Strip malls will catch your eye for all sorts of different reasons. Maybe they sit at a clogged intersection, where you and every other bored commuter have lots of time to take in the scenery. Perhaps there's a certain food you're partial to -- Indian, say -- and you find yourself seeking out the hidden lunch buffet gems as a habit. It could be bright colors, obtrusive architecture or sheer size that draws you to any other strip mall, but at the Clar-Ven Center on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Clarington Avenue, the first thing you'll notice is the variety.
Each end is stamped with a regional Asian food chain, the first being Miyako Japanese Restaurant and the other a Thai Original BBQ. But in between, you'll find plates of Oaxacan food, daily Italian dishes and that ever-present Indian buffet. Here's a look at what you'll find inside each.
The dim lanterns and fake-paper walls are a nice touch at Miyako, even if they don't do much to transport you to another continent while you eat. Not much on the menu will either, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. This is take-out Japanese, the sort of bento boxes and quick serve lunch combinations that make up the bulk of lunchtime orders. Specialty sushi rolls are always under $10, and picking up a plate loaded with teriyaki chicken, shrimp tempura and a California roll comes in at about the same price. Miyako also manages to serve a thinly-brothed ramen, some straightforward soba noodles and bowls of thick, tacky udon.
The hot, soupy items are about the only things you really need to eat on-site in order to preserve their consistency. Otherwise, Miyako is take-away territory, offering cheap Japanese alternatives to hungry lunchers on foot along this stretch of Venice Boulevard. Miyako gladly accepts credit cards, and is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. 10020 Venice Blvd., Culver City; 310-202-770.
Formerly the much-maligned Diablo Taco back in 2010, this strip mall taco hall seems to have found its groove. Perhaps its the kitschy cantina feel, or the cheap Negro Modelo beer behind the counter, but Villa Tacos seems like the sort of place where fun could pop up at any moment. Maybe it comes in the form of a two beer lunch, or a little after work chips and salsa. You could even pull off around 6 p.m., sopping up mole with your corn tortillas while the rest of Los Angeles crawls by on Venice Boulevard.
The Villa Tacos menu skews towards Southern Mexico, but you won't find the same attention to detail as newcomers Casa Oaxaca down the street. But to look for it at Villa Tacos probably misses the point anyway. This is everyday strip mall Mexican, where the waitress slides into a booth and shares snacks with a couple of regulars when it's slow, then ribs a few construction workers who come in looking for aguas frescas. Cheap plates of mole, soupy beans or bites of overcooked chorizo won't keep you coming back to Villa Tacos, but the atmosphere -- and those Negro Modelos -- just might. Villa Tacos is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and accepts plastic. 10022 Venice Blvd., Culver City; 310-841-2520.