Venice Beach is a suburb of Los Angeles but it feels like a totally different place. Eclectic shopping, relaxed pedestrian strolling and delicious tastes abound. To learn all about this chilled out spot, and to have rather a fabulous selection of dishes for lunch, we joined Secret Food Tours on their Venice Beach tour.
NB: As this is a Secret Food Tour, I won’t be revealing the names of the places we visited, but I’ll tell you a little bit about them and you can join the tour to discover the locations.
Venice Beach Pier
When we first arrived and met our guide, John, we thought our group was going to be huge. A big group of South African guys were also taking the tour but happily, they had their own guide. They were visiting the same spots as us, but going a little slower and indulging in the additional boozy add-on.
For our tour, it was just John, and a nice couple from Hawaii.
Venice Beach was the brainchild of this man, Abbott Kinney. He was a wealthy developer who drained the marshy land by creating canals in this new seaside resort. He also built long streets inspired by the colonnades of Venice, Italy.￼ You can still see a few of these original frontages on Windward Avenue. Grand Canal is a fine stretch of water with some very cool properties.
But, we are here to eat so let’s get on with it￼…
Munching on Mexican
Los Angeles is famous for its excellent Mexican food. Immigration from the south, and early settlers brought the flavours of Mexico with them and it is wholeheartedly celebrated. In LA, you should forgo Chilis, Taco Bell and Chipotle and instead, hunt out the best local spots.
In this beautifully muralled restaurant, they make their own salsa which is served with tortilla chips produced locally. This is not your average salted, triangular chip, but a proper tortilla crisped to perfection. The salsa is an unusual flavour, with lots of red pepper.
After nibbling on these savoury treats for five minutes, out came the enchiladas. Our enchiladas were cheese but not as I had known them previously. The filling was exclusively cheese with no meat or vegetables. It was like the best cheese pancake smothered in mildly spicy, slow-cooked tomato sauce and topped with loads more cheese. I have a theory that states melted cheese makes most food at least 30% better, and this certainly proved to be the case!
Chowing Down on Chicken Sausage
John told us the story of Jody, a sausage connoisseur who hit the big time when his sausages were sold at LA Dodger’s baseball games. He creates exciting, interesting and unique links packed full of flavour and we got to try some of his chicken sausage. This guy popularised the chicken sausage LA (who knew that was a thing?!). It was stuffed with herbs and paired with sweet, American mustard, was delicious.
The samples were cut into pieces which meant some of mine was a little burnt, which was a shame. I prefer a whole sausage so that it’s still packed with juice, but with chicken sausage being poultry and naturally dryer, I don’t know if it would have been moister that way anyway.
Picking at Poke
I honestly have no idea where the poke came from, but we did pass a few places offering this Hawaiian dish. LA was one of the first places to embrace poke in mainland USA, before it spread across the country. Fish is combined in a bowl with a mixture of other ingredients. Originally it was a fisherman’s offcuts and pre-marinated, but now it is more commonly combined in a variation picked out by the diner. In the version we tried, we had sushi rice and sesame, as well as some pesky onions. I really like poke so I couldn’t fault it, other than the small size.
Tucking into Tacos
When I think of LA cuisine, the first thing springs to mind is taco trucks (well, tacos and In ‘n’ Out burgers). People drive all over the city to reach their favourite taco truck. and when the best ones find a permanent home, fans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing they can always satisfy their cravings.
The tacos we got to try have a pretty cool USP. The soft tacos are dipped in the meaty marinade sauce, giving them a distinctive red colour. They are little flavour bombs and this extra dip only boosts their umami appeal.
On the table was a red chilli sauce. I gingerly tried some on the end of my tongue, which was seriously unfortunate. I subsequently learned that the main spice kick was concentrated at this spot for everyone, so I freaked myself out thinking it was the hottest of hot sauces. Turns out that when thrown in with the taco, the whole thing was warming but not horrifically overpowering as I first thought.
Venice Beach is wonderfully eclectic, which we discovered at our next stop. We were presented with a Peruvian dish, a huge bowl of white fish ceviche accompanied by lupine beans, sweet potato and salad.
For those who don’t know, I HATE onion and so I have long avoided ceviche. Even during our Peruvian honeymoon, I didn’t feel brave enough to try it as onion is one of the principal ingredients. However, at this place, it was served in a pleasingly segregated fashion. I could enjoy the fish, the beans and sweet potato without going anywhere near those nasty alliums. It was fresh and healthy, as well as fiery with tigers milk (a punchy lime, fish sauce and chilli concoction that “cooks” the fish).
The dish was too big to finish after all the other samples we had eaten but I will absolutely be returning if I am ever back in Venice Beach!
Fresh, warm doughnuts, straight from a clever automated machine conjures up such happy childhood memories for me. Brighton Pier has a couple of shops who sell doughnuts just like this and clutching them to me whilst braving cold and/or drizzly summer days was a rare and special treat. I must admit, trying this version in 24°C heat was a little odd but they were incredibly tasty and more-ish.
At home, the doughnuts are coated in white sugar, a very sweet treat, but in Venice Beach they were rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon, a warming and rich flavour that didn’t leave the sweetness grimace after three eaten in quick succession.
Sadly, at this point we had to dash off to LAX for our flight home. Mr Fluskey kept his doughnuts for the airport and when he pulled them out, a delightful waft of cinnamon sugar aroma made me hungry all over again.
If you are thinking of joining Secret Food Tours, here is some information you might like to know:
- Secret Food Tours runs tours in over 50 cities worldwide.
- Every tour has a surprise dish so there is always something extra to look forward to.
- Tours are packed with lots of history and information about the locations visited as well as the chance to try lots of lovely food.
Final Thoughts on our Venice Beach Secret Food Tour
Originally, we were booked for an LA downtown tour, but it had to be rearranged and it was probably a blessing in disguise. Venice Beach was friendly, relaxed and the most like a holiday spot I’ve experienced in the States. The beach was lovely and soft, the muscles nice and hard, and the food fun and flavourful. John was a great guide who was super cheery and clearly passionate about this area. I can see why!