When people think of LA, their minds no doubt go to the beaches of Santa Monica, the shopping in Beverly Hills, and the chaos on Hollywood Blvd. But few areas are as synonymous with our city as the San Fernando Valley.
“The Valley,” to a large extent, represents everything that LA is - a sprawling, car-centric suburbia filled with quiet, family-oriented neighborhoods, massive movie studios, and celebrities speeding down freeways. And with a population of nearly 2 million people, it’s a tremendously diverse area that’s also home to some of our favorite restaurants in Los Angeles. From classic Mexican institutions to the best crop of sushi restaurants in America, here is everywhere you need to be eating in The Valley.
Open since 1984, Sri Siam has been serving dishes like papaya salad, boat noodles, and khao soi long before you could easily find them outside of Thai Town. But aside from their historical standing, this North Hollywood Thai restaurant also makes incredible food. We suggest the crispy rice salad, the panang curry, and the off-menu radish cakes. Then sit with your feast and watch Wheel of Fortune on the TV in the corner, and don’t be surprised if your server (i.e. the owner) pulls up a chair next to you and starts chatting - that’s just how things are done here.
Located on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, Sushi Note is a wine bar/sushi restaurant hybrid - a dream combination that’s somehow still pretty rare. Whether it’s your first time or your 14th, order the Whole Note omakase. At $90, this isn’t the world’s most affordable omakase, but after eating ten pieces of high-quality sushi, edamame, miso soup, a starter, and a hand roll, you’ll feel like this meal has more than earned its price point. Then make friends with the sommelier, who will happily course out all the wine you need.
Located inside a Chevron in North Hollywood, Cilantro is easily our favorite place to eat inside a gas station. Lines start early at this order-at-the-counter Mexican spot, and pretty much everybody is there for the excellent $10 burritos. Whether it’s a breakfast burrito filled with eggs and turkey sausage, the off-menu surf and turf with Angus beef and seared shrimp, or house carne asada served enchilada-style, these are well-composed, high-quality burritos that make you realize how many other places are simply phoning it in. That said, don’t you dare leave without getting a carne asada or beef barbacoa taco. Or both.
Mizlala is a casual Mediterranean restaurant a few blocks down from The Galleria in Sherman Oaks, and a great spot to grab some food before seeing a movie with friends. With colorful tiles and shelves of knick-knacks running along the wall, the space is cute without being obnoxious, and though it can get crowded during peak hours, the atmosphere is always laid-back. Get the artichoke hummus, eggplant moussaka, and at least two orders of the Moroccan chicken.
Open since 1967, Brent’s Deli is a Valley institution and one of the best delis in all of LA. Located in a Northridge strip mall, Brent’s is objectively massive, but come any day of the week and you’ll find the place spilling over with large groups of neighbors, book clubs, and regulars who haven’t opened the menu in three decades. Speaking of the menu, there are over 650 items on it, so you’ll need to come in with a game plan - or just borrow ours: The black pastrami Reuben (swap in curly fries), stuffed cabbage, split pea soup, the latke and blintz sampler, and a nap in the car.
Located next to a dance studio in Canoga Park, getting to Go’s Mart is probably a journey no matter where you’re coming from, but trust us when we say this iconic sushi bar is worth driving the few extra miles. With bright orange walls, fluorescent lighting, and white-tiled floors, eating here feels a bit like you’ve stepped into a janitor’s closet, but one that happens to serve some of the highest-grade sushi in the city. There’s not a physical menu to speak of, just a daily specials board hanging in the back, but the real move is to ask for the omakase. Most days, your check will go well above $200, so Go’s certainly isn’t your once-a-week sushi stop, but if you’re looking to experience one of LA’s great omakases, this iconic spot is worth every penny.
Located on a strip of Ventura in Tarzana known mostly for its affordable sushi bars, Apey Kade is a family-owned Sri Lankan restaurant and one of the most unique spots in The Valley. The menu is broken into several different sections, but whether this is your first time at Apey Kade or not, head to the String Hopper section. Pick a protein, and it will arrive on a giant platter filled with 10 string hoppers (thin noodles steamed and pressed into tiny flat discs), sambal, and a tremendous kiri hodi (coconut milk gravy) that you’ll pour all over the noodles (and probably also your face). It’s savory, sweet, and at only $12, a great option for an affordable lunch in the neighborhood that doesn’t involve a salmon roll.
There are plenty of things you expect from The Valley - SUVs, strip malls, and sushi restaurants in said strip malls. What you’re probably not expecting is a restaurant with a 20-course tasting menu next to a CPK with a merry-go-round out front. That said, the odd location and big price tag (it’s nearly $200 a head) are the least-unique things about Scratch Bar - it’s the food and the atmosphere that make it interesting. Each dish pushes the envelope more than the last (building up to desserts like cheese ice cream you spread on toast) without being strange just for the sake of it. Almost every course works, and being in a space that feels like a secret basement restaurant in a five-star Jackson Hole hotel only adds to the excitement.
