A little slice of Southern heaven can be found on the corner of Melrose and Western. Or, perhaps more aptly, a giant bite of it, in the form of a fried chicken sandwich.
Crafted by classically trained and Cajun-style Southern food-inspired Chef Craig Walker, this fried chicken sandwich is a staple of Le Coupé, one of the latest additions to the culinary hotspot of the area between Koreatown and East Hollywood known as Melrose Hill.
With a French name—Le Coupé means “the cut”—and a Southern menu, the fast-casual concept-driven establishment is as nuanced and layered as the cuisine in the chef’s native home state of Louisana.
“I’m from the other L.A., so it’s like this bridge between Los Angeles and Louisiana,” said Chef Craig Walker. That “it” is the warmth of Southern hospitality and well-thought-out food. Or, as the chef puts it, “I don’t know if it’s a spellable word, but homeyness.”
“I guess I was just geared for hospitality and serving others,” Walker told me, sitting in his restaurant, wearing his apron and talking with me between orders. Born and raised in Southern Louisana, a big part of his family bond was bringing everyone together. He seeks that in his kitchen daily with a career’s worth of experience at fine dining establishments nationwide.
Walker and his wife Kristen opened Le Coupé one year ago with a mission of bringing people together over food. The pair met while working at a restaurant in Aspen and moved to Southern California in 2018.
Le Coupé is by no means your average fried chicken joint. While the menu features every fan favorite–fried sandwich, potato salad, cornbread–each familiar item has an elevated twist. The cornbread is blue and served with duck fat brown butter, the corn is served as tossed “ribs,” and the fried chicken is coated in chili honey that holds a perfect crisp. Descriptions don’t do these or any of the other dishes on Le Coupé’s menu justice; you have to eat it to believe it.
The atmosphere at Le Coupé matches its menu: familiar but elevated. While you may order at a counter like at other fast-casual restaurants, that is where the similarities end. The atmosphere of hospitality and friendliness is unmatched, and the restaurant seems built for community.
Even the layout of this former furniture store-turned-restaurant is intuitive to this notion of a mission-driven, community-focused establishment. Walking through the red-trimmed doors, you can immediately look back into the kitchen.
“We just really wanted to be close with our customers coming in,” said Kristen. “That’s a lot of the reason for the pass-through window where they can see us and we can see them. We put a lot of effort into giving our guests the full experience of what they’re looking for,” she added. “Customer service, hospitality, good food.”
With Le Coupé, Craig and Kristen hope to break down any barrier between concept and customer, with the duo involved with nearly every step of your dining experience.
Since its opening, Le Coupé has been named best-fried chicken in California by Yelp and was #2 on their list of best places to get fried chicken in the entire U.S. earlier this year.
The local partnerships have been essential for Le Coupé in making a mark on the community.
“It’s nice being close and having relationships with the other restaurants, Ggiata and Kuya Lord, especially because we’re always trying to think of new things we can do to draw people in,” Kristen said.
One landlord bought up a couple of properties on the block,explained Kristien, that has ensured a positive environment for growing restaurants: first Ggiata came in, then Kuya Lord, then Le Coupé, and a new coffee house – Café Telegrama just opened. All seek to bring high-quality food and hospitality to the neighborhood.
Ggiata is an Italian-style deli aiming to provide an authentic deli experience to the community that opened in 2021. After their success as a ghost kitchen and now a brick-and-mortar store, Ggiata has been named one of the best new sandwiches in the city. Kuya Lord, which opened in 2022, is an elevated fast-casual Filipino restaurant run by Chef Lord Maynard Llera, who is similarly technique and concept-driven. The restaurant has been listed as one of the best new restaurants in L.A. in several magazines and was named in the Los Angeles Times 101 best restaurants in the city. A husband and wife duo also runs Kuya Lord restaurant.
With these culinarily impressive and successful restaurants, it’s easy to see where collaboration between them benefits everyone, from the owners to the local patrons.
“It’s building the community,” Kristen said. “We’re trying to do a lot of events to make Melrose Hill a dining destination.”
In just the last two years, the “Melrose Hill” neighborhood has seen a rise in new businesses in the already-vibrant community, which Le Coupé is both contributing to and benefiting from. With these restaurants, a new art gallery, and more new restaurants, residents have more options for varied experiences.
“I hear a lot of people in the community say it’s so great now they can just walk from their house or apartment and grab lunch, and there’s a wide variety of restaurants around to choose from,” said Kristen.
A focus on community and feeding people as service has been central to how Craig sees his role as a chef. While studying classic French cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas, Chef Craig had a light-bulb moment about how he could use his culinary skills.
“This is like a calling, right? And if I can showcase that to the world, that’s my give back,” Walker recalled. “That’s my way to bring people together, to share my experiences and put it on a plate. And you can taste the journey.”
Even Le Coupé’s story starts with serving others. Craig and Kirsten started cooking fried chicken in the backyard for their neighbors during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which became so popular it turned into a ghost kitchen (where Craig met the folks at Ggiata), which eventually became the brick-and-mortar store we see today. When visiting Ggiata, just around the corner from where Le Coupé moved in, Craig and Kristen saw the neighborhood around the new deli was changing and that this would be the perfect spot to set up shop and join the other family and friend-run businesses at the corner.
“The whole goal of Le Coupé, and our philosophy, has been based around Southern hospitality, so that was a missing link in the CloudKitchen,” said Walker.
Sitting in the restaurant, soundtracked by upbeat rock music and the faint sound of the chicken being beaten in the kitchen, you can feel their philosophy of Southern hospitality and taste it in the food. Whether it be the dynamic flavors of the corn ribs, the perfect balance of crisp hot chicken and cooling slaw in the sandwich, or the delectable melt-in-your-mouth brown butter chocolate cookies, the thought, care, and technique come through.
With that thought and care is a familiarity that is also carefully crafted. Learning to cook with his grandmother, Craig finds much joy in bringing people closer to home with food.
“I always get a lot of comfort finding things that bring me back to my childhood,” he said. You can see it in the menu. Craig grew up with Steens, which customers can see cans of at the store and on the menu. His cousins own the Slap Ya Mama seasoning company, also featured on Le Coupé’s menu. When you taste the food, you see that eating at Le Coupé feels like coming home, even if Southern Louisana is a home that’s never been yours.
Chef Craig easily recalls moments with customers when they tried an item off the menu that reminded them of home.
“Earlier today, a guy was like, ‘Oh, this potato salad really reminds me of Texas,'” he told me,” explained Walker. “It’s bringing that connection of food to good memories when someone takes a bite and they’re like, ‘Oh! It balances out all the hard work and the back brace I’m wearing.”
The food, the atmosphere, and the community are all part of an intentional vision to create a high-quality food experience with accessible menu items. It’s all part of Le Coupé’s mission to do a little bit extra. This notion comes from the Cajun-French saying lagniappe, which literally means a little extra.
“That’s what we’re trying to do: when you think about the food, we’re doing a little bit extra. With the service, we’re doing a little bit extra,” Craig explained.
With local partnerships and a desire to bring people together around food, Le Coupé is also bringing a little bit extra to the community.