Sometimes you tire of avocado toast, hamachi Crudo, Brussel sprouts, or even cauliflower prepared in every possible way. Branzino now seems to be on every LA menu too. These dishes have become LA standard menu options but then some restaurants go a whole different route trying to wow guests with sauces or shocking concoctions. Other venues use ingredients one might not expect to find on a menu in California. Here are a few establishments we visited recently that might satisfy the adventurous or curious eater – someone who is looking for more than typical.
crudo e nudo’s Sustainable Seafood Restaurant and Market in Santa Monica
Enjoy eco-conscious casual street-side eating with compostable plates and utensils, with local sustainable west coast seafood that changes on the menu daily. Order your meal at the counter in this market and wine shop and let your eating adventure begin. Crudo e Nudo’s Mission: To have you eat the right kind of seafood. We’ll slurp to that!
While we loved the flavorful ocean-tasting Whole Uni, you may want to dive into the uni tacos or try a local fish. Oysters with a pink peppercorn-limoncello mignonette and Blistered Tomato Salad are a nice way to start, but the curious LA eater will want to try a new flavor like cultured abalone from Santa Barbara or Percebes/Goose Neck Barnacles (known as King Crab Vitamin), a delicacy in Spain and Portugal. However, these “turtle necks” or filter-feeding crustaceans are scraped off the rocks and overnighted from Alaska. Do we dare say they taste like chicken crab? Most say they taste like clam or lobster.
Add on an order of Crispy Squid Ink Rice and Caviar Nachos with Ikura. For a sweet ending, savor the Maple Almond Butter Cup for dessert similar to a healthy peanut butter chocolate cup. This was definitely one of the most unique meals we have had in LA.
Enhance your meal with a bottle from their amazing organic wine bottle selection. Don’t miss $15 lunch specials and the $85 5-course tasting menu where you can get more bang for your buck.
Early Birdie G’s Happy Hour in Santa Monica
Enter Santas Monica’s “westside arts district” area through a plant-filled outdoor dining space to make your way to The Bird’s Nest (bar and lounge) from 5 – 6 PM at Birdie G’s where eclectic comfort food is served. Expect special drink pricing paired with wildly creative bar snacks from Chef/Partner Jeremy Fox and Chef de Cuisine Matthew Schaler.
Adventurous eaters will adore the Happy Hour menu ($5 – $15) with surprises for the sophisticated palette like thinly sliced Corned Beef Tongue, Vernors-Baked Ham & Pickled Melon (like prosciutto e Melone), and Kippered Sable Terrine with Crispy Potato Waffles. For rich decadence, the Kishka Burger is a ¼ pounder of seared blood sausage with Hook’s Swiss, house-pickled cornichons, red onion, and persimmon “comeback sauce” on a sesame pretzel bun.
Another hearty plate on the menu is the Reuben Fries (corned beef with sauerkraut) but you might like to try the lighter Whipped Avocado with Fried Matzo (like a Jewish spin on guac and chips). Our favorite in-season fresh bite from the Happy Hour menu was the mango with a dollop of non-mature mango tapenade. The menu often changes so check back to see what surprising bites you can try.
To quench your thirst, we recommend the Hibiscus Heat (lime, agave, hibiscus, tequila, habanero) and replace tequila with Mezcal. Bar Manager Stephanie Reading serves up a refreshing Chamomile Lavender Lemonade Mocktail for $4, seasonal $12 cocktails, like the Staycation Summer with lime, kumquat, strawberry brandy & tequila, and $6 craft beer. Sommelier Kobi Tsesarsky has assembled a variety of planet-friendly, $12 glasses of wine.
Avant Garden Bistro’s Veggie Delights in West Hollywood
Come at night for this dreamy garden in a moody setting overstuffed with flowers and foliage – many faux that look real. An LA mirage? Seems fitting at times. Right off hectic Melrose Ave in West Hollywood, you will feel worlds away from the chaos once you step into this Midsummer Night’s Dream dishing up plant-based delights from Tuesday to Saturday nights from 5 PM to 11 PM. The venue’s fantastical, enchanted forest was created by veteran set designer Andrew Nowling.
LA native Chef Sarah Stearns cultivates the veggies or should we say prepares them for your plate. Try avocado atop a crispy sushi rice patty with blistered shishito and miso glaze. The toasts are the way to go to fill up your belly with luscious bread topped with choices like eggplant, mushroom (cremini), artichoke truffle, beet with cashew ricotta, and English pea. Scorched vegetables come with options like Roasted Carrot with pistachio chermula, Smoked Bok Choy, and a Black Garlic Puttanesca. Los Angeles is known for wanting to save the planet and also for choosing the healthiest lifestyle, so Eat Yo Veggies!
Paying homage to the original concept of Avant Garden in New York, Overthrow Hospitality’s Ravi DeRossi is behind the new LA restaurant. He was a 2022 James Beard nominated founder of the hip cocktail institution, Death & Co, among a myriad of other food and beverage concepts. This place is a good spot to stop for cocktails and share a few healthy bites. Try the limoncello cocktail or the Vista Scout with lemon, blood orange, cacao nib, and vanilla. Then, head next door to imbibe on even more creative craft cocktails at hip-friendly Melrose Umbrella Co.
KazuNori: The Original Hand Roll Bar‘s Off Menu/Specialty Items in Studio City, Santa Monica, MId-Wilshire, Koreatown, Marina del Rey, Westwood
While you may not think of the Original Hand Roll Bar as an exotic location for food, they often have off-menu items or specialty rolls. KazuNori got us through the pandemic like food therapy with their just-made hand rolls with crispy nori and warm rice. We tend to opt for the crab or lobster or salmon but it always makes sense to order the 4, 5, or 6 hand roll set menu. While Angelenos are sophisticated uni (sea urchin) and eel eaters, ask for the Yamaimo (Japanese mountain yams) and Ankimo (monkfish liver rubbed with salt and rinsed with sake).
Try something new the next time you dine out.
For more restaurant ideas in LA, check out our Lonely Planet articles: