If you live in L.A., you've probably heard of Gjusta. If you're a foodie, and you don't live in L.A., you've also probably heard of Gjusta. If you're a foodie, and you are lucky enough to live in L.A., you are most likely at least a little bit obsessed with Gjusta.
This is one of those places that has a reputation that precedes it. Little sister to the nearly-legendary Gjelina (the ultimate West Side food-scene hotspot, and unwitting poster child for the gentrification of Abbot Kinney), Gjusta opened in late 2014 as a bakery with elements of a take-away restaurant, an East Coast-style deli, and a juice and coffee bar. It was immediately hugely popular; attracting techies, hipsters, foodies, bloggers, and tourists in droves. Unfortunately, it hasn't been so popular with some of the locals (see: passionate accounts of how Gjusta is "a nuisance" and a famous face objecting to the restaurant's application for a liquor license), but most worthwhile things come with a little controversy. What's not-so-controversial? The excellence of the food. Foodies and critics agree that no matter what you choose, you are in for a real treat.
To get to Gjusta, you'll have to stray from the beaten path a bit, past a busy Gold's Gym and down a residential street. It's unmarked and very low profile, the surest sign that you've made it are the crowds of well-dressed, hungry people confusedly looking for the entrance. Inside, the space is vast and completely overwhelming. Every nook and cranny of the huge room seems to be occupied by something delicious; you're likely to experience some overstimulation before even reaching the deli-style numbered ticket dispenser. The choices seem endless: Gjusta is part bakery, part pizzeria, part deli, part smokehouse, part juice bar, part coffeehouse. And the list goes on. And absolutely everything looks mouth-wateringly delicious.
The ordering and seating situation can cause some befuddlement; if you're not aware that there are no lines and that instead you need to draw a number, you could end up standing around confused for a very long time. Then, upon actually drawing a number, the wait time to place your order can be lengthy - I've read accounts of people waiting almost an hour, though my personal experience was closer to five minutes. Finally, you wander out to the back patio to find a seat, which even at an off-time on a weekday was fairly packed. Sharing tables with other parties is expected, so it's best to leave your personal space bubble at home (my table-mates were actually a delight - we enjoyed a lively discussion about our favorite foodie spots in Portland). When your food is up, a staff member comes out back and yells out your name. It's all very confusing, and it's probably quite frustrating to some, but it's a price that must be paid to partake in some of L.A.'s most popular and delicious food.
As a foodie with a serious FOMO problem, you can imagine the distress I felt between the moment when I pulled a number and the moment when my number was called. I read the menu over and over again; I wanted everything. A decision was alluding me. So, when it was my turn to order, I succumbed to the overwhelm and asked the staff member for a recommendation. I was expecting him to suggest a deli classic like the Bialy Egg & Cheese Sandwich or a Lox plate, Instead I was offered a curve ball: the Gjusta Huevos Rancheros.
Curve ball or no, I was absolutely not led astray. This dish was fresh, vibrant, and not at all heavy. I loved the addition of the kale, which added a wonderful, toothsome texture and made it feel a little bit healthier (let's be real - kale has that "miracle food" reputation that might lead you to believe that kale cookies are healthy... side note, kale cookies sound awful). The flavors throughout the dish were excellent - in particular, the tangy bean stew and the smoky tomato sauce on top were standouts that worked together harmoniously. And finally, the variety of textures was delightful - it was crunchy, soft, chewy, and crispy all at once. Truly, there were no complaints to be had about this satisfying dish.
And because I'm the type who won't be satisfied to sample just one dish, I got a "side" of one of the deli salads: the curry roasted carrots. I put "side" in quotations because, well, this was an enormous serving. Trust me, I am not complaining - I am a sucker for perfectly roasted carrots, and while this is a difficult vegetable to treat perfectly, Gjusta nailed it. They had a touch of char on the ends and were soft in the middle without being overdone. The seasoning was wonderfully spicy and earthy, and the tangy yogurt added a creamy decadence. With those powers combined, this was veggie heaven.
Choosing a drink at Gjusta is another difficult task. Between the smoothies, coffee, shrubs, lemonades, and juices, it's easy to be sent into another tailspin of indecision. I was already a bit hopped-up on caffeine on the day of my visit, so it was easy to eliminate at least one category (however delicious those Cortados may have looked). I went with the daily juice, because when in Venice... right? Again, I was not disappointed: the apple, beet, lemon, and ginger concoction was tangy and bright. I'd say it was downright zippy.
As wonderful as my entire meal at Gjusta was, I left feeling a little bit dissatisfied - my inner FOMO monster had been awakened, and all I could think about were the possibilities of meals not chosen. But what about the famous baklava croissants - were they already sold out, or did I just miss them? Should I have tried a homemade bagel or bialy? And crap, I never got to taste the famous bread everyone's been talking about! Or the famous fish that they get at the farmers markets and smoke in-house! With so many incredible brunch and breakfast options throughout this diverse city of ours, it's sometimes hard to say "I'm coming back here" and actually mean it. With Gjusta, I mean it.
Gjusta - 320 Sunset Avenue, Venice, CA 90291