In this year's Best of L.A. issue, we named the most fantastic places to find some of our favorite foods: burgers, pizza and tacos aplenty in the heart of the city. But then there were the amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurants we discovered on the outskirts of the city, tucked into strip malls and hidden beneath freeway interchanges in the San Fernando Valley. These are the restaurants where we savored exquisite flavors from all corners of the globe: Sri Lankan “kottu roti” in Tarzana, Moroccan couscous in Sherman Oaks, Indian curries in Encino and British ales in Van Nuys. Here are six of the best international dishes we tasted — because sometimes you don't even have to leave the Valley to eat like a world traveler.
Sri Lankan String Hoppers
Considering that the number of restaurants serving Sri Lankan curries can be counted on one hand, it would be fair to assume that L.A.’s Best Sri Lankan is a pretty empty title. You would be wrong. Because Apey Kade, a small Muslim Sri Lankan joint located in a tiny strip mall in Tarzana, is a legitimately excellent place to eat, a restaurant good enough that it hardly matters whether it has any competition. Never mind that the food may be unfamiliar and the setting is a simple as it gets in this city, the string hoppers — little mats of rice noodles — and accompanying curries will still be delicious, and the kottu roti, a pan-fried flatbread smashed into bits and tossed with meat and onions, will likely be a revelation. There’s also the immensely spicy deviled chicken, which is as dangerous as it sounds. —James Gordon
19662 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, 91356. (818) 609-7683.
Mexican Cold-Brew with Agua de Jamaica
Compañía de Café is a sprawling specialty coffee shop quite unlike any other. Surely the colors tell you as much: The wall behind the register is a shade of pink that would not be out of place in an episode of Jem; the butter cookies and other house-made pastries are raucous pops of blues, yellows and hot pinks; and there’s a beautiful blue tiled wall behind the coffee counter. It’s from here that baristas pull terrific shots of espresso and make single-origin pour-overs, all with beans from the likes of George Howell Coffee. In a welcome departure from most specialty coffee shop menus, there are drinks here that smartly combine this excellent coffee with fun ingredients: a carbonated cold-brew with agua de jamaica, say, or a mocha spiked with Mexican dried chiles. The future of specialty coffee? Might be right here in the Valley. —Tien Nguyen
110 N. Maclay Ave., San Fernando, 91340. (747) 500-7102, companiadecafe.com.
Moroccan Merguez Sausage
Chef Simon Elmaleh learned to cook at his mother’s knee in Morocco, honed his skills alongside a French chef at Club Med in Israel and then, for almost two decades, ran Japan’s only Moroccan restaurant. He settled in L.A. a dozen years ago, bringing his mixed cooking heritage into a cozy, bright restaurant called Simon’s Café. Step inside and you’ll forget the place sits in the shadow of the 405/101 intersection. Tapestries with camels adorn the tangerine-hued walls alongside framed images of Marrakesh and a Jewish hamsa design. Elmaleh dons a maroon fez to greet customers and whispers with his wife as they prepare hummus, grilled eggplant, house-made merguez sausage, couscous and the specialty — a lamb tagine cooked with dry fruits, fresh apples and cinnamon. Order Bosch pears soaked in white wine and vanilla to end your meal, or figs stewed in Cointreau, and you’ll be feasting as Elmaleh’s family once did in Morocco. —Daina Beth Solomon
4515 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 91403. (818) 783-6698, simonscafe.com.
Gluten-Free Indian Flatbread
First let’s talk about the mango souffle at Streets of India in Encino. Light as air, rich as cream, pure mango flavor from the pulverized fresh mango and coconut milk — for $2.75. During the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet ($8.75 on weekdays) or the insane early-bird special (11 a.m. to noon on weekdays for $6.75), eat as much souffle as you like. Or the soy chicken tikka masala, one of many tasty vegan choices here. Run by an Indian family, this welcoming cafe and outdoor patio on bustling Ventura Boulevard features a buffet that includes fish and chicken curries, tandoori chicken, saag paneer and other traditional dishes. The regular menu offers nearly a dozen curries — Kerala shrimp curry at $12 — and numerous delicious flatbreads, including three that are gluten-free. Start a new habit and try the baby corn fries for $4. —Jill Stewart
16260 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 91436. (818) 325-2500, streetsofindiacafe.com.
Unfiltered British-Style Ales
In the last year alone, L.A. County has become home to at least half a dozen new breweries, all trying to set themselves apart from those that came before in the hopes of earning a share of the region’s increasing craft beer market. Of them, MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. in Van Nuys may be the most unlikely newcomer, which is exactly why its precision-brewed, British-style ales are such a welcome break from the IPAs and California saisons trying to push onto tap lists citywide. Not only is MacLeod the first production brewery to open a taproom in the brewery desert of the San Fernando Valley but it’s also the first one in L.A. to focus exclusively on “real ales,” or unfiltered beers served from a cask without any forced carbonation. Taking on the challenge of education and the risk of alienating conventional beer drinkers (all pints are poured at a balmy 56 degrees), MacLeod sticks to its guns and provides quality brews — from the Yorkshire Pale to the 60 Shilling Scotch Ale — that are a great introduction to the real ales of the British Isles. —Sarah Bennett
14741 Calvert St., Van Nuys, 91411. (818) 631-1963, macleodale.com.
Persian Beef Kabobs
Tucked in a strip mall in Woodland Hills, just before you make the trip through Topanga Canyon on your way to the ocean, sits Bibi Sara. The name means “grandma’s house” in Farsi, and the warmth of chef-owner Mostafa Motlagh, who is there cooking every day, makes you feel like part of the family. Serving Persian and Mediterranean food, the cozy space seats only about a dozen, but the take-out orders are nonstop. Nicely seasoned, tender and full of flavor, the ground beef kabob and the boneless chicken kabob are the standouts. They’re served with a salad (Persian cucumbers, tomato and feta cheese) and pita bread and come atop a bed of rice (white, brown, cherry or barberry), leaving you happily full — the way a trip to grandma’s house should. —Jacy Wojcik
4878 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills, 91364. (818) 914-5298, bibisararestaurant.com
See what other incredible things our city has to offer in this year's Best of L.A. issue.