photo credit: Holly Liss
We all have that friend: Wednesday night she's cooking a gluten-free vegan meal with vegetables she grew in her garden and in bed before 10pm for maximum REM sleep. Friday night she’s taking a bunch of drugs and not home again until late Sunday morning. Just like your friend who has their sh*t together but can also be a complete shitshow, James' Beach - a local's spot in Venice - can either be a quick, romantic date spot, or the beginning of a big night out.
Your choice begins as you walk in the door. Turn right and you’ll see white tablecloths, a few booths, regulars who’ve been coming here for twenty years, and lots of married people on dates. Turn left and things are completely casual. There are boardshorts inexplicably strung from the roof, more booths, and a rowdy bar scene. So rowdy that if you're eating dinner next to the bar, there's a good chance you'll have a stranger's butt as a third wheel on your date. The two rooms look and feel like complete opposites, but both have the same menu and a bunch of waiters wearing white aprons and shirts with ties.
If you don’t live in Venice and have heard of James’ Beach, it’s probably because you’ve watched I Love You Man on cable one too many times. This is the place that Jason Segal’s character claims has “the best fish tacos in the world." And while we’d like to fight him on that point (clearly he hasn’t been to Ricky’s), we also love the food at James’ Beach for what it is: straightforward, pretty traditional, and extremely consistent. This is the kind of place that has a shrimp cocktail on the menu in a not-at-all-ironic way, and serves whole lobster on Friday nights.
In no way is James’ Beach particularly cool, or the kind of place you should drive from Echo Park for. But, when it comes to reliable local spots with multiple potential outcomes, it can’t be beat. If all you want is a quiet dinner and a glass of wine, they’ve got you. If you’re all in for a rowdy night with multiple rounds of margaritas, they’re very good at that too. James’ Beach is all about what you make of it.
Maybe twenty years ago when they opened this could have been called poké, but not anymore. It’s really more of a tartare, with big chunks of tuna, lots of avocado underneath, and crispy wontons to scoop everything else up with. A good way to start.
Underwhelming and kind of plain. We’d order any of the tacos over this.
Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos
These come make-your-own style with a piece of grilled fish, guac, salsa, and refried beans. Definitely tasty and something you should order at least once.
Rotisserie Chicken Tacos
These are actually our favorite tacos here. They come with the same sides as the fish, but the chicken is insanely well-cooked and juicy. The Crispy Maple Leaf Duck tacos also get an honorable mention.