Mar Vista Memories
In the 4+ months since we moved to Northern California, I’ve had ample time to miss L.A.’s best eateries. The increasingly nightmarish traffic typically confined me to a narrow boundary around work & home... and I am surely not the only one. The following eateries represent my collection of Chowfinds in the 5 years that I lived in Mar Vista. Please feel free to add commentary & your own Mar Vista area Chowfinds.
Happy to help update this delicious old thread. Don't miss Agra Indian Kitchen on the west side of Lincoln not far north of Washington Blvd. IMHO this little place continues to have the best Indian food on the Westside. We keep going back. Just last Saturday wife and I happened to be near Little India on Pioneer Ave in Artesia, so we went to Hound favorite The India Restaurant for buffet lunch. Agra is so much better than TIR that I was amazed.
While it may be apples-to-oranges to compare buffet offerings to prepared-to-order dinners at Agra, in my experience buffet Indian is a good guide to what the restaurant delivers, because much of Indian cuisine does pretty well on a steam table.
Agra Indian Kitchen
2553 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
One of the later additions to Mar Vista is Tlapazola Grill for Oaxacan food. This is a more subtle use of chili's and sauces than some of the other Oaxacan places like Guelaguetza or Monte Alban or Juquila, an especially good choice if you like fish.
SE corner of Gateway Blvd. and Barrington in the mini mall across the street from 7-11.
Great Post :-)
My boyfriend and I left Mar Vista just 1 year ago, and moved to Silverlake. We didn't realize how much we would miss it. It's not that far away, but it's just such a hassle to get over to that side of town, especially after we're tired from working all day. Here are the places we LOVE and MISS TERRIBLY!
#1 Outdoor Grill. Tucked into the intersection of Washington Place and Washington Blvd. directly beside a car wash is this gem. The beef ribs have a flavor unlike any others I have ever tasted. They're huge, and meaty and brought my boyfriend out of his, albeit temporary, vegetarian phase....
*we've been told that Aunt Kitsy's back porch had even better ones, but everytime we ate there, they had sold out of them. We did try the oxtail (a first for both of us), and we were very pleasantly surprised.
#2 Paco's Tacos at Centinela & Washington. We lived on Centinela, and walked here a few times a week to eat great tacos and watch a lady prepare fresh tortillas. I was never too fond of their tortilla chips, but their red salsa is fantastic, as well as their tacos and chile rellenos.
#3 Samosa House. We love the paneer and the jakfruit. The lentil and potato curries are also very dependable. It's always delicious and the two-item combo is a perfectly proportioned lunch.
See separate thread on Casa Sanchez. Beautiful building, loud mariachis, end-to-end tables, outdoor patio with cigarette smoke that drifts in, but definitely a happening kind of place. Didn't start out well in the food or service category; reviews are still mixed. Best item reported to be the stuffed sole.
wow!!!! what a list!!! very thorough.... xlnt research!!!!! i have lived in mar vista for almost 20 years and you have hit on most of the great spots....
maxwells is great for breakfast and lunch... avoid the weekends.. although the owner just sold and has moved to costa rica... so i am not sure if the quality will remain?
for old fashioned american diner style food pepe's diner at the mar vista bowling alley is always great....
the best carnitas tacos come from campos tacos on venice and mclaughlin. very moist and tender.. slow cooked... not much else is good there.. but the carnitas are incredible.....
thai taste on venice and bethoven is the best in my opinion.... better than pams....
the talpa on pico just west of barrington is a classic old school mom and pop mexican that rocks.... incredible rellenos... enchiladas.... chile verde... etc...
antonio's taco truck parked on rose near 4th in venice has the best ceviche on the west side... and his tacos are xlnt also....
the tamales at gallego brothers on the south side of venice just west of centinella are great.... as are their chicken enchilada supremes... very light....
the red moon veitnamese place that you where referring to is not that good.... there is a place on wilshire just west of barrington that is much better....pho 99?
the car wash on wash place and bethoven has exlnt bbq chicken and cole slaw....
the sawtell kitchen is being renovated.... i hope that the prices and the food remain good...
there is a new wave of japanese places poping up on pico... gateway... wilshire... they specialize in small plates i need to try them....
but all in all mar vista has some incredible places to eat and to explore....it's a chow hound gold mine compared to a lot of suburban strip mall subway sandwich fast food places that make up a lot of america........
A few other places I forgot:
> Pacifico's on Culver in Downtown Culver City, has successfully ported Mexican Pacific style seafood to mainstream WLA. The food is good to very good, in an area where they have absolutely no competition for Mexican seafood. The lack of competition, & the absence of Mexican patrons to keep them honest means that the food is a bit overpriced, misproportioned & some of the dishes are below par.
The star at Pacifico's has, is & will be the Huachinango Whole Red Snapper. The fish is absolutely excellent... but the sides of White Garlic Rice & Sauteed Vegetables trail behind.
Oysters are reliably fresh... but not cheap.
Ceviche is good... but not for the price.
