Richard Foss

Best of the Beach 2014: Dining

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Tables in the wine room are coveted seats at the Bottle Inn. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Wine list: Bottle Inn

One of the errors some people make is thinking that for a restaurant to have a great wine list, it merely needs a lot of money. One need only consider the people he knows who have expensive homes decorated in bad taste or modest ones that are a pleasure to contemplate in order to see the fallacy in that. The Bottle Inn has a wine list with exquisite bottles at every price level. If you crave a good Chianti from a modest producer or are looking for a memorable old Barolo, the restaurant will have the bottle for you. Trust the sommelier to pair your meal. Why go to a place where there are experts if you’re not going to take advantage of their knowledge? Here, you can have a bottle or a glass to put the finishing touch on a fine Italian meal. — RF

26 22nd St., Hermosa Beach. 310-376-9595

Runner-up: The Strand House. 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-7470

Italian over $20: Bottle Inn

We’re adventurous here at the beach, and many of us seek new restaurants far and wide. This is the one we always come back to, the reliable old-school place with cuisine that does not grow less enjoyable by repetition. There are specials at the Bottle Inn, and wine dinners and other events, but the important things about this restaurant are the ones that don’t change: the stylish yet calm atmosphere, completely reliable food and staff who greet longtime regulars like the old friends they are. The Bottle Inn isn’t flashy, but it has been the place we go for special-occasion Italian meals for decades, and it will be for decades more. — RF

26 22nd St. Hermosa Beach. (310) 376-9595.

Runner-up: La Sosta Enoteca, 2700 Manhattan Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 318-1556

 

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Romantic dining: Bottle Inn

Nestled next to The Strand on 22nd Street in Hermosa is the quaint Bottle Inn, a cozy little Italian spot with Old World charm. The decor is old school, the menu traditional and the space intimate and dimly-lit, making this little gem an ideal restaurant for a romantic night out.

The Bottle Inn has been a local favorite for 37 years. Servers like Helen, who seems to have come with the place, make patrons feel welcomed and pampered. Her warm smile and eager attitude guides your meal every step of the way, and she has mastered the balance of providing attentive service without intruding on an intimate dining experience. For a special, romantic night out, ask to be seated in the wine cellar, a narrow little corner tucked away from the main dining room. There, among the shelves of great Italian wines, you can enjoy a truly private meal with your betrothed.—AM

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

Runner-up: Palmilla Cocina y Tequila: 39 Pier Ave, HB. 310-374-4440. www.palmillarestaurant.com

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American contemporary: MB Post

Contemporary is defined as  “ belonging to or occurring in the present,” and it’s hard to find a better example locally than MB Post. Though many of the menu items have roots in American, European and Asian cuisines, the selection changes daily. It’s a tribute to the skill and dedication of the servers that they stay so well-informed about menu items that vary so frequently. A few items always are on the list, notably the bacon-cheddar buttermilk biscuits that start nearly every meal, but there are adventures every day in this freewheeling modern bistro. — RF

1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan  Beach. (310) 545-5405

Runner-up: Tin Roof, 500 N. Sepulveda Blvd, No. 100, Manhattan Beach. (310) 939-0900

Eggs Benedict at MB Post.

Eggs Benedict at MB Post.

 

Brunch over $15: MB Post

Think of the traditional items of American brunch. Now think of them transformed with boutique ingredients and a modern twist. You are well on the way to imagining brunch at MB Post. It has French toast,  but it’s stuffed with fresh cherries, almonds and ricotta cheese made in house. There is corned beef hash made in-house from beef cheeks, and along with the egg, there is sherry vinegar and gremolata. Those who are health conscious might get yogurt and granola – freshly made of course – served with mango, pineapple, kiwi and candied ginger. It’s comfort food, yet fun and adventurous – a rare combination that our readers obviously appreciate. — RF

1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan  Beach. (310) 545-5405

Runner-up: Palmilla Cocina y Tequila, 39 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 374-4440

Martha's Egg's Benedict. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Martha’s Egg’s Benedict. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Brunch under $15: Martha’s 22nd St. Grill

It is very possible that homes in the north end of Hermosa have slightly higher property values because they’re walking distance from Martha’s. All Realtors need to do is to remind people that they won’t have to look for a parking space or pay a meter to eat at the most popular breakfast spot for miles. The menu here is a list of old favorites and hasn’t changed much since the 1980s. The omelets, sandwiches, white corn and tabbouleh scramble, variations on eggs Benedict, and fluffy pancakes keep people coming in. They do serve mimosas, which they didn’t back when the place opened, and that’s one innovation that even the most traditionalist diners welcome. — RF

25 22nd St., Hermosa Beach. (310) 376-7786

Runner-up: Baja Sharkeez, 3600 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-8811

Best Omelet: Martha’s 22nd Street Grill

Breakfast at Martha’s is the quintessential California beachside morning. Sidewalk tables are covered with big, colorful umbrellas and dogs, tied to the railing, wait by their human’s table while beautiful breakfast and lunch platters are served on the outdoor patio. Located near the Strand in Hermosa Beach, the restaurant is open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. and has a full breakfast and lunch menu. Their twist on eggs benedict will make even the biggest hollandaise hater take a bite, and like it – and their omelets are perfectly fluffy and out-of-this-world. -CS

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

Runner-up: Ocean Diner, 959 Aviation Blvd, HB. 310-372-3739. OceanDiner.com

 

