While it may lack the buzz of DTLA or the seaside atmosphere of neighboring Venice, Culver City is no culinary slouch. From boom to bust to boom again, the neighborhood’s dining scene continues to grow and develop, with a variety of phenomenal options ranging from wildly experimental, Michelin-starred fine dining to tasty Tex-Mex and Hawaiian comfort food. From old-school tacos to new-school... well, tacos, here are the 25 finest places to gorge yourself in Culver City.
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Stunning rooftop views with spot-on small plates and a festive atmosphere Part of Culver City’s Platform shopping center, this a beautifully designed rooftop restaurant features 360-degree city views and a bustling indoor space that spills into a sweeping outdoor area. The loud, lively vibe makes Margot ideal for large groups, and the Italian/Mediterranean/Spanish menu’s full of easy-to-share dishes with a little something for everyone. Start with the excellent crudo bar (citrusy hamachi, juicy oysters, and jamon iberico are on offer) and tasty small plates (like cheese-stuffed piquillo peppers and ricotta-topped focaccia), then move onto heavier fare like their famous pastas (we recommend the yolky carbonara peppered with salty morsels of guanciale and the saffron-flavored, crab-filled tagliarini). Oh, and you’d be remiss not to order from the lineup of elevated cocktails too -- such as the bright, dandelion-infused vodka or creamy matcha colada.
Approachable Chinese-American fusion meets Western fine dining Before you bite into one of Chef Shirley Chung’s jumbo cheeseburger potstickers, just know that her restaurant is an ode to Chinese-American (not Chinese!) cuisine. Once you’ve got that down, everything makes sense -- and tastes amazing.
A Top Chef runner-up, Chung marries traditional Chinese flavors with all-American classics exceptionally well. Crisp salt and pepper tots are served with Sichuan chilis (why all tater tots aren’t served with chili remains a mystery), her amazing made-to-order scallion pancakes arrives with hazelnut pesto and garlic whipped tofu, and for lunch, there are inventive baos filled with hot dog or braised pork belly. Chung’s progressive approach shines through in her cocktails too, like milky Thai tea made with espresso-infused soju or a refreshing sake/rosé libation blended with strawberries and egg white.
Highly experimental, subversive fine dining worth the dough The recipient of two Michelin stars, Vespertine is probably the most over-the-top restaurant you’ll ever dine at -- in a good way. The stark dining room is housed in a dramatic, undulating, glass-and-steel structure called “The Waffle,” which helps set the tone as soon as you step inside. Chef Jordan Kahn (who’s also behind Culver City’s Destroyer) sets out to take diners on a sensory journey, turning out 17 or so beautifully plated courses set to a specially curated musical score. Ingredients (some of which Kahn forages himself) include giant kelp, black currant, abalone, smoked soy, and sunchoke, and they’re fashioned into mysterious, abstract shapes that look absolutely nothing like what they are. Meanwhile, servers move in unison in an almost choreographed dance (no, really, they’ve been trained by a choreographer), gracefully pouring drinks and setting down plates in sync. The result? A trippy, transportive culinary odyssey you won’t find anywhere else any time soon.
Brooklyn import shilling wood-fired pizzas with a cult-like status Another Platform destination, this renowned Bushwick pizzeria opened its first California location in Culver City last year -- and its lively outdoor patio has been packed with hungry Angelenos ever since. Obviously pizzas are the star of the show, especially the Bee Sting (a spicy, honey-spackled pie with soppressata and chili) and Famous Original (a vessel for tomato, caciocavallo, and parmigiano reggiano). Yes, you could totally order some pastas or side salads or marinated olives, but why would you when you should really save your stomach for those blistered, bubbly, chewy, thin, easy-to-fold crusts and extraordinary toppings?
