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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?
      http://www.thejar.com/jar_menu.html

      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.

            http://losangeles.menupages.com/resta...

            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.

              ~H.C.
              http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com