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21st Birthday Chow From UCLA to Bev Hills or Sta. Monica

My wife and I are planning to surprise our daughter at UCLA on a Tuesady evening by showing up and taking her out to dinner. It's just the three of us (her dorm mates will be taking her out later for whatever else). We are looking for suggestions anywhere from Westwood to Beverly Hills to Santa Monica that hounds could recommend, since we aren't often in these areas. Of course our daughter has her preferences: Italian, BBQ, Sushi, PIzza, Steakhouse and more. We are looking for a place that won't break the bank. UCLA has done that for us already. We still want her to have a nice time and we'll probably include a stop at Sprinkles where she'd want some cupcakes. Any finds that fit the bill in that area? Nearby areas? Thank you for any suggestions.

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  1. There is a cute little Italian place on Westwood Blvd. just south of Wilshire Blvd. across from Borders Books called Sprazzo. Very reasonable prices and you can call ahead and ask them to reserve a booth for you. Highly recommend it for food, vibe and wallet saving features.

    http://www.sprazzo.net/contact.html

    3 Replies
    1. re: tony michaels

      I also really like Sprazzo. It's not expensive at all, but the food is good and the wine is decent. (I'm not sure what their cocktails situation is.)

      Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills is also a nice option, but it can get cramped. Vincente might be at the upper range of your price limit. Il Moro is okay, but I can never get over it being in an office building.

      What about Upstairs II on Cotner, between Pico and Olympic? It's connected to the Wine House, so it will have good wines and tapas. I don't know if they do mixed drinks.

      Just to the west of Beverly Hills on Third Street between La Cienega and Fairfax are AOC and Celadon. AOC has small plates and good drinks. Celadon has the same, with a pan-Asian menu, with something for everyone, and some very unusual cocktails. I was very impressed with the food.

      1. re: Jwsel

        AOC is good no doubt, but it is far from being cheap...

        1. re: Jwsel

          Upstairs 2 isn't open Tuesday nights.

      2. Since you want to pick up cupcakes from Sprinkles, I can think of a few good Italian restaurants in Beverly Hills. CAFFE ROMA, ENOTECA DRAGO or IL PASTAIO on Canon, and IL FORNAIO on Beverly Dr. are just a few ideas.

        1. Ami sushi on Broxton has great sushi and good prices!

            1. re: wilafur

              Dinner for three with cocktails maybe for $100 - $150 (not including Sprinkles)

              1. re: Lanyboy

                - italian, vincente in brentwood
                - steaks, mastro's steakhouse in BH (even without alcohol, you might be slightly over budget)
                - french, la cachette in century city (order carefully to stay within budget)
                - persian, sharhzad in westwood, you can eat like kings and stay within budget
                - japanese/french fusion, orris in west la - tapas style, should be around your budget
                - american, nook bistro in west la

                1. re: wilafur

                  Isn't Vicente a fortune? I've been twice and I just don't "get it" -- I think the food and service are below average.

                  1. re: wilafur

                    Vicente, Mastro's, La Cachette are all WAY over OP's budget.

                    Orris on Sawtelle is a fun asian fusion restaurant

                    if you want to be in BH near Sprinkels, Il Pastaiao is great italian and reasonable, also likely to see someone famous. Enoteca Drago next door is a bit pricier, but less cramped

                    1. re: wilafur

                      vincente, mastros, and la cachette will cost multiples of what you want to spend.

                      1. re: westsidegal

                        well, entree's range from $25-50 (with the average entree being @ in the low to mid $30's) at vincenti, la cachette and mastros's. notice i mentioned that the OP should order carefully. one can have a great meal at either locale for $150 for 3 people, just don't order wine or eat like a hog and you'll will be a-ok.

                        costing multiples my ass, one CAN have a good meal at the locations under or within spitting range of the OP's budget.

                        1. re: wilafur

                          I think you and WSGal have good points... Ideally, one can do as you mention: order carefully, don't order any wine (sigh), and keep the things like apps and what-not down to a minimum.

                          My personal problem is that when I decide on dining at an establishment like Vincenti, I really feel I owe it to myself and everyone else not having to pull back. Places like this are for special occasions to me. One app, a shared cheese plate, a glass of wine per (which would probably mean a bottle = $$), entree, and dessert (maybe), and I'm breaking $100 per. Well worth it at places that you folks mention, but I think to meet the expectations one would have for dining at places like Vincenti, La Cachette, or Mastro's, especially for their occasion, pulling back on the meal would leave me wanting. On the way back to UCLA, I'd be heading over to Le Saigon to top off my meal with a bowl of pho.

                          I can see your advice being exceptionally practical for lunch or supper at places in that price range. Personally, I just would want to savor a visit to those places and make it memorable for the kind of occasion that the OP seems to imply - it's not frequent for them or me personally either.

