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westside produce-driven restaurants?

  • r

We'll be in LA next week staying in Century City, escaping the unending dregs of a vile midwestern winter. I'm dying to taste fresh, local produce (that isn't a stored turnip) and hoping for some tips on nearby places (low end, mid end, even higher mid end, any kind of food) that really feature local stuff. We'll have a car, though, with our limited knowledge of LA geography, perhaps we shouldn't try to venture too far away.

Thanks LA chowhounds!

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  1. Well... honestly, you can do it without spending lots of dough at a fancy-pants restaurant -- just go to the Wednesday morning farmers' market in Santa Monica (3rd and Arizona) or the Sunday morning market in Hollywood (one block from Hollywood and Vine).

    If you prefer your produce cooked, though, Josie (on Pico and Cloverfield in Santa Monica) has their weekly market menu on Wednesday night, featuring food bought at the Wednesday morning market. Last I checked it was $35 prix fixe for three courses.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Josie, as Das Ubergeek noted, has a special Wednesday Farmer's Market tasting menu but utilizes the local produce throughout the rest of the week as well. Anisette and Wilshire in Santa Monica both take good advantage of the S.M. Farmer's Market. Craft, in Century City itself, also utilizes the fresh and (sometimes) local.

      1. re: New Trial

        I would also add Fig; the new restaurant in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica.


    2. Check out Nook in West LA and Jiraffe in Santa Monica. Both offer simple, seasonal, market-driven menus at a mid-range price. They're both also easily accessible from Century City I've also heard good things about Wilshire in Santa Monica but haven't yet had the chance to try it myself. On the low end, any taqueria or truck worth its salt will be making salsa from fresh veggies and guacamole from the incredible avocados we seem to have year around. I recommend Tacomiendo, which is probably my favorite taqueria in West LA.

      1. Tender Greens in Culver City is all about the produce - big salads and entree plates for around $10 each. The menu says the entrees come with salad and mashed potatoes, but you can sub grilled veggies for the potatoes - what they're grilling varies by season. This is probably my favorite "healthy" meal in all of L.A. - I'm not even a salad fan, but their baby spinach salad is fantastic.

        Tender Greens
        9523 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

        4 Replies
        1. re: Vaya Con Carne

          Second that, their salads are awesome, but expect a long line at lunchtime! Also, lunch is good at the Napa Valley Grille, in Westwood, where my husband's office is. Great soup/salad/1/2 sandwich prices, plus a sustainable/organics menu. Never too crowded.

          1. re: Vaya Con Carne

            When TG first established themselves, I got a strong sense from posters that they'd be a flash in the pan, but they just keep chugging along at full steam. I'm not in this area during the week very often, but we occasionally head over on the weekends, before/after catching a movie. Everyone in our family enjoys different things on their relatively small menu. Our son is nine and our daughter is six and picky as heck, so I give TG high marks for being able to satisfy them.

            1. re: Vaya Con Carne

              i ate at tender greens over the weekend.
              it is true that they serve a nice salad, but imho, it is not such a revelation that i would make it a destination for a visitor.
              there are lines at dinnertime too.
              you stand in line, place your order, and carry your own tray to the table.
              the greens are done well, but maybe my appetite is unusually large, but 2 hours later i was looking for more food. clearly they believe that the salads are entree sized--but that is not the case for me.
              i much prefer 26 beach restaurant.

              1. re: westsidegal

                I never really considered that two-hour window, but I think you're right. We usually head over to Grand Casino Bakery afterwards to p/u some alfajores or facturas. I'm guessing that inadvertently pushes that two-hour window to three or four...

            2. If you're heading over to the general Venice area, check out either Joe's or Axe (ah-chay). Joe's is far more upscale, while Axe is more casual Californian. Both menus are market-driven and tend to source their produce from a small group of local growers. Joe's menu tends to more more narrowly focused, while Axe offers a lot of choices for carnivores, omnivores, and vege/vegans alike.

              Joe's Restaurant
              1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

              1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

              1. You can't do better than Craft right in Century City. Everything is a la carte and I always order quite a few vegetable dishes. Unlike the typical restaurant, I appreciate not being restricted to whatever vegetables the restaurant happens to throw in with the main course. Craft does a great job with local produce and the salads are also delicious. Try the Shishito Peppers -- I'm guessing they are not easily found on your typical Midwestern menu.

                P.S. They just changed the lounge area and outside seating of Craft to a less formal, less expensive menu. However, I'm guessing that if you opt for that part of Craft and ask nicely, they will bring you the regular menu as well and you'll be able to order vegetable dishes from either the regular menu or from the "Craftbar" menu.

