Nickel Diner - Restaurant Review

Posted on 11. Dec, 2009 by in Lifestyle

Walking the gritty neighborhood inhabited by Nickel Diner, I am immersed in a modern Dickensian scene. I pass a panhandler in a wheelchair … a curbside conversation that looks vaguely suspicious … a shifty parking lot attendant staring from the shadows. There is no poor little matchstick girl, but there is an old guy selling incense on the sidewalk. How has this modest, depression era – chic restaurant managed to thrive in an area that Chef Monica May described as “a gauntlet of drugs and prostitution” when she and co-owner Kristen Trattner signed a five-year lease in 2007? The Answer: They embraced the community. And it gave them a big bear hug right back. When Trattner and May were preparing to open, they tested their recipes on people who needed food. “We are part of the street,” Trattner maintains. “We’ve mixed people together in a way I would have never thought possible.” Sandwiched between two single-room-occupancy buildings, the eatery has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity since opening its doors in fall 2008. It has drawn accolades from Jonathan Gold and has been mentioned on various tastemaker Top Ten lists.

Monica May and Kristen Trattner

But the only thing I’m thinking of when I pass through the doors is the four words that should never be spoken—let alone eaten—in the same mouthful. Maple. Glazed. Bacon. Donut. My poor taste buds experienced waves of confusion, wonder, remorse, and lust as I succumbed to the gooey spell of this guilt-inducing confection. Monica’s Chicken Pozole—a hearty, comforting stew that captures the flavor of winter in Los Angeles—is “garnished” with a half-avocado rising out of the bowl like a verdant mountain. See Monica’s Chicken Pozole recipe at The menu also pays homage of sorts to the neighborhood’s checkered past with items that include Smac & Cheese (with roasted tomatoes and bread crumbs) and the 5c bag (brioche cinnamon toast). Tantalizing burgers and sandwiches abound, but several dishes outstrip conventional diner mentality. Standouts are the catfish with corn cakes and pecan sauce and an avocado that is stuffed with pinquito beans, red peppers, squash, corn, and cilantro. Prices are reasonable (most dishes are in the $8 - 10 range), and the restaurant is vegetarian-friendly, with several options available to meatless eaters.

Nickel Diner is open Tuesday – Sunday for breakfast and lunch 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They reopen for dinner from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Closed Mondays. Where else can you get the full flavor of downtown L.A. brought to you by people who
actually live there?

524 South Main Street
Los Angeles, CA

-Jason Dean

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