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Must Eats in Westside...Not too $$$$

First of all this is my first post to Chowhound. I've tried to look for a similar topic to this, but so far haven't found anything.

I am a recent MBA and finally am back working (and making money). I want to try and visit new, must visit restaurants on the Westside (I live in Santa Monica), but really I'm open to any suggestions in LA. Seeing as I am yet to be rolling in a ton of cash, I'd love to hit up all the places that fall within the category of great food, great atmosphere, but not necessarily $$$$. I am looking for everything from traditional American to all types of ethnic. I've heard good things about a Persian place called Darya (yet to try), Brazilian Bosso Nova, and Peruvian Qosqo. I really like Rustic Canyon, but I'd say it probably falls within the expensive group that sadly I must reserve for a special occasion (aka not all the time).

Sorry for the jumbled message, but in short I'm looking for any restaurant that has great food, great atmosphere, and/or great history to it. I appreciate the help.

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  1. Musha in santa monica is fun, not too expensive, and has a fun izakaya (japanese pub) atmosphere. Violet has good food (small plates) and I like the modern decor. For oaxacan mexican on the westide, I really like Monte Alban, but while the food is great the atmosphere is not great. It's clean and fine and all, but it's basically a hole in the wall in a strip mall setting. People on this board always recommend Nook when these kinds of requests come up, but personally I've yet to eat there. There are a number of great restaurants that are reasonably priced in the Sawtelle little tokyo area. My favorites are Orris and 2117. I was actually pretty disappointed by Qosqo...the atmosphere was nice but the food is only ok. I went once and don't plan on returning. I haven't really had any good Peruvian on the westside.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Nicole

      Just so those who come to this thread later and might look for the Peruvian restaurant under discussion its name is Qusqo. It's at 11633 Santa Monica Blvd. 90025.

      1. re: Nicole

        I second the Orris recommendation. Also, I like Tlapazola Grill on Gateway for Oaxacan. Both of these places are mid-range, as opposed to ultra-cheap. There are oodles of great Japanese in West LA, especially on Olympic, but I'm having a brain fart right now and can't conjure up the names!

        1. re: Nicole

          for peruvian, you need to head to the valley to puro sabor.

          1. re: Nicole

            responding to a zombie thread:

            i normally can't get out of musha for less than ~$30 to $40/pp all in.

          2. there's monte alban for oaxacan
            gilbert's el indio
            lares on pico

            nook bistro
            violet

            shamshiri
            sunnin lebanese cafe
            javan

            bread and porridge
            snug harbor

            on montana,
            babalu
            cafe montana
            17th st cafe
            kreation organic kafe

            agree w/ musha

            the counter
            father's office
            bay cities deli

            6 Replies
            1. re: Emme

              Chorizo and cheese tacos at tacos por favor.
              Isla Bonita taco truck on Rose between 3rd and 4th.
              Oaxacena (sp) truck on Lincoln just south of Rose after 6p.
              HH antojitos (I don't know what the current ones are) at Border Grill. I think the regular menu is overpriced and not memorable, but I like the HH food they used to have (especially the beef brisket taquitos) and the HH mojitos.
              HH food and drinks at Wilshire.

              1. re: Emme

                fwiw, shamshiri grill offers weekday lunch specials at extremely reasonable prices.

                  1. re: westsidegal

                    Are they finally done for?? Seems like only a few weeks ago, while at TJ's I saw the neon light still shining. Oh well, another one bites the dust.

                    1. re: Phurstluv

                      Bite Bar & Bakery is in the space where Violet was!

                      -----
                      Bite Bar & Bakery
                      3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405

                      1. re: mollyomormon

                        Aaaah, right, right, right!!! Thought it looked familiar!! Thanks for the reality check MollyO!!

                1. You've got a lot to work with here!

                  I'll put in a good word for Musha and it's a lot of fun.

