Ventura Boulevard Dining Guide: Studio City to Woodland Hills

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Smoked salmon toast | Photo courtesy of The Bellwether

Ventura Boulevard from Studio City to Woodland Hills runs about 13 miles—and in that space sits hundreds of restaurants—among them mom n’ pops, a plethora of ethnic cuisines, casual and fast food chains, gastropubs, and finer dining restaurants. The rundown here is by no means exhaustive, but rather a hit list of some of the best, and historically significant, on the boulevard for any dining occasion.

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Photo courtesy of Asanebo, Facebook

Asanebo



Studio City’s “sushi row” runs for about a mile on either side of Laurel Canyon. Notable names include Sugarfish (from Nozawa), the original Katsu-ya, and its sister restaurant, the more refined Kiwami. However only one sushi restaurant has truly global recognition, having earned coveted Michelin stars in 2008 and 2009. Located in a strip mall between a dog groomer and Lala’s (a worthy Argentinian grill), Asanebo is a small, unassuming restaurant with a sushi bar and a handful of white-clothed tables. Owner/Chef Tetsuya Nakao opened Asanebo 26 years ago with his brother Shunji, who now owns his own namesake restaurant in West L.A. Chef Tetsu, as he is called, and his team serve traditional nigiri and a selection of authentic rolls, but what he is known for is his specials, izakaya selection, and spectacular plating, which is theatrical in nature. Asanebo is a pricey ticket. If you’re going to break the bank, just order omakase and have Chef Tetsu prepare the freshest fish and the best dishes of the day.

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Photo by Jakob Layman, courtesy of Black Market Liquor Bar

Black Market Liquor Bar



Cocktails and global small plates go hand and hand at this very buzzy Studio City hot spot with a street side patio leading into a large tunnel-like space with a vaulted brick ceiling, open kitchen, long wood bar, cozy booths and high tables and stools. Executive chef Antonio Lofaso (Top Chef Season Four contender who also owns Scopa Italian Roots in Venice) offers up sharing plates like ricotta gnudi with brown butter and pistachio; BBQ short rib with raisin, fennel, arugula, and confit tomato on a brioche; and shrimp toast with sriracha, bonito, and nori. Brunch is a decadent treat with challah French toast and mascarpone; fried chicken and waffles; and avocado toast with housemade gravlax. Craft cocktails star with five types of Bloody Marys, and kitschy named drinks such as Red Hot Bothered, Fade to Black, and Pain Killer. Come for a drink and dig into some dill potato chips with malt vinegar aioli or order a meal.

Patio at Firefly in Studio City

Photo: Firefly

Firefly



With its vine covered building, no name outside, and only a valet station as a clue, Firefly in Studio City is the pioneer that brought the new age of dining to the Valley—yet it feels as fresh today as it did fifteen years ago. The entrance though the bar and a cozy library lounge leads out to one of the best patios in Los Angeles, complete with semi-private cabanas, fireplaces, ambient lighting, and a second bar. A series of esteemed chefs have graced the kitchen putting personal touches on a cross between wine country and American bistro cuisine. Now, new executive chef Perry Pollaci, (Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen”) has revamped the brunch, dinner, and late night menus with more creative refined dishes, yet has kept some classic favorites like the crispy Manzanilla olives and PEI Mussels. Highlights include tomahawk steak for two; filet mignon with smoked potato puree, broccolini and bordelaise sauce; house-made charcuterie; and Hamachi sashimi with tofu, hearts of palm, and smoked honmeji mushrooms. Brunch on the patio couldn’t be more perfect with a lobster scramble with truffle butter accompanied by a Berry Patch Bellini. Catch live music on Monday nights.

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Photo courtesy of Laurel Tavern, Facebook

Laurel Tavern



This Studio City gastropub was the first of its ilk to open on Ventura Boulevard back in 2009. It remains the ultimate urban neighborhood hangout and open from noon to 1 a.m. daily, including holidays. Order at the counter and your food will be delivered either on the street side patio or inside at one of the butcher-block wood tables. This is the kind of place where you might think that food is an after thought. Not so. The burgers are ground in-house daily and are known to be among the best in L.A., as are the fresh cut fries. Other favorites include grilled cheese with cheddar, jack, and gruyere melted over butternut squash with sage brown butter; pork belly skewers; hanger steak and fries; and the crispy chicken sandwich. There’s also a good choice of salads and smaller plates. Pair your eats with a craft cocktail, beer, house-made sangria, or wine. They’ve even got Veuve Clicquot champagne if you’re celebrating or just trying to be fancy.

