When people speak of the dining scene in the Valley, most likely they’re referring to the motley lineup of restaurants scattered along a particular stretch of Ventura Boulevard, sprouting at the junction of Ventura and Cahuenga, where Studio City begins and touching Sepulveda, where Sherman Oaks ends to the north. The sheer number of eating establishments in these two desirable areas has made it necessary for some restaurateurs to set their tables farther west on Ventura, into ZIP codes such as Encino. Like everywhere around Los Angeles, the spillover from overcrowded, popular parts of town usually results in an economic boost to the neighboring community. More often than not, the restaurant business, with its razor-thin margins, is the harbinger of this shift when new ones open. In the past, Encino was more famous for Pauly Shore than pla pling. However, today, with excellent culinary choices like a tasting menu by a Top Chef or brunch at a cafe hideaway tucked adjacent to a historic state park, diners can experience an Encino so wonderfully edible, it may even be considered a dining destination.
Idyllic is not a word often used when describing a restaurant located in the Valley, but the word accurately describes the setting if you choose to dine on one of the two patios here (and you definitely should). Los Encinos State Historic Park will be your view for your meal, making this Californian brasserie a unique dining location in L.A. The larger garden patio is leased from the state park and is also where you can view the Garnier building and the natural spring that trickles into the pond. At this family-friendly restaurant, guests are offered a cupful of bird feed for interacting with the local waterfowl. For hungry humans, the lamb burger is a good call. Fish and chips and fish tacos are definitely on the must-eat list. Classic steak frites, lamb chops and braised short ribs are executed well. A squid ink linguine nestled in a lobster saffron broth, chock-full of clams, lobster and tiger shrimp, is a great pasta pick. Lakeside’s shakshukah, an Israeli breakfast favorite of baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, is on point. Dessert may consist of a variety of macarons from the cafe and bakery located at Lakeside’s boulevard entrance. Just make sure Charlie the biting duck doesn’t get hold of them.
16817 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 616-2430, lakesidecafe.com.
Scratch Bar & Kitchen
Phillip Frankland Lee is Encino’s star chef. He’s the highest-profile cook along this stretch of Ventura, making dishes and offering experiences that locals here aren’t used to enjoying this close to home. His full “Chef’s Dinner” tasting menu is a tour de force of inventive plates using ever-changing available ingredients with everything made from scratch, hence the restaurant’s name. Currently, dry-aged rib-eye tartare with egg yolk and uni is among the lavish, carnivorous presentations. However, recall that Lee also helmed now-defunct Studio City vegan concept the Gadarene Swine, so his veggie chops are quite sharp, too; a plate of vegetables and edible flowers is artfully composed. The winter menu includes a course elevating all things radish, and that’s pretty rad. Lee’s partner and wife, Margarita Kallas-Lee, is Scratch’s pastry and dessert chef. Your meal will wind down indulging in her creative sweets, perhaps even her charcoal ice cream with vegetable sprinkles.
16101 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 255, Encino. (818) 646-6085, scratchbarla.com.
There are currently five locations of the Stand, with the first established in Encino in 2003. However, it’s the kind of place that seems as if it might’ve been there for decades. In the beginning, the Stand Encino was a local hangout for good, basic hot dogs and burgers, a place to have Little League postgame lunches and school fundraisers or to simply gather in the outdoor dining space shaded by willow trees, which at night are illuminated with fairy lights. It’s a place where Windy City expats can visit their hometown via an authentic Chicago dog. Jason Wishengrad, son of the Stand founder-CEO Murray Wishengrad, grew up in the restaurant’s kitchen and eventually was put in charge of its menu. The junior Wishengrad ramped up the culinary factor on the dogs and created featured items such as Three Pigs, composed of bratwurst, bacon tomato jam and a house-cured porchetta. The burger side of the menu is no slouch, either; patties of a chuck/brisket blend are custom-ground daily and delivered locally from Vernon. Wishengrad’s latest must-eat item is the French Onion Soup burger; it’s seasoned to taste like the classic soup but eats like a French dip sandwich as you dunk each bite into the jus. Guzzle it all down with a Stand Blonde Ale, brewed by Golden Road Brewing, and you’re golden.