                  Violet makes good food, but I have a hard time recommending that place. First, while I like the look of the decor, the acoustics are awful and it sounds like you're eating in an echo chamber/wind tunnel. Also, check out the website. The owner chef is the definition of a douche. Sorry to be crass but it's true. That said, the food is nice if not inventive and they have a great deal on Monday nights -- 3 course prix fixe for $25 and a refillable wine glass for $10 more.

                  Nook is kind of like Violet without all the crap. Good solid comfort food done well in a clean and modern space. I've always had very good, though never truly outstanding, meals there.

                  Monte Alban is a must try, unless you are averse to Oaxacan food, for no other reason than to see if all the love it gets on this board is justified (it is).

                  Guelaguetza is also another excellent Oaxacan choice but has lost favor to Monte Alban to many. It's still excellent though and you might like a point of comparison.

                  Tlapazola Grill is great! I'll second mandelabra's rec. You should be warned that this is more of a Oaxacan bistro than a traditional Oaxacan restaurant. They have the best tequila list I've seen, too.

                  Orris is just a great little restaurant. Small plates of franco-japanese fusion food that actually works with a smart little wine list. Some plates are excellent and memorable. Others are just okay. You might strike out now and again but I really like what they do there. No reservations taken so go early, go on an off-night, or be prepared for a short wait.

                  Torafuku is wonderful if you like Japanese rice. It's nearly a fetish at this restaurant but I love the dishes here and the sake flight is nice. They do have some sushi, although it's not their calling card.

                  Place on Sawtelle has been my favorite izakaya for years before I knew what the hell izakaya was. Not as fun or as inventive as Musha but has great food, very reliable sushi, and is much more mellow.

                  For ramen, please stay away from Sawtelle. All of the ramen-yas there are just a small step above packaged stuff. You really must try Santouka in the Mitsuwa mall on Venice and Centinella. I strongly prefer the shio broth to the shoyu, but to each his own. Santouka has by far the best ramen on the westside and it's no contest either.

                  I like Darya and I think you will, too. However, I prefer Javan just down the road a bit. Shamshiri Grill is nice, too, but I choose Javan over it every time unless I'm with a vegetarian. If you like Persian kabobs then I think Flame does the best job with those, just not anything else.

                  Sunnin is great for a quick bite, although some posters have claimed they had their falafel reheated in the microwave. Keep you eyes peeled and if they try that then ask for fresh ones. I should note I've never seen this happen and I've been maybe 20 times. They have my favorite hummos and they have a nice baked kibbeh dish, as well as the deep fried iteration.

                  Everything wolfgang said is right on. {The truck on Oaxaquena on Lincoln and Rose and it's probably my favorite in town}. I would add the Juquila truck on Stoner in the evenings (right by the park). They do a nice job and the serve a great atole there which is perfect for dessert, especially as the weather get cooler. Also, wolfgang mentions some great happy hours. Other budget friendly options can be found at Josie's and Jirafe when they offer reasonably priced prix fixe menus. Check out their websites for detials.

                  I'd also add El Super Taco, right next to Monte Alban for some nice tacos. (They have a new location on Olympic near the 405, too.) Get the clayuda there. It's heavenly.

                  While I'm a huge Father's Office fan, everything else on Montana is just not good. It's so painfully average. Maybe Pradeeps is okay *if* you walk in knowing that it's Cal-Indian food and not traditional. It's tasty, it's just not what most people want when they think Indian.

                  Two Indian places that are good are Annapurna's on Venice and Ambala Dhaba on Westwood (right next to Sunnin). Annapurna's is Southern Indian and is a must try for the dosas and the coconut chutney. Ambala Dhaba does some excellent channa masala, kulchas, okra, and *goat*.

                  And Bay Cities does have my favorite sandwiches around. Avoid the lunch rush if you can. You can also fax in orders for pick-up to save yourself from the mob.

                  Metro Cafe in Culver City does some interesting Serbian dishes.

                  There are more but I'm out of gas.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Frommtron

                    Nice rundown for us newbs, frommtron!!

