A Tale of Two Patios: Alcove Café and San-Sui on Hillhurst Avenue, Los Feliz

by Jessica on April 3, 2012

Kid Hit Menu Items: Alcove in Los Feliz has a packed case smack dab up in front full of big fluffy baked goods. Not an option — or an issue — at San-Sui a couple blocks north on Hillhurst, which offers a straightforward Japanese menu geared towards Angelenos’ palates that will appeal to children, provided they’re into Japanese food to begin with. I’m not exactly sure what the “Country Cuisine” billed on the sign specifically means; my kids do well enough with the standard teriyaki, tempura, rice, yakitori and agedashi tofu, or maybe udon soup and simple veggie sushi rolls. Nothing mind-blowing by any stretch, but closer to us than a trip to Little Tokyo. At Alcove the world of salads, soups, and upscale quasi-multiculti American café food (huevos rancheros etc.) is their oyster. Alcove’s serviceable fries and excellent potato pancakes with housemade applesauce are — shocker! — in demand by our posse.

Adult Perks: Fine craft cocktails served in historically correct glassware and family meals aren’t exactly a natural pairing, but thanks to Big Bar located in the adjoining space next to Alcove, it’s at least an option. The sprawling patio that wraps around the quaint old bungalow is also the kind of place where you can drink AND eat breakfast well into the afternoon without judgment. Alcove’s breakfast quesadilla was one of our (hangover) go-to dishes even before we had kids, and now an ample platter with a flour tortilla stuffed with chicken, scrambled eggs, spinach, and cheeses with a side of avocado and fruit feeds half the family. Otherwise that little busy kitchen at Alcove makes almost every combo of egg and sweet breakfasts imaginable.

Meanwhile, no hard booze, but San-Sui has beer and wine, as well as various unconventional, non-purist sushi rolls. But if it’s a serious sushi meal you want, then wait and go elsewhere, such as the not-too-far and amazing Nishi-Ya in Glendale/Burbank. The lunch boxes priced at around $12 might be enough to feed an adult and a kid, maybe with an extra bowl of miso soup and more rice just in case. And all the food is kept neat and separate and doesn’t touch the other stuff. Bento boxes and other forms of Japanese combo meals were brilliantly invented with finicky kids in mind!

Pros: PATIOS! As a compare-and-contrast exercise, please note the following details: San-Sui outdoor space is small but serene and relatively quiet. I love the sparse picnic tables with cushions, red lanterns, bamboo screens, and a trim post-and-beam outdoor structure setting. Service is very polite. Strollers fit in between the tables. Alcove’s patio is broad and funkier, with eclectic furnishings and more flexibility and places to park your stroller. Service comes in the form of a long line in the cramped dining room/ordering area, followed by runners trying to find your number in the chaos. (Talk about a stressful job.) The brick-clad surfaces, fountains, and plantings beg to be explored BUT…

Cons: Alcove’s outdoor area can prove TOO tempting (and frustrating) to kids. Which is why my friend and I decided to abruptly pull our boys out of there when they were having a blast. Maybe it feels a bit too close to a regular backyard where the rules of conduct are nice and loose. Unfortunately, because Alcove is always crowded (one of those “doesn’t anyone in this town have a regular job???” kind of places), other folks wanted a more chill hang out spot. It’s all fun and games until…the 20-somethings enjoying a liquor-soaked leisurely weekday lunch get annoyed. (Although FYI, Alcove is a favorite family meal location for cocktail master/beverage consultant/Neat owner Aidan Demarest.)

Also no high chairs! As my friend said years ago when we met for breakfast with our babies: “THAT sends a message.” Got it! For a few years Alcove just seemed too crazy, and we prefer the food at other brunch spots in the area. In all fairness, however, uneven ground and already tippy furniture might have something to do with the high chair situation. Meanwhile, San-Sui’s minimalist austere interior isn’t soft and cozy, which is why I recommend the more charming patio instead.

Changing Station: No

High Chairs: Yes at San-Sui. No at Alcove, although maybe they’ll rustle one up for use indoors.

Parking and Access: San-Sui has a few spaces in a compact lot behind the florist at the corner of Hillhurst and Price Street, plus metered and regular street parking. Parking is much easier up the street at San-Sui, until certain peak hours when you’re in competition with Little Dom’s diners. Alcove offers valet parking; it’s not necessary during the day if you don’t mind walking a couple blocks, but you might have to go that route at night.

Other Tidbits: Side note: for dessert and post-meal beverages, stroll over to Gelato Bar for some of the city’s best gelato and top-notch coffee drinks. Please, if you live in the area and are in the habit of having coffee at Alcove or Mustard Seed Café, you should seriously rethink that.


2040 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz
(323) 660-3868
Cuisine: Japanese
Price: $$
Hours: Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., 5:30 – 10 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 5:30 – 10 p.m.


1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz
(323) 644-0100
Cuisine: American/Cafe/Bakery
Price: $$
Hours: Monday – Wednesday, 6 a.m. – midnight; Thursday – Saturday, 6 a.m. – 1 a.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. – midnight.

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