The Shrimp Tortilla Soup is excellent (when they don't overcook the shrimp).
Killer Shrimp on Washington near the Marina is as close as you get to authentic Cajun. The only problem is choice... they only serve one thing... excellent, cajun style Shrimp in a delectable beer-rosemary-crab-boil broth which you fish out with crusty white bread. A generous serving of Shrimp for $15 bucks... drinks can be expensive.
Update... here is a list of places that I wanted to try but never got the chance to (hopefully other 'hounds can chime in):
> Vietnamese Place at Sawtelle & National (Washington Mutual strip mall)... numerous people recommended it, but I never got over a bad Vietnamese steak sandwich experience in Chinatown.
> Mi Ranchito... a gaudy decorated Mexican place on Washington, the style told me to stay away, but it advertised itself as Veracruz Cuisine. I was intrigued, the cuisine of Veracruz is sublime... but I am sceptical that it is the real deal.
> Maxwell's Cafe on Washington near Costco... I always wanted to try breakfast there, but it was always too packed & we were too hungry.
What a superb post! Thank you for all this great information. Not only did you provide me with a few new spots I hadn't yet heard of, you gave some great new menu tips for places I already frequent.
You'll have to try Rancho Grille burritos in Mill Valley, if you are ever up that way. My brother used to live there and we always hit that spot when I visited.
It's been 8 years since I lived in Mar Vista (moved to downtown about that time and most of the neighbors thought I was crazy) Downtown's really changed over these 8 years.
Anyway, I remember Mago's on Centinela was always good (it' gone now) and still stop by Tito's Tacos a few times a year.
Alejo's (not really Mar Vista but on Lincoln and Washinton) was a favorite too.
Yeah, we ate at Marina Mago's the week before it mysteriously closed up... foreever (we always thought it was just remodeling). That & East (over by the Marina) were the go to Sushi places back then... bye, bye $30 sushi dinner for two!
I forgot to include Alejo's... not Mar Vista but within easy driving distance.
Alejo's.... where you go for incredibly cheap, Brooklyn style Italian cuisine...
> Prosciutto & Melon... $6
> Eggplant Parmesana with Vegetables instead of Spaghetti... $9
> Decent Pinto Grigio by the glass... $4
Bland Italian bread with the most intensely (spook a Vampire for an entire year) garlicky olive oil.... priceless!
they do a land office buisness with the mojarras fritas on the weekends and in the late afternoon.
the lunch hour crowd is in too much of a hurry to wait for it. also, since the mojarra fritta comes with salad, rice, beans, and tortillas, it is too much food for the lunch hour crowd to consume quickly.
Canton Kitchen (take out only) for good old fashioned Americanized Cantonese style comfort food. Been there 30+ years under the same family ownership. Surprised that for just a take out place there are 4 cooks in the back working the kitchen.
Location shoot for Rush Hour 2 with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker(soul Chinese restaurant).
12511 Venice Blvd.
Mar Vista. 90066
Mar Vista has a number of quality shops:
Ø The already cited Aqui es Oaxaca for Oaxacan specialties (Mole Sauce, Chorizo, Cecina - ultra thin flank steak jerkey, Epazote etc.,
Ø Marina Farms (Inglewood near Jefferson) for great, cheap produce – particularly in the summer
Ø Sorrento Italian Market for Old World special ingredients & Italian wines
There is a largely undiscovered Oaxacan Ice Cream shop on Sepulveda Blvd just south of Braddock. Its in a yellow painted strip mall, south of the McDonalds. This place (of which I do not know the name) has traditional Sorbets, Ice Creams, Ice Cream Desserts (Bionicos, Nino Envuelto etc.,) as well as Tropical Fruit Salads. The Ice Creams & Sorbets at this tiny, but very clean place... with their exotic flavors (exotic to Americans)... are some of the very best in L.A... rivaling any shop you can think of. Not to be missed:
Ø Galleta (Oreo)
Ø Rompope (Egg Nog Liquer)
Ø Leche Quemada (Burnt Milk)
Ø Cajeta (Goat Milk Caramel)
Ø Prickly Pear Sorbet
Ø Nance Sorbet (Yellow Cherry)
Ø Mamey Sorbet
There is another undiscovered Fruteria / Neveria owned by people from Sinaloa & Guadalajara on Washington Blvd, a few blocks west of Centinela... it is also untapped. The sorbets, ice creams & desserts are good... but not quite as good as the Oaxacan place. However, the fruit salads here are just outstanding... don’t know how they do it but they get better fruit than the highest-end markets in WLA. Also, they have savory little treats such as Pickled Pork Rind Tostadas, Torta Ahogadas (tortas drowned in salsa) & a few other snack foods.
I was in L.A. yesterday.... so I made the Oaxacan Ice Cream Shop one of my required stops. Still as good as I remember. And BTW, the name is Mateo's and its at the corner of Sepulveda & Lucerne.
They have expanded their menu a bit, they now serve sandwiches & they may be the first shop north of the border that offers cactus licuados.
