Photo Credit: Ben Brown and The Plot

Drago Brothers Celebrate Continued Reign Over LA’s Italian Food Scene

Celestino, Tanino, Calogero and Giacomino Drago have owned and operated some of Los Angeles’ most acclaimed Italian restaurants for more than 30 years. Hailing from Messina, Sicily, the Dragos have transplanted their roots across 11 restaurants spanning LA County. Specializing in high-end Italian dining, Drago Hospitality Group includes famed establishments such as Beverly Hills’ Il Pastaio and Via Alloro, as well as Pasadena’s Celestino. 

Unsurprisingly, pasta is among the Drago Brothers’ claims to fame. Hand-cranked fettuccine, housemade ravioli and melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi are just a few favorites from a near-endless list of family creations. This is a combination of timeless classics with just enough modern twists to keep things interesting and appeal to a broad spectrum of ‘the LA crowd.’

Fresh-baked breads and pizzas are equally ubiquitous, incorporating novel combinations of fine ingredients such as rich prosciutto, fresh burrata and seasonal vegetables. It’s not uncommon to see one of the Dragos or their associates having fun in the process, flipping pizza dough over their heads like a Harlem Globetrotter would with a basketball. They get quite the kick out of playing with fire as well, sautéing premium seafood and cooking up fine cuts of veal with flames rising to eye-catching levels over the stove.

It’s that same lightheartedness that the Dragos exude in their heavy-handed hospitality. Whether you’re at Celestino in quaint South Pasadena or Drago Ristorante in the Petersen Automotive Museum, in the thick of hip mid-city LA, you’re going to get the same warm greetings and boisterous energy. It’s as if you’re getting a glimpse at their childhood, running around a crowded Sicilian home, food lining the table and conversation filling the room. The bond that seals these four brothers together seems to have only gotten stronger over time, because seeing them interact with one another, where hand movements and jovial Italian simply can’t get out fast enough, is an experience in and of itself. 

Flash forward to the end of the evening, when the party has died down and those remaining get to relax and put their feet up, perhaps savoring the last few bites of a rich panna cotta or an ever-so-delightful caramel budino. The Dragos are still smiling, tending to this and that and taking time to sit down and sip some wine when they get the chance. It’s been another day catering to some of LA’s finest. 

For more information, visit DragoRistorante.com.

NORMS Is Seeing Fastest Growth in Its 70-year History

What began as a humble Hollywood coffee shop on the corner of Sunset and Vine in 1949 has evolved into an LA staple that keeps gaining speed. NORMS, now known for casual American fare in an equally laid-back 24/7 diner setting, recently opened its 20th location with five more expected in 2020. 

Rich history, strategic locations and value-driven dining are among the top factors that have inevitably sustained demand and justified growth for NORMS. A brand that’s comfortable in its own skin, knows its target audience and keeps to its values will inevitably last as NORMS has, modernizing itself just enough over the years without reaching for any short-lived restaurant trends that would otherwise lead to long-term setbacks.

Now a historic and cultural monument, the original NORMS La Cienega won the National Restaurant Association’s design award in 1957. This came at the peak of the ‘Googie’ architecture trend, which focused on new materials, open spaces, imagery and landscaping. Founder Norm Roybark envisioned NORMS as a chain from the very beginning, and amidst his other accomplishments, such as helping invent the patty melt, ultimately commanded the restaurant’s scalable design that continues to this day.

Touting slogans such as ‘We Never Close’ and ‘Where Life Happens,’ NORMS sticks to its guns in offering simple, hearty and fresh-made American classics in high-traffic locations. The brand also shatters industry standards as far as sales from limited-time offers. Sales for $6.99 breakfasts, $9.99 steak dinners and $10.99 4-course meals bring in guests by the truckload. Even with the restaurants’ extra large dining rooms and counters, eye-popping wait times exist even for a mid-day, mid-week meal. For the regulars who have since embraced the waiting room experience, 5 new restaurants in 2020 look to create a win-win for all parties involved. 

NORMS’ menu is certainly as timeless as the restaurant itself. Navigating through their encyclopedia of a menu may be a refreshing challenge, but classic comfort and sizeable portions resonate throughout. From the deep dish double loaded hash browns and eggs skillet to the cowboy bacon cheeseburger and the classic sirloin steak trio with fried shrimp and chicken tenders to boot, the experience takes you back to simpler times where fresh-made dishes didn’t have to be touted as a luxury.

And on that note of fresh-made, NORMS has accumulated quite a list of ‘fun facts’ over the decades:

• More than 1 billion eggs cracked

• More than 120 million bowls of scratch-made soups served

• More than 100 million strips of bacon and 75 million sausage links served

• Enough coffee poured to fill more than 30 Olympic swimming pools

• Enough hotcakes served to cover 5,000 football fields

Find out more at Norms.com.