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Help! Casual dinner w/ inlaws in Santa Monica/Venice!

Hi All,

So my inlaws from Michigan are coming to visit, and hubby and I are scrambeling. We LOVE food and they are.... let's just say they think the Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse is great dining. They like very simple, casual, Americanized, not pretentious, utilitarian food. To them, food is just something you eat when you are hungry, nothing more.

Hubby and I are are total foodies. Places we've loved... Axe, Gjelina, Primitivo, The Library, Urth Cafe, Mellisse, Josie's, Jiraffe.....

So i'm looking for a place that will be simple/unpretentious/midwesten enough for them, yet yummy, delicious, and interesting enough for us.

We'd like to stay to the Malibu/Santa Monica/Venice/Marina Del Rey area... maybe stretch to Manhattan Beach

Our price range is around $15-$25-ish/entree (pre-tax).

We're thinking of going with either american or italian.. mexican might work too (have been to Lula's, and altough we've enjoyed it in the past, our last visit wasn't that great... won't be going back) but anything similar to Lula's might be perfect.

So far I"m planning on taking them to Hal's for one of the nights (hubby and I have been and we loved it), and to The Library Alehouse for lunch.... So something along those lines? Maybe more casual? Also was wondering about Lobster off of Ocean right by the pier? Is is any good? They love a good view, but is it overpriced?

They don't like weird/fancy ingredients, menus in other languages, small portions, or cramped tight tables. Also should be quiet/mellow enough that we can have a conversation.

Your help largely appreciated!

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  1. We like the food at the lobster but your price point will be exceeded by a mile and the tables are somewhat close together. So based on your criteria it's probably a miss for this excursion.

    Have you been to Lares on Pico? I think it would be a good fit for your Mexican food question. Very good carnitas along with other tasty dishes. Also I would strongly consider 17th Street Cafe on Montana just west of 17th Street in Santa Monica. Nicely spaced tables, usually a mellow dinner crowd, big portions of very fresh food and the price point would be about right too.

    Hope you'll come back when the chowing is all done with and let us know where you went, what you had and how you liked it.

    Lares Restaurant
    2909 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

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

    1. Hal's was the obvious choice in my mind, but you've already got that on your radar. Some other ideas...

      I suspect you can eat pretty solid food at Beechwood (though the menu probably roams into some dangerous areas for people who think Outback is the pinnacle of eating).

      If you wanted to get something even more casual, you could grab BBQ at Baby Blues BBQ -- that tends to appeal to foodies and non-foodies alike.

      Library Alehouse would be another option because people can get burgers and fries, while others get more interesting foods.

      You could go to BreadBar in Santa Monica because they can get a salad, a sandwich, etc. and everybody likes good bread, right?

      Lulu is an option in Santa Monica, but in a city with Mexican food like LA, it always feels like a crime to go to a place like Lulu. Of course, your in-laws may perceive it differently.

      1. Houston's comes to mind, but it can get a little loud.
        Catch at Casa del Mar is always good, but a little higher than your budget - gorgeous room.
        I Cugini is always a hit with visitors, but not someplace I choose.
        Nook in West LA.
        Upstairs2 in West LA - which I love.
        Primitivo (outside) should have something for everyone.

        3 Replies
        1. re: yogachik

          Nook Bistro would be perfect -- simple enough, with big portions for them, execution tasty and interesting enough for you. Price point is exactly what you specified.

          1. re: yogachik

            I Cugini is pricey, being right on Ocean, and in Italian.

            You can try Chart House in Malibu - pretty basic stuff with a great view, not usually loud or crowded. And about the same price range as the Lobster. Or there's always the Golden Bull on Entrada in SM Canyon - haven't been personally, but may be right up their alley.

            Doesn't sound like the ils would appreciate most places on Main St in SM or Abbott Kinney in Venice, so I would stick to the more pedestrian places.

            One last thought - they might enjoy Tex Mex Marix on Entrada or El Cholo on 11th, if you're looking for basic Mexican, although if going on a weekend, it gets pretty rowdy in those bars.

            1. re: yogachik

              iirc houston's does not take reservations. this means, for the manhattan beach branch, that you can end up waiting for up to an hour for a table.

            2. The perennial Venice / MDR recommendation - 26 Beach Cafe on Washington Blvd just west of Lincoln. Definitely at the low end of your price range, great burgers and salads, big portions, something for everyone. I went there last night with friends who were visiting from the east coast - two adults and and two teenagers, one of whom is a vegetarian - and everyone was very happy with it.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cookie monster

                second the 26 beach recommendation.
                also, you can make reservations at 26 beach which is a plus at this price point.

                1. re: westsidegal

                  third 26 beach, tho not sure if the parents will reat to the proximity of the tables.

                  il moro is also great, but it's at the top of your budget range, and some entrees break they do a nice three course prix fixe tho too.

              2. What's wrong with Urth Cafe? I think it's casual enough and you listed it as one of the places you like.

                I second Nosh's rec for Nook Bistro.
                What about James' Beach? It's pretty casual and unpretentious isn't it?


                1. 26 beach cafe is very casual as is c & o trattoria

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: woofer

                    i believe that you cannot make reservations at c&o trattoria, but you CAN make reservations at c&o cucina which is farther west on washington. should be noted that cucuina, i believe, also has some pricier dishes.

                  2. i think Fritto Misto on Colorado Ave in Santa Monica is a great option for a casual family style meal. above average italian food with large portions. i think it's a great value and the kind of place where there is always an option that will please most palates.

