Tapas at Waterlily

Maria Moksness and Maya Didriksen. Photo by Ron Mesaros

The Waterlily Café opened its doors at Pine Tree Circle 17 years ago and has been going strong ever since.

The idea for the café came to owner Maria Moksness when she made the trek to the valley to shop at Trader Joe’s. She met many other Topanga moms and friends there, desperate to make lunches for their kids and themselves, and thought, “We really need to bring the neighborhood closer, have a place in the canyon to grab lunch.”

Around the same time, she noticed a big pile of dirt in the middle of town. It was a construction site, the groundbreaking stage of what would become Pine Tree Circle. As it developed and Maria realized its scope, she knew it would be the perfect place for a small, intimate café where locals could gather for a quick lunch, coffee, espresso or chai.

As soon as they could, Maria and her daughter, Maya Didriksen, took to the shovel. In fact, Maya recalls, “We dug the ditch ourselves!” Waterlily was the first business to open in the new town center.  

The Waterlily Café actually got its name from Norway, where Marie grew up in a small town outside Oslo. Waterlilies grew wild in the nearby lake where she and her friends would swim with a knife between their teeth to cut the flowers and bring waterlily bouquets home.  

Marie says it has been so wonderful having a café in the center of town where kids have had a place to hang out in the morning or afternoon. “Best of all,” she says, “is watching the kids grow up here in the Canyon.

Waterlily Café has become the local coffee and sandwich shop for what she had envisioned nearly 20 years ago, serving fresh organic sandwiches and salads made with dressings from scratch and using the finest ingredients—organic produce, no preservatives and hormone-free meats.  

A few months ago, Maya decided to quit her job.  No longer content doing administrative work as a chiropractor’s assistant, she decided to help her mother who was recovering from a horse riding accident.  

Soon, Maya envisioned a new idea for Waterlily: “Tapas. We could have small plates and lite bites. Why not open up at night?” Maria agreed so Maya spent a few months painting and doing some repairs before deciding on an opening date. In May, Tapas Night came to life with a “soft opening,” just on weekend evenings with a sign on the door and “Tapas Night, 5-9 p.m.” painted on the back of Maria’s van the only advertisement.

Success! They had seen the need, especially since two restaurants in the canyon—Froggy’s and Abuelita’s—had closed and getting a light bite at night was scarce. Tapas Night is now open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during the week.

If you have not tried Tapas, you have missed out on one of life’s gastronomic pleasures.  It truly is heaven on a small plate. Tapas are simple and imaginative use of seasonal fresh local vegetables mixed with robust flavors.

The Tapas recipes at Waterlilly started with what they knew and liked, then expanded to fit local needs.  The Tapas menu has varied options for vegans, gluten-free diets, lactose sensitive and people who want organic meats and vegetables. The menu is expanding as the desire for Tapas grows.

Menu selections are a mouth-watering Goat Cheese and Fig Tostado drizzled with Rosemary Syrup; Roasted Root Vegetables on a Yucca Mash with Savory Peach Sauce, an amazing small-plate meal on its own; Patatas Bravas, small fingerling potatoes roasted to perfection with a bell pepper tomato pesto and a garlic aioli sauce for dipping. The Salmon Tostado plate on a plank could be their signature dish. The Shrimp Gampa, garlic shrimp on a bed of arugula and hummus, is delicious but a bit messy for finger food. Keep your napkin handy and dig in. The Organic Turkey Meatballs were a delicious comfort-food touch. Each dish was artfully plated.  At last, the best homemade, refreshing strawberry-peach ice cream, is the perfect finish for a hot summer evening of tasty Tapas!

The ambiance in this quaint eatery with only six tables inside and a few more outside, made me feel as if I was at a European sidewalk cafe in Spain. The candle-lit tables and flamenco guitar music, added to the intimacy. Add to that, the personal interaction of the owners and serving staff who knew many of the locals coming through the door.

Tapas Night has had positive feedback from both locals and out-of-town guests that make Maria and Maya proud and happy after all their hard work.


In Spain, Tapas are small, savory dishes (not appetizers) that are an essential part of Spanish culture and are celebrated every November with a National Tapas competition.

Before the 19th century, innkeepers would offer guests a sample of available dishes on a tapa (pot cover) that still means a “small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine served to accompany a drink.”

According to “The Joy of Cooking,” “the original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips ) to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. Tapas have evolved through Spanish history by incorporating new ingredients and influences.”


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