Richard Foss

Best of the Beach 2010: Food

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Zane's

Zane's has given a contemporary look to the traditional American restaurant. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

American food: Zane’s
The winner and runner-up in this category have very different visions of what American food is – Memphis is a modern version of regional cuisine, while winner Zane’s offers a little of everything – steaks, seafood, pizza, Italian and original pastas, and a dash of Pacific Rim cooking. Our readers gave the top prize to an American restaurant that is an interesting blend of many cultures, just like America.
Zane’s: 1150 Hermosa Ave. (at Pier), HB. (310) 374-7488. www.zanesrestaurant.com

Runner up: Memphis, 1142 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 545-5405.

Noah's bagels

Noah's pushes the envelop with its imaginative variety of bagels. Photos by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Bagel: Noah’s
Our readers sure are passionate about bagels – every year when we run this poll, there are more votes for bagel shops than for any other category. It is always a close race between Noah’s and Manhattan Bread and Bagel, and this year Noah’s is out in front. Noah’s brings a California whatever-you-like attitude to the tasty, chewy snack that originated in medieval Poland. It’s safe to say that whatever you like in or on bagels, Noah’s has it – assorted cream cheese shmears on the inside, crisped onion, cheese, or other goodies outside, and anything from chocolate chips to blueberries baked right in.
Noah’s: 328-332 Manhattan Beach Blvd., MB. (310) 937-2206. 2231 Rosecrans Avenue, El Segundo (310) 725-9160 www.noahs.com
Runner up: Manhattan Bread & Bagel, 1812 N. Sepulveda Blvd., MB. (310) 545-7553.

Simmzy's serves barfood with a gourmet attitude. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Bar Food: Simmzy’s
It’s a situation other bar owners must envy: rain or shine, day or night, Simmzy’s has a line outside. A place doesn’t become this kind of hotspot without something special going on, and it’s more than that long list of arcane beers. Simmzy’s has food that our readers love. It’s not just burgers – though they do excel at those – there’s peppery homemade chili, pulled pork paninis, and a bratwurst sandwich with smoked onions that really hits the spot. It’s bar food treated with gourmet attitude, and it has won this new restaurant a place in our readers’ hearts and in this poll.

Simmzy’s: 229 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. (310) 546-1201. www.simmzys.com
Runner up: Shellback Tavern, 116 Manhattan Beach Blvd., MB. 310-376-7857.

Of course the Best of the Beach Bakery has surfboard cookies. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Bakery: Becker’s
Becker’s has a lot of practice at what they do – the place has been open since 1942, and is on the third generation in the same family. There have been a few innovations over the years – the squaw bread that the place is famous for was first featured in the 1960s, and the deli counter arrived in 1992. Even though we’re all mainly visiting this place for the breads, sugar cookies, and the wedding and birthday cakes that have marked milestones in our families, something else is going on, too. Longtime locals love the place as a rock of consistency, and newcomers can sense that there’s something authentic here, a local institution that is loved and appreciated.
Becker’s Bakery: 1025 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 372-3214.
Runner up: Cupcake Couture, 916 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 372-9200.

Server Laura Lowe and chef-owner Jonathan Burrows with plate of their signature California beef ribs. Photo by Kevin Cody

BBQ: Mr. Cecil’s
The sign over the door says Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs, and as is so often the case, California style means not quite like anything anywhere else. The ribs here are braised before grilling, which gives them a tender, meaty interior and a slightly crisp exterior – a unique combination of flavor and texture. This is the third in a chain started by a former film executive who decided that making barbecue was more enjoyable than making movies, and he’s obviously on to something.
Mr. Cecil’s: 1209 N. Highland Ave., MB. (310) 546-5400.
Runner up: Pinkie’s, 502 Pac. Cst. Hwy., HB. (310)379-0616.

Ethnic BBQ: Silvio’s Brazilian
Barbecue is a worldwide phenomenon, so this year we have introduced a category to honor fire and meat from the rest of the world. It was won handily by Silvio’s Barbecue, Hermosa Beach’s outpost of Brazilian churrasco. The beef, pork, chicken, and sausage here are seasoned with rock salt and beer, and come out tender and juicy every time. Try the Carnaval Plate, the sampler with plenty for two people, and revel in the carnivorous lifestyle.
Silvio’s Brazilian: 20 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 376-6855.
Runner up: Big Wok, 250 N Sepulveda Blvd., M.B. (310) 798-1155.

Vickie displays a selection big freshly made muffins. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphotos.com)

Muffins: Tammie’s Corner Café
Muffins were invented so Americans could eat cake for breakfast and feel good about it. At Tammie’s they’re feather light, just the thing to start the day. They’re huge, too – one of these and a cup of coffee will sustain you for a while. The crispy exterior, fluffy interior, and delicate sweetness are the kind of things that larger commercial operations just can’t pull off. Try them in blueberry, cinnamon-walnut, banana, and other flavors – they’re freshly made every morning, and you can taste the difference!
Tammie’s Corner Café: 190 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 372-4712.
Runner up: The Kettle, 1138 Highland Ave., MB. (310) 545-8511.