Pepe’s Tacos is an often overlooked tiny taqueria on Centinela at Culver. It serves consistently good food, incredibly cheap with enviable cleanliness. What to eat:
Ø Chips & Salsa are complimentary & not to be missed. The fresh, smooth tomato salsa is the best Chip salsa I’ve ever had. (Their secret has something to do with using Jalapeno pickling juices)
Ø The Carne Asada taco here is a fake (as is the norm in L.A.)... but when you want intensely meaty flavored, sufficiently tender, griddle seared Chuck Steak simplicity... this is one of the best places to have it.
Ø The Birria (Plate or Tacos) might not be at the same level as its counterparts in East L.A., but a soothing dish of fall apart tender, saucy beef with a big kick of cloves is hard to miss.
Ø The Caldos change everyday. The Chicken stew is excellent... the beef stew is very good ... all stews served with a little side dish of Mexican Rice. (One of the few dishes that Mexican Rice makes a good compliment).
Ø Cantaloupe Agua Fresca is quite good at Pepe’s, but the Jugo Mixto (Fresh Squeezed OJ & Carrot) is very nice & a rarity in the L.A. taquerias.
Taqueria Sanchez as already dubbed on Chowhound as the best in WLA (as long as Loteria Grill doesn’t count as WLA), so this one is no surprise. Here are my faves:
Ø Lomo Tacos (Sirloin seared with Tomatoes)... tender & tasty
Ø Camarones Rancheros... sometimes overcooked, but when they are done right they are excellent, the abundantly spicy cracked black pepper distinguishes them from most versions
Ø Gorditas one of my pre-teenage favorites... I rarely order them anywhere, except here & at Grand Central Market... I can’t resist the Nopales Gordita... because, well my screen name says it all.
Ø The House Salad is insanely simple, fresh & abundant as are the side order of beans. Both should be split.
Tacomiendo is another Chowhound favorite, whose tacos are underrated (I believe most people rave about the burritos). What is good?
Ø Adobada Taco... chewy yet tender, complex flavoring, homemade tortilla... pairs beautifully with their Mexican Oregano heavy pickled onions.
Ø Chile Relleno... this dish encapsulates the sophisticated simplicity of the type of cooking you find throughout Indigenous villages in Mexico... delivering with an intoxicatingly good Tomato-Epazote sauce, & rich Oaxacan cheese this is one dish that should not be passed up. Trust... ask for the Side Order, with no Chips & with extra sauce.
Ø House Salad... another dish that highlights the herbal mastery of indigenous cooks (as opposed to the more spice heavy Mexican mainstream cooking)... Tacomiendo delivers an unusual Basil-Cucumber Juice dressing on top of Mexican salad staples such as Romaine, Cucumbers & Avocados.
Monte Alban is certainly not news for you Chowhounds, but I would like to highlight a few menu finds:
Ø The Molotes are a great starter to share... small corn masa empanadas stuffed with a perfectly balanced Chorizo-Potato hash
Ø The Tortilla Soup is usually outstanding... Oaxacan string cheese oozes in a perfect chicken-tomato broth that is set apart with the blend of Hoja Santa & Epazote.
Ø The Barbacoa Taco... is made with a huge, soft corn tortilla & rolled up with vary tasty, moist & tender goat meat, and served with a small portion of their black bean paste (sifted black beans enhanced with the anise like scents of Hoja Santa).
Ø The Nopalitos here are usually made from fresh cactus (a rarity in WLA) & are a great accompaniment to the Barbacoa
Ø The Salmon with Black Mole makes an outstanding combination... and a delicious way to consume mega doses of Omega-3 essential oils.
Guelaguetza is also old news, but like Monte Alban it has some unusual must try dishes:
Ø The Enmoladas are like Enchiladas but they use Mole Sauce instead. Stuffed with Shredded Chicken & topped with Queso Fresco & Raw Onions... they are pure delight. Along the same vein, Enfrijoladas are sauced with a delicious black bean sauce.
Ø The Green Mole with Espinazo (Pork Spleen), Green Beans & Chayote Squash is often perfect. The sauce is complex but subtle, with nuttiness & fresh green flavors of cilantro & epazote. The pork spleen is fall apart tender & flavored with robust meatiness.
Ø Oaxacan Empanadas are more like Crepes made from Corn Masa, than the usual thick turnovers. Guelegetza includes delectable ingredients like Huitlacoche & Squash Blossoms (make sure to ask if they have fresh ingredients because they will use canned or frozen in the off-season)
Ø Oaxacan Flan Napolitano... made from 3 Leches it has subtle carmel, nutty & cheese flavors.
Primo’s (Sawtelle at National)... if you hit it between 6 to 7 AM... has the best donuts on the Westside... end of story. What to try?
Ø Chocolate Pretzel Donut
Ø Vanilla Custard Turnover
Ø Chocolate Bar
Guadalajara Bakery (Inglewood at Culver Drive) makes some of the best Mexican Sugar Cookies & Turnovers... but you have to get there at 6 AM when the goods are still in the trays.