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Crepes: Crème de la Crepe

This mini-chain is one of the great success stories of the South Bay. It started with one location in Hermosa and now has five stretching from Long Beach to Culver City. Though details of menu and decor vary, they all have one thing in common: a commitment to serving country French comfort food at moderate prices. The foundation is, of course, the crepes – thin, freshly made pancakes with savory or sweet fillings. Classic stuffings such as brie with tomatoes and ham or chicken breast with bacon potatoes and cognac-pepper sauce are rounded out with a mild curry chicken, or crab meat, shrimp, tomato, bell pepper and jack cheese. Those who enjoy experimenting may devise their own combination from 30 items, encouraging the French mad scientist in everyone. — RF

1140 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 546-9900

424 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, (310) 937-2822

1708 1/2 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach, (310) 540-8811

Runner-up: Doma Kitchen Cafe, 420 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach.

(310) 372-7298

Barbecue American: Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

The favorite restaurant for Southern barbecue among readers of this coast-oriented publication is miles inland. Lucille’s is decorated like a traditional barbecue shack, and the massive smoker you see as you enter the dining room turns out ribs, chicken and brisket that have the flavor you get only from lots of time trimming the meat, preparing it with seasoning rub and patiently letting a smoky fire do its work.  The result is moist and tender, with a sweet and spicy crust and flavor infused deep into the meat. A great barbecue meal is much more than that of course, and Lucille’s serves all the traditional sides and fixings, with lemonade, iced tea or stronger beverages to wash it all down. — RF

21420 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance. (310) 370-7427

Runner-up: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. 407 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach. (310) 379-0202

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Barbecue ethnic: Silvio’s Brazilian BBQ Bar and Grill

Brazilian barbecue is very simple when compared to the American variety. Rather than a spicy rub complemented with a sauce, the flavor of the meat is emphasized with a dash of rock salt and perhaps a grind of pepper. A meal of tri-tip or the popular cut called picanha at Silvio’s by the beach in Hermosa is all about the flavor and tenderness of steak Brazilian style. Those who prefer their meat accented with spices may want to try delicately spiced chicken, pork sausage, which is a Brazilian take on an Italian recipe, or even their version of an American favorite: Mississippi pulled pork. There’s something coming off the grill for everybody, and if all of the barbecue choices confuse you, the  excellent burger is always an option. — RF

20 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 376-6855

Runners-up:  Big Wok Mongolian BBQ, 250 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 798-1155

L&L Hawaiian: 1821 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach. (310) 375-0333

Sliders: Hot’s Kitchen

Do not tell Sean Chaney, owner and executive chef of Hot’s Kitchen, that his burgers have won the “best sliders” category. He gets mad.

“I think of tiny little one-ounce burgers when I hear the term sliders,” Chaney told me. “But these are quarter pounders. I’m full after one.”

To be fair, the burgers at Hot’s are bigger than the typical bar slider, and they are certainly elevated by a creative mix of toppings. There are also 10 styles to choose from.

The menu boasts hormone-free beef ground daily in house. The burger choices include chili cheese, BBQ bacon, and truffle. According to regulars, the standouts are the Mexicali, the NYC pastrami and the aptly-named “fat” burger.

The Mexicali gets its flair from Oaxaca cheese, roasted poblano peppers and a corn and jalapeño mayo. The NYC is covered with enough hot pastrami to make a Reuben and is finished with pickles, mustard and swiss and jack cheese. Not to be outdone, the fat burger throws a fried egg on top of a patty already drenched in melted American cheese, mayo and caramelized onion.

So we will concede to Chaney that one Hot’s burger does fill you up. But it may have a bit more to do with the gluttonous toppings than it does the ounces of beef.—AM

844 Hermosa Ave HB 310-318-2939, www.hotskitchen.com

Runner-up: Saint Rocke, 142 N. PCH, Hermosa Beach, (310) 372-0035, saintrocke.com

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Dominique Theval. Photo by Kevin Cody

French: Dominique’s Kitchen

There was a time when French food in the South Bay was complex, expensive and not very good. For proof that times have changed, you need go no further than this bright, cheerful cafe in Redondo.  Many of the items are simple in concept but brilliantly executed, the natural ingredients enhanced by Chef Dominique Theval’s subtle spicing. The meals are exquisite, the welcome warm and friendly and the bill surprisingly moderate. The French understand that everyday meals can be special, and you will understand it, too, once you have dined here. — RF

522 Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach. (424) 247-9054

Runner-up: Crème de la crepe

Burgers: Simmzy’s

It is an odd bit of marketing that Simmzy’s menu and website call the place a pub, but it does feel like the South Bay’s version of one: loud and lively with plenty of beers on tap. Bangers and mash are not on the menu, but a pair of excellent burgers are – a cheeseburger with aioli and a variety of available add-ins, and a deluxe version with blue cheese, candy bacon and frizzled shallots. Either one is a glorious mess, the flavor of the juicy meat patty with smoky overtones from the grill accented with cheesy, garlicky goodness. Grilled onions, tomato and lettuce round out an exuberant version of the American favorite. This little place is nearly always packed, and these big burgers are part of the reason. — RF

229 Manhattan Beach Blvd. , Manhattan Beach. (310) 546-1201

Runner-up: Umami, 1040 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 214-8626

 

 

Mediterraneo’s combination of tapas and extensive wine and craft beer selections have made it a popular Pier Avenue gathering place.

