Better by the Dozen

12 Valley tastemakers offer insider intelligence on the latest must-visit eateries, bakeries, markets and burger joints.

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    Karen Young | Food Styled

When it comes to matters of taste, everyone has a favorite “go-to” place—whether it’s a cafe for a leisurely brunch or an ethnic market to grab-and-go. Here we query some locals—all of whom we consider people with truly good taste—on their tried-and-true picks.


Photographed by Lu Tapp
Big Sugar Bakeshop, 12182 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-508-5855

Sweet Treat

Ask a question, and sometimes the answer is surprising. That’s exactly what happened when we asked Sherman Oaks orthodontist Linda Toth where she and dentist husband, Bill Toth, like to take their three children.

Linda explains, “When the kids were 4, 6 and 8, we returned from a vacation where we biked everywhere we went. The kids wanted to know why we never biked much at home. Living in the Studio City hills isn’t always easy for biking, but we decided right when we returned to bike down to Ventura Boulevard. We ended up stopping at Big Sugar Bake Shop for a treat. Ever since that day, it’s been a regular thing. The kids love the doughnut muffins and M & M cookies, and we can’t resist the brownies and buckeyes.”


Photographed by Abram Cox
SunCafe, 10820 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-308-7420

Vegan Power

Triple-threat status—that’s what Alicia Witt’s got as an actress-singer-songwriter who currently co-stars in the FX series Justified. Alicia, who is a vegan, says her favorite local dining establishment is SunCafe.

“I love the lettuce wraps with their famous taco ‘meat,’ which is nut-based. It’s also in their amazing lasagna with delicious cashew cheese. They have incredible smoothies—the shamrock shake and the chocolate are two of my favorites. The food is unique and original, and it’s a place where I can even bring my most carnivorous friends, such as Shanola Hampton (Shameless). I know that when she actually suggests we meet there for a meatless taco, they are doing something right!”


COMFORT FOOD Cabbage soup at Brent’s Deli

Hungry Girl Splurges

Healthy eating has become an industry for Lisa Lillien, a New York Times best-selling author who presides over a kitschy, food-centric empire that includes a website (, newsletter and TV shows. Lisa isn’t one to splurge often, but when she does, these inspire her:

Mastro’s, butter cake: “The best cake ever—moist, sweet, buttery—with the best whipped cream on the planet. Plan to share this with five friends.”

Mo’s, Santa Fe chicken caesar: “I rarely eat salad dressing, but the dressing at Mo’s is to die for! Best. Dressing. EVER. I’m sure it has a bazillion calories, but it’s worth it.”

Brent’s Deli, cabbage soup: “Sweet and savory and packed with beef—it’s a bowl of soup that is definitely a whole meal (but I order an entree anyway!)”

CiCi’s Cafe, “Trick or Treat” pancakes: “Ahhhhh! With pumpkin puree and whipped cream, there is nothing better!”

Mastro’s, 2087 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 805-418-1811, Mo’s, 4301 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank, 818-845-3009, Brent’s Deli, 19565 Parthenia St., Northridge, 818-886-5679 and 2799 Townsgate Rd., Westlake Village, 805-557–1882, CiCi’s Cafe, 18912 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, 818-881-6704 


Favorite Hangout

Jeff Garlin (The Goldbergs) is known as one of the funniest guys on TV. But when it comes to food, he’s serious—dead serious. We asked him to name his favorite hangout on the Boulevard, which as luck turns out is just down the hill from his home. Sweet Butter Kitchen is a place I go almost every day. I aspire to eat healthy, and I do if you count pancakes as eating healthy. Their blueberry pancakes are the best.”

Sweet Butter Kitchen, 13824 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-788-2832


My Market of Choice

In just five years, chef Kimmy Tang has opened five locations of 9021Pho (named for the Vietnamese soup), with three more set to open this year. Her dishes blend a traditional Vietnamese palate of healthy, colorful vegetables, rich in antioxidants, with traditional spices and lean proteins like fish and chicken.    

Kimmy says her favorite market to shop for Asian ingredients is 99 Ranch Market. “It is by far the best I have shopped in within the San Fernando Valley, because it has great variety of Asian food and herbs, and they are very clean,” she explains.

Interested in cooking Asian dishes at home? Kimmy suggests stocking your pantry with these Ranch Market items: soy sauce, fish sauce, bok choy, chives, bean sprouts, rice and rice noodles.

99 Ranch Market, 6450 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys, 818-988-7899 


Sushi Fix

As Buzz Watson on the TNT series Major Crimes, Phillip P. Keene plays the character of a videographer and surveillance expert. In real life, he gives that same intense attention to food—and in this case to his favorite sushi spot, Kiwami.

“The restaurant itself is a study in Japanese-inspired modern minimalism. Sculpted stones on the walls of grey grass cloth recall the islands of Japan, setting the tone for an idyllic lunchtime repast or an important meeting. It is always a great meal; I could sit there for hours and never stop eating!” 

Most often Phillip orders the Kiwami Tray. “It is a terrific value at $20 (for lunch) and consists of albacore with crispy onion, crab and avocado-wrapped whitefish, yellowtail jalapeño, baked crab hand roll, crispy rice with spicy tuna—all accompanied by miso soup, salad and rice.”

