Non mainstream eating around Santa Monica
July 12, 2016 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Hi all. As I've mentioned, I'm taking my now 18-yo daughter to Los Angeles in September. We have flights and a booking at the Hotel California (heaven help me), and the next stage in planning is upon us. Laura wants some recommendations for "non-mainstream" places to eat around the general areas of Venice and Santa Monica.

I can't clearly explain "non-mainstream" other than by saying that Denny's is clearly mainstream. No particular dietary restrictions and we are both reasonably adventurous eaters. She likes sushi, I'm less enthusiastic, but we are generally ready to try most things. Ideally the places would be relatively inexpensive and not too heavy on grease and sugar.
Suggestions, anyone? Thanks in advance.
posted by Logophiliac to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If non-mainstream means Denny's, then you can't throw a rock without hitting a non-mainstream place to eat in both Santa Monica and Venice.

I don't live on the westside so I'm rarely over there and don't have a lot of recommendations, but... Sugarfish in Santa Monica is a good place to get Sushi, especially for the less-enthusiastic sushi eater, as its focus is on simplicity and freshness, rather than adventurous ingredients. The godmother sandwich at Bay Cities Deli (also Santa Monica) is considered one of the better sandwiches in LA. Cafe Gratitude in Venice is a vegan place that is very LA. Not my personal favorite, but a lot of people seem to like it, especially visitors.
posted by dadaclonefly at 1:59 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's Jonathan Gold's 101 best from last November, which runs the gamut from food truck to splurge.
posted by brujita at 2:03 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I mean....does she want really California-y places? Real Food Daily is a long-standing vegan place in Santa Monica. But if she just means "not chains," you guys are going to be fine.

In your area, for an 18 year old, I would try Swingers (the one on Beverly is the original, but the one in Santa Monica is fun too and basically the same; it's a classic).

DEFINITELY get a sandwich at Bay Cities. If you're going to the beach, pick it up to go, as there isn't really a place to eat there (they have tables on the patio but the beach will be more scenic).

El Cholo is fun and an LA classic (although personally I don't think the food is that great and would suggest, if you really want Classic LA Mexican that you drive to El Coyote, or if you want fancier, to go to Petty Cash, or if you want more authentic, we have a ton of great great taco trucks).

If you're going up the coast, Neptune's Net is a classic and good fun.

Hama Sushi in Venice has been there forever and is fun and not too pricy (sushi can get so $$$).

There are a LOT of places around where you guys are staying, though -- you'll be fine!

Try to eat at a food truck, too, while you're here. Have fun!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:08 PM on July 12, 2016

Best answer: The Hotel California is just a few doors down from the Santa Monica Pier, where The Albright is excellent. A picnic table atmosphere; perhaps more suited to lunch than dinner.
posted by megatherium at 2:32 PM on July 12, 2016

This is a decent list
And don't bother with ElCholo....
Look for a list of best taco joints or journey to West Hollywood or Echo Park for Guisado's
posted by calgirl at 2:47 PM on July 12, 2016

A short drive away from Santa Monica is the Kogi Taqueria. Korean tacos are as LA a food as exists these days, and definitely not mainstream.
posted by Anonymousness at 3:12 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Santa Monica native here; some ideas:

Jamaican food at the Port Royale.

Nonstop Sushi is a populist party-sushi joint with an all-you-can-eat option. Sort of the opposite of purist Sugarfish mentioned above -- like, lots of fancy over-the-top rolls, fish tastes like fish and not some ethereal substance -- and more fun, imo.

El Texate is a low-key and friendly Oaxacan restaurant. To consider if you've never had dishes with black mole sauce.

If you can make it a bit outside Santa Monica, there's Persian food, which can be pretty unique, and is very L.A. Like here. And for Persian inside Santa Monica go to the Tehran Market on Sunday afternoon where they set up a grill in the parking lot. Really good!
posted by bertran at 4:32 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work in Santa Monica by the Pier, and while there are plenty of tourist trap-type mainstream places, there's also "non-mainstream" places everywhere you look, basically. I'll second the rec for Sugarfish, and also add Ninjin, which is more of a hole in the wall type place. There's also a bunch of local chain type salad and sandwich places (Tender Greens, Sweetgreen, Simply Salad, Lemonade), but I imagine those are of more interest to us office types on our lunch breaks; I'm just mentioning them in case you're in need of something fast, fresh, and healthy.

For Persian food, my favorite on the Westside is Javan, which is maybe a little out of your way since it's further down Santa Monica Blvd.
posted by yasaman at 4:53 PM on July 12, 2016

There's a nice little pocket of Indian restaurants in Culver City. The Kerala-style buffet at Mayura is not even mainstream Indian.
posted by Scram at 4:55 PM on July 12, 2016

Best answer: That no one has suggested Cha Cha Chicken yet is baffling.

And, yeah, seconding all of the suggestions above, but especially Bay Cities for deli sandwiches.

Honorable mentions to Bossa Nova, Truxton's and Baby Blues BBQ. I think that Angelenos think of them as a little bit mainstream because the have locations throughout the city, but visitors may feel otherwise, and they are all MANY steps removed from Denny's in terms of quality.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 5:44 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bangkok West Thai, Santa Monica Blvd.
posted by Oyéah at 5:50 PM on July 12, 2016

There's a branch of Jinkys (which has 30 kinds of chili including veggie) in SM.
posted by brujita at 6:18 PM on July 12, 2016

Yes- seconding Cha Cha Chicken!
posted by aviatrix at 7:01 PM on July 12, 2016

Seconding Sugarfish sushi. Also recommend: Korean barbecue at Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, asian fusion tacos and/or burritos at Komodo, and a cronut ice cream (gelato?) sandwich at Bonaventura Gelato in Marina del Rey. In general, ice cream sandwiches feel like a very LA thing to me!

If you're willing to drive a little ways specifically for food: head to the San Gabriel Valley for shen jian bao at Kang Kang Food Court and/or xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung.
posted by staraling at 7:51 PM on July 12, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I've marked some best answers but everyone has done pretty well for us. I must admit I'd been thinking of the food scene as being pretty much Denny's and burger joints or expensive places on Hollywood Boulevard. Clearly I was a long way off base. Whatever else happens, we won't starve.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:37 PM on July 12, 2016

Real Food Daily actually just closed down their SM location. Cafe Gratitude (Venice) is a good substitution, though, as is Sage Vegan Bistro (Culver City).

If non-mainstream includes slightly dive-y (or just really old fashioned) places I would definitely recommend driving around and trying some of the more "old school" places Los Angeles has to offer, like El Coyote on Beverly, Casablanca in Venice, and the Tam O'Shanter (Atwater Village).
posted by tremspeed at 1:08 AM on July 13, 2016

Umami Burger is a well known (and very delicious) local chain and is within walking distance of the Santa Monica Pier.
posted by mmascolino at 10:30 AM on July 13, 2016

The onigiri at Sunny Blue in Venice is delicious.
posted by zippy at 11:07 AM on July 13, 2016

Best answer: Bay Cities sandwiches are a must! I vouch for Sunny Blue as well, and also the Aussie Pie Kitchen nearby! And on Lincoln there is Satdha Thai, Wurstküche, Superba Food and Bread. Try to stay away from places by the pier and you should have no problem finding a place to eat delicious, reasonably priced food!
posted by estherbester at 3:08 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi again. Estherbester gets a best answer (from this far-from-home Australian) for the reference to the Aussie Pie Kitchen.
posted by Logophiliac at 12:25 AM on July 14, 2016

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