Los Angeles is full of celebrities and therefore home to a fair number of celebrity-owned restaurants. Shaquille’s is one celebrity spot that has a lot of chicken aficionados talking and packing the house. Owned and named after NBA Lakers’ superstar, sports analyst and marketing pitchman Shaquille O’Neal, you’ll find his new restaurant along the popular downtown hangout known as LA Live.
Shaquille’s offers fresh home-style southern dishes inspired from O’Neal’s childhood, in addition to some deliciously creative appetizers and belly-filling sides. If you have a sweet tooth, the decadent banana pudding and buttercream/pecan cake desserts are out of this world and made fresh daily in the kitchen.
There is also a full bar with drink artisans serving up inventive spirit cocktails along with premium vintage wines and specialty beers.
Dishes That Get Them Talking
Shaq’s Fried Chicken, the restaurant’s signature dish, is a real treat. Back in the kitchen this free-range jidori bird first takes a 48-hour brine bath packed with a blend of spices selected by the big man and his executive chef. We enjoyed this dish straight initially. You can also have it with a dash of O’Neal’s specialty barbeque or hot sauces. The hot sauce has a bit of kick but is nice. Biting into the fried chicken will likely send your taste buds jumping head over heels with excitement, kind of like a buzzer-beating shot to win the championship.
Another chef recommended dish is the generously portioned shrimp and grits. Your plate is piled high with green chile cheesy grits, several jumbo fresh gulf shrimp, red peppers, andouille sausage, and a house sauce. What’s enjoyable about this dish is a mild but satisfying oasis of seafood taste. Perhaps you’ll want to share the goodness with a friend but then again maybe not. It’s that kind of dish.
At the helm in the kitchen is executive chef Piekarski, or Chef Pi as he prefers to be called, who developed his culinary skills while serving in the U.S. Army. Pi says when you walk through the Shaq-sized large front doors, be ready for full-flavored comfort food.
Back of the house is critical to any restaurant’s success. Prep chef Dewayne Brooks shares, “There is a preparation process that keeps all of the goodness on the bird and makes Shaq’s chicken perfect every time you order.” Dessert chef Michele Penman shares, “I prepare and make this banana pudding from scratch every day and I’m proud of that.” Among the ingredients are milk, bananas and warm butter. She says her hearty tasting pudding is the product of wanting only the best. In other words, full flavors and goodness that she would eat and enjoy at home. She adds, “Desserts should give you a tingling feeling of delightful joy.”
A staple on several bar menus is the slider. At Shaquille’s, they take this favorite to a different place for flavor. The sliders are Shaq-sized and made with premium brisket that’s smoked for 16 hours, topped with jalapeno pepper cole slaw and O’Neal’s special house sauce on a buttered slider bun. We enjoyed sampling this dish with fried green Valdivia tomatoes, cotija, lime aioli, and roasted pepper romesco. This combination works very well.
The Art of People Watching
Something to keep in mind, if you’re on a low-calorie diet, is that Shaquille’s is a spot that will have your meal points chart in disarray. The cuisine is southern-style soul food. However, vegetarians have no worries. There are special dishes for your dining pleasure. If you’re unsure about what to order, just ask your server because he or she knows their stuff and offer suggestions based on your tastes and preferences.
We spent half a day hanging out, sampling food and observing lots of Angelinos “living their best life.” If you enjoy people watching, patio dining along the LA Live promenade is an ideal place. A mesh wall of flowers hides the seating area so you can do so discreetly. The restaurant also offers a place for celebrity guests wanting a bit more privacy.
“Coming here, this is someone’s night out. It’s not about what someone spends or what they order; it’s about the experience. We want to make sure they enjoy the food and the experience and tell their friends,” says Piekarski.
Lastly, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting O’Neal, you know that he has a larger-than-life personality and is a remarkably kind and gracious gentleman. He’s also quite the DJ. At his restaurant, there is an exclusive “Shaq Chair” next to his DJ booth that is strategically positioned to enjoy guests stopping by for a good meal.
Shaquille’s is located at 800 West Olympic Boulevard, Suite A 150 in Los Angeles. That’s on the corner of Olympic and Figueroa Street. Lunch and dinner served every day between 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. Reservations are strongly encouraged. For food and drink offerings, visit https://www.shaquilles.com.