By Jessica Koslow
Neighbors was the first word that popped into Misael Villa’s head when he looked at the space formerly occupied by Hal’s Bar & Grill.
The Venice institution once flourished on Abbot Kinney and opened its second location on Runway Playa Vista before closing in 2018.
“When the space was offered to us, as I walked around the neighborhood and ran things in my head, I realized that our clientele was going to be all those directly around us,” says Villa, who opened his restaurant’s doors in November 2022. “Our neighbors were who we wanted to cater to.”
That’s exactly who he’s catering to with Neighbors, a brunch and dinner spot in Playa Vista. In a few months, customers count among their favorites the crispy chicken sandwich; the Neighbors burger with Swiss, bacon, arugula, caramelized onion, and aioli on a brioche bun; pesto pasta; chicken piccata; and their breakfast items, which range from a breakfast burrito to French toast with seasonal berries, orange zest whipped cream, and hibiscus bourbon reduction.
They offer happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, with a weekly rotating cocktail from the regular menu at happy hour price. Neighbors also offers catering and delivery.
“The first month was really rough,” Villa says. “After our first three weeks we were able to finally have a full team, and it’s been a big weight off our shoulders. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of locals that became regulars from the beginning and have been spreading the word about us with their friends, and we couldn’t be anymore grateful for them.”
Chef María Manzano leads the culinary team armed with 20 years of experience. Villa boasts that Manzano was born in Oaxaca, a world-famous culinary destination. The two put their experience and passion together to create a menu that would fill the void they saw in the neighborhood.
“Our menu was created by Playa Vista, by Runway, by our neighbors,” Villa says. “The menu was created by taking a walk around Runway, around the neighborhood, and realizing what was missing in the area. We understood who our clientele was going to be, and that’s how Neighbors the concept and menu came about.”
Villa has learned a few things while opening his own restaurant in Los Angeles, especially about himself.
“I’ve learned that I love what I do more than I thought I did,” he says. “It brings joy to see the place in full swing, to walk into a loud kitchen getting orders out, to hear our guests laughing and enjoying themselves, to see our front of the house moving quickly because we’re trying to keep up the pace. It may seem like I’m exaggerating, but to me when we’re busy I see it as a work of art in motion.”
Villa’s family has roots in Puebla, Mexico, and he was raised in Los Angeles. As a student attending Cal State LA, Villa dipped his toes into the restaurant/bar industry.
“That’s how I paid for college,” he says. “I was going to school for business management and the longer I spent time in a restaurant I realized that this industry owned my heart. I love the good and the bad. There’s never a dull moment. I managed multiple different restaurants (Cocinas y Calaveras in Mercado Los Angeles and Malo in Silver Lake) before venturing into where we are now.”
These days Villa spends most of his time in Playa Vista — about 12 hours a day. He’s completely hands-on, from the initial conception to the day-to-day running, and he’s very clear about how Neighbors serves its neighbors.
“A lot of people say we have a high-end vibe but don’t offer high-end dishes,” Villa explains. “We offer high-end quality food in a casual setting. We want to provide a beautiful space for you to enjoy any kind of dining experience, whether it’s brunch with your friends, dinner with the family, or a drink before a movie. We want to have a space that welcomes everyone.”