Whether you won the employee of the month parking space, got every question right on an objectively difficult online geography quiz, or came in #1 in your friend group’s annual guacamole competition, knowing you’re the best at something feels straight-up euphoric. But that feeling is also a double-edged sword. When perfection is even briefly achieved, suddenly any other result feels inadequate. Everyone expects more of you.
Which brings us to Gjelina. A restaurant that, when it opened in 2008, felt as close to perfect as restaurants get in this city. It had a beautiful space on a still-cool street in Venice, a crowd you wanted to be seen with, and pizza that made your East Coast friends stop bitching for two seconds. Fast-forward to present day, and this Abbot Kinney staple hasn’t lowered its bar, but it hasn’t raised it either. And now other restaurants have caught up.
To be clear, Gjelina is doing just fine. That 8.3 you see at the top of this review means this is an extremely well-run restaurant that you should continue to seek out. But this place also used to be an 8.9 - we’ve dropped its rating because it’s simply no longer as exciting as LA’s current A+ restaurants.
The first sign that things at Gjelina aren’t as excellent as they used to be is how big the menu has gotten. It’s as if they’ve added each dish every whining person in oversized sunglasses has requested over the years, just to keep them happy. Several dishes are pretty much the same thing, just packaged in different ways - like the section of the menu dedicated to different toasts with burrata on top. A good restaurant should certainly have options, but when a menu is over 70 items long, choosing what you want to eat stops being fun and starts feeling like a stressful chore.
Once you do decide what to order from Gjelina’s catalogue of pizzas, pastas, vegetables, charcuterie, and vaguely Mediterranean plates of meat, you will be happy. Gjelina’s food tastes very good. Pretty much every vegetable you put on the table is going to be fantastic, and that pizza that shut up your East Coast friends 10 years ago will still keep them quiet. The problem is that you can find most of these things in plenty of great restaurants around town. Including restaurants that don’t take an entire month to get into.
Is this the harshest 8.3 review we’ve ever written? Probably. But there aren’t many restaurants that have come as close to perfection as Gjelina. This is still a great restaurant, but if you’re remembering what this place felt like 10 years ago, set your expectations accordingly. And then go tweak that guac recipe for next year.
This is hands down the best thing at Gjelina. It’s rich and buttery and the mushrooms themselves are cooked perfectly. Aside from just tasting great, this is one of the few dishes at Gjelina that you can’t get anywhere else.
You might think this would be toast overkill with the mushroom one as well, but you’d be wrong. The tapenade is light and the bread is fantastic, as is all the bread at Gjelina. This makes for a great first appetizer.
Our favorite of Gjelina’s extensive vegetable section. The mixture of prosciutto and mint makes it both savory and fresh.
This is a salad you could get anywhere. Double-down on another vegetable instead.
Gjelina has great pizza across the board, but the guanciale is our favorite. Topped with green olives, fresno chile, and mozzarella, it’s that ideal mix of hearty and spicy, and the kind of pizza you’ll drive back to Venice for.
Topped with prawns, calabrian chile, and leek confit, this pasta looks great on paper and in person. Unfortunately, it’s pretty forgettable. Skip this and get a second pizza that looks good to you.
The desserts at Gjelina are overall pretty disappointing. This one is fine if the table wants something to share, but we advise you pay up and go get a cone at Salt & Straw down the block.