Taking barcade food to the next level. Photo courtesy of Button Mash

The RundownLos Angeles

Poltergeist Is Echo Park’s Most Unhinged New Hit (In A Good Way)


Chef Diego Argoti is breathing new life into beloved Echo Park barcade Button Mash with Poltergeist, a small plates-driven concept that’s anything but formulaic. Known for his viral pop-up, Estrano, which took a delightfully chaotic approach to combining flavors and techniques, Argoti doesn’t particularly like to be pinned down in one place (or even inside of a kitchen, for that matter). 

But when friends and Button Mash co-owners Jordan Weiss and Gabe Fowlkes asked him to come in-house, Argoti saw it as an opportunity to lay down roots and create something unique. In doing so, the project has taken on deep personal significance for him, as he confronts old ghosts and creates a new kitchen culture that’s a far cry from his haunted past.

Here are five things you need to know before dining at Poltergeist.

Mapo tofu stuffed cabbage at Poltergeist.
Mapo tofu stuffed cabbage. Photos by @LAFoodList, courtesy of Estrano
Green curry bucatino at Poltergeist.
Green curry bucatino.

1. It might be in an arcade, but that doesn’t mean burgers and fries. 

Since opening in 2015, Echo Park’s Button Mash has been a neighborhood go-to for offbeat beers and delicious food. It previously housed beloved pan-Asian concept Starry Kitchen, helmed by husband-and-wife team Nguyen and Thi Tran. Button Mash was closed for the majority of the pandemic, since its all-indoor concept was not particularly conducive to social distancing. It reopened last summer with food from popular chainlet Tacos 1986, but the partnership didn’t last long. 

In the fall of 2022, Argoti and Button Mash teamed up to host a month-long series of rotating pop-ups, including Estrano. The group soon recognized the need for a more permanent restaurant concept, and asked him to come on full-time. The chef tossed around various ideas, including a Middle Eastern concept, but decided to go in another direction: “Honestly, they kind of gave me free rein and I wanted to do something crazy,” he tells us. “I’m always going to want to do something that makes a ruckus and pushes boundaries.” He spent December and January fleshing out the concept for Poltergeist before officially kicking it off in late February.

2. This restaurant is the first brick-and-mortar venture for the ever-roving chef. 

A stalwart of top tier L.A. restaurant kitchens for nearly a decade, Argoti struck out on his own during the pandemic with his viral street-pasta concept, Estrano. Launched in 2021, Estrano popped up everywhere from an alley behind Silver Lake’s Cafe Tropical, to the backyard behind Club Tee Gee in Atwater, to the lawns of Echo Park. When presented with the opportunity to go in-house, Argoti’s feelings were mixed. “I didn’t want to be in the kitchen anymore. To be honest, there’s a part of me that still doesn’t. I’m very happy with what I have and what I’m doing. But I don’t want to work in a ‘normal’ kitchen. We created Poltergeist to be different.”

Despite his past — which includes punk rock band stints, volatile restaurant kitchens, drug use, and family trauma — Argoti refuses to let any negativity from that past life seep into Poltergeist’s DNA. “It’s kind of like a halfway house for chefs,” says Argoti. “Everyone is welcome.” In many ways, Poltergeist is a growth experience for Argoti, learning to be comfortable in the kitchen, with himself, and in his relationship with others. “The most important thing to me now,” he says, “is my staff and my team.”

Diego Argoti at work. Photo by @LAFoodList, courtesy of Estrano
Diego Argoti at work. Photo by @LAFoodList, courtesy of Estrano

3. The menu’s influences span the globe as well as the chef’s own culinary past.

Separated into small, medium, and large plates, the menu’s influences run the gamut: Mediterranean, Italian, American, Southeast Asian, Latin American, and European flavors meld together in unexpected fashion. You’ll find a mapo tofu stuffed cabbage, a green curry bucatino, a Thai Caesar salad. Poltergeist is both a playful dedication and a simultaneous middle finger to ‘90s fusion cuisine.

For Argoti, it’s all about taking artistic risks using a familiar canvas. Poltergeist’s menu uses a template of crowd-pleasing items such as a Caesar salad, burrata, and Parker House rolls as jumping off points. “This menu is all about taking risks with simple things,” Argoti says. “Each dish is based on something people have had before: a bucatini, a long noodle, ravioli — but doing it in a completely new way.” 

Followers of Estrano can expect two familiar items: the broccoli beef ravioli (short rib-filled ravioli cooked in brown butter and dark soy sauce served with a single stalk of broccolini) and honey walnut prawns (head-on, deep-fried New Caledonian prawns served with horchata panna cotta, encircled by a crispy rice salad alongside a puddle of celery root mayo).

Also on the menu are hat tips to the ghosts of Argoti’s past, in dishes such as the grilled dorade, served atop green malawach (a flaky Yemenite bread), an ode to his time at Bavel. The Panang lamb neck is a reference to the lamb neck shawarma at Bavel, but done instead with a saffron bao that you’ll fill with persimmon amba, pickled shiitakes, brusselkraut, and pomegranate molasses along with the meat. 

Panang lamb neck at Poltergeist.
Panang lamb neck. Photos by @LAFoodList, courtesy of Estrano
The whole dorade at Poltergeist.
The whole dorade.

4. Drinks focus on unique, affordable natural wines.

What Button Mash did for craft beers, Poltergeist hopes to do for natural wines, leaning heavily into Eastern Europe. “Button Mash became a place where you get the weirdest beers, and we want to do that with wine, but in a way that’s not pretentious and pretty affordable and fun,” says Argoti. Note: no cocktails, just beer and wine on the menu here.

“We’ve had a better-than-it-needed-to-be wine list since the beginning,” says Button Mash co-owner Jordan Weiss. “When we reopened last April, prior to having Diego involved, I noticed people were buying more wine. I took that as an opportunity. When we went back to full service dining, I figured we would take it a step further.”

For the first time ever, that means by-the-bottle wine options. “I just wanted to have stuff on there that was fun and approachable but also things that you’ve never heard of that are well-priced,” says Weiss of the selections.

5. Don’t skip out on the equally inventive desserts.

Don’t miss the tres leches carrot cake, which feels like the ultimate mashup — purple carrot sponge cake, Bavarian cream cheese, and carrot top tapioca, served with a Thai iced tea sorbet. (Believe it or not, it works.) You’ll also find a banana split made with parsnip horchata, coconut ube, celeriac beer, and green plantain brittle; and a lemon bar made with taro gelée, avocado gelato, shortbread, and Meyer lemons. It’s a fitting end to a wildly creative meal that pushes all the right buttons. 


Kelly Dobkin is an L.A.-based writer/editor and former New Yorker. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Grub Street, Michelin, Here Magazine, and is a former editor at Thrillist, Zagat, and Eater. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.