photo credit: Roman Roze

Animal review image



435 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles
View WebsiteEarn 3X Points

If you’ve been eating at restaurants in LA for the last decade plus, you know Animal. The original restaurant from Jon and Vinny (of, yes, Jon & Vinny’s), it’s no exaggeration to say that Animal has had a lasting impact on how we eat in this city. A casual setting with a blasting rap soundtrack, small plates meant to be shared, a blending of the cuisines and flavors we take for granted now, but that Animal helped bring into the mainstream. For the good part of a decade (they opened in 2008), Animal was a destination restaurant, where you’d eat a lot of meat while shouting at the person sitting opposite you, and end the meal feeling lucky to live in a town where places like this exist.

These days, Animal is no longer a destination restaurant. While the room is still minimally decorated, Jay-Z still thumps over the speakers, and crispy pig’s ears are still on the menu, the Animal of today is simply a neighborhood spot where you can have a tasty, casual meal—if you know the right tricks.

Getting a table isn’t an issue, whether you’re booking a couple of days ahead or grabbing a spot at the bar for a burger and a glass of wine. Saturday nights can be loud and buzzing, but during the week the room tends to be pretty mellow. And while having a great meal here used to be a slam dunk, now the menu is a little more inconsistent, making it easy to accidentally order a procession of heavy dishes that kinda taste the same. The servers can be helpful in getting the balance right—on our most recent visit, we were told that the dolma fried rice was “actually pretty boring,” a judgment that turned out to be correct—but getting that kind of advice depends on flagging someone to your table, which can be surprisingly hard, even on one of those low key weeknights.

In general, and strangely for a restaurant named Animal, the best dishes are the ones that don’t involve meat. The hamachi tostada feels light and balanced with Thai, Mexican, and Japanese influences. The ricotta gnudi, which might come with peas in the spring or tomatoes in the summer, are truly masterful. On one visit we were strongly encouraged to order the yams, which come roasted and crisp with crème fraîche and za’atar, and we’ve never been so glad to be easily persuaded. In contrast, a duck confit done with porchetta spice was over-salted and spiced, and mostly made us regret not ordering another plate of gnudi. In fairness, our server had mentioned the dish was “a lot,” so it’s not like we weren’t warned.

In so many ways, Animal hasn’t changed, and without getting too philosophical, that’s part of the problem. It no longer feels like a place you should drop everything to eat at. But, if you’re in the area, go have a plate of gnudi, every vegetable on the menu, and whatever else the server tells you to get. You’ll have a lovely night. You just probably won’t be talking about it the next day.

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Food Rundown

Chicken Liver Toast

It’s chicken liver pate. On toast. We’re never going to say no to that combo, and Animal certainly does a very good version of it.

Boniato Yam

We don’t really consider ourselves yam people, but these are some life-changing yams. They come out roasted and crisp, with incredibly soft insides. The balance of the tangy crème fraîche, herby salsa verde, and crunchy pepitas make the whole thing complex and interesting, to the point where someone will probably end up pointing at the plate and whispering, “these yams!”

Animal review image

photo credit: Sacha Cosentino

Ricotta Gnudi

There’s not really much to say about these except that they’re perfect. Soft like how you’d imagine clouds would be, rolled in butter, and paired with some sort of in-season vegetable. Don’t skip them.

Animal review image

photo credit: Sacha Cosentino

Hamachi Tostada 3.0

The closest thing you’ll find to a salad at Animal, although more of a straightforward tostada than the cabbage-heavy 2.0 of previous menus. It’s great, if perhaps a little delicate to stand up to the big flavors on the rest of the menu.

Animal review image

photo credit: Sacha Cosentino

Crispy Pig Ear

An OG Animal dish that’s barely changed over the years. Spicy, chewy, and crispy with an egg on top, this tastes like a very fancy breakfast-for-dinner.

Dolma Fried Rice

Served with chicken confit and tzatziki, this sounds intriguing and different from the rest of the menu but ends up being pretty one note and, as our server noted, boring.

Animal review image

photo credit: Sacha Cosentino

Bone Burger

Is this actually a patty melt? We’d argue yes, but will rise above being pedantic on the internet to say, if you like your burgers extremely rich, you’ll like this burger (that’s really a patty melt). The richness of the marrow mixed into the patty, the jack cheese, and a bordelaise-like house sauce are somewhat cut by the rye bread, but unless we’re only getting one thing, it ends up being way too much for us.

Animal review image

photo credit: Animal

Duck Confit

The fall-off-the-bone duck ends up overpowered by the crust of porchetta spices on top, and the heirloom beans underneath come out a bit dry—the whole dish tastes unbalanced and very salty.

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