Just a few years ago, the sole Venice restaurant with a serious reputation as a drive-across-town destination was California cuisine stalwart Joe's (1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd.). These days, the neighborhood is at the forefront of L.A.'s culinary scene. Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.) has developed such a cult following for its nouveau-peasant fare -- just try getting a table -- that it can afford to be militant about its no-substitutions policy. Even if you're Robert Downey Jr. or Gordon Ramsay (both have had run-ins with management over it). Kogi king Roy Choi is cooking up Caribbean cuisine at celebrated joint Sunny Spot (822 Washington Blvd.). And gastropub Larry's (24 Windward Ave.), where steak and eggs is elevated as filet mignon and quail, has done the near impossible: made it cool to step foot near the touristy Venice boardwalk again.
Of course, Venetians still have their standbys. "We love Wabi-Sabi (1637 Abbot Kinney Blvd.) for Japanese," says Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon's partner in production banner Pacific Standard. "I order their chicken in a light Japanese curry." Offers TV director Adam Davidson (Treme): "Gjelina Take Away" -- the to-go annex -- "is a godsend. The pizzas, the salads, the coffees: It's sustaining. One of my twins calls the coffee 'Da-da wa-wa.' " Jamie Byrne, YouTube's head of content strategy, is all about the communal tables at the The Tasting Kitchen (1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd.): "If you haven't been there for brunch, you're missing out."
On the horizon for Venice is a second rough-wood Italian outpost of Santa Monica's Hostaria del Piccolo and a permanent home, at the former address of Lilly's on Abbot Kinney, for last year's pop-up Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (which was previously at Capri).
Whereas most of the dining excitement so far has erupted along the Abbot Kinney corridor, the latest wave is blossoming mostly on and around Rose and Windward avenues. A quartet of buzzed-about hubs leads the way. Dry Tour (80 Windward Ave.) arrived first, in late May. Co-owned by Warner Bros. communications executive Jessica Zacholl, the restaurant offers wine-drenched, indeterminately Euro fare (with a Peruvian punch) that ranges from ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers and fondue-filled gougeres to straight-outta-Lima potato preparations.
A few steps away, Barnyard (1715 Pacific Ave.) is set to bow the first week of November. Acclaimed chef Jeremy Fox, formerly of haute-vegetarian Napa nest Ubuntu -- which former New York Times dining critic Frank Bruni described approvingly as "the Angelina Jolie of restaurants" -- is making a radical departure. His first L.A. spot will live high on the hog with a Southern-influenced menu of pork fat-fueled gumbo and pig-skin-studded scrapple.
Meanwhile, over on Rose -- which began popping last year with the arrival of Veracruz-oriented Oscar's Cerveteca (523 Rose Ave.) -- Cafe Gratitude (512 Rose Ave.) comes near to being a Saturday Night Live-style spoof of a vegan/raw restaurant. The San Francisco-originated chain, whose initial L.A. branch in Larchmont Village regularly attracts the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Rashida Jones, has opened a larger spot. The most popular dish: a grain bowl listed on the menu as "I Am Grateful."
Down the block is the summer-sprung Superba (533 Rose Ave.), helmed by chef Jason Neroni, who amassed a Hollywood following at Paramount-adjacent Osteria La Buca before decamping to this SoCal interpretation of Italian cuisine, where the melon salad with smoked ham features Thai vinaigrette and the braised pheasant garganelli pasta is topped by kale pesto. It's already a regular dinner spot for Maria Bello and frequent tablemate Ray Azoulay, owner of eerie-chic antiques and art gallery Obsolete (think automatons and taxidermy) on nearby Main Street. Says Azoulay, "It took wild horses to drag us away from Gjelina."