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Photo courtesy of Barrel & Ashes

When you sit down at your table at this chef-driven Studio City, first things first—order the “hoe cake. This BBQ isn’t for timid eaters, so just embrace this southern specialty of fried cornmeal pancake and maple butter. It’s a little bit of the “eat dessert first” mentality, but make sure you save room for the banana pudding for your real dessert. For the main meal, you can’t go wrong with any of the meats—brisket, spare rib, tri-tip, pulled pork, chicken, or a hot link. Add a couple sides like mac & cheese made with three cheeses, and pork and beans, along with the roasted Brussels sprouts. The Frito Pie is fun because it comes spilling out of a Frito package—and it’s based on a handed down family recipe. Another don’t miss: “The Best Damn Chick’n Sandwich Y’ Ever Had,” definitely ranks among the best. Indoor seating consists of communal tables, classic table seating, and a chef’s counter with a front row view of all the action. Patio seating features picnic style tables reminiscent of a Texan barbecue. Order up a beer or one of their heritage cocktails made with house-aged liquor. And if you’re coming for brunch, enjoy such dishes as the huevos rancheros and brisket hash.

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Smoked salmon toast | Photo courtesy of The Bellwether

The Bellwether



This restaurant location on the edge of Sherman Oaks and Studio City was one of those spots that no restaurant could make work, until co-owners Executive Chef Ted Hopson and Beverage Director, Ann-Marie Verdi (who worked together at Father’s Office), changed everything nearly two years ago with a friendly, neighborhood restaurant that serves predominantly sharing dishes with popular ingredients prepared with a creative twist. Hopson is constantly creating new dishes and offers them on an R & D part of the menu as kind of test kitchen. Must order: patty melt smothered with Taleggio cheese and caramelized onions; tempura cauliflower; roasted sun chokes; and grilled lamb shoulder (1½ lbs.) served with green harissa, yogurt, pickles and pita bread that’s perfect for sharing. The French fries could be considered a specialty of the house—and so they should because making them is a three-day process. Ann-Marie’s cocktails with house-made infusions are concocted brilliantly and pair perfectly with the global bistro menu. Find them shaken, stirred, and on tap. The Bellwether also has an excellent wine list, and domestic and European beers. And for a last bite, you’d be remiss not to order the strawberry shortcake with mascarpone and almond-infused cognac especially produced by Ann-Marie. It’s the perfect summer dessert.

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Photo courtesy of Mistral, Facebook

Mistral



This classic Sherman Oaks restaurant is one place where you are guaranteed a sophisticated, classic dining experience without feeling stuffy. With its black and white floors, dark wood, dimmed lights, crisp tablecloths, fresh flowers, and chandeliers, Mistral is as close to Paris as you can get in the 818. Owner Henri Abergel and Maitre d’ Raul Arroyo consistently treat patrons with respect. The complimentary goat cheese puffs is a nice amuse bouche. Start with the classic onion soup, escargots a la Bourguignonne, or ahi tuna tartare. Among the favorite entrees are New York steak “au poivre” or grilled lamb chops. Steaks are all served with salad and pomme frites, or opt for a chicken or salmon. Indulge in a French martini or choose a wine from one of the best lists in the San Fernando Valley. Top off your meal with tarte tartin or the signature brown sugar cheesecake with compote of berries.

Casa Vega



A San Fernando Valley classic since 1956, Casa Vega is a family owned and operated restaurant known for its margaritas, dim lighting and lively atmosphere—you might spot a celebrity or two huddled in a corner booth. The enormous menu is like a list of the top classic favorites of traditional Mexican cuisine, including vegetarian and vegan options. Enjoy specialty appetizers, such as the Supreme Vega Combo with black bean, beef and chicken taquitos, and quesadillas; or the customer favorite — Pollo en Mole, a half chicken simmered in red mole sauce. If you have room, the Papa’s Grande Sundae is a must — this family-style sharing dessert is made with five scoops of vanilla ice cream, warm churros, salted caramel sauce, and whipped cream, served tableside. And of course, no mention of Casa Vega would be complete without talking about their pint-size margaritas. Although known for its award-winning classic margarita, there’s at least a dozen to choose, including skinny, organic, and fruit blended (the peach margarita is touted as "one of the best in L.A."), plus cocktails, beer, and wine. It’s not as much about the food here as it is the ambiance and history.

