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Jul 1, 2002 06:20 PM

birthday dinner--help!!

  • t

I am new to L.A. and have had the hardest time finding good restaurants (is there anything to eat in this town besides California Pizza Kitchen?). I am taking my boyfriend out to dinner tomorrow night for his birthday and need a semi-reasonably priced restaurant with good food and lots of ambience. I'm looking to spend around $100 for two, either downtown or in the Santa Monica/Westwood/Brentwood area. Does anyone know of a restaurant that has great food (Italian? Sushi? anything but French), is kind of funky and is "special" enough to go for a birthday dinner?
I will be forever grateful for your suggestions. :)

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  1. Well, Teresa, you caught us. You're right this board is a sham. There is nothing to eat here besides California Pizza Kitchen.

    In Santa Monica, try Drago's.

    Modern, not too fussy and within your price range.

    Although Cafe Four Oaks is kinda frenchy, it's more fusion than classic french. Quite nice and a good setting for a birthday for two. Without wine, definitely within price range.
    They have a website with links to menu, etc.


    5 Replies
    1. re: Jerome

      Also, if you want funky, check out Chez Jay. I like the sand dabs, and the bloody mary's are pretty good.

      Caveat: It's not anything like haute cuisine, just traditional California style steaks and beach fare and salads. But it's fun.


      1. re: Jerome

        Thanks for the suggestions. Didn't mean to insult L.A. restaurants--I know I just haven't found the right places yet. Does anybody have any suggestions for places that are a little more off the beaten path? Less haute cuisine and more great food in a quirky/artsy environment? Sorry I'm being a pain . . .

        1. re: Teresa

          Artsy with great food might lead you to AXE (pronounced AH-SHAY) on Abbott Kinney in Venice. The space is cool, minimalist yet rustic -- concrete floors, wood ceilings and simple lighting. The food is whole, organic and simple without being either prissy or afraid of flavor. It's the kind of place that seems like it could be vegetarian but (thankfully) it isn't; the lamb is excellent and if they have it the sake marinated filet mignon is terrific. That said, the salads and vegetables are also excellent, with most preparations using fresh herbs. There are interesting and well-chosen moderately priced wines from California and France. The desserts can be spectacular, simple things done extremely well.

          Four Oaks and Drago are nice but really for an older, more sedate crowd. It was hard to tell if your California Pizza Kitchen remark indicated that you frequented that place or that it was just a typical example of the McFoodification that swamps the Southland (and the whole damn world).

          1. re: Fidelixi

            For "artsy"and "quirky" you could also try Vida on Hillhurst in Los Feliz -- though I find them to be a bit hit or miss. Nice space, friendly staff -- and heck, one New Year's they did a picnic theme and covered the floor with sod. Then, for some after dinner entertainment, you can check out the classic warblings of Marty and Elayne at the Dresden room on Vermont.

            Hirozen on Beverly Blvd has Japanese food artfully prepared, and often some interesting specials. They have sushi and many other dishes. If you want straight sushi -- so many choices! One of my recent favorites is Katsu-Ya in Studio City -- they've got great fish and some fun combinations you could never get at Nozawa.

            If you're up for driving -- and aren't a vegetarian -- the Saddle Peak Lodge can be fun in its own, odd way. Lots of exotic meats; lots of dead animals on the walls staring down at you.

            For plain old quirky, there are TONS of options for a lot less than $100. Thai food with a Thai Elvis impersonator? Thailand Plaza. Szechwan hot pot, where you cook your own food in hot pots filled with blisteringly spicy broth? Lu Gi in San Gabriel. Name what kind of quirky you're after, and I'll bet it's somewhere in L.A.....

            Hope this helps!

            1. re: Fidelixi

              I think Axe is a great choice described perfectly by Fidelixi. I'd also recommend R-23 which you ask about above. It's true it's not the very very best sushi bar in L.A. but it's damn good -- and has one of the most chic locations and interiors in L.A. It's getting a little bit ragged around the edges but where else can you eat on Frank Gehry cardboard chairs in a converted warehouse space on a sidestreet in the downtown "arts district"? Also, if you're looking for more of a scene , you might try Cafe Stella in Silverlake. It can get crowded and obnoxious -- espec. on a wkend -- but personally I like the Silverlake hipster rock-and-roll take on a Paris cafe. Very atmospheric. Decently priced French food gets pretty high marks on this board... or did you say no French?

      2. I'd go to Tanino (it's Italian) in Westwood.

        1. Gee, so many choices. I like Woo Lae Oak, Korean BBQ, lovely room, great food, on Western. There's also a Woo Lae Oak on La Cienega/border of Bev. Hills., slightly different menu (good in a different way).

          I had a birthday party one year in Prado, an "artsy" room, Caribbean style food. Everyone loved it. Nothing fancy or expensive.

          Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills is a place I often take friends. The room is loud, the food is excellent -- sort of Asian/fusion/eclectic/trendy, (I just ignore the trendy, this place would be my first choice).

          Bombay Cafe on Pico in West L.A., Indian food, americanized but in a good way (never thought I'd say that). Nice room, excellent food.


          1. cha cha cha is a fun quirky place. they serve great caribbean food (the jerk chicken is very yummy :) and the sangria is great.). while it's not in downtown, it's very close by, less than 10 minutes away in silver lake/hollywood (at melrose and virgil). it's nothing fancy, but special enough for a birthday celebration.