                    601 Colorado Ave
                    Santa Monica, CA 90401
                    (310) 458-2829

                    1. Hi Guys!

                      Thanks so much for all the recs! We will definitely be checking out Baby Blues, going to Urth for Lunch, and Library Ale House for one of the dinners (all are already our favorites, and we hope they will impress the Michiganders as well) ;-)

                      Also we're thinking about going to Duke's in Malibu as well. We love the place, and they'll love the view, and the food is a about as nonthreatening as it gets.

                      We personally loved primitivo, but i think it would just be too trendy for them.

                      Will definitely check out Lares and 17th street cafe, if not with them, then at some point on our own.

                      Going to beechwood tomorrow. Will let you know how it goes. Looks awsome, but maybe not for the inlaws. (they just don't like the whole loungey/bar/modern thing... forget about the food... they think arugala is some new-agey fad so...)

                      Thanks so much guys!

                      Also, any amazing brunch/breakfast recs? I'm thinking i'll cook one of the days, we'll go to Urth another day, and maybe Lilly's? But that still leaves me one day short... so any ideas?

                      ** disclaimer: if any of this doesn't make sense, forgive me, i've had one glass of vino too many tonight and should most likely not be typing while under the influence...**

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: nataliya.v

                        You can take them to any of the Ocean ave hotels - most do a very nice brunch, although a little pricey.

                        Or try Anisette - it's great and feels like you're in Paris, a true brasserie, but can be loud. You may also want to check out the new Huckleberry place - the name is escaping me at this moment - supposed to have awesome baked goods. Both are in Santa Monica. Good luck!

                        1. re: Phurstluv

                          The new place is "Huckleberry" (so the name didn't get too far away from you when it tried to escape!).

                          1. re: Servorg

                            Yes, thanks, Servorg, I knew one of you hounds could correct me if I was wrong, and I'm glad nosh is there to flesh it out, being I haven't been and it sounds like it may not be the sort of relaxed brunch type atmosphere the OP is looking for.

                            Nosh always has great recs tho, well done!

                          2. re: Phurstluv

                            my experience with the ocean avenue hotels is that their prices exceed the budget by a mile.

                          3. re: nataliya.v

                            I was just about to recommend Lilly's for breakfast/brunch/lunch. I think your inlaws will love the patio. Speaking of patios...I had not been to the Rose Cafe in years so was pleasantly surprised by their much improved patio. In my book, a nice outdoor space always makes average food taste better! While I've lived here for decades, perhaps it is my own Midwest roots that result in my inability to take our magnificent climate for granted! Go early and you won't have much of a wait.

                            1. re: nataliya.v

                              Consider 3 Square on Abbott Kinney for brunch too. I like it better than Lilly's and I think should have enough non-threatening options. oh also, 26 Beach would also work for brunch. I've taken my parents there (who it sounds like have similar palates to your guests') and they loved it.

                            2. Huckleberry is still pretty new and very popular, working out the kinks. It still has lines, and after that you have to find a table -- it is not the place for a relaxing, easy brunch or breakfast, especially with a group. Some folks have raved about Anisette, others have cited very uneven service and complained about the tiny tables there. For a good westside brunch at reasonable prices, I still have to go with Joe's down on Abbott Kinney -- you can get out for about $20 per person, inclusive, they take reservations, it is semi-garden with a Venice vibe, and they have a shared valet parking lot in back.

                              1. Baby Blues.

                                The Lobster is crampled and uses fancy ingredients.

                                1. Hi All!

                                  Just wanted to pop back in and leave a quick note about Beechwood the other night - was not too impressed, unfortunately.

                                  Great atmosphere, the drinks were yummy, and it was fun people watching, but the food underwhelmed. Not that anything was bad per se, just not amazing and particularly great.

                                  We shared the lamb meatballs which were ok but a little too salty and had a wierd gluey texture... like they needed more breadcrumbs in the mixture or something.

                                  Hubby had the halibut, said it was alright but nothing special. I had the coq au vin, which was pretty good, the meat was tender and moist, but the suace it came with was too salty.

                                  The dessert was the best part of our meal, we shared the peach turnover with salted caramel ice cream, which was delicious.

                                  The service was very sloppy - they kept bringing out dishes that were ordered by another table to our table instead. Didn't mind it the first time, mistakes happen, but this happened 3 times. The waiter that took our orders was nice and helpful, but that was the only time we saw him - the food was always brought out by a very hurried bus boy with limited English and plunked down in front of us without asking who had what - and half the time it wasn't even our order, but the table next to us.

                                  Also hubby and I have a sneaking suspicious that they overcharged us, because the bill came out to be about $30 more than when we added everything up in our heads later, and we think maybe one of the entrees from the other table got charged to us? strange...

                                  So we will probably go back for drinks, but not for the food. Also, we sat in the main dining room, and I would stick to the bar area for the future.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: nataliya.v

                                    For Mexican, El Cholo in Santa Monica on Wilshire and 11th. They're probably about to start serving their green corn tamales, which are seasonal, and lovely. Margaritas and super flan, too. For Italian, and basic American, Earth Wind and Flour on Wilshire and 23rd in Santa Monica. OBrien's bar next door is also good; Irish, Italian and American food. For a view, Duke's in Malibu, on PCH. The Sunday brunch is lovely; long dining room with windows all on one side, just a few feet from the ocean. You can see dolphins and seals, pretty regularly.