In the past decade or so, once-sleepy Culver City has blossomed into an exciting food destination. Part of this is because of the shrewd city planning — all those city parking garages and broad cafe table-ready sidewalks downtown. The Helms Bakery complex with its restaurants — and hot dog cart — is a big draw, too. But it’s also Culver City’s location close to freeways and main thoroughfares that bring people to the city’s restaurants, bakeries and shops.
Few other neighborhoods can claim a paleta shop, a Hawaiian-Korean mashup, a sleek Southeast Asian restaurant, a quirky independent wine shop and a decades-old restaurant supply shop in just a few blocks.
Next time you’re headed across the city east to west or vice versa, stop off in Culver City to explore some of the spots for food lovers on this list.
A-Frame — Kogi founder Roy Choi’s A-Frame, the restaurant he put into a former IHOP, has gone Hawaiian, though the chef claims it’s always had that tendency with his popular kettle corn, baby back ribs in hoisin-chili glaze and Maui onion salad. Now, though, he’s added pupus in various guises, a double Kimcheeseburger and Loco Moco, which the exuberant chef describes as “hambagu” steak, with rice, curry gravy and a sunny-side up egg — and of course, his beer can chicken. Round about 5 p.m. (and after 10 p.m. on weekends), it’s Luau Hour, when you can indulge in discounted cocktails and “hush poippies,” made with taro and white cheddar, and cracklin’ beer can chicken with kimchee and century egg. 12565 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 398-7700, aframela.com.
Akasha — When Akasha Richmond took over the historic Hull Building in downtown Culver City in 2008, it seemed a big gamble then. But now, her vegetarian-friendly cooking brings in a crowd for pastries in the mornings, generous salads, including the obligatory Tuscan kale and a classic chopped salad, stir fries, turkey burgers and a quinoa and sunflower seed veggie burger. She’s got pizzas at lunch too. And at night, big plates that include pan-roasted chicken, dry-aged New York steak, star anise and sake short ribs. A full bar adds to the dramatic space’s appeal. Richmond also recently opened an Indian restaurant in the old Ford’s Filling Station space. 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 845-1700, akasharestaurant.com.
Bar & Garden — In the heart of Culver City’s gallery district is an unusual wine and spirits store called Bar & Garden, which specializes in wines that, at a minimum, have no herbicide, pesticide or fungicide used in the vineyards — and no chemical fertilizer. Their spirits have no artificial coloring or flavoring. The result is an eclectic shop with shelves full of quirky, interesting wines and spirits, most from small producers. The staff is enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the shop holds tastings at least a couple of times a week. Themes have included indigenous Greek varietals, wines grown on volcanic soils, California rosés and Italy versus U.S. (same varietals, different soils and climate). 6142 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 876-0759, barandgarden.com.
CoolHaus — Whether it’s hot or cool outside, a steady rush of ice cream lovers slide into CoolHaus, the brick-and-mortar incarnation of the ice cream truck that has patrolled L.A.’s streets and festivals for years. Founded by two architecture students, CoolHaus features life-size decals of Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas on the back wall. The two famous architects might be a bit dismayed at the cluttered shop with COOL spelled out in silver balloons over the counter. Never mind, the ice cream flavors are wacky and fun, the ice cream sandwiches delicious. And you get your choice of cookie. 8588 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 424-5559, eatcoolhaus.com.
Copenhagen Pastry — Worth a drive for the lightest, flakiest Danish pastries, this sparkling tiny shop always has samples out and a case filled with cinnamon rolls, custard and almond paste-filled kringle, and nougat crowns dotted with almond paste, custard and hazelnut cream. Spandauer adds almond flakes to the classic custard and loose almond paste filling. Get a few and a coffee to go and sit on the bench or the curb out front, savoring every bite of these exceptional pastries. And don’t forget to pick up a loaf of the whole-grain rye with black flax seeds, sunflower and sesame seeds. It’s terrific for breakfast at home with smoked salmon. The shop offers the option of ordering online and picking up at either this location or the shop in Pasadena. 11113 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-8900, copenhagenpastry.com.
Culver City Tuesday Farmers Market — Year-round, this farmers market offers a broad array of fresh fruits and vegetables from some of Southern California’s best small farmers, including those who sell Asian produce. Established in 1995, the market is 20 years old and one of the most established on the west side. It’s held on Main Street in downtown Culver City every Tuesday, rain or shine, from 2 to 7 p.m. Main Street between Culver and Venice boulevards, Culver City, (310) 253-5775, culvercity.org.
Father’s Office — First there was Father’s Office, a beer bar in Santa Monica from chef Sang Yoon. Then there was Father’s Office at the Helms Bakery complex with a long outdoor terrace in front and crowds lining up for the Father’s Office burger, with its caramelized onions and secret sauce on an unconventional bun. The burger is still just as much in demand, along with the inventive Asian-accented specials. Yoon has a cool selection of beers on tap and was the first to figure out how to dispense wines from a cask without compromising the quality. The place is fun, constantly mobbed. Prices are moderate. 3229 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 736-2224, fathersoffice.com.
K-ZO — Osaka-trained chef/owner Keizo Ishida turns out superlative sushi and some French-inspired dishes at his Culver City restaurant. His large menu features lots of salads, including wake seaweed, salmon skin and green tea soba salad. He’s got seafood carpaccio, sashimi and ceviche too. But the main reason to go to K-ZO is, of course, Ishida’s sushi and makimono (rolls), not the series of dishes in his prix fixe menus, which include hors d’oeuvres, salad, an entree, sushi, dessert and tea. K-ZO's strength is that it offers much more than the standard sushi restaurant menu. You can go back again and again for lunch and dinner and still not have exhausted the choices. 9240 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 202-8890, k-zo.com.
Let’s Be Frank — At the Helms Bakery complex, burger hounds line up for the wildly popular Father’s Office burger. Hot dog fanciers, though, wait patiently for their California grass-fed beef Frank Dog or the T-Mutt Dog, which is a mix of grass-fed beef and heritage pork, from the Let’s Be Frank cart parked across the street. Add spicy Devil Sauce and grilled onions for one great dog. There’s even a “Not” Dog for vegans and a Brat Dog made with heritage pork. Founded by two Bay Area foodie entrepreneurs, Let’s Be Frank shows up outside art galleries, wine tastings and more. Pretty, pretty good. Helms Avenue between Washington and Venice boulevards, Culver City, letsbefrankdogs.com.
Lukshon — Just down the street from Father’s Office, in the Helms Bakery complex, is Lukshon, Sang Yoon’s sophisticated take on southeast Asian cuisine. Sleek and understated, with an outdoor patio and dining room with caramel leather booths, Lukshon also has a tall glass communal table. But the best seats are the handful at the chef’s counter, looking into the kitchen. The dinner menu features spicy chicken pops, Kurobuta pork ribs flavored with chicory and coffee, and crispy whole fish with wok-charred cucumbers and pecel sauce. At lunch, stop in for the heirloom black rice with lap cheong and a fried egg or the lobster roll banh mi with pig ear terrine and spicy green papaya slaw. In addition to eclectic wine and beer dispensed by tap, Lukshon has handcrafted sodas and a beautiful selection of teas. 3239 Helms Avenue, Culver City, (310) 202-6808, lukshon.com.
Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars — This ever-popular spot, one of several locations across the city, offers paletas in a rainbow of colors and flavors. Try the passionfruit, guanabana and mamey for starters. Aficionados swear by the mango with chile and the coco, or coconut. Leche quemada (burnt milk) may be more of an acquired taste, but a flavor you see at every ice cream stand in Oaxaca. 4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, (310) 313-7625.
Mayura — This strip mall Indian restaurant is one of the best in Los Angeles. The cooking is South Indian, from Kerala, mostly vegetarian, and woven with bright spices the owner brings directly from farms in India. The kitchen makes excellent dosa, thin crepes wrapped around spiced potatoes and other vegetables. There are subtle fish curries, too, and the fermented rice pancakes called iddly — and on the weekends, Kerala-style biryani, fluffy rice layered with spices and other ingredients. With Bollywood movies playing on the flat-screen monitors and multigenerational families savoring a meal together, Mayura feels festive and fun. 10406 Venice Blvd., Culver City (310) 559-9644, mayurala.com.
New School of Cooking — Classes at this cooking school are all hands-on so students really learn the techniques and recipes. You can start with a class as basic as knife skills, or learn to make sauces, pies, how to cook with meat or fish, or take a class in an ethnic cuisine. In addition to individual classes, the school offers four-week series in basic cooking, vegetarian cuisine, regional Mexican and more. Weekend classes may include Thai 101, artisan bread-making or a pizza or pasta workshop. Want something more serious? The New School of Cooking also has a six-month professional culinary arts program and professional baking and pastry arts program. Go to the website to see the schedule of classes, and if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by New School Café next door for housemade pastries and a casual breakfast and lunch menu. 8690 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 842-9702, newschoolofcooking.com.
Ramen Yamadaya — Ramen freaks all know this place, which started out in Torrance five years ago. They’re coming for the Tonkotsu Ramen in a pork bone broth that’s simmered for more than 20 hours, plus another 10 to extract the most flavor. Chicken karaage, fried crisp, and served in a dark sticky sauce, is a big draw too. Owner Jin Yamada favors his tsukemen — thick, chewy noodles, served cold with a side of warm tonkotsu-based dipping sauce. It’s all good. And the restaurant has been so successful that Yamada now has 10 locations, most in Southern California but as far north as San Jose. 11172 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 815-8776, ramen-yamadaya.com.
Surfas Culinary District — If you’re someone with, oh, say, more than 20 cookbooks at home, then you should know about Surfas, Culver City’s 78-year-old restaurant supply store. This is where to find a giant stockpot, heavy kitchen trays, special chocolate molds, even conical tagine pots from Morocco. Ambitious cooks can scale up to restaurant-sized equipment, but still find sizes suitable for the home kitchen. The large, sprawling shop stocks durum wheat flour, almond meal, heirloom beans, pretty colored sugars for dusting cookies, baking chocolate in bulk, dozens of olive oils, vinegars and condiments, chef’s jackets and even traditional toques. Check out the cheese and charcuterie section, which includes foie gras and chorizo from Spain. The family-run store also has a kitchen classroom in back for cooking demonstrations and classes. 8777 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City (310) 559-4770, surfasonline.com.