Palace, the Indian-influenced sports bar on the Silver Lake/Echo Park border that has earned high praise on both the local and national levels.

Naran is an Echo Park native and a big fan of LA sports. It helps that the city has had consistent winners for the last 30-ish years-even when the Lakers and Rams are down and the Dodgers flame out again, LAFC is there to pick up the slack-but our sports bars aren’t really up to snuff, Naran says: “I love sports, but there are so few options to watch the game and have a meal driven by chefs. I just wanted to go to a restaurant and watch the game.”

So it is not enough that Pijja Palace has a clever concept, fusing Indian flavours with sports bar classics like pizza, wings, and onion rings. Each dish is carefully thought out, planned, and executed. They brine their tenders, marinate wings for days, ask relatives for family recipes, and test and extensively tweak every item. They also keep innovating, building new dishes and having fun. Sometimes that inspiration comes from the farmers market when Pijja Palace’s chef Miles Shorey stumbles across some particularly good Indian eggplant, and sometimes ideas will occur to Naran out of the blue, maybe while he’s messing around on YouTube at the car wash and decides Nihari Pasta sounds cool.

“We’re really just a group of friends bullshitting and having fun, but also thinking a lot about it to create good stuff‚Ķ I try to keep the work environment at Pijja Palace like a high school project, and not like some tweezer Michelin-star restaurant,” Naran says.

Photo by Eman Raif, courtesy of Pijja Palace
Photo by Eman Raif, courtesy of Pijja Palace
Photo by Eman Raif, courtesy of Pijja Palace

That doesn’t mean that tasting menus are unfamiliar territory. Naran and his team all have fine dining experience. In fact, they’re running a Super Bowl special in a tasting menu format this weekend. They’re serving five courses during the game, running through some of their biggest hits back to back to back, starting with their Dosa Onion Rings and moving to wings, Baked Malai Ziti, a choice of pizza, and ending with S’mores. They’ll also have cocktail specials, leaning into riffs on classic drinks from Philadelphia and Kansas City, including a Philly Fish House Punch, a Kansas City Ice Water, and a Horsefeather.

The fact that they not only attempt but pull off a tasting menu and no one bats an eye is just more evidence that Pijja Palace is unlike any traditional sports bar. So if Naran is going to go somewhere else to watch a game, including the big one this weekend, it would be a place where they put genuine care into what they’re serving, a place with ambitions a little higher than frozen wings and stale beer run through dirty draft lines, maybe not a sports bar so much as a bar with sports. This is the spiritual company that Naran and his crew want to keep.

To aid in that effort, we’ve put together a list of our favourite non-traditional venues to watch sports across several categories, places that will have the game on but that will also make a worthwhile stop for people who are looking forward to this weekend’s Rihanna concert more than whatever sports are happening around it. Here are eight great places to watch sports that actually have good food:

Restaurants

Photo courtesy of Julio's Pizza
Photo courtesy of Julio’s Pizza
Photo courtesy of Julio’s Pizza

Julio’s Pizza

Artesia
“Without Julio’s Pizza, there wouldn’t be a Pijja Palace,” Naran says. Years ago, an Indian family took over longstanding Julio’s Pizza in Eagle Rock and updated the menu with Indian flavours and dishes, adding things like Masala Wings, Desi Jalape√Īo Poppers, Samosas, and Chicken Tikka Pizza. That original Eagle Rock location is closed now. However, their second location in Artesia is still going strong, with food that remains well-executed and fun, solid cocktails, and the right number of TVs. It’s exactly the kind of thing that inspires Naran. “It’s like the Michael Jordan version of our Kobe Bryant,” he says.
How to book: Walk in or order online.

Photo courtesy of Far Bar Little Tokyo
Photo courtesy of Far Bar Little Tokyo
Photo courtesy of Far Bar Little Tokyo

Far Bar

One of our favourite Japanese-American institutions is also a fantastic and low-key place to catch a game, with great beer and whiskey, a lovely patio, and a very solid eclectic menu of pan-Asian drinking food. There are Teriyaki Sliders, MaPo Tofu Tacos, a Bulgogi Burger, and a whole sushi menu. For the Super Bowl this weekend, Don Tahara’s place is also running some shockingly affordable drink specials and deals on wings, sliders, and team-appropriate Kansas City Ribs and Philly Cheesesteaks.
How to book: Walk in, or make reservations for large parties by email to [email protected].