Ashley shows off Martha’s popular omelets. Photo by Brent Boza (Bozaphoto.com)

Omelet: Martha’s
The omelet is a versatile thing – almost any savory item is fair game. Just put it along with cheese inside a folded egg pancake and it is America’s breakfast of choice. Martha’s 22nd Street Grill wins the award this year for light, fluffy omelettes that might include asparagus, lox and cream cheese, hummus with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese, and a host of more traditional ingredients. The cheerful service and great beach view are both bonuses that have helped make Martha’s a local institution.
Martha’s: 25-22nd St., HB. (310) 376-7786.
Runner up: Tammie’s Corner Café, 190 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 372-4712.

Brunch over $15: Zinc/Shade
Brunch at Zinc restaurant at Shade Hotel doesn’t actually have to cost as much as $15 – they have plenty of entrees that don’t demolish a ten dollar bill, including a Belgian waffle of the highest order. Even so, you might be tempted by something a bit more decadent. Order the eggs Manhattan with crabcakes or salmon, the lavish artisan cheese plate with fresh fruit, or the steak frites, and live it up – they’re all under $20, and served with stylish flair in a lovely setting. Select a glass of Champagne, do the unthinkable and drink a martini before noon, or even just have a cup of coffee, and luxuriate in the style to which you’d like to be accustomed.
Zinc Lounge: Shade Hotel, 1221 N. Valley Dr., MB. (310) 546-4995. www.shadehotel.com
Runner up: Trump National, 1 Ocean Trails Dr., RPV. (310) 303-3260.

Cajun: Ragin Cajun
The South Bay’s first Cajun restaurant is once again its best – so say our readers, many of whom tasted their first spoon of gumbo within these walls. Owner Stephen Domingue hails from Western Louisiana and is an ambassador of that region’s cooking, so the jambalaya, crawfish etoufee, and stuffed pork chops you get here are as authentic as they come. Cajun food has a wide range of flavors, some famously spicy, others savory but mild, and this is the place to sample the wide spectrum in a cheerful roadhouse atmosphere.
Ragin Cajun: 422 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 376-7878.
Runner up: New Orleans Café, 140 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 372-8970.

Chili: The Spot
Yes, chili purists, a chili with beans won this year. A vegetarian chili with beans, even. And instead of going for the burn, this chili has a mild, fragrant character with more cumin and coriander than red pepper. It’s a different approach, with a different objective – not all about heat and meatiness, but about a rich, subtle flavor of beans, chili, onion, and herbs. This is a California chili with lots to like about it, aromatic and hearty, and the dense, slightly grainy cornbread that comes with it is exactly the right companion. Those who worship the meaty version without beans should try it and see what has found such favor with our astute readers.
The Spot: 110 Second St., HB. (310) 376-2355.
Runner up: El Gringo, 2620 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 376-1381.  921 N. Sepulveda, MB. (310) 372-6080. 821 Torrance. Blvd., RB.  (310) 316-8032.

This is the place where beach people make their deals and dreams. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Indie Coffee: Java Man
If the coffee from every coffeehouse in the South Bay were tasted in a scientific sampling in some antiseptic lab, the difference between first and second place would probably be measured in fractions. It isn’t, and such things as ambiance, cheerful service, and what you serve along with the coffee matter a lot. Our polls show that year in and year out, Java Man takes the gold. It isn’t just the good quality coffee properly brewed, but the laid-back college town vibe that makes this place such a perennial favorite. This is a coffeehouse that feels as welcoming as home for South Bay locals, as comfortable on the first visit as the thousandth time you pass through their doors.
Java Man: 157 Pier Ave., HB.
Runner up: Catalina Coffee Co., 126 N. Catalina Ave., RB. (310) 318-2499.

Crepes: Crème de la Crepe
The French have mastered the art of the stylish café that is fancy enough for a date, but casual enough that you can go there in jeans and a t-shirt. All of the Crème de la Crepe locations have that easygoing Gallic vibe, and on any day you’ll see locals enjoying all manner of stuffed French pancakes. While they serve much more than crepes, that’s the big draw – buckwheat crepes stuffed with simple ham, eggs and cheese or more baroque creations for breakfast, more sophisticated creations for lunch and dinner. All three locations now serve wine, so you can enjoy your meals in the French style, with a glass of fine wine and bracingly strong coffee to finish.
Crème de la Crepe: 424 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 937-2822. 1708 1/2 Catalina Ave., RB. (310) 540-8811. 1140 Highland Ave., MB. (310) 546-9900. www.cremedelacrepe.com
Runner up: Le Creperie: 1209 N. Highland Ave., MB. (310) 545-3509.

The modest cupcake upsets the heavyweight division cheesecake for Best Desert.

Dessert: Cupcake Couture

After years of the Cheesecake Factory dominating this category, a newcomer has pushed into first place. Cupcake Couture is at a completely different place in the dessert spectrum – a boutique operation that bakes less in a month than Cheesecake Factory does in a day, a two-person operation located in a tiny storefront. Their gourmet cupcakes are whimsically and meticulously decorated, and come in flavors you might not expect – the salted caramel is a delight, the lemon is a tiny lemon meringue pie, and the strawberry shortcake marzipan is an unexpected combination of fruit, rich cake, and sugar sweetness. You pay for what you get – a cupcake here can run north of $4 each – but it is definitely worth it.

