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Saturday dinner relaxed great food near LAX

I have a friend flying in from Portland, OR and we just have the one night, Saturday, to catch up after not seeing each other for a year. So I'm looking for somewhere easy driving from LAX (Venice, Santa Monica...) where we can have some great food (does not need to be fancy) and where it's relaxed enough that we can have a drink and talk for a while without feeling rushed. If it's in an area good for walking after dinner or near a mellower bar (safe, people watching) even better.
Type of food doesn't matter too much. Portland has such good food (seriously!) but may be light on Mexican, Latin American/Cuban, if that helps. We are not picky but love good food.
Thanks in advance!

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  1. I'd go to Vito Restaurant in Santa Monica - it's a really old school Italian place with big booths. The wait staff is terrific, and the mood is subdued and relaxing. As for the food, it's really good. It was neither innovative nor memorable - just good, solid Italian fare.

    http://www.vitorestaurant.com/

    1. where will your friend be staying while in town? north of LAX or south?

      1 Reply
      1. re: westsidegal

        No, she's working at the airport for the weekend and not visiting or traveling at all and staying at an airport hotel.
        I'll look in to Vito - thanks madcao.

      2. for very good food, pretty restaurant, excellent service, place to walk afterwards, good lounge area with good bartenders and good drinks, safe attended parking lot (in case your friend's luggage will be staying in the car) CAFE DEL REY in Marina del Rey.
        this is a white tablecloth restaurant and probably there are others in Portland that are similar, but other than missing the "exotic" factor, it meets your criteria.

        for "exotic" the best place in town imho is also near LAX, but it doesn't meet any of your other criteria, MARISCOS CHENTE (soon to have a name change to Coni'Seafood), which is near the forum. this place specializes in Mexican seafood dishes prepared in the style of Sinaloa and Nayarit. the food is fabulous. no liquor license, but you can BYOB. only one chef so the food comes out one dish at a time and you won't be rushed.
        would not park a car full of luggage in this neighborhood. this is a paper napkin kind of restauarant.

        in Inglewood, on West Imperial Highway, corner of Yukon.
        there are a million threads on this board about this place.

        9 Replies
        1. re: westsidegal

          Thanks for the recs westsidegal! Cafe Del Rey looks fantastic but perhaps a bit stuffy for what we want. I don't need exotic but relaxed, even like a pub style with good food or a tapas bar or something like Casablanca even but with a better walking neightborhood.
          What about Lula Mexican Restaurant in Santa Monica/Venice area? I went there once years ago and seems like maybe it would fit the bill?

          I hope this is making sense. :)
          Thanks again!

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          Cafe Del Rey
          4451 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

          1. re: ScarletB

            Check out Tripel in Playa Del Rey

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            Tripel
            333 Culver Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90293

            1. re: Servorg

              Tripel sounds like a good suggestion and Scarlet and friend can take a walk right on the beach. The weather has been perfect. I've heard good things about Tripel in Playa del Rey and its on my list of places to try.

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              Tripel
              333 Culver Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90293

              1. re: Servorg

                i LOVE the Tripel, but, since EVERY time i've been there it's been packed, you should probably expect the same, especially on a Saturday night. Expect to wait to be seated.

                this will only work for you if you like to catch up with your friends at a communal table or at the bar.

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                Tripel
                333 Culver Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90293

                1. re: westsidegal

                  Tripel looks great but that's exactly what I was thinking, westsidegal. Looks small and crowded (read: loud) and with communal tables it might be great for a different time.

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                  Tripel
                  333 Culver Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90293

                  1. re: ScarletB

                    they pack so many people in there that they'd still be full even if they found a way to double their square footage.

              2. re: ScarletB

                haven't been there for years.
                not a big fan of terry gililand (sp?) restaurants' food.

                1. re: ScarletB

                  if you don't want white tablecloths, then you can eat in the lounge area of Cafe del Rey and order off their bar menu. (get a truffle pizza for me)
                  try to snag one of the terrific 'booth' tables in the lounge.
                  VERY relaxing, but also CIVILIZED (even on a Saturday night).
                  this is the place that i always use to catch up with my girlfriends.
                  the lounge is where my study group went to celebrate after we all passed our licensure exams. (we went there in our jeans, directly from the test site--this part of the restaurant is not stuffy).

                  (the bartenders that i like there are Nathan and Dominick.)

                  1. re: westsidegal

                    Oh wow, I think you just swayed me. I didn't realize they had a lounge area. That's perfect. Probably what I'll do is give my friend a choice of types of food and environment and go from there, but this is now at the top of my list. Thank you!