                1. A seasonal salad from Father's Office. I think they have the best, most elegant salads in this part of town.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jaykayen

                    They really are fantastic salads. I had the duck confit salad again this weekend and it really is one of the best salads I have ever had. The duck is insanely good.

                  2. You can do better than all of these if you're willing to drive down to San Diego (get on the 405 south, which merges with the 5 south; exit east at Carmel Valley Road, then quickly north a couple of blocks on El Camino Real to the big Marriott) and have dinner at Bradley Long-Departed Ogden's Arterra. They get their fruit and vegetables at Chino Farm, one of America's great produce providers located just a few miles away. Recommended: ask them for a vegetarian tasting menu, then add a couple of interesting meat or seafood choices from the regular menu. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sbritchky

                      Arterra has been hit and miss. Much better choice is Market, Carl Schroeder's restaurant which I'm sure uses Chino's as well. Great service and food.

                    2. Tender Greens was mentioned - they're all about fresh salads - great place for that. They're located in Downtown Culver City a somewhat new hotbed for restaurants in the Westside. Just a heads-up for out-of-towners - driving through here is kinda treacherous as the signals are many, the intersections are confusing and some cross at diagonals. Street parking is somewhat slim, but you can park in the public parking structures for little or no charge.

                      A couple of other places to consider that have dishes with strong local produce influences are Akasha and M Cafe de Chaya. They both exude "California" with their eclectic menu items and strong emphasis on vegetarian and vegan cuisine.

                      9543 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                      M Cafe De Chaya
                      9343 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Agree about M Cafe de Chaya, but just know that it is not a vegetarian restaurant; they serve fish. The M in M Cafe de Chaya is "macrobiotic" -- so they eschew very "hot" vegetables (nightshades, basically), all dairy, and all refined sugar.

                        That said, the fish is very easy to identify and avoid (it comes in the form of slabs of salmon in the cold case), and all else is vegan.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          Thanks for clarifying - your post last year led my to try and enjoy M, and my extreme vegan sister thanks you as well.

                      2. I believe Gjelina also boasted local ingredients. I remember "Monterey Bay Squid" , greens from Coleman farms.
                        They have small plates, salads, pizza

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: burumun

                          i second the gjelina recommendation.
                          their vegetable dishes are out-of-this-world

                        2. if you are going to the venice/marina del rey area, i would stop at 26 beach restaurant and order any of their terrific entree salads. the salads run about $15 or so, the restaurant is pretty, and you can make a reservation. also, they offer a decent assortment of wines by the glass.

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: westsidegal

                            I guess I wouldn't think of 26 Beach as particularly focused on local, seasonal produce given that their menu is pretty much the same every time I've gone, regardless of the season. Am I wrong?

                            1. re: mollyomormon

                              their entree salads are always packed full of top-quality produce . i think of 26 beach as much more produce-driven than i do jiraffe or anisette which, as do most french restaurants, drench all greens/vegetables with large amounts of oil or butter which, imho, completely masks the true flavor of the produce. what does it matter if the produce is local or not if it is sitting under 1/4 pound of melted butter? the op can buy butter at home.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                i do think it matters to some people whether the produce is local and seasonal (like OP). i try to eat both to the extent that i can, even if it's drowned in a 1/4 pound of butter ;).

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  I see your point, WSG, but it seems like you have a different understanding of what a produce-driven menu means. Traditionally, it implies that the contents of the menu are determined by what's available seasonally at the market. I just don't see how it's possible for a restaurant that never changes its menu to meet that definition even if they use top-quality produce.

                                  That said, I can see why the OP might be interested in recommendations of places that do veggies well regardless of whether the menu is produce-driven. That reminds me -- on the low end there's the veggie Ethiopian at Rahel. I think she could spice more aggressively, but there's no denying the quality of her produce.

                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                    living in southern california, there is normally a tremendous variety of produce available that is 'in season' most of the year;
                                    this is not the case in the midwest, from where rose1 comes.
                                    it is very possible to have a broad produce driven menu here with very little seasonal change.

                                    having lived in the northeast, i did make the assumption that rose1 was not interested in stewed, butter-soaked vegetables because that was what was normally done during the northeast winters to disguise the poor quality of the produce.

                                    if you put enough butter on stewed clumps of dryer lint it would taste similar to some of the vegetables that were served during the northeast winters.