Cupcake Couture: 916 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 372-9200.

Runner up: Cheesecake Factory, 605 North Harbor Dr., RB. (310) 376-0466.

Sainte Rock's sliders are one reason their club food ranks at the top. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Club dining: Saint Rocke

You don’t go to most restaurants for the music or most clubs for the food, but every once in a while an establishment shows that they regard both aspects of the evening as important. Saint Rocke is a newcomer to the South Bay but takes the gold from long-established nightspots. The sushi appetizers are well-made and fairly priced, and they offer tequila lime chicken tacos, chipotle calamari, pizzas, and salads to satisfy anyone. The reputation of the place rests on their eclectic sliders and on the assemble-it-yourself burgers with a vast variety of add-ons. Asparagus and goat cheese? They have it, and plenty else besides. Add freshly made garlic parmesan fries or sweet potato fries for a club meal to savor. You may like the food so much that you visit even on nights when there isn’t a band you’ve heard of, which we’re sure is what they have in mind…

Saint Rocke: 142 Pac. Cst. Hwy., HB. (310) 372-0035. www.saintrocke.com

Runner up: Comedy & Magic Club, 1018 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 372-1193.

Fish & Chips: Shellback

Over the years several different styles of fish and chips have won this category – tempura and cornmeal crusted versions more often than not. This year marks a return to the traditional English version, beer battered so that there’s crunch in every bite. This style is hard to do – carelessly done and it’s oily or dry – but the Shellback Tavern delivers the real article. This is real English pub fish and chips from a California surf bar, a remarkable achievement.

Shellback Tavern: 116 Manhattan Beach Blvd., MB. (310) 376-7857.

Runner up: Rock N Fish, 120 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. (310) 379-9900.

Fast food burgers: In & Out

We know former residents of the South Bay who insist on stopping at In & Out on their way from the airport – that’s how much loyalty this chain has achieved. The burgers here are fast food style – American cheese and a puffy bun, rather than something like gruyere on ciabatta – but they’re made to your liking with fresh meat, which makes quite a difference. The cult of In & Out is alive and well in the Beach Cities even though the closest one is on that sliver of Redondo on Inglewood north of the 405. For the burger-crazed masses among our readers, that’s a short distance to satisfy the In & Out urge.

Runner up: Fatburger,

Burger with onions is just one of 31,120 ways to order a Counter burger. Photo by Brent Broza

Burger: Counter

After years of domination by Hennessey’s, some newcomers dueled it out for the unchained burger prize. The Counter’s kaleidoscope of offerings edged Simmzy’s by four votes in a very tough race. The Counter’s secret to success is that they not only offer anything you could possibly want on a burger, they offer it on your choice of four different patties – beef, chicken, turkey, or veggie. By their count, there are over 31,120 different burgers available, which means you could eat a different burger every day for approximately 85 years, seven months, and three days. It’s safe to say you’ll never get tired of eating at the Counter, though if you have trouble making decisions, you might be just a bit overwhelmed by it all…

The Counter: 700-A Allied Way, ES. (310) 524-9967.

Runner up: Simmzy’s: 229 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. (310) 546-1201.

Paciugo co-owners Monien Ibarra and Brittany Tacker make 32 flavors daily. Photo by Elyse Angel

Ice Cream: Paciugo

Our award is for ice cream, but the sign at Paciugo advertises gelato, and after they won this award last year we discovered that some of our readers don’t know the difference. Gelato is a particular style of ice cream from Italy, made with less butterfat so that it has a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Paciugo makes 32 flavors fresh every day (literally one-upping a certain famous chain), and we’re not just talking vanilla and chocolate here. They have over 250 flavors in their repertoire, including black olive, ginger-almond, and Mediterranean sea salt caramel. According to our reckoning, if you have a burger at The Counter followed by gelato here, you could keep trying different combinations until approximately the end of time.

Paciugo: 1034 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 379-2525.

Runner up: Coldstone Creamery, 1223 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 318-8775.

Indian: Akbar

Indian food has all the delicacy and variety of effects of the other great cuisines of the world, but few restaurants in America are innovative with South Asian spices, or present wine pairings that actually complement the food. Both our winner and the runner-up are exceptions, white tablecloth restaurants where ideas about flavor and pairings are explored. Addi’s Tandoor specializes in the distinctive Mediterranean–inflected cuisine of Goa, Akbar in Northern Indian food, and this year Akbar is first past the post. Chef Avinash Kapoor has created unique items like sweet peppers stuffed with tomato chutney for his monthly wine dinners, and there are often specials using fresh seafood with his special spicings. It’s a view of a different India, where Californian ideas about lightness and healthy dining meet age-old flavors and techniques.

Akbar Cuisine of India: 1101 Aviation Blvd., HB. (310) 937-3800. www.akbarcuisineofindia.com

Runner up: Addi’s Tandoori, 800 W. Torrance Blvd., RB. (310) 540-1616.

