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Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.
– Frank Lloyd Wright

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Little Black Book: Venice Beach

by Ali Rickards

Little Black Book: Venice Beach
Welcome to Venice Beach. Photo by Ali Rickards.

After we went bite-by-bite in Rhode Island with Ali Rickards, we knew we wanted to follow her wherever she ate next. Herewith, her guide to grub around Venice, the kooky coastal Los Angeles neighborhood.

VENICE BEACH, California – Through a complicated work situation, I ended up living in Venice Beach on and off for the last two years, but mostly "on" for the last five months. I love Venice, from the random canals and bizarre association to Italy's Venezia to the gritty street art and wisdom of locals. I always slept with the window open, and I kept a journal of all the middle-of-the-night nonsense I heard the local crazies shouting from the street. (My favorite 3 a.m. wake-up call: "Lay your hands off this delicious French baguette, it was a gift, mothahf!@#$%^.")

Even with such colorful neighbors, the most interesting part of this situation was that I lived only in hotels, meaning no kitchen or cooking. Dining out became my scene. I made the most of the neighborhood, learning the ins and outs of all of the great spots, which dive places were worth it, and which fancypants places didn't live up to the hype.

ABSOLUTE MUSTS

Gjelina pizza

Gjelina
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1-310-450-1429
While boardwalks are usually where the action is, the best spots in Venice are a few blocks off the promenade on Abbot Kinney. Gjelina lives up to its extremely acclaimed reputation, and I promise that it is worth the obligatory wait. This place tops every Best-of-LA list for pizzas and pastas, but I think that their cooked veggies are perfect. I leave with dreams of broccolini.

Hotel Erwin
1697 Pacific Ocean Ave.; +1-800-786-7789
From the ground floor to the popular rooftop, Hotel Erwin is the best place to socialize in all of Venice. Gotta love any place that let's you Sing for an Upgrade (I have tried three times with no luck). The quaint downstairs restaurant Barlo has an eclectic menu with an amazing burger, pork belly buns, and chorizo hash. High Rooftop serves Lifeguard Lemonade and a deliciously organic take on Cup O' Noodles. Fun fact: If the valet guy parking your car looks familiar, that is because he's the former lead singer of '90s boy band Shai. Yay Carl!

Oscar's Cerveteca
523 Rose Ave.; +1-310-310-8937
There are a lot of hidden Mexican spots all over LA, but Oscar's really steps it up, with great ambiance, savory plates, and delicious drinks. Unassuming and creative, the joint does inventive spins on authentic dishes.

Wurstkuche Venice

Wurstkuche
625 Lincoln Blvd.; +1-213-687-4444
Don't be discouraged by the surrounding neighborhood, and definitely do not be fooled by the line outside, as it is constantly moving and once you place your order in the front (speciality sausages, fries, beer), you are quickly transported to the dreamy back area beer hall. I have tried alligator, duck, and vegetarian sausages, and each was better than the next (including the different ketchup and mustard flavors). Beers are served in brewery pints — I vaguely remember loving one with a monk etched in the glass. I came by for lunch the first time and liked it so much that I came back for dinner. Definitely my top Venice guilty pleasure. (There's another location downtown.)


26 Beach Burger

CALIFORNIA CASUAL

26 Beach
3100 Washington Blvd.; +1-310-823-7526
The one thing I missed the most about NYC when traveling was brunch — waking up on Saturday or Sunday mornings without the ritual recapping over eggs Benny was a rough adjustment for me. Finding 26 Beach was my weekend savior. Some people may be intimidated by their gigantic menu, which has literally has everything you could ever want to eat on a lazy afternoon. Being a lover of hot sauce, I met my match with the Diablo Sauce omelet. I also recommend the PB&J burger. Seriously, something about the mix of ingredients just works. 

