Worth The Wait? L.A. Chefs + Food Writers Describe Their Tests of Time to Eat

Barbecue Austin

La Barbecue hooked more than one L.A. food writer, despite significant waits.

Some restaurants, food trucks and stalls are known for testing patience, while other experiences take aspiring diners by surprise. Not everybody’s down to wait. I asked a dozen L.A. chefs and food writers, “What’s the longest you ever waited to sit down for a meal, and was the experience worth the wait? Why or why not?” Their responses might surprise you.

Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA)

In 2009, after a day of drinking cachaça at various botecos I made my way to Vila Medeiros, at the northernmost extreme of the city of São Paulo, Brasil. At the time, a 28-year-old chef Rodrigo Oliveira was running Mocotó, a chef driven boteco serving Pernambuco style cuisine, cachaça, and caipirinhas. The restaurant was very small at the time and there was a 2-hour wait—since then they’ve expanded into the adjoining space and opened up a bar/reception area for snacks and drinks while you wait for a table.

After two hours I started with shots of cachaça, a three-lime caipirinha and their iconic cracklings. I had a tapioca filled with beef jerky and topped with a sweet dressing, calf’s foot soup with softest textures of tendon contrasted by beans that fell between al dente and watery, and a goat stew, all bursting with the herbs and spices of northeastern Brasil. I was one of the last two tables, and Oliveira came and joined us for shots of Francesinha, a cachaça liqueur made in-house. The other table invites me to sit with them and then they drove me home, because they didn’t trust the cabs there—it was 2 a.m.

I maintained a friendship with Oliveira, and in 2020, we are opening Balaio in L.A. Yes, it was worth the wait.

Susan Feniger (Border Grill + Socalo)

The Boonville Hotel! Such a fantastic place! Everything was local, like next-door, if not raised there…attention to detail was fantastic! The hotel was small and so well designed!! I remember woodwork in the ladies room, cobalt blue tiles and gorgeous wood cabinets.. Food was incredible. I stayed close by in cabins at Bear Wallow! LOVED Bear Wallow! We used to ski on way up at Clear Lake, which was not CLEAR!! Back in ’81 Gourmet mentioned this place. Could only feed like 6 people at a time! No bar! We waited forever without a drink, but well worth the wait!

Jenn Harris (Los Angeles Times)

The longest I’ve ever waited to sit down for a meal was an hour and 57 minutes at Willie Mae’s in New Orleans. It was about 95 degrees outside and the line was wrapped around the building, in the sun. I thought about running into the nearest air conditioned restaurant nearby for some relief, but I felt compelled to stand there. I had heard from multiple people that the fried chicken was exceptional and I decided that whatever the cost (time/sanity/well-being), I was going to get that chicken! There’s also that feeling after 45 minutes that you’ve made it this far, you can’t turn back now! Once we finally made it inside, I collapsed into my seat, my hair plastered onto my head and sweat dripping down all limbs. But when I took that first bite of chicken, it was all worth it. It was the best fried chicken I’d ever had. Once I cleaned the last bone, I flirted with the idea of getting up, washing my hands, then heading aoutside to the back of the line to do it all over again. My companion said no. But I thought about it.

Mona Holmes (Eater LA)

The longest I’ve waited for a meal? Two moments.

Unfortunately, at The Cheesecake Factory with my nieces. They insisted. It was 90 minutes and the only reason it was worth it was because they love cheesecake. The look on their faces made me happy.

More recently, at Angel’s Tijuana Tacos in Eagle Rock. My husband dropped me off in the line, and I said I’d be back in 30 minutes. The line wasn’t that long, maybe 15 people ahead of me. One hour later and covered in hickory smoke from the grill with al pastor tacos covered in salsas, I have to say it was worth the long wait. Next time, I’ll bring a chair and a laptop.

Mei Lin (Nightshade)

Kau Kee in Hong Kong. An hour wait. For the most amazing curry brisket noodles.

Walter Manzke (Republique + Petty Cash Taqueria + Sari Sari Store)

The longest I’ve ever waited to sit down for a meal was over an hour to have Sushi Daiwa in the morning at Tsukiji Market in Japan. It was worth the wait – the best quality, freshest sushi you’ll ever have.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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