Editor’s Picks

Posted September 28, 2016 by The Argonaut in Best of the Westside

Best Dinner in a Jar

Smart Simple Gourmet

Linda Wong sets up shop each Sunday at the Mar Vista Farmers Market

Linda Wong sets up shop each Sunday at the Mar Vista Farmers Market

Mar Vista Famers Market, 3826 Grand View Blvd., Mar Vista
Weekday Pickup Window, 3731 S. Robertson Blvd., Culver City
(888) 792-3574 | smart-simple-gourmet.myshopify.com

The seed for Smart Simple Gourmet sprouted in Linda Wong’s head when she was training for a marathon.

That’s when Wong began paying closer attention to the food she was eating and started learning about concepts like trans fats and “real food.” And after working in the corporate world for 10 years, she was ready for something more meaningful.

In 2008, Wong waved goodbye to her job as an e-commerce merchandiser and enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. Two years later she launched Smart Simple Gourmet, a weekly meal service producing all natural, nutrient-dense meals for people too busy to cook.

Meals range from vegan to paleo-friendly, but almost all of them are served in glass jars, for which she collects a $1.50 deposit until its return.

The menu changes each month, but popular staples include bone and chicken broths, shepherd’s pie and mushroom barley soup — “hearty comfort food,” Wong calls it.

If you can’t make the Mar Vista Farmers Market between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, head to the retail pickup window in Culver City between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.

   — Jessica Koslow


Best Ceviche in a Cup

La Isla Bonita

La Isla Bonita offers fast service with a smile

La Isla Bonita offers fast service with a smile

400 Rose Ave., Venice (310) 663-6603 | facebook.com/LaIslaBonitaTacoTruck

Chances are that any time you stop by La Isla Bonita on Rose and 4th avenues in Venice, there will be a line. Any time.

Whether it’s lunchtime on a weekday or a bustling Saturday afternoon beach day, everyone — local residents, shirtless tourists, office workers, day laborers, the unfortunate souls who call the surrounding streets home — knows about the family-run taco truck that’s been serving the best ceviche in a cup for 29 years.

But that line moves quickly: brother and sister team Brenda and Joseph take and pack up every order in record speed.

Their out-of-this-world ceviche comes in three sizes: small ($7.50), medium ($10) and large ($12.50). It’s a tasty combo of sea bass, onions, tomatoes and cilantro, and comes with crispy corn tostadas, slices of lime, avocado, hot sauce and hot peppers.

Eat it truckside and they’ll plate it, or take it to go. Just remember that the truck is cash-only and is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Thursday.

    — Jessica Koslow

Best Local YouTube Personality

Shira Lazar, “What’s Trending”

Shira Lazar at YouTube Space L.A. Photo by Ted Soqui

Shira Lazar at YouTube Space L.A.
Photo by Ted Soqui

whatstrending.com | youtube.com/user/Whatstrending

Forget TV. The future of the small screen is happening right here in Playa Vista at YouTube Space L.A. — a 41,000-square-foot creative campus with seven video production stages, broadcast-quality control rooms, private editing suites and a vault stocked with top-quality media equipment.
At YouTube Space L.A., today’s media entrepreneurs don’t wait for a call from Burbank. They make magic happen for themselves — just like Shira Lazar. She’s the creator and host of “What’s Trending,” a live interactive talk show and video blog with a YouTube channel boasting more than 300,000 subscribers.
Lazar has built up enough online cred to be a regular around YouTube Space L.A., sometimes even recording live concerts in the space’s dedicated sound stage. If there’s a dedicated town center for the video community, this is the place — and Lazar is right in the middle of the action.
   — Joe Piasecki


Best Place to Dance with Your Baby in Utero

Happy Baby

Happy Baby founders Brandi Sharkey and Erin Fagerlind

Happy Baby founders Brandi Sharkey and Erin Fagerlind

Prenatal dance classes are moving and shaking their way into the birth plans of expectant mothers, and what better place to do it than a dance studio founded by moms?

“Our hope is that we can help parents raise happy, healthy babies while also caring for their own body and mind,” says Erin Fagerlind, who cofounded the Happy Baby yoga and wellness center with Brandi Sharkey (both of whom gave birth for a second time this month).

On Tuesday nights, Happy Baby hosts prenatal dance classes by certified pre-/post-natal fitness instructor Nicole “Dancing Moon” La Cour-Wordlaw, a professional dancer who discovered the benefits of prenatal dance during her own pregnancy.

La Cour-Wordlaw leads her students through breathing, stretching and affirmations before turning up the grooves — West African, Latin, Caribbean, hip-hop, swing and, of course, belly dancing!

“My classes focus on stamina, endurance, strength, flexibility, cardiovascular and respiratory health, relaxation, trust in one’s body, community and sisterhood — and some helpful tips for labor, delivery and parenting,” she says.

— Tiffany Walton


Best Way to Meet Someone at Your Own Pace

L.A. Leggers

L.A. Leggers take it to the streets

L.A. Leggers take it to the streets

1450 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica (424) 253-4437 | laleggers.org

The L.A. Leggers running club has been motivating people to cross the finish line for more than 25 years, but each outing is
a new adventure on the way to your personal best.