17000 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-2700, thestandlink.com.
The sushi here is about as pretty as the happily hued modern art decorating the restaurant. Chef Ryota Okumura accents his tuna, mackerel and kanpachi with gold flakes and edible flowers, letting you taste with your eyes first as the freshness of the seafood completes the picture. The salmon skin salad includes produce from the farmers market, which Okumura regularly visits. Live food is the freshest food at the chef’s namesake sushi spot, where live octopus carpaccio, sweet shrimp, baby abalone and Japanese scallop burst with oceanic goodness. The chirashi bowl is a work of art. Okumura is an alum of Hattori Culinary Academy, which is famous for furnishing its students as kitchen stadium lackeys on Iron Chef. He also put in time at Sushi Zo as an omakase-only chef. Trusting chef Okumura is probably a good idea when he sets before you a plate of triggerfish flesh crowned with its own creamy liver. Heaven. And with the cost of this heavenly sushi experience less than at other restaurants of this caliber, it’s even more sublime. There’s an admirable wine and beer selection, too. Okumura is one of the best sushi tastes you can get not only in Encino but possibly the Valley itself.
17302 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 986-9712, okumurarestaurant.com.
Uncle Bernie’s Deli
When Fromin’s left the neighborhood in 2011, there opened up an old-school deli void. Shortly after, though, Uncle Bernie’s Deli came along to fill it. For pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup aficionados, the new kid on the block was a step up from the former resident. Norman Green, the owner, named his deli after his uncle who lives in Beverly Hills, because he likes him and he’s a great businessman. Green likes his uncle so much that there’s a portrait of him next to a Farrah Fawcett poster behind the cash register. The N.Y. Sky High Pastrami Sandwich is a respectable 2 inches or so in meat thickness, piled further with creamy coleslaw and smeared with Russian dressing. The cheesecake is reminiscent of Junior’s in Manhattan, and the half-sour pickles are perfect. The matzo ball soup is piled almost as outrageously high as the pastrami sandwich and is just what the doctor ordered. Uncle Bernie’s is great for Encino and probably one of the best delicatessens in the Valley next to Brent’s.
17615 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 990-6346, uncleberniesdeli.com.
On the very edge of Encino, Dough Girl is a gem of a pizza place. Jammed between a nail salon and a halal meat market, Dough Girl is more clubhouse than pizzeria. It’s the kind of pizza place a teenager with gourmet taste could only dream about before its existence. Further, the interior isn’t your daddy’s fast-casual — it’s street-casual. Banksy-ish graffiti art and decals decorate walls and counters. The place has a hangout vibe and is usually populated by hungry students from neighboring Birmingham High. What the kids are eating, though, is far from greasy, bready triangles of cheese pizza. The slices here are all New York thin, and the toppings are all over the place. The seasonal winter pie is layered with alfredo white sauce, ricotta, spinach and corn. Another is topped with sriracha, tomato sauce, jalapeños, cherry and banana peppers and, if you like it scorching, chili flakes. The Mobster is spread with a lobster tail bisque sauce and riddled with chunks of tiger shrimp. Obviously, Dough Girl still gotta sling the cheese pizzas or there’ll be unrest. But if you’re truly an invincible teen, you’ll be eating the Animal Style, a pizza with a Thousand Island base, American cheddar and french fries. The Dough Girl herself is an accomplished chef named Mar Diego. Remarkably, she’s put in time at Mélisse, Providence and Wolfgang Puck Catering. She even staged at elBulli for three months. Cooking competition show MasterChef, which tapes down the street, is among her regular, large-order customers. However, her priority is the neighborhood kids whom she feeds, mentors and even hires.
