It seems only fitting that L.A. Weekly's newest recurring feature, Strip Mall Rat, would begin with one of the most infamous intersections in the city: Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland Ave. The corner strip mall and surrounding sidewalk has long been known as a haven for all sorts of unsavory characters, from prostitutes and drug dealers to run-of-the-mill shady types who seem to think hanging out in front of a doughnut shop is the best way to look tough in Los Angeles.
Well, there's more than just a Donut Time outpost at Santa Monica and Highland. Between the check cashing place, the adult bookstore and the weed dispensary is a bare-bones Indian restaurant and a funky sushi joint. There's also a corner Subway, but don't they just build those things in automatically with every new strip mall?
The undisputed King of the Strip Mall. Donut Time stands alone in front of the wrap of businesses behind it, facing out into the intersection. It's the first place you spot when you're trying to catch a late night glimpse of something weird going down as you drive by, and it's the leaning post for all manner of night-walkers, bus-riders and gawkers. Inside is a shabby space populated mostly by display cases that offer the traditional array of doughnuts and less sugary baked goods. The custard is a serviceable doughnut option, and when made fresh in the mornings the glazed move pretty fast out of the case. But if you're stopping by on your way to work (or haven't slept yet), give the morning croissant breakfast sandwich a shot. Simple rails of salty bacon are laid on with fresh eggs, all inside a warm, flaky croissant that's much better than it has a right to be. Donut Time is open 24 hours (going in between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. isn't necessarily recommended), and they're cash only. 6785 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-463-6482.
Some of the city's best sushi spots are tucked away inside strip malls, but Sushi Spot isn't likely to make anyone's top ten list in the near future. Instead, the compact space offers a bit of ambiance and reasonable rolls, plus a few cheaper options to keep the clientele happy. The hanging lanterns seem to be of the same low wattage as the waitstaff, but the sushi bar and humming music help to take your mind off the intersection outside. Most of the midday eaters come for the all you can eat special, which, at around $25, is only a deal if you've got the belly room. The rolls tend to be plump with rice, and the fish itself isn't stunning; give the baked items a try for something a bit more satisfying. There's an ongoing 50% off deal during happy hour, although it applies only to select items, and a 16-ounce pour if draught Kirin Ichiban comes in at $3. At that price, there's not much to complain about. Sushi Moon accepts credit cards and is open most nights until 10 p.m. 6775 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-871-0996.
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This sparse off-white room isn't big on looks, with hot lighting in odd places and the low, speckled office paneling that serves as a ceiling. The walls are bare, save for a few framed images, and the white linens can give Little India the feel of a quarantine room. That is, until you belly up to the $8.95 lunch buffet. Settle in between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and you'll be slinging sauces and popping bites of tandoori chicken into your mouth with abandon. Thankfully, the waitstaff is attentive and kind, which means you'll have plenty of napkins to soak up your inevitable spills. The aforementioned tandoori does well, as do their selection of curries and (when fresh) the samosas. There are occasional dinner deals as well, which makes Little India a nice anytime place for the neighborhood. Although, depending on the hour, you may find yourself dining alone in the pale space. Little India is open daily until 10 p.m., with a lunch buffet, and accepts credit cards. 6775 Santa Monica Blvd., Unit 7, Los Angeles; 323-463-4226.
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