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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Westwood

 

Westwood's history dates back to 1919, when Bullock's department store founder Arthur Letts bought 3,296 acres of what was then known as Wolfskill Ranch. Soon after, Letts hired his son-in-law Harold Janss to develop the land. After Letts's death, Janss inherited the parcel and began advertising for new homes in the area in 1922.

Meanwhile on the other side of town, the University of California at Los Angeles was also founded in 1919. After enrollment took off, it quickly outgrew its original site on Vermont Avenue and in the mid-1920s, the institution began looking for a new location to build its campus. In 1925 the university announced its selection of what it called the "Beverly Site," a parcel of land of approximately 383-acres just west of Beverly Hills in the up and coming neighborhood of Westwood. Janss agreed to sell the property to the university for approximately $1 million, less than one-third the land's value at the time.

With the expansion of UCLA and the development of the San Diego 405 freeway, much has changed in Westwood over the years. In the 1960s and '70s, old Spanish-style buildings designed by the Janss Investment Company gave way to high rises like the Oppenheimer Tower. Many of the more historic shops and restaurants of the neighborhood were also wiped away during these years. However, new classics popped up during those few decades and some of those remain today, frequented by both locals and the UCLA student community.

 
Mary & Robs Interior
Photo courtesy of @spiritedrealty via Instagram

Mary & Robbs Westwood Cafe: Mary & Robbs Westwood Cafe was first established in the early 1950s as a soda shop counter in a Super Drugs on Westwood Blvd. After years of success at the drugstore, in the late 1960s, the owners used their savings to open a full service restaurant down the street. In 1977, they moved to their current location next door to their old Super Drugs home and the current owner, David Hekmat, bought the restaurant from its founders not long after in 1979.

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The cafe's website features a picture of their 1980 menu when a full breakfast special, complete with two strips of bacon or link sausage, one egg, hash browns, buttered toast and preserves would put you back only $2.15. While the prices may have changed since then, not much else has. In classic 1970s style, this family friendly diner is covered floor to ceiling in hardwood, including a thick wooden bar that spans the length of the room. Their menu features classic American faire. One of the highlights of today's menu is Mary & Robbs' famous chili, which can be ordered in a bowl or served on top of the Chili Omelet Supreme, topped with cheese and sliced avocado. Pair it with a cold glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, but just be sure to get there early so they don't run out. 1453 Westwood Blvd., (310) 478-3822.

 
Lamonicas Pizza
Photo courtesy of @julianxberman

Lamonica's NY Pizza: The Lamonica family started in the pizza business in New York City in 1954. By the early '60s, they owned many pizzerias up and down the East Coast, but something was missing from these shops -- the New York City dough, made from New York City tap water. Therefore, in 1962 the Lamonicas began producing and shipping frozen pizza dough from the city to their various locations. It wasn't until 1980 that one of the younger Lamonica's decided to open a shop in Los Angeles. When they decided to head west, they knew the only way they could continue making authentic New York pies was to ship their dough to L.A. This process is what they claim makes Lamonica's the only authentic New York pizza in all of Los Angeles. One of their signature dishes is the Sicilian Deep Dish Pizza, which only comes in extra large at 20 inches. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to make, but is worth every second. 1066 Gayley Ave., (310) 208-8671.

 

Shaherzad Restaurant: Established in 1982, Shaherzad Restaurant was once the only option for Persian food in all of Westwood. Now located on what is known as Westwood's Iranian restaurant row, Shaherzad has stood the test of time due to their delicious home cooked Persian dishes. Their built-in tanour oven stands tall in the middle of the restaurant's seating area and produces Middle Eastern flatbreads daily, made to order. Diners pair their tanouri bread with mast'o khiar, a yogurt dip similar to tzatziki and made with Persian cucumbers. Another specialty is tahdig, a classic Persian appetizer made from the crispy rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot, served with a piping hot stew of your choice. The restaurant is frequented by the Persian community of Westwood, a sure sign that owner Raymond K is cooking up authentic and delicious Persian dishes. 1422 Westwood Blvd., (310) 470-3242.

 

The Bigg Chill: Long before the days of Pinkberry and Yogurtland, the Bigg Chill was serving frozen yogurt to students and the residents of Westwood and neighboring Westside communities. (Yes, it's technically in West L.A., but it's a UCLA institution!) Throughout the years, owners Cary Russell and her mother Diane Dinow have proudly stuck to tradition, not selling out to yogurt trends when strong competition appeared down the street. Their incredible 400 flavors, rotated daily, stick to mostly variations on classics like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry and many are available in no-sugar added, fat-free, and dairy-free options.

Along with the flavors, the look of the little yogurt shop hasn't changed since the store opened in 1990, because renovations would mean temporarily closing the shop, which both Russell and Dinow refuse to do. One thing that has let The Bigg Chill stand out amongst the competition throughout the years is their frozen yogurt pies, which come in small and large and can feed up to 12. Orders must be placed up to 24 hours in advance as these masterpieces take some time to create and freeze. 10850 W Olympic Blvd., (310) 475-1070.

 
The_Bigg_Chill
Photo courtesy of @shilohstardus

Sepi's: Sepi's sports bar is perhaps the proudest neighbor of UCLA. They have served beer and bites to Bruins since 1969 and show their allegiance with an array of UCLA memorabilia, scattered throughout the bar. A carved wooden bear stands guard at the front door, wearing a UCLA baseball cap. Upon entering, it's hard to miss the majestic Bruin bear head hanging above the bar, surrounded by TVs showing Bruin sports. The walls are lined with photos of UCLA athletes. There are plenty of other knick knacks that can be found throughout the bar, giving it the feel of a UCLA athletics museum that just happens to serve beer. This local watering hole feels like the kind of bar you may visit when you are home for winter break from college, where everyone is your friend even if they might not know your name. In typical L.A. fashion, they offer a variety of craft beer on tap, but unlike most L.A. bars they are only open until 11 p.m. on weeknights and until 10 p.m. on Saturdays. However, as many Bruins know, the owners are always willing to keep the doors open late so as not to break up a celebratory drink. This bar is perhaps the best place to watch UCLA football in all of L.A., just don't show up in any USC gear or you will have to bear the consequences. 10968 Le Conte Ave., (310) 208-7171.

Honorable mention: Diddy Riese

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