By Selena Lane
Welcome to our new column, "Off-Trend," in which Selena Lane will explore the hidden gems of L.A...even those that might not be the trendiest spots of the moment. Selena Lane is a writer living in Los Angeles since 2012. Though her writing focuses mainly on comedy, her bank account and weekends focus mainly on the food and beverage industry. After devoutly following the cool-kid places to eat and drink in LA for four years, Selena has come to realize that there are also plenty of excellent eateries in the area that may not serve avocado toast and aromatic gin cocktails but are still worth a visit—maybe even worth a column. For more of Selena's brilliant writing, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
If you happened to have stumbled across 18th Street Coffeehouse, chances are you have your car to thank; the café sits cozily between the Santa Monica Honda dealership and the west side DMV, and both businesses are happy to direct you to the welcoming doors of this tucked away paragon as you wait (because, yes, it will be another thirty minutes before your car is ready). Fortunately, 18th Street Coffeehouse is just the welcome respite from the familiar headache of a Los Angeles errand. This place is lovely. Grounded and relaxed, functional and spacious, it hasn’t succumbed to the ubiquitous trends of Modern Hipster Coffee. The generously sized patio, completely enclosed by pink-budded, ivy-trellised walls and canopied by blooming umbrellas that shade the mosaic and wrought iron tables, should be overrun daily given how hard it is to find beautiful outdoor spaces on the West Side. The wicker and blood orange couches an early bird special, the large, circular five-tops a lunching group’s Thursday success. Instead, a seat—or two-- is nearly always available to greet you.
However, what—or rather who—really greets you is the stellar staff, who doesn’t just talk the talk of kind and helpful customer service, but truly delivers on the oft-skirted promise. Food and drink can be ordered at the counter indoors (there’s no table service here), the menu including a variety of sandwiches, cookies, pastries, quiches and cakes for lunch and breakfast, with a full coffee and tea list. The food is simple and excellent: the kind of wraps, paninis, and bagel sandwiches you’d look forward to eating at the house of a friend whose parent makes really tasty wraps and bagel sandwiches. It’s not glamorous, innovative, or graceful. But it’s comforting, filling, and feels like it was truly made with love—well, as much love as you can have between a hungry customer, a morning shift employee, and an egg and cheese sandwich (which some might say is a lot). Requests and customizations are welcomed with the common sense they deserve. Want to swap ham for turkey on that wrap? Say no more. Bagel instead of toast? Add avocado? Extra cheese? It’s genuinely no problem (and I might add, I definitely did not regret adding turkey to the breakfast wrap, nor will I when I order it again and again).
But of course, coffee is the eponym (along with 18th Street, where it sits next to Broadway), and daily, towering pots of Groundworks Coffee varieties are lined up for your choosing. Light, medium, dark, and decaf roasts are always available, with names like Bitches Brew (“a smoky and creamy blend with notes of dark chocolate and caramel”) and Angel City (“a big and bright blend with notes of sweet citrus, date and milk chocolate”). All the descriptions are posted on the coffee urns, welcoming customers to try before committing, or mixing blends according to taste. Beneath the coffee corner runs a wooden magazine rack, stocked with publications from Science to Wired for caffeinated browsing, if you’re not there to work—and plenty of customers are. 18th Street Coffeehouse is a particularly desirable location for writers simply because write you must—there is no WiFi at the café, and don’t expect that to change any time soon. While there are outlets and plenty of work space, the coffeehouse forces you to buckle down sans distractions or to simply enjoy a friend or book. Not surprisingly, when enjoying a Bitches Brew and cinnamon roll in a brick-lined oasis, the latter option often wins out.
Considering 18th Street Coffeehouse has been in business for over 20 years (how many LA Starbucks can say that?), it’s no surprise the place feels stocked with regulars, and it’s even less of a surprise how quickly you become a regular yourself once you’ve discovered it. The coffeehouse simply becomes a quiet staple for those familiar with it. Plus, it will always attract those poor souls at the DMV who have sixty— eh, make that ninety— extra minutes on their hand for a coffee and scone.