James Beach
60 N. Venice Blvd.; +1-310-823-5396
Made famous in I Love You, Man for its fish tacos, I think it's the swim short lanterns and truffle fries that keep me coming back. A comprehensive wine list and daily specials that include Taco Tuesday and Lobster Friday keeps the place full. The bar scene definitely gets going on weekends. Every single time I have been there, Lori Petty has been there. I have yet to figure out if this is pure coincidence.

Mao's Kitchen

Larry's
2 Windward Ave.; +1-310-399-2700
Artist Larry Bell is a true Venice treasure; his body of work speaks for itself. It's also reflected in his newly opened restaurant, which displays his collection of his fabulous hats on the wall of the bar. Only a few feet from the famed boardwalk but far enough from the riffraff, Larry's provides excellent people-watching with a comfortable buffer. The graffiti on the outside walls provides a great canvas for photos with friends.

Mao's Kitchen
1512 Pacific Ave.; +1-310-581-8305
Many say that Chinese food hasn't made too much progress in the last 50 years. There is a lot of fried matter and not much variation from city to city. Mao's throws that theory out the window. The food is delicious, the portions are enormous, and it's BYOB without a corking fee. The lettuce cups, orange-ginger, and Mao's Hometown are my favorites.


The Tasting Kitchen

DATE SPOTS

Le Zinque
600 Venice Blvd.; +1-310-437-0970
Cute, Frenchy, really relaxed, and just far enough away from the main drag of Abbot Kinney for a conveniently civilized evening.

The Otherroom
1201 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1-310-396-6230
I like this spot more than its NYC counterpart, mainly because it's never too crowded, has a great selection of wine, and always has excellent service. It tries to be like New York with the abundance of exposed brick, but we'll let that slide.

The Tasting Kitchen
1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1-310-392-6644
More reasonably priced than nearby Gjelina, it's a place to impress someone, or to blow off some steam. After a difficult breakup, this was the first place I came with a friend for two Bravehearts with giant ice cubes.


Abbots Pizza

EASY SPOTS

Abbot's Pizza
1407 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1-310-396-7334
The first time I ate here I had the most cliche why-didn't-I-think-of-that moment. I mean, pizza with a bagel crust?! I have ordered their spicy chicken pizza with an everything bagel crust on more than one occasion driving from the airport to the hotel. It's my favorite welcome back to Venice.

Baja Cantina
311 Washington Blvd.; +1-310-821-2252
This may look like the Mexican equivalent of Disneyland from the road, but I promise the food is amazing. The house salsa and rosemary chicken quesadillas were the only things that stood the test of time in my hotel mini fridge. Delicious the next day and always a go-to, it's the perfect stop-off after a day at an amusement park.

Canal Club
2025 Pacific Ave.; +1-310-823-3878
I have never actually had the sushi, but the $3 margarita makes any long day instantly better. Just don't have more than one. You've been warned.

Lemonade

Lemonade
1661 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; +1-310-452-6200
Caramel macaroons are the perfect pick-me-up at the end of the day. This may be true at any of their locations, but the Abbot Kinney spot is easy to pull into while driving back on Venice Boulevard.

Venice Ale House
2 Rose Ave.; +1-310-314-8253
If you want to be smack on the boardwalk, this is the place to take in the crazy scene. Great for after-works drinks and nachos, it's fun and not too crazy.

Windward Farms
105 Windward Ave.; +1-310-392-3566
Only in southern California will you find a local mini-mart with daily pressed juices and specialty raw food items. They also have everything you'll need for a Superbowl buffalo chicken dip. Since there aren't really any supermarkets around, it's a good place to know. It always comes through in a clutch.

MAP IT

See all locations for this story. (Google Maps)

SHOP IT

Post-food tour, you're going to want to get comfortable. Shop for your beach getaway.

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Photos (from top): Muy Yum/Flickr; skampy/Flickr; dan rizzotto/Flickr; one more bite blog/Flickr; Ali Rickards; Courtesy of Lemonade LA.

Ali is a professional problem solver at the Tracy Anderson Method and regular at any Delta Sky Club. She travels for the hidden gems, shiny or not.

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