Mediterraneo’s combination of tapas and extensive wine and craft beer selections have made it a popular Pier Avenue gathering place.

Tapas/appetisers: Mediterraneo

Small-plate dining is a tradition around the world. Danes with their smorgasbord, Turks with their meze and Indonesians with rijsttafel all enjoy meals that involve a profusion of small tastes. The gold standard for the world is tapas, the Spanish tradition of snacks meant to be enjoyed with wine. In the South Bay, that means a trip to Mediterraneo for little plates of tangy olives with flatbreads, salads, all manner of grilled and sautéed meats and vegetables and a selection of cheeses. Along with the traditional items are original creations such as the eggplant fries with romesco aioli and daily specials depending on what looks good from local farms. All the tastes of the Western Mediterranean are on display, a reminder of what makes tapas – and Mediterraneo – so enduringly popular. — RF

73 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. 310-318-2666

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

Mediterraneo. Photo by Brad Jacobson.

Mediterraneo. Photo by Brad Jacobson.

Mediterranean: Mediterraneo

They’re answering the phone, “The Med” these days, one of several small changes in the past year. But the appeal of the South Bay’s most authentically Spanish restaurant remains the same. In the decade since this place opened, we have become accustomed to relaxing over an array of appetizers and a glass of wine or craft beer while sitting on the patio and watching the sunset, stars or passing tourists. Those in a hurry can order tapas that arrive in mere moments, while diners who wish to have a more languorous experience may enjoy a Mediterranean experience and walk by the Pacific afterward. — RF

73 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 318-2666

Runner-up: Sesame Moe’s, 2640 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-1600

 

Palmilla’s design is as adventurous as its menu.

Palmilla’s design is as adventurous as its menu.

Mexican over $10: Palmilla Cocina y Tequila

Our readers show an adventurous streak this year, selecting the most modern Mexican restaurant in the South Bay. The menu and decor here are like nothing else in the area. You dine in an Aztec fantasyland by the light of candles and overhead lanterns, next to a bar that looks like a shrine to tequila. The seafood on the menu includes wild-caught Mexican shrimp and fresh Dungeness crab, and the beef includes wood-grilled, aged filet mignon and New York steaks. Traditional items are offered; you can get a standard burrito or taco, but they also can be filled with braised short rib, grilled achiote chicken or fresh mahi mahi. The experience is dazzling, making this a special-occasion Mexican restaurant worth a special trip. — RF

39 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. 310-374-4440

Runner-up: Coyote Cantina,531 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach. (310) 376-1066

El Burrito Jr. Photo by Alyssa Morin

El Burrito Jr. Photo by Alyssa Morin

Mexican under $10: El Burrito Jr.

El Burrito Jr. is true beach Mexican. It’s a street-side shack with walk-up window and a cash-only policy. But this is no ordinary street Mexican. The burritos are filled to the brim with fresh rice and beans, fantastic carne asada and homemade salsa and guacamole. The service is fast, the portions generous and the you can’t beat the road-side convenience.

Some of the favorites at the Redondo Beach location include the “Special A” which is four tacos of any kind for $7.75 and the “Special C,” two bean and cheese burritos with a medium drink for $4.75. If you’re in a rush, you can call ahead and your order will be ready for you when you pull up. And don’t worry if you don’t have cash on hand, there is an ATM on premise. — AM

919 S Pacific Coast Hwy, RB (310) 316-5058.

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

 

Barney’s Beanery has 50 beers on tap to help wash down their popular chilis. Photo by Brad jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Barney’s Beanery has 50 beers on tap to help wash down their popular chilis. Photo by Brad jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Chili: Barnery’s Beanery

Any restaurant that celebrates National Chili Day (February 27) deserves recognition, especially if it has beanery in its name. Though Barney’s Beanery only opened on the Redondo Pier in December it has already garnered local recognition for its five different chilis, including a 1920s recipe from the original Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollwood. They even have a chili for people who don’t like chili. It’s called the Veggie Chili. Plus they have 50 beers on tap, one for each plasma TV.

100 Fisherman’s Wharf, Redondo Pier. (424) 275-4820.

Runner-up: Tomboy’s, 1816 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach (310) 374-9944.

Teppanyaki; Banzai Beach

One may argue about what cuisine in the world is tastiest or healthiest, but there’s really no contest over which is most fun to watch someone make. Teppanyaki cooking is an exercise in showmanship, with a chef juggling ingredients, spice shakers, knives and sauce bottles as a meal is cooked on a huge flat griddle. This isn’t a cuisine you’re going to learn from a book at home. Fortunately you don’t have to, as the chefs at Banzai Beach are happy to make dinner for you. It’s an enthralling performance that also results in a meal that’s tasty and healthy, so you can enjoy a guilt-free dinner at the end of the show. — RF

934 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 374-3747

Runner-up: Benihana, 21327 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance. (310) 316-7777

Rotisserie chicken: Poulet du Jour

When it comes to chicken, this is the specialist. It serves rotisserie chicken, sandwiches and salads made with rotisserie chicken and stuff that goes well with rotisserie chicken. The restaurant has bet its whole operation on serving perfect chicken, and the fact that our readers have repeatedly voted it best in this category indicates this place has nailed it. The chicken is naturally raised, marinated with mild spices and herbs,and then roasted so the skin is crisp and the meat tender and juicy. Poulet du jour gets it right every time, and our readers appreciate the quality and consistency. — RF

233 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach. (310) 376-6620

Runner-up: Chicken Dijon, 2515 Artesia Blvd, No. B, Redondo Beach. (310) 370-7707,

3556 Torrance Blvd., No. B, Torrance. (310) 540-1499, 251 Main St., El Segundo. (310) 414-9000

 

Fresh brothers has used its first, small Manhattan Beach as a springboard to open 10 restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area.