Daichan is a tiny spot in Studio City that specializes in the kind of Japanese soul food you need after a terrible week at the office - like spicy curry udon, Japanese-style fried chicken, cold soba, and gigantic tempura rice bowls. That said, the main draw at this family-run cafe is the “original poki bowl.” Decades before chopped raw fish in plastic bowls became part of the LA food pyramid, Daichan was cranking out giant portions of fresh fish on top of rice and lettuce, so that’s probably what you should order here.
Despite a name that sounds like an overpriced drip coffee spot on Abbot Kinney, Coffee For Breakfast is a tiny cafe in North Hollywood that serves traditional Venezuelan breakfast and lunch from 8am-4pm. Your order should include any of the cachapas (corn-based pancakes stuffed with combinations of meat and cheese), a few beef empanadas, and a cinnamon cafe con leche. The place only has a handful of tables that fill up fast, so expect a small wait on the weekends.
Sure, a meal at Shin sushi can top out well above $200, but if you’re in the market for a once-a-year omakase experience, you won’t find fresher, more unique fish than at this Encino institution. The chef, Take-san, will chat with you the whole time you’re there, probably ask you about your favorite football team, and offer his own predictions for the upcoming season even if you said you don’t follow sports. Then he’ll get to work making sushi standouts that include oysters with firefly shrimp, sea eel, and baby barracuda.
Mantee is one of our favorite Armenian restaurants in Los Angeles. The family-run spot on Ventura has a tiny interior that feels like you’re eating inside your aunt’s one-bedroom apartment, and a big back patio. Their namesake dish (meat-filled raviolis topped with garlic yogurt sauce) is good, but you’re simply not allowed to leave without some dolma (stuffed eggplant) and their plate of sizzling hot feta.
The classic Mexican restaurant in Sherman Oaks has been in operation since 1956 and is one of those rare places in LA where A-list celebrities and completely random locals commingle on a nightly basis. The food certainly isn’t anything to write home about, but the lobster quesadilla is great to share and the tremendously strong margaritas will quickly wash away all other concerns you have in life.
The pride and joy of not just Burbank, but the entire Valley, Porto’s Bakery is a straight-up classic. The family-run Cuban bakery has been serving guava pastries, potato balls, and everything else under the Valley sun for decades, and built a rabid following in the process. Come here at noon on a Tuesday and be greeted by 100 other people who had the same idea as you. But not to worry, Porto’s is a well-oiled machine and will have you in, out, and eating strudel for lunch in no time.
Walking into Chiba, the massive sushi restaurant in North Hollywood, is like walking into a sushi social club. No matter what time of day you come, this multi-roomed restaurant will be filled with birthday parties housing specialty rolls, solo lunchers making their way through the omakase, and booths of old ladies sipping tea and complaining about their husbands. Not to mention the ten-car valet line snaking out of the parking lot. But Chiba is more than just a scene - they serve some of the freshest fish north of Ventura Blvd. If you’re coming in solo or with another person, sit at the bar, where the chefs will gladly inform you which nigiri is especially good that day.
Furn Saj is located on the far northern edge of The Valley in Granada Hills, but if you’re within even a 20-minute drive, you need to be eating at this Lebanese restaurant/bakery. A meal at this family-run strip mall spot can be overwhelming - the menu features more than 70 dishes - so we recommend starting with either chicken or beef shawarma (both are among the best we’ve eaten in LA) and ending it with a visit to their daily baked goods case. The saroukh (cheese, onion, and parsley-filled bread) is crunchy, savory, and just a little spicy, and you can wash it all down with some rice pudding at the end.
There’s a sushi bar inside a fast-food burger spot in Northridge, and it serves some incredible raw fish. Right next door to the CSUN campus, Got Sushi? is a pilgrimage everyone should make, solely to realize that it doesn’t take hundreds of dollars or a prime spot on La Cienega to get first-rate sushi. There’s no omakase here, but the menu is large and full of every sashimi plate, cut roll, and daily sushi special you want. That said, our move is to sit at the bar and let the chefs pick their favorite cuts for us.
On a northern fringe of North Hollywood where semi-trucks and loading docks outnumber humans, Mi Ranchito Veracruz is a tiny order-at-the-counter Mexican restaurant that’s become a Valley institution. While you can come here and get everything from mole enchiladas to breakfast burritos, your main focus needs to be the tamales. They’re served Veracruz-style, which means the tamales come wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, resulting in a sweetness that’ll ruin most other tamales for you. If you’re looking to kick up the heat a little, be sure to sprinkle the spicy red table-sauce on top.