                2. hmmmm... i'll have to think of this more... since there are lots =)

                  but my suggestions for now would be di stefano's in westwood (quaint and cozy italian restaurant on gayley i believe).. it's italian...

                  c & o trattoria (the one closer to the beach) in marina del rey... that place is fun and i believe at 8 pm they sing... =) also the one by the beach has a sake/martini spot across the street (the c&o doesn't have that bar across the street and is some kind of cultural center)....

                  if i was still at ucla, i would prefer to go somewhere that i haven't gone before and preferably out of westwood.... will you be able to ask her roomies where she has gone already?

                  there's also some spots in malibu and santa monica (i think folks on this board like this place called on pico... but i haven't gone... may be pricey)... i like places that have a view... that said, i would try and avoid restaurant row on la cienega... some places are good, but i find that it gets crowded often, and usually isn't in my budget for these types of restaurants... although, i have gone there ocassionally... and i even went to ucla when it was more affordable and yet those other places were a pretty penny... so i would stick to santa monica, pacific palisades, malibu, and marina del rey.....

                  did you want something more casual? more formal? besides price as someone mentioned already, what kind of vibe were you looking for?

                  happy 21st bday to your bruin daughter =)

                  1. Don't go to Il fornaio, and don't go to sprinkles(which you will go to anyway)--Il Pastaio on Canon Dr. isn't bad, it's just somewhat pricey for pasta, but the location is great and then you can walk to sprinkles, ugh...I would recommend a different neighborhood for real quality food, however B.H. is parking friendly and it's cute...

                    My favorite is Table 8 on Melrose--

                    1. One more thing, I believe sprinkles closes early, so double check the time...I can't believe I'm helping you patronize that place...

                      1. When you list "cocktails" as a requirement, then that means to me a full bar and not just beer and wine. If true, then that would eliminate many of the suggestions offered so far. There are full bar options out there that won't exceed your budgetary ceiling. Is a "full bar" a requirement or just beer & wine o.k.?

                        1. I really like Il Moro in West LA (Purdue at Olympic). It's sort of hidden in an office building, but the food is great, and if its warm enough to sit outside, the patio is very nice. If they have the pumpkin ravioli, GET IT.

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: brandygirl

                              Second & Triple That!!! IL MORO is fantastic.....Great for small parties or romantic dinners.....Almost forgot about that place...

                          1. Some of the recommendations seem a little odd for a birthday. While I've enjoyed both Nook Bistro and Orris the location don't scream "birthday meal" to me. Nook is in the corner of a strip mall- which wouldn't deter me from visiting on any other night but not a 21st birthday. And Orris is nice but they definitely don't have mixed drinks and it's crowded unless you go at an off time. C&O is not a special occasion place-plastic patio chairs.

                            You might pick up a cupcake at Dainties before you surprise your daughter. It's on Santa Monica Blvd behind Winchell's doughnuts at Sepulveda. They come in adorable single-cupcake boxes ideal for gift-giving.

                            In Westwood proper Napa Valley Grille is pretty good. It would probably be at your upper range. They have a full bar.

                            Punch Grill might also be good. I went there for my birthday this last year. Entrees look like they're about $13-28 (filet). http://www.punchgrill.com/ It's right on east edge of Santa Monica- about a mile from UCLA.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: jenjunum

                              Great alternate rec on Dainties instead of Sprinkles. While Sprinkles hasn't been getting much love from Chowhounders, I think Dainties satisfies most cravings for a nice cupcake. Rich, not overly sweet, moist, layers of complexity (for a cupcake), whipped cream frosting that is perfectly infused with flavors made from scratch, and the perfect box that is attractive as well as the most practical of any that I've seen for carrying cupcakes. Mango, vanilla, maple, coconut, raspberry, nutella, mint, cappucino, chocolate, and my favorites; caramel, banana, and stupid chocolate. The cupcakes are $3 per, their hours are somewhat limited (10-6 tues-sat) and the cupcakes need to be refrigerated (depending on the weather and how long before they'll be consumed).

                              http://www.daintiescupcakes.com/

                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                Thanks for alternate cupcake recs! I had my first Sprinkles cupcake yesterday when a friend bought a box to work and I can finally add my voice to chorus of naysayers. Yuck. The cake was so dry and overly sweet. Also, such a one-not flavor. I'll have to try Dainties if you say they're a little more complex.

                              2. re: jenjunum

                                I think some places are odd for birthday "party," but the OP is having a birthday "nice dinner college kid can't afford regularly" consisting of two parents and an adult child. That's dinner for three, in which case any of suggestions would be lovely.

                                Be careful with the surprises! My friend's parents surprised her at college on her 21st, only to find she had gone sky diving with her friends. Her roommate let it slip, and she got a phone call from her mom telling her she'd be in serious trouble if she went through with it. Fortunately for mom and unfortunately for friend, they were still on the road so she turned around and came back. What an obedient daughter, huh?