Fresh brothers has used its first, small Manhattan Beach as a springboard to open 10 restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area.

Pizza: Fresh Brothers

This locally owned chain has taken off, going from one location in Manhattan Beach in 1985 to 10, with locations as far north as Westlake Village. The menu has broadened, too, and includes vegan snacks, meatball sliders and salads. The pizzas are available with deep dish, gluten-free, thin or “skinny” crust and 30 toppings, so if you can’t find something you like, then maybe you just don’t like pizza. — RF

2008 Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 546-4444

407 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, 310-374-5678

Runner-up: Paisanos Pizza & Pasta, 1132 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 376-9883

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Fishbar’s fish and chips. Photo by Mark McDermott

Fishbar’s fish and chips. Photo by Mark McDermott

Fish and chips: Fishbar

Chef Jessica Jordan has made her mark with Fishbar by focusing on the freshness and quality ofher seafood, and the beloved El Porto restaurant’s fish and chips are no exception. Historically, deep frying fish was a way to take a fish of questionable quality and make it tasty — the presiding ethos was when in doubt, fry the damned thing. But Jordan has turned this idea on its head: her fish and chips are made with fresh Alaskan cod, or, for a couple dollars more, Skuna Bay “craft” farmed salmon. Jordan, a local culinary wunderkind who owns and operates both Fishbar and Manhattan Beach Creamery, has become regionally celebrated for her relentless pursuit of the freshest, best fish. “We are very picky about every speck of fish we bring in,” she says. “And that goes for fish and chips, too.” The beer batter is that rarest of fried foods that actually achieves lightness of being. The batter is made daily and uses Fishbar’s own blonde ale. Fishbar’s fish and chips is a small miracle of fresh goodness and artful frying.

3801 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, (310) 796-0200, fishbarmb.com

Runner up: Captain Kidd’s Fish Market, 209 N Harbor Dr, Redondo Beach, (310) 372-7703, captainkidds.com.

Seafood soup: Fishbar

Our reader poll happens during a cool season, when a cup of hot chowder is so appealing. Manhattan Beach’s resident specialists in all things fish are ready for chowder days with three varieties: traditional New England, tomato-based Manhattan and their unusual smoked salmon chowder. The chowders are available in a regular bowl or in a hollowed-out sourdough loaf, and if you ask nicely, the eatery has been known to serve a sampler of all three. These rich, hearty soups are popular at lunch and dinner, no matter what the weather. There’s one to please anybody, and they’re all delightful. — RF

3801 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 796-0200

Runner-up: Fishing With Dynamite, 1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 893-6299

Akbar. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Akbar. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Indian: Akbar

The Indian Emperor Akbar was an adventurous and ambitious ruler who learned from other cultures, which makes it quite fitting that this restaurant is named for him. Chef Avinash Kapoor has an adventurous take on Indian food, serving Southern seafood dishes and items that use nontraditional combinations of spices and ingredients. There are sometimes daily and seasonal specials – unusual in the local Indian restaurant community – and the wine and beer lists are well-chosen for this cuisine. Though as a Muslim he would not have drunk alcoholic beverages, the wise Mughal emperor was tolerant and surely would not mind that others do so in this excellent namesake restaurant. — RF

1101 Aviation Blvd., Hermosa Beach. (310) 937-3800

Runner-up: Addi’s Tandoor, 800 Torrance Blvd., Redondo Beach. (310) 540-1616

 

The Doma patio wall. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

The Doma patio wall. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Salad: Doma Kitchen

This little bungalow is one of the most interesting multiethnic operations in the history of the South Bay, and its salads are typical of an eclectic approach. There are always four on the menu, and vegetarians may nosh on quinoa with mixed greens, bell peppers and avocado; kale with grapes, carrots, cranberries and feta; or the beet-and-goat-cheese salad with nuts in a balsamic vinaigrette. Omnivores may favor the salad with spit-roasted lamb seasoned with cumin over lettuce, snow peas and other greens with a sweet chili sauce. The dishes pack a variety of flavors and textures that make a salad integral to a meal rather than just some greens to nibble while you wait for the star attraction. — RF

420 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach

310-372-7298

Runner-up: Tin Roof. 500 N. Sepulveda Blvd, No. 100, Manhattan Beach. (310) 939-0900

The Spot. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

The Spot. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Vegetarian: The Spot

Lots of places call themselves famous, sometimes an indecently short time after they start offering their services. The Spot is one of the few places in the area claiming that title that actually deserves it. It is L.A.’s oldest and best-loved natural foods restaurant, and the place has been under the same ownership for more than 30 years. The burritos, scrambles, bowls, pastas, chili and other delights are made with natural ingredients, as are the juices, teas, ales and wines. You can eat and drink to your heart’s content knowing that it’s all natural. — RF

110 Second St., Hermosa Beach. (310) 376-2355

Runner-up: Green Temple. 1700 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach. (310) 944-4525

Mama D’s. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Mama D’s. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Italian under $20 (tie): Fritto Misto, Mama D’s

