Three of my favorite young Los Angeles Areas for cuisine are Studio City, Santa Monica and Pasadena. The restaurants highlighted are consistent and affordable 4 and 5 stars restaurants. You will find a young, late night crowd at most, as well as a full bar (except for two).
Lining Ventura Blvd. STUDIO CITY is the best place for the after work crowd in the San Fernando Valley. Trendy boutiques, salons and cuisine line the street for blocks. Black Market Liquor Bar has amazing food, amazing drinks, amazing atmosphere, amazing service, amazing crowd and valet parking. Finally a cool new hangout in the valley! Because we were dining, we only waited 20-25 minutes for a table on a Saturday night. Black Market has a nondescript storefront. From the outside it looks like a dive but those in the know, know differently. The ahi poke was like a tare tare minus the carbs, paired perfectly with the dill potato chips (with aeoli). Yumm! The oxtail ragu has spaghetti noodles and is very rich and delish. The short rib slider has rum raisins and combines some awesome flavors. The fennel salad is a mix of cabbage and is very refreshing. Dessert was the gooey goodness of the Fluffernutter. Unreal! It’s a giant marshmallow layered with bananas and nutella, then deep fried. Wow! Extremely impressed with all of the food. These are small plate/tapas portions, so the bill will start to creep up on you. For cocktails, the Basil Ray is unbelievable. It’s a like a basil vodka mojito with elderflower and crushed ice. Worth the $12 price tag. The servers also bring you filtered water in carafes.
Lala’s Argentine Grille is a busy restaurant with exceptional food. The Arroz Del Campo with chicken has amazing flavor and I can see why it is one of their specials. It’s a tomato rice dish with a lot of other components. Portions are HUGE, I felt ill I ate so much and still didn’t finish. Service is very friendly, with knowledgeable and attentive staff. My huge entrée was only $9.99+ $2 to add chicken. Valet is $3.50 and with limited street parking I was glad to avoid walking. Photo of Arroz Del Campo chicken from yelp below.
Aroma Coffee and Tea on Tujunga is my favorite cafe. You wait in line to order plentiful entrees, decadent desserts and mind blowing espresso drinks. This is a cafe, so no alcohol. Aroma is a hotspot for the local entertainment industry. Lots of writers and people with laptops camped out in the cozy nooks and patio areas. There’s even a gift shop here. This place is a real icon in the Valley, a must try! Photo of the dessert case from yelp below.
Classic OLD TOWN PASADENA along Colorado Blvd, remains the center of activity for the East Side. It is a more diverse crowd ranging from young to old, but there is truly something for everyone. The town comes alive in the evenings. I have been to Green Street Restaurant (yelp photo below) a handful of times and the food is always consistent. The salads are to die for and so is the zucchini bread. It’s tough to make a salad really stand out as interesting, but their dressings do the trick. Both the Dianne salad and the Spinach salad are a must-try. Champagne by the glass is only $5 and there are lots of fun mixed drinks. Service is super friendly and attentive. There is also a patio, perfect for lunch on a sunny day right in the shopping walkway area off Colorado.
Cafe Santorini is another favorite of mine in Old Town. The Santorini mezze plate is great to start, and huge! I would come back to this place for the mezze alone it was so tasty. The hummus has lots of flavor, as does the herb bread served in a basket with pita. The chicken kabob is marinated with a lot of spices and the filet of salmon comes with a dill lemon sauce you will want to lick up from the plate. We had no room for dessert… clearly! My mouth is watering at the memory of the meal. Santorini is a beautiful date spot with a cute heated patio and cozy dining room. The restaurant is tucked down an alley, surrounded with charming brick buildings. Gold Class Cinemas is nearby to do dinner and a movie if you really want to impress (photo from yelp below).
