Dispatch, L.A. 3: Restaurant hopping

hollywoodREBECCAtopstoryTravel Weekly Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin spent several days in Los Angeles for business and pleasure in one of her favorite U.S. cities. This is her final dispatch.

I like cooking well enough, but I love eating out. So I was looking forward to eating out in Los Angeles and putting my mercury levels completely out of whack -- hey, tuna twice a day is okay when it's a special occasion, right?

L.A. eating is fun. There's the people-watching element of being on the lookout for a celebrity.

Last time I was here, I ate at one of the best restaurants in town, Sona on La Cienega Boulevard, and the next day rode a horse over the Hollywood Hills and ate at a Mexican cantina. (Check out Sunset Ranch Hollywood for their sunset dinner ride option.) 

It's great that my best friend lives in Culver City, a city in the greater L.A. area that's experiencing a restaurant boom. When my pal moved here a few years ago, there was almost nothing. Ford's Filling Station, a so-called gastropub (i.e. fancy bar food), came along in 2004. Now there's a whole street of cute, funky-yet-approachable restaurants, with entrees in the $20 to $30 range.

My friend made reservations at Akasha, which has that organic thing going on, from the fish to the side dishes to the coffee to the drinks. Yes, it has organic tequila, gin and vodka drinks. The hibiscus margarita, for example, had organic tequila and a "house-made hibiscus elixir."

The tables weren't filled, but Akasha was reasonably busy. Good-looking but not intimidatingly gorgeous people collected at the bar.

After dinner we debated getting gelato at Cafe Ugo down the street or hanging out at the Culver Hotel's lobby bar, which has a lot of old-school glamour. (The place was a popular movie star hangout in the 1930s and 40s, when Culver City was home to MGM Studios.)

A stop at the Culver Hotel bar is an activity I highly recommend if you're not jetlagged. Instead, my friend and I did something brilliant: We went over to West Hollywood and got turned away at the door at the Mondrian Hotel's Skybar.

LAdispatch5-AkashaThe next night, a friend of mine from the cruise industry suggested dinner at … Akasha. Once we got a good laugh over that, she instead picked a restaurant on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the upscale yet laidback shopping and dining strip in Venice Beach. We ate at Hal's. The food was good, the company was great and there's live jazz some nights. The restaurant is noisy, so if you want real conversation, ask for a table in the smaller room upstairs.

There are a few other restaurants on Abbot Kinney that looked interesting, such as AxeLilly's and Joe's. In fact, I liked Abbot Kinney so much I came back Sunday afternoon to browse the shops there.

However, even on a splurge weekend, there's only so many times you can have a $25 loch duart salmon with oven-roasted curried cauliflower. So I asked my friend to give me some pointers on the cheaper eats in the nabe.

“What about SoCal's famous In-and-Out Burger?” I asked.

"Well," she said, "if you want a burger, go to The Counter."

The basic premise at The Counter is build-your-own burger: You're handed a clipboard upon arrival and asked to check off your preferences of burger, bun, lettuce, toppings, cheese, sauces and so on. Sweet potato fries on the side? Absolutely.

I sat at the, er, counter. Two women at the end of the counter were moaning about how stuffed they were. "That was the best burger ever," one woman groaned. A line of people, clipboards in hand, started lining up to wait for tables. With the burger, fries, a beer and a delicious vanilla shake, I dropped about $24. And gained about five pounds.

I also heard the name of Father's Office, an upscale burger joint, dropped several times. I missed Tito's Tacos and the Outdoor Grill, and I didn't have time to stand in line at Pink's hot dog stand.

Maybe next time. By then I’ll have worked off the calories. I love eating out, but I hate exercising.

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