The two restaurants that tied this year couldn’t be more different in style. One is a little cucina any homesick East Coaster could love, the other a more California-style place with a decidedly experimental bent. Mama D’s is the classic checkered-tablecloth place specializing in homestyle recipes. If you don’t know about this place, you don’t spend much time in downtown Manhattan Beach. The zesty scent of garlic and spices can be smelled across the street.  Fritto Misto is more modern and cosmopolitan, with tastes of New Mexico and Louisiana on the menu alongside those of Italy, with eggless and wheat-free pastas available. What the two dining spots have in common is the taste of Italy at modest prices: traditional Italy at one, Italian California at the other. You can dine at either well without damaging your budget, a rarity within walking distance of the beach. — RF

Frito Misto, 316 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, (310) 318-6098

Mama D’s, 1125 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 546-1492

Runner-up: Charlie’s, 601 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach. (310) 374-8581

Phuket Thai. Photo by Brad Davidson (CivicCouch.com)

Phuket Thai. Photo by Brad Davidson (CivicCouch.com)

Thai: Phuket Thai

901 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach,. 310-374-9598

There are Thai restaurants in the South Bay that have done a marvelous job at recreating Thai architecture, gardens and decor; it’s nice that they did because the setting is part of the dining experience. But once again, the favorite Thai restaurant in the South Bay is in a nondescript office building. Phuket Thai delivers authentic Thai flavors – powerful, subtle and complex all at once – and the service has plenty of traditional charm and politeness. Newcomers to the cuisine will find the fluent servers helpful and informative, as well as willing to communicate to the chef the precise level of heat that you prefer. Those who know this cuisine will appreciate that when you tell your server you want it “Thai hot,” you’ll get traditionally zesty curries served with all the spice, heat and other flavors of a Bangkok street stall. — RF

901 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach,. (310) 374-9598

Runner-up: Thai Dishes. 707 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-6326

Chef Tin Vuong. Photo by Pete Henze

Chef Tin Vuong. Photo by Pete Henze

Asian fusion: Little Sister

Chef Tin Vuong has rocketed to stardom like no other chef in the history of the South Bay. Just two years ago when he took over the kitchen at Abigaile, nobody had heard of him, and now he is one of our local stars. His passion for artfully combining Asian foods has flowered at Little Sister, where Singaporean, Vietnamese, Thai, Nepalese and other cuisines are the basis for a globalized Asian cuisine. The menu changes frequently based on the availability of arcane ingredients and on Chef Tin’s own inspiration, and it’s safe to say that no matter how much you know about Asian cuisines, the kitchen here has something to teach you. It’s an enjoyable lesson about what these cuisines have in common and also what makes each one unique. — RF

1131 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. 310-545-2096

Runner-up: Rok Sushi Kitchen, 1200 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 798-4765

Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Sushi: Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya

Sushi has gone through several evolutions in the U.S., from the traditional version in which the flavor of fresh fish was paramount to modern versions in which spicy sauces, mayonnaise, cream cheese and other flavors dominate. The sushi at Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya splits the difference with its rolls and fancy dishes, using modern ideas sparingly and with unusual subtlety. It also has seafood fresh enough for any traditionalist to love – live shrimp, sea urchin that tastes like the wind from the ocean and daily specials that reflect the best from the markets. Traditionalist and modernist may dine together and both find something to appreciate, and that’s a rarity anywhere in Los Angeles. — RF

1133 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach. 310-796-1888

Runner-up: Oki Doki, 442 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach. (310) 798-8289

Japanese: Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya

Japanese cuisine always has been much more than just sushi, stir-fries, teriyaki and ramen, but you wouldn’t have known that from the fare at South Bay restaurants in years gone by. That has changed in the past decade, and we’ve come to enjoy the varied flavors of izakaya cuisine – the pub food of Japan, with big, exuberant flavors. Izaka-Ya by Katsu-Ya has been leading the way, serving dishes such as fried eggplant with albacore-miso sauce, Okinawa-style stewed spareribs and Japanese-style ceviche. The restaurant has become a famed lunch spot for its modestly priced bento boxes, and the eatery is busy from the moment it opens until late hours, with locals who delight in the flavors that may be ancient, but are new to them. — RF

1133 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 796-1888

Runner-up: Rice, 820 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 798-7722

Coyote Cantina. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Coyote Cantina. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Best steak under $20: Coyote Cantina

A good steak doesn’t always come from a steakhouse, and finding one for under $20 is a feat in itself. Coyote Cantina proves that quality steak can be tasty, affordable and dripping in ethnic spices. The Carne Asada entrée is actually less than $16 and comes with Spanish rice, pinto beans and flour tortillas. Ashley Noelle, Coyote server, said that the Carne Asada raises the stakes. “I think its hands down the best Carne Asada in the area,” Noelle said. Servers don’t always rave about the restaurants they work for, so take Noelle’s word on this one.