                    1. re: Frommtron

                      I agree, Santouka isthe ONLY place to go for ramen in the westside

                      -----
                      Santouka
                      3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                      1. re: yinyang

                        I went to Ramen Yamadaya and I would put it on par with Santouka.

                        -----
                        Santouka
                        3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                        Ramen Yamadaya
                        3118 W 182nd St, Torrance, CA 90504

                        1. re: Frommtron

                          Excellent words by Frommtron...

                          2011 update:

                          Violet is dead and gone. Even its successor, Bite Bar, has come and gone(?)
                          Nook is less popular now, and Westside Tavern has stolen a lot of its thunder.
                          Santouka #7 ramen is still the best Westside ramen.
                          Metro Cafe is still rockin'.
                          The mob scene at Bay Cities is unbearable.

                          -----
                          Santouka
                          3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                          Westside Tavern
                          10850 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                          1. re: J.L.

                            I like this thread, and I really like Frommtron's great summary of go-to WS spots.
                            Smashingly great list! Espec. when combined with the list in all the other posts in the thread.

                            Quick Hits, updates and my own silly takes -
                            I like Upperwest, which is at 3321 pico, good drinks, good (not incredible) food, good HH prices, and nice folks.

                            The Six on pico just east of the WS pavillion is great for a bar with good food - a low key gastropub is probably about right if I had to peg what it is. I've just had snacks there which were good but everyone around me was happy with the larger dishes they were having.

                            Agree with Place Yuu (mentioned above as Place) for casual, solid Izakaya, less $$ than musha and good all around

                            Guelaguetza in Palms is closed, but I think Monte Alban has better Oaxacan food than this branch of GG had...

                            For Bay Cities, the trick which saves the place for me is to just grab a sandwich from the baskets on top of the deli case (Godmothers, hot or mild) or from the cooler to the left of the deli when you enter (turkey and other combos), chips, drinks, and then just pay and go. I'm in and out in < 5 minutes even on peak weekends. Parking turns over faster than you might think - it's really not a problem. And the Godmother's are simply one of the best things in this town for me.

                            Tender Greens in CC is also always solid, their special desserts always rock, too, and good value given the quality, nice folks and the overall experience.

                            For what I'd consider traditional american, I still really like the Nook. Better follow through, quality and more interesting food than any other spot like it in the area - I like the feel of Westside Tavern and it's nice near the windows on an afternoon, but food is >> for me at Nook.

                            So many spots and so much variety, this list could go on forever.

                            -----
                            Monte Alban
                            11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                            Place Yuu
                            2101 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                            Westside Tavern
                            10850 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                            Tender Greens
                            6290 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

                        2. ... And don't forget Sawtelle's "Little Osaka"!

                          1. Thanks everyone. I've definitely got a very full list of ethnic restaurants to try. Any more traditionally American places? I'd also love to find some hole in the walls or restaurants that are not necessarily trendy too. For example I really like Bagel Nosh in Santa Monica. Thanks again for all the suggestions.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: bobrayburn

                              You might want to try Cora's Coffee Shop too in Santa Monica.

                              1. re: Emme

                                Cora's Coffeee Shop was great for years..classic breakfast joint till Marder bought it and ruined it with $15 omelettes.

                                1. re: lapizzamaven

                                  You're kidding, Marder runs it?? Oh, forget it, I was planning on trying it , now no longer.

                                  1. re: Phurstluv

                                    Oh dear, I love Cora's. I don't think I could ever stomach the prices at Capo, but I love brunch at Cora's and always take out of town visitors there. I don't think $12 for an omelette there is out of line for pricing in the neighborhood.

                                    http://www.corascoffee.com/03_menu.html

                                  2. re: lapizzamaven

                                    Just can't get with this place. Tried it several times and get annoyed every time because it's just not very good and they charge so much. Head up to Pico and Broadway and go to Swingers. They serve a surprisingly good breakfast at good prices though the music might be a little much for some.

                                2. re: bobrayburn

                                  Nook's already been recommended here but if we're talking about solid American food, you have to go. It really has no equal when it comes to American comfort food (with a twist).