Mama D’s Jesse serves up a big plate with a big smile. Photo

Italian under $20: Mama D’s

Italian home cooking at a modest price is what Mama D’s is all about – the portions are large and so are the flavors. The favorites are all here, pastas of all shapes and sizes, lasagna, pizzas, and also a few items you might not expect. Lobster and crab ravioli without breaking a $20 bill? You must be at Mama D’s. Both in Manhattan Beach and at the newer Hermosa location, the hearty food of central and southern Italy keeps us all coming back for more.

Mama D’s: 1125-A Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 546-1492. 1031 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 379-6262.

Runner up: Frito Misto, 316 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 318-6098.

Bottle Inn master of ceremonies Silvio Petoletti. Photo by Patrick Fallon

Italian over $20: Bottle Inn

The classics never go out of style! The Bottle Inn is still making exciting food after over 35 years in Hermosa, and the pastas, seafood, meats, and rustic Italian dishes are very tasty and beautifully presented. Never decide what you want until you’ve heard the specials – there are always fresh dishes using the best of the season. The servers here know their business, and can pair your entrees with wines from their extensive list. Those in the know will get on their mailing list to find out about wine dinners from boutique producers and other special events. For a special Italian dinner with someone special, you can’t do better than here.

Bottle Inn: 26-22nd St., HB. (310) 376-9595. www.thebottleinn.com

Runner up: Buona Vita, 425 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 372-2233.

Fresh Brothers co-founded Michael Goldberg at his flagship Manhattan Beach store. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Pizza, Kids’ menu:  Fresh Brothers Pizza

Fresh Brothers Pizza received a big boost in name recognition and popularity when it landed the contract to supply pizzas to every Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach school every school day last year.

“It comes down to the ingredients,” said Adam Goldberg, in explaining how he won the contract away from a large national chain. “We make our dough in our stores, daily. It’s not frozen. You can taste the freshness. The tomatoes in our sauce are canned within three hours of being picked, and we use low fat Wisconsin mozzarella, so you’ll never find a layer of grease on our pizzas,” Goldberg said.

For school kids and adults with allergies, Fresh Brother offers a gluten free pizza.

Fresh Brothers invented an ingenious way to get kids to eat their vegetables, even if it is a bit sneaky.

“We blend five vegetables into the tomato sauce and hide it under the mozzarella. We call it the Fresh Kids Special. They have no idea they’re eating vegetable pizza,” he said.

Fresh Brothers came up with an equally clever way to win the Best Kids Menu Award. They host pizza parties where the kids make their own pizzas. “We give them a pizza shell and trays of ingredients and they select the toppings, we cook it for them,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg and his brother Michael opened the first Fresh Brothers in Manhattan Beach in 2008. Last year, they added stores in Redondo and Marina del Rey.

Fresh Brothers: 2008 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 546-4444. 407 N. PCH., RB. (310) 374-5678.

Kids Menu Runner-up: Ruby’s, 254 N. Harbor Drive, RB. (310) 376-7829.

Pizza Runner up: Paisano’s, 1132 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 376-9883.

Japanese: Banzai Beach & Japonica

We had a tie for best Japanese restaurant this year, and it was between two very different restaurants. Banzai Beach seems dedicated to trying to serve every style of Japanese food under one roof. You can get sushi, noodles, teppan-yaki, teriyaki, Japanese curry, and an array of stir-fries and vegetable dishes. It’s a busy, bustling place that is popular with a young and mostly non-Japanese crowd, many of whom flock for the all-you-can-eat sushi and appetizers on Monday nights. Japonica is a little more traditional, and more people in the crowd are speaking Japanese instead of English. Japonica specializes in Izakaya-style cuisine – Japanese tapas, tasty and beautifully presented, with regional and seasonal specialties. The room is broken into several small semi-private areas, the sake bar is stocked with exotic bottles, and it feels very much like dining in Tokyo. Both restaurants deliver quality at their price level and style, and both are well worth a visit.

Banzai Beach: 934 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 937-9750.

Japonica:  1304 1/2 S. Pac. Cst. Hwy., RB. (310) 316-9477.

New management has brought a new look and new energy to the long popular Sushi Sei. Photo by Kevin Cody

Sushi: Sushi Sei

The award this year goes to a restaurant with staying power. Sushi Sei has been in Hermosa Beach for over 30 years, and though they changed owners about a year ago and redecorated, the overall style and team of chefs is the same. The modern interior is a chic, beautiful space that evokes Japanese tradition, and the sushi on the plates has the same balance. Exquisitely fresh seafood is served in traditional nigiri or sashimi style, or in rolls that are innovative without being wacky – this is modern Japanese sushi, not California all-rules-are-off. The roots of the cuisine are there, but with modern creativity, and it’s a formula that has served them well for decades.

Sushi Sei: 1040 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 379-6900.

Runner up: Sashi Sushi, 451 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. (310) 545-0400.

Sushi Chef: Katsuhiro, Katsu!

Unlike other cooking professionals who spend most of their time in the back of the house, diners develop relationships with sushi chefs. One who remembers your name and preferences, develops an intuition about what you would like, and is a reliable guide to the seafood in stock is worth his/her weight in gold. Katsuhiro of Katsu! Restaurant on Rosecrans does all of those things, and is energetic, enthusiastic, and hospitable besides. He also has a genius for novel artistic creations, as in the sculpture of Spanish mackerel that is tasty as it is beautiful. Katsuhiro knows his clientele and works hard to make their meals memorable – the key to success in his specialty as well as any other.