La Luna Negra is Spanish tapas. Come for the food and value which gets 5 stars, but expect a packed house where the service is about 2 stars (family owned and not an ample staff). But for somewhere with poor service, you know the food is fantastic when it’s a packed house on a Tuesday night. We sipped on white sangria while we waited for a table which they discounted 50% (though I’m not quite certain if that was intentional or not). The tapas rival the best I have had elsewhere where you can spend $200 on the same meal that we paid $75 for here. We loved EVERYTHING that we tried! The ceviche with corn chips had just the right amount of all the right ingredients; not at all a typical ceviche. The salmon con espina (puff pastry with mushroom, spinach and aioli) was one of the best dishes that I’ve ever put into my mouth. And the Pollo con salsa champinones paella was a mesh of wonderful flavors all impeccably blended and prepared over rice. You’ll have to be patient here, but it’s worth the wait (ceviche photo from yelp below).
You can’t find a better place to hang out than by the beach in SANTA MONICA/VENICE. The neighborhoods draws a young 20’s and 30’s professional crowd who live out here. Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach is a fun strip to walk along with tons of bars and restaurants. And the first Friday of each month, this drag hosts a huge street festival where boutiques and art galleries open their doors and courtyards to the eclectic public. Gourmet food trucks line the streets. Main Street is a second area of Santa Monica that boasts boutiques, bars, and great food; again drawing a younger crowd.
Primitivo Wine Bar in Venice Beach is a bustling restaurant with a wine bar attached. Our Wine Steward/Server suggested the Gramona Gessami 2009, which I fell in love with! There is a wine list about 20 pages long but thankfully the staff really know their stuff. Note that Primitivo is wine/beer only, no full bar. We started with a variety of cheeses served with toasts, followed by a huge paella and a fantastic golden beet salad featuring cilantro. We finished the meal with bread pudding and cappuccino. All in all it was a fabulous meal with a great atmosphere and service (cheese plate photo from yelp below).
New to the block, The Tasting Kitchen has a fun menu and creative cocktails. It is one of the pricier restaurant I have listed. Per the suggestion of a guy sitting at the bar I tried the Bluebird (blueberry licquor and bourbon) and a tequila drink infused with cucumber. Both were amazing cocktails with one giant ice cube. Drinks ran about $12 in a short glass. The bar was REALLY packed. Without a reservation we waited for about 40 minutes for a table. Most of the seating is on the beautiful covered patio where the lighting is dim but the tables are full and bustling. Once seated we ordered the olives, salad, fries, fusilli and beef between two of us. The entrees here change regularly. No room for dessert. The food is very rich and flavorful. You MUST start with the castrelverano olives. Everyone at the bar had them so I ordered them at our table. You get a lot of them and we went through them all. The fries are well seasoned and served with aeoli that is TO DIE for. The salad had hazelnuts and a lemony dressing. It was like a fight to finish it! The beef is well prepared and between a medium and medium rare. I really enjoyed the reduction. This is a great place to try if you don’t mind asking questions. Most people will not understand what absolutely everything is on the menu (photo from yelp below).
The Misfit Restaurant is wonderful. My favorite drink was the Basil Gimlet. I tasted the Lucy’s “spiked” lemonade, a bit sweet but also yummy. And if you like Pimms you have to try the Pimms Punch. This place uses local ingredients and grain fed/ free range meat which I like. The menu goes on and on with fresh and inventive ingredients. For food, the mixed green salad was wonderful, as were the fried chicken and mac ‘n cheese (which really has some kick to it). All 3 had something a little “special” added. Even the artichoke we ordered was cooked with so much flavor, I loved it. The dijon on the Misfit Burger is to die for (add the over-easy egg). Photo from yelp of shoestring fries with blue cheese below.
Fraiche is also a little more expensive than the other restaurants I have listed. I came here with a group of 5 of us so we ordered the entire appetizer menu to start. I didn’t try the charcuterie or beef tartare. The poached pear salad was way too much onion for me, but the pears were yummy. The salmon tartare was unbelievable, all the right flavors and not too spicy. The monkfish was perfection with a wine sauce. The rigatoni had tons of flavor and super scrumptious. For dessert, the panne cotta was fruity and refreshing, topped in poprocks. The service was also really exceptional. One of my favorite places in town, they really blew me out of the water. Does the price tag fit the quality? Absolutely! Photo of monkfish from yelp below.