The Best Tacos, the Oddest Museum, and Smorgasburg
At just five square miles, Culver City is dwarfed and surrounded by sprawling Los Angeles. But Culver City packs a powerful punch when it comes to food and offbeat culture.
A Short History
The Tongva native peoples were the first to occupy present-day Southern California 10,000 years ago and perhaps even earlier than that. Spanish settlers first arrived in 1542, but it wasn’t until the late 1700’s when Spanish missions were built that the Tongva population was gutted by forced removal and Western disease.
During the Civil War, Camp Latham was established to train Union Soldiers. The land remained undeveloped until 1917 when Harry Culver incorporated Culver City. The city soon became an epicenter of the nascent film industry when Thomas Ince built a studio in 1918 and Hal Roach built another in 1919. MGM Studio (now home to Sony) was built in the 1920’s and Culver City saw rapid growth. Hughs Aircraft built planes for the war effort in the 1940’s which led to more growth.
But, Culver City hasn’t always been welcoming to everyone. The city’s namesake, sHarry Culver was a real estate developer and supported racist policies concerning selling and renting to people of color. Culver City was also known as a “Sundown City” meaning that African Americans were advised not to be in the city after sundown, lest they risk being beaten or lynched.
Culver City’s light began to dim in the 60’s when Hal Roach’s studio was demolished and RKO was sold to make way for a housing development. Some of MGM’s backlot was also sold and many of the sets were destroyed.
In the 90’s Culver City began a revitalization project that continues today with a pedestrian friendly downtown that features lots of excellent restaurants, shopping, and historical sites. In addition, Culver City’s more progressive city council is seeking to slowly undo some of racist behavior and policies of the past.
Foodie Culver City
Doomie’s Home Cookin: (Photo: facebook.com/doomieshomecookin
There’s no doubt that Culver City is booming. And the trend shows no sign of letting up. Helm’s Bakery will be opening a spot in the already busy shopping and food district. There’s also a huge food hall set to open in 2019 and Doomie’s Home Cookin’ is scheduled to open another location in Culver City this year.
All that in addition to the myriad of options that seem too plentiful for a city that is only five square miles.
There are creative menus to be found all over Culver City, but the one thing that stands out above all others to me is the freshness of the produce. Even taco stands offer incredibly fresh veggies piled on their dishes. Other places might boast seasonal and local ingredients, but Southern California is the place where you can easily find fresh and local produce on menus year-round.
I’m a big fan of the new trend of adding grains to salads. I order salads all the time, but oftentimes I’m left hungry a couple hours later. Adding grains like farro or quinoa to the salad gives the dish extra textures and protein which fills you up.
Tender Greens is an LA based chain with fifteen locations in the area. They have lots of stuff to choose from on the menu including sandwiches and soups, but the main attraction is their salads. Make-your-own is an option but my favorite is the Happy Vegan salad made with farro, cranberries, nuts, hummus, tabbouleh, and, of course, lots of fresh greens. Super-tasty, super-fresh; can’t be beat.
While Tender Greens offers plenty of meat and fish options for your salad, there’s not a single animal on the menu at Crossroads Kitchen. This restaurant adjacent to Culver City has vegan dishes only. But, I’ve been here with omnivores and they loved it.
Everything on the menu is a revelation, but my favorite dish might be the English Pea Agnolotti made with fava beans and Meyer lemon. Then again, every single thing I’ve had at Crossroads has been superb which is why the meal I had at Crossroads in 2018 is one of my top ten of all time. Admittedly, that list does contain more than ten entries 😉
And, if you’re out late in Culver City, check out Crossroad’s after 10pm menu. They make sliders with Impossible Burgers and grilled cheese with broccoli bisque. Just what the doctor ordered after a night of merriment.
Chef and owner Tal Ronen has catered for the US Senate, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s wedding, and he has an incredible cookbook.
It’s impossible to talk about Southern California food without talking about tacos. They’re everywhere from food trucks to hole-in-the-wall taco stands to hipster places to upscale spots working to deconstruct the taco.
Everyone has their favorite taco place in LA and I’m no different. Taco Miendo is an unassuming restaurant in a strip mall on Inglewood Blvd. in Culver City (they also have a location in LA and Motebello, CA). But the facade hides the terrific food served inside.
The corn tortillas are made fresh daily in-house for all to see. Tacos are less than three bucks. I get two veggie tacos and head to the salsa bar and get a couple of different salsas to top them. Taco Miendo also has pickled veggies to top your taco (bonus!).
Taco Miendo is a place for locals so don’t turn up your nose at the hamburgers or Oreo cookie shake on the menu; they’re a family-run restaurant looking to serve everyone in the neighborhood.
Tocaya has a dozen locations in the LA area including one on Santa Monica Blvd. which, while it has an LA address, is really in Culver City. They offer modern Mexican (if you can sub a leaf of butter lettuce for your tortilla, I’d say that qualifies as “modern”) in a sleek and casual setting. Choose a taco and add some protein and cheese. My favorite is the Baja with shaved cabbage, chipotle sauce, cilantro and pepper jack cheese and adobo tofu.
It’s fun to mix and match the tacos with different proteins (both meat and vegan options) and queso (again, vegan options available). Sure, it’s a bit trendy (or maybe that’s just my bias as a non-Californian), but the food is great and the everything is very fresh.
Platform is one of the hippest shopping areas in LA. I mean, when you’ve got a shop names Monocle, you know it’s hip. The only thing they still need is a unicycle or mustache wax shop.
Platform also has a couple of fine places to eat. Loqui started as a pop-up in San Francisco before heading to Platform in Culver City. They make a mighty fine taco (mushroom with beans, guac, onion, cheese, cilantro, and the salsa is excellent) and have a good Mexican craft beer selection.
Pro tip: while corn tortillas are almost always the way to go when ordering tacos, Loqui has incredible flour tortillas.
After tacos; dessert. Van Leeuwen is another transplant to Culver City. When I walked into their ice cream shop, the first thing I said to my brother (he brought us there) was “They’re from Brooklyn.” I was only half-kidding and, as it turns out, Van Leeuwen is indeed from Brooklyn. You definitely get that East Coast, hip Brooklyn vibe from their shop.
Now, all that cool atmosphere could go downhill quickly if the ice cream isn’t up to snuff. But Van Leeuwen makes a terrific cone. I love the Cookies and Cream Caramel Swirl but there are lots of interesting flavors to choose from like Cookie Crumble Strawberry Jam and Honeycomb.
You’ll have to trust me on this, I was a professional gelato maker for almost ten years. I’m very picky about my frozen treats. These folks are the real deal.
Paramount Coffee Project at Row DTLA (photo: rowdtla.com)
I purposely chose to focus on Culver City for two reasons. First, Culver City is quite happening, and second, covering all of LA seemed too daunting a task. That said, I couldn’t completely ignore downtown LA, especially my favorite old/new place Row DTLA.
100 years ago the LA Terminal Market was home to wholesale produce vendors with 10% of all the fresh fruits and vegetables sold in the United States passing through. That gigantic produce market carries on today as the Seventh Street Produce Market every Monday through Saturday.
The market is in Downtown LA among a nest of warehouses and historical buildings. Rather run-down, this area has been revitalized with the opening of Row DTLA, a series of shops and restaurants that have opening in these industrial buildings.
On Sundays, the produce market is transformed into Smorgasburg, a hip and sprawling food market that attracts 50,000(!) visitors a week. From tacos to BBQ, pizza to churros, donuts to fruit pops, Smorgasburg has more options than you could ever try in a lifetime.
The sheer size of Smorgasburg can be overwhelming, but it is a must-see for all the creative food options on display.
