Joan’s on Third needs no introduction, as just the mention of the beloved restaurant brings to mind the perfectly vanilla-bean-speckled cupcakes, the fresh display case filled with colorful farmer’s market vegetables, that decadent short rib melt, and, of course, their iconic Chinese chicken salad.
Joan’s is an L.A. standby, bustling every day with a crowd of regulars.
What brings people to Joan’s again and again?
Everything at Joan’s is fresh, simple and made with the highest quality ingredients. You will not find molecular gastronomy, but you will find a perfectly-tossed salad with each leaf lightly coated in that just-right amount of dressing.
The large dining patio, covered by black awnings emblazoned with the Joan’s mark, is filled with inviting bistro tables and chairs.
The all-white interior is open and bright with light, featuring a vaulted ceiling and a geometric alabaster-tiled floor. It’s an idyllic scene for foodies in an environment that feels welcoming to everyone who passes by.
What truly makes the restaurant great is the woman at the center of it all, Joan McNamara.
Joan McNamara opened her namesake restaurant in Y 1995. Her infectious smile and impeccable taste are evident in every detail of the space. “I love what I’m doing,” Joan led with as she sat down to chat.
The daughter of Czech immigrants, Joan grew up cooking alongside her mother. After moving to Los Angeles to raise her 2 daughters, Carol and Susie, Joan’s passion for cooking grew, and she invited ever larger groups of friends to gather for dinner in her home until her guest lists outgrew her accommodations.
With her children grown, Joan began thinking of opening her own restaurant. She found the space for Joan’s in the classifieds of the newspaper and soon, she was in business.
Joan wanted the restaurant to be an extension of her own home, to feel like her family kitchen. She even described wanting her display cases to be entirely open and just having customers come through and pick up what they would like to try for the day. Her original drawings of the restaurant plans showed a sink filled with flowers, not dishes.
While restaurant conventions ultimately dashed some of these dreams, that feeling that she wanted to impart to her customers, that this was a space for everyone to come and feel at home, came through.
Joan said, gesturing around the restaurant at her guests and staff, eyes a filled with happy tears, “I feel like this is all my family.”
These sentiments are most exemplified in the comforting and robust flavors of Joan’s signature dishes. Joan’s takes simple items and makes them exquisite.
A turkey sandwich is elevated with the inclusion of a tangy mustard-caper sauce, a flavorful mix of interesting greens and a perfectly crusty baguette.
All the salads are served in deep, shiny metal mixing bowls. Somehow this novelty makes each expertly tossed salad taste fresher. Each element of the salads gets integrated evenly throughout.
The signature Chinese chicken salad is light and crisp, with cold shaved iceberg lettuce, 2 different crunchy noodles, slivered almonds, crispy pieces of savory chicken and a rather addictive sweet and tangy dressing.
The favorite short rib melt. There are no shortcuts taken in the preparation of this decadent and delicious sandwich. It includes tender slow-braised short ribs and jack cheese melted between buttery grilled country white bread. Light greens and bright and briny sweet pickled red onions cut through the richness, creating a near perfect balance of deep flavors. Yum, Yum!
Joan’s is also known for delectable sweet treats; cookies, cupcakes, pies and ice cream.
While Joan’s on Third is a favorite lunchtime spot, sometimes the best part of the experience is sitting with Joan and hearing her stories. At my last visit, she told me about an evening a few years ago when a couple came in and told her they were getting married at the restaurant, that night!
Joan was concerned that her staff was not prepared to welcome so many guests so unexpectedly. They quickly explained that they would be having their big ceremony the following day. This ceremony would just include the couple, a witness and an officiant. The couple had actually met at Joan’s when the bride sat alone at a table enjoying coffee and reading a book. The groom timidly approached her, they struck up a conversation and the rest is history. Joan looked on as the group took a seat at that same table and quietly said their vows.
As Joan regaled me with this magical story, again teary-eyed, her words rang true, this restaurant and its patrons really are her family.
8350 W. Third St., Los Angeles, California, USA (323)655-2285
By Rebecca Villapandro
Paul Ebeling, Editor
Enjoy Joan’s food, it is really good!