Barbecue Spots

Photo courtesy of Moo's Craft Barbecue
Photo courtesy of Moo’s Craft Barbecue
Photo courtesy of Moo’s Craft Barbecue

Moo’s Craft Barbecue

Barbecue, beer, and sports are such an obvious combination that it is easy to slide toward parody-Football! Meat! Yelling!-but there is something alchemical about the pairing. Moo’s makes some of the best barbecue in the city, serves fantastic beer, and has a TV setup that’s practical and efficient. With a few over the bar, a couple inside, and one out on the patio, enough to guarantee a good viewing experience if you want it, but not so many that it feels intrusive if you’d rather eat your incredible brisket in peace.
How to book: Walk in or order online.

Photo courtesy of Bludso's BBQ
Photo courtesy of Bludso’s BBQ
Photo courtesy of Bludso’s BBQ

Bludso’s Bar and Que

If you showed a picture of Bludso’s Bar and Que to someone waiting in line on the Compton sidewalk in front of the old Bludso’s BBQ around 2009, they would scarcely believe it was from the same Kevin Bludso. The old one was a revelation, a simple storefront with just a couple stools and two big smokers out back that cranked out what was, at the time, probably the best barbecue the city had ever seen. The La Brea location is something entirely different, palatial in comparison, with a full bar, a solid beer list, tons of seating, and TVs all over everywhere. Best of all, they’re still kicking out excellent barbecue, even in the fancier digs.
How to book: Reservations available through their website, online orders through Toast.

Breweries

Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Ale Works
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Ale Works
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Ale Works

Los Angeles Ale Works

Hawthorne and Culver City
As a collective, our local breweries make great sports viewing locations, laid-back spots with plenty of open space, interesting and ever-changing pop-up food vendors, and (obviously) good beer. LA Ale Works, in particular, is an ideal sports destination at either their newer Culver City or original Hawthorne tasting rooms. Hawthorne is bigger and breezier, with a classic industrial park brewery vibe, while Culver City is a little trendier, with more of a brewpub feel at the transit-friendly Ivy Station mixed-use development. This weekend, both locations will be hosting parties for the Super Bowl, with games and prizes for guests and several food pop-ups-Pasta Selvatica in Culver City and Mussels & Pearls, Saulito’s BBQ, and Frenchip Cookie Co. in Hawthorne.
How to book: Walk in or request a reservation in advance through their website.

Photo courtesy of Green Cheek Beer Co.
Photo courtesy of Green Cheek Beer Co.
Photo courtesy of Green Cheek Beer Co.

Green Cheek

Sunset Beach
The IPA kings of Orange County have TVs at all three of their locations, but the new pub just off the sand in Sunset Beach is about as perfect as you can get. There are a couple of TVs in the main bar downstairs, and the rooftop patio is an absolute delight. Look East and watch the game on the nicely situated TV, then during commercials-or during the game, if you’re really there for Rihanna this weekend-turn your gaze West for a perfect view across the ocean to Catalina Island, all while you crush some absurdly good hoppy beers and solid pub food classics.
How to book: Walk in or order beer for shipping online.

Food Halls

Photo courtesy of StellCraft
Photo courtesy of StellCraft
Photo courtesy of StellCraft

SteelCraft

Long Beach, Garden Grove, and Bellflower
Food halls are great places to take a group with complex requests-and that includes a group with mixed interest levels in sporting events. Those glued to the TV can look through the vendors at the food hall during commercials or at halftime, and people with less interest in the sports can wander the area, post up at the coffee bar, or flit back and forth between acai bowls and beer. Steelcraft is a food hall concept with three locations, each of which has a stylish courtyard, plenty of lovely outdoor seating, and a great collection of vendors, including Beachwood Brewing, Barrio Korean-Filipino rice bowls, and Tacos Arandas, among others.
How to book: Walk in, or order ahead from various vendors directly.

Photo by Taryn Register Rosenbaum, courtesy of The Proud Bird
Photo by Taryn Register Rosenbaum, courtesy of The Proud Bird
Photo by Taryn Register Rosenbaum, courtesy of The Proud Bird

The Proud Bird

Lennox
The aviation-themed food hall just outside of LAX is a great option for groups with kids because they have an outdoor playground and also a series of exhibits all about aviation history, exactly the kind of thing to keep them entertained while you keep an eye on the game. There are six different food stands with options like burgers, pizza, and chicken & waffles, and there’s also a full bar. They have a whole set of game-day specials for the Super Bowl this weekend, including barbecue combo packs, discounts on beer, and specials on pitchers of drinks.
How to book: Walk in or order ahead online.

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Ben Mesirow¬†is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in TheLA Times,¬†Litro,¬†McSweeney’s Internet Tendency,Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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