Travel

The Los Angeles West Side Guide

The West Side can be broken into Venice, Santa Monica, and West LA, which is home to Sawtelle Avenue (aka Little Osaka) and its many incredible noodle and sushi spots. And thanks to the beach, numerous parks, and kid-centric shops, it’s also ideal for hanging out with the littles.

Hamasaku

11043 Santa Monica Blvd., West LA | 310.479.7636

Where East meets West. And by that we mean that its central location—right off the 405—makes it an excellent meeting point for friends from opposite sides of town. It’s also where sushi purists and California Roll enthusiasts can dine at the same table. There’s an extensive menu of cooked dishes, along with the whimsically-named rolls like Green Dragon, Asylum, and Sixteen Plus.

Daikokuya

2208 Sawtelle Blvd., West LA | 310.575.4999

There's something so comforting about a hot bowl of ramen on a cold day, and anytime there's even a hint of rain in Los Angeles, the lines at Little Tokyo's Daikokuya are out the door. What makes the ramen here stand out is the broth, which is cooked with pork bones for hours to achieve its thick, flavorful consistency. The portions are huge, so be prepared to take home leftovers. This location, on Sawtelle, has the same ramen with shorter lines.

Plan Check

1800 Sawtelle Blvd., West LA | 310.444.1411

Plan Check is primarily known for the Plan Check Burger (PCB), which pairs a juicy patty with their signature ketchup leather (it’s like ketchup-flavored fruit leather). With the burger hogging the spotlight, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the restaurant also serves what’s arguably one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in the city. The secret is that they cold smoke and brine the chicken before it’s fried—the perfectly crispy, flavorful result is served with pimento cheese, duck breast ham, and crunchy pickles. There are two other locations, on Fairfax and Downtown.

Chinois on Main

2709 Main St., Santa Monica | 310.392.9025

This place has been around since the '80s, but in the intervening years, it's lost none of its appeal. As a pioneer in the Asian-fusion space (one of Wolfgang Puck's first restaurants), Chinois—which marries French and Chinese cuisine—totally revolutionized the L.A. food scene. Now, the food feels wonderfully familiar in a space that looks straight out of Ruthless People. The curried oysters, duck pancakes, and spicy miso black cod are classics. A trip here always brings a real sense of nostalgia, as this was one of the first foodie destinations in California. The excellent service and family-style servings make it perfect for a group (and there's a private room to accommodate, too).

Aestus

507 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica | 424.268.4433

This is the kind of slightly elevated, but not too stuffy neighborhood spot that’s been missing in this little corner of Santa Monica. The bar is just as great for catching up with a pal over a craft cocktail as it is for dining solo, while the dining room can easily accommodate groups large and small (we like to grab a table with views of the open kitchen). The menu is rife with approachable, hearty dishes—handmade pastas, veggie-packed quinoa bowls, steak frites—that make both celebratory occasions and weeknights when you don’t feel like cooking extra-special. The recently introduced Sunday Italian Suppers get you a three-course meal and dessert for $45.

Flores + Sons

2024 Sawtelle Blvd., West LA | 424.273.6469

The space here is soaring and clean-lined, from the garden-like outdoor patio in the front to the oversized booths in the back to the arched counter that overlooks the kitchen (our favorite spot). The varied interior provides a nice backdrop to the quilt-like array of small plates, sourced from every far-flung corner of the globe. You could be trying Middle Eastern style roasted baby carrots with mint and yogurt alongside Southern collard greens with ham, and then finish in Italy with an eggplant parm. The parm, by the way, is great here, as is the tender, perfectly dressed kale Caesar.

Giorgio Baldi

114 W. Channel Rd., Santa Monica | 310.573.1660

Giorgio's is like a culinary second home in Los Angeles, in no small part because this is still a family operation, and it shows. The service is warm and attentive, and the unfussy and fun vibe is the perfect backdrop for the incredible Northern Italian fare. Go for the octopus carpaccio with deep fried capers, penne langostine, sweet corn agnolotti with truffle butter, and sea bass—and stay for the white truffles, which are imported from Piedmont every fall. While it's not exactly casual, Giorgio's is never uptight, meaning children are always welcome at the table.

necco

1929 Westwood Blvd., West LA | 310.446.5241

Health-conscious necco serves super fresh small Japanese dishes, with an emphasis on tasty root vegetables like ginger, daiko, lotus root, and carrot. The dishes are prepared in satisfyingly innovative ways, and the restaurant's clean, minimalist decor suits perfectly.

