LAReview

Gjelina review image
8.4

Gjelina

$$$$310-450-1429
Hours:SATURDAY8:00AM to 12:00AM
Perfect For:BrunchDate Night

When Gjelina first opened, George W. Bush was finishing out his second term and kale salad was creeping its way across the country. It was 2008, a time when pizza in LA was still bad, Abbot Kinney still had character, and we were in the throes of a recession responsible for making ombre a trend. And Gjelina in Venice was mobbed morning-to-night. 

Rightfully so. Gjelina took the standard Tuscan kale salad and put it on the grill, tossed it in yogurty dressing, and added toasted hazelnuts. They fermented their pizza dough for three days and scorched it to bubbly perfection in a woodfire oven. Finally, finally! LA could brag about a pizza other than Mozza’s. Gjelina ushered in vegetable-forward California cuisine without the snobbish French undertones or snoozy clientele who froth at the sight of a rare Cab Sauv. It was cutting edge and decidedly very “LA.”  

Gjelina review image

Since Gjelina opened, the locally famous and mysterious chef behind it opened GTA, Gjusta, and a pricey, now-closed ramen spot that we don’t miss. Then he disappeared. Kale isn’t even on Gjelina’s menu anymore, and you can now find very good pizza in just about every neighborhood of the city. On a weeknight, you could probably walk up to the host stand and have your choice between the dark, moody dining room or the enclosed patio right away. As other LA restaurants have risen to the occasion, Gjelina has become much more accessible and also, an absolute cliche of itself. 

And yet, once you're seated for dinner, it’s as if nothing has changed. A meal at Gjelina is still genuinely spectacular, so long as you shoo away the stereotypes that come with it. The Big Stupid Hat Crowd is still very much here, piecing together whole meals out of three vegetable sides. And you know what? We can’t blame them. Because now that good LA pizza is no longer something to hyperventilate about, the vegetable-forward corners of the menu are the main reason to come here. 

Order a grilled vegetable—like the radicchio. The charred leaves are juicy and almost unbearably bitter, but the offset of just-sweet-enough apple cider vinegar strikes the right balance. A simple escarole salad is dressed with preserved lemon vinaigrette that, on its own, would make you pucker. But the parmesan shavings, smoked almonds, and sunchokes cut through the acidity. We stuff our faces with these vegetables. The greener things in particular pull off such extremes with acid and bitterness, in a way that only Gjelina can pull off. But even in starchier dishes, like the saffron spaghetti with briny bottarga and plenty of tomato, chili, and breadcrumbs, every ingredient sings.  

For whatever reason, the food doesn’t quite pop in the daytime like it does at night. The pizza tends to be a little undercooked, and the salads don’t carry the same zing. So while you’ll have a perfectly pleasant brunch or lunch (especially on the little back patio), we recommend coming here for dinner. The crowd will always be fun to eavesdrop on, the vegetables will be just the right amount of cruciferous, and the pizza? It’s still pretty great.

Food Rundown

Escarole Salad

A crunchy escarole mountain bejeweled with smoked almonds and sunchokes. The preserved lemon vinaigrette and parmesan shavings add an extra bite that take this salad to the next level. There’s nothing boring about it. Order this salad.

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Arugula & Treviso Salad

This salad has been on the menu for as long as we can remember. And that’s because it’s so simple and delicious, that we’ve started frying shallots at home to add to our own, much sadder salads. Add parmesan and sherry vinaigrette, and it’s a perfect start to your meal.

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Grilled Vegetables

Gjelina likes putting vegetables on grills, and we like the result. Recently, we had a cruciferous grilled radicchio that was the perfect balance between bitter, sour, and sweet, but we’ve also been taken by grilled snap peas, broccolini, and dragon beans. Make sure one grilled vegetable makes it into your order.

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Saffron Spaghetti

An interesting, briny take on spaghetti pomodoro. The bottarga, breadcrumbs, and saffron make for a nice change. Delicious.

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Pomodoro Pizza

One pomodoro will remind you why Gjelina’s light, bubbly pizza still deserves a special place in your heart, or at least your well wishes, even after all these years. Is it a little absurd that you have to pay an extra $5 to add cheese? It is, and worth it for a simply great pie.

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Guanciale Pizza

Olive-on-pizza lovers, this pie is for you. 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 when the craving hits.

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Mushroom Toast

This is one of our longstanding Gjelina favorites. It’s rich and buttery and the mushrooms are cooked to tender perfection. It’s not the most interesting thing on the menu, but it’s always a crowd-pleaser.

Flat Iron Steak

This flat iron comes cooked to perfection and bathing in beet-tinted porcini butter, but nothing about it tastes memorable. Stick to the pizzas and pastas for mains.

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