January 23, 2018
Food & Wine: Rinjani Adds Indonesian Heat to L.A.’s Best Restaurant Row
Glendale’s Brand Boulevard has top-tier ramen, soup dumplings, burgers and so much more.
By Andy Wang
Mira Setiabudhi and her partner, Rebecca, moved from New York to Los Angeles for the same reason a lot of people move from New York to Los Angeles.
“We were living in New York City for the past ten years,” says Setiabudhi, a front-of-the-house veteran who spent time at restaurants run by legendary chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Masa Takayama. “Over there, life is just work, work, work. We got so tired of the city.”
Setiabudhi still calls herself a New Yorker, but she says she’s happy about how the weather is better in L.A, how “people seem nicer” in L.A. and how she’s found the work-life balance she wanted, even while she’s started her own business.
Setiabudhi lives and works in a cluster of Glendale that is pedestrian-friendly and has a diverse collection of restaurants. It reminds her of living in Astoria, Queens, and walking around Ditmars Boulevard. And with outposts of New York brands like Shake Shack and The Halal Guys operating on Glendale’s Brand Boulevard, this L.A. area also reminds her a bit of Manhattan.
This stretch of Glendale, Setiabudhi quickly realized after moving there, was the ideal place for her and Rebecca to start their own restaurant. On January 2, they officially opened Rinjani with Indonesian food that showcases the flavors of Setiabudhi’s heritage.
The menu features fried tempeh and fried fish (two specialties Setiabudhi used to eat a lot of at her grandparents’ home in Indonesia). There are assorted satays, fried rice and fried noodles along with short-rib rendang and chicken curry. Meals come with fiery sambal, a soul-warming, chile-laden condiment that makes everything better. If you can’t decide what you want for lunch or dinner, you can order rijstaffel, a generous and comforting $24.95 feast that includes an assortment of dishes with rice.
Setiabudhi was raised in Bandung, the capital city of West Java, Indonesia. She remembers growing up on her Javanese/Dutch mother’s hybrid cuisine, like noodles with corned beef and cheese. She also spent a lot of time eating traditional Indonesian food with her grandparents on her father’s side.
“I want to teach people about my Indonesian culture,” Setiabudhi says. “People know about Thai, Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese food, but they can’t tell you anything about Indonesian food. I want that to change because I’m so proud of my culture and my food.”
She’s picked a great location to reach customers who are interested in different kinds of cuisine. Rinjani is located on East Broadway, just off Brand Boulevard in Glendale. This puts it right in the middle of what’s become L.A.’s best restaurant row, where ramen shop The Tsujita slings the city’s most highly regarded and most uncompromising tsukemen, where soup-dumpling king Din Tai Fung has recently expanded but still regularly sees two-hour waits for a table, where quick-service powerhouses Shake Shack, Mainland Poke, Eggslut and Philz Coffee have opened on the same block.
Unstoppable Cuban bakery Porto’s, beloved for its guava pastries and potato balls, has been dominating Glendale since 1982. But it was the 2008 opening of a shopping center, The Americana at Brand, that jump-started the Brand Boulevard dining scene’s transformation.
“We’ve got decades of experience managing shopping centers,” says Jackie Levy, executive vice president of operations for development company Caruso, whose portfolio also includes The Grove (home to Dominique Ansel’s new L.A. bakery and restaurant), The Commons at Calabasas and The Promenade at Westlake. “We’ve always acknowledged that the dining experience is a huge part of the overall experience on our properties. Our goal is for each of the storefronts to serve as an independent draw.”
It didn’t take long after The Americana’s opening for restaurants there like Katsuya, Trattoria Amici and Frida to regularly bring in crowds from around L.A. The success of The Americana’s first wave of dining helped Caruso lure in restaurants like Din Tai Fung (opened in 2013) and Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak (opened in 2014) to the shopping center. Then another group of high-profile restaurants came in 2016 and 2017: The Tsujita and Bacari GDL opened at The Americana while Shake Shack, Mainland Poke, Eggslut and Philz Coffee debuted in a Caruso-owned complex directly across the street.
Levy says Caruso now has a waiting list of restaurants looking to open in The Americana, but there are no vacancies. Meanwhile, Caruso has created kiosks so The Pie Hole and Ladurée can sell their coveted sweets out of tiny spaces in the middle of the shopping center, which also has an outpost of cupcake chain Sprinkles.
Setiabudhi has spent many days strolling around The Americana and trying out the food there.
“As a New Yorker, what we did every day was walk around,” she says. “We’d walk from our apartment to The Americana and explore it. We didn’t drive around. It feels like home.”
Beyond The Americana, Setiabudhi has also enjoyed eating Peruvian food at Lola’s on Brand Boulevard. She says she still needs to try the Persian food at Raffi’s Place.
It’s wonderfully overwhelming, walking around Brand Boulevard and wondering where you should eat. It’s worth pointing out that going for a walk here is the easiest way possible to visit Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger back-to-back. Other quick options include an outpost of Taiwanese bakery 85°C that’s next to The Halal Guys. There’s a King Taco adjacent to Rinjani.
For a more proper sit-down meal on Brand Boulevard, we like the boiled beef and the sour-pickles-and-sole soup at Lao Sze Chuan, which originated as a Chicago restaurant started by a Chinese chef who went to culinary school in Chengdu.
So many of Glendale’s restaurants are reminders that L.A. is a city that appreciates food from all over.
“It’s amazing how people who are not from Indonesia come up to me and share their excitement about Indonesian food being here,” Setiabudhi says.
Setiabudhi says she’s been especially pleased when she talks to customers and learns that they drove a while to have dinner at her restaurant. That’s one great thing about being part of a pedestrian-friendly restaurant row in L.A.: People will get in their cars so they can go somewhere lively to walk around and eat.
Caruso, Levy says, spends a lot of time studying streets and “thinking about the dimensions and scale and overall feel” as it creates walkable shopping/dining/entertainment centers that end up “drawing from pretty far zip codes.”
And unlike much of L.A., this part of Glendale has plenty of inexpensive parking options, including city-owned garages where the first 90 minutes are free. Whether you’re a new independent operator like Setiabudhi or a publicly traded billion-dollar fast-food chain, the excitement and infrastructure are here on L.A.’s best restaurant row.
Rinjani, 107 E. Broadway, Glendale, 818-546-1273
The Americana at Brand, 889 Americana Way, Glendale, 818-637-8982
Source: Food & Wine