Nong La

2055 Sawtelle Blvd., West LA | 310.268.1881

Considering Nong La’s immense popularity, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually a small, family-run operation. It started with brother-and-sister duo, Elaine and Victor Phuong, and their mom Khanh Phan, who sourced family recipes and adapted them into a perfect menu of Vietnamese banh mi, egg-topped fried rice, and a light, flavorful pho that you can customize to your liking. The new La Brea location is just a smidge fancier than the Sawtelle original but the menu is for the most part identical. Tip: Treat yourself to a glass of the homemade passion fruit iced tea—it’s delicious and just sweet enough to constitute as dessert. A new location just opened on La Brea.

The Apple Pan

10801 W. Pico Blvd., West LA | 310.475.3585

This Los Angeles classic is still staffed by many of the same people who worked the U-shaped counter when we were kids: It's a stand-by for great reason. The menu is edited, the paper-wrapped burgers are no-frills and excellent, and the pie always comes à la mode. Cash only.

Totoraku

10610 W. Pico Blvd., West LA

LA's secret Japanese beef restaurant, Totoraku, isn't so much a secret anymore. But it's still incredibly difficult to get into. You either have to know chef-owner Kaz Oyama or know someone who has dined at Totoraku before and knows him. (The ultimate seal of approval as a guest of Totoraku is getting a business card at the end of your meal with the private number used for reservations.) Nothing about the look of Totoraku is impressive. It's marked from the outside by a sign for "The Teriyaki House Pico," a failed restaurant of Oyama's. Inside the tiny space, there is little to no decor to speak of. And there's no wine menu—interestingly, Totoraku is BYOB. But there's probably no better place for beef—of all kinds, served raw, cooked, and grilled right at your table.

Sasabune

11917 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood | 310.478.3596

The givens: Unadorned sushi, attentive service, a busy and buzzy atmosphere. What sets it apart from the other west side options is very simple. It's the rice. Perfectly moist and served slightly warm, it's the ideal vehicle for the fish, which is, for the most part, presented sans sauce (why mar perfection?). They offer a $28 lunch special that condenses the omakase menu but still packs the same punch. There's also a location in Beverly Hills, and now one in New York.

Tsujita LA

2057 Sawtelle Blvd., West LA | 310.231.7373

This L.A. outpost of a popular Japanese restaurant is somewhat of a mecca for noodle snobs: Made all the more elusive because Tsujita only serves their artisanal ramens at lunch (come dinner, it’s traditional Japanese fare). Fortunately, they just opened an Annex on the opposite side of Sawtelle, where you can get bowls of Tsukemen-style ramen all day long.

Baltaire

11647 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood | 424.273.1660

This big, splashy steakhouse smack in the middle of San Vicente delivers on all the American classics you'd expect (filets, lobster rolls, and the requisite sides, like creamed spinach and mashed potatoes). It's expensive, but fun for groups or cozy date nights.

Farmshop

225 26th St., Brentwood | 310.566.2400

Jeff Cerciello (former Thomas Keller culinary director) perfects the bakery-cum-larder-cum-restaurant concept in this sunny space with all-day dining at rustic communal tables including a wonderful family-style dinner with a market-driven menu. Ingredients here are top-notch and Cerciello knows what to do with them, keeping the food exciting and tasty without over-complicating. The Roast Jidori Chicken is a standout, along with any of the fresh seafood or excellent produce-based dishes. There's an attached mini-grocery store with an excellent cheese selection, pastries, and prepared salads and sandwiches.

Cassia

1314 7th St., Santa Monica | 310.393.6699

Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb are basically the First Family of West L.A.’s food scene. There’s Rustic Canyon, which started it all, and Huckleberry Café, and Milo & Olive, and Sweet Rose Creamery, and now, Cassia, which they opened in partnership with another great culinary couple, Bryant Ng (R.I.P. Spice Table) and Kim Luu-Ng. With three stretch bars, a stunning Art Deco dining room, and buckets of natural light, it’s by far one of the biggest and most beautiful spaces in Santa Monica, and the Southeast Asian-inflected food is some of the best we’ve ever tasted. The airy space, not to mention the convenient location, make it a no-brainer for small parties and events as well—call ahead to reserve the separate private dining room which can comfortable seat up to 20 people .