Quaint, all-day bar/bistro inspired by French neighborhood cafes Situated inside the new Palihotel Culver City’s lush courtyard and lobby area, Simonette is a charming spot with Parisian cafe vibes and a photogenic patio that operates pretty much all day long. Brunch calls for walnut-studded banana bread smeared with mascarpone, comté cheese-filled buckwheat crepes, and strong espresso, while dinner involves salad nicoise, moules frites soaking in white wine and shallots, and chicken paillard sprinkled with crispy, salty capers. And in between the two meals, you can order anything from an avocado tartine to club sandwich to farmer’s board spread with pork pate, speck, and cheeses.
Casual sit-down spot serving playful Tex-Mex cuisine San Antonio-raised Chef Josef Centeno recently turned his BacoShop into a bright, new Tex-Mex destination -- an homage to his Texan roots -- that’s quickly turning into a Culver City favorite. All the usual suspects are here: crispy-fried golden tacos, queso (even a vegan version!), and carne guisada. Thanks to Centeno’s trips to the farmers markets, though, you’ll also find plenty of seasonality on the menu, like a melon and shishito salad, super-ripe peaches with sheep’s milk ricotta, and baby corn. The kitchen also cooks over mesquite charcoal, so the ember-roasted chicken marinated in Mexican sriracha and chorizo-spiced wagyu steak boasts a wonderful smoky flavor that’s best washed down by orange-wine sangria, shandies, micheladas, and a diverse selection of beers. From 5-7pm daily, enjoy serrano-infused guacamole, puffed tacos, and nachos doused in crema and queso during Super Nacho Hour.
Beloved bakery known for pastries, takeaway loaves, and wood-fired pies Out-of-this-world bread is the name of the game here, but Lodge also excels at all things dough, from fluffy Middle Eastern pitas and flakey croissants to decadent coffee cakes and charred, Neapolitan-style pizzas (arguably Culver City’s best). If you don’t have time to dine on the carb-centric menu -- think: ancient grain waffles, hefty roasted-veggies-and-feta sammies, and thick slabs of toast spread with cultured butter and jam -- then go for the heavenly takeaway loaves. To learn all their secrets, sign up for a class -- where you’ll learn how to make a sourdough starter and take home a proofing basket and five pounds of flour.
Retro-inspired, limited-time, clubby steakhouse with Rat Pack vibes This dimly lit, old-school steakhouse has a long, rich history dating back to the ‘60s, when it was a thriving hotspot for Hollywood glitterati. Now, Chefs Hans Röckenwagner and Josiah Citrin have teamed up to breathe new life into Dear John’s -- until April 2021, when the building is slated to be razed to make room for a new development. Until then, though, you can drop in for tableside Caesar salads tossed with yolk and anchovies, fragrant garlic bread, juicy ribeyes, cheese-filled chicken parms, and “bougie” tots with caviar and creme fraiche -- the perfect pairing to classic martinis and Manhattans delivered to your leather booth by tuxedoed servers.
Build-your-own-pasta spot starring imported Italian ingredients After the runaway success of their Mid-City restaurant, the family behind Pasta Sisters opened this much-bigger Culver City restaurant in the Helms Bakery complex. Select a hand-made fresh pasta (from delightfully chewy gnocchi to tagliatelle), pick a sauce made from Italian ingredients(everything from simple tomato and basil to spicy arrabbiata), and enjoy. One of the best combos is pappardelle Bolognese, which mixes firm, extra-wide noodles cooked perfectly al dente with a meaty, slightly sweet, mildly tangy, very complex sauce that’ll have you scraping the bottom of the plate.
Solid pastries, pizzas, and pastas best enjoyed alfresco One of Platform’s latest newcomers, Bianca Bakery turns out fresh-baked bread and pastries (think: flaky honey croissants, chocolate zucchini bread, and pistachio tarts), all influenced by the owners’ Italian, Argentinean, and French roots. Despite the name, this “bakery” is actually more of a restaurant, meaning you can just as easily stop by to grab a loaf of manchego focaccia or stay for lunch or dinner (there’s a bar and outdoor patio), when the menu boasts hearty eggplant parm and empanadas. Whatever you do, get the molasses bun filled with dulce de leche and topped with brown sugar.
