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I love Pete's Café. I hate Pete's Café.
Pete’s Café is truly an enigma in the downtown dining scene, which seems to birth a new establishment every 30 to 40 seconds these days. While living in the Little Tokyo Lofts during 2005, I was introduced to this funky little restaurant nestled into the corner of 4th Street and Main by super-neighbor and self-appointed Mayor of Downtown Los Angeles, Shawn Mitchell. Since then, I have eaten more Hellman Burgers, drank more Stella, and seen more crazy shit at Pete’s than you could possibly shake a stick at.
More on my rather conflicted relationship with Pete's after the jump.
I have sampled many of Pete's menu options, but there are only three things that you need to know about Pete's food. First and foremost, Pete's blue cheese fries are the landmark of the establishment. I am convinced that were it not for its blue cheese fries, Pete's would have gone under long ago. The perfect shoestring French fries, covered in crumbled and melting blue cheese, are downright inspiring. Paired with even a mediocre glass of cab one could easily get caught up in the use of superlatives. I have, on a couple of occasions, seen the same guy come in to Pete's, tuck a napkin into his shirt collar, and eat a full order of the blue cheese fries. As disturbing as this is in reality, what with the plate approaching the size of an NBA regulation basketball and the fries approaching the density of plutonium, I can certainly admire his passion and vigor for stepping up to a circus-sized helping of one of LA's finest and most formidable side dishes.
Pete's is also home of one of the best macaroni and cheese concoctions in the city. Served in a large circular baking dish and covered with a crust of four cheeses, Pete's mac & cheese is yet another confirmation that its chefs treat cheese with an almost religious level of respect.
The Hellman burger is indicative of the entire Pete's experience - superb sometimes, but typically erratic. On a great day, Pete's burger is one of the best in the city. Cooked properly with fresh veggies and no cheese on a basic bun, it's simple but excellent. About half the time, though, it's undercooked, has cheese on it, and I have been waiting for it for about two hours. Which brings me to the service.
The service at Pete's Café generally falls onto a spectrum that has indifference on one end and abuse on the other. In a city that seems to pride itself on its lack of interest in its restaurant patrons, the staff of Pete's almost always manages to push the envelope of acceptable server behavior. Without going into all of the service escapades I have been through in my 5-6 dozen visits to Pete's, let's suffice it to say that you ought not be in a hurry and should be open minded towards getting something other than what you ordered. As long as you are cool with those things, then you should be good to go. Well, that and maybe the location...
I almost always sit on the patio when I go to Pete's. I have sat out there with almost all of my friends and all sorts of other random people. Between the regular customers, the pack of dogs that come with their hipster owners who live upstairs in lofts, and the heavy homeless presence, there is rarely a dull moment on Pete's patio. The first time I went to Pete's, there was a guy at the bar inside that was absolutely shit faced at 9 PM, on a Tuesday. He was so hammered that the bartender asked him to leave. The patron not only informed the bartender that he would not be leaving of his own volition, to put it lightly, he also decided that he would spit on the security guard's face as he was being escorted from the premises. The security guard grabbed the guy by his belt and the back of his shirt and introduced him to the pavement face first. Another time, a guy screamed that he was a Crip, ripped a board off of one of the planters on the patio, and started swinging it at the customers on the patio. My mom was with me that time. She was pretty impressed.
All of this might sound like a lot to deal with, but despite the surreal setting and service, Pete's is absolutely worth the trip. Give yourself a few hours and a positive outlook on life and if you still feel good when you are done, then you probably ate the blue cheese fries.
400 S. Main Street (on the southeast corner or 4th Street)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Reservations (213) 617-1000
Open for lunch and dinner M-F 11:30 AM - 2:00 AM, Weekends 11:00 AM - 2:00 AM