If you weren’t told, you probably might not realize that The Gorbal’s menu is supposed to be Scottish-Jewish influenced, except for certain flourishes like bacon-wrapped matzoh balls and Welsh rarebit. The roster of adamantly multi-ethnic dishes threw me off at first, but with offerings like an excitingly unique báhn mì poutine and a tarted up roasted marrow bone, the menu also serves as a “best of” list for all of my favorite foods — with plot twists, of course (see: báhn mì poutine).
And the restaurant does have a narrative of sorts. I had heard that if you like Animal, you will like The Gorbals, but I wouldn’t categorize the two together necessarily. The food at The Gorbals is much more playful, even if the ethnic references are dizzying, whereas Animal is aggressively offbeat but probably more mature. The fact that chef/owner Ilan Hall was a Top Chef winner will either make people more interested in the restaurant or cause them to dismiss it, but the location is so unassuming, I entirely forgot about his television fame.
In grubby (but on-the-rise) downtown LA, the restaurant is hidden in the back of what looks like an Art Deco apartment building, through a door that seems like it might be the gateway to either a ballroom or a janitor’s closet. The inconvenient trip to the bathrooms on a different floor is just as bizarre. But its hiddenness is part of the low-key charm — the place is hip, but not overly hipster. Definitely order the poutine and ribs; maybe skip the marrow.