Want to get to know your community? Open a neighborhood restaurant, and be lucky enough to have it stick around for a couple of decades. My little place, Angeli Caffe, has been in business since 1984 on the wacky end of Melrose Avenue, the Hollywood street that was then just emerging as a shopping destination. The space was a former screen door shop, tucked in amid the neighborhood's thrift stores and New Wave record shops, that we turned into a restaurant with very little money and lots of goodwill. The design was edgy at the time, with a huge beam piercing the front wall and a rusted steel façade. The food was unpretentious, inexpensive, rustic Italian fare.
At the beginning we were hip, so hip, feeding a generation of partying boomers who were eating out every night. There was often a wait of two hours to get in. Over the decades I've watched my generation go from dancing fools to sleep-deprived new parents to mature stewards of a younger generation of tattooed hipsters, who know more about food than we ever did at their age. When I was growing up in LA in the 1960s, there was nowhere to get food like this; you couldn't even buy fresh basil at the supermarket. It wasn't until I traveled in Italy in my 20s that I discovered the simple goodness of spaghetti aglio e olio and lemony roast chicken (see Lemon and Rosemary Chicken), dishes that most of us take for granted today. Angeli marked my way of bringing that food home.
Honest food and a welcoming vibe are a recipe for longevity in any town. But in LA, finding a place to be yourself without complicated demands—where you can have a bite and a laugh and go on well fed and refreshed—isn't easy. Angeli has come to be about more than the food and the architecture; we're a part of people's lives. It's an honor, really. —Evan Kleiman, the host of the KCRW radio program Good Food