Ester’s Wine Shop & Bar was one of the best places for a drink in Los Angeles as determined by the L.A. Times in their recent article, “Coffee, tea, wine, sake, and mezcal: Our critic’s favorite spots to drink in L.A.”

Well, we at Westside Voice weren’t just going to take their word for it! So I grabbed a friend and we braved our way to the Santa Monica hot spot to report for our team. In sum, though one could easily spend a fair bit of money on a drink or two and a full meal at Ester’s, the fare is well worth the price.

Midday on a Tuesday the ambiance is quieter, but our waiter, Mama, assured us that Happy Hour experiences a small rush. Happy hour lasts all day on Sundays and Mondays and from 4:00-6:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Mama added weeknights can be hit or miss concerning crowd size.

While we didn’t get the chance to sip on any of the wines, we did notice that the oldest wines on the menu are newer offerings from 2018, with most of the wines coming from 2020 to 2022. The wines are generally served by the glass but can be purchased by the bottle through the restaurant’s wine club. Most of the wines hail from California, France, or Italy. There is a corkage fee of $35 for wines brought in from the outside. There are also fees for wine bought in the shop depending on whether one is dining in or taking out.

For our first round of drinks, we went with the Road to Mojave and the Couple Screws Loose. With the Road, one immediately tastes the alcohol, and the added firewater bitters give it a solid kick. The drink does give off the vibe that it should really be in an authentic Mexican restaurant but is a good choice. According to my companion, this drink will do more to “Damage your constitution” as it was more spirit-forward. The Screws could be described as a drink that isn’t quite a Penicillin. It’s harder to taste the alcohol in this option as it has a stronger citrus taste, and that could be to one’s detriment as it is easier to down. We both agreed it would be easy to knock back several of them without noticing the effects.

Our next pick was the Roasted Squash Soup. With a coconut base, we found it creamy if a bit homogenous, making it seem almost like a sauce. The pepitas added a nice crunch to break up this sentiment.

If you want to treat your inner child, go for the Grilled Cheese. But it was certainly a treat at $18. The accompanying pepperjam and cornichon were a bit underwhelming to my companion as the “Taste fades pretty quickly,” but I found it to be a nice added spice. It might’ve been more appetizing with a stronger tomato base, reminiscent of the classic tomato soup pairing, but we still found it to be tasty enough. The cheese was gooey, the bread oily and it certainly is not your mother’s sammie, but not quite as gourmet as one would expect from this price point. It is possible to add select meats to the sandwich, but for a standard trip down memory lane, keep it simple with just the cheese.

Our next drinks were the Honey Blossom and the Fleur de Provence. The Honey Blossom “Tastes like an alcoholic honey stick,” like the ones you’d find at a Farmer’s Market. It was deceptively good and with edible flowers we found it to be floral and refreshing. It was more pleasant than the Fleur, with our consensus being that one could have a couple before feeling the effects. The Fleur was the more alcoholic option in this round and tasted a bit like a cleaner. It was certainly headier and more potent, packing a subtle punch.

We finished our meal with the Mushroom Lasagna which texturally had the same consistency as a meat-based lasagna but ultimately had a different flavor. There did not seem to be a cheese, just a bechamel sauce which came off a bit rich. My companion lamented that the “Mushrooms could be overpowering if you’re not a fan of mushrooms.”

Ester’s is part of the Rustic Canyon Group of restaurants, which also boasts Milo + Olive and Birdie G’s. Birdie G’s is featured on the L.A. Times 101 Best Restaurants of 2023. They recently celebrated their eighth year in business.

Those looking to visit Ester’s will find metered street parking up to three hours nearby and public parking in the area.

Overall our experience was great, with solid service and delectable choices, it is no surprise Ester’s made the L.A. Times piece. Our final bill (with tip) came out to just over $150.

Photos by the author

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