Photos by Brooke Olsen, courtesy of Moonlark’s Dinette

The RundownLos Angeles

Moonlark’s Dinette Turns on the Midwestern Charm in DTLA


Eating at a diner is an almost religious experience for chef Chris Pandel — a communal meal, steeped in memory, with its own set of particular rituals and comforts. But though the Chicagoland native has several successful restaurants around his hometown with business partners Boka Restaurant Group — including his popular gastropub The Bristol and red sauce joint Formento — Pandel was never able to open a diner of his own. 

So when the opportunity to take over the ground floor of The Hoxton hotel in Downtown Los Angeles presented itself, Pandel saw it as a chance to make his way out to the coast and open Moonlark’s Dinette — his nostalgia-laced vision of a Midwestern diner/supper club. “I’m welcoming the experience of learning about the city, its culture, its people, and what they crave,” Pandel says, “While hoping that I can add to the fabric of L.A., too.” 

Before you head downtown for a dose of crispy hash browns and an epic chocolate layer cake, here’s everything you need to know about Moonlark’s Dinette.

Moonlark's club sandwich
Hitting all the right classic club sandwich notes.
Moonlark's host stand

The concept is diner-meets-supper club.

“In towns like Berwyn, Cicero, or Riverside [Illinois] where I grew up, on every third block there are these Greek-owned, 24-hours-a-day, fill-up-your-coffee-to-the-rim-after-you-take-a-sip diners where you can get an omelet at midnight, or a shrimp cocktail and a big slice of cake at 8 a.m.,” explains Pandel.

Those memories form the core of Moonlark’s. “When my folks didn’t feel like cooking, we’d run to one of those little joints and sit down with the family so everyone could get what they wanted,” he says.  

Pandel also references the supper clubs of his youth — Upper Midwestern institutions that took hold in the ‘50s, offering a sort of diner-meets-social hall experience, with a more upscale atmosphere than your typical greasy spoon. After canoeing across a Wisconsin lake, Pandel’s family would hunker down at a supper club for a plate of bacon fries and iced tea. “They put you in a place where you can relax,” Pandel says. “You don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to enjoy the meal, because you already know what it is before you get there.” 

Moonlark's bar
Moonlark's bar

It’s an all-day (and night) affair.

With hours from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, Moonlark’s has everything from coffee to nightcaps covered. The breakfast menu has classics like a Denver omelet and eggs Benny, with a few Mexican twists thrown in, like a chorizo-laced breakfast quesadilla and chilaquiles with a tomatillo salsa and fried egg (Pandel’s personal favorite). 

Then, of course, there are the potatoes. “What started this menu is the hashbrowns,” Pandel says, adding that “crunchy potatoes” are the lifeblood of any diner. His perfectly crisp hashbrowns here are topped with a Cool Ranch powder for an extra tangy pop. And if you’re looking for a different iteration, try the latkes with smoked salmon and a poached egg, which “hits on all cylinders,” per Pandel. 

For lunch, don’t miss the griddled Monte Cristo sandwich, slathered with a sharp Dijon to cut through the salty-umami richness of the ham and Swiss cheese. For a (slightly) lighter option, opt for the “Slice of Wedge,” a hunk of lettuce that serves primarily as an anchor for plump cherry tomatoes, crispy bacon bits, and enough blue cheese to make you understand why Pandel says he’s an avid consumer of the stuff.

Dinner stays familiar with spare ribs, which are baked and charred rather than smoked; and a grilled chicken panzanella with schmaltzy croutons on greens. For Pandel, “it’s about high quality ingredients and good cooking technique, not about disguising anything for the guests.” Like at any good diner, he’d rather “deliver to them exactly what they’re expecting on the plate.” 

Moonlark's cocktails
The cocktails lean into Pandel’s Midwestern memories.
Moonlark's cocktails
The cocktails lean into Pandel’s Midwestern memories.

Drinks are heavy on the nostalgia.

“The inspiration for the cocktails started 110% with a conversation about, okay, if it’s the middle of July and we’re in our canoe foraging across Wisconsin, where do you want to sit and have a Brandy Alexander?” says Pandel.

The cocktail menu — which spans both an Old School and New Regulars section — definitely plays the hits, but has some fun with the format. Try a raspberry “brisk” (vodka, raspberry, and lemon juice) that suggests a cold iced tea gulped down on a scorching summer’s day, or the Duck Season, with duck fat-washed rye whiskey and amaretto. Wines are by the glass and all from California; while beers include local brewery Smog City’s dry lager and Almanac’s coffee stout. And in the morning, coffee beans come courtesy of fellow Chicago natives Intelligentsia.

Moonlark's interior
Moonlark's interior

The decor is kitschy cool.

To underscore Pandel’s nostalgic menu, Moonlark’s has red vinyl booths and condiment caddies on the tables. Vintage pieces like an old transistor radio and well-worn baseball equipment pepper the room. If booths aren’t your thing, belly-up to the wood-lined counter that stretches along the kitchen, and perch atop a bar stool as you watch your hashbrowns crisp on the griddle. The entire space is flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to Downtown L.A., but if you’re looking for something more intimate, book the private dining room. There, the atmosphere is decidedly supper club-esque: the furniture exudes midcentury cool and the walls are lined with vinyl records from the likes of Doris Day and Chubby Checker.

Moonlark's chocolate cake
That epic cake.
Moonlark's cocktails

About that chocolate cake.

Speaking of dessert: remember when you were a kid, and you’d walk into a diner and be immediately mesmerized by the refrigerated revolving pie stand up front? Moonlark’s revisits that memory with strawberry cheesecake, key lime pie, and a skyscraper-sized chocolate cake stacked several layers high. Pandel challenged Boka’s culinary operations director Kristine Antonian-Villarosa — who “makes the meanest chocolate cake I’ve had outside of my grandma’s” — to see just how high she could go without it falling over completely. Impressive height aside, Antonian-Villarosa says the trick to its deliciousness is in her use of grenache as the frosting, in lieu of buttercream. “It’s richer, denser, and fudgier,” she says — the perfect finale for this delightfully retro space. 

Oren Peleg is a screenwriter and journalist based in Los Angeles. His work appears in Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, The Hollywood Reporter, Eater, and more. Subscribe to his newsletter here. And you can follow him here. While you’re at it, follow Resy, too.