L.A.'s Chic and Savory Third Street
Los Angeles is a difficult town to get to know. If you think it's all movie stars, pro boarders and platinum-blond Beverly Hills women of indeterminate age with diamonds dripping down their enhanced chests . . . you're only partially right. To get a better look at how L.A. natives really live, you need to head to more bohemian 'hoods, where pedestrians sport lighter makeup, fewer bedazzled tank tops and occasionally even brunet hairdos.
One of these spots is along Third Street between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, arguably the city's newest "it" area. It's one of Tinseltown's true walking neighborhoods, located in the center of the city just east of Beverly Hills and west of Hollywood. When (or if) they find it, visitors can enjoy its quaint brunch spots and shops -- and stargaze to boot.
A long line snakes through Joan's on Third (8350 W. Third St., 323-655-2285), especially during prime lunch hours. But the gourmet food store turned sidewalk cafe -- thanks to haphazardly placed tables and chairs -- is in the midst of an expansion, to the relief of regular customers who murmur, "about time." A cheese selection includes daily specials and is perched next to baskets of crunchy baguettes and jars of sweets such as homemade caramel marshmallow squares ($1). On blackboards above the friendly counter staff, a sophisticated menu of sandwiches, salads and sides includes such standouts as a Venetian Coppa Salame sandwich with provolone and olive paste ($8.50).
Judging by the vast legging-and-ballet-flat crowd outside even on overcast days, Toast Bakery Cafe (8221 W. Third, 323-655-5018) helms the hipster breakfast and lunch scenes. Many regulars take the long Toast wait with Milk (a chic new boutique perfect for wasting time just steps away). The traditional but extensive menu employs fresh California produce -- as with the juicy berries topping golden French toast ($8.95) and a long salad list with such offerings as Tony's salad with candied pecans, bleu cheese crumbles, chicken breast and avocado ($10.95).
Although some dissenters claim that Toast does it better, many foodies agree that Doughboys Bakery (8136 W. Third, 323-651-4202) makes the city's best red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting ($5). Whether sitting inside amid exposed brick walls or spilling outside onto the street, boho-chic diners enjoy what can be described as health-meets-comfort food, including flaxseed or apple raisin griddle cakes ($7.95), hot, creamy polenta with figs, dates, pine nuts and honey ($6.50) and pan bagnat sandwiches on fresh-baked bread ($7.95).
As day turns to night, meal reservations are generally necessary. Sushi Roku (8445 W. Third, 323-655-6767) has long attracted a swanky pre-dinner drink crowd, thanks to its sake cocktails, endless eye candy and audacious decor -- bamboo, oversize Buddhas and an enormous rock centerpiece a la Stonehenge. Angelenos love their sushi, and this spot passes muster with such signatures as rock shrimp and jalapeno rolls ($9.50). Still, you won't go wrong with such cooked dishes as miso cod ($16) and sizzling mushroom Toban-Yaki in ponzu citrus ($12).
Craving a little old-fashioned silver-screen romance? Walk through the oversize wooden doors and onto the patio of the Little Door (8164 W. Third, 323-951-1210), and you'll think you've discovered a secret world of flowers and fountains. Diners enjoy a selection of 85 wines, plus Mediterranean French bites such as Moroccan steamed black mussels with cumin, cilantro and preserved lemons ($16) and rack of lamb ($34).
For equally delectable and rich French fusion with a more contemporary bent, head to A.O.C. (8022 W. Third, 323-653-6359), featuring a sleek, minimal interior and tapas-style menu. Cheese experts navigate diners through exotic triple creams, bleus, sheeps and goats, served alone or with such accents as dried figs and saba ($8). Menu items include sea bass in grape leaves with labna and dukkah , and lamb ragout with ricotta gnocchi, olives and feta ($14 each).
No self-respecting Angeleno would be seen at these hipster spots without the proper attire, though you'll never have to wear a jacket or tie. No need to venture far to find the right duds: While the main Third Street drag is sandwiched between the Beverly Center and the Grove -- L.A.'s most popular shopping centers -- the blocks stretching in between are a boutique lover's dream.
A good start is Aero & Co. (8403 W. Third), owned by designer Cynthia Vincent and publicist Alisa Loftin. Although the store stocks clothing and accessories from all over, Aero & Co.'s support for local designers is obvious. This season's pieces include Figmint black wool jersey-cropped sweaters with embroidered wings ($175), Violently Attractive harem pants ($110) and Margarita Saplala embroidered bird cardigans ($165).
Home and gift store Zipper Art Form + Function (8316 W. Third) represents L.A.'s dedication to innovative design. Regulars trust this staple for everything from notebooks to jewelry. The cluttered shelves hold Black Zipper candles ($20), mosaic glass bar sets ($195) and a Zero Blaster smoke ring blower ($21) that serves no obvious purpose.
On the same side of the street, Hillary Rush (8222 W. Third) has fashion world lineage. The New York transplant's grandmother owned a Canadian department store (and watches over her granddaughter from a hanging portrait), and her father created Le Tigre, the hot '80s sportswear line that's resurging. Lesser-known independent designers line the racks along with such favorites as J Brand jeans in charcoal and navy corduroy ($160), London Sole Annie flats ($225) and LA Made leggings ($36). Most important, Rush carries a large range of sizes, a rarity in this town of size 0s.
Starlets make their way across the street to luxe boutique Satine (8117 W. Third). Its owners (ex-lawyer Jeannie Lee and designer and fashion editor Sophia Banks) find exquisite vintage and contemporary pieces in Tokyo, London and Los Angeles -- often from established fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Chloe and Roland Mouret. Heels, flats, clutches and hobos perch atop antique furniture, including a '50s-style TV playing old movies. Bring your checkbook: Items include coveted pieces such as Lanvin's Kennedy brown leather shopping bag ($2,225), Alexander McQueen's ornate lace-up red heels ($815) and Stella McCartney's camel jersey dress with gold sequins ($1,499).
The clothing at South Willard (8038 W. Third), which specializes in menswear and women's fashions from international designers, is particularly innovative. Unusual items found at this shop one day are often fashion's biggest trends a couple of months later. Ahead-of-the-curve pieces available now include Band of Outsiders' slim fit oxfords ($195).
End or begin your day at the famous Los Angeles Farmers Market (6333 W. Third, 866-933-9211, http:/
-- Nora Zelevansky
For general information on travel to L.A., contact the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-228-2452, http:/