Neighborhood bar and wine shop spotlighting natural wines You’ll come to Stanley’s for the crazy-diverse booze collection (600 wines, 150 beers, 200 spirits, with a special focus on natural wines), but you’ll stay to sip on vermouth-based cocktails and nosh on cheese, charcuterie, and Spanish and Portuguese conservas (flavorful tinned fish that pairs well with booze) at the bar. Fine, it’s not a “restaurant” per se, but food trucks often park outside on Saturdays, and you can bring in your own eats as well, so we’re counting it. Bonus: Not only can you order wine and beer off the by-the-glass bar menu, but you can also enjoy any of the 600 bottles in the shop (with a small corkage fee on every day except Monday).
Farm-to-table shared plates highlighting local and sustainable ingredients One of LA’s most underrated restaurants, The Wallace takes tapas to a whole new level with jarred starters (get the five-spice chicken liver mousse) and creative veggie plates, including fried yucca root with tarragon chimichurri and a roasted cauliflower steak boasting just the right amount of char. Don’t sleep on the brunch menu -- which features tasty soul food creations, like chicken and waffle, sweet potato hash (yes, add the short rib), and a fried chicken sandwich daubed with Korean pepper aioli.
Handsome, Southern-inflected restaurant with a hidden back bar Dining at Hatchet Hall -- with its dim lighting, wood-fired grill, and speakeasy specializing in American bourbons and whiskies -- feels like you’re eating a home-cooked meal in Georgia. But while the menu has a Southern slant, everything’s distinctly modern and California-friendly; things like white cheddar corn bread served with shishito peppers, mushroom-crusted pork chops, benne yeast rolls with sweet butter, and potatoes cooked in beef fat and accompanied by salsa verde.
For the optimal bang/buck ratio, get the Fried Chicken Dinner offered every Sunday through Wednesday from 6-7pm. For $30 per person, you get a heaping amount of food: a plate of perfectly fried and seasoned chicken with crisp skin and tender meat; fluffy, hot rolls; creamy mashed potatoes and gravy; braised greens; and a seasonal veggie dish that balances the rest of the meal.
Danish bakery turning out fresh pastries all day A bastion of Danish baking, Copenhagen uses traditional techniques to whip up Kringles (flaky cakes stuffed with marzipan and custard, then dusted with almonds and sugar), poppy seed twists, chocolate rum balls, and a variety of other pastries jammed with nuts, jellies, and fruit.
Sleek, futuristic-looking space serving Nordic-inspired food-as-art At Destroyer, you get a fine-dining experience for half the cost. Food is a visual art here (evidenced by the menu projected onto the wall), but it’s also downright delectable. Take the raw oatmeal, which has everyone waxing poetic about, well, oatmeal: a creamy, chewy bowl of grains that conceals hidden fruit and textured nut butter, all topped with a frozen yogurt disk. Even the beef tartare (a dish done to death everywhere in LA) feels surprisingly fresh, served buried beneath thinly sliced radish and mixed with pickled mushrooms and grains.
Bustling modern taqueria with a minimalist menu and bomb tortillas Yes, Loqui (part of Culver City’s Platform) is the umpteenth taqueria on this list, but it earns its spot with a limited but incredibly tasty menu of excellent tacos and plates. What started as a weekly popup out of the back of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery has grown into one of the city’s hottest taco spots. You’ll find a handful of tasty taco fillings like mushroom, chicken, and pork, but the true stars are Loqui’s handmade tortillas, which are ultra-thin and cooked until perfectly crisp, and can be purchased by the bag for all your home-taco needs.
