There's something about the South Bay that's a little off-beat. It's quirky, charming, and provides a nice little respite from the daily grind of the city. In some ways, it doesn't feel like L.A. (the tight-knit friendly neighborhoods, the ease of parking), and in others, it fits in perfectly (fancy Grove-like outdoor mall, upscale beachy restaurants). So somehow, finding something as odd as a Western-themed strip mall doesn't seem all that surprising in Manhattan Beach. And finding an excellent, Instagram-worthy coffee shop inside? It's almost expected.
As you pull into the parking lot of Two Guns Espresso (yeah, like I said - parking is easy in the South Bay), you're greeted with a big sign reading, "how about a cup of Joe?" The answer is obviously yes, because the café has some serious appeal: there's a warm and welcoming feel with locals chatting outside, a handwritten menu detailing tempting breakfast options ranging from healthy to decadent, and cozy indoor or outdoor seating. The only thing that some might find off-putting is the cheeky little sign in the window reading "ain't no wifi." But these days, I think most of us find that kind of thing charming.
It's interesting how "local" this has become - it's deeply rooted in the community through the owners' support of Manhattan Beach schools and organizations, and it's clearly a favorite haunt for the city's residents - given that its owners hail from faraway New Zealand. Founders Andrew "Stan" Stanisich and Craig Olson aimed to bring a taste of the New Zealand coffee scene to the South Bay when they opened in 2011, and by offering up their then-exotic (and ever-delicious) flat white, they succeeded with flying colors.
These days, the café serves up espresso drinks using their own blend of beans that was developed with Dillanos Coffee Roasters. Their huge, beautiful La Marzocco machine is in plain sight; you can watch the friendly baristas work their magic while you lean against the bar and bask in the glory of the enormous Dirty Harry portrait hanging in the corner. And good luck walking away without one of the mouthwatering treats piled high in the glass case - it took all the strength I had to keep from ordering all the donuts.
As tempting as the flat white and the donuts were, I stuck to the plan and ordered up my cappuccino. The house two-bean blend was described as having "dark chocolate sweetness with candied pecan and hints of dried fruit." While some of these flavors were present for me (particularly the candied pecans), the most prominent flavor in my cup was a roasted one - like a light char or burnt sugar. This is not to say it tasted burned - it had a very pleasant, toasty bitterness with a warm aftertaste. The flavor was complimented by a luxurious creaminess, likely a result of the top-notch Straus organic whole milk. This cup of joe was a delightful balance of flavor and texture, and featured some lovely latte art to boot.
When it first opened, Two Guns Espresso was a beacon of hope for South Bay coffee enthusiasts, finally making it possible to find a great cup of joe in a town without a coffee scene. Today, even as the Los Angeles coffee culture explodes and great coffee becomes readily available, they remain the gold standard. And lucky for us all, Two Guns is rocking out at three locations - in addition to their original location in the quirky Western strip mall, you can also enjoy their brews at the end of the Manhattan Beach pier and at a cute little stand in Downtown L.A. And as Dirty Harry behind the cash register promises, it'll make your day.
Two Guns Espresso - 350 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 7 in Manhattan Beach