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123 W. Washington Blvd. (Strongs Dr.) Send to Phone
Former "Top Chef" contestant Nyesha Arrington puts her own twist on each dish at this Venice restaurant.
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Local Deals: 120 * 90

Lunch Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Dinner Tues.-Wed. 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sun. 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m., Brunch Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

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Leona, Venice, CA

Leona Restaurant Review

: EDITOR'S NOTE: CHEF NYESHA ARRINGTON ANNOUNCED THAT SHE IS CUTTING TIES WITH LEONA --- Leona has been generating such buzz that the valet parking was full on the night of our visit, and it wasn't even the weekend. That was a good sign --- not that we had any doubt that former "Top Chef" contestant Nyesha Arrington could perform; but, it set our expectations even higher. After trying eleven dishes and three desserts, we understood why there were so many cars. Still, this was kind of a bet for first-time restaurateurs Kristian and Breegan Vallas, a charming young couple that came from the real estate world, making their debut on the food scene on a busy stretch of Washington Boulevard (called Leona in the 1900s), a few steps away from the Venice Pier. Arrington's executions are the perfect illustration of what American chefs have now created: a specific cuisine with its own character and identity. She has staged (solely in the U.S.) with fine-dining chefs using French techniques (Joël Robuchon, Josiah Citrin, Michael Cimarusti), and she has learned her lessons. Coming from a multicultural family (her grandmother is Korean) certainly helped also. Arrington. who developed a passion for cooking at age 5, goes to the farmers market three times a week and likes to put a twist on each dish. Curry seasons the hummus accompanying crudités, while her take on gazpacho is a cross between the original recipe and a Bloody Mary, covered by a crispy rice paper chip. The cured hamachi with the usual ponzu sauce is enhanced by hibiscus. Moving on to larger plates, local black cod is served in a sweet onion jus. The meatballs, listed as "Meatballs de Corazon," are topped with piri piri sauce (a hot and fragrant sauce used in both Portuguese and African cooking) and paired with crispy plantains and sweet potatoes --- quite an improbable combination. Vegetarians (and not only them) should like, as we did, the delicata squash stuffed with tapioca risotto, burrata cheese and crispy black quinoa in red wine reduction. If you order bread, one of the sides on the menu, know that it will come with kabocha squash butter. Arrington's version of aligot replaces the Tomme d'Auvergne cheese with mozzarella, and the potatoes with cauliflower. See, she really likes to play. When the sweet corn turmeric ice cream arrived at the table, we didn't think much of this dessert, but when we tried it, we wanted more. Skip the salted chocolate lavender bar (of at least for now, it needs a little touch-up) for the pungent "Strawberry Malt". The décor, created by Breegan Vallas in a perfect Venice-casual style, makes the place feel comfortable and vibrant. Inside, you will find a bar, banquettes, a chef's table and a communal one. The patio is simple but quieter. French producers make up the majority on the small and reasonably priced wine list. Service is friendly.

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