Jumpstart Your L.A. Day With Some Excellent Coffee

Fabulous muffin and coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, California

Fabulous muffin and coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica, California

The Los Angeles region has certainly jumped on the hipster coffee bandwagon pioneered by wetter coastal climes to the north. There’s now no shortage of spartan digs, with baristas in tight jeans and fashionable eyewear dispensing pour overs and cold brews.

But for a metro area of gazillions, there’s surprisingly few indigenous places roasting beans, especially now that Handsome Coffee’s been bought out by San Francisco’s Blue Bottle. Of course, there’s longstanding Klatch, but it’s based out in the relative L.A. hinterlands.

One exception is Caffe Luxxe, which bills itself as a local, artisan coffee roaster. What’s nice, from my perspective, is its signature Testa Rossa embraces the darker side, which many “third-wave” roasters have abandoned in favour of lighter beans. It’s most pleasant sipping a smoky Americano in a high-ceiling Santa Monica cafe, while chewing a scrumptious apple crumble muffin from nearby bakery Huckleberry and listening to soft jazz and conversation among friends.

A pleasant place to while away the morning.

A pleasant place to while away the morning.

Caffe Luxxe
925 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, California
Weekdays 6 am-6 pm, weekends 6:30 am-6 pm
Caffe Luxxe on Urbanspoon

If you don’t mind venturing into the downtown L.A. area, Blacktop is a wee coffee bar in the funky Arts District. Its lovely little street-front patio is a great place to sip an espresso and then saunter over to frequent-visiting, outstanding food truck Guerilla Tacos. You’d hardly know you were in the heart of the giant city.

Yes, this is the downtown Los Angeles area at Blacktop Coffee

Yes, this is the downtown Los Angeles area at Blacktop Coffee

Blacktop Coffee
826 East 3 Street, Los Angeles
Daily 7 am-7 pm
Blacktop Coffee on Urbanspoon

Happy Huckleberry in Santa Monica

Huckleberry is a fun, happening place in Santa Monica, California

Huckleberry is a fun, happening place in Santa Monica, California

Santa Monica’s Huckleberry can get kinda loud. Not pounding music loud. More happy customers chatting with friends and enjoying a late breakfast or lunch loud.

Oh, it can get pretty busy, too, with people lining up at the counter to order a brisket hash or a lentil ragu with poached eggs for breakfast or a butternut squash salad for lunch. I opt for a recommended warm turkey meatball sandwich ($12), hold the extra burrata cheese. Great choice. The meatballs melt in my mouth, the tomato sauce slops my chops, the soft bread making everything pillowy smooth.

Warm turkey meatball sandwich certainly hits the spot

Warm turkey meatball sandwich certainly hits the spot

It’s not cheap. But like it’s sister Santa Monica restaurant Milo & Olive, the first-class food is mostly made from scratch and imaginatively put together. If you’ve got room, the baked treats will weaken your resolve, I assure you.

Huckleberry
1014 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, California
Weekdays 8 am-8 pm (lunch starting at 11 am), weekends 8 am-5 pm
Huckleberry Café on Urbanspoon

Give Pete’s Breakfast House a Chance in Ventura, California

Fabulous short-order cooks pumping out breakfasts at Pete's Breakfast House in Ventura, California

Fabulous short-order cooks pumping out breakfasts at Pete’s Breakfast House in Ventura, California

*Pete’s Breakfast House (“All we are saying… is give Pete’s a chance”) is as much about the experience as the food, good as the latter is. The diner-like place—not far from the surfing beach in Ventura, California—is slamming busy on a Saturday morning, but I slide right into a vacant counter seat, one benefit of travelling solo.

“It’s like this every morning,” the guy beside me says as he finishes off a plate of corned beef hash. The unfazed waitresses chat with customers and leisurely take orders. By contrast, the kitchen area beside me is an orchestrated frenzy of movement, a team of cooks steadily plunking steaming plates onto the counter, and one guy feeding the toaster like a San Francisco parking meter.

I get the pancake sandwich—with bacon atop two buttermilk blueberry cakes (they’re always better with blueberries) and, underneath, two over-easy eggs.

Blueberry pancakes over eggs. Yum!

Blueberry pancakes over eggs. Yum!

