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Low-Budget California Cuisine - Oxymoron?

We're planning a weekend getaway to LA and would like to sample "california cuisine." We're looking for casual places with great-tasting food that won't break the bank. (We're not necessarily looking for "the best of"-sorts of places, just restaurants that serve meals that leave a smile on your face.) Also, we don't drink alcohol, so places where the wine selection is one of the main draws might not work for us.

Our searches of the LA Board for California cuisine discusssions are leaving us feeling that there is no cheap-eats option in this category. Are we wrong?

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  1. I think California cuisine is an outmoded term. If you search for Local or sustainable or organic, maybe you'll find the current versions of this style.
    Are there any types of dishes you have in mind when you say California cuisine, or areas you will be based in?
    I would suggest trying places like M Cafe de Chaya, BLD, Square One Dining, Clementine's, Joans on Third for casual dining using top-notch ingredients. And try to hit Loteria in the Farmer's Market for Mexican and some Japanese and other Asian places --now THAT's real Calfornia cuisine.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chowpatty

      Thanks for the suggestions - of places to check out and of different terms to search with. We've seen the term california (or californian) cuisine listed in guidebooks and on websites (like menupages and urbanspoon), so we assumed it was still pretty widely used.

      1. re: racer x

        It's only really used in print media. You go up to your friends and ask them what they want for lunch and say "Are you in the mood for Thai?" or "Feeling like Mexican?" No one ever says, "How 'bout we do Californian?"

    2. While the progenitors of California Cuisine like Campanile and Spago (and current stalwarts like Cut) will certainly not be low budget, I think it's important to note that the aesthetic and sensibility of that style has trickled down to more low-key places.

      Would you consider the prices at Jar to be beyond your budget?

      And while you don't drink alcohol, there's a beer pub in Santa Monica called Father's Office that's famed for their burger. Just in the same way that pizza was radically altered 20 years ago, it's the burger's turn, and so you should get in on the ground floor of the "gourmet burger" movement by dropping into FO for a visit. Also, the rest of the menu is pretty good.

      1. If you'll be near the westside, Axe and the lounge at Beechwood are two not-too-pricey options. And although Orris is not Californian food, it embodies the creative fusion cuisine that LA is well known for.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Nook Bistro has consistently good food, service, and value. Check out their online menu and if the offerings and prices are attractive, definitely make a reservation. They are located in the back corner of a minimall on the S/E corner of Santa Monica Blvd. at Barry (one block east of Barrington) in West L.A., close to Santa Monica or Beverly Hills, far from Downtown or Pasadena.

          2. Opus on Wilshire near Western would be one good example. While they used to feature a tasting menu you now have to ask / request it. $10 per course, which is a steal. The prices on menupages will be slightly out of date, but should be close.


            1 Reply
            1. re: Servorg

              I'm pretty sure Opus did away with the tasting menu completely -- nonetheless, their regular menu items are affordable and tasty as well.


            2. 26 Beach

              James Beach

              A Votre Sante or Sante La Brea



              Urth Caffe


              Newsroom Cafe

              17th St. Cafe

              Off Vine


              more pricey: Jiraffe, Lucques, Table 8, Maple Drive

              4 Replies
              1. re: Emme

                Netty's is gone, as is Maple Drive...but Urth is always good for out-of-towners -- a triple dose of starlets, good coffee and food.

                1. re: Chowpatty

                  when did netty's go... and yes maple is gone... brain fart, but it was too pricey anyways :)

                  1. re: Emme

                    It closed around a year ago -- Netty's is being remodeled into Reservoir, which is supposed to be a little more upscale -- just what we need, more expensive restaurants. But the remodeling is going pretty slowly. A construction guy told me around New Year's, but who knows.

                    1. re: Chowpatty

                      Good to know, since I hadn't been there in a REALLY long time...

                      A few more ideas...

                      Figtree's Cafe

                      Coral Tree Cafe


                      Joan's on Third

                      Surfas Cafe

                      Blue on Blue

                      Table 8


                      Ocean and Vine


                      Pinot Bistro

              2. “Low-Budget California Cuisine.” “...casual places with great-tasting food that won't break the bank.”

                Cowabunga! I understand because too many times people think you have to sit in some “trendy” kind of place and pay Big Bucks to “Be $omebody” to enjoy real “California Cuisine” – No Way. I am going to give you the real deal of Cal-fusion with the flavors, presentations, and freshness which are the basis of making the food style worthy of attention. However, these are not classy sit-down restaurants but niehborhood places that serve a ton of food for a reasonable price.

