GastroPubs are the new darlings of Los Angeles, and with good reason since the idea of upscale casual food at affordable prices paired with innovative drinks, good wine and beer makes for a a tempting combination to nearly everyone.

Westside Tavern opened about a year ago in the Westside Pavillon space that was completely gutted and redone to house the Landmark Theatre. Even I love the independent film screenings here, I usually eat somewhere else, but not today.

I am so glad I finally tried the stylish tavern with a view of busy Pico Blvd. The people who work here make everyone feel welcome; the hostess was an efficient conductor of parties arriving, being seated, and guests leaving; my server Artur was personable, knowledgeable, and warm. The clientele ranges from young 20 somethings out for a leisurely lunch to seniors out celebrating a birthday. The bar area had several guys perched on stools watching the World Cup game on (muted) flat screen televisions. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their meals, and no one looked like they were out of place in this casual upscale eatery. Keep in mind that this is Los Angeles, where jeans can cost $300 and are considered appropriate business attire.

I chose the Grilled Vegetable Pannini made with Portabella Mushroom, Zucchini, Eggplant, Roasted Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, Pesto on Nine Grain bread ($14). It was the perfect combination of complex flavors and simple execution. The eggplant had been made with balsamic, giving a nice acid balance to the rice goat cheese and pesto, and the bread was nicely toasted but still tender. This is now one of my new favorite vegetable sandwiches.

The choice of a Daily Soup, Sea Salt Fries, Home Made Potato Chips, or Mixed Greens comes with the sandwiches, so I chose the Chicken and Rice Soup. I was surprised at the robust flavor of the stock and the hearty wild rice. The dark meat chicken was rich and tender and I could have easily made a meal out of this if I did not have the Pannini to eat.

All these flavors made my mouth dance with joy, but my belly was too full to finish my sandwich, much less order dessert, so I ended with a decaf espresso before heading out to my movie.

It is always fun to eat lunch or dinner and go to a movie, all the more when you can do it at a place literally next door to the cinema. At Westside Tavern, the food is good enough to come here just for a meal, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

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