L.A. is a hotbed for many international cuisines, but we’re not exactly flooded with authentic Polish restaurants. Thus the debate about the best Polish cooking in L.A. is usually a short one; over the past three decades, the answer usually has been Warszawa.
But the restaurant isn't resting on its laurels. The previous owner’s daughter recently took over and relaunched the Santa Monica Polish institution as Solidarity, a name that pays homage to the 1980s Polish labor movement.
Warszawa’s relatively plain façade has given way to a red and white, Eastern Bloc–meets–hipster minimalist facelift. Inside, most of the decor that lent Warszawa the vibe that you were eating at a Polish grandmother's house (where the white tablecloth and the good china were put out for the occasion) has been 86'd. A few remnants of that old-world feeling remain (the abundance of framed Polish art and theater posters, for instance), but gone are the books, mirrors, globes and other knick-knacks. In an attempt to add a dash of youthfulness, the lighting has been turned down, the music is more modern and, most notably, a new speakeasy-style secret bar is hidden behind a bookshelf on the back wall.
The bookshelf is covered by a red velvet curtain that gives way to a small room flooded with bizarre neon pink light. Inside you'll find a piano, vintage lounge furniture and, of course, a bar. The specialty cocktails are made with an array of Polish vodkas and include martinis and a Moscow mule called the Warszawa Llama. It’s a cozy space, perfect to knock back a few drinks while listening to some live piano music.
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Despite the new additions and tweaks, the menu at Solidarity remains almost entirely unchanged from Warszawa's — a safe move, considering the steady stream of regulars over the years. Those regulars want what they've been coming back for: signature pierogi that come boiled or steamed, creamy beef stroganoff with spaetzel, rich chicken paprikash and the glazed half-roasted duck served with a knife through the middle. (The only new dish, a kielbasa and onion Polish "taco" special on Tuesdays, reads and tastes like an attempt to appeal to food-mash-up–loving millennials.) Portions are smaller, and the prices for most dishes are lower.
Putting aside the question of whether Solidarity can simultaneously appease the regulars and draw in a new crowd, those pierogi are as delicious (and affordable) as ever — and the crisp, ice-cold vodka martinis should count for something.
Solidarity, 1414 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 393-8831, solidarityla.com.