I'm moving from the Southbay to the Westside (right off Sawtelle). Can anyone please tell me about this street and what it has to offer or what it may be missing? THANKS!
Welcome to the neighborhood. As mentioned above, the Sawtelle strip itself is almost all Japanese food with a few exceptions (Ketchy's II, Little Hong Kong Cafe, whatever one would call Orris, the hookah place near Santa Monica Blvd.). The Japanese places are fairly well, and repeatedly, covered on Chowhound. Just do a search. Some of the places most often mentioned:
Sawtelle Kitchen (currently undergoing a remodel)
But the greater neighborhood also includes Mexican places such as:
Tacomiendo, Juquila and Monte Alban
other Japanese places such as:
and great early morning donuts:
Thai that gets mixed reviews, at best:
ditto for Indian:
All India Cafe
too pricey, IMO, Italian:
and chicken that some rave about:
Just off the top of my head.
Not a great area for truly hidden gems because the 'hounds are scouting it all the time.
I would too actually. My Mexican rotation is limited pretty much to Tacomiendo, Monte Alban and the Talpa. It just slipped my mind, probably because I haven't been there in about a month.
In the "I just don't get it, but apparently I am the only one" category, there is also Don Antonio's next door to the Talpa.
You are not the only one!
Don Antonio's is mediocre! People seem to like it because it has a full bar. The Talpa towers above in the food department, serves beer and (yucky) wine and the family that has run it for the past 40 or 50 years always makes everyone feel right at home. The salsas are incredible; the guacamole is always generous and fresh, with none of the horrible lettuce hiding beneath it; they make a great chile verde; their enchiladas with rice and beans, the chiles rellenos--excellent. In fact, you really can't go wrong with anything here, as long as you stick to the Mexican food.
To the Japanese restaurant list I'd add the yakitori joint on Santa Monica on the corner of Corinth: Nanbankan. Especially if you eat on the early side, the chefs will make sure your food comes out in a good order.
The mentions of Talpa got us there last night. It has been a long time since we were there last and we have been regulars at Don Antonio's for the last couple of years (we went to DA's sporadically before we became regulars).
The good things about Talpa. Really nice service. Attentive and very pleasant woman who kept coming by and making sure that we were fine. The food however was just okay.
I had the pork in spicy tomatillo sauce. Not really very spicy at all. A plus for Talpa is that they bring you a LOT of tortillas. I had the corn tortillas. The downside is the tortillas weren't very good. They tasted a bit on the stale side.
The guacamole is a very generous helping and has no filler, but it also had little, if any taste. I ended up salting it liberally to bring out whatever taste could be found. Same situation with the albondigas soup. Very bland. And the meatballs were bland and just too firm. The albondigas at Don Antonio's is far superior in taste, (both the broth and the meatballs).
My wife's crispy ground beef tacos were good and the rice and beans they serve with the entrees were also fine. The do have a wine and beer license and I had a Negro Modelo, and was some folks in front of us were drinking what looked like wine based margaritas.
All in all it was serviceable, but not a place I'll rush back to, (even the salsa they bring with the chips lacked taste).
With one beer, two cokes, one small soup, two main courses and the order of guacamole the check was $44 plus tip.
I've been going to the Talpa...well, since I was about six months old. I've never had a problem with blandness -- I actually think their salsa is one of the better ones that I've had at hole-in-the-wall Mexican places.
Favorite dishes are the cheese tamales (I think you can only get them when corn is in season), gallina en caldo (great for when you're feeling under the weather) and albondigas (I don't think it's bland). And enchiladas, chiles rellenos, yadda yadda yadda.
Talpa isn't a destination restaurant, but if you're craving cheap Mexican it's worth going.
If you haven't had the albondigas next door at Don Antonio's I suggest giving it a try just to have a basis for comparison. It's always possible that this was an off night for seasoning, especially the distinct lack of salt (at least to my taste buds). But my number one reason for saying everything was lacking salt that night was the fact that my wife thought it was under salted. She is almost constant in her complaints / sensitivity to salt when we go out. I'll try and give it another try and try the cheese tamales (if available) or some of the other recommendations you made here. Thanks for your input.
Great list! I just moved to the area and now have a plan of attack for Sawtelle! Just wanted to add that I've eaten at Il Grano, which was pricey, but amazing with impecable service and well worth the price for the experience. Next door is La Bodgea, an Italian cafe and market by the same owners with delicious food that is much more reasonably priced. You can eat there or get takeout. Highly recommend it!
Walking around the neighborhood last night, I also passed:
Siam Chan - little to no atmosphere Thai that seems to do a nice takeout business. I have had good tod mun bpla (fried fish cake) from this spot, but nothing else has excited me too much. I am a picky Thai food eater though.
Zip Fusion Sushi - I've never been but I've not heard good things either.
Javan - Persian place on the corner of Santa Monica and Butler. It was hopping last night.
Gr/eats - the artsy cafe/restaurant from the Giant Robot folks.
Certainly no shortage of places within a 15-20 minute walk of my place!
I am surprised that Sushi Tenn is still in business because, as you point out, it always seems so desolate. I had a set menu there once (they had a few omakase-like options on their menu - I realize that might not qualify as true omakase, but...) and it was good, but not amazing. And it seemed both pricey and a bit too austere, in atmosphere, service and food, for my taste. That said, Jonathan Gold and others have sung its praises. Since I am not a complete sushi purist, Kiriko fits my bill better.
I also forgot Hide on my list. Classic by now inexpensive sushi, with all the good and bad that such a label implies.