                Breakfast. Goat cheese Omelette w/ spinach and a large selection of outstanding coffees – the Peach Café. You can do the search if you want but this is good stuff – fresh!

                Peach Café (Goat Cheese Omelette w Spinach & Scallions, Café Blueberry Cakes w/ a hint of orange, Crescent French Toast)
                141 E Colorado Blvd
                Monrovia, CA 91606
                (626) 599-9092

                For lunch or dinner think of salad or pizza
                These two salads are must see / must have items

                Chinese Chicken Salad
                California Chicken Café (Chinese Chicken Salad is as Cal / LA & Chinese fusion as can be. IMO, I have had the rest – this one is the best)
                424 Lincoln Boulevard (South of Rose, North of Venice Boulevard)
                Venice, CA 90291 SEE the link for 7 locations
                (310) 392-3500
                Open Mon thu Sat – Delivery Closed Sunday.
                California Chicken Cafe 7 locations & menu

                Asada and Avocado Totasda (a salad / meal, in a large tortilla bowl) and a Kobe Bistro Burger.
                Tops (The Asada Totasda is a large salad with very good freshly marinated asada and excellent field greens. This salad is topped with half of a thinly sliced avocado. Also very good here is the ½ lb. Kobe Bistro burger )
                3838 E Colorado Blvd (Between Rosemead Blvd. And Michillinda)
                Pasadena, CA 91107-3940
                (626) 449-4412

                My post on Tops Kobe burger

                Hey, Take a drive South along the coast through Huntington Beach and stop for lunch or dinner at the Pizza Bakery in Newport Beach.
                Pizza Bakery (Thin crust pies & Slices. NY / California style -try the Margarita, Chevre and Long Island pizzas)
                1741 Westcliff Dr,
                Newport Beach, CA 92660
                (949) 631-1166

                1. I'll second recommendations for Opus, Clementine, Violet, Urth Cafe, Peach Cafe & Coral Tree Cafe.

                  Others I'll throw into the mix are Marston's in Pasadena, Doughboys (though a bit more homestyle than Californian) and Breadbar. I've also heard good things about Meltdown etc. and Ugo Italian Cafe in Culver City, but haven't been yet.


                  1. I seconds Urth Caffe and Joan's on Third. I would recommebr Breadbar as well.

                    1. links (LTAP is working again!!!)

                      Opus Bar & Grill
                      3760 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010

                      Nook Bistro
                      11628 Santa Monica Blvd Ste 9, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                      Father's Office
                      1018 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403

                      26 Beach
                      3100 Washington Blvd., Venice, CA 90292

                      945 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                      Jar Restaurant
                      8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048

                      Jiraffe Restaurant
                      502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401

                      BLD Restaurant
                      7450 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                      Blair's Restaurant
                      2903 Rowena Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039

                      3221 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                      Square One Dining
                      4854 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029

                      Surfas Restaurant & Supply
                      8777 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                      Urth Caffe
                      8565 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069

                      Joan's On Third
                      8436 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048

                      Stanley's Restaurant
                      13817 Ventura Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91423

                      Loteria Grill
                      6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                      Beechwood - duplicate
                      822 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015

                      Off Vine
                      6263 Leland Way, Los Angeles, CA 90028

                      Coral Tree Cafe
                      6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 91303

                      Table 8
                      7661 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                      1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

                      A Votre Sante
                      13016 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049

                      M Cafe De Chaya
                      7119 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                      James Beach
                      60 N Venice Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

                      2138 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA

                      Newsroom Cafe
                      120 N Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048

                      17th St Cafe
                      1610 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403

                      Figtree's Cafe
                      429 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291

                      Blue On Blue Restaurant
                      9400 West Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212

                      Ocean and Vine
                      1700 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401

                      8474 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90069

                      1. And more links

                        Marston's Restaurant
                        151 E Walnut St, Pasadena, CA 91103

                        The Original Tops
                        3838 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107

                        8136 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048

                        Pizza Bakery
                        1741 Westcliff Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

                        Pinot Bistro
                        12969 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604

                        8718 W 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048

                        Peach Cafe
                        141 E Colorado Blvd, Monrovia, CA 91016

                        California Chicken Cafe
                        424 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291