The Best Restaurants in the San Fernando Valley
The Valley has a long-standing tradition of people who live over the hill dismissing it as a restaurant wasteland -- which has actually never been true and certainly isn’t now. For proof, we got two Valley lifers (regular Thrillist contributor Wilder Shaw, who grew up and lives in Studio City, and editor Jeff Miller, who grew up in Van Nuys and North Hollywood and still regularly visits his parents in Encino) to break down the best restaurants in the massive SFV, with an eye towards a geographic and financial spread. It’s long. Get ready.
These falafel wizards absolutely crush it at everything they do. The falafel & shawarma are as nutso as the salads (with hummus that could stand up to any restaurant in the whole city), and their house-made hot sauce will haunt your dreams for eternity. In a good way.
No corners are cut on the square pizzas Barone’s has been serving since 1945. Since then they’ve been slicing up OG thin crust rectangular Neopolitan-style pizza much to the delight of any person who’s had the chance to eat there. And by the way, you can put meatballs on your pizza, so, you’ll be doing that.
If you’re over the designer burger craze, Bill’s will rock your bones with some unbelievably tasty (not to mention cheap) burgers. Also, it’s kiiiiiiiiiinda hard to see, so don’t be surprised if you drive past it 25 times before you notice it. And also-also, get there early, because Bill closes... whenever he feels like it.
Is it a bar? Is it a restaurant? Is it a gastropub? Who cares: it’s a touchstone property in the coolification of the East Valley, and the food -- especially the chicken wings -- is crave-worthy.
Not all great Italian delis have to be called “Bay Cities.” Domingo’s goes the other direction with their Italian sandwiches -- drippy, saucy, and delicious. Even meat lovers can’t say no to their Caprese sub (especially when you add artichoke hearts and house-made giardiniera).
Or to the common Angelino, “Fuh-Fuh” kitchen is doin’ it big right now with some knockout Vietnamese flair. All of their banh mi choices (hangar steak, pork belly, jidori chicken confit, and tofu & mushroom) are killer, but the real treat is their ribeye beef pho.
If you’re sick of rip-your-own paper towels messy down-home barbeque, BB will treat you to some crazy-delicious upscale barbeque. The food is pricy but oh-so-worth it. With a chef that put in some hours in Chicago with a Michelin-star chef, you can bet your sweet bippy on these ribs and, duh, the fried mac 'n’ cheese.
These guys have been doing real-deal Italian food for forever, and it’s hard to find anything on the menu that isn’t great. You’d be a crazy person not to try their gnocchi with (depending on what they’re serving) duck or oxtail ragu. And if you’re a cioppino person, this is the place to do it. Molto delizioso!
ACME Hospitality has done it again with their newest Toluca Lake tavern. The permanent & rotating taps are always choice and the food is ouuuuuuutstanding. Grab some plates (like their brussels sprouts with orange citronette, Sriracha aioli, and shaved parmesan) and DEFINITELY grab their crispy chicken sandwich, which would give those Jon & Vinny guys a run for their money.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Carney’s still dishes out some of the best classic burger-stand food in the entire city. Their ingredients are funky-fresh and the chili knows no equal. A big yellow hooray for the big yellow train.
You could order something new at Daichan every time you went and never make a wrong move. They’ve been killing it with their poki bowls since before LA’s poke trend blew up, not to mention their oddly perfect “Japanese soul food” plates. Y’all haven’t had butterfish (black cod) 'til you’ve had it at Daichan.
For a long time, the burgers at King’s were absolutely killing it. Then they thought, “Well why don’t we start serving sushi also?” Which is a helluva choice, but they seem to know what they’re doing because the sushi is as good as the burgers. Whatever choice you make won’t be the wrong one (but let’s not pretend like you can’t do both. We have.)
Casa Vega is as legendary as any place in the Valley can get. They’ve been rocking out for half a century and their nonsensically long happy hour (2:30-7pm) plies people with margs and combo plates. “Casa vega” doesn’t translate to house of dreams, but it should.
You like uni, don’t ya? Sure you do, you’ve got a brain. Chiba has kept the great-sushi-in-Valley-strip-malls dream alive for years (and has just moved to a new location, with the same fish) with maybe the best uni in LA. You truly can’t go wrong with anything you order though, and Chiba deserves every ounce of the acclaim it’s received. Eat there.
Sure it’s easy to find great Greek, Armenian, and Persian food in LA -- but not as easy to find great Syrian food. By far the best in Valley, Kobee Factory has hummus that will rock your world, as well as (shut up and taste it) incredible stuffed lamb intestines.
Jonathan Gold-approved, Top Cheftestant-run Girasol finally managed to stick in a spot where restaurant after restaurant was closing down, so it’s obvious they’re doing something right. And that something probably has to do with their maple-glazed pork belly sandwich. Or their autumn fruit carpaccio. Or their pan-roasted duck confit. Or...
The strip malls in Studio City truly give Japan a run for its money. Katsuya is another gem, with some of the freshest fish you can find in pretty hefty portions. Nothing overly trendy like the other Katsuyas you’ve heard of, just incredible fish served by pro chefs.