                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                      As someone who is also from the midwest originally, I guess I just assumed that rose1 meant what she said when she asked for a menu that was produce-driven. When I think of produce-driven, I definitely think of places whose menus change to reflect the seasons and I think you'll acknowledge that 26 Beach's remains basically the same year-round.

                                2. re: mollyomormon

                                  the entree salads have always been composed of top-quality produce.
                                  the array of salads they serve encompasses much more excellent quality produce than does the french-influenced butter drenched food served at jiraffe, anissette, and manof the other restaurants

                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                    I wasn't implying they didn't use good produce, only that the menu never appears to be driven by what's local and seasonal. I would disagree that the quality of the produce is superior to the stuff I've had at Jiraffe or Anisette, though. Anisette is clearly sourcing from the SaMo farmer's market and that really doesn't appear to be the case to me at 26 Beach. In no way am I saying anything bad about 26 Beach's food, I just don't think it fits the bill for what the OP is seeking.

                                    1. re: mollyomormon

                                      pls note elissainplaya's list of all the vegetables that are in season NOW.

                                      virtually every vegetable found in the 26 beach salads can be found on that list.

                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                        Right. I guess where we're missing each other is that virtually all of those vegetables can also be found on 26 Beach's menu in July or November as well as now, which indicates to me that the menu is not seasonally driven.

                                    2. re: westsidegal

                                      I don't think of the food at Jiraffe as butter-drenched. Regardless, the chef is also a fixture at the SM farmer's market -- I've seen him there myself. It's the very definition of a seasonal, market-driven menu.

                                3. Here is a list of the produce that is in season now, in So Cal

                                  Blood Oranges,
                                  Navel Oranges,
                                  Dates, Medjool
                                  Onion, Green
                                  Passion Fruit
                                  Peas, Green

                                  Lots of great recommendations from the other posters. In general, if you are at a good restaurant, and order the produce that is in season, it will be tasty! I.e. don't order eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, expecting them to be great. They will taste like styrofoam.

                                  If you have time for breakfast or lunch at Clementine (across from the Century City mall) - go! I also recommend sipping seasonal cocktails outside on the Hungry Cat's patio. Lucques Sunday Supper ($42 for 3 courses) is always interesting and seasonal too. As someone else mentioned, Father's Office is a great place for salad's (and beer, of course:)

                                  The Hungry Cat
                                  1535 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028

                                  1751 Ensley Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024

                                  8474 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90069

                                  Father's Office
                                  3229 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034

                                  26 Replies
                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                      Yes, incredible fava beans right now! Sham is a great place to order them -- full of garlicky goodness.

                                      1. re: Phurstluv

                                        blushes and shamefully admits that she has never tasted Fava Beans....

                                      2. re: ElissaInPlaya

                                        Yum, yes! Clementine is a great rec! Their entire salad case is seasonally-based. I can't wait for grilled cheese month to start in April...

                                        1. re: mollyomormon

                                          I third that Clementine rec, though I didn't realize the salads were seasonal.

                                          1. re: a_and_w

                                            They are, which is both a blessing and a curse since I've grown really attached to certain salads and then been really distraught when the seasons changed and they were taken off the menu...

                                        2. re: ElissaInPlaya

                                          Saw some green garlic already. Also had some fantastic blood oranges and Lee Mandarins this weekend. Strawbs still have those white shoulders - I forget the name of the variety that is everywhere right now - those huge one s that appear to be on steroids. Some are decent on the fragrance scale, but still lack the depth and sweetness. Hopefully this run of warmer weather will make those and other crops improve...

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            We got some from Harry's Berries this weekend that were actually delicious, but I'm sure they'll only get better as the season continues.

                                            1. re: mollyomormon

                                              I'm glad to hear that their strawbs are swingin' - Harry's are some of the best. We haven't made it to the farmers market on Arizona for a while - I really need to get there this week. You wouldn't happen to remember the variety, would you? Thanks.

                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                I got some exceptional navel oranges and sweet limes last Wednesday.

                                                1. re: a_and_w

                                                  Citrus in general is really kickin' right now. I've seen some pomelos lately but have yet to try them - did you happen to see any on wednesday?

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                    I'm not familiar enough to recognize pomelos by sight. How do they taste like and what should I look for?

                                                    1. re: a_and_w

                                                      Pomelos look like gigantic grapefruit - usually with yellow or greenish skin. The flesh can be yellow to pink. They taste like a really sweet juicy grapefruit - lower on acidity.