                                Agree with other posters thas Sprinkles is all looks and no substance. Better to have a fancy dessert at dinner (but I guess she might want to share pretty cupcakes with her friends, in which case stick to red velvet and don't get the strawberry--they taste like stale breakfast muffins).

                              3. In Brentwood, Pizzicotto is cute and very reasonable.

                                Sushi's gonna be pricier, but maybe Mako or Sushi Sushi could be done on a budget.

                                It has its naysayers, but I do like Ruth's Chris (personally for the lobster) and like that you can share sides.

                                I like Il Pastaio as others have suggested.

                                In Santa Monica, you might do Fritto Misto or i Cugini; Locando del Lago is another option. Nook or Violet are definitely also worthy of consideration.

                                If you're willing to be adventurous, go over to Fairfax for Ethiopian for a unique 21st. I would also say Dar Maghreb could be entertaining as well, but if her friends are already going out later, it's not necessary...

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Emme

                                  My husband, son and I just celebrated our son's 23rd birthday at Chaya Venice on Navy St. The bill for the three of us with three drinks, a sashimi platter, three appetizers and three entrees was $145. It's a bit loud but I think perfect for your daughter - lots of young people, lively bar scene and a great dinner selection.

                                  1. re: Bria Silbert

                                    Chaya is a wonderful idea. Esp considering there is one in Santa Moncia, and Beverly Hills [ADJACENT].
                                    Italian: my two choices: Pizzicotto, Il Pastaio
                                    Sushi: Chaya, maybe TENGU in SM [new, trendy, hip sushi, might be a tad more $],
                                    Steak: The Palm, Dan Tana's both on SM BLVD, both very interesting scenes... could get $$$ with booze
                                    Mexican is always a great 21! I suggest La Serenata [so close - on pico and westwood blvd!] and for a less food, more party atmosphere Spanish Kitchen on La Cienega.
                                    there are a host of trendy restaurants to try too:
                                    Ketchup on Sunset - trendy comfort/diner food
                                    Republic on La Cienega
                                    Simon in the hotel on La Cienega & Beverly...

                                    Lastly, I think its really nice that you are surprising your daughter for her 21st. I hope you guys have a really FUN time.

                                    1. re: jdwoods

                                      I agree wholeheartedly with the Italian rec's. I just ate at Angelini Osteria last week, and while the food was good, it felt much pricier than the other two and was not much better, if it was better at all. The Papardelle with porcini mushrooms in a venison ragu at Il Pastaio was great. Go for lobster ravioli at Pizzicotto. For Mexican I would say Casablanca in Venice (close to Santa Monica) for great margaritas and tortillas. Either of the Chayas seem like good ideas as well.

                                      Wish your daughter a happy b-day from one bruin family to another.

                                2. Chaya Venice would be perfect - if you can get there, it's just slightly outside of your geographic range.

                                  Trader Vic's is close and should fit the bill. It's got a huge list of fun drinks - volcano bowls, fruity drinks that come with a little rubber Hawaiian hula dancer on them, coconut bowls... I had a really fun office dinner there in December, as well as a great 23rd birthday years earlier. The drinks are really more the attraction, but the food is really good too. It's kind of Asian/Hawaiian/fusion - there's sushi, some starter salads, standard meats & fish, and yummy apps like egg rolls, chicken satay skewers, & bbq pork ribs. All the entrees are in the $20s, then in the $30s for red meat, and about $45 more for lobster items.
                                  www.tradervics.com

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: LisaStitch

                                    Someone just posted that T. Vic's closed.

                                    1. re: tony michaels

                                      Yeah, just saw that, I'm going to go cry in my coconut bowl now.....

                                  2. If dining in Westwood, Tanino on Westwood (part of the Drago family) for Italian, Tengu Sushi across from Palomino's on Lindbrook and Glendon there's a DJ in the middle of the restaurant playing groovy tunes prices are fair for the quality of the fish. I recommend Hal's Bar and Grill in Venice, good food, ambience on the famous Abbot Kinney strip and Jazz nights are Sunday and Monday nights, recommend reservations. Great french fries and bread puddings at Hal's. For BBQ near Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, Try RJ's on Beverly - some nights have live music, food is okay not out of this world but atmosphere is great! Have fun and good luck.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: dshm

                                      Personally, I have to say I don't like RJ's, especially for a special occasion. I like the salad bar, but the sawdust on the floor and "mile high cake for free if you get the trivia question right" components don't scream "Yay 21!" to me. Sorry.

                                      Is Primitivo too expensive in Venice? Definitely agree on Chaya Venice, though it is a bit loud. Perhaps, the new Fraiche in Culver City, with great recent reviews, though I've yet to go myself.

                                      A couple of others that are fun but definitely out of the area:
                                      I went to a great 21 bday at Citizen Smith.
                                      Katana and Koi are young and hip and fun too, but pricier and not the *best* but good for their aimed clientele.
                                      Cobras and Matadors is just good and fun and worth the drive from UCLA!

                                      Happy Happy Birthday to your daughter!!!