Address: 531 N. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach (310) 376-1066.  coyotecantina.net

Steak over $20: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

It’s unusual for a chain restaurant to win in a competitive poll in an area so supportive of small, local businesses. Fleming’s is the expert on steaks, offering both wet-aged and dry-aged beef – and if you’ve never tried both to savor the difference, it’s an interesting experiment in flavor. Great steaks are hard to produce on a standard grill, and Fleming’s has both the high-temperature equipment and the expertise to use it effectively. Try a piece of quality meat adorned by nothing more than salt and pepper, or go for a more stylish version rubbed with porcini mushrooms or peppercorns – with or without gorgonzola or homemade steak sauce. It’s a memorable meal. — RF

2301 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo. (310) 643-6911

Runner-up: Fonz’s. 1017 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 376-1536

 

Sushi chef Sanji. Photo by Joann Row

Sushi chef Sanji. Photo by Joann Row

Sushi chef: Sanji, Sushi Duke

Sanji has perfected the art of hybrid sushi by blending Sri Lanka spices into traditionally Japanese flavors.  The South Bay sushi master has spent time both in Sri Lanka and Japan and developed his craft through the influence of both cultures. Sushi Duke isn’t the first time Sanji was in the sushi game — he was a head sushi chef in Kuwait and studied culinary techniques in Japan. Sushi Duke stays true to the traditional sushi restaurant ideal with an intimate, smaller setting and a close experience with the sushi chef. — J.R.

320 South Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach (310) 374-6929. Sushidukehb.com

Cajun: Ragin Cajun

People from all over the world go to Louisiana to vacation, and it isn’t for the weather. They endure the humidity and heat because the greatest music and cuisine in America are to be found among those swamps, prairies and the occasional big city by a river. Ragin’ Cajun was the South Bay’s embassy of that culture and cuisine when it was on Pier Avenue. Since reopening on Aviation, the restaurant has done its best to pick up right where it left off. That means heaping plates of jambalaya and red beans, po’boys with oysters, crawfish and shrimp, and gumbo that is an indispensable starter for any meal. The restaurant even offers a startlingly good ribeye steak – a modern item, but as good as everything else that emerges from the kitchen. — RF

1141 Aviation Blvd., Hermosa Beach. (310) 379-6171

Runner-up: New Orleans Cajun Café, 140 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 372-8970

Dessert: Cheesecake Factory

Despite its expansion to nearly 170 locations, Cheesecake Factory hasn’t skipped a beat in delicate desserts. With over thirty cheesecake desserts, including low carb options, it’s easy to see how the Cheesecake Factory sliced through the dessert category. The dessert menu isn’t limited to cheesecakes but includes cakes, ice creams and creamy milkshakes. Enjoy the Redondo Harbor while sampling a number of sweets; it never hurts to order more than one.  -J.R.

Address: 605 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach (310) 376-0466. thecheesecakefactory.com

Runner up:  Rock ‘N Fish, 120 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach, (310) 379-9900. Rocknfishrestaurants.com.

 

noahsbagels

Freshly baked bagels at Noah’s Bagel in Manhattan Beach. Photo by Esther Kang

Best Bagel: Noah’s New York Bagel

“Sweet or savory?” When stumbling into Noah’s New York Bagel in downtown Manhattan Beach for the first time, you’d better know yourself. Noah’s Bagel offers a palette of 32 bagel varieties in addition to a substantial coffee menu, egg and deli sandwiches. Though the shop is a corporate chain based in Colorado, the downtown location retains a neighborly vibe. “We’ve had a pretty loyal customer base,” says Felton Jones, general manager at Manhattan Beach’s Noah’s for 10 years now. Among the swath of choices, Jones says his customers tend to love Noah’s classic plain, everything seed, sesame and cheddar Jalapeno bagels.  For those with a relentless sweet tooth, the blueberry bagel — topped with a fluffy layer of honey almond cream cheese — is highly recommended. Ask them to toast it. — EK

332 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. 310-937-2206. noahs.com
Runner up: Manhattan Bread & Bagel. 1812 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-7553. manhattanbread.com

Best Bakery: Becker’s Bakery & Deli

Last December, a delivery truck crashed into Becker’s Bakery’s 100-plus-year brick wall in downtown Manhattan Beach. The impact left the building largely undamaged. In the same way, Becker’s Bakery & Deli, a 72-year-old family-owned business, maintains an unimpeachable  legacy for providing the best baked goods in the South Bay. Todd Becker carries on the family tradition begun by his grandfather Harry, providing the community with fresh and delicious cakes, cookies, cupcakes, donuts and the like. Becker’s Bakery keeps the menu innovative with new innovations like the Cronut, a delightful donut-croissant hybrid. — EK

1025 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. 310-372-3214. beckersbakeryanddeli.com

Runner-up: Torrance Bakery, 1341 El Prado Ave., Torrance. 310-320-2722. torrancebakery.com

Michael Sears links up at Java Man. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Michael Sears links up at Java Man. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Best Indie Coffee Shop: Java Man Coffee House

Java Man Coffee House has been waking up South Bay residents with their coffee and treats for 23 years. Java Man’s not your everyday café  Located in a 1920s bungalow, the shop feels more like a living room than a café, and their top-notch baristas whip up a mean Mexican Mocha..

“It’s way cooler than other places,” coffee drinker Michael Sears said. “I like it here, it’s hard to find places with WiFi and ample seating right by the beach.”

Java Man offers fresh baked goods delivered daily from their sister shop Ocean Diner and as well as breakfast burritos and lunch options. – CS

Java Man: 157 Pier Ave., HB. 310-379-7209. JavaManCoffeeHouse.com

Runner-up; Catalina Coffee Company, 126 N. Catalina Ave, RB. 310-318-2499. CatalinaCoffee.com.

