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Ghost Kitchens: The Future of LA Restaurants?

May 21, 2021

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It’s take-out only for many of the best restaurants in Los Angeles, as they’re virtual kitchens these days. Let’s look at how we got here and which ghost kitchens we think will last.

As life begins to return to normal all across the country, lots of Los Angeles restaurants are going back to full capacity for indoor dining. But like working from home and increased digital shopping, ghost kitchens are a trend that has ramped up due to COVID but isn't likely to end as the threat of the pandemic fades.

So What Exactly Are Ghost Kitchens?

You may have heard them called different things: delivery-only restaurants, virtual kitchens, dark kitchens, or cloud kitchens. A ghost kitchen is basically a restaurant without dining space; food is usually delivered, although some ghost kitchens offer take-out. Most ghost kitchens take most of their orders online, often through apps including DoorDash and UberEats.

And they're often not exclusive. One ghost kitchen may cook for a variety of brands, say, offering Mexican dishes and Thai cuisine under different names but prepared in the same space. This practice was widely criticized just a few years ago, with media outlets "catching" restaurants serving under different brands through apps like GrubHub. Now, the cost-cutting measure of preparing multiple brands out of one kitchen is a norm.

Why Will Ghost Kitchens Stick Around?

While social distancing created the need for delivery-only restaurants, that is by no means their only advantage. Cost is a big factor: it's simply cheaper to start up a restaurant in an existing kitchen, without paying to rent dining space. Another reason is increased consumer comfort with technology. Ordering dinner through an app is second nature to tech-savvy Millennials, who have surpassed Baby Boomers to become America's biggest generation.

And it's not just mom-and-pop restaurants looking to survive. Established restaurants, big chains, and major hospitality groups have seen the digital trend and they're all ramping up food delivery. TV foodie Guy Fieri, both beloved and derided for serving concoctions like his Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls and Guy-talian Nachos at his brick-and-mortar restaurants, recently opened Flavortown ghost kitchens in over 30 states and counting.

Which of LA's Ghost Kitchens Will Stick Around?

Let's break out our crystal ball and predict which of LA's popular ghost kitchens have the staying power to make it after coronavirus restrictions cease.

  • Dante Fried Chicken. What began as a ghost kitchen in a Brooklyn loft in 2001 was working as an LA pop-up back in 2018. We bet that DFC Ghost Kitchen will be serving its signature crazy-crust chicken and smoked-pimento mac ‘n’ cheese for a while.
  • Secret Lasagna. While their space in West Hollywood isn't exactly secret (they do offer pick-up), Secret Lasagna does operate as an under-the-radar ghost kitchen. And they do just one thing: awesome lasagna—from their beef-and-cheese Secret Lasagna to their Top Secret vegetarian version.
  • Red’s Smokin Texas BBQ. Whiskey Red's has long been a place to enjoy a sunset cocktail by the sea in Marina del Rey. During COVID days they created the ghost kitchen Red’s Smokin Texas BBQ, delivering meat that's hand-rubbed with an in-house spice blend, slow-cooked over apple and hickory wood, and topped with bourbon BBQ sauce. We doubt that’s going to leave us soon!
  • Jungli. Joining other ghost kitchens in the Downtown LA commissary Crafted Kitchen, Jungli has distinguished itself with unique South Asian fare such as Masala Rubbed Pork Ribs, Bombay Hot Chicken, and lamb burgers you have to taste to believe.
  • Bourbon Steakhouse. In addition to serving prime cuts in-house, Glendale's Bourbon Steakhouse is home to two great ghost kitchens. Tokyo Hot Chicken brings boldness to traditional Japanese cuisine, such as karaage style chicken tenders, togarashi Hawaiian rolls, and duck fat fries sprinkled with furikake. Plus Bourbon Steakhouse has the to-go brand Bourbon Burger Bar with offerings like their Black Truffle Steak Burger and BBQ Organic Salmon Burger.
  • Delucatessen at EMILIA. Drawing inspiration from the flavors of Northern Italy, Delucatessen at EMILIA has a menu of gourmet sandwiches that includes a Panino Polpette, meatballs with melted provolone on a French baguette, and Panino Frittata e Broccolini, scrambled egg whites and broccoli with garlic aioli on sourdough.

Sure, take-out-only restaurants will never truly replace the experience of dining in. But there’s something nice about a gourmet meal arriving at your door with a few taps on an app. So we don’t have to entirely give up ghost restaurants when the world gets back to normal.

Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.

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