Kid Hit Menu Items: No matter how much butter I use, or soft-and-gooey-plus-crispy combination I pull off, my kids seem to think a quesadilla always tastes better in a restaurant. La Sandia at the newfangled Santa Monica is no exception. We were invited by the restaurant’s PR team (disclosure alert!) to try the expanded kids’ menu, which is quite good, since it has a loteria card motif coloring page, more than three choices, and specific “Latin Light” options. Any kind of child-targeted diet stuff generally freaks me out (although I know it’s more complicated than that), but in this case the emphasis is on less gluten, and more veggies and proteins, which I suppose is fairly benign. Other entrée choices for the $5.95 items include chicken flautas, bean burrito, and chicken fingers; most platters are served with beans and rice, plus an agua fresca and a VERY generously sized ice cream scoop. The latter probably isn’t part of the healthier combos.
Adult Perks: La Sandia has smart indoor-outdoor flow given its open air, top-level location, with a large bar/lounge area in front and a semi-enclosed, courtyard-inspired dining room set behind. The design team imported a sense of décor with roots in, say, Seville and then Mexico, and translated it to fit into that signature of American building types – the shopping mall – without too much weirdness. As with the many other Mexican restaurants that are perfect for us, one family meal encompasses food that ranges from mild (read: sometimes bland) to rich and complex. I can never say no to a chiles en nogada, with its intense mix of meaty and spicy and creamy. Actually, I didn’t get it last time we ate at Casita Mexicana, which was a decision I rued instantly. (This dish comes with a fascinating history, too, and I will never, ever make it at home.) Other pros of La Sandia: regionally specific menu items, complemented by a solid beer and cocktail list that shows this famous chef and his business developers thought carefully about how to enter the competitive mid-market-to-upscale Mexican food scene in L.A. (He’s got a fusion joint next door, too.)
Pros: The kids’ menu is perfect, booths are roomy. During the day, the dining room lets the natural Santa Monica light in via the walls and skylights. At night I imagine it’s nicely atmospheric. Guac prepared in front of your very eyes is a welcome touch of theatricality.
Cons: Mall parking can be intense, especially during summer days.
Changing Station: Yes. Nice bathrooms!
High Chairs: Yes
Parking and Access: It’s all about navigating the Santa Monica Place structure. Have fun! First 90 minutes are free.
Other Tidbits: La Sandia is part of the updated food complex on the upper level of the Santa Monica Place mall, which with its local artisanal purveyors and such, is a far cry from the generic 80s retail setting (save for the Frank Gehry touches) we grew up with back in the day. So for kids of a certain generation, this is not your mother’s mall food. If you can time it right, hit Annenberg and the beach, stave off complaints of hunger with some snacks, and then relocate to the mall, because between La Sandia and other Dining Deck spots, it’s worth changing locations. Granted, Back on the Beach might be better than the monopoly chokehold that Perry’s and McDonald’s had on the beach food kiosks in the 70s through the 90s (oh hey, they still do!), but L.A. County and Santa Monica still have a LONG way to go when it comes to ocean view and beachfront dining.
395 Santa Monica Place #305, Santa Monica
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11:00 am – 11:00 pm; Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.