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Fried chicken dinner | Photo courtesy of The Local Peasant

The Local Peasant



This American “eat pub” with locations in Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills puts its emphasis on local with alcohol and food predominately sourced from California. The Local Peasant has that real pub feel with white tile walls and steel fixtures mixed with a combination of wood, marble and stone. Both locations host a large bar with booths and both private and large communal tables. Woodland Hills differs with an outside bar and patio area. Chalkboards list drinks written in a classic old-fashioned font. There are about 25 beers on tap and locally sourced wine. A specialty cocktail menu includes prohibition and post prohibition themes. Pair drinks with fun bar snacks like marinated olives; deviled eggs with applewood bacon; German-style pretzel with cheese and bacon; and crispy pork belly with watermelon. Menu highlights include Short Ribs, Fish and Chips, The Peasant Burger topped with an egg, or jumbo lump crab cakes. Brunch offerings include apple-brie pancakes, pork belly and eggs, and buttermilk-fried chicken. There’s also an extensive Bloody Mary Bar, sangria, and a punch bowl drink.

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Mega Platter at Boneyard Bistro | Photo by Joshua Lurie

Boneyard Bistro



Classic barbecue meets eclectic bistro cuisine at this Sherman Oaks mainstay owned by Chef Aaron Robins, who recently handed executive chef duties to Erica Abell after opening SOCA a half-mile down Ventura. The bistro menu runs the gamut and includes Kobe beef filled donuts, Cajun empanadas, tuna tartar, salads of Greek, Moroccan, and Southern origins, and entrees such as grilled shrimp tacos and a 10 oz. Char Siu pork chop. On the BBQ side, meat and poultry are smoked over hickory or grilled over a live red oak fire. Sides include the must order fried mac n’cheese. Burgers are made from American Kobe style wagyu beef—and for a price you can add foie gras. Pair your meal with beverages from one of the largest bar selections in Los Angeles - Boneyard is widely known for its whiskeys, bourbons, rye, and scotch. The wine list includes 75 whites, reds, roses and some bubbly. Most unusual is the impressive Zin collection — 53 in all from California. Hit Boneyard Bistro up for weekend brunch, happy hour, and late night snacks. And for dessert, don’t miss The King—peanut butter bread pudding, with peanut bacon brittle.

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Oysters topped with Bacon Herb Crust & Manchego Cheese at SOCA | Photo courtesy of SOCA

Executive Chef-Owner Aaron Robins’ new Sherman Oaks restaurant sets a new standard for Ventura Blvd restaurants—for style, food, and cocktails. SOCA is reminiscent of a venue you might find at an upscale resort. Clean, modern design features tall wood beamed ceilings with rustic light fixtures, an indoor/outdoor feel via a glass wall dividing the 70-seat dining room from the airy elevated 28-seat patio overlooking the boulevard, and a sleek long bar backed with color liquor bottles. The refined menu is steak and seafood-centric with Latin, Mediterranean, and Asian influences. The major plates, such as the double Kurobota pork chop “Al Pastor” with Mexican fried rice chile relleno and avocado-jalapeno espuma, are theatrical and meant to be shared for two to four. The roasted Mediterranean black mussels with tom kha broth is vibrant and flavorful; the seafood tower impresses. And if you’ve got meat-eating table, then the 30-day dry-aged Tomahawk or the wood grilled 40 oz. bone-in prime rib eye is mandatory. General Manager Rory Snipes has created a stunning collection of spirits, including an extensive selection of gin and aperitifs. Start off with a Spanish gin and tonic, and pair your meal with a fine French wine. Hot tip: Saddle up to the bar between 5 and 6 p.m. for the bar menu with a $8 to $15 menu. The lobster roll is not to be missed. Trivia: SOCA is short for Sherman Oaks, California.

