NFT Los Angeles West LA / Santa Monica East

West LA / Santa Monica East

Essentials
Colloquially "the West Side," this one takes some dedication. The new families, UCLA kids, and other eclectic residents enjoy the beach proximity, world-class window-shopping, and quick freeway access. Living here is swell. If you're driving crosstown, or running errands, pack some books on tape.

Sundries/Entertainment
Sawtelle north of Olympic, known as Little Osaka, is an expanse of BBQ, sushi, cozy noodle houses, and cutesy gift shops. Try Japanese dishes you've never heard of, or ones that you have, at Furaibo, an excellent izakaya. There's a smidgen of nightlife along Pico and Centinela: The Arsenal has time-tested tunes and by-the-book cocktails. The Royal and See more.

>NuArt movie theaters show off-beat, foreign, cult, and otherwise hard to find films on the regular.




         


This Neighborhood Featured in...
More Than Sushi

By Valerie Ng
You mean there's more to Japanese culture than slabs of fish resting on chunks of rice? What? I thought Harajuku girls and weird J-pop stars and Pocky sticks were just a dream. But I was wrong. Valerie Ng reports on the dark non-sushi-related underbelly of Japanese society.

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McCabe's Guitar Shop

By Sandee Curry
Guitars: So many things to so many people. So what do the patrons and proprietors of McCabe's Guitar Shop have to say in their defense? Click and see.

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Wino Bars in LA

By Rin-rin Yu
Wine: it's always there when you need a friend. A grape on which you can depend. A glass of wine is mighty fine. A drinker needn't toe the line. W-I-N-E: Wine ain't got no enemies. It's tasty. Yeah, yeah, it's tasty.

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On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

Tinder Box
In my hazy-at-best years immediately after college, I held many jobs. I most fondly recall working at a tobacco shop specializing in gourmet cigars, because all I really remember is sitting around bullshitting with pensioners, off-duty cops, delinquent city workers, and the rest of our regulars, watching The Sopranos dozens of times over. These places continue to exist for one reason: They're the only public places left in California where one can legally light up. Take a guy who's been puffing cigars for four decades, tell him he can't do it and talk to strangers at the same time, and he'll find some sort of loophole. If you're not a smoker, the smell of this abrasively unique, admirably enduring shop might make you cough. (When I worked in one of these, I was a cigarette smoker. Now, this place makes me cough, and makes my jacket smell weird.) But, if you’ve any interest in cigars, pipes (as tobacco falls out of favor, marijuana seems to be ascending, and I've seen our demographics) and semi-related bric-a-brac, stop in. For the repartee. For sheer entertainment, the wit and causal abuse of the staff and regulars rivals any improv team I've seen in LA.



Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

Sonny McLean's Irish Pub
$4.25. Why would any bar charge $4.25 for a glass of beer? I'm a big tipper and usually break off a dollar per drink, but if the change consists of jingling quarters, it's much easier to leave them on the bar, thereby nickel-and-diming the staff out of a good deal of dough by the end of the night. If I owned a Boston Celtics shirt, I'd wear it here, just to see if I would have to wait any less than ten minutes for a bartender’s grace. (This is the sort of place, the rare sort of place, where Celtics fans come to root against the Lakers.) Obviously, it's an "authentic Irish pub." For the record, I think almost all ethnic pride is stupid, a poor substitute for personal achievement (I'm an untraceable white-trash mutt, if you're playing along at home), and I don't make an exception for Irish pride. Plus, I've drank Guinness and Jameson in Dublin, I've never seen it done right here, and it isn't done right at Sonny's. And yet, I like this joint. I've always shown up here in a foul mood, and I've always left in a better one. Everyone is attractive (in that particularly Santa Monican flavor of vanilla), the bartenders are friendly and generous, and I've never found anyone who wasn't down for a loose chat. So, in spite of all the, you know, bullshit, I'd be glad to meet you at Sonny's. It's the perfect place to act normal. Solid pub grub, too. But $4.25? Really?



Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Gallery of Functional Art
This place simply rocks. First of all, it's in Bergamot Station, so it gets 10 points for that. Second, it's got some really beautiful flatware and plateware, which is always fun to look at (no, I didn't buy anything; spent all my LA money on records, after all). Third, it's got lots of fun little knick-knacks, cool chairs, lamps, jewelry, gifts, cards, books; essentially, a great little place of a gift or for some self-indulgence. As soon as we've got an economy again, I'm buying these plates. It's always good to have something to look forward to, isn't it?



Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Bergamot Station
Bergamot Station. Dozens of art galleries in cool ex-industrial sheds. A cute little cafe. The utterly sublime Hiromi Paper Company. A frame shop, if you can actually afford to buy anything. And our new favorite shop, the Gallery of Functional Art; with great plateware and flatware, cool chairs and lamps, and plenty of knick-knacks to while away the hours while your sugar daddy is negotiating for $5,000 canvases in one of the Station's galleries. All told, an excellent place to spend 2 hours one afternoon. What's even cooler is that we can't think of another place quite like it; anywhere.



Posted By:  adam c. marshall
Photo:  adam c. marshall

Cafe Balcony
When someone tells me that such-and-such a place has great coffee, I feel they're essentially saying, "You don't know shit. I dare you not to try it." Well, when the shit goes down, I'm like Sarah Palin facing off with a grizzly on the cover of Guns & Ammo. Two can play that game, you West Side Juan Valdez. I dare you to stop me from pissing all over your favorite place's cappuccino. But, unfortunately, this is usually where I eat shit. Because my friends are all coffee snobs and, for some reason, I'm a sucker for hole-in-the-wall coffee shops. Give me a place full of personality, no seats, and like 80 square feet to its name--and as long as they don't burn their espresso, I'm good to go. But The Balcony saw my conditions and raised me a couple more: They not only serve up a cappuccino that's just a gravy boat of java-do-I, but they brew their coffee in what they call a siphon. It's like watching your high school chemistry teacher make coffee using beakers, a Bunsen burner, and a snazzy vacuum effect. So here goes: You don't know shit. I dare you not to try it.



Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

The Joker
Here's my big idea. It's a Breathalyzer. It plugs into your iPod. As you get steadily drunker, it adjusts your playlist accordingly, slanting toward more and more cheeseball "classics." By the time you're really pixilated, it resembles the jukebox at the Joker, a corner bar in Santa Monica that feels like a hardscrabble east-coast dive. Most of the regulars live in the neighborhood, but there's always a smattering of with-it young'uns. If you shoot Early Times without taking your eyes off the television, you're a regular. If you catch yourself bitching about the cash-only policy, you're slumming it. But you're safe. The bartenders are tougher than cops on Third Street Promenade, and even regulars get booted if they don't behave. The mixers are as cheap as they taste. I wouldn't eat the food.



Posted By:  Alison Kim
Photo:  Alison Kim

Gr/eats
Minimalist, artsy, and totally mellow--there are a lot of ways to describe GR/eats (correctly pronounced ghee-are-eats ((WTF))). However, as with all good hole-in-the-walls, the most important thing is that it's unexpectedly amazing. Admittedly, the mix of Salvadoran and Japanese cuisine is pretty random, but this is one of those rare instances where random results in the complete opposite of sucking. The kitchen works wonders with its multiethnic menu, serving up fish tacos and tofu meatballs with equal aplomb. It's cheap, filling, and tasty comfort food that your gastrointestinal system won't hate you for later. The pop-culture aesthetic is definitely cool, with art by Ai Yamaguchi and all sorts of toys, but it's the food that gives this place its replay value.



Posted By:  Alison Kim
Photo:  Alison Kim

Giant Robot
Ten years ago, collecting comic books and plastic toys of the non-sexual variety was a major social liability. If some jerk discovered your secret shame, the ensuing gossip could've potentially sent you straight to the bottom of the high school/college/office totem pole--it was like being a Christian during the Diocletianic Persecution, and we all know what that's like. Nowadays however, it's as if everyone wants to be a social pariah. What was hitherto uncool is now suddenly hip. Of all the quasi-underground book/toy/art/comics stores in which to blow your discretionary income, Giant Robot on Sawtelle has the most comprehensive selection and the least douchey atmosphere. There's enough stuff crammed into the tiny space to keep you occupied for hours, and the dude at the counter won't make you feel like a complete poseur for just browsing through the store. In fact, he might just even be friendly (gasp). Kidrobot on Melrose may have slick marketing and shiny surfaces, but GR has indie cred, more stuff to stare at, and a whole lot of heart.



Posted By:  Emerson Dameron
Photo:  Emerson Dameron

Unurban Cafe
"What do you want?" asks the curly-haired clerk, blinking and wincing a bit, definitely not smiling. "Large iced coffee for here," I reply. Two hippie girls are hovering around the register. One turns to me. "Good," she says. "Because they charge for water!" The clerk ignores her. "They charge for a plastic cup of water to go!" If you need the McDonald's Smile, UnUrban ain't your place. But if you want to witness the residue of Santa Monica's bohemian past, this is it, in its cozy, dimly lit, chaotically furnished glory, complete with a full range of full-blown characters. There is stronger coffee elsewhere; the atmosphere of this place is the real perception-shifter. UnUrban hosts several established open-mike nights on Fridays (which often involves the shop's ancient piano). Ditch the laptop and tell us a story.



