5 Places To Eat Scandinavian Føød In LA That Aren't IKEA
THIS STORY IS PART OF HOW TO L.A., OUR ONGOING SERIES OF PRACTICAL GUIDES FOR DAY-TO-DAY LIVING IN LOS ANGELES.
After Minnesota, the state with the highest number of Scandinavian Americans is... drumroll please... California.
It's an odd statistic given that the Golden State isn't known for its lutefisk dinners, brandy-soaked supper clubs and goofy accents (well, not that kind of accent). Once you realize how many people live in California, it makes more sense. North Dakota has 230,000 Scandinavian residents who comprise 36% of the state's population. California, by comparison, has 1.5 million Scandinavians although they make up only 3.6% of our population.
No wonder Los Angeles has so few Scandinavian restaurants.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, West Hollywood was home to Scandia, a glamorous, vaguely nordic restaurant that served steaks, veal cutlets, wienerschnitzel and stuffed cabbage leaves. In the '80s, while other high-end L.A. restaurants jumped on the California cuisine bandwagon, moving to menus focused on vegetables and locally sourced ingredients, Scandia stuck to a roster of meat-heavy main courses and baked Alaskas for dessert. Eventually, Scandia's luster faded and the restaurant lost its cachet.
The perception of Scandinavian food has never recovered. And let's face it, lutefisk doesn't help.
People still think of it as a heavy cuisine but it's actually full of seafood, vegetable dishes and fermented items, which people in this kimchi-loving town should appreciate. But that hasn't helped it gain a foothold among picky L.A. diners.
Alta Nordic Kitchen, a mid-range restaurant on Melrose with a pedigreed chef and a hygge-esque aura, closed in July 2018 after a year in business. Olson's, L.A.'s main destination for Nordic sandwiches and cardamom buns (both of which are fantastic), is pretty empty most days. The employees are unfailingly polite and happy to answer questions about the food of their people, even when you ask, "Do you like IKEA meatballs?" In case you're wondering, the answer is "no."
Here's where to find other, better Scandinavian dishes in Los Angeles.
The Danish brewery is opening beer halls around the world. Its South Park location looks how you'd expect -- high ceilings, communal tables, vaguely industrial -- but the food is better than it needs to be. Mikkeller's menu features open-face sandwiches on rye garnished with pickled beets, apples and cucumber salad; sausages; elk charcuterie; and a lot of mushrooms. It also includes a few British, German and Mexican dishes, nods to some of the great beer-drinking cultures of the world.
330 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown L.A.. 213-596-9005.
More a bar with intense snacks than a restaurant, Gravlax serves both Scandinavian and Turkish treats. That sounds confusing until you consider two things: Both cuisines are big on dips and spreads, and there's a major Turkish presence in northern Europe, so people in those countries have incorporated Turkish food into their diets. Take your pick of pickled vegetables, elk salami, Swedish cheese, pita and baba ganoush. Some days, that's the perfect dinner.
12400 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 310-390-9463.
Open Face Food Shop
A "Danish inspired" neighborhood sandwich shop, Open Face is an order-at-the-window, eat-outside kind of place. Currently operating with limited hours, five days a week, the casual spot has a small brunch/lunch menu comprised mostly of sandwiches -- open-face, of course. They also serve all kinds of beautiful vegetables (some fresh, some pickled), a choice that's both on-trend and traditional. The meatballs are Danish not Swedish. See if you can taste the difference.
5577 W. Adams Blvd., West Adams. 855-676-3223.
Copenhagen Pastry is strictly to-go, so you'll have to indulge in their butter cakes, kringles and nougat crowns elsewhere, preferably in front of a fire, with a mug of glogg. The bakery's definition of a macaroon doesn't include coconut. Instead, it's a pastry with marzipan, custard and jam topped with crackly, buttery almond flour. Almond paste is the main event in a lot of Danish pastries but you'll also find a few savory rolls here.
11113 Washington Blvd., Culver City. 310-839-8900
Olson's Scandinavian Café & Delicatessen
The standard-bearer for Scandinavian restaurant culture in Los Angeles, Olson's is both restaurant and market, selling cold cuts, cheese, baked goods, Nordic specialties likes tubes of roe paste and a large selection of Scandinavian candy from bulk bins. Swedish fish are just the beginning. If you're eating in, get one of the sandwiches, like the shrimp skagen: shrimp from Greenland, golden roe, crème fraiche, dill, shallots and mayonnaise on a brioche. It's a sandwich you'll need a fork for. You can also get a meatball sandwich with pickled beets and fried onions or buy a bag of meatballs to go.
5660 Pico Blvd., Mid-City. 323-938-0742.
In a pinch, there's always the cafeteria at IKEA.