Top Valu (Inglewood Blvd)... makes good Jalapeno-Cream Cheese Rolls & Conchas (Bready, Croissant like buns)... they aren’t the best... but they roll out freshly baked goods throughout the morning... for those that are too lazy to hit Guadalajara Bakery.
Aqui es Oaxaca (McLaughlin at Venice) has decent Mexican pastries... but most importantly they sell very, very good Mole Paste. Rumor is that they purchase it from the same vendor that makes Guelagetza’s moles.
Breadworks (Cotner between Pico & Olympic... near The Wine Shop) is owned by two Brea Bakery ex employees (one of whom is my friend)... & features Brea Bakery’s old Master Baker whom recruited a couple of his relatives from a Guadalajara culinary school... supply Trader Joe’s with some of their Sourdough, as well as many high end restaurants in West L.A. They also have a counter with a few tables... where you can have pastries, coffee & lunchtime sandwiches, soups & salads. The soups, which change daily, are excellent particularly those of Mexican extraction like the Tortilla Soup & Chorizo with Fava Beans.
Somebody suggested Angel Maid bakery on Centinela and I've got to admit, it's pretty good. My taste buds aren't that elevated and I'm happy enough with a Beard Papa cream puff, but the Angel Maid ones are much better. The trick is show up early, because I've been there in the afternoon and they can be almost devoid of product. Nice cakes, and pastries. I might have missed a mention of them in your postings, because I'm a little sleep deprived, but hungry from reading your postings.
Johnnie’s Pastrami is every bit as good as Langer’s and much better than anything at Junior’s. The relatively expensive sandwich ($9)... packs what seems to be more than a pound of tender, herbal perfectly seasoned, ultra thin brisket. They dip the cheapest, crustiest, foam like roll in to the Pastrami Au Jus (ask for a double dip)... then pile on the slightly fatty meat & serve it with a mean Horseradish Mustard... that will give unsuspecting schmucks a sever case of “brain freeze,” complimentary home made pickles round out the experience.
This is pretty much all they have done at Johnny’s for the last 50 years and they have it down right. In addition, the old crabby waitresses & the outdoor seating around a fire pit also give this place a classic feel.
Markie D’s Taste of Philly (Washington Blvd at Sepulveda) is run by the same people as Johnnie’s... and delivers Philly Cheese Steaks that even native Philadelphians who don’t have a cheap on their shoulder... have enjoyed. Lets get real here... sandwiches are not rocket science & Markie does a great job... decent ingredients, focused menu, smooth process.
Most of the best burgers I have had are found at inner city, Greek owned burger chains that I refer to as the Ghetto Burger Joints. Big Tomy’s (not to be confused with Tommy’s) is as close as you get in WLA. Of the two locations (Pico Blvd or Sepulveda)... I prefer the Sepulveda location... its cleaner, less hectic and the cooks there actually do a better job than Pico. What to get?
Ø Double Cheeseburger
Ø Chili Cheese Fries with Raw Onions, Fried Egg & an extra Beef Patty
Howard’s on Venice at Sepulveda is just classic. Owned by a huge German women & her diminutive husband, this is the quintessential, disappearing hole in the wall... with a certain, old school urban charm. The beef patties here are little smaller & not as well seasoned as Tomy’s but you come here to load it up with all the trimmings you could want. What to get?
Ø Double Hamburger with Bacon, Avocado, Fried Egg & Chili... bun on the side.
Ø Onion Rings
Apple Pan is another classic burger joint. Instead of a whole in the wall, this is a freestanding house with ample parking. Instead of tables... there is a bar that wraps up around the open cooking area, and at lunch it gets so packed that you have to stand behind a seated person and taunt them until they give up their spot. There is a menu here... but you only want two things... the juicy hamburger & the 8 inch tall Apple Pie. BTW, a 10 ft tall glass case holds all the freshly baked Apple Pies whose aroma haunts the local neighborhood every morning.
After eating Fried Chicken in Atlanta... I thought WLA’s Diners were 3rd Rate... but now that I live in Northern California & have noticed that quality classic American Diners are disappearing at as quickly as the Ozone layer... I can reaffirm that WLA’s offering is solid & even special.
Dinah’s (Sepulveda at Centinela) is simply classic... the 1950’s Americana décor, the Menu, the Lottery screens... this is a dying breed. True, Dinah’s offers a lot of mediocre items, freshly made from some kind of package... but if you know what to order... the food can be outstanding.
Ø Most of Dinah’s finds are in the ridiculously cluttered breakfast menu. Swedish Crepe Pancakes are thin, light & generous served with lingonberry jam & lingonberry butter
Ø The Apple Dutch Baby & German Pan Cakes (Fresh Lemon & Powedered Sugar) are more like a sweet bready bowl... that are fabulous to share
Ø Most of all Dinah’s is famous for its Fried Chicken... and you will not find much better in L.A.... thin, crispy batter...juicy chicken... not excessively oily... it is bone licking good.
