This retro 1940s filling station now serves buttery lobster rolls in Koreatown

Royal Lobster

A restored 1940s Texaco gas station is serving plump Maine-caught lobster rolls and lobster salads in Koreatown. Royal Lobster, from husband-and-wife team Justin Sok and Ashley Cho, opened its first location in Waikiki roughly two years ago but after regular suggestions and pleas from vacationing customers, decided to bring the lobster shack to Los Angeles.

Royal Lobster took over the former Full Service Coffee Co. space, which was originally a Texaco filling station.

(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

“We wanted to start something new,” Sok said. “There’s a few lobster roll places in Hawaii, but I think they overdo the seasoning. We wanted something pure and just simple. And we’re confident with the quality.”

Sok and Cho, who also operate Korean restaurant Topped in Waikiki, found a distributor in Maine who ships lobster to their restaurants daily. They serve their rolls simply, drizzled with melted butter and in a toasted brioche roll with Old Bay, a slice of lemon, and garlic aioli on the side with chips and slaw. For the salad, they toss greens in a house-made balsamic vinaigrette and top it with lobster and shaved Parmesan.

The vintage filling station formerly occupied by cafe Full Service Coffee Co. has seen its bright red signage switch from “COFFEE” to “LOBSTER.” The space offers patio seating and parking, plus a small area that Cho and Sok plan to convert for indoor seating sometime next year. They’re also planning on expanding elsewhere in L.A., including a forthcoming location in Beverly Hills, which will provide enough space to serve as a commercial kitchen for the stand allowing for new items such as lobster bisque and lobster ramen. Royal Lobster is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

4450 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles,

An overhead photo of dishes from all-day cafe Highly Likely on a white tabletop: fried fish sandwich, rice bowl and more.

All-day cafe Highly Likely serves dishes such as sandwiches, salads, grain bowls and pastries with influences from the Middle East, Japan, California and beyond.

(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Highly Likely Highland Park

A popular all-day cafe beloved for its globe-trotting menu has opened in Highland Park with an all-new dinner service, cocktail program and spacious back patio. Highly Likely debuted in West Adams in 2018 and made its name with tartines, sandwiches, grain bowls and wraps that pulled inspiration from chef-partner Kat Turner’s travels in her years as a private chef.

Now those flavors and ingredients are finding their way to new items in a new 120-seat location with a nearly 3,000-square-foot patio complete with its own bar, under the banner of restaurant group Delicious Monster.

Counter service during the daytime switches to full table service for dinner with a menu that includes butternut lumache, steak au poivre with Sichuan peppercorn, yuzu deviled eggs, harissa meatballs and koji chicken schnitzel. Turner previously worked at Blue Hill and as a private chef for a touring band, cooking around the world with whatever was available to her. That’s not to say the menu isn’t also rooted in Americana.

“I kind of like to say I’m not afraid to play the hits,” Turner said. “I’m from Wisconsin and it’s a big part of my identity. I love to take classic, really familiar things and just do them really well, do them in a way that’s fun.”

José Bejarano serves as the beverage director of both locations. Keeping affordability for the Highland Park neighborhood in mind, wines by the glass cost as little as $11. Diana Danaila, the bar manager, heads up a cocktail program that draws inspiration from some of Turner’s food and its Japanese, Latin and Middle Eastern influences: rye with cherry saffron bitters, mezcal with apple ginger tepache, gin with shibazuke. She’s also created a tight menu of thoughtfully made zero-proof cocktails.

Vertical close-up of the herb- and sheep's-cheese-topped breakfast sandwich from all-day cafe Highly Likely in Highland Park

Highly Likely’s daytime menu offers a range of all-day breakfast items such as an herb- and sheep’s-cheese-topped breakfast sandwich.

(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Turner says she’s been conscious of offering dishes at price points that are accessible given the cost of running a restaurant, including some for under $10, as well as kids’ meal items such as buttered noodles.

Earlier this year the Highland Park location saw online and in-person protests prior to the opening, citing gentrification. Turner says she has reached out to members of the community as well as protesters to continue the discussion. She also says she received more than 1,000 applications and has prioritized hiring from the neighborhood. A forthcoming happy hour special, in collaboration with Community Spirit vodka, will fundraise for local nonprofit No Us Without You, and as in West Adams, the team hopes to use the patio to host community events and speaker series.

Highly Likely is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with plans to extend to 11 p.m. on weekends.

