I have a really soft spot in my heart for diners, most likely a result of how much time I spent in them growing up. On weekends when I was a kid, my parents and I would go to the Aster Diner with some other families from the neighborhood and feast on pancakes, eggs, hash browns, and scrapple (ok, only my dad ordered the scrapple - the thought of it still makes my stomach churn). We kids loved picking songs from the mini-jukeboxes in each booth, or trying our luck at winning toys from the machine in the vestibule, or absconding the sugar packets when our parents ordered coffee (I'm still unclear on why we thought that last bit was fun). The parents probably enjoyed not having to cook - I recall that they had a variety of unpleasant nicknames for the diner ("Geezerville" and "The Aster Disaster" were among them), so I guess they weren't huge fans of the food. But it's not usually the quality of the food that draws people to diners, is it? Folks come for the atmosphere, for a cozy place to spend some time with friends and drink bottomless cups of coffee, all without breaking the bank.
As an adult with a strong interest in food (read: I have watched all of those Netflix food documentaries, and they were terrifying), I am now much more particular about the quality of the food I eat and where that food is sourced from. While it's easy now to find responsibly sourced, natural foods in grocery stores across the U.S., finding a restaurant that serves that type of food is a rare treat.
So, knowing all this, you can probably guess that I am all about the concept behind Ingo's Tasty Diner. Take one neighborhood diner, dress it up all pretty, and serve awesome farm-to-table ingredients like organic eggs and Mary's chicken - sign me up! Ingo's has been on my must-try list for a while now, and a few weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to visit with some friends from out of town.
Ingo's Tasty Diner is located in a 70-year-old Santa Monica historical landmark on Wilshire, formerly home to a diner called Callahan's. The diner's bones are still clearly visible here in the curved countertop bar and the cozy booth seats, but it's been given a modern makeover with vibrant art, elegantly simple light fixtures, and a huge chalkboard menu. It's managed to retain that cozy diner atmosphere, but with added polish and flair. Delightfully, on a late Saturday morning, we were seated immediately - a fact that did strike us as a bit surprising given how popular Ingo's seems to be on Instagram and Yelp. But hey, I'm not complaining.
We began our brunch with some beverages - a lemonade for my friend, and a cocktail for me. The lemonade took us by (pleasant) surprise, shaken with egg white for a light layer of foam on top, and perfectly tart and refreshing. I chose "The Greyhound" cocktail, a lively mix of Ford's gin, fresh grapefruit, lemon, and mint. Refreshing, light, and vibrant, it was a perfect brunch accompaniment.
The brunch menu at Ingo's boasts a hearty selection of breakfast items, as well as a larger lunch-like offering than you'll find on most brunch menus including salads, soups, and burgers. We gravitated toward the breakfast section, lured in by their takes on classic dishes.
The Farmer's Market Scramble highlighted the fresh, local vegetables that the restaurant sources from Santa Monica Farmer's Market vendors. The dish was simple and (dare I say it?) tasty, featuring delicata squash, goat cheese, and swiss chard. And we can always appreciate a meal that includes some leafy greens.
As a sucker for the sweet vs. savory dichotomy, I couldn't help but be drawn to the Crispy Chicken and Crepes, and it did not disappoint. The fried Jidori chicken was perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, and not at all oily. The crepes were delightfully moist and eggy, providing a pleasantly soft texture contrast to the crispy chicken. Seasonal persimmons and berries graced the top of this pile of deliciousness, and a drizzle of local honey added a touch of sweetness to each bite.
Shakshuka is always an appealing brunch option, especially as we're approaching "winter" here in L.A. Ingo's version of this spiced tomato-and-egg dish includes harissa and lebni, as well as optional merguez sausage. Served with crispy toast to soak up the delightfully spicy tomato gravy and the runny braised eggs, this dish was hearty and offered a pleasant balance of flavors and textures.
At our server's suggestion, we also ordered a side of hash browns to share, which was absolutely a good move. Baked and served in a small skillet and garnished with sour cream and chives, these were crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. Basically, perfect. Seriously, order them.
Oh, and are you one of those people who loves a dessert after brunch, but forgets to leave room because you're too busy tucking into your delicious egg-stravaganza? I hear you. And so did Ingo's! On the way out, you can cruise by the plate of salted chocolate chip cookies for the perfect bite of a little something sweet.
Friends, Ingo's Tasty Diner pulled at my heart strings. Between that familiar diner feel and the thoughtful, feel-good food, they knew exactly how to win me over. It may not serve scrapple (again, ew) or have a toy machine and little jukeboxes in the booths, but Ingo's is helping to fill that little hole in my heart that appeared when the Aster closed up shop.
1213 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica