Anyone driving on the 405 near the 110 intersection might see a curious view from the south side. A building with the big Porsche name and an array of driving tracks sits just off the busy freeway, resembling a luxury car dealership with a proving ground attached. But the Porsche Experience Center, one of only two in the United States, is a special place to drive fast cars without fear of getting a speeding ticket, and also one of the most underrated places for lunch in Los Angeles.
Restaurant 917 opened five years ago and offers Porsche 911-shaped butter patties and seasonal dishes. With years of operation under its belt and an enthusiastic kitchen crew that has stayed the course, the 917 has become a consistent and reliable South Bay gem. There’s even an impressive pastry program offering gourmet desserts in this part of town.
The first thing to know about 917 is that it is completely open to the public. Simply make a reservation on Open Table and check in at the front before being escorted to the second floor dining room overlooking the test tracks. Second, be aware that food is really meant to be eaten after riding in fast cars in the morning.
The Venn diagram of food and driving enthusiasts is certainly not very wide, but Porsche felt that having a good restaurant was an important part of making a day here feel special. You cannot bring your own car (except for one day a week) at the track, meaning everyone who visits receives an assigned instructor. My guide for the day, Aaron, said that working at the Porsche Experience Center requires at least three years of professional racing experience. He was hospitable, calm and encouraging which left a smile on his face as he navigated the winding trail.
On the weekends I like to take my Honda to the Angeles Crest mountains for an old fashioned corner carve but spend an hour and a half with a real race car driver with a trained instructor learning how to throw a all-electric Taycan Turbo or a 911 Turbo S around a circuit is something else. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that the 90 minutes are a thrilling adrenaline rush.
After finishing the driving session, step inside Restaurant 917, where one imagines the vaguely European vibe of the second-floor restaurant and its clean lines meant to reflect the deliberate and tasteful design of the German automaker: the dining room Main dining felt as utilitarian as an airport lounge in Frankfurt, except with a view of colorful cars instead of planes. The menu, however, feels much more modern American, with hints of Latin American or Asian flavors. Chef Matt Lee went to culinary school in Pasadena and cooked at the iconic Saddle Peak Lodge, a nestled mountain temple for grilled meats and elegant cuisine. Lee, originally from South Bay, has been at Restaurant 917 since the beginning.
Porsche didn’t need to set up this kind of dining situation for visitors, but it fills an important niche in this part of Los Angeles. Restaurants around Carson are mostly casual, with a few Filipino and Hawaiian family restaurants, as well as the Creole institution Darrow’s New Orleans Grill. Nearby Torrance has plenty of good Japanese restaurants, but otherwise the area lacks a more formal lunch spot with great cocktails and wine.
Lunch at 917 is refined by comparison, with Lee’s Peruvian cured scallops with tangy aji amarillo or hamachi crudo with tobiko wasabi more likely to be seen on menus in Santa Monica or Hollywood, not here in Carson. You’d think motorists would prefer to order the really good cheeseburger, but the most popular dish is actually the grilled Spanish octopus with harissa aioli.
It’s a testament to Porsche’s effort to deliver better-than-expected food to a captive audience of car enthusiasts, a way to create a busy day marked by tasty food and drink instead of just the pleasures of conduct. Like Coachella, the Hollywood Bowl or Disneyland, destinations like the Porsche Experience Center weren’t really all about food, until operators realized that people now expected big experiences – a concert of music, a theme park, a fun day of driving – to come with delicious things to eat.
And that’s what makes the 917 all the more unexpected and cool for car enthusiasts in Los Angeles. Loops around a track are simply a best memory followed by a nicely plated charcuterie board or grilled Japanese wagyu steak. Either way, it’s best to sip a bubbly rosé after driving around in a brown Taycan (note: they stamp your guest badge when you order booze so no one drives under the influence on the track).
Desserts were the real surprise at 917, with pastry chef EunBee Lee making a yuzu mousse entremet with white chocolate cream and milk chocolate namelaka on a cocoa cookie with a side of ice cream. toasted marshmallow. The fancy finish to the fancy pastries felt like a sweet coda to an afternoon that started with a brisk drive. The 917 restaurant isn’t necessarily new, but coming to experience sports cars with wagyu burgers will never really get old.
Restaurant 917 is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.