Echigo Sushi

12217 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.820.9787

This is as low-profile as it goes for strip mall sushi, which says a lot. It's always quiet (besides the elevator jazz in the background that lends a shred of ambiance) and there's never a wait to get a table. Whether you're ordering off the menu or opting for the set omakase at the bar, it's nicely affordable, too, which doesn't translate to lower grade fish. Photo: Benyeh2

Salt Air

1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | 310.396.9333

There's a decided beach house vibe going on here, from the white brick walls to the white marble tables and chairs. Dotted with skylights, it's sun-drenched, too. The menu is seafood/bistro, like olive-oil-poached salmon, steak au poivre, and lobster rolls—with the oysters and fries being our favorite order. Thin glass tumblers filled with wine, illustrated menus, and food intended to be shared makes this an ideal place for dinner with friends (or a date). Photo: Jakob Layman

FIG

101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.319.3111

Located inside the Fairmont hotel (the same property as the popular, young-crowd bar The Bungalow), FIG is helmed by Chef Yousef Ghalaini, and the Mediterranean menu draws on dishes he made growing up with his grandfather in Lebanon. Highlights come from the restaurant's wood-burning oven/grill: roasted veggies, wood-smoked clams with thyme and pepper relish, whole fish and, if meat is your thing, serious steaks. The beautiful indoor-outdoor space centers around the bar (cocktails are worth sampling here), and spills onto a patio overlooking the Fairmont's pool.

Father’s Office

1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica | 310.736.2224

Order the Office Burger, complete with bacon, caramelized onions, gruyere, and blue cheese (no substitutions allowed), with a side of sweet potato fries, and one of an encyclopedia's worth of craft beers. There's another location in Culver City.

Hinterland

2917 Main St., Santa Monica | 310.399.0805

Even though there’s no sign indicating you’re at the right place, you won’t have a hard time locating this small-ish restaurant thanks to two major factors: the crowds of regulars who’ve come to rely on it for after-work drinks and casual dinners, and the welcoming white-tiled interior outfitted with brass details, a stretch bar, and cozy booths. From the perfectly charred octopus salad, to the roasted chicken, everything on the menu is meant to compliment the beer and wine list, though Executive Chef Maximilian DiMare’s Southern-tinged style of cooking lends itself especially well to weekend brunch dishes—specifically, the killer shrimp and grits, which are, thankfully, on the dinner menu as well.

Milo & Olive

2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.453.6776

Many would argue that Milo & Olive has some of the best pizza on the West Side, if not all of L.A. We have to agree. This is the third restaurant from culinary power couple Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, and much like Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon, the menu is completely ingredient driven. Breakfast and weekend brunch is devoted to classic egg dishes (a totally decadent creamy polenta with poached eggs wins, every Saturday) and baked treats. For dinner, a pizza-salad-pasta combo is the ideal order for two. The restaurant doesn’t accept reservations so come early to snag a spot at the bar, which offers uninterrupted views of the open kitchen, or at one of the marble communal tables. Thankfully, they recently completed a much-needed expansion. They recently opened Cassia, too.

Cerveteca

523 Rose Ave., Venice | 310.310.8937

One of the first things you'll likely notice is that the stools here aren't particularly comfortable—we're guessing this was an intentional decision, otherwise everyone would stick around for even longer. Despite the packed scene (you'll get intimate with your neighbor), this is one of our favorites in Venice, thanks to the California-Mexican menu and the frequent happy hours. There are also locations downtown and in Culver City.

Tasting Kitchen

1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | 310.392.6644

You’d never guess that The Tasting Kitchen sits on one of Venice’s busiest thoroughfares: It’s partly because of the fortress-like entrance, and partly because the loft-y, two-floor space revolves around a small grove of transporting olive trees. The food—modern Italian by Portland transplant Casey Lane—is excellent, made even better by the comfortable, leather wrapped Eames chairs, welcoming bar area, and always kind and attentive service. While it's one of the city's major culinary destinations—and gets really booked—if you walk in at 6, you can generally always get a table, and there are two big communal tables in the bar. If you have at least 20 people, you can book their elegant private space upstairs.