Katsuhiro at Katsu! 302 Rosecrans Ave., MB. (310) 546-3761.

Runner up: Kinji, Sushi Sei, 1040 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 379-6900.

Late night: Kettle

Generations of insomniacs, night workers on the way out, club-goers on the way back, and other night owls have blessed the Kettle as the only non-chain option that serves a good meal at three in the morning. In fact, they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner at all hours, so jet lagged travelers from around the world can stay on the same schedule as their home city. Breakfast at 9 p.m.? Check. Fresh zucchini parmesan and a Mongolian flatiron steak while the sun is rising? Check. A modest bill and friendly service at all hours by pros who seem to actually enjoy their work? They have all of these, and it’s why they have won this award for so many years in a row.

The Kettle: 1138 Highland Ave., MB. (310) 545-8511.

Runner up: Paisano’s, 1132 Hermosa Ave., HB.  (310) 376-9883.

El Gringo's Bill Graw keeps the quality high and the prices low. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Mexican: El Gringo

The last we heard, gringo wasn’t an entirely complimentary nickname, but our readers have nothing but compliments for this mini-chain of Mexican eateries. The Mexican restaurants with the surfing monkey logo (which no servers could actually explain to us the last time we were there) turn out reliably good and modestly priced Mexican classics, with a few original dishes tossed in. Try the blackened chicken or mahi mahi burrito, or their excellent Yucatan-style chicken and avocado soup – they’re entrees that are worthy of a fine dining establishment, but at the price of a meal at El Gringo.

El Gringo: 2620 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 376-1381.  921 N. Sepulveda, MB. (310) 372-6080. 821 Torrance. Blvd., RB.  (310) 316-8032.

Runner up: El Burrito, Jr., 919 S. Pac. Cst. Hwy., RB. (310) 316-5058.

Mexican over $10: Mucho Ultima Mexicana

Mucho serves Mexican food for sophisticates, items like chipotle dusted Ono, lamb shanks braised in mole sauce, and carnitas made from flavorful Kurobuta pork. The tortillas are hand-made, the guacamole is hacked to order, and your chips arrive with a salsa bursting with freshness. The bouncy, bustling vibe of this place makes it an exciting place to dine, too – it has a lounge feel and a comfortable, well-stocked bar for after dinner, so you can come early and stay late.

Mucho Ultima: 903 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 374-4422. www.muchomb.com

Runners up (tie): Pancho’s, 3615 Highland Ave., MB. (310) 545-6670.

El Gringo, 2620 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 376-1381.  921 N. Sepulveda, MB. (310) 372-6080. 821 Torrance. Blvd., RB.  (310) 316-8032.

Open Seseme is bringing Eastern Mediterranean food to a new audience in the South Bay. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Mediterranean: Open Sesame

Only a few years ago Mediterranean food in the South Bay was limited to fast food, but our winner and runner-up have been raising the bar higher. Sabra Beirut Mix has become a local favorite for those seeking authentic Lebanese flavors, but this year they were edged out by the more upscale Open Sesame. Open Sesame presents Arabic food in the atmosphere of a contemporary lounge, with an extensive and well-selected wine list of both California and European bottles. Open Sesame is taking the cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean to a new audience, and they are obviously very successful – their restaurant and patio are packed almost every night.

Open Sesame: 2640 N. Sepulveda., MB. (310) 545-1600.

Runner up: Sabra, 500 N. Pac. Cst. Hwy., HB. (310) 376-8226.

Deli: Ashley’s

Though some delis cultivate the atmosphere of New York, Eastern Europe, or Italy, Ashley’s feels almost like a rural country store. The gourmet groceries on offer are a lot more eclectic than your usual roadside market, the chili is freshly made, and the sandwich list goes far beyond ham and Swiss on whole wheat. Try their version of a Reuben, the Baja turkey, or the peppery Morning After breakfast sandwich, grab a microbrew or boutique soft drink, and head for the beach. You might want to pick up a freshly baked cookie on the way out – they’re just another reason this deli puts smiles on local faces.

Ashley’s Deli: 828 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 372-6729.

Runner up: Mickey’s, 101 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 376-2330.

Mr. Cecil's big flavored California BBQ ribs. Photo by Kevin Cody

New restaurnt : Mr. Cecil’s

Our reader’s favorite new restaurant serves an ambitious take on American barbecue – nothing less than a redefinition of what it is and what an upscale ‘que joint can be. These beef or pork ribs are meaty, slightly crisp, and tender, and they’re paired with an unusually wide selection of side items. You can even skip the ribs altogether – Mr. Cecil’s makes good lamb chops, chicken, even a mighty nice burger. Many barbecue places have opened in the South Bay in the last few years, and our readers say this one is a keeper!

Mr. Cecil’s: 1209 N. Highland Ave., MB. (310) 546-5400.

Runner up: Gum Tree Café, 238 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 376-8733.

