Tradition of Good Taste
Ventura Blvd magazine and VB’s The Sauce writer Joshua Lurie expounds on the joys and surprises of nibbling his way across the Valley.
Written byJoshua Lurie
My first missions to the San Fernando Valley were for meat. I would flip through my dog-eared Zagat guide and fixate on Brent’s Deli and Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ, two well-known comfort food emporiums. Basically my Valley dining knowledge revolved around the Roscoe Boulevard exit off the 405, home to the menacingly massive Anheuser-Busch brewery. Heading west, I’d end up at Brent’s for pastrami. Turn east and I’d find myself in the good Dr.’s dining room for ribs and hot links. Almost 20 years later, I’m a veteran food writer who’s learned that the Valley spans over 224 square miles, allowing for endless culinary exploration and exciting moments of discovery that are by no means limited to sliced meat.
I’m reluctant to give much credit to my ex, but in 2005 she lived in Sherman Oaks near the strip of Van Nuys Boulevard car dealerships. This spot wasn’t exactly ground zero for food fireworks, but the central location did allow for easy recon in neighborhoods like Reseda, Tarzana, Encino, Van Nuys and North Hollywood. I soon discovered that the Valley has some of LA’s best Middle Eastern, Thai and Japanese food, to name just three types of cuisine. My belief in the Valley as a true dining destination started solidifying after immersing myself in international flavors—whether it was anta kali kebab at the late Middle Eastern restaurant Mihran’s in Tarzana, sawagani (tiny deep-fried river crabs) at Kazu Sushi in Studio City or delectable pork satay at Wat Thai Temple’s weekend food market in North Hollywood.
Of course the success of the Valley’s food scene isn’t just built on strip mall hole-in-the-walls or limited-edition eats. Bill’s Burgers serves quintessential California hamburgers amidst Van Nuys auto body shops. Bill Elwell has manned the same well-seasoned grill since 1965, inducing endless burger euphoria. The black pastrami Reuben at Brent’s Deli contends with Langer’s pastrami on rye for LA’s best sandwich. The Valley also has a wealth of hot dog spots and plenty of old-school Italian deli fare. When I seek edible Americana, the Valley’s often top of mind
I was initially drawn to the area’s international food splendor (and still am) and am now heartened by the arrival of major culinary talents. From Ludo Lefebvre to C.J. Jacobson and Antonia Lofaso, these highprofile chefs have all embraced the Valley, and apparently some of their friends are now circling Ventura Boulevard.
I know that plenty of other food writers aren’t willing to drive “over the hill,” and where other people see a barrier to entry, I see opportunity. I’ll gladly look past the sea of PR-backed, “chef-driven” restaurants on the city side of Mulholland to connect with more anonymous places in the (818). The area’s become a go-to for my restaurant coverage and continues to surprise in ways that other parts of LA rarely do at this point. The Valley provides seemingly endless chances to learn about bold new flavors, which is what I crave to experience and share with readers who have a similar sense of adventure and appreciation for great food.
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Paying it forward.