Ingo’s Tasty Diner

1213 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.395.4646

There's a rowdy happy hour scene at this relatively new arrival in Santa Monica: Packed out with spacious booths, this has the vibe of an old-school diner, but with a fancy, provenance-driven menu. You'll find all the standards (hamburgers, big bowl salads, et al), but they're gussied up and sourced from local farms and purveyors. Though the drinking game is strong, it's kid friendly (there's a separate menu, as well as Etch-a-Sketch's to keep the family busy).

Stella Barra

2000 Main St., Santa Monica | 310.396.9250

While it's part of a bigger restaurant chain, the Stella Barra in Santa Monica feels very much like a neighborhood spot. It's almost always packed for dinner: parties of two can take advantage of the bar seating, and there's usually room to hang in the café area (which sells unreal salted chocolate chip cookies) that connects Stella to next-door M Street Kitchen (whose bar is typically less crowded). Stella's draw is the pizza, made from handcrafted dough, sized somewhere between a personal pizza and a pie, with a fairly crisp crust and addicting, soft center. First-timers should start with the Bloomsdale Spinach & Kale white pizza—and the Italian chopped salad is a solid side. (If you're headed to the Arclight theater in Hollywood, check out the Stella location there.)

Local Kitchen + Wine Bar

1736 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.396.9007

The Ocean Park Avenue in Santa Monica has been having a bit of a mini-renaissance, a micro-movement that started with Maire Byrne’s Thyme Café, which opened in 2009. Now, she’s opening a second restaurant on the street—Local Kitchen + Wine Bar. The new spot is a little bit more dressed up than Thyme, with a sit-down menu and rounded-out wine list. The interior is light and airy, with an intimate outdoor porch and two big, long bars: one in front of the sky-high wine rack and the other in front of their blazing pizza oven. Stephen Murray, formerly a sous chef for Michael Chiarello at Bottega in Napa, is the guy you’ll find manning said oven and running the rest of the kitchen. The American-style menu is filled with seasonal, California fare, but it’s a little bit heavier than you’re used to seeing from Byrne: Expect classic pizzas, straightforward pasta, and pared down meat dishes. If you’re not up for the full dinner, stop by before seven for a very well-priced happy hour.

Gjelina

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | 310.450.1429

It’s been five years, but Gjelina—a restaurant that ushered in a new sort of veggie-centric California cuisine—is as mobbed as ever. The crowds make a lot of sense: Everything is always excellent, from the aforementioned vegetable sides to the whisper-thin jalapeño and smoked mozzarella pizza. Come when they open so you can snag a table on the patio out back. (If the lines are too long, grab something to-go at GTA, their take-away spot next door.)

Scopa Italian Roots

2905 Washington Blvd., Venice | 310.821.1100

The first thing to know about Scopa is that it’s massive. In addition to a sea of cafe tables there are shared banquettes, communal tables, and a stretch bar which is home to an extensive spirit offering (there’s a healthy wine list as well). They even have a private room upstairs, with a peek-a-boo window overlooking the main dining room. We suggest starting with one of the expertly curated Italian cold cut and cheeses plates before diving into the more substantial pastas and mains. The menu is packed with classic Italian dishes (lasagne, whole branzino) which Chef Antonia Lofaso (of Top Chef fame) executes flawlessly. This is also one of the few non-Italian bakery spots in town where you can get a decent cannoli. Plus, unlike many L.A. eateries, this one serves food until midnight on most evenings.

The Rose

220 Rose Ave., Venice | 310.399.0711

It was undeniably sad when the original and iconic Rose shut its doors as, since 1979, it had been one of the main institutions in Venice for a basic breakfast/lunch. Fortunately, its massive renovation, re-imagining, and re-opening at the hands of chef Jason Neroni has only enhanced what was already there: A huge, open-air patio and soaring main dining room, complete with a takeout counter of prepared foods for those who can't linger over matcha lattes and avocado toast. Speaking of toast, the bread here is a must-order. Other stand-outs: the cacio e pepe and the hearth roasted chicken.

Mélisse

1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.395.0881

Luxe ingredients like lobster and caviar, made with a nod to traditional French technique, earned Melisse two Michelin stars. A tasting menu is basically mandatory at a place like this—if you're adventurous go for Chef Josiah Citrin's Carte Blanche menu. It's a great place for a white tablecloth-style event in one of their private rooms, too.