Kyoto-style ramen place known for its clear chicken broth Unlike tonkotsu ramen places, where the broth is known for a heavy, meaty flavor derived from pork, Tentenyu makes its Kyoto-style soup with tons of chicken bones and feet (although there’s a little pork added to the stock). About 100 pounds of chicken bones are used for every 100 bowls of their delicious ramen -- the result is a light, clear, creamy-tasting soup that’s just as rich but won’t leave you in a food coma.
Beloved burger joint famous for its no-substitutions, perfectly executed burgs This larger, 21+ location of Chef Sang Yoon’s game-changing Santa Monica gastropub has one of LA’s best craft beer programs, along with one of LA’s best burgers. The only argument against this dry-aged beef patty, topped with blue cheese, arugula, and onion jam (with no substitutions), is that it's actually closer to a sandwich than a burger -- in which case, it's the best burger and the best sandwich in Culver City. If you can manage to look past the allure of The Office Burger, you’ll find a menu full of other well-executed delights like steak frites, smoked eggplant fritters, and Niman Ranch pork belly “al pastor.”
Fancy-ish Southeast Asian fusion cuisine done exceptionally well The dude who invented the Father's Office burger is no one-trick pony, and all the proof you need is next door at Chef Sang Yoon’s modern Asian restaurant. Get the flaky Hawaiian butterfish with its spicy, acidic kick of lime and Thai chile; the lobster banh mi, with its buttery, toasted bread wrapped around spicy papaya slaw; and the black rice with Chinese sausage and roasted garlic that serenades you with all the best umami flavors.
Carnivorous bliss in the form of wood-smoked meat and all-American BBQ Gone are the days when you used to have to drive across town for BBQ; Culver City has its own meat temple dedicated to juicy brisket and fall-off-the-bone pork ribs. Lunchtime is for standard sandwich and BBQ combo plates, like the smoked chicken with Alabama-style white sauce, while they get a bit fancier for dinner, with small plates like lettuce wraps filled with super-tender, smoked pork shoulder, and chicken wings you can dip into fermented hot sauce. And leaving without trying the buttermilk biscuits -- flaky vehicles good for sopping up leftover meat juice, but also just as delicious smeared with whipped honey butter -- would be an absolute crime.
Crowd-pleasing vegetarian Indian food that’s easy on the wallet The menu at this fast-food Indian counter is smaller than the original Samosa House just up the street, but it’s got one thing the other location doesn't have: fake (aka soy) chicken tikka masala that’s so good you'll want to use at least two of your three combo choices on it when ordering. Don’t leave without a mango lassi (there’s a vegan version too!) and a piping-hot samosa or two.
Cash-only, old-school institution with retro vibes and the best deli sandwiches Not to be confused with the thick-cut stuff you get at delis like Langer's, this classic Culver City diner specializes in the piles of shredded pastrami made famous by The Hat (and others). Pick a song on the old-school mini-jukebox, then grab the jus-dipped sandwich in your fist and go to town.
Old-fashioned, home-cooking joint specializing in fried chicken The original Compton location of this fried chicken shop closed years ago, but the Culver City location is still going strong with buttermilk biscuits, honey from a spout, and intensely crunchy, heavily battered fried chicken.
No-frills stand famous for its hard-shell tacos and burritos This taco stand, with its perpetual lines inside and out, is probably the most controversial place on our list, but if you can't see why these hard-shell beef tacos with fluorescent yellow cheese here are the best hard-shell beef tacos with fluorescent yellow cheese ever, we can't be friends. (Plus, they recently started accepting credit cards!)
Specialty coffee shop brewing in a modern, minimal space This tiny coffee shop has got all of your expensive and fancy pour-over coffees with single-origin beans, alongside great pastries from Friends & Family -- an East Hollywood bakery run by Roxana Jullapat. It’s also got one thing that too many other hipster coffee shops neglect: a cup of regular old drip coffee for three bucks.
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Tiffany Tse is a Thrillist contributor and still isn’t sick of eating tacos in Culver City. See what she’s eating now by following her at @twinksy.