LA’s Gourmet Ghetto Rises in an Unexpected Location

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Growing up in Los Angeles, I never had much reason to trek to Culver City. It was known for its formerly gritty Fox Hills Mall, as the neighborhood that our teachers and coaches could afford to live in, and where to get cheap gas before LAX. So when recently visiting family in Los Angeles and they recommended we head to Culver City for the day, I was—to put it kindly—baffled.

My brother-in-law called it LA’s answer to San Francisco, and being that my answer to LA was to move to San Francisco, the description tempted me. Call it a desire to be reminded that there are cool parts of LA, or a hope to revisit once again why we choose to live 400 miles away from free babysitters, we got in the car to battle the traffic just to see whether the hype was worthy or created by a hungry PR professional.

Incorporated in 1913 by Harry Culver as a midpoint between downtown and the beach, this visionary decided a town needed to be located at this crossroads and began developing what was once a barren home to oil derricks (and prior to that a peace-loving gang of Indians). The movie studios soon took advantage of cheap real estate (and oodles of space) and Culver City became known as Screenland.

While Dorothy skipped off to see the wizard in these backlots, unfortunately the scenesters never appeared. Sticking to the beaches or Hollywood, Culver City was more major hub for the motion picture industry (ever heard of the little ole MGM or Sony? Both call this tiny town home.) than a destination.

All that changed when some millennial energy inspired local chefs to congregate in the once pool hall dotted downtown and create a foodie hub. Today a walk along Washington and Culver Boulevards offers a glimpse at a town setting in the heart of bustling LA. Imagine alfresco eateries, galleries, refurbished movie houses, theatres, a yoga studio that people bike to (yes, in LA!), and even pedestrians—hordes of them; with kids! on bikes!

So on this lovely late fall morning, my family and I set out to explore the “San Francisco style” eateries. One of the most revered restaurants is AKASHA, located in the historic brick Hull Building. Part bakery, part home to New American cuisine, this farm fresh restaurant caters to discerning eaters who want to see and be seen. Featuring Northern California superstar food—Humboldt fog, Niman Ranch—atop pizzas, pastas, and yes, Anthony Bourdain, rubbing elbows with figs as they show off their stuff.

A couple doors down we popped in another stop on the Culver City foodie trail: Ford’s Filling Station. After brushing up his chops at Chez Panisse, Harrison Ford’s son Ben opened his own farm fresh gastropub, attracting hipsters (and families like us) who want to sit outside in the shade, sipping brews and eating braised kobe beef cheeks.

Around the time Ben Ford became a star in this own right, a collection of other restaurants popped up in a row near his: Tender Greens (an organic salad spot popular with big sunglass wearing LAites), M Chaya (a spare macrobiotic restaurant specializing in sushi rolls and Japanese inspired salads—wasabi sweet potatoes anyone?), and Kay and Dave’s Cantina (the perfect outdoor patio for sipping margaritas on a warm afternoon).

Like any good visitor to LA—and to rest our full bellies–there needed to be a nod to the entertainment industry, so after exploring the food, we actually walked to a movie theater. And while the pre-movie chatter was more about casting calls than the fact that Alice Waters had frequented Ford’s Filling Station, we didn’t feel so far from San Francisco. Maybe all we needed to find in LA was a real neighborhood, but luckily, we happened upon one with some terribly good food.

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