An iconic destination since its founding in 1905, Venice Beach is fast becoming famous for reasons other than watching tourists and locals alike along the Ocean Front Walk. A historically seedy and salty haunt of Beatniks, artists and gangbangers, Venice is undergoing an unprecedented renaissance into one of the most fashionable shopping and dining destinations in the world.
The new Venice dining scene is defined by haute joints like Gjelina and The Tasting Kitchen, as famous for Beyonce sightings as for their laudable gastro revelations, and as infamous for their snooty wait staff as for their astronomical bills. Suffice it to say, even the most well-rounded culinary connoisseurs appreciate getting off the beaten path and finding a good meal for a good deal, especially after an afternoon shopping the shiny bazaar of Abbot Kinney. To take the bite out of getting a bite to eat in Venice, here’s a rundown of 10 under-the-radar eats for under 10 bucks.
What: Salt Ramen
Hiding like a Samurai poet slumming among peasants, Santouka turns out transcendent ramen noodle bowls amidst the refreshingly unglamorous Mitsuwa Japanese Food Court. To say that you eat a Santouka Ramen would be crude. Rather, you wander with the ramen on a journey of discovery. The journey begins with your first taste of the pearly broth – perfectly salty, a rumor of sweet, an echo of tart. The broth is the alchemical result of pork bones, vegetables, kelp, dried fish and other “secret” ingredients, simmered for 20 hours. As you slurp the perfectly cooked noodles you take detours to the light and meaty Bamboo shoots called memma, then on to the wonderfully textured and appropriately named Jelly Ear seaweed. Take a nibble from the miniature pickled plum packing more crunch and flavor per size than any other morsel on earth, and linger awhile with the Cha-su, a tender cut of pork back boiled in a soy-infused bone broth, making it the single most flavorful piece of meat I’ve ever experienced.
What: Rattlesnake and Rabbit with Jalapeno Peppers Sausage
Wurstküche is German for “sausage kitchen,” which is exactly what this place is. Though rattlesnake may sound prohibitively exotic for some, the taste of rattlesnake and rabbit sausage mostly recalls an old fashioned Irish banger with a little kick. The meat is buttery, moist and glistening with snake oil, and comes in a soft, warm, house-baked bun. For toppings, pick two of four options including hot or sweet peppers, sauerkraut and grilled onions. Wash it down with an equally exotic elderberry flower soda or one of the 24 imported beers on tap. The ambiance, with long communal tables, raw brick walls and skylights, is an industrial designer’s take on a lumberjack dining hall.
What: Fish Burrito
Benny’s appeared on the scene a few years ago and immediately became an underground favorite among the Venice locals. The fish burrito is the best I’ve ever had – an opinion shared by more than a few local foodies. Why so good? The fish is fresh, mild and flakey sea bass, the chipotle sauce and cream sauce combine into an addictive combination of salty, tangy, spicy smokey, with a hint of sweet, while the portions are generous and there are plenty of customizable options. I suggest getting your fish grilled rather than fried. Choose cabbage, and both cream and chipotle sauces, say yes to cheese and add black beans. This recommendation does come with a warning, however.
Benny’s was recently sold to Oscar Hermosillo, one of the feudal lords of the bourgeoning Venice food scene – he owns the upscale Cerveteca on Rose and a bougie taco stand down at the beach, and plans to expand his empire to east LA. Oscar is a good guy and his aesthetic and gastronomical tastes are refined while remaining comfortable – think mole cod, dry sparkling Spanish wines, reclaimed wood, Edison light bulbs. Yet, with all the “improvements” he’s making to Benny’s, the prices on most items are going up and the portions are getting pinched. Though its reduced size is worthy of a double-take, the fish burrito has so far survived any changes to price or flavor, and, for now, remains an under $10 all-star.
Where: Abbot’s Pizza Company
What: Salad Pizza
Sharing the same block with Gjelina and GTA – two of the trendiest spots in Venice – humble APC has been turning out quality bagel-crust pizza for over 15 years. They offer many unique combination toppings like the Wild Mushroom, featuring crimini, shiitake, oyster and portabello mushrooms on an olive pesto sauce, or the Popeye’s Chicken, with slow-cooked tequila lime marinated chicken, garlic pesto and creamy Fontina cheese.
Though it seems that every APC regular swears by a favorite combo slice, the pie with the most ravenous cult following is the Salad Pizza. I watched all eight slices of a 20” pie disappear in five minutes as I waited in line to order, so I had to reserve slices from the next pie before it was even made. The wait went by in a flash and it was well worth it. The sesame-topped bagel crust is substantial, firm and crunchy on the outside, and soft and chewy inside – it is fresh bread rather than a mere vehicle for the mixed greens, sliced avocado and feta cheese piled on top. Drizzle on a surprisingly spicy chipotle dressing and you’ll graduate from salad pizza neophyte to acolyte after a few bites.
Where: Baby Blues BBQ
What: Pulled Pork Sandwich
Baby Blues has been holding down a spot on ugly, traffic-clogged Lincoln Blvd (un-affectionately called “stinkin-Lincoln” by locals), for nearly a decade, giving it the right to claim OG status as a Venice eatery as well as a purveyor of down-home BBQ. But don’t show up expecting your ordinary Memphis, Louisiana or Texas BBQ. With roots in North Carolina, Baby Blues meats come with vinegar-based BBQ sauces as opposed to the more recognizable tomato and ketchup-based varieties, making for a flavor and consistency that is more hot sauce than sweet syrup. For the pulled pork there is even straight vinegar infused with hot peppers. The meat itself is moist and flavorful without being mushy and candied like many other BBQ pulled porks. The bun is home-baked and the coleslaw is always crisp and fresh. Go with a friend and share a “Side Car”- your choice of four sides and cornbread. The collard greens, pork and beans, mac and cheese, and mashed sweet potatoes are all winners.
Text and images by Liam McAuliffe for Highsnobiety.com
- Photography: Liam McAuliffe for Highsnobiety.com