Lincoln Blvd. and Washington: Big Meatballs, Healthy Chinese + The Ever-Present Doughnut
Eddie's Italian Restaurant
It's important to remember that strip malls can happen any time, anywhere. Sure, you might be used to catching miles and miles of them as you reach towards the suburbs, but sometimes there's a strip mall right under your nose.
For example, take a look at the intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Washington Boulevard in Marina Del Rey. The intersection of these two major westside thoroughfares should mean a boon of commerce, particularly with the marina-side luxury condos that exist just down Lincoln and the upscale beachcombers at the end of Washington. Yet there's there's the blocky 7-11 that anchors one end like a strip mall version of a department store, selling everything for cheap and driving in most of the business. There's a dry cleaner on site, a check advance storefront and a locksmith shop that's exactly the size of one parking space. This is classic strip mall stuff, in the shadow of exactly the sort of urban planning that seeks to kill off strip malls altogether.
Orange Chicken at California Wok Express
This fast-casual Chinese American eatery offers a slightly upscale touch for lunchtime diners. Yes, there are steam trays full of glazed meats and pale green broccoli. You'll still get mounds of white rice with every order and the egg rolls are thin, crispy and ready to drown in a sweet duck sauce, but the menu doesn't end with the $5 two-entree lunch combo. Instead, California Wok Express bills itself as a healthy alternative to the many repeating strip mall Chinese food places we've seen. Order an entree from the expanded menu instead of off the steam table and they'll make it fresh on the spot, using canola oil and no MSG. The fried rice doesn't come sogged down with soy sauce or oil, and many of the truly healthy options on the menu list their fat content, total calories and net carbs right along the side.
That's nice for some people, but may leave others wishing for a bit more crunch in the orange chicken or a slicker, wonderfully greasier Mongolian beef. Still, with locations in Brentwood and Encino, it's nice to see California Wok Express try to find a balance between a fast, satisfying lunch and a slow death from heart failure. They're open daily from 10 a.m. (except Sundays, when they open at 11 a.m.) and close at 10 p.m. They also accept credit cards, which certainly helps them do a lot of take-out and delivery orders. 4006 Lincoln Blvd., Marina Del Rey; 310-305-8801.
Pulling up to a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is a nice change of pace to the usual burritos and burgers that line many of the strip malls around Los Angeles. But that change comes at a cost -- about twice as much for a plate of pasta or basic pizza as what you'd pay for a regular wrap-and-go burrito. Still, the average $12 entree price at Eddie's Italian Restaurant is far from steep, particularly when you size up the portions. Things are served big here, with baseball-sized meatballs atop endless ropes of spaghetti, or 10" brick oven pizzas that hang over the side of your dinner plate like the belly you'll start to get from spending too much time here. Even the seafood options, pricing out closer to $20, are served big, with clams and shrimp and little calamari bites overtaking a plate of garlic linguini. They even do up the oil that comes with your bread, imbuing it with about a pound of garlic per ounce, which fully lives up to the banner out front that reads "Like garlic? You'll love us!"
The dining area isn't gigantic, but supports a few booths and several white-clothed tabletops; just try to sit opposite the open kitchen or risk getting some serious butt-on-shoulder action as take-out orders filter in throughout the evening. And with an under-the-radar BYOB option, it's possible to snag a corner seat, sip wine with a significant other over filling plates of eggplant parmigiana and slip out the door for under $40. On this side of town, that's a steal. Eddie's Italian Restaurant opens on weekdays at 11 a.m. for lunch, then closes up shop between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to prep for dinner service, which runs until 10 p.m. On the weekends, they don't open until 3 p.m., but they always take credit cards. 4002 Lincoln Blvd., Marina Del Rey; 310-822-0095.
Buttermilk and glazed doughnut
What self-respecting strip mall would be complete without the odd early morning doughnut shop? Wendy's, which faces the Washington Boulevard sign and inexplicably sports a capitalized D in their name, is a 24 hour cash-only joint, with Lotto tickets and bottled sodas to match their sweets case. Looking for scratchers and a cruller at 4 a.m.? Wendy's has got you covered. Want an old fashioned and some Mountain Dew Code Red for dinner? Swing on by. There's even a faded poster advertising "blended drinks" that looks like it was pulled from the prop closet on a 1980s Back to the Future set. The buttermilk doughnuts are top quality, rich little loafs of moistened dough that's been raced over with a thick sheen of glazed sugar. Wendy's Donuts is open 24-hours a day and is cash only. 4000 Lincoln Blvd., Marina Del Rey; 310-760-13556.
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