                                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                                        Saw a few booths selling pomelos this AM - one with at least three varieties. Meant to p/u some on the way back to the parking lot - they're big and heavy, but got sidetracked and forgot to get some!

                                                        Folks who are used to this fruit in Asia and the Middle East, swear that the pomelos here aren't as juicy or flavorful, but I've had some in Asia, and comparing them to what I had here in LA toward the end of last year, I'd say it was a toss-up. If you like grapefruit, you should fall in love with pomelo...

                                                2. re: bulavinaka

                                                  Damn, I wish I could. I'll be back next weekend for more (which I'm sure will be even better) and I'll let you know.

                                                  1. re: mollyomormon

                                                    Thanks - I think Gaviota and Seascape are their two most popular varieties when the season is in full-swing. Gaviota being sweeter, Seascape being more fragrant. I may have a window of opportunity tomorrow morning - I'll get back to you on that if I make it. Thanks again.

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                      Mollyo, the variety of strawbs at Harry's is,"Gaviota." Huge beautiful deep red specimens at the Santa Monica FM this morning. They were charging $15/3-pak tray - as much as twice what others were asking. But after sampling one, I can't believe how good a strawberry could be after this long drawn out abnormally cool coastal weather we've been having. Well worth the price - almost as good as April or May strawbs.

                                                      According to them, the other variety they normally sell, "Seascape," should be ready in a week or two, as long as the weather holds. The flavor and fragrance is more intense, the fruit is smaller - great for fruit salads and shortcake.

                                                      1. re: bulavinaka

                                                        Picked up a box of these from Harry's today. They're some of the reddest, juiciest, sweetest strawberries I've ever had. I always freeze some of my purchase for smoothies, but it felt like a crime given how perfect these berries are. Thanks for the tip!

                                                        Regarding citrus, it's not even Valencia season yet but they're really juicy and sweet. I also grabbed a pomelo and will let you know what I think.

                                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                                          Like you, I start this FM at the east entrance. After eying Harry's stuff, I kept in mind how deep, lush and fresh those berries were. I walked the entire market, and I had to rank those ahead of everything else I saw and tried. I think aside from just giving their plants everything they need for a quality fruit, I think they leave their berries on the "vine" a little longer than most - maybe by a couple of days. IMHO, that's what separates them by a mile from the rest of the pack. This higher level of ripeness just means that one needs to eat them a little quicker, or try this storage method, courtesy of Chow Tips:


                                                          Works with just wet paper towels as well. Hope you picked a good pomelo and enjoyed it as well...

                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                            Wow...really enjoyed my pomelo, too! Tasted like a sweeter, less bitter grapefruit. The real revelation was the fragrance from its skin -- my kitchen and fingers smell almost floral. If someone hasn't already put this in perfumes and deodorizers, they really should.

                                                            1. re: a_and_w

                                                              Glad you enjoyed it. Folks who aren't familiar with pomelos probably usually pass on them because they often have a greenish skin. My guess is the perception is that it's not ripe - like white-shouldered strawberries.

                                                              I don't know if you saw the stand that is on the north side of Arizona, closer to the east end of the market (I think it was across from, or at least close to the pistachio stand). The grower had at least three varieties. I'm not sure if they also show on saturdays but it's probably worth trying the other varieties since you liked your first go at it.

                                                              You brought up a nice quality about the pomelo - its skin. Now that you've mentioned it, maybe I'll consider using the zest in something like a salad, seafood, even pastries.

                                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                Or they pass them by because they are taking a "statin" drug and don't want the likely dangerous drug interaction... ;-D>

                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                  Oh yes, my statin-poppin' fellow Chowhound who's starin' down those lipids. I was temporarily on some meds that kept me away from my citrus bombs. I'm now off those meds and can carry on with those big luscious orbs of citrusy heaven. I hope your quest will be more of a venture than a life-long challenge.

                                                                2. re: bulavinaka

                                                                  That's the one! I got the kind with bright yellow skin and labeled simply "organic." I will definitely branch out with future purchases.

                                              2. re: ElissaInPlaya

                                                Just went to Lucques on Sunday, and agreed. Great produce-driven, not just menu, but also seasonal cocktails!

                                                Lots of blood oranges on the menu on Sunday.
                                                (review/photos: http://tinyurl.com/cf6fzo)

                                              3. FWIW, The Little Door and The Little Next Door are always buying produce at the Saturday Cloverfield Farmer's market. I haven't eaten there, but I imagine they're making good use of it. Personally, I'm a fan of Josie's, and she's usually purchasing there, too.