Augustine Wine Bar



This cozy wine bar opened in Sherman Oaks just over two years ago from the owners of Bar Covell in Silver Lake. The space itself has an old world ambiance with antique radios, vintage publications, kitschy signs, and a stand-up wood piano circa 1912. The centerpiece is a 35-foot, white Carrera marble-top bar with 18 seats. There is a small row of two-person booths as well as a sofa, chairs and antique table. Augustine offers 75 wines by the glass ranging in price from $10 to $100 and bottles ranging from $48 to $1,000. Oenophiles and novice wine drinkers alike will be at home here. Several wines date back to 1800s, as well as some rare vintages from World War I and World War II. The food menu has been elevated since it opened just over two years ago and includes an impressive cheese and charcuterie selection, sun choke toast, wild caught sockeye salmon, 8oz Flannery NY strip steak, and farro “risotto” with peas and asparagus.

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Photo courtesy of La Cava, Facebook

La Cava



Owner Armando Pucci opened this Sherman Oaks osteria nearly seven years ago and La Cava continues to be a neighborhood gem. Enter through the lovely tree-lined street-side patio to the cozy interior filled with dark wood tables set against walls painted in brick red and mustard yellow hues, tastefully displaying Italian themed photographs. Meat, seafood and pasta dishes are served with sauces made from scratch with an emphasis on olive oil, tomatoes and fresh herbs. Soups are primarily sans cream, and pizza is thin-crust. Stand-out appetizers: the insalata di carciofi—thinly sliced fresh baby artichoke hearts, fennel, walnuts and sliced pecorino cheese with a light drizzle of lemon and olive oil; frittura di calamari—tender, lightly battered calamari and zucchini served with zesty tomato sauce for dipping. Favorite dishes include: tagliatelle alla Bolognese; house-made ravioli with spinach and ricotta in in a pink sauce; toasted lamb chops with rosemary. The wine menu is small but choice and includes both Italian and California varietals by the bottle and a few by the glass. There is a reserve list for those seeking something more elevated. Make sure you ask about the specials written on the chalkboard as you enter. And don’t miss the house made tiramisu for dessert.

Valley Inn



Sometimes you just need a good booth and big comforting plates of food—and this Sherman Oaks (bordering Encino) fixture fits the bill. Located just west of the 405 and just steps from Ventura Blvd, the Valley Inn has been open since since 1947. For the last 20 years, it’s been owned by Sophia and Boris Brodetsky. Generations of families make this their dining spot; couples consider it their secret local getaway. The décor is kitschy and “old school,” so just go with it. Legions of celebrities and dignitaries have dined here. It was Coach John Wooden’s favorite restaurant. In fact, there is glass case in the entry filled with memorabilia as a tribute, as well a room is named for him. The wood bar itself is from the 1880s and was imported from England to San Pedro on a clipper ship. The dinner menu consists of steaks and chops, as well as specialties. Prime rib and steak dinners come with a choice of soup or salad, mashed potatoes and vegetables. There are also a variety of classic sides to add to the meal. Other dishes include fried and roasted chicken, ribs, seafood, pasta and classic burgers. The lunch menu lightens up with spa specials, salads, sandwiches and freshly made soup. Homemade desserts include homemade NY style cheesecake and carrot cake.

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Photo by Ryan Tanaka, courtesy of Claudine Artisan Kitchen & Bakeshop

Claudine Artisan Kitchen & Bakeshop



Co-owners Chef Anthony Jacquet and pastry chef Lea Newton recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of this casual all-day eatery and bakeshop. Claudine Artisan Kitchen & Bakeshop is just what the neighborhood needed — an inviting café with a variety of beautifully executed choices for any time of day. Drop by for Verve coffee or a special latte and a freshly baked pastry—or a complete breakfast, lunch, brunch or early dinner. The service is sit-down, but first you must order at the counter and your food will be delivered in the open dining room, at the bar, or the sidewalk patio. Breakfast, served from 8 to 11 a.m. weekdays, is followed by an all-day menu until 8 p.m. Weekend brunch runs 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The modern counter is filled with Lea’s delicious and eye-catching baked creations—from macarons to tarts, cakes, and cookies. Breakfast items include malted milk pancakes, chilaquiles, and a fried egg sandwich. Anthony comes from a creative, fine dining background via the Getty Center and Whisper at The Grove and it shows—market salads, fennel and artichoke pizza, Z's pickle fried chicken sandwich (a must!), and plates of chicken, salmon, fried chicken, and flat iron steak. There’s a rotating selection of beer and wine on tap, as well as sangria, sriracha Michelada, and bubbles for brunch. Catering, cake, and special orders are a specialty and welcome.