 

Manhattan Beach Creamery boasts a wide selection of handmade ice cream flavors as well as candies and baked goods. Photo by Esther Kang

Manhattan Beach Creamery boasts a wide selection of handmade ice cream flavors as well as candies and baked goods. Photo by Esther Kang

 Best Ice Cream Store: Manhattan Beach Creamery

Step into Manhattan Beach Creamery in downtown Manhattan Beach and you’ve arrived at the reigning champion for best ice cream in the South Bay. Since taking over the business in 2009, the Rothman family has gone the whole nine yards. The shop looks a posh Willy Wonka chocolate factory, complete with chocolate-dipped bananas, racks of novelty cupcakes and  swirls of candies. The Creamery’s 28 ice cream flavors are lined to the right, gallons upon gallons freshly made on site every morning. With last year’s launch of its signature ice cream sandwich, the Creamwich, the shop is quickly expanding past its local reach. The Creamwiches and the Creamery’s signature pints — Maple Bacon Crunch, Strawberry Goat Cheese and Basil Blackberry, to name a few — are now carried in 140 stores across the LA County. Chef Jessica Jordan, the Creamery’s chief flavor-maker, says working for a family-owned business allows her to take creative liberties and invent unprecedented flavors. There are no immediate plans to open a second store, but the Manhattan Beach Creamery is staying ambitious. “We have big dreams with the little ice cream sandwich,” Jordan said. “We have a dream of becoming a national brand.” — EK

1120 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. 310-372-1155. mbcreamery.com

Runner up: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt. 1882 S. PCH Hwy, Redondo Beach. 424-247-8861. handelsicecream.com

 

Mickey’s Deli’s sandwiches are a favorite of surfers and boaters. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Mickey’s Deli’s sandwiches are a favorite of surfers and boaters. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Best sandwich: Mickey’s Italian Delicatessen and Liquor Store

Mickey’s Italian Delicatessen and Liquor store has been a must stop spot since 1953 for boaters on their way to Catalina, surfers on their way to down south and people who just want a good, dependable  sandwich at a fair price. The deli offers pizza and pasta dishes as well.

“We’re very proud of what we do,” said Mickey’s son Paul Mance. “We’re a landmark.”

Paul recommends the pastrami sandwich or Mickey’s combo with bologna, salami and mustard. -CS

Mickey’s: 101 Hermosa Ave, HB. 310-376-2330.

Runner-up: Rinaldi’s, 350 N Sepulveda Blvd #1, MB. 310-379-9968. TheOriginalRinaldis.com

Ben waits to pile up the beef on Ashley’s popular Rocky Roast Beef sandwich - Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Ben waits to pile up the beef on Ashley’s popular Rocky Roast Beef sandwich – Photo by Chelsea Schreiber

Best Deli: Ashley’s Deli & Market

For over 15 years Ashley’s Deli has been serving up sandwiches and suntan lotion to hungry and sunburned beach goers.

“We’ve watched Hermosa Beach kids grow up to be adults and now parents,” Kristine, owner of Ashley’s said.

Their top-notch sandwiches are made with Boar’s Head deli meats and cheeses, and they’re well known around town for their breakfast stubbies and their Hermosa Reuben. And of course, their friendly staff. -CS

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

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

Coffee/chain: Starbucks

A few years ago, when World Trade Organization protesters rioted in Seattle, coffee lovers were a bit perplexed that they unleashed their fury on Starbucks, wrecking several stores. We get it — Starbucks is ruthless in its way, and the cookie-cutter nature of a large chain can choke out little independent coffeehouses. But let’s also give credit where credit is most certainly due: Starbucks has done more for the cause of good coffee than any other entity on Earth. Only a few decades ago, we lived in the dark ages of coffee, a world in which Folgers was considered a standard bearer. Starbuck’s deeply burnt French Roast represented a revolution, and remains a signature brew, while the company got in the business of “curating” everything from music to books to tea long before the term was in vogue. So go ahead and support your local coffee dealer, but when you can’t or don’t, remember that Starbucks blazed a trail that made better coffee possible everywhere.

Locations everywhere in the South Bay (only yoga and massage studios outnumber Starbucks).

Runner Up: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

 

Sharkeez

Sharkeez. Photo by Alyssa Morin

Sports Food: Sharkeez

Since its re-opening in 2008 after a 2006 fire destroyed the restaurant, Sharkeez has been catering to the sports-crazed South Bay. Fanatics can indulge in food and drink while watching their favorite teams on more than 60 HD flat screen televisions.

Alumni groups from across the country meet at Sharkeez, where complimentary appetizer platters are offered to large groups. Discounted food and drink specials are available every time a local team is televised as well as special events including March Madness.

“Our most popular sports food is our brand new wings,” manager Matt Cortina said. “They are fresh, made-to-order and with the new recipe, I feel they are the best wings in the country.”

Daily specials include fajitas on Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, burgers and sliders on Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday Fun Days that open at 9 a.m. and features a Bloody Hangover Bar and breakfast. Happy Hour held Mon.-Fri. 3-7 p.m. — RA

52 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. 310-318-0004. sharkeez.net. Runner-up: Charlie’s, 601 Pacific Coast Hwy, Redondo Beach. 310-374-8581. CharliesItalian.com.

Burger/fast food: In-N-Out

In-N-Out may not have invented the hamburger but they were California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand. In 1948, Harry and Esther Snyder got the chain started in a 10-square foot outpost in Baldwin Park. Now 65 years later,

The quality of the burgers starts long before the drive-thru line. In-N-Out owns its own patty-making facilities in California and Texas where great care is taken in transforming high-quality beef chuck into fresh, hand-ground patties. No restaurant location is more than a day’s drive from a patty facility, ensuring that every location gets fresh beef delivered daily. Every burger is cooked to order and you will not find a single microwave, heat lamp or freezer in any In-N-Out restaurant.

