Brazilian in, Trinidadian out, good news for vegetarians, and other dining updates

Justin Essman and Mickey Mance have received a warm, popular welcome at their newly opened Vida Modern Taqueria in Riviera Village. Photo by Kevin Cody

A La Carte column for 28 October 2021

Faith In The Future: There have been plenty of stories about gloom and doom in the restaurant industry, thanks to rising produce costs due to drought, a labor shortage, and other woes. All the same, very few restaurateurs are leaving the industry, and the lease rates for anyplace with a kitchen have trended up, not down. I talked to a real estate agent, and to a cafe owner who wants to move to a larger space and has been waiting for the anticipated bargains to hit the market, so far in vain. Despite everything, the South Bay is still seen as a potential gold mine for operators with good ideas…

Justin Essman and Mickey Mance have received a warm, popular welcome at their newly opened Vida Modern Taqueria in Riviera Village. Photo by Kevin Cody

Three Down: That said, a few places did close recently or confirmed that what was billed as a temporary shutdown is permanent. The big loser in the latter category is Houston’s on Rosecrans, which had a sign announcing it would reopen until recently. The location has been scrubbed from the company’s website, so it’s a goner. I was a big fan of their burgers and they put out some pretty fine seafood, but they seem to be a victim of the office park vacancies nearby… Across the street, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria has announced a new tenant, the upscale Brazilian barbecue Fogo de Chao. That company presents an elegant and upscale version of the churrascaria with all-you-can-eat meats alongside an extensive buffet of cheeses, salads, and other items. No word yet on how soon they’ll open, and since the churrascaria style requires installation of purpose-built grills, I’d bet against any time soon… Those locations are large and corporate, but Rosecrans Avenue lost a gem that was based on home cooking. Mia’s Kitchen, which served Trinidadian food a few blocks from the beach, closed a few weeks ago. They had problems getting food on schedule from their tiny kitchen, but those who endured the possibility of long waits enjoyed some fine Caribbean food. No word on what is coming in next, but the exterior has been repainted and work is evidently underway on a replacement…

Temporary to permanent: Nana’s was announced as a pop-up restaurant, but lasted so long in their location in a business park in North Redondo that they seemed on their way to becoming a fixture in the neighborhood. Their Mexican-Italian fusion was unlike anything else in the area, and the owners stated that they were planning to open a full-service restaurant in the South Bay. They have closed the old location and their website refers to welcoming customers to a new location later this year, though they have been tight-lipped about where that might be. A new tenant called Locali is in the space at 2617 Manhattan Beach Blvd. with a concept almost as unusual – they’re a vegan-friendly deli. I haven’t made it there yet because their hours are currently quite restricted – they’re open only Friday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., reportedly due to a shortage of staff…

Confusingly ubiquitous: In Spain cava is either a style of sparkling wine or the word for cave or wine cellar, and the latter two meanings are the same in Italian and Greek. The new eatery called Cava at The Point bears that name, but not that environment. They offer Greek-Mediterranean fast food, but serve no wine and are located in a standard building rather than a hole in a mountain. The menu is simple, centered on wraps, salads, and grain or rice bowls made with premium ingredients. I’ve been there and found them to be a cut above the typical fast-food joints. They fill a niche in this area, and I expect them to be successful (860 S. PCH, ES)…

Vida Is Alive: Vida Modern Taqueria is open in Riviera Village, and their website has a big clue to their ambitions. It refers to “East Los Angeles comfort food,” and that isn’t quite the same thing as modern Mexican as it’s usually defined. A carnitas taco includes cinnamon and is topped with apricot-habanero salsa, and nopales are tempura battered, something I’ve never seen before. The interior has sleek contemporary design, and it’s a pretty place to try some eclectic food. I haven’t done that yet so can’t report on it, but plan to visit soon and will tell you about it (1723 S. Catalina, RB)…

Event Alerts! Halloween celebrations aren’t generally regarded as gourmet events unless you think of candy corn as a food group, but Shade Redondo is presenting an event that qualifies. They’re hosting a Dia de los Muertos dinner with pairings of tequila-based cocktails on Friday, Oct. 29, with seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m. for $80. Best costume wins a one-night stay, so try to do better than that sexy zombie thing you bought at the Wal-Mart – we’ve all seen those. Reserve on Resy.com… Riviera Mexican Grill will be having their celebration on November 1, featuring live mariachi music, tableside tastings, and double margaritas served in a shaker that you get to keep. Prizes will be raffled, it sounds like a jolly affair – call (310) 540-2501 for reservations…

A Stereotype Falls: Two local businesses are changing the perception of vegan dining, one at the high end of the spectrum, one at the low end. It has long been common for people to refer to steakhouses as “vegetarian hell” because so many had nothing except salads to offer – there were even animal products in the cooked vegetable sides. Fleming’s has always had some good vegetarian offerings, but they’re taking this further. They’re prominently featuring a Bulgogi-marinated mushroom and onion mix over a parmesan risotto with roasted cauliflower among their seasonal entrees, and it sounds delicious. They refer to this section of the menu as “plant forward,” which is an odd nomenclature, but if it means that vegetarians have more choices in fine dining, I’m all for it. This can be paired with unlimited pours of four premium California wines for $28, and it sounds like a recipe for a delightful evening. At the other end of the spectrum, the McDonald’s in Manhattan Beach will be one of the first locations to offer the McPlant burger, made by local vegan heroes Beyond Meat in El Segundo. They aren’t offering wine pairings, but I’m sure that will be rectified sometime in the future…

In closing: Have you seen a new culinary business that I haven’t heard about, a local event either live or virtual? Do you know any other mainstream restaurants with great vegetarian and vegan food? You can reach me at richard@richardfoss.comER 

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