People worried the Mermaid would be gone after the passage of owner Boots Thelen two years ago. But daughter Diana Albergate has carried on the tradition. Photo by Kevin Cody

Old school: Mermaid

The Mermaid hasn’t changed a bit in decades, and that’s just how a coterie of locals and long-timers like it. Walk in here and you might have traveled through time to the set of a Rat Pack movie – old-fashioned booths, dark wood paneling, and the general ambiance straight from the 1960s. The food and drinks match the setting – get a martini to go with your steak or the outsize portion of lamb chops and live large. The Mermaid may not have achieved historic landmark status, but for locals, it’s even better – history you can eat rather than just look at.

The Mermaid: 11 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 374-9344.

Runner up: The Bull Pen, 314 Ave. I, RB. (310) 375-7797.

Outdoor: Martha’s

What’s that realtors say about location, location, location? When it comes to outdoor dining, Martha’s has it, a bright brick patio half a block from the beach. It’s admirably placed for a view of street life and surf alike, and hugely popular even on wintry days. It takes actual rain for the diehards to decide to move indoors, where they can enjoy the same omelets, breakfast specialties, and sandwiches. Sure, it tastes the same without the view, but on any but the most blustery days, we’ll dine alfresco anyway.

Martha’s: 25-22nd St., HB. (310) 376-7786.

Runners up (tie): Gum Tree Café, 238 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 376-8733. Shade Hotel, 1221 N. Valley Dr., MB. (310) 546-4995. Mediterraneo, 73 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 318-2666. Hennessey’s, 8 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 372-5759.

Big Mike serves a sandwich that lives up to its name. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Cheesesteak: Big Mike’s

If the city of Philadelphia had an embassy, it would be Big Mike’s. Well, maybe not – it’s a little small and informal for an embassy, but they’d definitely be catering all the official parties. Big Mike’s is where a substantial percentage of South Bayans first tried a Philly cheesesteak, and learned that it is something more than just a steak sandwich with extra cheese. This little lunch counter and sandwich shop has everything great about East Coast fast food, served fresh, with or without the cheese whiz…

Big Mike’s: 1314 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 798-1499.

Runner up: Grunion’s, 1501 N. Sepulveda, MB. (310) 545-9910.

Rotisserie chicken: Poulet du Jour

There’s a reason that rotisserie chicken is so popular – it’s the best way to cook the bird. When it’s done right, the fat melts off from beneath the skin, basting it over the course of hours so it’s moist within, crisp outside. That, in a nutshell, is why Poulet du Jour has won this award again; they have mastered the patient art of seasoning and slow spit roasting so it’s perfect every time. The chickens are big, meaty, and juicy, and though many are sold to go, these are best fresh from the roaster. Get some hummus, salad, and a glass of fresh lemonade, and you’re ready to enjoy one of the great pleasures of South Bay dining.

Poulet du  Jour: 233 Pac. Cst. Hwy., HB. (310) 376-6620. www.pouletdujour.com

Runner up: Chicken Dijon, 2515 Artesia Blvd., #B, RB. (310) 370-7707.

Even the Rock’n’Fish bartenders enjoy the fish. Photo by Brent Broka (Brokaphoto.com)

Seafood: Rock’n Fish

Just about every restaurant serves seafood of some sort, but in some cases it’s obviously an afterthought, something that goes from freezer to grill to plate just to fill a niche. Rock’n Fish is different – they do serve steaks, pastas, and other items, and they do them well, but seafood is at the heart of this menu. Oysters are served raw, fresh clams steamed or served in chowder, shrimp arrive fried, in gumbo, cocktails, or on sandwiches, and we haven’t even started counting the stuff with fins yet. The oak grill perfumes wild salmon, mahi mahi, tuna, halibut, and swordfish, and the specials board always has fresh offerings of the season. If it lives in the sea, Rock’n Fish probably serves it, and they do a great job.

Rock’N Fish: 120 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. (310) 379-9900. www.rocknfishmb.com

Runner up: Bluewater Grill, 665 Harbor Dr., RB. (310) 318-FISH.

Sliders: Saint Rocke

Sliders feel like some sort of cultural backlash; when American meals are getting ever-larger and pushing calorie counts into the stratosphere, suddenly tiny versions of those sinful burgers become popular. Saint Rocke is a surprising place to find such a variety of slider choices, since nightclubs are rarely known for their food, but the various options here are quite noteworthy. They do have the regular hamburgers, both in regular and Kobe beef, but also buffalo chicken, and Portobello mushroom burgers. The best way to try them all is to drop in on Monday night, when they’re just a dollar each, and snack your way through the whole list while listening to some very good music and enjoying the ambiance of the South Bay’s hottest music venue.

Saint Rocke: 142 Pac. Cst. Hwy., HB. (310) 372-0035. www.saintrocke.com

Runner up: Memphis, 1142 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 545-5405.

Special dinner: Bottle Inn

Whether it’s a special occasion or a dinner with a significant someone, the Bottle Inn has been the venue of choice for decades. The low light and cozy atmosphere are perfect for anniversaries and other romantic occasions, setting a mood that is just right for a memorable night.

