Watch figure skaters twirl or hockey players chase the puck at this high-quality family restaurant inside the Toyota Sports Center
We were halfway through lunch when I was transfixed by an astonishing display of grace and athleticism. An ice dancer glided across the rink in a wide arc and then performed a dazzling series of leaps and spins. Some of the people watching gasped, while others who were used to the spectacle murmured or nodded in appreciation.
I wasn’t in a sports bar, and we weren’t watching TV. We were at King’s Cove, a family-owned restaurant located inside the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, home of three ice rinks and the official training center of the L.A. Kings, the L.A. Sparks and the L.A. Lakers.
The place has different character at different times. It’s a walk-up counter by day and a sit-down restaurant after 4 p.m., when the bar seating area opens. By day the food counter is hard to find; there’s no visible sign and you have to go down a corridor by the closed bar. In the evening there is table service, but by day you stand in line to order and take your food to one of the tables overlooking the ice rinks.
The counter opens at 8 a.m., and on our first visit we tried two breakfasts, the Hawaiian sweetbread French toast and a cheese and vegetable omelet. The presentation was unimpressive, since everything is packed in to-go containers, but both meals were good. I’m not generally a fan of Hawaiian sweetbread, but it makes good French toast. This recipe had a little cinnamon in the batter to add another layer of flavor. The omelet covered all the bases: It was well-made, generously stuffed and came with crisp potatoes.
The other selections on that visit were a Santa Fe chicken sandwich, a Greek salad, and a cup of chicken tortilla soup. There’s not much room for creativity in a Greek salad, and this one was just what it was supposed to be, but the other two items raised our expectations.
The tortilla soup was warmly spicy, a chicken broth with just enough chile and cumin to be interesting right to the bottom of the cup. It was topped with cheese and tortilla strips, but not the cilantro that is traditional. This is a great winter warmer, and since it’s always winter out on the ice I’d imagine they sell a lot of it.
The Santa Fe sandwich put similar flavors between slices of bread, though the spicing was more emphatic. There was real heat and smoky flavor in the sauce that bound together the chicken, caramelized onions and roasted peppers, and the cheese and avocado that were also on board put plenty of variety in every bite. I would have happily come for the Santa Fe sandwich even without the show on the ice; with the view factored in, King’s Cove became a destination for me to bring friends.
A few days later we took a visitor and her teenage daughter who were in town for the holiday weekend. This time one of the rinks by the dining area was occupied by figure skating students, while at the other some hockey players practiced shooting goals from unlikely distances. We chose the view of figure skaters and watched raptly, sometimes delighted by their grace and sometimes wincing as a fancy move resulted in a fall to the ice.
This time we ordered a turkey burger, a cheesesteak sandwich, and a Los Angeles Lakers pizza. (I considered the pizza named after the Kings, but it involves Canadian bacon, pineapple and jalapenos, and I just don’t think pineapple belongs on pizza.)
The Lakers pizza was topped with chicken, spicy barbecue sauce, mozzarella, red onions and cilantro, and mine came a bit over-sauced, making it a tasty mess. The sauce had a nice blend of sweetness and spice, and the medium-thick crust was firm and had a bit of crispness so that it held together. Pizzas take a bit longer than other items here, but this one was worth the wait.
The cheesesteak was surprisingly good, the seasoned meat tossed with bell peppers that were sautéed just long enough to bring out the sweetness but preserve some texture. The sandwich came with white cheddar rather than the traditional provolone or American, and the slightly more assertive flavor was an asset. It was slightly under-stuffed, but delicious.
There was no question about the turkey burger being undersized, as it was a full half-pound of meat with all the usual fixings. The person who ordered it chose a side salad rather than fries, and it was a varied mix of lettuces, tomato and cucumber. If you are health-conscious and hungry, this combination could be the way to go, as it was filling without being heavy.
The kale salad was slightly out of balance, with a huge amount of chopped kale topped with fresh strawberry slices but not enough of the almonds and cheese. The lemon-poppy dressing was a smart choice to complement the rest of the ingredients, but if I order this again I’d ask for extra cheese and a few more almonds.
Wine and beer are offered, but on both visits we had soft drinks or house-brewed ice tea. Had the coffee included free refills, we might have nursed them and stayed even longer to watch the show — as it was, we only left as soon as we did because we had another appointment.
I plan to return to King’s Cove when the bar is open and there is table service, but this is a destination for the whole family no matter what time you go. If you enjoy watching the grace of humans on ice or the speed and power of a hockey game, turn off your television and go watch it in real time. You can ditch the chips and dip you’d have at home and dine in style.