If you live in Northridge, you probably already know you don’t have to drive to East Hollywood to get tremendous Thai food - you can just go Lum-Ka-Naad. For everyone else, it’s time to drive to Northridge. They have a big menu, but you’re narrowing it down to two sections: “Northern Cuisine” and “Southern Cuisine.” These are the dishes specifically from the owner’s home regions, and they are incredible. Start with the turmeric fish soup from the South and work your way up to the kang ho (pan-fried vegetables and vermicelli in a curry rub) and khao soi in the North. Delicious food and a geography lesson? Everyone wins.
Open since 1959, Cavaretta’s is a classic, family-run Italian deli in Canoga Park and one of our favorite quick lunch spots in the west Valley. You can’t go wrong with their Famous Italian Combo (a sub sandwich filled with mortadella, salame, capicola, provolone, and all the fixings) or the house-made lasagna, but what really sets Cavaretta’s apart are their desserts. Eclairs, New York-style cheesecake, and the best cannolis you’ll find in LA - if you aren’t walking out at Cavaretta’s with at least two boxes full of sweets under your arm, you’ve done it wrong.
Located in a secret space in the back of Encino’s Scratch Bar, Sushi Bar is not your traditional omakase experience. Part meal, part show, dinner here involves a stand-up comedian bartender introducing all 17 courses in a space that’s basically a sushi speakeasy. That said, it’s certainly not smoke and mirrors - the sushi is excellent as well. Our favorites are a Peruvian scallop with leche de tigre, uni and scallop wrapped in a shiso leaf like a taco, and a fantastic roast bone marrow over rice. It’s $125, with an optional $55 cocktail and sake pairing we’d highly recommend.
Despite having a footprint only slightly larger than one of those cigarette/newspaper stands you see all over Hollywood, Cottage Corner has a very big secret - and it’s not a well-kept one. “CC” makes breakfast burritos that rival any others in LA. Choose between four different proteins (sausage is our favorite) and then mix in potatoes, cheese, and salsa to your liking. Warning: They stop selling them at 11am, and the 10:30am rush is real. Cash only.
Yes, their name sounds like somewhere you’d eat after riding Big Thunder Mountain, but Boneyard Bistro is one of the most consistently excellent BBQ restaurants in LA. You can’t really go wrong with any of the meats here, just make sure you get them Santa Maria-style, meaning they’re dry-rubbed and smoked over red oak. Then always remember to order some fried mac and cheese and pimento hush puppies on the side. There’s also 42 beers on tap and over 100 craft bottles, so if you’re looking to do some late-night (or lunchtime) drinking, this is a great place to do it.
Some of the best sushi bars along Ventura are stripped-down, casual experiences, but when you’re looking to pretend like you didn’t notice the price of the toro sashimi, go to Asanebo. The high-end strip mall spot has a warm, wooden interior and some of our favorite sushi in all of Los Angeles. Though they do offer their whole menu a la carte, you’re here for the omakase. If you’re a first-timer, we recommend going for the $140 omakase “B” course, which will get you every signature dish on the menu. The smaller “A” course offers 12 pieces of sushi plus appetizers, soup, and dessert for $95.
Open since 1972, this family-owned deli is not just a staple of Tarzana, but the whole west Valley. Walking into Tarzana Armenian Deli is like walking out of LA and into that local sandwich shop you ate at three times a week in the summer as a kid. Checkered-tile flooring, bored teenagers working their part-time jobs, and gigantic pita wraps that’ll keep you full all day. Get the soujouk (spicy Armenian sausage) with double cheese, the meat pie wrap, and a few orders of their stuffed grape leaves.
Cafe de Olla is a neighborhood Mexican spot on Victory Blvd. that serves one of our favorite breakfasts in Burbank. The place is small, so it definitely fills up fast on weekends, but if you stick it out, you’ll be treated to a glorious breakfast filled with machaca, huevos divorciados, and multiple cups of their signature cinnamon-infused Cafe de Olla coffee.
Katsu-Ya is one of the most recognizable sushi brands in the world, with locations from L.A. Live to Dubai. Most of those locations, however, are owned by a global nightlife corporation and cater to a stiletto-wearing club crowd. That’s not the case at the original location in Studio City. This strip mall spot is independently owned, meaning prices are lower, quality is higher, and the low-key space is filled with people who are actually there to eat good sushi. You should order the crispy rice with spicy tuna and a few baked crab hand rolls, but always flip the menu over to see what’s recommended that day. If you sit at the bar, ask for Chef Patrick. He’s a sushi wizard.
There’s a lot to love about 786 Degrees - and pizza has very little to do with it. Despite a rather corporate-sounding name, this mom-and-pop spot in a Sun Valley strip mall has become a local legend for serving pies with outside-of-the-box toppings (think tikka masala and doner kebab). And while the pizza is good (particularly the more traditional Napolitana), it’s the experience inside the tiny shop that makes it all so special. A fiercely passionate staff, international pizza awards hanging from the walls, and a giant TV blasting old Italian tourism videos - 786 is fun, quirky, and the perfect break from your regular work-week slog.