              3. Two places just south of LAX in Manhattan Beach are Manhattan Beach Post with an artisan menu of small shared plates.
                http://www.eatmbpost.com/

                and The Stand House with an American "modern heirloom" menu which calls for locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Nice neighborhood beach and pier to explore after dinner.
                http://www.thestrandhousemb.com/

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                Manhattan Beach Post
                1142 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

                6 Replies
                1. re: wienermobile

                  Interesting suggestions. Have you been to either?

                  I hadn't even thought of Manhattan Beach because I'm not familiar with the town at all. At least Santa Monica/Venice I know a little bit (just moved to Ventura from Oregon) so the chances of getting crazy lost are a bit slimmer, although still possible of course.

                  Thanks!

                  PS That menu at The Strand House looks amazing.

                  1. re: ScarletB

                    The Stand House has only been open a few weeks. I have not been yet but I am going to M B Post next week. They have a great menu. The neighborhood loves the place and is very popular. Here is a link to their menu:
                    http://losangeles.menupages.com/resta...

                    1. re: wienermobile

                      Where do you see the MB Post menu? I haven't found it.

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Lol thanks Servorg. And thanks winermobile. That really is a fabulous menu.

                  2. Tasting Kitchen might be of interest--the Chef comes from Portland and Abbott Kinney is a great walking street for after.

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                    Tasting Kitchen
                    1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90291

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: New Trial

                      Looks great and I've eaten at Clarklewis in Portland a few times over the years and it was always good. How is the atmosphere?
                      I also like the Abbott Kinney suggestion. I've never been there and it might be fun for us to just choose a restaurant while walking around. Guess it'll depend on how tired my friend is after working all weekend. Mellow or a little sceney.
                      Thanks!

                      1. re: ScarletB

                        << it might be fun for us to just choose a restaurant while walking around>>

                        i would not rely on this strategy on a saturday night on abbot kinney. your choices among the best spots will be very limited since most of those will be full of people who have made reservations in advance.

                        on most saturday nights the street is VERY BUSY. also, much of the available parking is provided by the various valet services that are connected to the individual restaurants.

                        if you want to go to abbott kinney, my advice would be to select a restaurant and make a reservation.

                        1. re: ScarletB

                          The place is somewhat darkly lit and a bit rustic but very mellow. Service is friendly but laid back. While there are a couple of communal tables in the bar, they are often filled by large groups and the restaurant proper is popular (if not as insanely so as Gjelina down the street can be) so a reservation would be advisable, particularly for a Saturday evening.

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                          Gjelina
                          1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

                          1. re: New Trial

                            Just got back from Portland and yes, the food is very good - especially the locally grown produce. In Venice I'd go to Lily's on Abbot Kinney - order their dirty mojitos and sit outside - French, relaxed , quiet enough to talk and hear. A delight.

                            In Santa Monica I'd go to Zengo in the Santa Monica Placemall - more expensive - more crowded, more electric. Terriffic Latino asian fusion food. Very attractive crowd - hot scene - but noisy.

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                            Zengo
                            395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401

                            1. re: Jeryy

                              The food in Portland is truly wonderful for such a small city. Now I'm stuck in Ventura County, which I really do love, but it's sort of a lacking in the food area, especially the focus on locally grown meats and produce. I do get in to LA once in a while so like to make the best of it.
                              Thanks for the recs. Zengo looks like a fun menu and a good area, but possibly too hip and scene-y for us tonight. I'm gonna guess my friend will be more in the mood for mellow after working at LAX all day.
                              Lily's looks perfect with that back patio for drinks and relaxing dinner. I'm a little scared off now by the parking and such at Abbott Kinney but I will definitely suggest French and see what she says. I'd love to go and have a dirty mojito there!
                              Regardless, you all have been so helpful and now I have so many places I'd like to try on my infrequent trips to "the city." Thanks so much!

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                              Zengo
                              395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401

                              1. re: ScarletB

                                Lilly's has a valet parking service ( there is a fee involved).
                                they stash the cars in their own lot in the back of the restaurant (no self parking allowed in the lot irrc). No need to worry about parking if you go to Lilly's.
                                also, as french food goes, their prices are reasonable.
                                if you sit in the back area, it overlooks a very pretty garden next door.
                                if you sit in the front area, it has comfortable booths.
                                their wine-by-the-glass menu is also reasonably priced.