Frequented by guests of the adjacent Best Western Plus Encina Lodge & Suites, Las Aves Cafe strikes a perpetually rich note with its earth-toned furnishings and tall windows reliably ushering in natural light, greenery, and a view of the hotel's outdoor pool. In the kitchen, inventive chefs specialize in melding the highlights of American fare with bold Mexican flavors, creating plates both festive in presentation and on the palate. Diners converse over breakfast, lunch, or dinner while seated in the lounge area or bar area, where the sound of tall mojitos and margaritas clinking fills through the room as guests toast to the kindly staff for making them feel welcome and to their suits made out of welcome mats.
Instead of bellying up to a bar, visitors to Avant Tapas and Wine can savor ambrosial tastes—such as Inception chardonnay, Hitching Post pinot noir, and DiBruno sangiovese—at the establishment’s Wine Wall. Here, a dispensing system measures out exact pours of 52 wines hailing from California’s other wine country—the prolific central coast. Visitors immerse their taste buds in sips of diverse varietals from 20 regional wineries, such as Ground Effect Wine Co. in San Luis Obispo and Hoyt Family Vineyards in Malibu, all produced next door at Terravant Wine Company and enjoyed in Avant’s industrial warehouse confines.
Guests can also pair wines with the celebrated cuisine of chef Brooke Stockwell, who harnesses her extensive culinary training and her roots as a Santa Barbara County native to infuse her morsels with local flavors, from hormone-free rib eye to produce picked from nearby organic gardens. While swirling vibrant reds or sweet whites in their glasses, diners take in live music three nights a week or peruse the establishment during tours.
Between the disco ball that glitters above the dining room, the toy sharks swimming in bucket-sized cocktails, and the Pop Rocks that crackle in watermelon margaritas, it's pretty obvious that Baja Sharkeez is a lot of fun. These playful touches are the handiwork of Ron and Greg Newman, a father-son team for whom Sharkeez is a labor of love. Ron had found success with the Red Onion chain of restaurants in the '70s and '80s, but upon Greg's graduation from USC, the pair decided to start fresh with a new concept. According to The Tasting Panel, Greg enlisted some of his fraternity brothers to help develop the brand, and today, the small chain maintains a boisterous, beachy vibe that reflects Greg's Hermosa Beach upbringing.
In that spirit, Sharkeez hosts plenty of special events, including July 4th hot-dog-eating contests and bachelorette parties with drink specials and party favors. But even on a normal day there's generally a crowd, whether it be families ordering off the kids' menu at lunch, or coworkers stretching happy hour into a late night. The kitchen cooks up an extensive selection of Baja-Mexican dishes, such as burritos stuffed with mesquite chicken or the very popular mahi-mahi tacos. Those looking to drink with their meal can order spiked lemonades and fresh-fruit margaritas or build their own cocktail at the bloody mary bar.
The cooks at Casa Blanca Restaurant & Cantina draw on locally sourced produce and ingredients when they craft house made tortillas stuffed with halibut tempura or grilled steak fajitas. To pair with paella and tacos al pastor crowned with pineapple, bartenders pour an extensive selection of tequilas and mix house margaritas.