For years, Mar Vista was an in-between area — not quite Venice, not quite Culver City — a small, just-under three-square-mile pocket of mostly residential streets with some businesses peppered in.
This was true of the restaurant scene in the neighborhood as well. Stalwarts like the decade-old Little Fatty, chef David Kuo’s slick, bustling Taiwanese spot with killer cocktails; Quiadaiyn, serving solid Oaxacan comfort food; the quick-service Vietnamese spot My Lai; and the beloved Japanese market Mitsuwa were some of the only compelling dining options in a neighborhood without much of a center, save for a stretch of a few blocks on Venice Boulevard. That is, until a recent swath of openings including Kuo’s ambitious Fatty Mart, buzzy pan pie specialist Little Dynamite Pizza (formerly known as Bootleg), Spanish and South American tapas spot Yahir, and the understated chic of wine bar Evil Twin turned the neighborhood into a bona fide dining destination.
At Little Dynamite, its name a reference to a lyric in the Bruce Springsteen song “Rosalita,” Kyle Lambert and Courtney Glowacz are serving what Lambert refers to as “naturally leavened pan-style pizza. It’s what we’d call ‘grandma’ pizza in New Jersey.” Mar Vista wasn’t necessarily the end goal for the pizzeria, which started slinging crisp-edged tomato pies, stinky uglies (aka garlic knots), and Sunday farmer’s market specials on Washington Place in March. Lambert says, “When we got this spot — after looking for way too long — I was a little worried. I didn’t know if the people around here would be interested in what we do.”
“But the neighborhood folks have been really friendly,” he says. “And I think our being friendly helps, too; the fact that we do give a shit and we’re nice to be around has a lot to do with it, honestly.”
Kuo’s 5,000-square-foot Fatty Mart, meanwhile, had been in the works in the sweeping former Grandview Market space for years before it opened in May. The space is part market, stocked with harder-to-find flavors of potato chips, Kuo’s pre-packaged orange chicken, and bottles of natural wine; part pizzeria serving thin-crust mapo tofu and mole negro-topped slices developed in collaboration with Slow Rise’s Noel Brohner; and part quick-service food counter with lemongrass chicken bánh mìs. It has already become something of a community hub; its sprawling offerings and central location on Venice Boulevard make it a convenient coffee stop on the way to the neighborhood’s Sunday farmers’ market and a cheerful spot for grabbing a quick lunch on the market’s covered patio.
Kuo thinks the neighborhood’s spike in popularity is due to both geography and changing demographics. “It’s always kind of been a culinary dead zone, but people started leaving areas like Venice and Culver City and coming this way for cheaper rent,” Kuo says. “Now you have the farmers’ market on Sunday, apartments to the south, and million-dollar homes to the north, so it’s a really interesting mix of demographics.”
A little further southwest in the former Gravlax space on Centinela Boulevard, Yahir has been serving a Spanish and South American tapas menu from chef Matteen Khalifian, a Mar Vista native, since early March. Khalifian incorporates Persian flavors from his upbringing into dishes like king crab esquites with aleppo aioli; chicken liver mousse with black truffle, apricot chutney, and escabeche; and diver scallop crudo with Persian cucumber, blood oranges, micro chives, and sumac. The restaurant hosts weekly jazz nights on Wednesday and just recently got its liquor license to serve cocktails alongside an extensive list of wine by the glass.
“All three owners live and work in Mar Vista. We wanted to fill a gap in the neighborhood,” co-owner Nicole Murphy says. “I’ve lived here for four years and have loved seeing how it’s changed and is becoming more of a food destination.”
On the very same block as Yahir, Dylan Weiss opened the cozy, dimly lit wine bar called Evil Twin in January, located in a corner portion of the well-established Hotcakes Bakes space owned by his mother, Elfie Aster. There, he pulls from his selection of around 100 natural wines to pour a handful by the glass, while the kitchen whips up French-leaning small plates inspired by weekly farmers market trips (think: Parisian gnocchi with summer kale sauce, English peas, and herbs). The space also has a sprawling outdoor patio, which Weiss hopes to use for pop-ups in the coming months.
Weiss, who grew up in Mar Vista, sees the neighborhood’s restaurant awakening as a good thing. “There are more apartment complexes coming in, which brings a younger crowd,” he says. “And I think people want to be able to live where they can walk to places — that’s why so many people live in neighborhoods like East Hollywood and Silver Lake.”
And if that means more dining options, Mar Vista seems ready for it, too. “As we continue to create a community of restaurants here, people will be able to really explore the neighborhood,” Weiss says.