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First time visitor, staying in Santa Monica

Hi all,

I'm visiting LA for the first time tomorrow and looking for some suggestions.

1) Casual places for breakfast, lunch, and late night drinks and bites in walking distance of the Sea Shore Motel (Main St at Ocean Park Blvd). Looking for places I can sit at the bar or feel comfortable at a small table by myself. Take out or food trucks are good too. For drinks, a selection of Cali microbrews on tap is a plus.

2) Comfortable coffeeshops or other places with WiFi where I can get some work done. Great coffee (not drip) and real espresso pulls a plus.

3) Ideas for nicer dinners anywhere around town. I'm especially interested in types of cuisines and preparations that are hard to find or not as good on the East Coast -- I'm visiting from Philadelphia and NYC restaurants are accessible to me.

I don't want anything super high-end, but besides that price is not really a concern. However, appropriate quality for the money is always appreciated and I'm not really interested in places that put style over substance.


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  1. Every Tuesday night on Main Street and Ocean Park behind the California Heritage Museum is food truck night from 5:30 to 10pm. The trucks change weekly. Here is a list of truck that will be there on Oct 19th
    Kabob N' Roll
    KO Taco
    No Jodas Cuban Kitchen
    Papas Tapas
    Slammin Sliders
    Uncle Lau's

    1. Check out:
      Amelia's on Main.
      Intelligentsia on Abbott Kinney.
      Funnel Mill on Broadway.

      Funnel Mill
      930 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA

      4 Replies
      1. re: sushigirlie

        Thanks. I know Intelligentsia is supposed to be legit, but do any of these spots have great roasts, ground to order cups, proper espresso pulls, real cappuccinos? Hard to get a read from the Yelp reviews because an awful lot of attention is put on food and flavored/soy drinks, not the actual coffee.

        "Their Indonesian Kopi Luwak coffee beans are diverse, rich, and flavorful. I absolutely enjoyed the use of Milan beans as the baseline flavor for my Soy Dark Chocolate Mocha and Soy Vanilla Latte. " (review on Funnel Mill)

        Give me a break!

        1. re: barryg

          Head to Caffe Luxxe on Montana Avenue for the espresso you seek.

          Caffe Luxxe
          925 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403

          1. re: barryg

            I would go to Funnel Mill more for tea rather than coffee. I think that's where they really shine.

            Funnel Mill
            930 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA

            1. re: mollyomormon

              I think Funnel MIll shines as a place to work.

              Intelligentsia is more than legit. It's coffee is arguably the best in LA.

              Amelia's shines for a casual lunch (esp. sandwiches). And it serves Intelligentsia coffee (though I've never tried it there).

        2. Across the street from your motel is the Basement Tavern. Great place to get a drink or a beer. For a large selection of beers, walk up to The Yard on Broadway at 2nd. It's also a great place to sit at the bar and have dinner, CJ from Top Chef is the chef there and the menu is fantastic.

          For free wifi, walk over to Peets Coffee, where you can get individual french press. It's about a 2 minute walk from Sea Shore.

          Also go sit at the bar at Chinois on Main and have dinner. It's still one of LA's best restaurants. Another idea is to wander down to Chaya Venice, it has a real LA atmosphere, great (consistent) food, and you'll meet all the locals (especially at happy hour).

          For food you won't find anywhere else, head to Abbot Kinney and sit at Gjelina's community table. You'll love it.

          2 Replies
          1. re: yogachik

            +1 for Chinois and Gjelina. Sitting at the counter looking into the kitchen at Chinois is immensely entertaining for a solo diner, and the smaller dishes are the highlight of the menu anyway. Gjelina is my favorite L.A. restaurant of the moment -- find a neighbor to share a pizza with, and be sure to order the butterscoch pot au creme for dessert.

            1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291, USA

            1. re: nosh

              Is Chinois really that great? We went for lunch last week to try it out with their DineLA menu and were SERIOUSLY underwhelmed.

              While I don't expect a restaurant necessarily to have the most complex or inventive dishes for something like DineLA, I do expect the dishes they present to be well prepared -- especially at a Puck restaurant. And from apps to desserts, the best thing we could find to say about our dishes is that some were mediocre.

              This was doubly disappointing because we've had fantastic meals at Spago and Cut, including a wonderful lunch last DineLA at Spago.

          2. I think you can walk to Cora's Coffee Shop (not sure if there's wifi. There's a Coffee Bean not too far away that does I believe have wifi. You could also hoof it to Chez Jay which is sort of Santa Monica's version of the bar in Star Wars.

