Modern Mexican light bites and mezcal shine brightly at Chulita

By Audrey Cleo Yap

Chulita 533 Rose Ave, Venice (424) 252-9886

Warm up with a bowl of Chulita’s coliflor fundido, made with queso Qaxaca and Milliken Farms shishito peppers
Chulita’s bright and cheery dining room invites passersby to stop
in for cocktails and conversation
Photos by Wonho Frank Lee

Since relocating from New York City to Los Angeles a year ago, Shireen Imani had been on the hunt for the perfect neighborhood spot — a local watering hole she could retreat to for a quick weeknight drink.

Her solution? Creating her own.

“Where do I go that’s my neighborhood spot … where I can go and have a cocktail, that’s not pretentious, that everyone can come and walk by and is welcome? That was really my goal,” said Imani.

Chulita in Venice is Imani’s first venture into the restaurant business and combines a few of her favorite things, namely a mezcal-driven bar menu and lighter Mexican fare or “botanas” (small bites). It takes up residence in Superba Snack Bar’s former digs on Rose Avenue.

The menu draws from Sinaloan and Michoacan-Mexican influences, with some Guatemalan flourishes, for drink-friendly dishes like the coliflor fundido, barbacoa tacos, spicy habanero ceviche and quesadillas made with cassava flour tortillas.

Brightly colored, overstuffed cushions line the banquettes, and the cozy space opens out into the street for daytime and warmer evening gatherings. And while the produce-heavy, paleo-friendly menu might make it seem like Chulita is “Venice-ifying” Mexican food (there are vegan nachos on the happy hour menu), it’s modern cooking that’s authentic, Imani said.

In addition to a range of tequilas and mezcals, the drinks menu includes a few virgin options like a seasonal lemonade and margarita. The bar is stocked with local labels, too, including Angelisco tequila and vodka from R6 distillery in El Segundo.

Imani is of Persian descent and grew up in Utah around the restaurant business with her family, immigrants from Iran. She hopes that being the new kid on the block will bring in locals, making it a new Venice favorite.

“I’ve always been a creative person, but I’ve always been an assistor in the creative. This is the first time I’ve had to really put myself out there,” Imani said. But she’s optimistic. “I think when you care about something, and it’s really you, you’re gonna find the people who will want to come and want to hang out. You’re going to attract people who want to be here.”