Close to noon on a Thursday employees from nearby Arts District businesses lead a line out of the Novel Cafe waiting–on the sidewalk of Traction Ave–to order their choice of coffee and tea drinks supplied by Groundwork Coffee’s signature blends. Incidentally, the café itself took over the location from Groundwork and its keen following in 2009, but Novel Café and its owner John Chung, have more than settled its patrons’ worries with its diverse selection of drinks, pastries, and lunch/dinner options.
Surrounded by establishments carrying focused twists on specialty cuisine (Pie Hole, Wurstküche), Novel Café imagines instead a reliable neighborhood outpost, capable as well of a swift transition into lunch or dinner spot. It boasts a cozy, brick-wall interior decorated with artwork and coffee-brewing gadgets; on the ground floor, customers reach an ordering counter and open-faced kitchen before heading up to a loft area with picnic tables and bar-style seating.
As far as beverages go, the menu offers up a slate of standard cups done well, including hot or iced latte, espresso and flavored coffee drinks. The teas are excellent as well, as an Iced Vanilla Chai sampled during our visit was delicious, and apparently a local favorite to boot. Novel also sells organic Groundwork coffee by the pound, with well-known blends– Angel City, Black Gold, and Venice on display among many more.
During the week, the café opens at 7AM to serve an all-day breakfast, divided into bagels, “Skinny” Breakfast, and Specialty Breakfast choices. Breakfast burritos range from a classic eggs-cheddar-salsa combo to the Cali Burrito, which adds on green onions, potatoes, avocado, jalapeños and bacon. Elsewhere, the “skinny” menu consists of oatmeal, assorted parfaits, and granola with milk, while pastries – including cookies, white chocolate scones, and carrot cake — come courtesy of Sweet Lady Jane bakery.
Lunchtime opens the menu up to include a swath of cleverly named items, like the Chef Goldbloom and You Got The Beat salads, or the Mouse Trap and Polar Express sandwiches. Making an appearance as well are staples such as the BLT, Chicken Club, Vegetarian Banh Mi, and Garden Spinach salad. Three burgers round out the lunch/dinner options – Classic, Spicy Jalapeño, and the newly-added Senorita (cheddar, red onions, mixed greens, tomato, guacamole).
Despite the rather small space that Novel Café inhabits, service is quick, with the kitchen staff considerately calling out customer’s orders, or locating them up in the loft for table delivery. A soundtrack of indie rock and hip-hop drifted across the café unobtrusively, as many patrons gathered for meetings or simply a quick lunch before returning to work.
With three locations across Los Angeles (the other two are in Westwood and Koreatown), Novel Café is a prime destination for solo work or meetings inside, or catching up with a friend outside on one of many patio tables. It’s safe to say the Arts District still has a dependable outlet for any caffeinated needs.
811 Traction Ave Los Angeles, CA 90013 Hours: Mon – Fri 7AM – 8PM, Sat – Sun 8AM – 7PM, (213) 621-2240,