When we first moved to LA, a longtime resident asked us if we wanted to see the biggest parking lot in the world. "Sure, why not?" we answered, because we're suckers. "Go to the 405," he answered, which, incidentally, is the closest advice to "Go west, young man," anyone has ever said to us. The point is well-taken: this is one of the busiest freeways in the country, and, for better or worse, it is almost as iconic as the Hollywood sign.
On any day of the week, driving the 405 is rarely a breeze, and when the much overhyped Carmageddon descends upon us mortals this weekend, most of us are going to try to stay away from the freeway. For those of you condemned to the purgatory of this giant parking lot, we give you 10 places between the 105 and the 10 -- right before the closure -- where you can escape all that traffic and regain your sanity. And maybe your mortality, too.
10. Mariscos Chente (Century Blvd. Exit):
There are several locations of this seafood restaurant: here in Lennox near Inglewood, in Inglewood on Imperial Highway, and on Centinela in West LA.
The reason why you want to come to this location - aside the fact that it's so close to the 405 - is that Chef Sergio Penuelas often is found cooking in this kitchen. Any one of the many, many shrimp dishes will satisfy, as will the ceviche. The star of the restaurant, though, is that pescado zarandeado - a whole snook, butterflied, marinated, and grilled, served with fresh tortillas. Order this and forget all those traffic woes. 10020 South Inglewood Ave., Lennox; (310) 672-0226.
[Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Chef Sergio Penuelas cooks at this location. That is incorrect; he and his wonderful snook can be found at the Imperial Highway location, 3544 W. Imperial Highway in Inglewood; (310) 672-2339.]
9. Randy's Donuts (Manchester Blvd./Florence Ave. Exit on the 405 S; Manchester Blvd./Inglewood Blvd. on the 405 N): You're bound to spend more time waiting in line at Randy's than eating one of its famed donuts, but since you have time, why not? The best thing, other than the donuts, might be mingling with the random assortment of people in queue with you: wayward tourists, similarly traffic jammed commuters, longtime residents dropping by for their donut fix. The original glazed is one of the best in town (if not the best in town), as is the cruller. 805 W. Manchester Blvd. Inglewood; (310) 645-4707.
8. M&M's Soul Food (La Tijera Blvd. Exit): There aren't that many places in this city where you can get grilled liver and onions, but, for all you liver lovers, M&M's has them on the menu, and they're quite good. For those who like other Southern dishes, the fried catfish and chicken smothered with gravy are artery-clogging deliciousness, and come with a corn muffin and three sides. For a "healthier" option, the joint also offers a vegetarian plate and fried turkey. 5496 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 215-8186.
7. Dinah's Family Restaurant (Howard Hughes Parkway Exit): The font on Dinah's sign looks like the The Brady Bunch's font, which probably tells you all you need to know about the restaurant. It claims to have the best fried chicken in town, but you're better off with the pancakes: French (thin pancakes filled with strawberry preserves), Swedish (served with lingonberry and butter), or any one of the oven pancakes. Dinah's may be past its heyday, but spending an hour or two here definitely beats sitting in traffic. 6521 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 645-0456.
6. Mateo's Ice Cream and Fruit Bars (Culver Blvd. Exit): This little shop in your typical LA strip mall, right next to your atypical urban bike trail, is a gem. As we noted here a few weeks ago, the homemade ice-cream flavors here are delicious as they are unique: tamarind, smoked milk, strawberry 'n cream. A scoop or two, and all that traffic-induced stress will melt away. 4929 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; (310) 313-7625.
5. Green Pea's Restaurant (Culver Blvd. Exit): "We want you to feel healthy, happy and full" is the slogan of Green Pea's, and its extensive menu aims to fulfill these good intentions with predominantly vegetarian and vegan options. You have your choice of basic but satisfying sandwiches, salads, quesadillas, and pizzas. The pretzel bread is a standout whether you're a carnivore or otherwise. 4437 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; (310) 397-9815.
4. Metro Cafe (Venice Blvd. Exit): If only there was a Metro Cafe for every neighborhood. Casual, low-key, and serving both lunch and dinner, this is the type of spot where you easily could become a regular. The restaurant has a number of Serbian dishes (i.e., chevapchichi, Serbian-style sausages with onions and potatoes), as well as excellent renditions of the classics (i.e., burrata and pepper salad). Don't forget to order a crepe for dessert. 11188 Washington Pl., Culver City; (310) 559-6821.
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3. Empanada's Place (Venice Blvd. Exit): Let's get this out of the way: the empanadas here are fried, not baked. There now, on to the food: delicious. These fried, flaky envelopes of doughs are stuffed with an assortment of fillings; our favorites are the criolla (seasoned ground beef, onions, hardboiled eggs) and aruba (ground beef in lemon juice). The shop has a steady stream of to-go orders, which is a not-so-subtle hint that you should definitely take a few of these for the road. 3811 Sawtelle Blvd., Culver City; (310) 391-0888.
2. Santouka (Venice Blvd. Exit): Some claim that Santouka's ramen is the best ramen in town, better than Daikokuya, even. Between the two, Santouka ekes out a win, if only because its location in a food court practically ensures that you will rarely encounter Daikokuya-long lines. Santouka's broth is meaty; the chashu (pork) is tender; and the noodles have a proper bite. The shio ramen - ramen with a salty broth - is the shop's signature, with good reason. A bowl of steaming hot ramen surely is the cure for the traffic that ails you. 3760 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 391-1101.
1. Baja Bud's (National Blvd. Exit): Yes, this is a mini-chain. Yes, it does not have the authentic burritos and tacos you'll readily find at your neighborhood lonchero. But, for what it is -- an inauthentic mini-chain California-Mexican spot -- it is a great pit stop to rest up and figure out how to navigate that 405/10 interchange. The burrito probably is your best bet here; ask for a whole wheat tortilla to complete the inauthentic experience. 11205 National Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 478-2770.