Side street hangout
Redondo’s Beach Cities Cafe is an eccentric little eatery in an unlikely spot
There are places around Los Angeles where roads do things that seem inexplicable, taking odd turns and bends or suddenly switching orientation so that a normal grid pattern goes diagonal. Sometimes the bends have a logical explanation, such as Torrance’s Walteria neighborhood where some streets go around a lake that was channeled elsewhere decades ago. The switches in orientation are often where two towns grew together, and the planners had to link the two networks as best they could. When I find one of these areas, I like to look at old and new maps to solve the puzzle.
I can’t figure any conceivable explanation for the section of North Redondo near the corner of Inglewood and Manhattan Beach Boulevard where an orderly grid dissolves into a maze of short, curving streets with no apparent logic. Even more oddly, these thoroughfares are variously named as avenues, streets, lanes, and ways, despite the fact that most are the same width. An exception is White Circle, which is among the straightest streets in the area. It makes you wonder if a property developer found a bunch of street signs at a discount and was determined to use all of them.
At the focal point of this maze, insofar as there is one, is a little strip mall that hosts three food businesses: Critic’s Choice Catering, Panela’s Brazilian restaurant, and the Beach Cities Cafe. I had dined at Panela’s and reviewed it a few years ago, but hadn’t visited the Beach Cities Cafe until recently. It’s a tiny place, a former juice bar in an awkward triangular space, and I’ll admit that I had forgotten it was open until a reader prompted me to visit.
We stopped in on two sunny weekend mornings when the outdoor tables were popular, and on the second visit I noticed that as people finished and departed, I didn’t see any cars leave the lot. Most patrons here seem to walk in from surrounding houses or are enjoying the adjacent park, making this a true neighborhood hang. I also noticed that many patrons had ordered the open face toasts, so we tried three of them, the avocado, egg salad, and supreme toasts. These are large slices of sourdough liberally stacked with toppings, and one is a light meal, three split between two people about right. Avocado toast is such a fad item that it’s a stereotype, but some versions are superior to others. This one pairs the mashed fruit (and yep, avocado is technically a berry even though it’s treated as a vegetable) with a little cracked pepper and olive oil and a lot of parmesan. The menu picture shows micro-greens though none were on the ones we ordered, and while those might be a nice addition, it was fine just as it was. The parmesan added a little funkiness to the avocado richness, the pepper contrasting sharpness, the oil tied it together. This is nothing you couldn’t make at home if you were inspired to and had good ingredients, but if you order one here you have something to copy.
My wife ordered the egg salad toast, which I wouldn’t have as I rarely enjoy the stuff. I don’t hate it, but it’s usually more mayonnaise and mustard flavors than anything else, with some celery and onion for crunch. The version at Beach Cities Cafe is a bit eccentric, mainly rough-chopped egg whites with some mayo, cracked pepper, a dash of herbs, sprinkle of parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s the same formula as their avocado toast, all about simplicity of flavor, and it’s an interesting approach. I might order it again if I didn’t like the supreme toast even more. That’s avocado toast topped with sliced egg, sliced turkey breast, and the expected condiments of olive oil, parmesan, and black pepper. It’s the best thing I’ve had here, and writing about it makes me want another one.
I was less thrilled with their vegetarian breakfast burrito, made with eggs, spinach, cheese, and hash browns. It was relatively small for something that costs eight and a half bucks, and was surprisingly bland. Sautéing that spinach with some garlic and pepper would have livened it up, and so would some salsa, but as it was, there just wasn’t much flavor. I also tried their “super bomb” acai bowl, made with acai puree, banana, blueberries, goji berries, granola, chia seeds, and peanut butter. It’s a remarkably global thing when you consider the origins of the ingredients. The fruits are from North America, New Guinea, Brazil, and China. Chia was used by the Aztecs, granola was invented in New York, and peanut butter was invented either by the Incas or a Canadian, depending on who you listen to. These elements harmonized nicely, and for once a fruit bowl that contained peanut butter wasn’t overwhelmed by that flavor. If you want a light, fresh, and cool start to the day, this could be your local favorite.
We also tried croissants that are brought in from a nearby bakery, and a house-made blueberry muffin, and of the two I’d recommend the muffin. On both visits I was tempted by the array of candies and the case of caramel apples, just to see whether anybody could make me like caramel apples. The candies are brought in from Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory, the apples made here, and…sorry, I have never in my life liked a caramel apple, so I can’t tell you what they’re like. They have lots of different varieties, and for those of you who have a sweet tooth and always wondered what a caramel apple with chocolate, nuts, and marshmallows would taste like, this could be a destination.
A word about the service – this little space seems to have only one person on shift at any given time, and they do a lot of take-out orders, so be patient. Enjoy the serene street view with its vista of streets at odd angles, and the sound of kids and pickleballers playing at the neighboring park. It may take a while, but go when you’re not in a hurry and let the experience unfold.
The Beach Cities Cafe is at 2810 Phelan Lane in Redondo. Open daily at 8 a.m., closes 2 p.m. Mo-Thu, 3 p.m. Fr-Su, parking lot, no alcohol served. Outdoor seating only. Phone 424-275-9696, menu at beachcitiescafe.com. ER