We’ll admit it: Ventura Boulevard lacks the cachet of such other important streets “over the hill” as Wilshire and Sunset. The main surface artery through the San Fernando Valley has long, utterly forgettable stretches lined with strip malls, auto dealerships and low-end motels. However, as Ventura heads into Studio City, it’s studded with some of the Valley’s best food finds—ones that are even worth a drive over the hill. Start around the corner from Universal City at MANTEE, a small Lebanese place serving an extensive Middle Eastern menu filled with unusual specialties, notably mantee, a casserole of succulent toasted ravioli in a creamy, garlicky yogurt sauce.
Just up the boulevard in a dark corner of a Marshall’s strip mall is newcomer RAMEN JINYA, a great pit stop on a chilly L.A. day (pork belly fanciers, go for the tonkotsu ramen). Across the street is the celebrated SUSHI NOZAWA, which anchors the eastern end of Sushi Row, the section of Ventura named for its sushi restaurants. Chef Kazunori Nozawa, aka the Sushi Nazi, offers a distinctive style of chef’s-choice omakase (“trust me” is his motto) to cowed but doting customers (he also operates Sugarfish in Brentwood and Marina del Rey). In the same strip mall is the humbler but more hospitable DAICHAN, a hole-in-the-wall that serves excellent homestyle Japanese dishes, such as udon noodles, poki bowls, curries and tempuras.
A few blocks west on Ventura is RAPHAEL, an upscale spot that expanded last year, got a full liquor license and welcomed chef Adam Horton, formerly of Saddle Peak Lodge. Steak tartare and pan-roasted Scottish salmon are top picks, and we love that they offer more than 50 wines by the glass. Close by is chef Katsuya Uechi’s original SUSHI KATSU-YA , the beachhead of what is now a sushi empire. It specializes in elaborate cut rolls and intricate presentations, and if you can swing a reservation it’s a fun evening for a small group. Not far away you’ll find Uechi’s KIWAMI, an elegant, contemporary spot for sushi connoisseurs to savor omakase or nosh less formally on soba noodles, tempura and miso-marinated black cod. If you’re on an expense account, head across the boulevard to ASANEBO, known for superb sashimi and a range of imaginative cooked dishes; omakase starts at $75 per person and ascends from there.
Since man does not live by yellowtail alone, climb to the second floor of the mall at Ventura and Laurel Canyon to sample terrific tacos and Mexico City specialties at chef Jimmy Shaw’s LOTERIA GRILL, a branch of the well-known Farmers Market stand and its Hollywood Boulevard spinoff. The ARTISAN CHEESE GALLERY, located across Ventura, purveys handmade cheeses from all over the world, as well as Fra’ Mani salumi and superb sandwiches (try the duck confit with fig jam and Le Marechal cheese). On Sundays, Ventura Place behind the Cheese Gallery is home to the STUDIO CITY FARMERS’ MARKET, a small, high-quality market that is hugely popular with the locals (parking can be a challenge).
A block west of Laurel Canyon you’ll find a chic little bakery called BIG SUGAR BAKESHOP. Every day the bakers create a different lineup of temptations, from red velvet cake and tender scones to some of the best lemon bars we’ve tasted (check the website, bigsugarbakeshop.com, to see what’s just come out of the oven). Last, for a relaxing capper to this culinary crawl, stop in at FLASK FINE WINES, which has been satisfying local needs for premium bottlings for more than four decades. After all, pounding the pavement in search of good eats is thirsty work.
—Jean T. Barrett
Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Blvd., 818.505.0207
11941 Ventura Blvd., 818.760.3348
Big Sugar Bakeshop
12182 Ventura Blvd., 818.508.5855
11288 Ventura Blvd., 818.980.8450
Flask Fine Wines
12194 Ventura Blvd., 818.761.5373
Lotería Grill Studio City
12050 Ventura Blvd., 818.508.5300
10962 Ventura Blvd., 818.761.6565
11239 Ventura Blvd., 818.980.3977
11616 Ventura Blvd., 818.505.3337
Studio City Farmers’ Market
Ventura Place at Ventura Blvd., Sunday 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
11680 Ventura Blvd., 818.985.6976
11288 Ventura Blvd., Ste. C, 818.508.7017