Strip Search: 4500 Block of South Centinela

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Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

Below Washington Blvd., right before the Westside shortcut of Centinela tails off through Mar Vista into the hills of Playa Vista, there's two continuous blocks of good-eating to be had. There's a Thai restaurant for vegans, a dressed-to-the-nines Mexican restaurant with $25 steaks and a neighboring taqueria, and a diner for Philly cheese steaks and subs. But there are three restaurants that consistently draw us in, one for a sushi dinner of varied charms, one for seafood that literally travels all the way up from Nayarit and Sinaloa, and one for a great goaty lunch special. Take a look at three restaurants we recommend you try on South Centinela.

Chente

Mariscos ChenteTatiana Arbogast

The service is homey and the seafood plump at this corner cafe that prepares mariscos and fish in the authentic style of Nayarit and Sinaloa. The food blogging world leapt all over this 30-year-old L.A. empire in the last two years, stalking the movements of its star, chef Sergio Penuelas, as he and an impeccable basket-grilled snook that looks a pre-historic relic transitioned to the Lennox location. That is, when they weren't keeping tabs on the exact intersection where owner Magdalena Garcia was meeting her hookup in Mexico to procure real Sinaloan shrimp and fish. All hype aside, while Penuelas might be responsible for the more nuanced creations here, there's still plenty of satisfaction to be had sampling around the significant shrimp section on Centinela, whether it's in a fiery camarones a la diabla, shrimp ceviche, shrimp in pepper and garlic sauce, shrimp albondigas, gorgeously plated camarones al aguachiles, or tacos gobernador. If the prices for the large, indulgent plates, hovering just over ten dollars, throw you off, Chente makes the best fried fish tacos in the Westside at something like two-dollars a pop. Either way, it's hard to go wrong at this corner where authenticity and artistry strike an ideal balance and the plates are teeming with fresh, carefully-tended seafood.

Mariscos Chente, 4532 South Centinela Ave. Mar Vista. 310-390-9241.

Sakura

Sakura Japanese RestaurantTatiana Arbogast

There's a strange dichotomy at this 60-year-old Japanese mainstay. On one side, there's heavy charm--vintage signage, an aquarium kept clear as a contact lens, old cafeteria style-booths, a smiling staff--and on the other, it can feel like a major pain in the ass. The wait for seats feels sisyphean, the room gets so full that any refreshing effect sushi offers seems weighted down by the collective body-heat of the crowd, and the typical cuts of fish, while ideally priced at $34.50 for a platter of 30 pieces, seem suspiciously pre-cut (and clearly something is being masked by that wad of wasabi where the fish meets the rice). Also, the oshitashi recommended by S. Irene Virbila on the wall is really a cold clump of spinach stuck under strands of dried bonito with the mouth-feel of stripped surfboard resin. But it is inexpensive and the fish at least ranks higher than Sawtelle's similarly priced and similarly popular Hide. Where Sakura does succeed is in the specials, where preps of Spanish mackerel, blue-fin (an endangered no-no last we checked), uni, and black snapper are still kept low in price, sliced fresh at the bar, and come prepared with more inspiration and spirit than the standards. And the fried chicken Mrs. Virbila recommends on the wall, well, she's right about that, it's pretty damned good.

Sakura, 4545 S. Centinela Ave. 310-822-7790.

Pepes

Pepes TacosTatiana Arbogast

This tiny Mexican restaurant not only stands on the southern corner book-ended up top by Mariscos Chente, it's its opposite in many other ways, from the generic name to the generic menu. Not a regional specialist serving the freshest and most authentic of anything, it has a huge selection of dinner plates bearing Mexican standards and yes, even sells hamburgers, usually a dubious sign, if any, at an L.A. Mexican restaurant. We've never tried the pozole, the mojarra (Tacomiendo has a good one nearby), the tortas cubanas, or ceviche tostadas for two reasons. One, Mariscos Chente is a just short walk away and two, and probably the strongest reason for stopping here in the first place, they have a killer special featuring three nicely-sized birria tacos with a soda for under five-dollars. Does the birria stack up to a clove-stroked kid at Guadalajara's favorite birreria? We really have no idea, but they are as friggin' good as the sign here is offensive (a dude snoring away the day while leaning on a cactus in a huge sombrero) and are priced at only $4.75 for the hat-trick. Gooooal!

Pepes Tacos, 4582 Centinela Ave. Mar Vista. 310-391-8667.

See previous Strip Search features right here on Grub Street L.A.