Santa’s Top 12 list of places to refresh and refuel during the Westside holiday rush
By Jessica Koslow and Angela Matano
Holiday shopping can be exhausting. Running around buying gifts, food and all of the other seasonal items on your list can zap hours and energy. You get frustrated. You get hungry. And nobody likes a hangry shopper!
In the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas, turtle doves and all, here are a dozen recommendations of where to fuel up with a meal or tide yourself over with a treat in 12 different Westside neighborhoods.
1 Main Street: Mamacitas
White Christmases may not punctuate the holiday season in Southern California, but then again, the opportunity to sip on a coconut or yuzu mojito makes up for a lack of snowflakes. Mamacitas (open inside The Victorian on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as Sunday brunch) oozes just the right cozy charm for optimal relaxation in between shopping bouts. With a menu that leans Mexican and easily shareable options like shrimp ceviche, chips and Oaxacan queso dip, and pork belly tacos, this café can tide you over or fill you up, depending on your inclinations. Filet mignon and salmon are good bets for those seeking a full entrée. For lighter fare, try the Calamigas salad: the Brussels sprouts, crunchy and roasted, their flavor amplified by chewy dates and goat cheese, will turn you into a believer.
2640 Main St., Santa Monica (310) 392-4956 | thevictorian.com
2 Del Rey: SACHI.LA
The burgeoning neighborhood of Del Rey badly needed a good coffee house to succor the thirsty and under-caffeinated. Enter SACHI.LA. Radiating Japanese flair, this café serves up a heavily curated mix of coffee and tea, boosted by pastries from nearby Hotcakes Bakes. If you have yet to try a matcha latte, carpe diem already! SACHI also sells merchandise and cards to make holiday perusing just that much easier. While you’re there, cross the street and pop into Pepe’s Thrifty Shop. Look beyond the furniture decorating the sidewalk and venture inside for hidden treasures. Pottery, dishes, tchotchkes and even some jewelry, sprinkled throughout the store, offer something unexpected for just about everyone.
4574 S. Centinela Ave., Del Rey | (213) 807-6109 | sachi.la
3 Rose Avenue: Bluestone Lane
The lines at Abbot Kinney eateries can make your tummy rumble just thinking about them. Opt instead to grab a bite at Bluestone Lane on Rose Avenue, or what is fast becoming Abbot Kinney Lite. Bluestone has locations from New York City to San Francisco, and now they’ve recently taken over part of the space that once was Oscar’s Cerveteca. The food and style is Aussie-inspired — and delicious from morning to evening. Order the bacon & egg roll if you get an early start, or stop by in between boutique browses for the mini bay burger sliders with caramelized onions, fig jam and white cheddar, or choose the seared salmon with fried Brussels sprouts. Relaxing on the pastel-colored outdoor patio screams California Christmas.
523 Rose Ave., Venice (718) 374-6858 bluestonelane.com
4 Sawtelle: Tatsu Ramen
Sawtelle’s reputation as a carnival of culinary delights is well deserved. There are many tremendous meals on the street, from sushi to Southern to burgers, but the one we keep coming back to — the one we crave —is the naked ramen at Tatsu. This noodle house serves up delicious and restorative soups as well, but the brothless bowl of expertly “Q” (chewy, al dente) strands of pasta, drenched in a sesame glaze and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs, is the bomb. Further toppings, like tofu, egg, pork chashu, seaweed and scallions, can be added at will. We recommend piling on the garlic and lime. Somehow each flavor comes through bright and strong, yet also melds together in complete harmony.
2123 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle Japantown | (310) 684-2889 | tatsuramen.com
5 Marina del Rey: Irori Sushi
Tucked away in an unassuming corner of the Marina Marketplace mall, Irori could easily fall under the radar. Oh, but once you enter! Once inside the small restaurant you leave the outside world and sink into a traditional Japanese sushi house. Believe me, you’ll feel a million miles away from secret Santa lists, Christmas tunes and forced cheer. Take off your shoes, pad over to one of the near-floor level tables and breathe out. Order some hot green tea or warm sake. The sushi is fresh and light. Other good choices are the black cod and baked, sweet miso eggplant.
