Osteria La Buca in Sherman Oaks Defies the Odds

Pandemic success.

After 15 years of success with their restaurant Osteria La Buca, across from Paramount Studios on Melrose, owners Stephen Sakulsky and John Moezzi set their sights on a second outlet. They considered several locations, including the swanky new Caruso mall, Palisades Village in Pacific Palisades, but ultimately zeroed in on the Valley.

“Most of my friends growing up lived in the Valley and I’ve spent a lot of time here. And John lives here. We found a space where the restaurant Fusion had been. The landlord understood the dynamics of a pandemic and was interested in partnering with us,” Stephen shares.

So in October of last year, with COVID restrictions at their most severe, the duo kicked off their second outpost, offering just delivery and takeout. Much to their surprise, business was brisk from the get-go. On weekends it could even be called booming. It’s not unusual for the kitchen to max out on Friday and Saturday nights, forcing them to stop taking new orders. Regulars have learned to order in early.

“I am pinching myself,” says Stephen. “We knew a lot of our guests were from the Valley and that they were getting on the 101 to get to the Melrose location. So we definitely opened with a following here and word just spread,” the owner shares.

Stephen describes the fare as “California Italian—country Italian coupled with SoCal produce” and notes that everything used is organic and made from scratch, including the pasta. Produce is purchased at local farmers markets or from a small farm Osteria La Buca runs in West LA.

“We aren’t hoity-toity about food and we’re aren’t about celebrity chefs. We don’t have all that ego. Here, it’s just about the food,” he says.

The menu boasts traditional Italian fare like spaghetti cacio pepe and bucatini carbonara, both of which don’t disappoint. The pasta we had was cooked a perfect al dente and doused in just the right amount of sauce (it seems so often pasta is drowning in sauce or there isn’t enough).

“We aren’t hoity-toity about food and we’re aren’t about celebrity chefs. We don’t have all that ego. Here, it’s just about the food,”

At Osteria La Buca, you get a sense they aren’t cutting corners or zoning out in the kitchen. A chicken parmesan entrée is generously proportioned and fried to a flawless crisp. A tomahawk pork chop with apples and chestnuts (enough for two) is clearly a premium cut of meat—which becomes tastier with every bite. A grilled branzino is an elevated experience, served atop kale with pickled pearl onions, chanterelle mushrooms and roasted pumpkin seeds. Don’t miss the crispy brussels sprouts, which my entire family went bonkers over. The savory balls are roasted, tossed in a white anchovy vinaigrette and finished off with a poached egg and pecorini cheese.

In February, the owners bought a mobile pizza oven and launched Buca Out Back, aka BOB, in the rear parking lot. In addition to pizza, there are a few snacks, plus wine and beer available. Diners can grab their own fare and sit at picnic tables under string lights.

In the meantime, the interiors of the eatery are being built out in preparation for when restrictions are fully lifted. Eventually indoor seating—along with the patio tables out front—will offer dine-in service for 80 to 100 people. It’s the next step to what has been an unexpectedly smooth rollout.

“It took us 10 years to get a second location. I’m elated that we’ve done this well during a pandemic. I figure we’re either geniuses or crazy. Or maybe a bit of both,” Stephen laughs.