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Albacore roll at Okumura | Photo by Karen Young

Okumura



Set in the Encino Oaks shopping plaza anchored by CVS, Okumura is a lovely and modern sushi restaurant built by a chef/owner with a culinary pedigree. Ryota Okumura opened his restaurant nearly five years ago after working as the omakase chef at the esteemed Sushi Zo in Culver City. He received his training from Japan’s Hattori Culinary Institute —and fittingly, he makes a perfect chawanmushi, an egg custard dish with sea urchin, Alaskan salmon eggs, shrimp and edamame. Order omakase at the long bar or a la carte at a table or booth. Special sashimi-type dishes here are called carpaccio and presented with variations of décor such as edible flowers. The tuna is adorned with gold flakes. Other dishes of the same ilk are yellowtail with jalapenos, albacore with crispy onions, and kanpachi with pico de gallo and micro greens with a Japanese vinegar sauce. There is a modest selection of rolls, all delicately prepared with warm rice. The lobster roll on soy paper is especially worthy, as is the crispy albacore onion roll. And for those who don’t eat raw fish, there are options such as yellow collar, chicken, and a 12 oz. Prime ribeye.

Vino Wine & Tapas Room

Vino Wine & Tapas Room



One step inside this Encino wine and tapas restaurant and you will feel like the Boulevard is many miles away. The décor is very Spanish with rich brick red and mustard hued décor, dimmed lights, a long marble bar as well as a communal high top, and a few smaller tables. There’s also a back area with a large table for a bigger party and a back patio. Live Spanish guitar music starts at 7 p.m. daily. The menu consists of traditional small and large tapas, including montaditos—baguette slices with such toppings as sausage, anchovies, and goat cheese; tortilla Española (omelet), eggplant crujiente (crispy chips with honey), patatas bravas. Seafood choices include ceviche, gambas (shrimp), moules (mussels), delicias (bacon wrapped dates), pollo croquetas (mashed potato balls with chicken). Among the larger plates: grilled skirt steak and beef short ribs. There is a well-priced and select red wine list from California, France, Italy, Spain, and Argentina. Whites include Germany, Austria, and Greece. For those seeking finer wines, there is a reserve list. Happy hour runs daily from 4 p.m.- 7 p.m. with $4 to $6 wine and beer and $5 tapas. Wine tastings are Tuesdays from 7 p.m.to 9 p.m. Vino Wine & Tapas Room is the perfect date night or ideal to meet up with friends.

Scratch | Bar & Kitchen



Scratch|Bar & Kitchen is the first of three restaurants opened by Chef Phillip Frankland Lee, a Top Chef contender and all around Food Network star, and his multi-talented pastry chef wife, Margarita. Located on the second floor of the Encino Place Shopping Center, Scratch|Bar runs on the premise that everything that can be made from scratch is made with their hands, including bread, cheese and butter. It’s a small space with high and low tables, plus a chef’s counter set in front of an open kitchen. There is one tasting menu for $95 per person that includes 16 to 18 courses. There is a $55 option with half the courses, although it is not listed on the menu. Ingredients change monthly according to what is in season, however dishes are not finalized without the customer’s input regarding allergies, aversions, or just what they feel like eating. Unlike other restaurants, here the servers are also the waiters. Additional supplements (for a price) include foie gras, fresh black truffles, dry aged rib-eye, and house cured and aged cheese and meats.

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Proper Tower | Photo by Jakob Layman, courtesy of Woodley Proper

Opened in April 2017, Woodley Proper is a collaboration between Chef Phillip Frankland Lee, his pastry chef wife, Margarita and cocktail maestro Devon Espinosa. The space is part lounge, part restaurant with plush couches, accent chairs, area rugs, and a mix of copper and wood materials. The bar includes a “Cocktail Party” with bottle service; unique cocktails with playful names like Valley Girl, Staycation, and First Date. The food menu starts with ‘snacks’, such as Margarita’s homemade bread/butter, and bone marrow roasted in sourdough with spiced mushrooms. The star of the show is the “Proper Tower” — a seafood tower filled with raw and steamed shellfish, charcuterie, and cheese. Also offered: toast with toppers like chicken liver, salmon and avocado. Mains include dry aged Prime NY Strip and roasted chicken. Come by for a drink or a meal.

