Tavern

Seated just inside the edge of Santa Monica is Tavern, an upscale destination dining experience with a not insignificantly priced menu. And it is exactly that, an experience. The food is incredible and the decor that kind of expensive comfort that can erase all of your troubles for the time that you're there. Bougie, sophisticated patrons enjoy their fare, lining the mirrored walls of their high ceilinged dining room. And the wait-staff is expert. Masters. 

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Needless to say, I was at Tavern for a special occasion, so I had lots of fellow foodies willing to share tastes of their varied dishes. Nothing was less than PERFECT. I would give your the run-down on every delicious morsel of food, but that would take forever, so I’m just going to highlight a few of the star players from the evening.

If you go during happy hour, I would get the bacon-wrapped dates. They’re really tasty, but the serving is small, so don’t even try to share—you’ll want all of them. I thoroughly enjoyed the Lamb Osso Buco for my main course which was seasoned with mediterranean-tasting spices and served on the bone. The meat flaked off the bone with even the slightest pressure. Warning: this was a huge portion, so I recommend only trying to finish half. I also thought that the Gilled Pork Chop was exceptional. It was stuffed with this sweet cornbread-chorizo stuffing and served with a side of swiss chard and plum. And finally, for dessert I SERIOUSLY recommend their “Snickers” bar. Just do yourself a favor and get it. 

La Conversation

La Conversation is a charming French-style brunch spot on Doheny Drive. Although it is a french-style café, it's decorated in a New England country house conservative style, but still maintains that feeling of a mom 'n' pop establishment. 

My favorite thing on their menu was their Eggs Benedict, which comes served on halved croissants--a delicious, if not fattening, treat. There are also a lot of options for side dishes, so you can opt to have sugared, bruléed grapefruit slices and order a protein side to fluff up a healthier meal. 

Before we get too worried about health, however, let me just say their bread baskets are divine. It's true, it is difficult to mess up a bread basket, especially when your food is already so delicious. But, what makes La Conversation's so special are these perfect little mini blueberry muffins they give you, just to amuse your BOUCHE before the main course. They are addicting and dangerous, but what kind of a life are you living is you're always on the safe side? Am I right?

Yxta Cocina Mexicana

I wasn't so sure I liked the surrounding neighborhood of this restaurant. In fact, I was so unsure that I almost drove away, thinking it couldn't be nearly as good as it's yelp page suggested. I was proven so so wrong, however, when I turned the corner, parked my car and walked through the high-fenced entryway into Yxta Cocina Mexicana. It was a garden and warehouse bar all rolled into one with a menu to kill for. 

My friend Joseph and I shared the guacamole, which was perfectly combined and had just the right amount of salt. This is particularly hard to find, because a lot of restaurants tend to serve less flavorful guac (a major problem I have encountered on my culinary adventures in sunny Los Angeles). 

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For my main course, I had the Pollo al Ajillo, and it was magnificent. I had no idea that a Mexican dish could taste and feel like such a refined dinner. It was cooked and served on the bone and drizzled with creamy calabacitas--a medley of zucchini, tomatoes and grilled corn with fresh cream and queso cotija. All of this was lovingly set upon a bed of cilantro lime rice. I'd have to say that this dish was a close to euphoric dining experience. 

Pollo al Ajillo

Bring a group of friends for happy hour and sit outside! Yxta is hip and delicious and much more than you would expect it to be based on its location alone.

Vintage Enoteca

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy tapas, and Vintage Enoteca proves to be a humble but satisfying spot to indulge in your favorite h’ors d’oeuvres style dishes. 

The restaurant is small but uses its space efficiently, lining two large communal tables with barstools on either side. They also have a few L-shaped benches outside the front door, creating a concrete-canopied outdoor lounge. Vintage Enoteca has a warm, dark and relaxed ambiance, and they have a great wine list! (They describe themselves as “a casual wine bar.”)

My friends and I enjoyed several of their mini and small bites and a margarita flatbread pizza. My favorite mini bite dish was, of course, the prosciutto wrapped Medjool dates, a tapas classic for me. Their menu is pretty much knuts-and-bolts tapas items, making the fare lite. But if you’re looking for a bigger meal you can order an entree dish or a panini. The flatbread pizza was quite good, with a crispy crust and just the right amount of cheese. 

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All in all, I’d say this is a great spot for a low-key, low-budget lunch or dinner out. 

Sugarfish

Sugarfish is well known and highly reputed for its incredible fresh sushi. The decor of the restaurant really adds to its minimalist menu offerings, which cover the sushi basics with attention to balance and detail. They have three different meal selections: the trust me, trust me/lite and nozawa trust me, as well as individual sushi pieces you can order in addition to or separate from the combo meals. Each dish is brought out individually, forcing you to really savor every distinct piece. 

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There are eight different Sugarfish locations in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Calabasas, Downtown LA, La Brea, Marina Del Rey, Santa Monica and Studio City. But, fun fact, they don't take reservations! Definitely come prepared to wait on weekends.

The Trust Me meal (edamame not shown)

The Trust Me meal (edamame not shown)

I seriously recommend this spot if you're looking for a night of gourmet sushi. The prices aren't cheap and a 16% gratuity is included in your bill, so save up! It's well worth the extra cash. Sugarfish is a truly a treat! 

The Ace Hotel L.A. Chapter

My longtime fellow-foodie friend, Adrienne Visnic and I decided we'd make a sojourn to Downtown LA for dinner at the restaurant on the ground level of the Ace Hotel.

The vibe of this chic hotel is very young and hip, with hand-doodled sketches of mountains and portraits of celebrities (MJ was my personal fave), and the occasional distressed shag carpet decorating the walls. The restaurant is decked out in collaged art deco tiles, mirrors, golden bistro tables, and trendy waiters. 

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Adrienne ordered the succulent Five Leaves Dry-Aged Burger, which was lovingly assembled with a slice of pickled beet, pineapple, and topped off with a perfect sunny-side up egg. It was a mouthful to say the least, but it was an amazing curation of flavors for a citrus-y burger with a little extra zest. The spicy harissa mayo added a deliciously delicate hot-kick to the otherwise sweet burger. 

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I chose the Ora King Salmon à la Plancha, which was two smaller slivers of very rare salmon, quickly pan fried with seasonings over a bed of roasted beet & fennel tzatziki with pecans and cucumbers. It was a smaller, lighter meal that packed a filling flavor punch! But I was definitely tempted by Adrienne's french fries, which were excellent. 

We decided to skip dessert, because we were both too full, but we took a trip to the roof terrace where they serve breakfast/brunch as well. They have a spectacular view of downtown LA and the surrounding hills. It's a great spot to catch the sunset. There's a covered bar area sandwiched between a dining area and a jacuzzi pool lounge area.