Strip Search: Washington Blvd. To Washington Place

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Strip Mall gold on the West Side Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

You take a turn off of Lincoln Blvd. and drive east onto Washington Blvd. You've now entered the zone where Marina Del Rey tapers off into the far-western reaches of Culver City and Mar Vista. You're hungry and are in need of an affordable bite. So where do you eat as you cross the city? Here's a look at five places that provide big bang for your few bucks. Take a look.

Sakura

Sakura HouseTatiana Arbogast

This strip mall at Washington Blvd. and Glencoe is truly ripe for the picking. Tamara's Tamales offers over 30 varieties of the masa-made treats, including machaca, chorizo potato, banana-leaf wrapped Nicaraguan tamales, king crab, Greek, and vegan tamales, and seasonal specials like blueberry. Nearby, Celadon offers refined, made-to-order Thai classics, at the usual ten dollars-or-less cost, but in a stylish, miniaturized Buddha Bar environment. They even kept a delectable fried banana a la mode (coconut ice cream) made at the former occupant, Thai Beer.

But the true super-star of this strip mall is Sakura House, where a small grill behind the chef's counter pumps out a steady stream of sizzling Japanese skewers (kushiyaki), mostly priced at under four dollars a la carte. Splitting a pre-fixe Natsu course for two yields seven different skewers and comes in at $21.50. Though the restaurant has its menu of chicken skin, gizzards, hearts, and beef tongue, we find the vegetables like stuffed mushrooms, asparagus, and okra to be the best. That is, when they are done maki-style, meaning wrapped in thin, grilled pork.

Sakura House, 13362 West Washington Blvd.

Outdoor Grill

Outdoor GrillTatiana Arbogast

Continuing east on Washington Blvd., veer left onto Washington Place, rather than pass the temptations offered by the Waterloo & City and A-Frame. Straddling the split is Outdoor Grill, an urban, everyday version of one of those Sunday market parking lots that grill tri-tip. This spot has long been popular with customers of the adjacent car wash and those who appreciate the strange architecture of a double-decker wood structure crammed into a concrete island. Tri-tip and chicken is perpetually smoking on the grill here, finding their way into one-dollar tacos and seven-dollar sandwiches. No matter how fresh off the grill the meat is,the ribs and tri-tip are not going to displace anyone's favorite SoCal barbecue anytime soon, but if you're looking for a healthier bite for lunch, the hot, quarter of grilled chicken for $3.75 or half sandwich/half salad for $6.95 should suffice. After all, our doctor claims we can't eat Mexican every day.

Outdoor Grill, 12630 1/2 Washington Pl.

Sazon

Sazon OaxaquenoTatiana Arbogast

Heading east on Washington Place, you'll find another strip mall treasure at Washington Pl. just past Grand View. Mar Vista's Sazon Oaxaqueno is easily miss-able, but should not be missed, as it's possibly the best Oaxacan in the neighborhood. A bakery upfront makes and serves very inexpensive and superior pan dulce, turtle shells, fruit tarts, palmiers, and empanadas to a crowd of parents with jumping kids and people headed off to work in the morning. If lunch or dinner are on your mind, you'll be well-served by a big selection featuring excellent tamales, barbacoa, clayudas, chicken mole negro and coloradito, memelas, and caldo de res. All can be accompanied by great horchata with bobbing pecans and tuna (cactus fruit) to stir in, killer champurrado, and even affordable, freshly blended juices like beet and carrot.

Sazon Oaxaqueno, 12131 Washington Pl. Mar Vista.