In L.A. and Las Vegas, massive planned communities are getting excellent restaurants.

When you’re opening a new restaurant, it helps to be part of someone else’s master plan. Sure, you could wing it by finding a space at an unlikely location in an on-the-rise neighborhood. You might even get called a “pioneer” when you do this. Or you could sleep easier at night knowing that somebody else has spent millions of dollars to make sure when you open, you have a customer base.

It turns out that in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, massive planned communities that blend housing, shopping, office space and family-friendly event venues have become great places to eat.

“With the combination of live and work spaces, the potential for business was really great,” says chef Brooke Williamson, who with her husband/business partner Nick Roberts, serves Hawaiian food at Da Kikokiko in the Westside of L.A.’s Playa Vista development. “It’s booming with the tech scene here. But it really feels like a neighborhood with all the outdoor space.”

Williamson is a celebrity chef who you can watch battle Shirley Chung for this season’s “Top Chef” title on Thursday, March 2, but she’s also a mom who appreciates the walkability and child-friendly greenery of Playa Vista. She’s so keen on the area that she might even end up residing here if she can find the right deal. And she plans to move Tripli-Kit, her cooking-focused store in nearby Playa Del Rey, to a space across from Da Kikokiko.

The key to success for a planned community is actually making it feel like a self-sustaining community, a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where you can find whatever you need, day or night.

“Not only are there shops and residential expanding, there are two office towers and the giant luxury movie theater,” says Vegas restaurant mogul Elizabeth Blau, who runs Andiron Steak & Sea in the Downtown Summerlin community, about 20 minutes from the many high-end restaurants Blau developed on the Strip. “And there’s programming, art festivals, the farmers market. During the winter, they had an ice skating rink.”

So even if you’re not ready to live in a planned community, you might want to visit for lunch or dinner. Here are three communities with some serious destination restaurants.

The Americana at Brand, Los Angeles

The Americana at Brand in Glendale is a glorious outdoor mall from L.A. developer Rick Caruso, who’s done this kind of thing before at The Grove. You can shop at Nordstrom, take your kids to the Thomas the Tank Engine train set at Barnes & Noble or go to the movies at The Americana, but the best thing to do here is eat.

The Tsujita, which opened in November, is an outpost of the best ramen shop in L.A. The tsukemen, perfect thick noodles that you dip into a ridiculously porky and fatty broth, is one of the most cholesterol-altering and wondrous things in the city. The Tsujita is steps from a recently expanded outpost of Din Tai Fung, a Taiwan-based chain that’s the king of all soup dumplings and also quite competent at making beef noodle soup. Down the block is Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, which is good for a burger at the bar or a blowout feast in the dining room with osetra caviar, Japanese wagyu and the famed chef’s signature Maine lobster pot pie.

Just across the street on Brand Boulevard is a crazy cluster where breakfast-sandwich sensation Eggslut is debuting soon and Shake Shack, Philz Coffee and Mainland Poke have recently opened. Mainland Poke is a good healthy option, which sources sustainable fish that isn’t frozen and comes into the restaurant whole. It’s a fast-casual operation with the quality of a high-end sushi place. And this is L.A., so you’ll probably want both kale and brown rice along with your tuna, salmon, albacore and/or octopus.

Chef Lior Hillel and operators Robert and Danny Kronfli, known for their Italian wine bars near USC and in Playa Del Rey, just opened Bacari GDL at The Americana. Being in a place with high foot traffic and customers (including renters of The Americana’s high-end apartments) with more disposable income has allowed Hillel to expand his menu from the “everything is $9” small-plates model of his other restaurants. He’s serving pastas like foie gras cresto de gallo and beet gnocchi. He’s been selling a lot of short ribs and duck confit.

Yes, this is part of what’s primarily known as a mall. But after just one week of service, Bacari GDL already feels like a cool neighborhood restaurant.

“Last night, there were five or six different groups that hung out until 11:30, when everything else in The Americana was dead,” says Robert Kronfli.

Before Kronfli signed the lease, he spent days walking in and out of the restaurants at The Americana, counting the customers at each spot.

“The restaurants are super busy all the time,” Kronfli says. “The foot traffic is really heavy. When you see that, it’s hard to ignore the dollar signs.”

Kronfli focused on making his design different from what he saw elsewhere at The Americana, He wanted to created a neighborhood wine bar, something less “corporate” and more “hipster.” Bacari GDL has chalkboard walls, ceilings lined with wine bottles and a facade that resembles a garage door. A 90-minute open bar starts at $25 per person, so you’ll probably want to hang out for a while.


By Andy Wang