Bottle Inn: 26-22nd St., HB. (310) 376-9595. www.thebottleinn.com

Runner up: Darren’s, 1141 Manhattan Ave., MB. (310) 802-1973.

Salad: El Gringo

A Mexican restaurant winning for this category? Yes, it can happen when a place like El Gringo, where they’ve put some creativity in the salad department. Also some meat – the salads here contain blackened chicken, mahi mahi, and carne asada along with well-chosen combinations of greens with vegetables, beans, corn, and other goodies. They’re not strictly traditional, but they’re quite good and well-balanced, a light alternative to the heavier flavors usually associated with Mexican cuisine.

El Gringo: 2620 Hermosa Ave., HB. (310) 376-1381.  921 N. Sepulveda, MB. (310) 372-6080. 821 Torrance. Blvd., RB.  (310) 316-8032.

Runner up: Fresh Brothers, 2008 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 546-4444. 407 N. PCH., RB. (310) 374-5678.

Steak under $20: Brewco

This isn’t actually a new winner, since Brewco is a reincarnation of Manhattan Beach Brewing, with freshened up décor and an expanded menu. Luckily they have left the $19.95 steak on the menu, because it’s a keeper. The “center cut” steak – actually a sirloin – is cut thick, grilled to order, and topped with garlic butter before serving along with two side orders. It’s a fine steak at an eminently reasonable price, with a stunning variety of quality beers available to wash down that good food.

Brewco: 124 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. (310) 798-2744.

Runner up: The Bull Pen, 314 Ave. I, RB. (310) 375-7797.

Steak over $20: Fleming’s

Fleming’s has been called the Temple of Beef, and services are conducted nightly. The faithful gather over glasses of sacred wine (or sacred martinis if that’s their preference) while looking at their hymnals, er, menus. Okay, we’ll stop the church metaphor, but diehard carnivores will feel a sense of reverence when they contemplate the chunk of perfectly cooked cow. It’s USDA Prime meat that has been aged and seasoned simply with kosher salt, pepper, butter, and parsley, and if that isn’t enough you can get peppercorn, béarnaise, or Madeira sauce on the side. As you finish you meal you may be inclined to give thanks for the sophisticated steakhouse that has topped our poll again.

Fleming’s: 2301 Rosecrans Ave., ES. (310) 643-6911.

Runner up: Zane’s, 1150 Hermosa Ave. (at Pier), HB. (310) 374-7488.

Mediterraneo helped introduce tapas to the South Bay. Photo by Brent Broza (Brozaphoto.com)

Tapas: Mediterraneo

Our winner and runner-up present very different versions of tapas, the savory snacks that were originally a fixture in Spanish taverns. Zinc at Shade offers modern small plate items that span the world but are true to the flavors – tempura Chinese long beans, potato and truffle tortellini, or seared scallops with cauliflower cream may not be traditional, but they work wonderfully as a meal of appetizers. Winner Mediterraneo is rather more traditional, serving the flavors of Spain and original creations inspired by Spanish cooking. The rustic favorites are all here – you can get the olives, Spanish ham with cheese, grilled Spanish sausage with red grapes, and other items that are straight from a Madrid sidewalk café. The selection is wide and the prices are low, making this outpost of Andalucia by Hermosa’s pier a place of pilgrimage for those who enjoy the good life.

Mediterraneo: 73 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 318-2666. www.mediterraneohb.com

Runner up: Zinc Lounge, Shade Hotel, 1221 N. Valley Dr., MB. (310) 546-4995.

Diner: Ocean Diner

Restaurants usually express a place in their décor – we have places that look like Sicilian taverns, French cottages, and a Western bunkhouse right in the area. Rarely does one express a time so completely as the Ocean Diner, which is like a stage set for 1940s rural America. This would be just a curiosity were it not that the food hits the mark too – it’s the hearty home cooking that most of us only dimly remember, back when Mom stayed home and had time to bake, simmer a stew for hours, and knock together lunch for eight when we brought friends from the playground. According to the old TV shows we’ve watched, she did all this while wearing pearls and high heels, which we haven’t noticed the staff at Ocean Diner doing. We’ll forgive them for that lapse as long as they keep serving the great omelets, sandwiches, meatloaf, and other items that are so dear to the American heart.

Ocean Diner: 959 Aviation Blvd., HB. www.oceandiner.com

Runner up: Rocky Cola, 1025 Pacific Coast Hwy., HB. (310) 798-3111.

Thai: Phuket Thai

Though Thai tastes in décor tend toward the ornate, Phuket Thai has a stylish and subtle look – it might be a standard American restaurant except for whimsical touches like the papier-mâché chickens that guard the kitchen area. Where it counts, though, is on the plate, and there Phuket is unmistakably and authentically Thai. The spicy flavors of chilies, ginger, and garlic meld with galanga and other exotic spices, and in every dish there is subtlety rather than just heat. If you order without specifying your preferences, the food is mild, but if you ask for spicy – or if you’re brave, “Thai hot,” you are in for that delightful sensory overload that is appreciated in Thailand like nowhere else in the world.

Phuket Thai: 901 N. Pac. Cst. Hwy., RB. (310) 374-9598.

