Strong cocktails and killer brunch from a Top Chef alum
The just-off-Cahuenga section of Ventura is one of LA’s trendiest gastropub havens, but one of the first to set up shop on the block was Black Market, which combines the efforts of Top Chef alum Antonia Lofaso with lauded barmen Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni. It’s jam-packed on weekend nights, thanks to the tremendously tasty drinks (the spicy/grapefruity Chilero is a favorite) and some of the city’s best wings, as well as an egg-laden brunch.
Divey spot with pub fare and 60+ taps
Not only does this (yes, again) gastropub have one of the best burgers in town that you've never heard of, but it’s also got an insane beer list, and is walking distance from the Galleria, where you'll smirk at the people waiting in line at The Cheesecake Factory... right before you stumble up to the ArcLight.
Late-night Valley institution with terrific margaritas
Is this the best Mexican food you’ll ever eat? No, it is not. Still, it’s been a Valley classic for over 50 years, due in one part to amazing margaritas, and in another part to incredible chips-and-guac, and, in yet another part, to that old-school charm-y Mexican restaurant decor that falls flat when anyone tries to modernize it. And the oven-style burritos -- wet with sauce and covered with drippy cheese -- are pretty excellent too, all told.
Classic, family-style Chinese food
If you've got friends who grew up in the Valley, it's likely that their taste for Chinese food started at this mid-Boulevard staple. But it's not just nostalgia that keeps the lights on here: Bamboo's a Zagat-rated favorite, with reliably delicious takes on classic dishes like well-salted wonton soup and sizzling hot beef & scallops.
Reliable reincarnation of a sushi classic
The transformation from Sushi Nozawa to Sugarfish -- the most consistent chain of any kind we've ever eaten at, with some of the best sub-$50 sushi you’ll find anywhere -- has not gone unnoticed. Sugarfish is great, and unequivocally so.
Middle Eastern spot with excellent kebabs
Sure, it's as far west as you're likely to go, but it's worth heading under the 405 for this Persian treasure. In addition to melt-in-your-mouth skewers of beef and chicken, you’ll also want to try the rice boiled with sour cherries and chicken, and the juicy, thick savory stews of veal and eggplant. As an added bonus, there’s plentiful, under-the-405, shopping cart parking nearby!
Barebones space with barbecue and a massive beer selection
This long-standing BBQ spot is a classic for a whole host of reasons. It serves up tender, drool-inducing ribs, features a wide-ranging and ever-changing craft beer list (42 taps long), offers a half-priced wine special every Tuesday and Wednesday, and has a daily happy hour. Oh, and the Kobe beef & chili-filled donuts here are life-affirmingly good.
Longtime sushi spot serving both trendy & traditional takes
OK, props to one more sushi joint: this unassuming, tucked-away spot serves not only hearty helpings of salmon nigiri and crazy-good uni, but also has the best blackened cod on the Boulevard. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see a man throw a 13-foot python at you while you eat your dinner.
Bistro emphasizing farm-fresh ingredients
This New American spot got a rave review from Jonathan Gold and has become one of the surest bets for great food in the Valley. The dinner menu’s got tempura cauliflower and a patty melt that’s become a local favorite, and chef/owner Ted Hopson’s also got a poached-egg-topped grain bowl and a hot chicken sandwich for brunch on the weekends.
Romantic spot for a sit-down dinner
This longstanding nice-dinner favorite has an indoor/outdoor vibe, and a pedigreed chef who’s now doing a three-course tasting menu as well as a la carte options like an osso buco and lamb-rib duo. Try to get a seat outside by the fireplace: this is the rare Valley restaurant that feels romantic without being hokey, and the patio vibe goes a long way in establishing that atmosphere.
Counter service standby for lunch or dinner
There is tons of great Middle Eastern food in the Valley, but for the East Valley, Joe’s reigns supreme: their falafel is a lunchtime staple, thanks to a perfectly crisp exterior and a chickpea mixture that’s surprisingly spiced (is that... cinnamon I’m tasting??). Their bowl specials are also exceedingly affordable and always delicious.
The Frankland Lee empire
Acclaimed restaurant group by a husband/wife duo
Vaunted Scratch|Bar chef Phillip Frankland Lee and his pastry chef wife Margarita have single-handedly (or is that double-handedly? How does that work?) changed the dining scene in the West Valley with a quartet of restaurants, all located in the Woodley Plaza center. There’s the gastropub-y Woodley Proper, the seafood-centric Frankland’s Crab & Co, Sushi|Bar (which trounces the Valley’s raw-fish mainstays), and of course the flagship Scratch|Bar, all of which have become destination restaurants in a part of LA that had never really been on the culinary map before.
LA landmark serving traditional Cuban dishes
This LA Cuban mini-chain is responsible for one of the city’s most iconic dishes (garlic chicken, yes please), but is also great for sandwiches, casual/inexpensive group dinners, and other events that don’t involve making out afterwards. Plus, you can tell your over-the-hill-friends that you ate at a bona fide LA institution, and then argue over why the hell they don’t believe you when you say the Valley’s every bit as good as the city is.
Woodland Hills & Sherman Oaks
Well-made comfort food in a pub-style atmosphere
Gastropubs started trending in the East Valley nearly a decade ago, and the trend’s welcome crawl westward is exemplified by The Local Peasant’s two locations on Ventura -- one in Sherman Oaks, and one all the way west in Woodland Hills. Does that mean Woodland Hills is the next Studio City? Maybe, but until we know for sure, order some chocolate chunk bread pudding and make yourself comfortable.
Addictive Middle Eastern fare inside a shopping center
Worthy of a Tarzana trip all by itself, the bubbly, doughy flatbread at this Middle Eastern mainstay has the perfect consistency to sop up any of the 12+ all-you-can-eat “salads” served with every dish, which include multiple deconstructions of eggplant, a chopped liver pate, and a slew of spiced vegetables. Here’s your go-to move: order one of the skewer dishes for every two or three people at your table, and then go HAM on the salads -- and the bread. Oh, and also order the hummus (duh).