Most people think of Marina del Rey as a sleepy stretch of waterside restaurant/bars with bad food and bland vibes. And they’re not necessarily wrong. But in the past year alone, MDR got a Trader Joe’s and a Shake Shack, so things are definitely changing.
No longer just a kitschy, man-made harbor where you take your parents when they want to go on a whale-watching cruise, Marina del Rey is starting to get hot. So dust off those Sperrys you haven’t seen since that Sigma Nu party in 2002 and go discover what you’ve been missing out on. Here’s our guide to the best spots in MDR.
Located in the recently revamped Marina del Rey Hotel, Salt has one of the best views of the marina, and their outside deck is the perfect place to watch the boats go by while pretending you’re Gwyneth Paltrow. Like most hotel restaurants, they do a good breakfast and brunch, but they’re better at dinner, where their menu features a wide range of seafood, like Scottish salmon, lobster pasta, and more adventurous dishes like “kung pao” octopus. This is a great spot for a group birthday dinner or when you want to impress out-of-towners.
First opened as a diner in 1974, J. Nichols is the kind of good-at-everything spot every neighborhood needs. After a substantial facelift a few years back, the space is more contemporary casual than coffee shop, but the food remains as dependable and consistent as ever. From pulled-pork pancakes with maple pecan butter to a selection of Benedicts and burgers that are surprisingly creative, J. Nichols is at its best during breakfast and brunch (expect to wait for a table during the latter), but you can find something good no matter the time of day.
This tiny Italian spot has been a well-kept secret for nearly a decade, thanks almost entirely to their location on a nondescript stretch of Lincoln Blvd. But as soon as you step inside, you’ll forget there’s a car wash next door. From the Fiat-sized bar, stocked with Italian aperitivos and wines, to the low-lit dining room, Locanda is ideal for an intimate meal, and the menu is filled with pastas that are perfect for sharing. Our favorites include the pappardelle with braised wild boar, and the ravioli in a rich truffle sauce, but if you need guidance, the gregarious owner is more than ready to help - and more than willing to pour you another glass of wine, too.
Taking over the shopping-center spot that used to be home to Jerry’s Famous Deli, Stark’s serves American fare in a space that’s approximately the size of the contiguous United States. Both the menu - featuring everything from deviled eggs and skillet corn cakes to Impossible burgers and California snapper - and the interior (which includes a cafe, a booze bar, a raw bar, a fireplace, a patio, and booths so large you can literally nap in them) could use an edit, but the cocktails are solid, the space is comfortable, and the corned-beef-and-Swiss sandwich (a holdover from the Jerry’s days) is a fitting tribute to the former tenant.
Hey, rich boaters eat sushi, too. Chances are, you probably don’t need an introduction to this ubiquitous sushi chain, nor do you need us to tell you that their Trust Me meal is never the wrong choice. But we guess we just did.
Tucked between a jeweler and a taco shop in a weird shopping-center cul-de-sac, Irori has long been Marina del Rey’s best-kept secret. Well, the secret’s out: From their massive $14.50 bento box lunch to their 12-piece omakase (for $51), this is one of the best bang-for-your-buck meals on the Westside. The fish is always high-quality and the rolls are creative (get the blue crab and salmon roll with truffle), plus, they make you remove your shoes when you enter, if you’re looking for a little bit of tradition, too.
A true Marina del Rey original, The Warehouse is a sprawling spot right on the water that first opened in 1969. Fittingly, the outside is a tangle of frayed rigging lines, corrugated metals, and all manner of wharf ephemera, while the inside feels like you’ve stowed away on a shipping freighter (or are waiting to tee off at a Polynesian mini-golf course). The food isn’t anything special - it’s the usual assortment of seafood and steaks - but locals don’t flock here for the refined cuisine, they come to take in marina views on the patio, drink rum-based cocktails served in souvenir barrels, dance to live music, and get their fill of crab legs at the Warehouse’s Sunday brunch. Follow their lead.
Morfia’s is one of those places that you drive past and think to yourself, “I should try it sometime.” What are you waiting for? Located between a car wash and a bar (and just a few storefronts away from Locanda Positano), it’s pretty easy to miss, but it’s probably the only place in town where you can get true Texas brisket AND baklava cheesecake. It’s tiny, with only about five tables, so it’s best utilized for take-out.
