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Melrose Place CafeHave you ever been to a beach in France? They’re spectacularly groomed, meticulously raked, chairs lined up in compact little rows and umbrellas perfectly placed. Walk across it and you have a guy following behind to erase the footprints. Ever felt like going to a regular beach instead, where you can sprawl out on a towel and mess up the sand at your leisure?

Melrose Place Café is the regular beach of sidewalk cafés. Where most sidewalk dining areas in Los Angeles are like little, enclosed extensions of the restaurant’s interior, with their little barricades and their narrow little tables, Melrose Place spreads its wings, letting outside diners stretch their legs, look up at the trees and munch their lunches in the cool breeze. Sounds a little Podunk, you say? Not so. Not only is the menu healthy, eclectic and tasty, it’s cultured. With interesting fare like the Tomato-Basil Mozzarella Panini, the Turkey Bacon Sweet Onion Omelet, plus Persian-influenced herbs and sides, it easily competes with any of Hollywood’s breakfast and lunch places.

Breakfast is served all day, and the pay-up-front aspect makes it a good lunch break choice for the area’s retail scene. And yes, there’s even inside seating. Bon appétit.

(See more pics!)

sushiSushi is to LA as the poolside margarita is to Vegas. Or as the buffalo was to the plains Indian. Ok, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but it’s definitely not wise to stand between a Los Angeleno and yellowtail sashimi.

Like a burrito joint can be judged almost exclusively on its carne asada, sushi places can be summed up fairly easily based on a few things, such as freshness, and creativity in flavors and presentation. Sushi places can also vary widely in overall quality, from the greasy joint that seems to put imitation crab in everything, to the jaw-dropping rooftop establishment that makes you feel a little underdressed (see number one on this list).

Bearing all of these factors in mind, here are five Hollywood restaurants that should be added to anyone’s sushi to-do list. They run the gamut from chill sidewalk cafe to swank central, but all of them come through with the goods when it comes to sushi.

This list, by the way, is by no means complete. If you’ve got a place to add, feel free to mention it in the comment section below.

i love sushi5. I Love Sushi

7516 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 651-1806

This streetside restaurant on Melrose is rarely crowded, which really only says how underrated the place is. Outside seating, friendly servers and very generous chefs (become a regular and you’ll see) complement the menu, which is surprisingly good for the size of the establishment. Sushi connoisseurs will enjoy the selection of eel, white tuna, yellowtail, scallops, ikura and other staples of a quality menu, and the complimentary orange slices that come with the check are a nice touch.

sushi dan4. Sushi Dan

8000 W Sunset Blvd #131A
Los Angeles, CA 90046-2442
(323) 848-8583

A step up from the streetside sushi joint is Sushi Dan, located in the enclosed shopping center on Sunset and Laurel. A warm, orange glow and black slate floors effectively combine a traditional Japanese theme with a modern club-esque vibe, and prompt service ensures you’re seated either inside or on the front patio almost without breaking stride. One menu item that’s tough to top anywhere is Yummy Crunchy, a plate of tuna, tomatoes and the herb-tinted house dressing piled onto fried wonton skins.

yamashiro3. Yamashiro

1999 N. Sycamore Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90068
(323) 466-5125

This slightly upper-end sushi restaurant resembles an ancient Japanese palace, and is actually an exact replica of a palace located in Japan’s Yamashiro Mountains. A bit of trivia: the pagoda standing a few yards to the southeast of the restaurant is the oldest structure in California, brought over from Japan in the early 1900s when the larger building was constructed. More interesting historical tidbits can be found on the Yamashiro Web site. As far as sushi goes, the chefs employ mango, macadamia nuts, coconut, mushrooms, asparagus and other interesting ingredients with an array of creative sauces to make favorites like the Hawaii Five-O, a yellowtail roll with several of the above ingredients, as well as other Japanese-inspired surf-and-turf plates. Bring tip money for the valet, because there is no self-parking here.

