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Best place for fun graduation dinner near ucla

Hi. I need some recommendations for fun restaurants with good food for a small graduation dinner in at UCLA in June. Moderate priced would be great. Thank you!

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  1. be aware that almost all of the restaurants near UCLA will be packed at graduation time.

    what, more exactly, do you mean by "moderate prices?"
    also, roughly how many people will be in the party?

    congrats on the graduation!

    12 Replies
    1. re: westsidegal

      Yes, that's why I am getting nervous without a reservation. Last time I was down there we went to Centanni Trattoria in Venice and it was excellent and it didn't break the bank. I am guessing 6 people. Another time we went to Dukes in Malibu. Another time we went to Tony P's in Marina Del Rey. Trying to keep the cost down a bit as we will probably go out 2 nights and Mom is picking up check. Had thought of The Lobster as it has such a beautiful view but looked at menu and it might be outside my budget. So proud of him!!! 2 majors., a minor and worked 2 jobs. Want to make a nice celebration. Thank you for any suggestions you have.

      1. re: Buccherir

        Check with Hillstone's in Santa Monica to see if they still offer free corkage.
        If so, and you bring your own wine or bubbly, you will be able to keep costs under control.
        (of course, when i took advantage of this deal, i still tipped the server enough additional money to offset the discount).

        also, you might consider two of the restaurants in Santa Monica Place: la sandia (mexican-themed) and zengo (iirc owned by the same operation, ) primarily because of their environments===far, far, far, more festive than Tony P's.

        1. re: westsidegal

          Thank you for the great tips! I will check them out. If you ever need any dining tips for Marin County and San Francisco. I would be happy to help.

          1. re: westsidegal

            Free corkage ended April 1, 2012, alas. Hillstone's or Bandara are both great ideas, and are consistently very good restaurants, although not inexpensive (with alcohol).

            Catch at Casa del Mar is another idea, and a great room for a celebration with gorgeous view of ocean.

            1. re: yogachik

              as information only, since it is probably too distant for the OP:

              houston's in manhattan beach still offers free corkage.

              1. re: yogachik

                catch is gorgeous, but pricey.
                since OP has already determined that Lobster is too costly, certainly Catch will be too costly as well.

            2. re: Buccherir

              Check with Westside Tavern (within a few minute of UCLA at the corner of Westwood Blvd. and Pico). The prices should be within your budget and the room is nice with solid food (if they have their fried chicken special on the menu that night I'd recommend it) and a full bar.


              1. re: Servorg

                +1 for Westside Tavern and their very tasty Lamb dip sandwich.

                1. re: Servorg

                  +2 for Westside Tavern. Never had a bad meal there, solid bar, nice seating. Easy access from UCLA - straight down Westwood Blvd. They don't take reservations for dinner. This may either work for you or against you. Assuming other graduate families will be heading to just about every eatery in the general area with a nice dining room, Westside Tavern might be impacted. We usually average a 5-20 minute wait for seating. If possible, send someone ahead to put your group's name on the list.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Westside Tavern now does take limited reservations and can be found on Opentable.com. or by calling the restaurant.

                    1. re: wienermobile

                      I think (IIRC) that reservations are only taken for lunch (up until about 4:45 PM). Dinner is still first come, first served as far as I know. Which would probably make this a non starter for a graduation dinner celebration.

                      1. re: wienermobile

                        Thank you for the update - this makes Servorg's suggestion even more attractive.

              2. Try Azul Cantina. New fairly high end Mexican from the Frida people. Very good and festive.

                1. Nook Bistro is very upscale food at moderate prices. Most entrees around $20 and a ribeye tops out at $26. On Santa Monica Blvd. at Barry in W.L.A. -- not far from UCLA and closer than Santa Monica. Ask for one of the two larger tables to the sides.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: nosh

                    respectfully disagree with the characterization of Nook's food as "very upscale."

                    1. re: westsidegal

                      OK, how about comfort food done well? They are known for their excellent mac'n'cheese -- good shared as a starter.

                      And wsg -- I know to be cautious when ordering any fish! ;-)

                      I like the chicken paillard. And when they used to have potroast, or shortrib, it was a generous, rich, very satisfying dish.

                      1. re: nosh

                        i'll leave the comfort food evaluation to you.

                  2. See if this works: Casa Sanchez on Centinela. A fun place for groups. A large, family run restaurant with extra large booths to accommodate, good food, a great mariachi band and excellent margaritas. Moderately priced and reliable professional service. They really take care of you. I've had a few small parties there and we've always had a good time. A very festive venue. Its about 15 minutes from UCLA so you'll have a good chance of scoring a reservation. Check it out.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Baron

                      i've had a several good times drinking tequila at casa sanchez, but iirc, a margarita there is $12 or so before tax and tip. (tax in LA is roughly 9%)
                      OP will certainly need to factor that in

                      1. re: westsidegal

                        I recall that they had a house margarita that was like $8 which were quite good. They also had the premioum cocktails which cost more. Don't know if the adult beverages are important to the op. Also agree that Nook is not a place to have a celebration dinner.

                    2. How about Cafe Bizou in Santa Monica. Reasonable food, that you can choose a small salad or bowl of daily soup for one dollar extra, or get appetizers. Also, corkage is always 2dollars. Food is good, and has enough of a variety that will appeal to everyone. The original is in the valley with another branch in Pasadena.

                      1. I was going to recommend Napa Valley Grill, which is in Westwood, but it is probably to pricey. However, it has a great happy hour, so if you are looking for a stop before dinner you might check it out. All of its menus are on its website, including its happy hour menu.

                        I do recommend La Serenata de Garabaldo (google La Serenata and you will find it; choose the West LA location), which is immediately to the West of Westwood Blvd. and Pico. As you imagine, it is Mexican, but its food is both more authentic and far better than the average Mexican restaurant. They have many seafood dishes and also will allow you to match your chosen sauce with your fish, many of their dishes are not spicy, just flavorful (including a delicious mole), they have numerous vegetarian options and they make an incredible chocolate banana bread pudding. Their website has some outdated menus on it; the most current is the take-out menu. They also have daily specials and will usually make whatever you want as long as they have the ingredients. My stomach is growling just thinking about the place. It is not fancy, but it is not a dive, and I think you can see pictures on the website. I have also never had bad service.

                        This sounds like I have a financial interest in the restaurant but I assure you that I don't; I just think its food is delicious.

                        Fancier is Frida in Beverly Hills, which is more expensive and has a more limited menu but is also very good.

                        Last, I feel compelled to disagree with the Westside Tavern suggestion. I don't think the food is very good, and more importantly, I don't think it would be fun. All the tables are fixed, relatively far apart and designed to keep the patrons away from one another.

                        Congratulations on the graduation.

                        1. Campagnola Trattoria-1553 Westwood Blvd. Great neighborhood Italian restaurant with the best lasagna on the westside. Carlo the owner and his attentive staff are the best. Diverse menu. Great pastas, pizzas, fish. Just south of Wilshire Blvd, less than one mile from UCLA. Highly recommend.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: caldad02

                            Second this - restaurant is actually Sardinian and they serve addictivly delicious Sardinian bread, cracker like but so tasty. Nice food, service, ambiance. Pretty good parking too.