Kiwami, 11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-763-3910


Party of Five Pick-Up

With three kids younger than age 5 (including a newborn) and splitting time between two TV shows (TNT’s Perception, NBC’s The Night Shift), Scott Wolf is a guy who appreciates the beauty of takeout. The family, which includes wife, Kelley, recently moved to Encino and discovered the Sabzee Mediterranean Market

“We probably grab dinner from there once a week (sometimes more). The classics like hummus and baba ghanoush are amazing. All of the prepared foods are also great. But the highlight for us is always the fresh-baked flatbreads. We try to catch them fresh out of the oven, and they’re so good.”

Sabzee Mediterranean Market, 17461 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-745-1313 


POWER LUNCH The culinary expert enjoying shrimp tacos at Loteria Grill.

Where a Pro Goes

Barbara Fairchild, Food Guru

If anyone is an expert on all things gastronomy, it’s Barbara Fairchild, former editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit. The Studio City-based freelance food and travel writer, editor and public speaker says these days she is “loving a lot of things” in her own backyard. 

Among them: “Shrimp tacos and summer salad at Loteria Grill; the chopped salad with a fantastic lemon dressing from Artisan Cheese Gallery; the Laurel Burger at Laurel Tavern (with the best fries anywhere); and the grilled salmon salads at both Aroma Coffee & Tea Company and The Six.” 

Loteria Grill, 12050 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-508-5300, Artisan Cheese Gallery, 12023 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-505-0207, Laurel Tavern, 11938 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-506-0777, Aroma Coffee & Tea Company, 4360 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, 818-508-0677, The Six, 12650 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-761-2319 and 23536 Calabasas Rd., Calabasas, 818-222-6969


Candlelight Dining

Major League Baseball’s Barry Zito, who attended Pierce College, once lived in the 818. But the left-handed pitcher now calls San Diego home. When Barry—currently a free agent—returns to the Valley, he loves having a romantic meal with his wife, former Miss Missouri Amber Seyer, at Firefly in Studio City. He says he “loves it both for a drink in the mellow library setting and also for a great dinner under the fire-lit canopy.”  Most often the left-hander orders the pork chop or the roasted chicken. For dessert, bread pudding is a home run. 

Firefly, 11720 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-762-1833


What Wets my Whistle

Fabio Viviani, Top Chef

Chef Fabio Viviani, a Top Chef fan favorite and the owner of Firenze Osteria in Toluca Lake, is a busy guy—flying across the country opening restaurants and making guest appearances. In his “off” time, he relishes being at the table instead of in the kitchen. Here are a few tables where you’ll find him.

Black Market Liquor Bar: “Chef Antonia Lofaso is a good friend. I love how she has curated her menu with amazing Asian inspiration—and the cocktails are pretty rockin’ too. Peel-and-eat lemon pepper shrimp with orange crystal aioli and the spicy Korean chicken wings are a must!”

Katsu-Ya: “The original Studio City location is an institution! I like to sit at the sushi bar with some friends and order omakase-style.”  

California Canteen: “They have a solid menu, great crowd, and it’s super-easy to pop up to Universal to catch a movie, maybe even at IMAX! I typically order any of their steamed mussels and frites.”

Black Market Liquor Bar, 11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-446-2533, Katsu-Ya, 11680 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-985-6976, California Canteen, 3311 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Universal City, 818-765-3311 


Photographed by Mohamed El Emam

He Said/ She Said on Best Brunch

Like most married couples, Jeanie Bacharach and David Burke sometimes agree and other times disagree. One thing the casting agent (Nashville, Manhattan) and actor (Brothers & Sisters) are in complete unison on is where to go eat after hiking Fryman Canyon with their dog, Jeter:
Aroma Coffee & Tea in Studio City.  

Jeanie: “The food is great, the ambience is very low-key, and it’s nice to sit outside. It doesn’t feel like a scene, even though its popularity has gone through the roof since we first started going there.”

David: “We almost always get the Wild Veggie Burrito.”

Jeanie: “The Wild Veggie Burrito is egg whites, spinach, wild and brown rice, roasted red peppers and cheddar cheese (sometimes we ask for no cheese, but often I feel too ‘LA’ and self-conscious to do that!) It also comes with guacamole, salsa and sour cream on the side … and fruit! Even though it’s not the MOST healthy thing, it comes awfully darn close.”

David: “And tastes awfully darn good.”

Aroma Coffee & Tea, 4360 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, 818-508-7377


TOP THIS The grilled peach and avocado salad at Pedalers Fork

When Out West…

This beauty and lifestyle expert (Ellen, The Doctors) lives in the west Valley with hubby, actor Jerry Douglas, so Calabasas quite often is their go-to spot. Here is a trio of their favorite places.

Pedalers Fork: “We typically order lots of fresh veggies and salad. The burrata cheese appetizer is to die for, and the beet salad is so fresh and crisp.”

Sugarfish: “We don’t get in the mood for sushi very often, but when we do, we shoot over to Sugarfish. I love their blue crab hand roll.”

Le Pain Quotidien: “We order lattes, soup and any of the petite tartines, or a scoop of tuna with avocado and tomato. I also really love their lentil soup. It is a meal in itself and so healthy and filling.”

Pedalers Fork, 23504 Calabasas Rd., Calabasas, 818-225-8231, Sugarfish, 4799 Commons Way, Calabasas, 818-223-9966, Le Pain Quotidien, 4719 Commons Way, Calabasas, 747-444-5163