Dukes West Hollywood dishes up tasty diner fare, sandwiched right between the ultra popular Whisky A Go Go and The Cat Club on the Sunset Strip. Steeped in music history as the former location of the London Fog Night Club and the one-time living quarters for Jim Morrison, Dukes has earned its place on the strip as a legitimate watering hole serving up breakfast all day and other classic diner food. Since 1968, Dukes has been a go-to spot for celebrities and musicians, and locals and tourists looking to satisfy their appetites with decidedly unfussy yet reliable diner food.Read More ...
Dukes West Hollywood first opened as "Duke’s Coffee Shop" in 1968, and was located within the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Blvd. Years later, Dukes moved to its current address at 8909 W. Sunset Blvd, which was formerly the London Fog Nightclub. Sandwiched smack between Whisky a Go Go and The Cat Club, the new locale attracted a loyal following of musicians such as Tom Waits and Janis Joplin, who frequently played gigs nearby. To this day, Dukes is still a beloved hangout for famous musicians and celebrities alike. The spot also has the righteous distinction of hosting The Doors’ first performance as a group, and was also the one-time living quarters for the band's frontman, Jim Morrison.
Under more recent ownership, Dukes was given a complete makeover. It maintains its coffee shop vibe, but with a more modern edge. The floors are sleek; the decor is minimalist; and the colors are vibrant with bright oranges and browns, thanks to designer Heather Ashton of Top Design fame. There are several seating options that include a couple booths, a long banquette, and a counter area. Tables near the front window are particularly appealing to visitors watching the sunset. Fittingly enough, Dukes still remains decidedly casual. In fact, some guests have even been spotted wearing pajamas.
Despite this recent modernization, a sense of Dukes’ rich musical past still lingers in the air, adding a distinctive quality to the ambiance. One cannot help but envision what it must have been like when The Doors or Janis Joplin hung out here. Just the experience of dining in this historic setting makes it a worthwhile place to visit.
Owner Kelly Mi Li and Chef Abel Sanchez, who took over the space about a year ago, have a renewed mission for the future of Dukes. Taking into account the recent economic downturn, the duo are striving to cater to locals as well as tourists, and give them affordable and delicious food that is "not fussy." They’ve also expanded on the menu to include vegetarian and vegan options, which in diet-conscious Los Angeles is a wise addition to any restaurant's business plan. To further accommodate their clientele, the hours have been expanded to include late night dining and they are just days away from including a beer and wine list to the program.
Service at Dukes is typical of a Hollywood diner, with a mix of hipsters and seasoned servers and cooks behind the counter. Some staff members at Dukes have been around almost as long as the place itself, withstanding ownership and location changes to continue their loyal service. You might say the clientele is just as dedicated, with numerous guests who come in every day of the week.
The menu is pretty standard for a diner, with some noteworthy signature dishes. Among the most memorable is the deep fried Monte Cristo: A calorie-counter's worst nightmare, but a sandwich-lover’s dream come true. The Monte Cristo is comprised of layers of sliced turkey and ham, and Swiss and American cheese on brioche that is deep fried. It is served with powdered sugar, maple syrup, and strawberry jam. As far as I can tell, it has all the contrasts that make up sandwich perfection. It is savory and sweet, crunchy and gooey, hot and cool. And, you need not question whether syrup goes well with turkey and ham - it does. It is worth a trip to Dukes just to try for yourself.
Another Dukes favorite is Sanchez's Spicy Blue Cheese Burger. Given the recent trend of over-complicating a simple dish such as a hamburger, Sanchez's straightforward take on this one is quite refreshing. Perhaps that is what makes it so satisfying. Aptly named for its spiciness, this respectable portion of sirloin is smothered in Cholula hot sauce, then is grilled to your liking on the flat top. The Cholula imparts a dose of heat to the burger, and it also caramelizes a bit to give an added dimension of flavor. This simple cooking technique actually elevates the whole burger to another level with none of the above-mentioned complication. Topped with classic burger accoutrements, as well as blue cheese, it is served on a buttery brioche roll and promises to fulfill a hungry man's (or woman's) burger craving.
The Meatloaf at Dukes is another signature. Again, not fussing around with a classic, Sanchez uses a familiar recipe that incorporates ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and oatmeal. It is full of flavorful sautéed vegetables, and is served with traditional mashed potatoes and gravy, of course. It is homemade and delicious, and comes prepared either as an entree in three generous slices, or on a roll with cheese as a patty melt. Either preparation will have you reminiscing about the meatloaf you used to eat as a kid. The flavor of it instantly conjures up that emotion of something familiar.
On Duke's breakfast-all-day menu you will find all the usual scrambles, omelets, pancakes, and French toast; as well as smoothies, malted milk shakes, and baked goods. Sanchez notes that of all the breakfast items, the undeniable favorite is the Breakfast Sandwich, which is a testament to its delicious simplicity. Made with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and extra crispy bacon served on a warm croissant; the Breakfast Sandwich may not be anything new as far as breakfast goes, but its popularity is understandable after one bite. It must be the way it is lovingly prepared that makes it taste so good.
The numerous vegetarian and vegan options also stand out on the menu. The vegan PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich and the Vegan Breakfast Burrito (made with soy chorizo, soy cheese, Pico de Gallo, and whole wheat tortillas) are two of the more popular options. You may even find yourself ordering this delicious burrito regardless of following a vegan diet.
At this point, I am pretty sure I know the deal at Dukes - the classics are prepared in stellar fashion. So of course, the desserts must follow suit. That being stated, I have to mention the huge wedge of Apple Pie I was served. It consisted of heaps of tender granny smith apples seasoned with just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar, surrounded by a house-made buttery crust. Sounds good, right? It is.
As far as diners go, Dukes West Hollywood serves up a very reliable and unpretentious menu of staples. Every dish I tasted managed to satisfy that unyielding inner craving for comfort food that I have had since childhood. And savoring it all in an atmosphere with such a colorful history really made my meal memorable. Eating at an iconic diner like Dukes is definitely an experience you will only find in Los Angeles.
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