Ø In addition to the Fried Chicken... Dinah’s also has the best Country Fried Steak in the city. The Hamburg steak is well spiced, generously thick with a nice crunchy fairly thick breading. I recommend having the unnoficial Nopal Special... instead of Gravy... ask for Dinah’s surprisingly good Salsa Fresca... its strong garlic & oregano layers & fresh, crisp textures make the perfect compliment for the rich, fried steak.
Nichol’s (Marina del Rey) is quite a bit more refined than Dinah’s, and a bit shaped by the Jewish ownership & majority patrons, so it is not your straight Americana diner... but it does have some gems:
Ø Solid Turkey Dinner with all the trimmings... gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce.
Ø Crab Cake Sandwich... simply sumptuous
Ø Cobb Salad... can’t get much more California Diner than a Cobb
Ø Good Meatloaf
Ø Soups made from scratch
Ø Bread pudding... arguably the best in L.A.
Café 50s with several WLA locations & its nostalgic 1950’s Coca Cola, College Football & early Rock & Roll nostalgia is classic. All the diner food here is pretty much solid... but I mostly stormed it for its WLA best Chorizo & Eggs... or Chili Fries.
Versailles’ doesn’t need much introduction... it’s the most famous Cuban restaurant in L.A... and it is already outrageously busy. But, I am sure most people rarely branch out from the Roast Pork & Chicken dishes.
Those are nice... but the real gem there is the Oxtails. Cooked in small batches... designed to ensure sell out... they are a real gem when available. Personally, I enjoy a good Filet, love a Rib eye & really dig a good skirt steak... but the most mouthwatering parts of a Cow – if you are open to them – are things like Oxtails... they have a deep meaty flavor – like a good consommé – and a buttery, extremely tender texture... everything an expensive, aged Filet wishes it could be.
Empanada’s Place is a small, cramped but clean hole in the wall on Sawtelle at Venice Blvd... that is probably the only Argentinean place in WLA (I don’t count the bland chain place at the 3rd Street Promenade). Service can be bad... slow, arrogant & hostile... some say that is an Argentinean characteristic... but the guy that owns El Morfi in Glendale is charming & polite... night & day. The Sandwiches – particularly the Chicken with Chimichurri is unbelievable boring – but the Empanadas can be downright addictive. What to eat:
Ø Humita - Sweet Corn in a Cheese Sauce Empanada... this is by far the most delicious dish in the house.
Ø Ricotta – Ricotta Cheese, Mushroom & Basil Empanada
Ø Criolla – Ground Beef, Raisin & Egg Empanada
Ø Paltena Deshebrada – Shredded Beef with Pea & Potato Empanada
Ø Beef Milanese Platter (Not the Sandwich)
Café Brazil is certainly far from perfect. The tiny dining area can be uncomfortable & chaotic, the menu is confusing & they carry a lot of bogus items, the prices are relatively steep, food is rarely outstanding & they don’t serve any of those delicious gaucho style meats other Brazilian places are famous for. But, this is a little slice of Brazil in a small Brazilian neighborhood and it does have some items that are worth a trip:
Ø Feijoada... served on weekends it is a very slow cooked, garlicky Pork Stew served with Black Beans, Rice, Farofa (Grainy dish made from Yucca that has a meaty flavor that Brazilians use to “stretch out” smaller meat portions), Collard Greens & Fresh Orange Slices.
Ø Saute Veggies (An intensely garlicky... Buddha’s Feast reminiscent dish... btw, Brazil does have sizeable Chinese population in Rio de Janeiro)
Ø Empadinha with Hearts of Palm (Brazilian Empanada)
Ø Coxinha... basically a Chicken Fried Steak made from Shredded Chicken
Ø Passion Fruit & Sugar Cane Juice
Ø Brazilian Flan
Oh man, I miss Empanada's Place... I used to live in Mar Vista as well as work in Culver City, and I swear I hit that place at least twice a month.
Now I live and work in Glendale, and never get over to the westside. I wish they'd open an Empanada's Place here!
And yeah, the corn empanadas were the best! But also the Arabe (lemon beef) were really good, as were the spicy beef ones.
Metro Café – a true gem - is tucked away in the Travelodge Motel on Washington Place at Sepulveda. This place is owned by a couple of Serbian brothers who give this Diner a definite European touch with some Serbian surprises. What to eat?
Ø The breakfast gems include the Italian Style Eggs (Scrambled Eggs with Garlic on a Toasted Pesto brushed Panini roll served with Fresh Fruit), Montenegro Style Eggs, the Banana Sauteed Pancakes.
Ø Lunch items include Italian style sandwiches & California-French salads
Ø Ask for the Serbian menu... usually reserved for the big, hairy chain smoking, Slavic speaking guys taking up the outdoor tables. Foods change daily... but homemade sausages, lamb, greens & soups... are never far away.
Fassica on Washington near Motor is our lone Ethiopian restaurant around Mar Vista (that I am aware of). The food is consistently good... the Injera (sourdough flat bread) is something I still dream about, and the “dry” spicy stews I crave often. They also have a decent salad, interesting desserts & a Jazz band on Friday nights. Also, it is incredibly cheap.
