There’s a difference between good service and hospitality. Both make you feel like you’re the center of the universe, but only one makes you feel like you’re family (except better, because you don’t have to hang out with your weird uncle). In a city full of transplants, it’s not easy to make people feel at home - but they’ve pulled it off at Alta Adams, the Southern spot in West Adams.
We know that Southern food is often synonymous with comfort - but here, it goes beyond what’s coming out of the kitchen. From the moment you walk in, you feel it. If there’s a wait, the host will walk around the room to figure out how long it’ll be until you’re seated. If your table wobbles, someone will immediately be sent over to fix it. On the beautiful little back patio, heaters appear the moment the temperature dips. When you ask a server for their favorite dishes, they’ll give you an honest answer - and not just parrot what the chef told them to move that day.
But there are a lot of things that might be your favorites. You should absolutely start with the cornbread and black-eyed pea fritters. Then, focus your attention on the meats. This is where ordering becomes difficult, because they’re all excellent. The smothered hanger steak is topped with a thick gravy that’ll have you using your cornbread crumbs as a sopping device. The skillet fried chicken is near perfect - the skin is crispy and salty, while the meat remains tender and moist - and is served with hot sauce for a kick. And the bone-in pork chop comes with a pickled vegetable chow chow so good we’d pull a Danny Ocean-style heist just to get the recipe.
But the absolute best thing here is the oxtails with rice, which are covered in gravy and mixed with spicy peppers that cut directly through the richness of the dish. The meat is tender and delicate, and you will definitely end up sucking the leftover bones. The waitstaff won’t discourage you from doing that, but they will take the opportunity to remind you to save room for the new cornbread ice cream they’re serving for dessert.
Those moments are happening all over the dining room, at tables filled with families and couples on first dates, and they’re not the kind of things that stem from formal training or corporate policy. Learning how to fold napkins or properly open a bottle of wine is easy. It’s much harder to cook food that - no matter where you grew up - makes you feel right at home.
Not starting your meal at Alta with these fritters is like skipping the opening bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight - it might not seem absolutely essential, but you missed out on something really good.
The three best sides are the collard greens, an excellent carrot salad with spicy peppers, peanuts, and mint, and the mac and cheese, which could’ve been served a little warmer, but still goes well with everything.
This fried chicken is perfectly crispy, super moist, and comes with a very good hot sauce on the side. In other words, it’s really, really great fried chicken.
The fish on the menu changes seasonally, and the two we've had are both great. The striped bass had crispy, salty skin, and a very good light habanero sauce on top.
This pork chop comes slightly pink, and with a great pickled vegetable sauce. But it’s the main we’d be most likely to skip - it can be fatty, and doesn’t pack the same flavor as the other meats.
These are the best oxtails we’ve ever eaten. They’re, flavorful, gravy-doused, and served over brown rice. We will never not order them when we come here.