Frankland’s Crab & Co.

Opened in late May, Frankland’s Crab & Co. is the third restaurant opened by Chef Phillip Frankland Lee and his pastry chef wife, Margarita on the second floor of Encino Place. The menu at the “modern American shell shack” includes fresh Gulf shrimp, king crab legs, and Maine lobster sold by the pound or in a roll. Also available: fish and chips made from beer-battered branzino, chowder, fried oysters and clams, lobster-buttered corn on the cob. The bar menu includes beer on tap, wine and bubbles. There’s even a kids menu. And you can’t leave without eating Margarita’s Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich. Note the rolls and butter are made from her hands too. It’s a casual spot and open for lunch and dinner. Take out is available as well.

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Photo courtesy of Lum Ka Naad, Facebook

Lum-Ka-Naad - Encino



Meaning “delicious food” in Northern Thailand, this is the second outpost of Lum Ka Naad, the very popular Thai restaurant that first opened in Northridge by husband and wife team, Alex and Ooi Sonbaleem, who is also the chef. The Encino branch of Lum Ka Naad is larger with 130 seats and a glass-enclosed kitchen. With about 170 dishes, it’s extensive and among the most authentic in the 818, competing with some of the best in Thai Town. The menu is divided into categories with two separate sections for specialized Northern and Southern cuisine (which comes with this warning—“All items under this category are considered “too spicy” for average American”). Must order dishes include: Northern Thai Pork sausage and Sai Oua sausage served with sticky rice, Pa-Nang red coconut curry with chicken; Larb Kua Salad with pork; Bangkok Sticks on Fire; Naked Mermaid (shrimp with garlic and chiles); Tum Kanoon (Jack Fruit Salad); Pad See Ew; Pad Key Mao (drunken noodles); baby back ribs with a turmeric curry paste.

Hummus Bar & Grill



Tel Aviv comes alive at Hummus Bar & Grill — a bustling indoor/outdoor restaurant in the Tarzana Village strip mall (also occupied by the very popular Japanese restaurant Kushiyu). Indeed hummus is a star here with eight different versions, but the mashed chickpea and tahini dish is only part of very authentic menu. Catch a glimpse of hot laffa being freshly made as you first walk in and make a note to order it with za’atar. Plates piled with a mesmerizing variety of kabob skewers, schnitzel, fish, lamb chops, rib eye and more fly by. Go for the real Israeli experience and order the “keep ‘em coming” assortment of refillable Ima’s (‘mom’ in Hebrew) Mediterranean appetizer salads, including chicken liver, babaganoush, carrot salad, egg salad, corn salad, cauliflower salad, spicy Turkish red pepper salad, Tabouli and fried pieces of eggplant. Kosher and kids meals are available, as well as a full wine and beer list. Save room for one of the sweet “happy endings”, like the very special Knafe Malabi —a middle eastern pastry made with kataifi, rose water, mallabi cream and pistachio.

Located on the western end of Woodland Hills near the Shoup exit, The Villa is known as the site of many events and weddings. The stunning garden patio is a sprawling space filled with flowers, greenery, trees, a trellis, and a mix of wood, marble and rod iron. Its grand two-story interior was renovated a few years ago in an elegant, yet contemporary farmhouse house style that includes round, wrought iron chandeliers, stone fireplaces, wood paneling, overhead beams, rustic wood tables, and tufted leather booths. The menu combines modern French and Italian influences with an American edge that makes it an easy dining choice for varying palates. Offerings include salads, flatbreads, seafood, steak, and poultry options. The extensive weekend brunch and lunch menu offers up omelets as well as such dishes as nutella/banana crepes and brioche French toast, vegetarian chilaquiles, fried chicken and biscuits, and steak frites. There’s a select wine and cocktail list, plus Bloody Marys, bellinis, and bottomless sangria and mimosas for brunch. NOTE: As of June 2017 The Villa was temporarily closed due to kitchen fire.