For one of the most unique sushi experiences you will ever have (like shaved gold flakes on your fish!), you’ll want to head to this Canoga Park strip mall right away. Operating out of the back of a tiny, now-defunct Japanese market, Go has been doing the “awesome thing in a weird setting” thing since WAY before it was cool. Oh, and the sushi is consistently in the running for best-in-the-city from people like, uh, Jonathan Gold, so, there’s that.
Speaking of legends, Henry’s has been going strong for over 50 years (even selling “gringo” tacos before the first Taco Bell). Though they relocated down the block due to some issues of the evil-landlord variety, the food still tastes the same as it always did. Their homemade hot sauce is the stuff of dreams, people.
If you’re one of those sad saps who thinks Hy Mart closed forever when it left its spot across the street, we’ve got great news: they’re very much alive and still crushing it behind the H. Salt. The Foreman’s Special is by far one of the tastiest sandwiches in LA, so if you like chicken, serranos, jalapeños, and their always-killer “Ben’s” sauce, get over there... now. Again.
MORE sushi? Yep: this hidden spot in what looks like a transformed house is where you should take New Yorkers to blow their minds, not just because the fish is fresh, not just because they have odd cuts, not just because you can get out of there for less than $50 for a meal that’d cost them hundreds of bucks on the east coast, but because of all of these things.
If you’re worried about confusing Lal Mirch with one of the hundred Indian spots in Studio City or NoHo, it should be easy to remember ‘cause it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t have “India” or “Bollywood” in the name. It should also be easy to remember ‘cause it’s maybe the best Indian food for miles and miles.
Do you like Mexican food in a ranchera-style setting, slathered in sauce and made with the sort of love you can taste (and not in a gross way)? You do? Go to here.
Mom’s too far east for you? Hit up Les Sisters in Chatsworth for an amazing pseudo-trip to The Big Easy. Their kitchen is bursting with Creole flavor so order yourself a couple hundred po-boys, along with Nola favorites like red beans & rice, hush puppies, and candied yams.
“Lum-ka-naad” means “delicious food” in northern Thailand. What a coincidence, because that’s exactly what you’ll be eating at LKN. The giant selection of $8.45 lunch specials alone should be enough to lock this place down as one of the Valley’s best, but the food truly is some of the best in the city.
Right off the bat, no, we don’t know why this place is called a deli, but the food is maximum delicious so just cool it for a second. They do scallion pancakes better than almost anybody and their beef noodle soup is an absolute grand slam. Bring a lot of people because sharing is caring (and also you can eat more that way).
Killer Mongolian BBQ ain’t never hurt nobody. Especially when it’s all-you-can-eat. Their meats and and veggies are mega-fresh, and those sesame rolls? Lord have mercy.
A lot of the simplicity and passion gets lots in many of these upscale Thai restaurants, but that sure ain’t the case at Rustic Spoon. This rockin’ Thai spot from the Hungry Pig BBQ guy showcases old school dishes like chicken sa-te’, in addition to Pa-nang curry with Japanese pumpkin and cinnamon-braised chicken breast.
If you’re like us, sometimes you want southern BBQ to go along with your Deep-South soul food. Mom’s knows this. That’s why they sell BBQ goodies like pork ribs and chicken, as well as comfort food like cornmeal-fried catfish and snapper. And their collard greens? Fooooooooorget about it. Apologize to yours, because it looks like you’ve got another mom to love now.
This-long-standing just-off-Ventura stand has one of our 50 must-eat dishes in the city; it’s become even more of a treasure since an imposter PK opened up over the hill, reminding us of why trips to the Valley for chicken kafta are definitely, 100% worth it.
Word seems to have gotten out regarding the deliciousness factory that calls itself Salsa & Beer, so the lines can get kind of crazy at both the Lake Balboa and NoHo locations. But don’t let that sway you: their bacon-wrapped shrimp and asada molcajete plates are absolute nonsense. (Also: we’d be remiss if we didn’t remind you that their bean dip is the best in LA.)
Current Top Cheftestant Phillip Franklin Lee wanted to open his latest tasting-menu-focused restaurant in a part of the city with no competition, and he nailed it: a strip mall’s second floor in Encino’s about as unlikely a ‘hood as you can get. But reviews have crushed, and all of a sudden the dining scene in Encino’s among the most exciting in the city. Boom.
When it comes down to New York pizza, the only reviews that matter are those of actual New Yorkers... and you’d be hard pressed to find an East Coaster who doesn’t give it up for the authenticity of these slices. New York is alive and well in Da Oaks (people call it that right?), you guys.
We know it looks gross from the outside, but haven’t you learned anything about food in LA strip malls? WELL LEARN ALREADY! You’ll be glad you went in once you taste their spicy tuna on crispy rice, and anything else on their specials menu (especially the Japanese scallop and black cod).
It may have just made our best vegan list yesterday but there’s no reason to leave it off this Valley list too, because here’s the thing: if all vegan food tasted this good, there’d be no reason to eat meat. Every dish here is a knock-out, but the real key is to leave it up to the owner, Kevin: just tell him how hungry you are and he’ll fix you up something (or somethings) that will blow you away.
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Wilder Shaw and Jeff Miller both grew up in the Valley and were unknowingly training for this story their entire life. Ask them about other Valley secrets on Twitter at @WilderShaw_ or @ThrillistLA and Instagram at @wildershaw and @jeffmillerla.