16851 Victory Blvd., Ste. 9, Lake Balboa. (818) 373-7300, doughgirl.pizza.
Claudine Kitchen & Bakeshop
Claudine is exactly the kind of restaurant you want your regular neighborhood eating place to be: spacious yet cozy, nicely designed but not trendy, like a laid-back Martha Stewart. It also should have good feng shui and even better food. Upon entering Claudine, the irresistible display of pastries beckons with treats like s’mores bites and jammy cookies way better than the Spitzbuben you’d rummage for in cookie tins. Statuesque, perfectly frosted chocolate cake, fresh and flaky crusted fruit pies, and mini bundt cakes disguised as doughnuts flirt with you in front of your spouse. The restaurant and bakery are named after chef-partner Anthony Jacquet’s late sister. He, pastry chef-partner Lea Newton and Shannon Wilkins are all Valley-raised locals and wanted to open the neighborhood place they always desired, so they did. Less than a year old, Claudine has tapped into the desire of many Encino residents, who have welcomed the restaurant with open arms. On the kitchen side, chef Jacquet and his team cook food they feel represents the Valley and the kinds of things they ate at friends’ houses growing up. Fried chicken sandwiches, chilaquiles, turkey chorizo tacos and the crowd favorite, breakfast naanza (a pizza on naan bread), are samples of Claudine’s interpretation of how the Valley appears on a plate. A recent weekly special of black vinegar chicken adobo dives even deeper into the area’s palate. Although Jacquet is classically trained and has worked at Getty property restaurants, his cooking at Claudine is a delicious high-five to his hometown’s food scene.
16350 Ventura Blvd., Ste. F, Encino. (818) 616-3838, claudinela.com.
The energy in this mainstay Cuban mini chain is infectious, as if news of Americans being allowed to travel to Cuba was just announced. The Encino outpost of Versailles is as vibrant as any of the others, with each massive platter of Cuban carbs and protein paraded out and announced as if it were the grand opening. Shy flavors are not welcome here, in this boisterously seasoned place, where the oxtail stew is hunky, tender and wading in a spicy tomato sauce, and garlic chicken is thick with stinking-rose pungency. The portions are famously huge, practically guaranteeing a doggy bag every time. The beef tongue and sauteed lamb lunch specials are welcome additions to the regular menu choices. If you’re going to fight the futile battle of ridding yourself of the garlic mojo criollo sauce clinging onto your tongue after eating lechon asado, the flan will have to suffice.
17410 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 906-0756, versaillescuban.com.
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Lum Ka Naad
The Valley has a lot of Thai restaurants, but not many of them can match the selection and execution of Lum Ka Naad. This specialist of Southern and Northern Thai fare has its original location in Northridge, but Lum Ka Naad’s reputation for real-deal Thai soon spread all over L.A., and a second location in Encino opened. Lum Ka Naad’s menu is broken down by food type into categories such as noodles and “from the grill,” but the most interesting stuff is listed in the regional sections. The Southern Thai fish curry, called tai pla, is spicy, fermented and funky, made with smoked fish fortified by a fermented fish paste and additionally funkified with bamboo shoots. Good luck finding tai pla anywhere else in the Valley. Representing the North is khao soy, a curry with egg noodle and chicken drumstick. This heap of a bowl is on the creamy side and sweetly spicy. A drumstick juts out of the mound of chewy noodles swimming in mild curry. Dress the bowl’s contents with a squeeze of lime, a spoonful of pickled cabbage, some shallot and the chili sauce, then slurp. Let’s not even get into kang kae with frog legs. Lum Ka Naad is almost too good for Encino.
17644 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 616-2338, lumkanaad.com.
Oh Man! Ramen
Chefs Luke Reyes and Phillip Frankland Lee got into the ramen game to offer a different kind of ramen — the kind that maximizes flavor without weighing down the eater. Applying French technique to traditional Japanese ramen making, the team coaxes every bit of flavor for their broth from bones of Berkshire-Tamworth hybrid pigs in addition to beef knuckles and chicken backs. The springy noodles are made in-house with high-tech help from a fancy pasta-maker and a circulating cooker fashioned from submarine metal. The chashu pork belly is braised until creamy, and the confit shoulder is succulent and savory. Although Oh Man’s tonkotsu broth is not thick like most around L.A. (that’s by design), all the taste is certainly there. Oh Man! Ramen may not be the top ramen in town, but it absolutely is Encino’s best.
16101 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 646-6085, ohmanramen.com.