4371 Glencoe Ave., Marina del Rey | (310) 822-3700 irorisushi.com
6 Santa Monica: Herringbone
Herringbone is another restaurant where, upon entering, all your worries seem to melt away. Clean and bright, with seafood galore, the offerings work well in either big or small doses, making the eatery a great place to stop no matter the time of day. Order something healthy, like the lobster, oysters or tuna tartare, and pair the fish with a frippery cocktail like the jaleberry — a delicious combination of naughty and nice, jalapeño and strawberry. The Buffalo octopus is especially to die for, the grilled meat super tender and the sauce scrumptiously tangy.
1755 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica | (310) 971-4460 herringboneeats.com
7 El Segundo: Caló Kitchen + Tequila
At the new Caló Kitchen + Tequila just east of The Point, the grilled pineapple and chile margarita, served in a crystal highball glass rimmed with spicy salt, is just one of the 12 kinds of margaritas we counted on the menu. Pair your cocktail with pork and pineapple tacos or shrimp ceviche for a quick pick-me-up. Snack on hot tortilla chips and creamy black bean dip while listening to the traditional mariachi music, trumpets ablazin’. There is absolutely no way you will not feel the spirit of Father Christmas move through you.
2191 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo | (424) 269-2322 calokitchen.com
8 Culver City: Ms. Chi Café
When the nights get chilly (and they actually do this time of year in L.A.), the chilly go to Ms. Chi Café … to warm up with steamy dishes like grilled skirt steak and broccoli, or shrimp in garlic confit and chives. But the true highlight of the menu of Chef Shirley Chung’s first restaurant, which only opened last month, is her perfectly chewy hand-cut noodles with pork and garnishes, like radish and bean sprouts. If you’re adventurous, try her Top Chef-winning Jumbo Cheeseburger Potstickers, which come with a tomato bacon jam.
3829 Main St., Culver City | (424) 361-5225 | mschicafe.com
9 Playa Vista: Ritrovo
Hoping to duplicate and expand on the success of Piccolo Ritrovo in Pacific Palisades, Ritrovo Playa Vista opened its doors this month offering the same menu, with some additions to be announced soon. For the kids, the fresh N.Y. style Napoli pizza — tomatoes, basil, garlic and mozzarella cheese — hits the spot. Grownups can indulge in pollo al limone or gnocchi with four cheeses: Parmigiano, goat, mozzarella and gorgonzola. At night, the palm trees circling Concert Park are brightly lit from top to bottom, making the view from the patio especially festive.
6020 Seabluff Dr., Playa Vista (424) 289-9327 ritrovoplayavista.com
10 Westchester: Melody Bar & Grill
Parents love Melody Bar & Grill’s winning comfort food choices, like steak nachos, shoestring garlic fries, beef sliders served on Hawaiian sweet bread, and jalapeño calamari. Plus, “Saturday mornings we have breakfast and cartoons, so while the kids are busy watching movies, mom and dad can have an adult beverage of their choice,” says co-owner Christian Warren. Holiday Bonus: The nostalgic bar and lounge, operating since 1952, boasts that it is the closest restaurant and bar to LAX, so it’s an excellent food stop when dropping off and picking up loved ones from the airport.
9132 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Westchester | (310) 670-1994 melodylax.com
11 Venice Beach: Fruit Gallery Juice Bar
Escape the exhilarating chaos that is the Venice Beach Boardwalk by ducking down Westminster Avenue into the Fruit Gallery Juice Bar. Detox with an organic juice — try a blend of spinach, parsley, lemon, ginger, apple, cucumber and celery — or go with the Muscle Beach flow and sip on a Muscle Head Smoothie — a mix of blueberry, banana, protein and peanut butter. Open since 2005, this small mom-and-pop spot also whips up wraps, salads and vegan tacos.
1 Westminster Ave., Venice (310) 452-3034 fruitgalleryla.com
12 Mar Vista: Atmosphere
This French café is a mouth-watering gem on Venice Boulevard. The food is flavorful and beautifully plated, from the Eggs on the Moon in the morning to the Garden Goddess Lasagna in the evening, and the vibe is laidback and friendly. Now open for dinner, Atmosphere Mar Vista resembles your favorite hangout when you were in college, with eclectic art-covered walls and an open-sky outdoor patio. New on the menu is also live entertainment. Norton Wisdom paints accompanied by musician Ireesh Lal every Wednesday night, and Rhythym DNA plays live soul on Saturday nights.
12034 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista | (310) 437-0144 atmospheremarvista.com