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Street Food Pasta Punk Estrano Opens L.A .’s Most Exciting Restaurant Inside an Arcade Bar in Echo Park

7:50 AM PST on February 24, 2023

Estrano—L.A.’s most nihilistic street pasta pop-up—has a new face. Diego Vinicio Argoti’s celebrated concept has been possessed by Poltergeist, a sorta new new for his long-awaited first brick-and-mortar restaurant inside Button Mash in Echo Park.

At a time when the narrative around L.A. restaurants mostly circles around the difficulties of staying open amid surging overhead costs and guests’ wavering earnings, Poltergeist stands out for windmilling its way against the pit, counterclockwise, opening an extremely experimental restaurant that defies categorizations  in 2023 despite the inherent dangers.

But of all the neighborhoods and potential brick-and-mortar locations, Argotti could have taken his DIY cult gonzo cooking project to, how did he end up in an arcade bar with a decent cider selection?

Coconut curry chochoyotes. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Coconut Curry Chochoyotes. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
The menu at Poltergeist. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
The menu at Poltergeist. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Honey Walnut Praws. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Honey Walnut Praws. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

According to Argotti, it was the stubborn, unconditional support of Button Mash’s owner, Jordan Weiss, who has been there for him since day one, all the way back to Argotti’s coked-out days working at Bestia (he’s now sober.)

“Weiss is the Soundcloud manager to my sadboi Florida rapper,” Argotti jokes. “Once, when I had $25 to my name after spending all my money on food for my menu and propane tanks, he let me borrow a thousand dollars. If I need to borrow money, he’s there. If I need emotional support, he’s there. If I want to give away free soup during Thanksgiving in his parking lot, he’s there.”

Bromance and sobriety aside, Echo Park felt right for Argotti, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. He shares that his father used to manage the neighborhood’s Von’s back in the 70s. Argotti also worked at the now-defunct Red Hill restaurant, which was one of the first new-school restaurants to open in the neighborhood in 2012.

“It’s good to be back in the neighborhood,” he says. “I love this part of Echo Park because it’s still rough in all the best ways possible.” 

Octopus burrata.
Octopus burrata. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Thai Caesar Salad. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Thai Caesar Salad. Photo via Poltergeist.
Green Curry Bucatino.
Green Curry Bucatino. Photo via Poltergeist.

Argoti tells L.A. TACO that Poltergeist was the natural next step for Estrano, which started to attract more than 200 people per event at his most recent pop-ups, meaning people had to wait up to two hours for his food (though it was customary for Argoti to generously hand out handfuls of psilocybe cubensis to make time can go by a little faster).

In other words, Estrano got too big to be DIY and had to grow up.

“I needed to keep the spirit of Estrano alive, and this was it,” Argoti says. “I don’t really give a fuck if anyone shows up or not. It brings me closer to myself and everyone around me. Estrano is an escape and something that gives me a high and I need to keep that alive.”

“We’re Estrano in the streets,” he says, “and Poltergeist in the sheets.” 

Poltergeist’s opening menu is wildly engaging, relying on just a couple of Argoti’s greatest hits from his days in the street, like the $19 handmade Green Curry Bucatino with Lime Leaf Noodles, Sunchoke Curry, Scallion Confit, and Pistachio Gremolata that just happens to be vegan. 

Elsewhere, Argoti’s diehard fans will get to experience a new side of the chef’s cooking, such as a highly aromatic Thai Caesar Salad with lemongrass, crispy rice croutons, and smoked anchovies. Or the insanely rich coconut curry chochoyotes featuring falafel-like fried masa dumplings in a—also vegan—curry fondue. One of Argoti’s first jobs in L.A.’s restaurant scene was at Doomie’s Home Cooking, a now-shuttered pioneering vegan restaurant that used ingredients like konjac and agar-agar to recreate comfort food favorites, inside Roberto’s goth bar in Chinatown in the 2010s.

There’s also a 12-hour roasted lamb neck that you eat like a taco with fluffy saffron bao made in house and persimmon amba. You can also get essentially the same prawns that you’d find at Bavel, except fried and for a fraction of the cost. 

broccoli beef ravioli
Boccoli beef ravioli. Photo via Poltergeist.
Argoti and his mother in the kitchen. Photo by Shahab Gozarkhah.
Argoti and his mother in the kitchen. Photo by Shahab Gozarkhah.
Close-up of Argoti's hands. Photo by Shahab Gozarkhah.

Argoti’s radical food makes absolutely no sense on paper, but it's delicious once you take your first bite. It's stripped down of every sense of pretentiousness associated with fine dining, offering something that L.A.’s dining scene—often talked smacked about for its lack of highfaluting restaurants—has never seen before. His approach is rooted in L.A.’s passion for immigrant-led street food, but with an irrationally high-technique approach, and all without having to shell out hundreds of dollars to experience—even if you fire the entire menu. 

It’s “Nu-American cuisine,” a now 32-year-old Argoti joke, referring to nü-metal

“We’re Estrano in the streets,” he says, “and Poltergeist in the sheets.” 

Poltergeist will be open starting Friday, February 24th. Hours will be Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight.

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