            Chez Jay
            1657 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

            Cora's Coffee Shop
            1802 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401

            1 Reply
            1. re: mc michael

              For solo nice dinner, i recommend the communal high tables at Gjelina on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Great for pizza or amazing small plates and quintessential L.A. Also, sitting around the fire pit at Bar Hayama on Sawtelle could be nice.

              Bar Hayama
              11300 Nebraska Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90025

              1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291, USA

            2. Thanks for the amazing advice, all. Keep it coming and I will let you know how it goes! I'm aiming to hit Gjelina Sunday night if my dinner companions buy into it. The menu look fantastic.

              1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291, USA

              1. >>For drinks, a selection of Cali microbrews on tap is a plus.<<

                Library Alehouse is on Main Street - it's about a couple of blocks south of Ocean Park. The food is good as well. Expect an average of about a dozen California brews on tap. And this week happens to be LA Beer Week - Library Ale House is one of many places joining in the celebration. Tomorrow is the final day - live it up!


                Library Alehouse
                2911 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                1. Have dinner at the bar at Musha one night. Not walking distance, but only 1.8 miles from your hotel. It's one of my favorite restaurants in Santa Monica. It's Japanese, but stay away from the typical sushi bar fare. Pick the more izakaya style and off beat menu items, like the braised pork with potatoes, homemade "pure" tofu, charcoal grilled steak, or risotto prepared tableside. If you can find a dining partner it would be ideal, but even solo at the bar you'll find some fun things to eat.

                  photos: http://www.chezpei.com/2007/03/blog-p...

                  424 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401

                  1. weinermobile, in reply to your post....it seems like you know a lot about the food truks in area. If you were going to hire one of them for a party of bout 40 people, which one would you hire? I don't really care what kind of food as long as it si yummy and most people will like it. Any suggestions? I haven't been to them and I son't have the time to try them all out. Thanks a million.

                    1. Thanks for the recommendations everyone. I didn't get to try everything, but I think I did pretty well. Here's the rundown.

                      I arrived early on Sunday so I got to see the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. It was pretty incredible, but I had lunch plans so I didn't get to try any of the awesome looking prepared foods. I really wish I did. The produce of course looked amazing.

                      For lunch, we went to Urth Cafe, a favorite of my hosts, and I ended up there 3 or 4 times total, I think, for breakfast, lunch, and coffee. The food was consistently very good, and the service, for what it was, was very good too. The roasted corn chowder and their baguettes stood out as excellent. This place struck me a couple notches up from Panera Bread and I'd love to have it in my neighborhood or near my office.

                      My first night there, when unwinding by myself, I wandered over to The Yard after finding the Library Ale House too full to get a seat. I really liked the vibe there. Being a Sunday night it was not crowded and very relaxed. I got to chat with people at the communal table (great idea, we don't have these in Philly) and watch the Phillies win. The beer list was decent and I liked the menu; I tried four different plates, though, and while well executed they were all pretty mild and forgettable. In fact I don't remember half of what I ordered. I ended up coming back here for Happy Hour with my colleagues; it's a bit lame that draft beers are not discounted but again the atmosphere was perfect. I realize this comes across as negative, but if I lived in the area, The Yard would be a good candidate my neighborhood bar assuming I found a couple gems on the menu (the peach and burratta salad looked incredible, I wish I tried it).

                      Breakfasts and lunches for the next couple days are a bit blurry but I made it to Cora's for breakfast and really liked the food and atmosphere on the patio. This was at like 7am on a weekday so it wasn't crowded. I also hit the Omelet Parlor for a pretty good breakfast burrito one of the days. The real highlight there was the home fries--these were exactly the style I crave and are very hard to find in Philly. Among the best I've had anywhere. I also went to Urth a couple more times as mentioned.

                      On Tuesday, my hosts took us to Bay Cities Italian Deli for lunch. I was very impressed with the fresh Italian rolls--really incredible--but not so impressed that that they didn't offer sharp provolone as a cheese option and that they tried to put mayonnaise on my prosciutto di Parma. I wanted to get a breakfast or lunch at Amelia's by the motel, but the no laptop policy was a bummer, they were closed on Monday, and didn't serve breakfast until too late on Tuesday.

                      Tuesday night I was really, really excited for the food truck event across from my hotel, and I was really, really, disappointed that it was canceled due to the weather! Especially since it wasn't even bad out by East Coast standards. So I decided to hit the bar/lounge at Chaya to try some sushi and their special izakaya menu. When I got there, though, the place was completely packed and a mob scene. The Library was also full, so I decided to save my cash and just hit a taqueria on main--Holy Guacamole, I think?--for a burrito and a taco, which was nothing special.