The menu is small, even when you include the not-so-secret menu items like the animal style, grilled cheese and the 4×4. But every sandwich, shake and fry is made fresh and beyond satisfies fast food cravings. And In-N-Out is yet another reason why California living is hard to beat.— AM

3801 Inglewood Avenue, RB 310-786-1000.

Runner-up: The Standing Room, 144 N Catalina Ave, RB, (310) 374-7545.

Strand's view of its infinity pool. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber.

Strand’s view of its infinity pool. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber.

View: Strand House

It seems almost unfair to award best view to the Strand House. It’s like watching Meryl Streep win her 18th Oscar. But, as is the case with Meryl, when you got it, you got it.

The Strand House took over the Beaches property at the corner of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and the strand in 2011 and immediately became a hotspot for drinks and fine dining with a view. The restaurant makes great use of its prime real estate with glass-lined walls, outdoor patios, and little balconies with fire pits. In fact, it’s hard to find a spot in the Strand House where you cannot see the ocean.

Owner Michael Zislis and Chef Neal Fraser outdid themselves with the ambition and grandiose of the Strand House, both architecturally and in cuisine. The eclectic, locally-sourced menu is executed well, and while entrees will run you between $30-50, it seems like few patrons leave the restaurant anything less than happy. Luckily, for those of us on a stricter budget, you can enjoy a specialty cocktail and a pizza for under $30. And it still comes with the view.

117 Manhattan Beach Blvd, MB. 310-545-7470. www.thestrandhousemb.com

Runner-up: Trump National Golf Course: 1 Trump National Dr, Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 265-5000

A typical lunchtime line for a seat on Hennessey’s upstairs patio -- on St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Kevin Cody

A typical lunchtime line for a seat on Hennessey’s upstairs patio — on St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Kevin Cody

Patio: Hennessey’s, Hermosa Beach

Outdoor dining: Hennessey’s Tavern has had a monopoly on the outdoor dining category for some time. And while the street-side tables at the Redondo and Manhattan locations are great, we all know it’s the roof-top patio at Hennessey’s Hermosa that brings home the bacon.

Right on the corner of Pier Plaza and the strand, the roof-top at Hennessey’s provides panoramic views from Palos Verdes to Malibu. The dozen tables are sought-after regardless of weather thanks to heat lamps and sun shades, and locals and tourists will wait upwards of two hours to enjoy their pub grub while watching the waves.

There is also a tiny, four-stool bar on the roof where solo patrons can pull up a chair and get in on the fun. The waitstaff is friendly, the food consistent, and the atmosphere unsurpassed. It makes you wonder how and why no other South Bay restaurant has managed to equip itself with roof-top dining.— AM

8 Pier Avenue, HB 310-372-5759, 313 Manhattan Beach Blvd. 310-546-4813, 1712 S. Catalina, RB 310-540-8443, www.hennesseystavern.com

Runner-up: Palmilla Cocina y Tequila: 39 Pier Ave, HB. 310-374-4440. www.palmillarestaurant.com

Late Night: The Kettle

Late night dining is tough in the beach cities. For transplants from cities like Chicago and New York, it can be unsettling to realize that your food options after 10 p.m. are little more than fast food and 7-11. Thank god for the Kettle.

Since 1973, the Kettle has provided tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner to early birds, night owls and insomniacs, alike. The menu is huge, offering salads, soups, sandwiches, steaks, omelets, pastas, burgers, pot pies and enchiladas. Craving a pot roast at 4 a.m.? No problem. Want to soak up one too many cocktails with Eggs Benedict at midnight? Come on down. Most entrees are served with soup or salad and dinner rolls and make you feel, happily, like it’s 1980 all over again. The prices aren’t cheap and the food isn’t award-winning, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier spot to satisfy your every hankering at any hour. It’s easy to see why the Kettle’s tongue-in-cheek slogan is “Locally World Famous.”—AM

1138 Highland Ave, MB (310) 545-8511, www.thekettle.net

Runner-up: Paisanos Pizza & Pasta, 1132 Hermosa Ave, HB, (310) 376-9883, www.paisanospizzahb.com

 

Photo by Alyssa Morin.

Photo by Alyssa Morin.

Soft yogurt: Yogurtland:

Yogurtland Opened its doors in California in 2006 and has set itself apart from chains like Pinkberry with a focus on freshness. Yogurtland frozen yogurt is made with California milk, real sugar and real fruit. Appropriately, their slogan is “get real.”

According to the folks at the Riviera Village location, each day Yogurtland hand-cuts about 500 pineapples and more than 6,000 pounds of strawberries. The toppings include 15 fresh fruits and a wide array of candies and syrups. But the real draw, if you ask the customers, are the yogurt flavors.

Salted Caramel Pecan, Blackberry Passion Fruit Tart, Lychee Tart,  Dragon Passion Fruit Tart, Mango and Matcha Green Tea are just some of the creative flavors Yogurtland offers. And with a steadily-changing lineup, the choices are never tired. Each weighs in at about 25 calories per ounce, adding to the incentive to try them all.—AM

271 Avenida del Norte, RB and 1570 Rosecrans Ave, MB. 310-536-9562. www.yogurt-land.com

Runner-up: Pinkberry, 900 Pacific Coast Hwy, HB. 310-318-5888. www.pinkberry.com

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