Posted By:  Bon Vivant
Photo:  Bon Vivant

Orris
On that foodie-centric strip of Sawtelle between Santa Monica and Olympic lies a true gem of a restaurant. Orris, a Japanese tapas place, provides fabulous food and drink for a very reasonable price. I have eaten very well there and have never spent over $60, tax and tip included. It’s a great place to go with friends to share a zillion small plates; it’s a must if you really want to impress your date. Orris really shines when it comes to seafood and salads. Along with some of the menu standouts (grilled hearts of romaine with Parmesan dressing, Albacore lettuce cups with jalapeno aioli) there are daily specials to tempt your palate. If you are offered a seafood salad or ceviche , order it—you will not be disappointed. One night we received a Mediterranean style seafood salad and on another a Mexican style ceviche—both versions were fabulous. Another customer favorite is the tuna sashimi salad—it’s different every time but one constant is the flavorful silky tuna. A lot of thought has gone into the wine list; one can tell that the wines have been chosen to compliment the innovative and delicious food



Posted By:  Bon Vivant
Photo:  Bon Vivant

The burger place as a destination? The City of Santa Monica is definitely on the Burger Map. The Counter, like Father’s Office, puts out one of the best burgers around. But unlike the Father’s Office Burger, which you can only get one way, The Counter burger can have as many toppings and accoutrements as you like (and are willing to pay for.) The Counter has “pre-fab” burgers on the menu, but why delegate all the fun to the guys in the kitchen? Choose to “build your own burger.” You have your pick of about a zillion different patties, buns, cheeses, toppings (apropos and “elite”), sauces, etc. The surprisingly popular topping is pineapple (WTF!) The beef burger is so damn good and is always cooked perfectly. Skip the pedestrian fries and opt for a 2/3 lb. burger instead; or order the milkshake of the month—how does orange creamsicle or mocha java brownie sound? Perhaps you’ll want to go retro and order the fried pickle chips (here’s a big tip: dip them in ranch dressing instead of the sweet goop normally served with them, unless, of course, you happen to like sweet goop.)



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

Situated in a neighborhood of fish stores, photocopy shops, and baby stroller boutiques emerges a warm, elegant, and rustic restaurant almost reminiscent of West Hollywood but surprisingly, very surprisingly, without the snootiness from the staff (but with the escalated prices). It's the kind of place low-maintenance Santa Monicans want to hate, but really can't. Partly because the menu specializes in organic foods. Wood floors, exposed brick, candlelight, and thin shimmery curtains accent the minimalist, modern, and chic restaurant and bar. The restaurant extends to a hidden outdoor patio with a separate bar out back; the entire outdoor area is tented year-round with heat lamps. After-work crowds like to gather at the bar for a stiff drink or a $12 glass of wine. There's always the cheese platter or crudités to munch on while waiting for a table. Dinner itself is amazingly delicious, though pricy. Try the scallops or one of the steaks. The waitstaff, who comprehends what "medium/ medium rare" is in steak, is also exceedingly polite and friendly.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

Though nothing except some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge suggests the name of this restaurant and bar has anything to do with the city, it’s another one of Pico’s great dives. Situated practically next to the I-405, the bar is a hidden gem near the freeway entrance few would ever think to place a perfect burger joint. Decorated with bar signs, beer signs, old photos, and random kitch, the SF Saloon is perfect for a low-key evening of t-shirt and jeans, basic food, drink, and friends. Grab a seat at the long bar or in a booth and order up a beer and one of their juicy burgers (we like the kind with avocado on top). The place is spacious enough to accommodate a large group to watch a game on the many TV screens, and there’s even parking around the corner.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

Los Angeles International Fencing Center
Who needs guns in road rage when you can draw a sword instead? At the Los Angeles International Fencing Center, you can take a lesson in fighting like gentlemen—with bows, handshakes, white outfits, and civilized weapons (such as the foil or saber). Adults and children can come in and take a private or group lesson in the art of fencing, and meet local fencing celebrities and Olympians. Daily, monthly, and annual passes are available. In a single lesson, one of the coaches (who may sport a Russian accent of some kind) will teach you stance, posture, advances, extensions, and rules of the game. And if you sharpen your skills enough, you may be eligible to enter the invitational tournament. It’s also entertaining to watch sweaty, gawky teenagers turn proper and refined as they fight passionately and gracefully. They’ll even inspire you to be expertly en garde. Uniforms, helmets, and equipment available at the center, although if you plan to be a regular, investing in your own might be preferable, as well as less odorous.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