                      I wanted to hit Luxxe and Intelligentsia for coffee, but I had to use coffeeshop time to do work; since those places were not super convenient, I was afraid that after schlepping I wouldn't be able to find a seat and get work done for extended period. I ended up at Novel Cafe a few times, which was perfect for doing work since it's so big and relaxed. The coffee was fine and the food--I had a veggie sandwich--was good. I also went to Peet's a couple times, which had friendly staff but overall is not too different than Starbucks.

                      Saving the best for last: my colleagues and I went to Gjelina on Monday night. My hosts were afraid it would be hard to get a table, but we only had to wait 30 minutes. Everything was excellent, especially the pizzas (we ordered a second Pomodoro--incredible) and grilled okra. Service was also very good and while loud, I didn't even think it was bad for a trendy place. Thank for your this rec!

                      I was pretty price insensitive since I was traveling, but overall the breakfasts and lunches were on the pricey side, I thought. Dinners seemed fine for the kind of places I went. Is this a Santa Monica thing or an LA thing?

                      Also a question about Chinios. I wanted to check it out but had some serious sticker shock. The menu looked pretty uninteresting to me--looked like pretty standard nicer Chinese fare--but with astronomical prices. What are you paying for here?

                      Again thanks for all the recs. I will almost definitely be back in the SM/Venice area fairly soon and look forward to hitting more great places then.

                      Bay Cities Italian Deli
                      1517 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401

                      1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291, USA

                      525 S Flower St, Los Angeles, CA 90071

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: barryg

                        Sounds like you did well.
                        As for Chinois, it's a Wolfgang Puck place that was headed up for a number of years by Lee Hefter before he moved on to Cut and other Puck ventures. In the earlier years it had an unlisted phone number and lots of celebs. The number is listed now and you can still see the occasional celeb. The food is pretty good (although Puck no longer serves fois gras in any of his places, and there was formerly a good fois gras). The Shanghai Lobster is also pretty good. You are paying for Puck, for atmosphere and for well prepped Chinese fusion food. Probably the cache and edginess of this has been supplanted by Puck's WP24 downtown.

                        900 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015

                        1. re: mc michael

                          Thanks for the info, but is it really fusion? Maybe the menu wasn't very descriptive but the dishes all sounded really straightforward to me, which is why I wasn't interested at that price point.

                          1. re: barryg

                            You have a point, but I think the food is different enough from your average Asian restaurant to make it a fusion. Also, Puck will kick up the ingredients in Asian dishes, using a better or different fish or meat. I've never seen crispy spinach in an Asian restaurant by the way. I'm sure you could find things like he has in Hong Kong, I just don't think you'd find the same ingredients or occasionally saucing routinely at local Asian spots.. The closest Asian analogue I know to Puck's concept is Yujean Kang in Pasadena.

                            Yujean Kang's Gourmet Chinese
                            67 N Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91103

                          2. re: mc michael

                            <<In the earlier years it had an unlisted phone number>>

                            That is so...well...shocking to me. I never knew this. My parents brought me there (alot) when they couldn't, or didn't want to, go to the original Spago on Horn. Even then (as a nascent Sino-phile) the expensive fusion thing bugged me - I was learning what real Chinese food was, and didn't like it all that much served expensively, Puck-ishly, to folks who liked dumbed-down, and numb-ed down, Chinese food.

                            As for my experience at WP-24 -- it was garishly expensive - yet quite beautifully cooked, and presented. Closer in both proximity and in taste to SGV Chinese, but very limitedly so. I would not go back; I would pass it (quickly) on the 10 or the 101 heading for the Temple(s) of Heaven in the SGV. But I will remember it. Sort of fondly. I would recomend it to well-healed-unadventuressf-riends who must be downtown.

                            176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                            1. re: Ciao Bob

                              I think the unlisted number was a thing that was only used in the beginning to create cache and demand for tables. It didn't last long. Actually, they may have had 2 numbers; a listed one on which you couldn't get a reservation and an unlisted one on which you could. Anyway, that's long past.

                          3. re: barryg

                            Re: price, Santa Monica is in general a pricey area (and there are ares of cheap in LA, but overall I would say LA is on the pricey side), and most of the places you hit were not "cheap" or affordable, sans Bay Cities. Even Holy Guacomole charges $10 for a burrito if I'm not mistaken. Future reference: Eduardo's, Tacomiendo and Tacos Por Favor are better choices.

                            Oh, and regarding the food truck event being canceled... The Alibi Room in Mar Vista/CC has Kogi's food (Kogi is the one who started this trend).

                            11462 Gateway Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                            Tacos Por Favor
                            1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

                          4. Try Huckleberry on Wilshire and 12th for truly excellent and innovative breakfast and bakery fare. They got a nice write-up in the New York Times several weeks back - here is a summary: http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guid...

                            There is free wi-fi at Panera Bread on Wilshire and 5th.