Encino translates from Spanish as “oak tree” and the corresponding L.A. neighborhood sprouted from Rancho Los Encinos, a land grant that Spain first gifted to a local Gabrielino tribe. The Encino Chamber of Commerce formed in 1927 and now helps guide one of the San Fernando Valley’s most desirable areas. Encino borders Mulholland Drive to the south, the 405 Freeway to the east, Victory Boulevard to the north, and Lindley Avenue to the west. Discover five of the top dishes within this 9.5-mile span.
Domingo’s Italian Deli – Frittata di Pasta
Domingo’s Italian Deli is an Encino institution that dates to 1948. Current owner Carlo Ghailian was born in Van Nuys, worked at Domingo’s while attending nearby Crespi Carmelite High School, and took over for the deli’s previous owner in 2010. He visits Italy frequently to source farm cheeses and salumis that factor into house specialties. Frittata di pasta rotates between ziti, penne or spaghetti that’s baked into a savory pie with egg, crushed tomato, mozzarella, and sharp Pecorino Romano. Domingo’s makes vegetarian frittata di pasta, but I’d suggest a meaty version with crumbled pork sausage.
Esso Mediterranean Bistro – Dolma
As a little girl, Elizabeth Mirzoian went by Esso. The longtime teacher left her career to focus on family and food, and teamed with husband Jack on a Mediterranean restaurant in the back corner of an Encino plaza featuring a menu that stars dishes from Syria. Dolma is one of her standout daily specials. Most versions around town are limited to stuffed grape leaves, but Esso also fills squash, bell pepper, cabbage, and baby eggplant with juicy ground beef mixed with rice, garlic, lemon, tomato paste, Aleppo pepper paste and mint. The vegetables are baked and served with tangy labneh, a thick strained yogurt.
Moonlight Restaurant – Pelmeni with Meat
In the ’70s song “Moonlight Feels Right,” Starbuck wasn’t singing about dumplings, but Moonlight Restaurant manages to capture a similar excitement level with their pelmeni. Artur Ulikyan hails from Yerevan, Armenia, and has built a following on Encino Plaza’s second floor thanks to private banquets, parties, and Armenian-Russian comfort food. Pelmeni are supple dumplings that come with a choice of ground beef (flap meat) or chicken (thigh). Dumplings are fried until crispy coats form or boiled to maintain a softer texture, dusted with parsley, and served with black pepper and sour cream for dipping.
Tel Aviv Grill – Chicken Shawarma Plate
Tel Aviv Grill has been playing musical chairs in the West Valley. Doron Goldberg and business Tzahi Yom Tov now occupy their third location, but customer devotion to their satisfying cause has never wavered. Their largest location yet, in Encino, draws steady lines for Israeli comfort food. Tel Aviv Grill is particularly popular for chicken shawarma, a dazzling heap of shaved and griddled thigh meat that’s treated to a secret rub that harmoniously blends more than 20 spices. Chicken shawarma is available piled in pita, laffa, baguette or on plates. I suggest a plate co-starring creamy hummus, nutty tahini, fried eggplant, marinated green olives, purple cabbage salad, spicy red chile sauce, herbaceous green sauce, and puffy pita.