“Do you want your eggs on a separate plate? Some people don’t like them touching,” the waitress offers. No, let’s stack everything together; the wet oozing of elk yolks into thick pancakes actually works surprisingly well.

“You want more coffee?”
“When you’ve got a sec.”
“That’s not going to happen today.”

Surfers of all ages and sizes congregate on Ventura's beaches

Surfers of all ages and sizes congregate on Ventura’s beaches

Here's what oceanside camping looks like outside Ventura

Here’s what oceanside camping looks like outside Ventura

Pete’s Breakfast House
7055 East Main Street, Ventura, California
Daily 7 am-2 pm

Surfing into Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Sunny California

Ruddell's Smokehouse is right on the beach in Cayucos, California

Ruddell’s Smokehouse is right on the beach in Cayucos, California

Ah, a lovely afternoon at the beach in sunny Cayucos, California, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. After a couple of hours riding the waves, I walk up the warm sand, strip off my wetsuit and tussle my bleached hair. Time for some waterside grub.

Who am I kidding? I just step out of my car and wander a hundred feet down the street to Ruddell’s Smokehouse after a few hours of freeway driving.

At least, Ruddell’s has earned its beach cred honestly. It’s been serving up smoked-meat tacos and salads to real surfers from a little shack near the town pier since 1980.

The smoked choices include salmon, chicken and pork loin. But I go for the signature albacore tuna taco, topped with a mini salad of lettuce, celery and apple and a nice splash or three of their hotter, house-made sauce. At $6, it’s not cheap for a taco but big enough I mistake the rolled-in-foil bundle for a little burrito.

Ruddell's signature smoked albacore tuna taco

Ruddell’s signature smoked albacore tuna taco

As I tuck in, I close my eyes, listen to the pounding waves and smell the sea salt air. I can almost feel myself catching that wave. Can’t I at least pretend?

Ruddell’s Smokehouse
101 D Street, Cayucos, California
Daily 11 am-6 pm
Ruddell's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Petra’s Combining Pizza and Shawarma in San Luis Obispo, California

Lovely, tree-lined Higuera Street in San Luis, Obispo, California

Lovely, tree-lined Higuera Street in San Luis, Obispo, California

Let’s face it. The U.S. and the Middle East have had their disagreements in recent years. So how about smoothing things over a little with a culinary compromise, a delectable detente?

It seems Petra, a friendly, family restaurant in beautiful San Luis Obispo, California has already beaten everyone to the punch, so to speak. Specifically, the Mediterranean-style eatery is combining an American classic, the pizza, with a Middle-Eastern staple, the shawarma.

Take the Gyro Pizza, which features marinated, spit-shaved meat and Petra’s signature garlic sauce. This creamy, mildly spiced sauce appears again in a pie with marinated chicken shawarma and artichoke hearts.

Petra's produces a succulent shawarma-style pizza

Petra’s produces a succulent shawarma-style pizza

It’s all lovely stuff, loaded onto a thin crust that could be dough or fresh pita; I’ll let the Italian authorities weigh in on this. Petra also caters to solo diners, witness a perfect-sized, eight-inch pizza for $10.

As if Petra is not doing enough for world peace, and happy bellies, a server wanders out into the parking lot and starts passing out free samples of the made-daily pita. Talk about diplomacy.

Petra
1210 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, California
Daily 10:30 am-10:30 pm
Petra Mediterranean Pizza and Grill on Urbanspoon

Brazilian Breakfast in Santa Cruz, California

The colours are brilliant and the menu is eclectic at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

The colours are brilliant and the menu is eclectic at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, California

Mexican food I’m expecting in the busy California coast city of Santa Cruz, or maybe a surfer cafe. But Brazilian? Sign me up.

At Cafe Brasil, it’s certainly different than your usual morning fare. How about something civilized and light, like Pingado—a pot each of coffee and hot milk, along with fresh baguette and fruit—or an acai smoothie smothered in granola, strawberries and bananas?

I go off my map with Orfeu Negro, a dish of black beans on a baguette and then topped with a couple of poached eggs.  Ole!

How about some eggs on black beans and baguette?

How about some eggs on black beans and baguette?

Cafe Brasil is located in a funky little house decorated in the brilliant national colours of yellow and green. If you’ve been at a surfer party the night before, you may need sunglasses.

Cafe Brasil
1410 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, California
Daily 8 am-3 pm
Cafe Brasil on Urbanspoon