Runners up (tie): Chaba, 525 S Pac. Cst. Hwy. 310.540.8441    Thai Top

The Spot’s Stacy Morgan serves lunch to Dani Dorman of Redondo. Photo by Robb Fulcher

Vegetarian: The Spot

The Spot has been the South Bay’s perennial favorite for lovers of all things healthy, but this year they have new competition – El Segundo’s recently opened Veggie Grill tied for second. The newcomer has shouldered in with a modern style and vibe against the secluded, peaceful Green Temple, but neither could overcome Hermosa’s home of all things wholesome. The Spot is LA’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, and though the old favorites from the ‘70s are still on the menu, they continuously try new items. It keeps the place as fresh as their produce, and that is fresh indeed.

The Spot: 110 Second St., HB. (310) 376-2355.

Runners up: Veggie Grill, 720 Allied Way, ES. (310) 535-0025. Green Temple, 1700 S. Catalina Ave., RB. (310) 944-4525.

View: Chart House

We are quite open in our choice of what view we enjoy with our dinner – we’ll take any wave, as long as we can eat steaks or seafood from The Chart House while we watch it move inexorably toward the shore. True, there’s the danger of being so hypnotized by the surf that you forget the topic of conversation at your table, but the arrival of a server with delectable salads, steaks, and seafood always brings you back to reality. Dinner here is a leisurely, soothing affair, brought on by the combination of good food, well-oiled service, and that view of the endlessly churning Pacific.

Chart House: 231 Yacht Club Way, RB. (310) 372-3464.

Runner up: Hennessey’s, 8 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 372-5759.

Wine List: Zane’s

The race for Best Wine List was as close as it could be – Mediterraneo lost to Zane’s by a single vote. Since the two restaurants are only a block from each other, you could easily sample both over the course of an evening – a glass of Albarino or Rioja with tapas before stopping at Zane’s for something big and fruity from Napa, or well-chosen New World wines with steaks and a salad before investigating the dessert wines right down the Plaza. Both establishments offer well-chosen bottles at low to moderate prices, making them excellent places to try new things – you don’t have to run up a big bill to try that wine that looks intriguing. Let your server be your guide, and enjoy sampling the fine things in life while your designated driver investigates the soft drinks and juices…

Zane’s: 1150 Hermosa Ave. (at Pier), HB. (310) 374-7488. www.zanesrestaurant.com

Runner up: Mediterraneo, 73 Pier Ave., HB. (310) 318-2666.

Best Waiter: Ryan Burgess, Ocean View Café

Ryan Burgess, the South Bay’s pick for best server has only been at Ocean View Café for the past two months but gained his following from years of serving and bartending at Petros in Manhattan Beach and Brix in Hermosa. His fans followed. “It’s a pretty stressful occupation to begin with,” says Ryan, “but getting to know the customers and having them come back again and again because I was able to give them a great dining experience makes it worthwhile.” He credits his new title of B.O.B. to the great staffs he has been lucky to work with and the regulars that make showing up to work a good time.

Ryan Burgess: Ocean View Café, 229-13th St., MB. (310) 545-6770

Runners up (tie): Oscar at Bottle Inn, 26-22nd St., HB.(310) 376-9595. Carlos at Lido di Manhattan, 1550 Rosecrans, MB.  310-536-0730.

Cantina Real's Teri Lee has the skills to match the smile. Photo John MacLean (johnmaclean.com)

Best Waitress: Teri Lee, Cantina Real

“Every day is exceptional because I work at the beach,” says Best Waitress winner Teri Lee of Cantina Real. A native of San Diego, Teri spent 20 years slinging suds in Las Vegas until her son moved to Burbank. She decided to follow, looked into the beaches closest to him and settled on Hermosa, spending her first few nights while looking for an apartment at the Hermosa Hostel, just across from Cantina Real. “I love working at a family-run restaurant with lots of regular customers.” They all know her as that quick-witted waitress who always has a warm, welcoming smile. Just like the sunshine.

Teri Lee: Cantina Real, 19 Pier Ave., HB. 310-372-3454

Runner-up: Kristy Paige Kleiman; Simmzys, 229 Manhattan Bch. Blvd., MB. 310-546-1201.

Best Yogurt Shop: Pinkberry

Color our readers pink as they continue to flip out for high-quality frozen yogurts, smoothies and parfaits with Pinkberry’s “signature tang.”

Favorite frozen yogurts include pomegranate, passion fruit, coconut, and of course the distinctive “original,” all of which Pinkberry makes using daily-cut fresh fruit and seasonal fresh-fruit toppings (as well as other toppings such as almond granola, shaved Belgian chocolate and Fruity Pebbles).

The healthy frozen yogurts, with nonfat and low-fat flavors, contain active live cultures, thermophilus, bulgaricus and acidophilus, and are recognized by the health-conscious National Yogurt Association.

Original and green tea smoothies also are knockouts.

Pinkberry delivers, caters, lets you order online – does whatever you want.

Pinkberry: 900 PCH, HB. 310-318-5888. pinkberry.com

Runner-up: Lotus Yogurt Bar, 1316 Hermosa Ave., HB 310-798-9868

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