katana2. Katana

8439 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 650-8585

Katana is the swank Hollywood club of sushi places. If any restaurant is a good place to bump into Lindsay Lohan or Jay-Z, this is probably it. With its dark, mysterious interior, part ancient fortress and part industrial club, one has to be dressed to the nines to blend into the scenery here. The slightly crowded outdoor patio is almost always in high demand, and even with a reservation it can sometimes be a wait for a table — and don’t even think of showing up on a weekend night without a reservation. But at least there is a lot to see while you wait, and the food is absolutely worth it. Besides killer rolls (do we need to say how awesome they are?) this place specializes in robata, or grilled meat and vegetable skewers, marinated in ridiculously flavorful sauces that will make you drool. We’ve actually sworn one day to come and order a plate full of them and nothing else. Have yet to do that. But those, plus the attentive, friendly service, makes Katana a must-visit for anyone who doesn’t mind spending a little extra cash.

takami1. Takami Sushi & Robata

811 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2100
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 236-9600

This high-rise restaurant occupies the penthouse of a downtown office building, providing its guests with jaw-dropping views of the city and surrounding skyscrapers. The space is large, with a sleek, modern atmosphere and a glass wall separating the inner dining area from the outside patio, where diners can stare 21 stories down at the streets below. The menu is elegant and exotic, with a wide variety of rolls, sushi robata and other Japanese entrees to choose from. Fan favorites include the Poki Martini, a sushi appetizer served in a martini glass, and the spicy tuna on crispy rice, another great appetizer. Robata and other seafood dishes accommodate those who are less into sushi, and the Elevate Lounge is next door for after-dinner clubbing. The prices are a little higher than other sushi places, but not extremely so, making Takami a good splurge for those who don’t want to spend a fortune.

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DE AutomotiveAfter quite a bit of searching we located a reliable, honest, courteous and generous mechanic in North Hollywood, for anyone who runs into car trouble.

DE Automotive, Inc

4702 Vineland Ave
North Hollywood, CA 91602
eight one eight, seven six six, eight one two zero

Reasons:

  • The little guys are almost always more knowledgeable and cheaper than the big guys (Midas, Pep Boys, etc).
  • The same guy (Sam) is usually there, meaning you don’t have to explain your problem to six different guys. And he remembers you.
  • Sam makes his own rules, so he doesn’t need a manager’s approval to, say, top off your oil free of charge.
  • They’re honest, so you pay what they quote the first time.
  • They explain the problem in a down-to-earth manner instead of trying to make it sound complicated.
  • Ah, they’re just nice guys. We want to help them out.

Take your busted ride there, they’ll do ya proud.

In the landscape of Hollywood fast food, two gleaming ivory towers rise above the debris of MSG-soaked, artificial-smoke flavored, reheated mega-burger chains. In-N-Out, the Irvine-based private burger chain that won Zagat’s Fast-Food Survey in 2008 and 2009, and Fatburger, the Santa Monica-based chain known as “the Last Great Hamburger Stand.”

One is an old-fashioned cult favorite that successfully promotes itself through T-shirts emblazoned with hot rods, the other touts its food quality through snarky slogans aimed at other burger chains, and was once co-owned by Magic Johnson. Which deserves the crown? There are many factors to consider: In-N-Out’s prices still recall its 1948 birth; Fatburger’s patrons are treated to free, unlimited use of the jukebox and a wide array of delicious burger options. What are we going to do about this?

Here are the facts, arranged for the best possible comparison. Make up your mind and cast your vote. (Or feel free to write in a vote in the comments below. But if you vote for one of those artery-clogging sludge-chains, we will descend upon your comment with the fire of a thousand pepperoncinis.)

