The Venice Boardwalk has much more than bad pizza, tourist trap restaurants, and funnel cake you'll regret swallowing for a week. It actually has a lot of eating options when you know where to look. There's fresh coconuts, fruteros, mini donuts at Zelda's, raw and vegan options, craft beer on draft at Venice Beach Ale House and a German beer garden at On The Waterfront, juice bars, sausages at Jodi Maroni's, empanadas, and ice cream, and even an alley-bound international food court with everything from sushi to Indian food. Since it's hard to take in everything--no less when Savannah Nix and the lost tribe are contending with aggressive CD vendors, half-naked performers, and dazed cannabis advocates to grab your dollars--we have three cheap eats recommendations we'd like to recommend while you cruise along the Venice Boardwalk, whether tourist or local.
A block off of the Boardwalk at the intersection of Windward and Pacific, Windward Farms looks like it could be one of those organics markets that strictly caters to this city's moneyed gentrifiers. The good news is that this place has a healthy stock of produce and health foods, but also has fantastic prices perfectly tuned for a beach crowd. Fresh juices are stocked to capacity in a stand-up refrigerator featuring grape, carrot, beet, and various blends that come in nicely-sized plastic bottles priced usually around $4, depending on what's been squeezed. But the best part is the deli and juice bar, where you can get a spectacular sandwich stuffed with fresh avocado for $4.50 or a tuna or chicken salad that are neighborhood favorites. There are also made-on-demand fruit smoothies, beyond average veggie burgers, and, perhaps, the best deal, a massive quesadilla stuffed with shrimp and mango (or pineapple if you'd like) for $6. Windward Farms has more than a few incredible, healthy bites that won't smack your wallet with the fury of a Whole Foods or One Life.
Windward Farms, 105 Windward Ave. Venice. 310-392-3566.
Westminster Avenue holds a dense row of small eateries, with street-side windows opening to a slim food court where vendors dispense such edibles as sushi, Indian food, pizza, and gyros. A convenient location of coffee haven Groundwork sits across the street, squeezed between a solid juice and natural foods bar and Zelda's great pressed sandwiches and even better mini-donuts (Charlie Chaplin is also said to have owned one of these buildings here).
But the most surprising find along here is Lidia's Pupusas. Normally, Westsiders have to take a drive way past Gloria's in Palms to find an acceptable pupusa, but friendly owners Vito and Ada pump out these hot, gooey Salvadoran staples all day for two dollars a pop, with crisp shells that open onto soft, cozy, oozing fillings of cheese, pork, or loroco. Not necessarily a place to go out of your way for pupusas, but a worthy example bearing great prices, especially given its location. Five dollars buys a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs with black beans that can sustain a full day at the beach, especially when a handful of fried plantanos with cream is added to the order. You could splurge seven bucks for the juicy, herby pollo encebollado, but a couple of pupusas, one with loroco and one with cheese and pork, lathered in curtido, can satisfy one big belly or two small ones. While tourists crowd around Sidewalk Cafe to spill their savings on mediocre meals, they'd be getting a much deeper look into L.A.'s diet and a close view of Venice's personality with a trip to Lidia's.
Lidia's, 1301 Ocean Front Walk #11. Venice. #11.
Sean's Cafe is hidden way back in a corner of Gingerbread Court, a charming little complex of red brick buildings on the boardwalk that houses a few funky t-shirt shops, tattoo and hair-dying workshops, Chinese massage, a Tibetan store, and an art gallery. Sean's is a dependable lunch spot for locals, but even better as a stop for tourists. It has a summery, shoreline setting and the kind of casual food one would want from a visit to the beach: acceptable burgers from $3.95 to $6.50, BLT and tuna wraps, salads, and traditional sandwiches in sizable portions, all bearing toppings that feel a little fresher than what surrounds you. The counter service isn't particularly friendly (save for when Sean himself is there) and the wait can be longer than one would expect for the non-fussy fare. Where it really stands out is in the great fries that come on the side, some of the best in the area. they look hand-cut, with a tiny piece of spud skin clinging to the sides and contain all the right shades of crunch, salt, and softness. A combo meal comes in at just under ten dollars.
Sean's also sells coffee and big plates of breakfast, but Henry's Market around the corner would be our morning pick for their huge, greasy, downy breakfast quesadillas. Across from Sean's sits an ideal place to chase a burger with gelato or an ice cream shake.
Sean's Cafe, 517 Ocean Front Walk, #12 Venice. 310-581-1690.