Pulling up to Food Haus Café, the traditional American-style café new to South Olive Street, one might wonder if this is the right spot. Wedged in the middle of what feels like the industrial part of downtown and the furthest thing from a bustling strip of restaurants, its neon letters glow between little else.
A few men and women sit outside sorting receipts and greet you as you walk in — are they the owners? It’s empty, with a cash register at the front and a stack of menus in a box — do you seat yourself? (You do). Do you order by the register? (You do).
What is this place?
But the initial uncertainty diminishes after taking in the variety of choices that the Mexican and Italian-infused menu has to offer, complete with quirky names like “Heart Attack Pancakes” or “Roll the Dice” with the chef’s choice. And don’t forget the influence of L.A. cuisine, with dishes called the “I Run LA” omelet or “West Hollywood” bagel. In addition to omelets and bagels, items for the morning include breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches, while lunch and dinner range from salads and sandwiches to burgers, melts and flatbreads. And by the time the food comes, any previous uncertainty has entirely dissipated.
With a soft opening on Jan. 24, the restaurant has already developed a reputation for their “After Hours Torta”: New York steak, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and mozzarella, slathered with a black bean spread and drizzled with ranchero sauce and garlic lime aioli. With one bite, it’s easy to see why.
The meat, while plain and not heavy on seasonings, proves tender and not overly chewy. The Italian loaf is soft and warm, and they don’t skimp on the avocado — something difficult to come by even at most sandwich shops. A healthy serving of French fries, which are like a gourmet version of McDonald’s but slimmer and with basil, comes with chipotle aioli sauce on the side. Each component of the meal complements the other. A bite of the sandwich, a bite of fries, and then another of the sandwich, and back and forth until only the sauce is left, dripping down the side of the napkin.
Another crowd-pleaser is the “Mrs. Caesar” salad, for those looking for a slightly healthier, less bread-centered entree. And when they say that it’s kale, avocado and a rosemary bagel crouton, they really mean that that’s all there is. Despite the lack of diversity of ingredients in the salad, the greens are still fresh, and the donut-shaped crouton is still crunchy and soaked in olive oil. The salad is drenched in Caesar dressing, but then again, making kale taste good is a feat on its own, one that needs no questioning.
The flatbreads, whether it’s the “Red Light District” with goat cheese, red peppers and zucchini, or the “Laos” with curry chicken and peanuts, are sure to deliver. The “Pesto Margarite” — melted mozzarella, sweet cherry tomatoes, and a barely-there pesto sauce — is an ideal appetizer with its ultra-thin, non-filling crust. Whole cloves of roasted garlic layered the top, which would probably be better off diced.
Despite having mastered quick bites such as pizza and sandwiches, Food Haus Café has yet to prove itself as a fine dining destination. More exotic dishes, such as the coconut shrimp, feel smothered in a too-thick breading, and the flavor of coconut was more of a punch in the face than a subtle tap on the shoulder. The presentation, however, is something out of a magazine or a Hawaiian luau: Shrimp on skewers poke out of a thick slice of pineapple covered in black and white sesame seeds.
Prices are reasonable, especially by Los Angeles’ standards, with appetizers ranging between $3 and $9 and main meals coming in between $8 and $13. Casual touches add character to the new food hub, such as meals being served on newspaper wrapping or cute, Pinterest-inspired mason jars with colorful straws to hold water.
At times, the ambiance is a bit conflicting — the New York City skyline is stenciled on the walls, orchids decorate the tables, black, plastic-like upholstery lines the wall seating and an old-fashioned bicycle hangs awkwardly in one corner. Loud, electronic music blares on the speaker system. Service is polite and to-the-point, except no one seems to be able to suggest anything on the menu except “everything.”
Check out Food Haus Café for simple, cheap eats, but keep in mind, the café closes at an early 8 p.m. This new spot is great if you’re looking for a quality, casual meal without the fluff that might make other restaurants five stars but also three dollar signs.