At the risk of being crucified by our Persian friends, I did not find very much palatable Middle Eastern food in West LA. Not that Persian food isn’t tasty... but I just didn’t like spending good money on 2 Lbs of Kateh rice served with a little bit of lamb. With Persian food out of contention... there aren’t very many Middle Eastern choices...but if you have a craving there are a few pretty good places:
Gaby’s Mediterranean on Venice Blvd near Motor is the real deal. The food offering is similar to Lebanese restaurants in Mexico City where there is a huge immigrant contingent & was confirmed by an ethnic Armenian that was born in Beirut. The problem is that Gaby isn’t exactly the best cook on the planet... shawerma & kabobs are sometimes dry & the house salad astringent. But in a neighborhood with a limited late night offering...Gaby’s is a gem... typically rocking better than most L.A. clubs. What to eat:
Ø Lebneh (Lebanese Yogurt Cheese with Dried Mint & Kalamata Olives)
Ø Baba Ganouj
Ø Soujuk (Homemade Sausage in Tomato Sauce)
Ø Any fish dish
Hungry Pocket is a great, little dingy box size diner across the street from Santa Monica College. This humble place serves up some of the best simple, Middle Eastern food in WLA. What to eat:
Ø Lamb Shawerma with the Works (Humus, Aged Lebanese Cheese etc.,)
Ø Falafels... particularly on Wednesday nights when the have All You Can Eat Falafel!
imho, the falafal sandwiches at hungry pocket are the very BEST in town.
the falafal is made to order, NEVER reheated in a microwave like sunin, so it is always hot and crisp.
the bread is warmed as the falafal is cooking so it is not soggy,
you have your choice of whole wheat pita or white pita, and their homemade picante sauce is the best i've tasted.
Even though its far from the major Indian population centers...there is no shortage of well regarded Indian restaurants in West L.A. But while it’s the expensive places that are the object of the Foodies’ obsession, it is the more obscure places that serve up the best food.
All-India Café... stowed away on the 2nd Floor of a dreary strip mall at Santa Monica & Barrington is by far the best. The décor is charming & minimalist... at lunch the Flat Screen TV displays the best Bollywood moves... the food is extremely fresh, harmonious & sumptuous. What to eat?
Ø Uttapam makes the perfect starter. Described as a Cream of Wheat griddle cake... it is a very light pancake (I bet there is some potato in the mix) with Tomatoes, Onions, Cilantro & Green Chiles baked into it. Served with Coconut Chutney... it is a perfect dish.
Ø Sambar (is any Indian meal complete without a lentil soup?)
Ø Palak Paneer (not many better ways to eat Spinach)
Ø Chicken Tikka Massala (the Fenugreek-Ginger cream sauce is absolutely perfect... almost impossible to stop eating it)
Ø Kheer... creamy rice pudding laced with Green Cardomon.
Chutney’s is a very sparse casual eatery in a very small strip mall at the corner of Barrington & Pico. Owned by a Muslim Indian... this place observes strict Halal practices. Everything is fresh & healthy. What to eat?
Ø Seekh Kabobs
Ø Masala Dosas
Ø Mango Lassi
Samosa House (former Bharat Bazaar) is the best Indian grocery store in WLA (Washington Blvd between Sawtelle & Inglewood)... that also happens to serve food with a distinctive homemade taste. The offering changes often so ask the proprietress for recommendations, you won’t go wrong.
I gotta strongly disagree re the Palak Paneer at All India Cafe. This was one of the most vile preparations of the dish I've ever had. The cheese, in particular, was unlike any paneer I've ever had -- more like steamed tofu. I took a few bites and threw the rest away, which is pretty rare for me. The one dish I love at All India is their chicken tikka masala.
I am certainly no expert on Chinese cuisine... but after eating some outstandingly beautiful, sophisticated and delectable dishes in Chinatown, Monterey Park, Rowland Heights & Mexico City... I am almost 100% certain it is impossible to find China’s finest in West L.A. Nonetheless, for those of us simpletons who can relish in well-prepared version of the Chinese-American usual suspects... there are dozens of viable places in WLA.
Little Hong Kong Café was my go to place in WLA. Buried within the mini Japantown on Sawtelle Blvd... this place delivers brash, full-flavored Cantonese dishes with great textures and freshness. Even though it is usually packed at Lunch... the service is quite acceptable... particularly for a casual Chinese eatery. What to eat:
Ø Mongolian Beef
Ø Tangerine Beef
Ø Kung Pao Shrimp
Ø Long Beans
I don’t remember the name... but there is a Chinese restaurant at the corner of Sepulveda & Olympic that is very, very good. It has one problem... the majority of items are listed in Chinese script, very little English is spoken & there aren’t very many photos. Despite that... I had no problem finding some good eats on the English menu. I enjoyed the endless variations of their basic clear soups... huge bowl of clear broth with Bok Choy & other vegetables + your choice of protein added at the last moment (they literally will stick a BBQ Sparerib in your soup) & following the example of all the white-haired Chinese grandmas... I would order an artery clogging delectable such as Mandarin Chicken - to share with another 3 people.