After eating, maybe a little shopping? Just like the food options, the shopping choices are overwhelming. Handmade skateboard decks, sunglasses sold from a converted VW microbus, original artwork, fashion, it’s all at Smorgasburg.
Drinking in Culver City
Shave and a Haircut (and a beer)
Not only does Blind Barber have one of the all time great names, but they also have one of the most interesting concepts ever. Barber shop in the front, bar and lounge in the back.
It reminds me of a place called the Barber Shop in Dripping Springs, TX. The place was a barber shop for years and when it became a bar, no one bothered to change the name. The most amusing thing about the bar is the chalkboard near the entrance which is used to keep a tally of all the people coming through the door looking for a haircut. Highly recommended if you’re ever in the Hill Country of Texas.
Anyway, back to the Blind Barber. Yes, it really is a barber shop. And yes, it really is a bar and lounge. They don’t have a ton of drink choices, but happy features $4 beers (quite the rarity in Culver City) and they have over a dozen kinds of grilled cheese on the menu. My kind of place!
The real old-time Los Angeles
Culver City was the epicenter of early film making in California. Studios have been here for over 100 years as have places that cater to film industry types.
Velvet Lounge in the Culver Hotel (Photo: culverhotel.com)
The Culver Hotel is one of those classic places. Past the lobby and upstairs the Velvet Lounge, a small speakeasy with lots of secluded little corners you can imagine Hollywood elites from the golden age meeting over cocktails.
With so much of Culver City and Los Angeles being modern in both design and spirit, it’s great to chill in a place that exudes those long gone days. Ruby Slipper is the cocktail to try.
Another vintage bar is Oldfield’s Liquor Room. Celebrating auto pioneer Barney Oldfield, Oldfield’s has 1930’s charm with an extensive spirits menu, including Absinthe.
Helms Bakery District
For almost forty years, Helms Bakery was a huge industrial bakery in Culver City. After the bakery closed in 1969 (Helms Bakery is planning to reopen a smaller location soon), the 11 acre site was transformed into a retail district with restaurants and retail shops.
The pearl of the Helms Bakery District is Father’s Office, the second location for the gastropub started in Santa Monica by chef Sang Yoon. The bar features a huge selection of craft beers, including several hard to find (and expensive) pours. Plenty of wine and cocktail selections for those who don’t want a brew.
Smoked eggplant fritters with fava bean puree goes for just $6 and is pretty great.
Going to School
Public School 310 (Photo: Yelp user Michael S.)
Public School has three gastropubs in the LA area and eight nationwide. Their schoolhouse concept is cool and unusual. The booths look like study desks while the menu resembles those composition tablets from our school days. Their happy hour (called “recess”) goes from 4-7 and offers beer and wine for just $5. Public School is good enough to adapt lots of their menu items to vegetarian and vegan options, so points for that.
Things to do in Culver City
Culver City was once one of the centers of movie making in SoCal. Thomas Ince, Hal Roach, and MGM all had studios here by 1920. RKO and Desilu were also in Culver City.
The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Grease, Raging Bull, and ET were all filmed in Culver City. TV shows like Gunsmoke, Lassie, Hogan’s Heroes, Mad About You, and Jeopardy! were/are also filmed here.
Most of the studios are now gone, having been sold off and razed to make way for housing developments in the 70’s. Although MGM moved out of Culver City, Sony Studios has taken over the space and you can tour the studios for $50 but you shouldn’t expect to see any stars (then again, you could get lucky) and the sets are off limits during filming.
The other famous remaining studio is the Culver Studios. This was originally the first movie studio in Culver City founded by Thomas Ince in 1918. It underwent many changes over the years and is currently the home to Amazon Studios. The property is undergoing a massive renovation and construction project which will expand Amazon’s footprint.
