Taking over Sunny Spot, Nueva arrives on Venice’s food scene

By Anthony Torrise

Chef Vartan Abgaryan has put together a program of classic Mexican and experimental flavors

Since March, restaurants have had to adapt to a new normal in all kinds of ways. Some have even had to close down either temporarily or completely.

Westsider Jared Meisler had plans to open his new restaurant just when the pandemic struck, but after a few extra months of careful planning, Nueva came to fruition on Washington Boulevard in the space formerly occupied by Sunny Spot this August.

The specialty here is Mexican, and since it’s in Venice, you can count on there being as many experimental dishes as there are classics. Chef Vartan Abgaryan of Abbot Kinney’s Yours Truly helms the kitchen.

“I think [experimentation], it’s kind of everything,” says Meisler. “With Nueva, we wanted to have a lot of good classics, and I think doing classics, well, is very important, but we also just thought putting a twist on it makes it way more interesting.”

For instance, the ceviche and tacos come in a wide variety. Different bases for the ceviche include seabass, shrimp & octopus, hamachi & uni, or the vegan option with hearts of palm & cucumber. Vegan tacos are also available with roasted squash or falafel. The carne asada, pork belly or chicken tinga will do the trick for those who want meat. If seafood sounds more refreshing, then the Mediterranean octopus or tempura sea bass might be the way to go.

Experimentation doesn’t stop at the food, mind you. Eleven cocktails occupy the menu, with three available for takeout, including the Tepache Mule (mezcal, pineapple tepache, ginger, lime, mineral water, bitters), the Clarified Paloma (blanco tequila, mezcal, clarified grapefruit, agave, mineral water) and a double serving of the Mezcal Negroni (nitro-charged mezcal, Campari, Carpano vermouth and espresso). You can also never go wrong with a good margarita, especially if it’s frozen. Luckily, the menu has seven different frozen margaritas in a range of flavors — from pineapple infused with Aperol to cilantro and Nasturtium (an herbaceous flower) infused with Ancho Reyes. A sunny day combined with the lax and colorful patio makes for a perfect environment to lift the mood. It’s worth a visit to try the Reina Picante with habanero and serrano chili — perfect for lovers of spicy things.

Nueva is Meisler’s first venture into Mexican food, but it’s not his first restaurant. He’s been in the business for over 20 years with four other establishments in Silver Lake, West Hollywood, and Venice (including The Little Friend bar next door).

For Meisler, the biggest difference about starting Nueva was opening the restaurant during a pandemic! Since plans had to change and the initial opening was delayed, Nueva’s current layout was designed with COVID in mind. The tables are spaced out and hand sanitizer is all over the place. Safety is taken to another level with an iWave air filtration system.

With temperature screenings that happen at the door, “every little thing we do, when it comes to the restaurant, is different than it would have been in early March… everybody is checked,” says Meisler.

To make things even more interesting, Nueva will be having Dia de los Muertos specials on Halloween (Oct. 31) with a new pumpkin taco and appropriately themed cocktails. Spooky sippings include flaming margaritas, a “tequila vampire,” mezcal mummies and zombie cocktails. The staff will wear costumes, and guests are encouraged to as well!

Reservations are accepted but are not required, as Meisler likes to keep some tables open for diners who arrive on a whim.

Nueva is located at 822 Washington Boulevard, Venice. Visit nuevavenice.com for hours and more.