In-N-Out Fatburger
in-n-out <—?—> fatburger
* 1950s pricing, $2.75 for a Double Double * Tons of burger options, plus crazy sandwiches, salads and other stuff
* Real meat instead of liquid burger slop * Actual cow, not gray burger sludge
* Clean fry oil, fries that resemble actual potatoes * Choice of fat or skinny fries, chili fries, onion rings
* “Secret” menu options like Animal Style, multi-patty/cheese options * Double-King, Triple-King, etc. (as high as you care to go*)
* Real ice cream shakes: Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry * Ice cream shakes that actually melt: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry
* Highly addictive Special Sauce * Madly customizable topping options
* Grilled cheese or no-patty option * Boca burger option

Las Vegas is without question the brightest oasis in any desert. The city is absolutely worthy of nicknames like Sin City and “adult playground.” In fact, it undeniably deserves to have its name shouted to raised fist by people in bars, as the anticipation of a Vegas trip evokes the same feelings you had when you were a kid going to Disneyland.

But as fun and exciting as this wanton desert community is, there are definitely things about Vegas that irk. Whether it’s because Vegas knows exactly how much we love to go there, or because people can’t help but crap on a party, here are a few common Vegas pitfalls, with some quick advice on avoiding them. Proceed with riot batons raised.

expensive1. Ridiculously expensive crap. It’s just not Vegas without excess. Even though this means you can do things like reserve a floorside table at a posh club or rent an exquisite limo to carry your posse around town, it also means $14 well drinks, $100 cover charges and $2,000 bottles of champagne. But that’s okay, since I just happened to sell my $5.6-million trust fund the other day. How about you?

What it means for your trip: Provided you’re not the next heir to the Trump estate (if you are, you can skip ahead), you have to watch yourself as you’re sucked into the Vegas free-for-all — because it’s absolutely NOT free. Keep a running tab in your head if you have to, or set a limit to how much you’re willing to part with that weekend. And always remember to save an extra bill for the cab ride home, MC Hammer.

sexual marketing2. Blatant sexual marketing. Everyone loves seeing beautiful people. But does it make sense to harness people’s hormonal drives to peddle cell phone plans, credit cards and insurance? It’s not so much seeing it (which only a nun would have a problem with), it’s just a reminder that marketing people are sly and devious, and know just how to manipulate humans such as yourself. Hey, let’s use your sex drive to sell you crappy auto warranties, or maybe pre-owned vacuum cleaners. Why not?

What it means for your trip: Don’t get conned into buying something just because it’s offered to you on a sparkling platter by Adriana Lima. Or at least just don’t let the ways of the machine get to you. Want to be truly smart? Buy only from ugly people. (Just kidding.)

drunk guy3. That Guy. It’s nearly impossible to find a place of leisure that isn’t accessible to That Guy — the one who’s starting a fight while everyone else is relaxing, or who’s too drunk to figure out which hotel room door is his. Or who wants to take on three bouncers at once because he has a right to be in the club impersonating The Thing. Of course, it just wouldn’t be Vegas without him, too. Just saying.

What it means for your trip: If you have a run-in with That Guy, just remember he either thinks he’s still having fun, or he’s genuinely angry about something most people wouldn’t think twice about. Try not to lose your temper with him. It also won’t help much to try to communicate in complex sentences. Just steer him out of harm’s way or yourself out of his way, and enjoy the rest of your night.

drunk Baby4. 1 a.m. stroller pushers. Maybe this is a new trend, but there seem to be a lot of new parents who don’t know when to stop partying. They still like to make last-minute Vegas plans, but in the absence of a last-minute babysitter they opt to cart their infant or toddler around amid the late-night throng of people who are plastered, zapped up or otherwise oblivious to tiny, under-foot protohumans. What are they thinking, and where was Grandma when they needed her?

What it means for your trip: Nothing, it’s just kind of concerning.

bass overkill5. Bass overkill. Booming bass is good to have inside the club. But 300 yards away in an entirely separate bubble, where the imaginary birds and butterflies are fluttering about over a peaceful landscape of poolside relaxation, that bass is knocking my imaginary birds clear out of the park. Turn it down, dammit, I want my birds back.