Café Gratitude

512 Rose Ave., Venice | 424.231.8000

Everything on the menu is an affirmation, so if you can stifle the giggles at names like "I Am Connected"—which is actually an amazing zucchini cilantro hummus—you'll find that the vegan food here is delicious, even for those who normally refuse to go meat and dairy-free. There are picks for every sensibility, from coffee milkshakes (made with almond milk), to cashew cheese topped corn tacos to Indian curried lentils. There are three locations—Hancock Park, Venice, and the Arts District—and the Café Gratitude team also has a Mexican iteration in Hollywood called Gracias Madre.

Michael’s

1147 Third St., Santa Monica | 310.451.0843

More than 25 years after opening, this place—like its counterpart in NYC—is still going strong, retaining that old-school Santa Monica feel. With new chef Miles Thompson’s revamped menu, Meredith Hayman’s fresh cocktails, and a breathtaking redesign of their lush back patio, we’ve recently come to regard it as our very classy new evening drinking destination. The candle-lit back patio is a magical spot for hosting an event.

R+D Kitchen

1323 Montana Ave., Santa Monica | 310.395.3314

You can’t tell just by looking at it, but R+D Kitchen is actually part of Hillstone Group, and happens to be one of the best restaurants in Santa Monica. Our standing order? Ding’s Crispy Fried Chicken sandwich, which is delicious and huge and therefore, comes pre-sliced into four only slightly more manageable pieces. The space itself can get packed at night, but totally doable for lunch any day of the week.

Tacoteca

2460 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica | 310.828.2115

This dive-bar-meets-taco-joint might not have the most ambiance on the West Side, but it more than makes up for it with way-better-than-average tacos and margaritas. The guacomole and are also both delicious and generously sized.

Via Veneto

3009 Main St., Santa Monica | 310.399.1843

Delicious regional Italian dishes, mainly from Rome and Tuscany, are served in a stylish, bustling space with romantically hushed lighting here. Co-owned by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo of Duran Duran, this place has a distinct European vibe and often star-studded crowd. The fresh ravioli is incredible and they serve the best cioppino in town.

Plant Food + Wine

1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | 310.450.1009

When the long-standing Axe shut its doors last year, a lot of West Siders were pretty bummed—but then chef Matthew Kenney swooped in to take over the space, turning the upstairs into a plant-based cooking academy. Sensibility-wise, it doesn't feel like much has changed—it still has a light, low-key vibe, with a pretty exceptional outdoor seating situation out back—except the menu is understandably, completely vegan. Kenney has a bunch of restaurants across the country under his belt now, which all deal in the same sort of forward-thinking fare, i.e., they do things with veggies and nuts that you don't typically see anywhere else. They're known for their aged nut-cheese plate, but we like the things that are closer to their original form, like the really good salads, and the curried cauliflower tacos.

Shima

1432 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | 310.314.0882

Tucked away behind an unmarked gate (only visible because of its smattering of lanterns), Shima flies wonderfully under the radar on a street full of high-profile restaurants. At this elegant Japanese spot, you'll find brown rice sushi that's mouth-wateringly fresh. Menu adds like spicy lotus root and mushrooms sautéed in white truffle oil make this more than your typical sushi spot.

Sunny Spot

822 W. Washington Blvd., Venice | 310.448.8884

Food truck celebrity-turned restaurateur Roy Choi is a local hero in LA, and Sunny Spot really feels like a neighborhood joint. The quirky décor matches the Caribbean-inspired menu with orange benches, blue chairs, and stools topped with floral-print vinyl. The comfortably shaded patio can get pretty rowdy on weekends when Venice locals stop by for a boozy brunch.

Forma

1610 Montana Ave., Santa Monica | 424.231.2868

A major player in the mini restaurant scene that's developing on Montana, Forma is the kind of place that's equally appropriate for a low-key after work bite, or a big night out. While all of the Italian classics are represented, there are some surprises on the menu, too, like a great cheeseburger and a gluten-free spaghetti that's pretty great.

The Butcher’s Daughter

1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | 310.981.3004

Taking up prime real estate on Abbot Kinney, this beloved NYC spot has finally made it out west. And it's not just the east coast transplants that have been lining up for a table in the beautifully turned out dining room (there's also an indoor-outdoor terrace that's pretty perfect for people watching) or a seat at one of two bars, everyone can appreciate the veggie-friendly menu (just brunch, breakfast, and lunch, for now), which includes standbys like avocado toast and breakfast burritos. The teeny but well-stocked retail space out front and the cold-pressed juice cooler are welcome little add-ons.