Leggers meet at 1450 Ocean every Saturday for a run along the beach from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Training for the L.A. Marathon starts in August with a two-mile run, then the distance increases by a mile each week until the big event. Each pace group is led by a mentor to keep everybody motivated and on track toward their individual goals.

Informal runs happen throughout the year, and the Leggers also host sweat-free social events to remind members that running isn’t just hard work, it’s also fun. These include marathon-watching parties at local pubs, movie screenings, group beach cleanups and outings to Dodger games.

Membership ($75/year) includes a running shirt, goody bag, personalized training plan and admission to guest lectures on everything from pre-run stretching and nutrition to post-run recovery.

More than a running club, the L.A. Leggers are a support network — a group of friends who won’t leave you behind on the way to
the finish line.

— Nicole Payne

Best ‘Clean’ Candy

A Real Treat Candy Boutique
2724 Main St., Santa Monica (424) 272-5416 | arealtreat.com

Vanessa Hughes and daughter Bailey

Vanessa Hughes and daughter Bailey

Let’s be clear: It’s still candy — or as A Real Treat Candy Boutique owner Vanessa Hughes likes to call it, a treat.

But these sweets are free of corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors and many common food allergens. Instead, the sugars are from cane, coconut and maple. So it’s not health food, but it is better for you.

Hughes and her husband opened their shop on Main Street about 18 months ago after a long and difficult search to find healthier candy options for their young daughter.

A Real Treat gives priority to stocking goodies from Southern California candy makers, like Torrance-based Nohmad Snack Co.’s paleo chocolate, which is great for people with gluten, dairy and soy allergies.

New on the shelves is a non-GMO, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan kettle corn in three flavors: Sweet & Salty, Butter Me Up and Cinnamon Bun.

A Real Treat’s latest bestseller is the Seely Mint Patty, made with heirloom mint oil from a third-generation mint farm in Oregon — sort of like a Peppermint Patty or Thin Mint, but “cleaner.”

— Jessica Koslow


Best Place to Wear Local Pride on Your Sleeve

Clean {Aesthetic} 3

23 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey |(310) 821-2527 | cleanaesthetic.com

Matt Rheault, Charlie Carroll and Aaron Rosenstock show their PdR pride at Clean {Aesthetic}

Matt Rheault, Charlie Carroll and Aaron Rosenstock show their PdR pride at Clean {Aesthetic}

Playa del Rey may not have the same international name recognition as Venice Beach, but locals like it that way — and so does Clean {Aesthetic}, the hyperlocal surf, skate, art and apparel shop run by Aaron Rosenstock, Charlie Carroll and Matt Rheault on Culver Boulevard.
When the three entrepreneurs teamed to open a brick-and-mortar base camp for Rosenstock and Carroll’s sustainable graphic tee line, they fully embraced the “obscure little beach town,” says Rosenstock, by incorporating images of its homes and businesses into their wearable designs. Their signature “Playa Stacked” design shows a PdR bluff packed with houses and longtime local businesses while a jet fresh off an LAX runway soars overhead. A new design called “Smog of L.A.” shows Otis’ former IBM building, LAX’s Theme Building and other L.A. landmarks swaddled in a thick marine layer.
Clean {Aesthetic} threw Playa del Rey’s first “Locals Only” art party last spring and will open
its doors to the community again from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, for a “Clean Tee Party” to unveil new designs and do live screen-printings of “Playa Stacked.” Nothing says PdR love like wearing a shirt that screams “Playa del Rey for Life.” They have one that says that, too.

  — Christina Campodonico


Best Place to Make a Plan and Stick to It

The ‘Before I Die’ Wall, 8700 block of La Tijera Boulevard, Westchester, beforeidie.cc

Westchester’s “Before I Die” wall as it appeared last year

Westchester’s “Before I Die” wall as it appeared last year

People generally avoid talking about death, but the “Before I Die” international art project pulls this dark subject into the light by asking people to think about life.

“We have a lot of word voodoo around death,” concept creator Candy Chang said earlier this year during a lecture at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. “People often say, ‘Don’t go there,’ or ‘It’s
too sad.’”

Chang’s interactive art walls aim to overcome such stigma by encouraging passersby to pick up a piece of chalk and respond to a simple yet thought-provoking prompt stenciled on each chalkboard-painted wall: What do you hope to accomplish before you die?

Since the project began five years ago, more than 2,000 “Before I Die” walls have gone up in 70 countries, with Chang offering online guidance and resources for those who wish to install one in their neighborhood.

Westchester resident Elliot Kharkats put his up on La Tijera Boulevard in late 2012, adding a wish to someday have children. Aspirations posted anonymously have included “publish a book,” “start a dog rescue” and “travel the world.”

The wall has since been updated with a mural and the prompt: “I channel my creativity towards…”

Chang says these walls not only reflect the unique concerns and inner-thoughts of each community, they also allow for communal catharsis.

“These public walls are like a big, honest mess … of the longing and pain and joy and insecurity and gratitude and fear and wonder,” says Chang. “Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life … a gentle first step towards honesty and vulnerability in public, which can not only help us work better together but can help us become our best selves.”

  — Christina Campodonico











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