It’s a groovy spot hidden in the dark parts of Pico Boulevard close to under the I-10 freeway, and even darker once inside that you can barely see the martinis for which Liquid Kitty is so famous. However, groovy is what best describes the scene, with live music featured on Sunday evenings and DJs spinning during the rest of the week. This Westside lounge lets you relax without saying much (it’s too loud to hear anyone talk anyway) and sip away at your drink, and maybe take a quick snooze in the squishy booths. For such a funky place, it’s a fairly low-key crowd looking more for a good time than a good pick-up, but don’t be surprised if someone with martini goggles come looking for you in the dark. And if you call in complaining about how the bartender returned the wrong credit card to you, Liquid Kitty will mix your voice message into a funkadelic tune and post it on its website.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

Sophisticated, cozy and as authentic as Indian food can be in Southern California, Akbar Cuisine of India manages to mix in good Americanized service with carefully prepared Indian cuisine. Typical favorites such as samosas, naan bread, and tikki masala chicken are flavorful and stay with you for several hours. The indoor atmosphere isn’t screaming “India flea market” and lacks the loud Indian music. But coupled with a good glass of wine from their wine list, and some good Indian fare, the restaurant makes a great place for friendly conversation and easy-to-digest prices. The wait staff is also very attentive and forgiving, and the crowd seems to be well-traveled–particularly to India. You’ll be sure to receive a good meal and good travel tips from your neighbors and waiters.



Posted By:  adam c. marshall
Photo:  adam c. marshall

Don Antonio's
I love Mexican food. I’m not talking tacos, combination plates, and chips & salsa–no disrespect, chips & salsa et al are all gravy to me. I’m talking queso blanco, mole sauce, and chilaquiles. It’s kind of like when I learned that most Chinese restaurants have two menus. Those they give to egg-roll-honkies, and those they give to the Chinese customers. I want the real Mexican food. Not Baja Fresh. No Tex Mex. And someplace that’s either A) Authentic or B) Regional. I’m flabbergasted at how a town like LA can have so much Mexican food of such little quality. I’m determined to find the good stuff. So I polled my Angeleno Mexican-American friends and I’ve started my Quixotic journey at Don Antonio’s. It’s been around for forty-five years, and I was assured it was great. And it wasn’t regional, but it was authentic. Great salsa. Fun atmosphere. And the cheese and onion enchiladas were sabrosos! My search for green chili a la Sourthern Colorado goes on, but not a bad start. Via con verdes.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

Hidden upstairs away in the mini-Tokyo of the Westside, Yashima might as well be Japanese for comfort food. Hot bowls of udon or soba noodles, rice with eggs, seaweed and chicken, green tea, and sake are all available for less than $10. The restaurant is small, minimally decorated, well-lit, and lined with cushioned seats and wood tables. Service is friendly, quick, and dependable, and your tea and water cups are never empty. Always popular are the combination orders which include udon or soba noodles and a rice dish, as well as the bento box. Great for a quick, sit-down lunch or even a casual post-movie dinner date.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

For all the surprisingly hip holes-in-the-walls lining Pico Blvd in Santa Monica, Violet is another interesting find. Set in a candlelit contemporary dining room, Violet specializes in small plates and tapas-style food. Sunday nights offers a tasting menu for $25, with an additional $10 for bottomless wine of the night. The food is Californian/ Mediterranean, unpretentiously unique and delicious, though somewhat sparse—the Sunday tasting menu may leave some buying more food across the street at Trader Joe’s. We liked the baked macaroni and cheese with gruyere, leeks, and Serrano ham. Order more plates to fill a hungry appetite—at least you’ll have an opportunity to sample more of chef Jared Simon’s creations.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

Sonny McLean's Irish Pub
If you’re from New England and feeling a little homesick, Sonny McLean’s will snap you right back in shape. A few beers, some pool or air hockey, a Patriots or Celtics game on one of its several TVs, and cozy chat with the “bah-tendah” will make you feel right at home in Boston. Or, if you’re a Yankees fan, this is a good place to start a fight. Sonny’s serves up darts and Irish food with some true New England charm. If you can understand that “kha-kis” means “car keys” and “that girl’s hot” might actually be “that girl’s heart”—this place is for you. Sonny’s features Lobstah and karaoke nights on a regular basis; and even busses regulars out to sporting events when its teams are in town. The best part is while it’s snowing like mad back East, it’s still warm enough to trek out to Sonny’s for a beer in flip-flops. After all, it’s practically the pub where everybody knows your name.




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