There is an excellent a self-guided walking tour of Culver City. The online map leads you by Sony Studios but also to cool sites like the Culver Hotel (where the Munchins stayed during the filming of The Wizard of Oz), The Hobbit House (designed by Disney studio artist), Culver Studios, and the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
Museum of Jurassic Technology
Are these exhibits real? Are they ironic? Satirical? Is the joke on me? I love oddball attractions and the Museum of Jurassic Technology is one of the best. Strange exhibits like the history of trailer parks, the decaying dice of the late magician Ricky Jay, and a portrait gallery of Soviet space dogs leave you with the impression that this place is less a museum and more an homage to the traveling carnivals and sideshow attractions hosted by hucksters in the 19th century.
Give yourself some time with the exhibits. It takes a while for the nuttiness to sink in. Oh, and don’t expect anything about dinosaurs here. That’s just another curve ball being thrown at you.
Hiking in Culver City
You might think of Los Angeles as a massive urban jungle, choked with fumes from all the cars stuck in gridlock. In reality, there are some nice green spaces in and around Culver City.
Stoneview Nature Center raised bed gardens (Photo: parks.lacounty.gov)
Stoneview Nature Center
My favorite outdoor area is also one of the newest. The Stoneview Nature Center was created as both an outdoor space and an education center. Botanical gardens here are mostly of the edible variety. Citrus trees bear fruit, herbs flourish, and grapevines cover the fences surrounding the area. Guests are encouraged to pick fruit (but leave some for the next person) and education programs are geared towards families.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
For a larger area and longer hikes, the Kenneth Hahn SRA has a bunch of trails, including the popular Bowl Loop. There’s also a peaceful Japanese Garden complete with a large koi pond.
Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
Just across La Cienega Blvd. from the Kenneth Hahn SRA is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. It’s a fairly steep hike but once up there you’re rewarded with spectacular views of the city.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
LAX is about 6 miles from Culver City and a $20 Uber ride.
1 World Way, Los Angeles, CA 90045
Amtrak’s stop in LA. About $40 for Uber to Culver City.
800 North Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012-2902
Uber and taxis are widely available. If you’re going to downtown LA or other locations outside Culver City, you’ll probably want a rental car.
The Culver City bus system is reliable and only costs $1.
Index of Entertainment in Culver City (LA)
Culver City Walking Tour
Self-guided tour of many attractions including Sony Studios.
Sony Pictures Studio Tour
Visit the sound stages where movies like “Gone with the Wind” and “Men in Black” were filmed.
10202 West Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Museum of Jurassic Technology
Museum of Jurassic Technology (Photo: mjt.org)
Oddball museum filled with ephemera from all over the world. Truly strange.
9341 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Museum of Cold War artifacts like Soviet spying equipment and sections of the Berlin Wall. (Berlin Wall segments are on display at 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA)
10808 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230-3738
Helm’s Bakery District
Once (and soon to be again) a famous bakery, the area is now a shopping and eating destination. Father’s Office is here.
8758 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Kirk Douglas Theater
Historic theater still presents plays and musicals.
9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Converted power station once used to power LA transport lines is now a theater for the Actor’s Gang,
9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Strange house built by a Walt Disney studio artist. Occasionally shows up on Craigslist for rent.
3819 Dunn Dr, Culver City, CA 90232
Holy Cross Cemetery
Final resting place for Bela Lugosi, Rita Hayworth, Sharon Tate, Bing Crosby and many other Hollywood stars.
5835 W. Slauson Ave.,Culver City, California
Stoneview Nature Center
Park with community garden. Guests are encouraged to pick and eat ripe fruit, herbs, and veggies.
3017, 5950 Stoneview Dr, Culver City, CA 90232
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
Large park just across La Cienega Blvd. in Los Angeles.
4100 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90056
Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
Hike the steep stairs for a spectacular view of the city.
6300 Hetzler Rd, Culver City, CA 90232
Watts Tower, Watts, CA (Photo: Brent Petersen)
Incredible 100’ towers, mosaics, and structures built over 33 years by outsider artist Simon Rodia.
