Traces of El Nino and the inevitable invasion of June gloom still loom on our horizon, but there’s no denying that real-deal beach weather is finally sprinkling the spring. Since there’s been noticeable criticism on L.A.’s lack of seaside dining lately, including two recent cents from L.A. Times critic S. Irene Virbila, we figured it was time to take a look at places where you can match a bite and a belt with the Pacific breeze. From Malibu down to South Bay, here’s a guide to what we find new or necessary in dining and drinking by the beach.
Malibu: Since last July, Gladstone’s has taken the lion share of local attention while being successfully resuscitated by Sam Nazarian, who updated the tired seafood by placing SBE’s Daniel Elmaleh in the kitchen. A lesser known, but equally as impressive, rebirth recently occurred at The Beachcomber on Malibu Pier, much to the disbelief of many locals.
All eyes were on Michael Jordan’s next move once the wine director left Disney after igniting the brand’s wine program at Napa Rose and the annual Taste of California festival. This surfing son of SoCal returned to the seaside and recently transformed The Beachcomber into a gem of pier-docked hospitality as company president. An open patio lounge practically floats above the lapping surf while ripping musicians from the nearby canyons form impromptu hootnannies into the night. As befits a wine-pro, Jordan is reveling in the lesser-exposed talent of Malibu’s vineyards on a carefully curated new wine list, making introductions to boutique vintners and highlighting the worthy from further north. Meanwhile clean oysters and shrimp, plus blackened ahi sliders and merlot-braised lamb shank make fresh testaments to a vastly improved menu of seafood and ranch-raised meats, in food that finally lives up to the scenery. If the restaurant’s loose vibe or post-supper ambles down the pier don’t charm you, a micro-museum of Tiki culture with space for two probably will. 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.
Santa Monica: Pier dining here is less successful, but across Ocean Ave's cliffside camino is BP Oysterette, still drawing lines out the door since fall for its East Coast crab-shack fare, popular with a cool crowd clearly too smart to waste their money on The Lobster. One imagines the whole scene along this street will change here when Santa Monica Place reopens with its dining deck at the end of the summer, with full views of the ocean and a sea of edible options from fine-dining restaurants to local market vendors.
Until then, Suite 700 is poised to be the hottest new ticket in town. On the rooftop of The Shangri-La Hotel, what started as a hotel suite became a private club for guests in 2009 and was just re-launched last week as a lounge open to the public. Designed by Marc Smith, half of the duo behind The Edison, a tasteful contemporary nautical vibe helps showcase some of the city’s clearest views of the Pacific Ocean. There are fire pits and a glass enclosure outside in case it’s chilly, as well as an indoor bar with a fireplace and port windows for spying outside in your best Sean Connery-style brogue. The stylish spot has its own take on the Pimm’s cup and rum punch, while chef Dakota Smith (formerly of Sunset Tower) is showing seafood and entrees a little molecular magic, serving octopus carpaccio with salted lemon air and smoked paprika, drunken watermelon Bay shrimp with avocado espuma, and lamb aside medjool dates with piquillo liquid. The plates are served through the night as well, until 1:00 A.M. on weekends and midnight on weekdays. Sounds like an injection of a little Miami-style heat for Santa Monica. Judge for yourself at 1301 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica. 877-999-1300.
Venice: There’s plenty of eating and drinking to recommend within view of the freakfest taking place on this city's boardwalk. Fine Italian at Piccolo will please the snobbiest member of any crew, while a much better tourist lunch than that found at Sidewalk is hiding at Sean’s Café. Happy hours at Canal Club and boozy brunch at Danny’s are a hoot, Santino’s was just reborn as an Argentine panini shop on Pacific, and eating better-than-decent pupusas and scrambled eggs with plantains with sandy feet across from Groundwork helps reminds us why we live in L.A. in the first place.
But the best spot to settle in for a cocktail and sunset is at Hotel Erwin. The hotel’s rooftop lounge, High, has the best perspective on this part of the city we’ve seen yet, housed as it is on top of one of Venice’s tallest buildings. Smooth house-made cocktails bring a little Hollywood to the beach here, while the seating allows for privacy and romance. The breathtaking vista is improved with snacks and a friendly attitude that frowns on velvet rope dramatics. A great place to start the evening on top, especially when the sun starts dipping.
Marina del Rey: Next to the Marina itself, you’ll find the brand-new location of Mendocino Farms right by a year-old location of SugarFish, but for beachside satisfaction, the eastern end of Washington Blvd. has more than a few dining options both familiar and fresh, if you can get past the Bermuda-triangle-like pull of Aunt Kizzy’s fried chicken. Seaside, if you’ve had enough of C&O’s Trattoria's free garlic knots, El Tarasco’s shrimp burritos, or think Hinano’s burger is overrated (like we do), check out new Bin 73. This wine bar has a refreshing menu of small plates and a patio for feeling the sea breeze that goes much deeper in comfort and charm than the arm jostling for bad beer and worse margaritas found at The Whaler on the corner. The wine list focuses on South American and Spanish wines, available in three different servings, while smoked bacon and mushroom profiteroles makes it an exciting modern tapas stop by the beach. 18 Washington Blvd. Marina del Rey. 310-827-6209.
El Segundo: Blame LAX flight paths and that creepy industrial plant for this city’s lack of seaside restaurants. You’ll just have to make your own meal here. Fortunately Dockweiler State Beach, which encompasses this particular stretch of sand, is the only beach in L.A. to allow bonfires, which are permitted in the provided pits that line the beach. You’ll be limited to your imagination and supply while BBQing, kebabing, and SMore’ing whatever you want you want, while drinking will have to be reserved for anything that looks normal in a Snapple bottle as open containers here are verboten. For more bonfire information, visit Dockweiler’s online info. page.
South Bay: It’s easy to stay in sight of the ocean and eat in this part of town, whether you’re waiting for a table at Bill’s Pancake House or gobbling fresh oysters under the Redondo Pier, then chasing it all with some stiff drinks at Tony’s, a classic dive dangling over the water that recently had a touch-up itself. While there are plenty of places to dine before a stroll along the sand, one very new restaurant is worth coming to try for the food as much as the ease of access to the sea.
SBE-vet Clint Clausen turned a small cottage into Four Daughters Kitchen earlier this year, serving strong coffee and full meals of farm-derived Mexi-Cali scrambles for breakfast and shrimp BLTs for lunch. While not precisely seaside, Four Daughters feels like a concentrated expression of this beach-bound neighborhood, pristine, white-washed, and insular, but with the casual feel that actually makes you want to linger longer than your beach schedule might allow and without the annoying presence of Fox News, unlike some South Bay breakfast nooks that will remain nameless. Time feels like it doesn't matter here in the mornings, and the beach is only three blocks away if it does. 3505 N. Highland Ave.
Enjoy having a bite next to these recommended spots by the sand and please let us know where you enjoy eating by the beach in our comments.