Chung King on Pico Blvd may have closed down... or so I was told. If its true... my heart cries in silence. There was many good tasting items on the menu... but I was absolutely hooked on the Shredded Pork with Broccoli. Twice cooked lean Pork... shredded & sautéed in a spicy red sauce with lots of ginger & stir fried Broccoli. In addition, their Hot & Sour soup... had no rival on the Westside.
P.F. Chang’s (Wilshire Blvd at 4th Street) is often dismissed as not authentic... but I can’t see how it’s any less authentic than the 1000s of Cantonese restaurants in Chinatowns all across the country. Just because your typical Chinese take out joint uses the cheapest cuts of meat, doesn’t mean that restaurants back in China do, and just because those take out joints don’t strive to present an atmosphere & décor... doesn’t mean that places in China don’t. Finally, having a wife that gets migraines from MSG means that P.F. Chang’s is absolutely essential for us. What to eat? Everything is consistently good... but some standouts include:
Ø Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Ø Kung Pao Shrimp
Ø Cantonese Roasted Duck
Ø Hot Fish
Chung King on Pico has changed to Cheng Du because of an ownership situation -- they still have the same menu and most of the same personnel. It gets savaged on these boards but I like their lunch specials for the generous portions and excellent hot'n'sour soup. They have also taken over the former Panda Cave on Westwood just north of Santa Monica Blvd.
One of the best-kept Asian secrets in West LA is Typhoon Restaurant. Located at the Santa Monica Airport it has a decent ambiance & full view of the north runway. Actually, the Airport itself is a fairly well kept secret... with zero security issues, several eateries & even some picnic tables with runway views... its kind of an interesting place to visit... even if you don’t own a Cessna. Typhoon boasts a Pan-Southeast Asian (not to be confused with Asian Fusion) menu... that brings together some of the classic dishes of Southeast Asia. The food is certainly more expensive than most Asian... but the quality is also commensurate.... Even the Bar & Wines are up to par. What to eat (I have like everything I have tried so far):
Ø 5 Insect Dishes to Choose From (if you are feeling adventurous)
Ø Mixed Green Salad is essential (Baby Salad Greens in Ponzu Dressing with Fried Seaweed)
Ø Burma Wings - Red Chile & Pineapple Sauce with Raita (Cucumber Yogurt)
Ø Taiwanese Style Manila Clans
Ø Chinese Crispy Duck
Ø Filipino Grilled Pork
Ø Mongolian Lamb
Ø Sesame Buns
The day Rosalynn Thai closed down their charming, down to earth bedroom sized stand alone diner on a busy Lincoln Blvd and reopen as Pam’s Place in the bigger space on a Venice Blvd business park... the Thai offering in WLA landed in the sewer... or so I thought. Now that we are in Northern California... we have a new found nostalgia for the cheap, imperfect but very good eateries scattered around Mar Vista & vicinity.
Pam’s Place is certainly no match for Rosalynn... the service sucks, the ambiance is wannabe pretentious, the cooks are different & the food is inconsistent & prices are higher to boot. But its still the class of the group. What to eat:
Ø Sizzling Beef. This sesame marinated, brandy flamed thin skirt steak has not showed up in another menu I have seen. This is one of Pam’s most inconsistent dishes... but when they nail it... it is extremely delicious... savory with hints of sweetness & brilliantly paired with tender onions.
Ø Larb. A brilliant salad that captures almost everything I like about Thai cuisine... freshness, multiple layers of flavor, textures & color.
Ø Coconut-Lemon Grass Soup... a perfect marriage of subtle & assertive flavors in that balanced, Zen almost spiritual quality that attracts me to Thai places
Ø Spicy Mint Leaves. A classic harmonious blend of Thai Basil, Mint, Thai Chiles & vegetables sautéed with your choice of protein. Brilliant... multiple layers yet you can taste each ingredient separately.
Thai Beer on Washington Blvd was our “everyday” Thai place that we took for granted. It is so inexpensive & often use cheap ingredients... but when I reflect on the fabulous $20 dinners (for two people) we use to have there... I come to realize how lucky we were. What to eat:
Ø Hot & Sour Vegetable Soup... is the best of the list. The combination of Lemon Grass & Galangal is perfect. The soup is full of healthy vegetables (although the canned baby corn & straw mushrooms get to be annoying) & thankfully doesn’t have any chicken, which is typically tough in their soups.
Ø House Salad (Lettuce, Cucumbers, Tomato, Onions & Hardboild Eggs with Peanut Sauce). Its not as intriguing or sophisticated as Larb... but the Peanut Sauce is irresistible.
Ø Prik Khing with Beef... Thai Beer’s version is one of the very best I’ve had. Not many better ways of eating green beans.
Ø Eggplant... the basil & black been sauce are irresistible.
Sawtelle Blvd between Santa Monica & Olympic is a vibrant Japanese commercial center brimming with Boba Shops, Noodle Houses, Sushi Restaurants & Japanese Markets. The surrounding neighborhoods host a Japanese presence that dates back to the Post WWII “Diaspora.” Like Torrance, it was a low rent area where Nisei returning from the WWII prison camps in the California dessert could take a 2nd stab at their American dream. Today it is a little bit of home for scores of Japanese (not Japanese-American) students at UCLA.
Now that I live in Northern California where Sushi Restaurants are hard NOT to find, I have a newfound – nostalgic – appreciation for the Japanese Bistros & Curry Houses in WLA.
Curry House is just classic... a chain that also peddles convenience products & has bizarre drawings & point schemes... it’s a perfect representation of Post WWII Japan... an interesting, if odd, interpretation of 1950’s Americana within a Japanese palette. Here you can add Spaghetti, Boiled Frozen Vegetables or Hard Boiled Eggs to just about anything. Beyond the fabulously odd experience, the food is very good and the majority of the patrons are young Japanese immigrants & students. What to eat?
Ø Pork Cutlet Curry is the standard initiation to Japanese Curry & the version here is pretty good, served with soothing Steamed Rice & a solid Green Salad with the classic Ponzu dressing. I take it to the next level with extras... Hard Boiled Eggs, Boiled Vegetables & extra Curry Sauce. BTW... they are tame on spice here... so don’t be afraid to ask for it very hot.
Ø The Pork Cutlet may be the classic... but the real winner here is the Sirloin Steak Curry...a very tasty & surprisingly tender, fully petite steak served with Rice & Salad. I like adding Shrimp Tempura & extra sauce for an all out experience.
Blue Marlin Café is more of a Japanese Bistro with good Seafood Dishes & Pastas, but the Curry is NOT to be ignored. What to eat:
Ø The Seared Ahi Tuna served with Salad & Ponzu dressing is a great light meal
Ø Pork Cutlet Curry served in a hot skillet... was the source of much Zen-like contentment on warm Southern California days. The Curry here has a deep meaty flavor & complex spiciness. While I am certainly not an expert on these sauces...my guess is that they consist of meat gravy, spiked with Indian curry spice mix & chiles... resulting in a fluffy, brown sauce.
Sawtelle Kitchen is higher up the food chain... delivering the area’s top notch Japanese Bistro experience... with much sought after fresh fish daily specials. What to consume:
Ø Tea. SK has a great menu of “whole” teas steeped in a personal kettle. I tended to gravitate to the Lemon Grass tea... an essential flavor in Thai Soups & a popular medicinal libation in Mexico... it is one of the my favorite unusual “teas”.
Ø Japanese Meatloaf. Most people find it too hooky to try at a Japanese restaurant... but I am assured it is traditional (in the last 50 years) & the Japanese bring it a new level with panko bread crumbs, soy sauce & miso seasoning. Served with the Japanese style Spaghetti (buttered & herbed instead of sauced)
Ø Fresh Fish in marinated in Citrus-Ponzu is always bound to satisfy.
Ø Shrimp, Mussels & Scallops in Curry Sauce. As far as I am aware...this is the only place on Sawtelle that does this.... I love the mix of the Pickled Red “stuff” & Shrimp in the sauce.
Sawtelle is also home to some very good Sushi restaurants. Hide Sushi – a Chowhound favorite – was also our go to place.
Ø Extremely fresh, no frills Sushi
Ø The best Tempura I have met (very crisp & light...you are always sad when there is none left)
Hide Sushi is cash only, has a cult following - yet it is not impossible to get in if you are willing to dine early or late. Modest appetites can get out of there for < $40 a couple.
A few blocks away Mori Sushi (Gateway & Pico) delivers a more innovative Sushi approach. The fish is fresh & tasty, and deliver an alternative experience vis a vis your typically Sushi place... but the value just isn’t there. It’s a place I would take co-workers on the expense account... but not a place where I would put my own dollars. What to eat?
Ø Red Miso Soup with very tiny mushrooms
Ø Tuna Tartare Tacos
Ø Octopus & Beef Carpaccio
But when it comes to high-end, innovative Sushi... there is no option in L.A. other than Matsuhisa on La Cienega in Beverly Hills. This was Nobu Matsuhisa’s (as in Nobu of Vegas, NY, London & Paris) first restaurant... the one where he gained international acclaim. The critics describe it as Peruvian-Japanese fusion... but I have been to Peru and don’t really see any significant Peruvian influence... but that might have to do with the fact that I stay away from the Chef’s Tasting Menus. What can I say about Matsuhisa? It is Sushi at a whole other level. Where the typical Sushi restaurant strives to provide raw fish that has a pleasant, fresh odor & subtle flavor... Matsuhisa offers fish that is full of flavor... tuna that is sweet with very firm texture and character.
Finally other no frills, reliable traditional Sushi restaurants include Sakura House (another neighborhood favorite on Centinela next to Taqueria Sanchez) & Tsuji No Hana in a strip mall on Lincoln near Mindanao (a few doors from Subway).