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The curious case of Lot 1 Cafe and its $6 all-you-can-eat pancakes

February 17, 2009 |  7:28 pm

Lot1blogWhen Lot 1 Cafe -- the diminutive Echo Park corner restaurant with the oddball name -- opened on Cinco de Mayo of last year, I had a feeling that it didn't quite know its audience. The food was fancy and had the prices to match. But the restaurant itself was oddly cold and unwelcoming, not the kind of place you'd want to lay down Beverly Hills-style money. Not when you could go down the street to 15 and eat for much less.

At the time the restaurant had scored Josef Centeno as its chef, almost by accident. Centeno, still hot after a promising turn at Opus in Koreatown, was shooting to open his own place (called Volver) but ended up in Lot 1's kitchen instead. The story went that he lived in the neighborhood and learned from Craigslist that the restaurant, owned by mother-and-son team Eileen and Miles Leslie, needed a chef so he signed up. He made a mini-splash, with The Times featuring him and his famed bacos, but Centeno left after five months (and reportedly not on good terms).

After that, blogs stopped writing about Lot 1 and customers stopped coming. The restaurant sat empty night after night, while down the street another new restaurant, the Park, took off, scoring a decent review from Times Restaurant Critic S. Irene Virbila. When Lot 1 began offering brunch not much changed; again the prices were still too high to lure neighborhood customers.

Then early this year Lot 1 shut down for a while and I wondered whether or not it would reopen. But it has, and its new approach to promoting itself is about as subtle as a hitchhiker pulling her skirt above her head. This weekend I walked by (on my way to brunch at a very packed Park) and saw a sandwich board covered in electric green paper in front of the restaurant announcing all-you-can-eat pancakes for $6. Now, the Eastsider reports that Lot 1 is offering a "chili dog and rootbeer float for $5."

Again, I'm not sure if that's quite right in a neighborhood awash with $2 bacon-wrapped hot dog carts. But I hope I'm wrong. An empty restaurant is a truly depressing sight.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times