1727 E 107th St, Los Angeles, CA 90002
Index of Eating & Drinking in Culver City (LA)
One of the finest plant-based restaurants in the US
4130 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230
The best tacos in all of LA, maybe in all the US. Cheap and delicious.
4502 Inglewood Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230
Excellent tacos, patio out back.
8830 Washington Blvd, Suite 104, Culver City, CA 90232
Cone at Van Leeuwen (Photo: vanleeuwenicecream..com
Amazing ice cream shop. Originally from Brooklyn with a shop in Culver City.
8850 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Excellent Neapolitan-style pizza, gelato, and limoncello.
3865 Cardiff Ave, Culver City, CA 90232
Fresh and delicious with many healthy options. Fifteen locations in the LA area, including Culver City.
9523 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Jackson Market and Deli
Authentic grocery store, deli, and wine shop with a nice patio. Jackson Market has been going strong for 80 years.
4065 Jackson Ave., Culver City, CA 90232
Owned by real Danes making real Danish pastry like the Kringle.
11113 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Strange, futuristic restaurant with an eclectic menu.
3578 Hayden Ave., Culver City, CA 90232
Industry Cafe and Jazz
Eclectic menu of Eritrean, Ethiopian, and American soul food. Music at night.
6039 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Mateo’s Ice Cream
Giant Paletas de fruta (fruit popsicles).
4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230
Hawaiian restaurant by renowned chef Roy Choi.
12565 W Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA
Local, sustainable, and seasonal menu.
3833 Main St., Culver City, CA
Barbershop and cocktail bar all in one (really).
10797 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
The Velvet Lounge
Cool speakeasy-vibe at the bar in the Culver Hotel.
9400 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Public School 310
Booths look like study desks and menus like composition tablets. School was never like this.
9411 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Oldfield’s Liquor Room
Retro bar dedicated to auto racer Barney Oldfield (Technically in LA).
10899 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Great selection of beer. The food is pretty darn good, too. (Technically in LA)
3229 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Bigfoot Lodge West
Great happy hour. (Technically in LA)
10939 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Yes, they make great bread, but Lodge has so much more. Try the (giant) cinnamon buns. (Technically, in Los Angeles)
11918 W Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Fine vegan dining. They have a great cookbook, too. (Culver City adjacent)
8284 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Mango with sticky rice at Satdha (Photo: Yelp member Janine E)
Incredible plant-based Thai food. (Culver City adjacent)
2218 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405
Interesting Mexican food, super fresh ingredients. (Culver City adjacent)
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard #2300, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Chain with locations throughout LA. Excellent falafel served with pickled turnips.
Index of Shopping in Culver City (LA)
SF single-origin chocolatier’s pop-up in Culver City.
787 S Alameda St. #120, Los Angeles, CA
Letter Press Chocolate
Artisan single origin chocolate shop. (Culver City adjacent)
2835 S Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
The only all romance book store in the northern hemisphere.
3806 Main St, Culver City, CA 90232
Culver City Farmers Market
Farmers market every Tuesday in downtown Culver City.
Main St, Culver City, CA 90232
Massive Sunday food truck installation (Downtown LA).
777 S Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Huge converted warehouse space with many, many hip shops (Downtown LA)
777 Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Index of Places to Stay in Culver City (LA)
Culver hotel (Photo: culverhotel.com)
Famous Art Deco hotel and home to many movie stars over the years. You can stay there, too.
9400 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA
New hotel in Culver City. Adults only.
5630 Sawtelle Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230
Pali Hotel, Culver City (Photo: palisociety.com
Renovated former boarding house where Joan Crawford is rumored to have stayed when she arrived in LA.
3927 Van Buren Pl, Culver City, CA 90232
Two Bedroom Cottage
Nice AirBnB space for a family.
Modern Two Bedroom Apartment
Centrally located in Culver City
Guesthouse in Culver City
Nice AirBnB guesthouse with a hot tub and outdoor fire pit.