Mendocino Farms are popping up all over LA, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that one landed not far from the paddle board rental place and the old-timey shops that line the marina. If you’re thinking of hitting up Mendocino for a sandwich or a salad and heading to the marina for a picnic, it’s always a good idea to avoid the obnoxious wait times and just order online.
A lot of dining options in MDR are located in hotels. We fully recognize this is weird, but you need to get over it. Beachside is inside the Jamaica Bay Inn and is a more-casual option to Salt. With a solid Happy Hour (Monday-Friday, 4-6pm) and brunch every day, it’s almost better than a trip to the actual beach. Almost.
When everyone from LeBron James to Maria Shriver is getting into the fast-casual pizza game, you know there’s some serious dough to be made (sorry). Next into the wood-fired fray is MidiCi, an open-kitchen Neapolitan pizza chain with locations from Sherman Oaks to Hawthorne. Their Marina del Rey outpost opened in 2018, and serves some standout pies on chewy-yet-crispy crust, including The Devil’s, with spicy sausage, Calabrese salami, and red chiles, and the Four Cheese, which skips the tomato sauce in favor of layers of mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola, and parmesan, with a hint of garlic. The rest of the menu is a mix of salads and stuff like calzones, and it isn’t quite as strong, but if you’re looking for a quick spot for lunch or dinner, make it MidiCi.
GARLIC KNOTS. That’s all you need to know about C & O. Well, that and the fact you should try to sit outside. Oh, and the portions are enormous. Not in an I-live-in-LA-I-don’t-eat kind of way. They’re massive in a way that could actually feed several people. This is the perfect spot to bring your parents after you finish driving them around the marina and briefly show them the Venice Boardwalk (from the comfort of the car, of course.)
If you’re going to have a meal at a Cheesecake Factory in Los Angeles, you might as well do it at The Cheesecake Factory. Not only is the MDR outpost the longest continually operating location in America, they have their own beach on a lagoon. Unnecessary? Absolutely. Will all of your visiting relatives be head over heels for it? You bet.
They’re located right where Abbot Kinney runs into Washington Blvd., are always busy, and there’s a speakeasy in the back… sounds like a Venice restaurant, right? Wrong. Scopa’s technically in Marina del Rey (so says their 90292 ZIP code), and for the purposes of this guide, that’s good enough. From a solid assortment of antipasti - get the rice ball and the crispy squash blossoms - and pastas like the chitarra with pecorino cheese and black pepper, to great cocktails (whether you can get into Old Lightning or not), Scopa is an ideal spot for dinner or a date, and they do an underrated brunch, too. Fair warning: It is always incredibly loud in here, so if you’re looking for an intimate place for quiet conversation, head elsewhere.
The original Coni’Seafood in Inglewood is one our favorite restaurants in the city, so when the Mexican seafood spot opened a second location on Centinela at the edge of Culver City/Del Rey (y’know, Marina del Rey adjacent), there were plenty of reasons to get excited. From the fresh ceviche and grilled whole snook to marlin tacos we would drive across the city to eat, this is tremendous seafood that you can’t get anywhere else in LA. The modern, industrial space is ideal for a casual midweek dinner with friends.
Paco’s has been a staple in that part of town that’s definitely sort of Del Rey (but maybe also Mar Vista or Marina del Rey) since 1975, and it shows. From the festive dining room, filled Christmas lights, fish tanks, and Mexican murals, to the menu, which is loaded with “Combinaciones Mexicanas” platters, Paco’s hasn’t changed since the Ford Administration, but sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Do they have 14-pound burritos and chimichangas? You bet. Are they fantastic? Of course - they’re made with Paco’s fluffy flour tortillas, after all. Those tortillas are great on their own, too (especially when they’re slathered with butter), so order some for the table, down a couple frozen margaritas, and enjoy the ambiance.
When Hatchet Hall opened in 2015, it was serving some of the most interesting Southern-tinged food in town. Fast-forward to today, and this upscale Culver City staple has only gotten better. Whether it’s fried cabbage, duck that’s been cooked in its own fat, or white cheddar cornbread we would start a religion for, this is the kind of stick-to-your-ribs food you can’t really find in LA (and definitely can’t find in MDR). All the more reason to take your Eastside friend who only eats leaves harvested from his backyard.