What it means for your trip: Try to remember, as your universe pulsates with the rhythm of some formless, boundless DJ, that you could be at work, or stuck in traffic somewhere. To hang on to your zen state of tranquility, try to zone in on the parts of your bubble you can still reach, and forget about everything that doesn’t fit in. Or you could remember your iPod.

bling overkill6. People who have way too much money. Nothing can shock you back to real life like seeing a dude casually throwing hundo’s down on the craps table like he’s got them sprouting out of his armpits, reminding you that for some, the Vegas lifestyle is real life. Very likely this guy’s got so much piled up in the bank that he forgets which Italian sports car he parked at the mall six hours ago, and his maid finds cut diamonds lying under his couch cushions. In other words, your vacation is his Tuesday at the office. Of course, it’s also possible that he’s just like you, but much less wise.

What it means for your trip: Again, nothing. You’re you, he’s him. Now tip the valet guy.

leaving las vegas7. Trying to leave. It’s partially because you know the traffic out of town will have you cruising at 20 mph most of the way home, but it’s also because of the pool! and the lights! and the atmosphere! and the music! and the fact that it’s all still going, even at 2 pm when you’re hauling your stuff back to the car and starting to think about the next day. Boo, this part of Vegas is worst of all.

What it means for your trip: You can’t avoid this one, unless you’d like to join the jovial ranks of Las Vegas’ homeless population. But don’t fret, all you need to do is remember to take lots of pictures to remember the fun times, and you’re good to go.

winery viewHere’s a quick and easy guide to taking a fun weekend road trip to Solvang, CA. This is what we did, and it definitely did the trick. Add a few of these things to your Solvang checklist.

PS: If you have your own advice, add it in the comments below!

1. Book the hotel several months early. It’s a tourist spot, so everything books up quickly. It’s also smart to make restaurant reservations a few days in advance for the same reason, even though you might not need them.

2. Leave Friday night after work if you’re in the LA area. You’ll make it before everything closes, and it’s worth it to already be there in the morning.

3. Stay at the Hadsten House Inn. It has the most positive reviews of all the hotels there, and with good reason — it has a sweet location, friendly staff, super-nice rooms, and a supremely good restaurant attached. We mean it. Out of all the restaurants in town, it had the best one we encountered. Win. (link)

4. Make a point to try wine at every opportunity. The first one we tried (Parker Station pinot noir) ended up being our favorite, with a few runners up from the local tasting rooms. Get it by the glass in restaurants, and visit a few of the tasting rooms in town. It’s usually about $10 for 5-7 wine samples, and definitely worth it.

5. Wander around downtown. This is a no-brainer, since that’s what everyone else is doing. But you can easily make a day out of it, so we’re pointing it out.

6. If you rent a surrey bike (those side-by-side, four-wheeled bikes), don’t go too far south. South equals downhill. And downhill is only fun in one direction.

7. Paula’s Pancake House. Go there. (reviews)

8. Wear sunblock. I forgot to, but I soon had an effective reminder about wearing it.

9. Make one day all about outlying wineries. The downtown wineries pale in comparison to the ones that sprawl over hills of grapes, offering amazing views and a huge variety of wine styles. The same prices as downtown usually apply, and most only require reservations for large parties. Fess Parker has good wines, and Rusack Vineyards has a spectacular view from the outside porch.

10. Take pictures. Another no-brainer. But the Danish style downtown area is Disneyland-caliber photogenic, as are the views when you get out into the hills and vineyards. (See our pics)

11. Get a photo in front of the windmill on the corner of Alisal and Molle Way. You know you want to.

12. Go to a bakery. Denmark is known for its pastries, and Solvang continues the legacy of sweet, fluffy, sugary goodness in pretty much anything you get. Especially the Abelskivers that manage to pretty much force themselves down your throat.

13. Also get chocolate. Check.

14. Visit the 1804 Santa Ynez Mission at Mission Blvd and Alisal. It’s an interesting piece of the town’s history, and commands another spectacular view of the valley. (link)

15. Stop at the Nojoqui Falls, a beautiful natural waterfall accessible by a 10-minute walk up a creekside path, located about 30 minutes outside of town. It’s not especially frequented, so you’ll be able to enjoy it.

16. Bring a bottle of wine home with you. (Try not to open it in the car.)

17. After you get home, it’s absolutely nap time.

(See the pics from our Solvang trip)