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HOLLYWOOD With more than 450 restaurants, pubs and cafes within the city limits of Santa Monica, and hundreds more nearby, there's no need to travel far from the American Film Market for a great meal. Classics from Chinois and Rockenwagner to Ivy at the Shore are going strong, but many new places have taken root since last year's gathering. And what may well be the city's best new restaurant, Lavande, is right inside Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

Helicopter pilot Brian Vidor traveled heavily in the Far East, so it's no surprise that his Typhoon serves a wide variety of tasty Asian foods, authentic as John Woo's pre-Hollywood films, from Korean and Vietnamese to Burmese and Thai, all in a dramatic setting right on the runway of the Santa Monica Airport. And Vidor has just opened the Hump, a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar named for what World War II pilots called the Himalayas, on the top floor. Hiro Nishimura, formerly of R23, expertly mans the sushi bar. Elizabeth Shue, Peter Berg, and Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are among the regulars. 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Santa Monica, (310) 390-6565.

La Serenata di Garibaldi is a family-run group of restaurants, serving among the finest -- and most authentic -- regional Mexican cuisine in Los Angeles. What began more than fifteen years ago in Boyle Heights, near downtown Los Angeles, then reached West L.A. a few years ago, finally has made its way to Santa Monica with the opening of a hacienda-style branch. La Serenata uses family recipes, and menu highlights include two hand-made moles -- poblano and Oaxaca -- which are great with everything from enchiladas to chicken and fish. 1416 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 656-7017.

Named for owner Micheline Hebert, whose nickname is Mimi, Chez Mimi is one of the loveliest new places in town, meandering through three cottages, each with its own fireplace, and lots of courtyard space for al fresco dining. Chez Mimi's cuisine matches the decor, rustic French, with bouillabaisse and leg of lamb among the best main courses. And because Hebert hails from Montreal, she prepares a few Quebecois specialties as well. Service, mostly by French-speaking waiters, is excellent, and the wine list is strong in both French and California selections. 246 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-0558.

Owned by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, the Food Network's Too Hot Tamales, Border Grill is large, colorful and loud -- and has some of the best Latin food north of the border. Architect Josh Schweitzer (Milliken's husband) created a playful space to match the chefs' creative cuisine. There's a daily fresh ceviche, green corn tamales and plantain empanadas among the appetizers, while signature entrees include the pescado veracruzano -- tender sea bass in a broth with rice, olives and herbs -- and sauteed rock shrimp with toasted ancho chilies, slivered garlic and seared greens. And the bar is well-stocked with top tequilas and even an exotic, smoky mezcal. 1445 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655.


JiRaffe's cuisine is "rustic American/ French," an apt description of the explosively flavored, yet not overly fussy, creations of co-chefs Josiah Citrin and Raphael Lunetta, who were named among the top 10 new chefs by Food & Wine in 1997. Signature dishes include a roasted rabbit appetizer and an entree of roasted chicken with a fresh garden ragout. There's a nightly tasting menu, a vegetarian menu and a Grand Chefs' Menu, which is especially good Wednesdays, after the chefs have made their weekly trips to the local farmers' market. Both the wine list and the menu are about quality rather than trendiness and flash. Michelle Pfeiffer, whose production company is located nearby, is said to be a regular. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 917-6671.

Liza Utter left La Cachette, already well-established as a favorite Hollywood hangout, to open her own place, and the Beach House, with its seafood-intensive menu, has been a rapid success since opening last summer with Josie Le Balch from the Saddle Peak Lodge in the kitchen. Locals and movie industry notables, from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tom Hanks to Matt Dillon and John Travolta, have made this place, with its tranquil Cape Cod style and gentle lighting, the hottest spot on the coast. 100 West Channel Rd., Santa Monica, (310) 454-8299.

Lavande, the house restaurant at Loews, is considered by some to be the best new restaurant in Los Angeles, with chef Alain Giraud faithfully crafting the foods of Provence, his childhood home. The large, open space is named for the herb that perfumes the region, and lavender is everywhere -- on the tables, in the food, even in a little sachet presented with the check. House specialties include a thoroughly authentic fish soup with garlic croutons and rouille, a tartlette Provencal of Maine scallops, sauteed foie gras with figs and roasted Chilean sea bass with baby artichokes barigoule. Regulars at Lavande include Goldie Hawn, assorted Baldwins and Anthony Quinn. 1700 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 458-6700.

Rebecca's recently relocated from Venice to Santa Monica, gaining a large, glassed-in patio in the process that is ideal for lunch on temperate Southern California winter days. Chips are homemade, as are the dipping sauces, and the famous duck rellenos are still great. The bar has a tremendous selection of tequilas and mezcals, including the Del Maguey Single Village bottles. 101 Broadway, (310) 260-1100.


Sugar, a new Santa Monica club, is L.A.'s newest, most attractive nightspot with its flashy industrial decor, and major sound and light systems. A huge aquarium with eels and baby sharks wraps around the bar area, while a curtain of fireplace-screen-type chain metal separates it from the dance floor and stage. Bathrooms have see-through, Plexiglas doors (just the entrance, not the stalls, but people do congregate around them and stare in). And the bar pours lots of high-end bubbly, including Cristal, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon. 814 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 899-1989.

When Rebecca's headed north to Santa Monica, James Evans and Daniel Samakow, who also own James' Beach across the street, took over the old Frank Gehry-designed space, converting it, with guidance from the architect as well as artist Billy Al Bengston, to the Canal Club. Gone is the famous crocodile, and the food has changed from upscale Mexican to beach cuisine from around the globe, from sushi and caviar to swordfish and seared skate, under executive chef Michael Roberts. The large bar area is a great place for a late-night relaxed cocktail. 2025 Pacific Ave., Venice, (310) 823-3878.

Round Table offers a tranquil setting for classic cocktails, blended and consumed to the rhythms of live jazz, with a pianist weeknights and vocalists on the weekends. A Santa Monica institution for more than four decades, Round Table recently underwent a change of ownership and has been reborn with a new chef and menu, and a contemporary look. The late-night menu, served from 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., includes a shrimp cocktail, a cold lobster cocktail and cold, seared tenderloin, just enough of a nosh to accompany the drinks. And the music is quiet enough to permit conversation without the need to shout. 2460 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 828-2217.

West End is a laid-back and friendly neighborhood bar with surprisingly good live music. Monday nights the house band is The Song And Dance Society, otherwise known as Jackson Browne's backup band, and more than a few famous singers, including Brownie and English singer-songwriter Julia Fordham, have jumped on stage for a few songs. Gary Busey is just one of the many film luminaries spotted on the dance floor. 1301 5th St., Santa Monica, (310) 313-3293.

The stage is microscopic and the decor nonexistent, but Harvell's is without question the top blues club in town. Big names and no names hold forth nightly, pumping out classic, angstridden beats in an all-blues lineup. Though there's no smoking indoors at any club, Harvell's has the ambiance of a very dark, smoke-filled room. 1432 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 395-1676.
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Title Annotation:Santa Monica, CA restaurants
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 22, 1999

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