On Ventura Boulevard, there are at least four places to find artisan coffee between Universal City and Sherman Oaks.
But among them all combined, there are at most three exposed beams, two succulents and one barista in a funny hat at any given time. Which is to say, you will not find the now-routine trappings of quality third-wave coffee in this stretch of the San Fernando Valley.
What you will find, however, is excellent coffee, espresso, cold brew and more, with relatively easy parking and a perfect straight shot between them. You know what that means: It’s time for a coffee crawl. So here, arranged from east to west, are four great coffee shops worth the trek to Ventura Boulevard.
White Drop Espresso at North Pole Snow Cream
The easternmost coffee shop on our crawl is not actually a coffee shop at all – it’s a Snow Creamery (which is a type of flavored shaved snow/ice), a garish aqua store decorated with cute geometric animals that is mostly the domain of young kids getting their cold sugar fix on hot afternoons. The narrow room occupies a spot in an odd strip mall right near a busy intersection, and unless you carefully parse its sign, you’d have no idea of the excellent coffee within. But if you manage to squeeze past the kids in backpacks and make it up to the counter, you will be rewarded: There is a Kyoto-style cold brew setup dripping slowly to the left of the register, and a La Marzocco machine for espresso. The cold brew is great, and espresso drinks are consistently good, but the real highlight is the straight espresso: Shots are served in a beautiful set almost like tea, a shiny silver demitasse on a thin wooden tray with an artfully placed spoon and a little shot of sparkling water on the side. There are a couple of seats on the sidewalk out front, the perfect spot to spend a few meditative minutes. And as you might imagine, there are Snow Cream affogatos for dessert. 11048 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 921-3131, northpolesnowcream.com.
Just a mile or so down the road, in a more conventional storefront in a slightly roomier strip mall, the Coffee Source is much closer to the coffee norm, SEO nightmare of a name and all. The space is open and full of natural light, the walls are white and decorated with art and a big mural, and there’s a roaster to one side surrounded by a semicircular wooden desk. Out of that roaster comes excellent coffee, whether you have it brewed as a pour-over, an espresso shot, or in your coffee maker at home (they sell bags of beans to go). And if you feel like sticking around, the Wi-Fi is free, the air is cool and there is almost always a table available. 11400 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 853-7562 , mycoffeesource.com.
Red Window Coffee
It’s a little generous to call the Red Window Coffee setup a shop – it’s more like a tiny brick closet. But don’t let its size deter you — the Red Window is brewing excellent coffee with an Australian influence, from Flat Whites to Aussie-style lattes and more. The place doesn’t have any indoor seating, but there is a handful of wooden tables made from old spools lined up along the adjacent wall, offering plenty of shade and a great view of one of the region’s hottest thoroughfares — you might even find a succulent or two. 12953 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; redwindowcoffee.com.
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The Coffee Roaster
There’s something old-fashioned about the Coffee Roaster — something reminiscent of the place around the corner where you’d get your coffee in 1998, or in a small town that never realized that coffee shops should be treated like a combination of church and catwalk. Maybe it’s the mustard-yellow awning and cream walls, the cluttered interior and equally cluttered menu board. Or maybe it’s the warm and happy people, or the welcoming and unfussy atmosphere. And it helps that the coffee is equally unfussy, quick and bright and fresh, roasted in the front corner of the store from a diverse global collection of beans to varying roast levels. Fresh coffee is a beautiful thing, and when you can get it in a shop that manages to both pour a great cup and induce a pleasant sort of nostalgia, you’re doing it right on all fronts. 13567 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 905-9719, thecoffeeroaster.net.