Caló Kitchen + Tequila hosts a distinctive ambiance where the intimacy of a small space meets the energy of modern LA dining. A one-lane walkway separates booths and a packed bar, with servers quite used to backing up or leaning in for patrons to pass in the same way a flight attendant would aboard an aircraft. Upstairs is slightly quieter, with the same artistic lighting calming the air and allowing you to take a breath, even if it’s to just enjoy the view of the shopping mall across the street.
Caló (Spanish for ‘slang’) puts an interesting accent on American Mexican favorites. The menu isn’t miles long like you’ll find in some full-service Mexican establishments, in the same way that the interior isn’t decked out with bright colors or filled with Mariachi music. Instead, Caló integrates a level of elegance in its ingredients to match its ambiance, while remaining both fun and indulgent.
Case in point with the shrimp and bacon tacos, profound in rich flavor and texture made all the better with a valentina cream sauce. Caló’s prime skirt steak nails it as well, bursting with a critical mass of umami that lusciously spills into a homemade tortilla. The carnitas, made with prime kurobuta pork and Mexican coca cola, can be cut with a spoon. And in traditional American Mexican fashion, Caló offers a few combination options that allow patrons to try a bit of everything—the seafood trio and Caló platter, to name a few.
Then, of course, comes the tequila part of the equation. Unsurprisingly, Caló has a meticulously crafted margarita menu, boasting everything from your traditional Cadillac to strawberry jalapeno and watermelon basil. Sadly, blended margaritas aren’t an option here [allegedly the bar doesn’t have room for a blender]. And if fruit pulp isn’t your thing, ask for your drink to be strained beforehand. Caló also boasts a healthy beer and wine list, including an intriguing and ever-so-subtle horchata beer.
Churros are undoubtedly the dessert of choice, filled with a traditional burnt caramel custard and served with chocolate sauce, thick house-made whipped cream and—for a touch of novelty—peanut butter for dipping.
Caló Kitchen + Tequila is located at 2191 Rosecrans Ave, El Segundo, CA 90245. Open 11a – 9p Sun – Thu, 11a – 10p Fri/Sat. Average out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$85/person. For more information call (424) 269 – 2322 or visit CaloKitchen.com.
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria has served up New York slices since 1990, where it opened its first location under the Brooklyn Bridge. Their technique goes much further back, however, utilizing coal-fired brick ovens that encompass more than a century of pizza-making. Now, with nearly 50 properties across the US and several international projects in the making, Grimaldi’s has proven its ability to scale classic production while retaining a heartwarming vibe.
The menu is somewhat of a rarity to the typical west-coaster: a full-service restaurant that’s almost entirely focused on pizza and salad. Read: no pasta, no chicken wings, no oversize meatballs or other usual suspects you’d typically find at a family-style Italian joint. What this means is an In-n-Out kind of focus—limited menu, but each item is done very well. What this also means is that the kitchen doesn’t even have a stove. Those old-fashioned brick ovens are the lifeblood of the fishbowl-style kitchen, going through more than 200lbs of coal a day.
The finished product is a classic New York-style crust, thin and crispy on the outside with an earthy element delivered from those coal ovens. And with a strong lineup of specialty pizzas and toppings for build-your-own creations, the choices are hardly limited. Corporate Executive Chef Cory Lattuca, a 15-year Grimaldi’s veteran, consistently churns out seasonal items to make the menu pop even further. Buffalo chicken pizza, anyone?
Lattuca takes Grimaldi’s a step further with sweets and drinks. Somehow those ovens are rigged to make some mean cannoli and New York cheesecake [Oreo and sugar cookie crust?!?]. Add a strong lineup of beers, housemade cocktails and—of course—wines. Fun fact: Grimaldi’s makes its own house wine in Italy.
Grimaldi’s has multiple locations nationwide. Hours can vary but hover around 11a – 10p Sun – Thu and 11a – 11pm Fri/Sat. Avg. Out-the-door price for split salad, split pizza and 1 – 2 drinks is ~ $30/person. For more information, visit GrimaldisPizzeria.com
Sea Change is one of three restaurants housed in Redondo Beach’s Chez Melange, a quaint retreat just steps from the beach. Run by Executive Chef Robert Bell and Co-Owner Michael Franks, who have been in business together for more than 40 years, Chez Melange is both homage to decades of friendship and a modern player in the realm of sophisticated fare.
Pass through Bouzy Gastropub and Oyster Bar, Chez Melange’s other micro-establishments, and a museum-style corridor allows for a glimpse of the past—photos of Robert and Michael from the early 90’s, menus from their previous restaurants, and even painted portraits of the two in action. From there, enter Sea Change, a small but mighty dining room hustling and bustling with the regulars, who are just as familiar with each other as they are with the servers who see them ever so frequently.
Friendly Becoming part of the family is easier than anticipated, with friendly staff that greet you with a warm smile at first sight. The difficult part comes with placing your order. Chez Melange’s massive menu with inspirations from across the globe speaks to Chef Bell’s range, and fresh fish specials that change daily take it up a level further.
At the top of the list stands the Zarzuela, a Spanish stew of scallops, shrimp, mussels and other seafood in an addictive bisque-like base. The New England dry pack scallops are the perfect golden brown, taken off the frying pan not a second too soon or too late, served with rich bacon cheddar mashed potatoes. The Pacific rim tostadas bring together sashimi-grade ahi, Japanese salsa, avocado, spicy aioli and pickled ginger atop wontons that contain just the right crunch.
Portion sizes are another strong suit at Sea Change. It’s a surprise to see guests finish the mountain of parmesan truffle fries, or have room after the delightful baby beet salad. The drink selection follows much the same face, containing a long list of wine, beer, craft cocktails and a homemade ginger lemonade that’s absolutely worth trying.
Chez Melange is located at 1611 S. Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. Sea Change is open 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Sun, Tue – Thur, 5:30 – 10 p.m. Fri/Sat. Sunday brunch served 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Closed Monday. Out-the-door cost for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$79/person. For more information, call 310-540-1222 or visit Chez Melange online.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.