5526 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, 310-622-4550,

All’Antico Vinaio

A wildly popular sandwich shop from Italy just landed in L.A. and customers are lining the block to get a taste of schiacciata. All’Antico Vinaio has been specializing in the flatbread sandwich for more than 30 years in Florence, and when Tommaso Mazzanti joined his family’s restaurant business he helped expand the sandwich shop to the U.S. with multiple locations in New York City — and now one in Venice. After multiple pop-ups and months of teases, the casual restaurant officially launched in late November with more than a dozen sandwiches, including signature items such as La Favolosa, with sbriciolona salami, house-made pecorino cream, artichoke cream and eggplant, plus newer additions such as the L.A. Fadeaway, with gorgonzola, zucchini, eggplant, sun-dried tomato and arugula. A deli case displays the cured meats and fresh spreads, salads and cheeses that pile onto the sandwiches. Also available is a range of Italian wines by the glass, sodas, teas and imported specialty drinks. All’Antico Vinaio is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

1121 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 310 3747,

A hand holds a slice of pumpkin pie on an orange plate at Culver City's Fat + Flour cafe

In addition to salads and other new savory items, Culver City’s Fat + Flour cafe serves the classic pies, cookies and biscuits for which baker Nicole Rucker is lauded.

(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Fat + Flour Culver City

One of L.A.’s most lauded bakers just brought her famous pies, cookies and other treats to the Westside. Fat + Flour — from Nicole and Blaine Rucker — still operates its stall in Grand Central Market, but a new location in Culver City offers a longer menu of savory items, plus pantry and home knicknacks. It marks a full-circle moment for baker Nicole Rucker, who years ago would sit in the cafe space while awaiting her laundry at the adjacent laundromat and pondering how she would run the cafe if it were hers. Now it is, and the new Fat + Flour features slices and whole pies in flavors such as pecan and her signature Key lime, in addition to cookies, biscuits smeared with apple butter, sweet or savory scones, granola, panini, and salads in options such as roasted beets with blood orange and feta; ravioli with radicchio and squash; and farro with dates, pecans and broccolini. A full coffee bar with house-made syrups is also on offer, as are home items such as candles, holiday ornaments and bags of coffee. Fat + Flour is open daily in Culver City from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

11739 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City,

Gao’s BBQ and Crab

A Dallas-founded chain that blends Chinese barbecue with Cajun-style crawfish boils recently launched its first L.A.-area location. Gao’s BBQ and Crab — with restaurants also in New York City, Chicago and San Jose — offers late-night charcoal-grilled Northeastern-style Chinese barbecued skewers in options such as beef, sausage, prawns, tendons, tofu skins, chicken, lamb, tongue, quail and squid, plus stir-frys and grilled oysters. The signature seafood boil cooks crawfish, snow crab, corn and other items in a broth of Cajun spices and the Chinese shi san xiang 13-spice blend. Gao’s BBQ and Crab is open Monday to Friday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 1 a.m.

1390 Fullerton Road, Suite 102, Rowland Heights, (626) 295-2085,

Sweet Maple

Brunch classics and "Billionaire's Bacon" have arrived in Santa Monica via the Bay Area's popular chain Sweet Maple.

Brunch classics and “Billionaire’s Bacon” have arrived in Santa Monica via the Bay Area’s popular chain Sweet Maple.

(Sweet Maple)

A rapidly expanding Bay Area restaurant group just touched down in Los Angeles for the first time, bringing brunch classics and Korean-influenced dishes to Santa Monica. Sweet Maple, from husband-and-wife team Hoyul Steven Choi and Jiyeon Choi, serves “soufflegg” skillets, Benedicts, pancakes, omelets, burgers, sandwiches, Korean fried chicken, wine, beer, sake and “morning cocktails,” as well as “Millionaire’s Bacon,” a Sweet Maple signature that bakes thick-cut bacon in brown sugar, cayenne and pepper. The Santa Monica location sprawls across more than 4,000 square feet a few blocks from the beach. The Chois launched their Bay Area restaurant empire with Taylor Street Coffee Shop in 2002 and later expanded it with a revitalization of ’60s diner Fred’s Coffee Shop; their first Sweet Maple in 2010; and a string of other restaurants such as Korean restaurant Berkeley Social Club and Thai-leaning Blackwood. In addition to their first L.A.-area restaurant, Sweet Maple has recently expanded to three other Bay Area locales, while U :Dessert Story — their sweets-forward concept that designed the dessert menu now found in Santa Monica — also opened a new outpost. Sweet Maple is open daily from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

1705 Ocean Ave., Suite 110, Santa Monica, (424) 268-4190,

Grand Central Market’s Holiday Wonderland

Downtown’s historic food hall is throwing a series of events for the holiday season, where in addition to festive bites visitors can enjoy culinary workshops, live performances and other programming through the end of the month. During Grand Central Market’s Holiday Wonderland, head to the food hall’s lower level for something planned each day, including a charcuterie-board workshop led by Charcuterie LA (Dec. 13), drag queen bingo (Dec. 15), a Christmas cocktail workshop (Dec. 20), ugly-sweater karaoke (Dec. 22) and visits from Santa (Dec. 17 and 24).

317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles,

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