Those with little knowledge of the real San Fernando Valley may think of it as a vast suburban wasteland known for a series of clichés revolving around scenes from the movie "Clueless" and dreadful traffic on the 101 Freeway. Debates tend to focus less on the restaurant scene than whether Laurel Canyon or Coldwater Canyon is faster, or whether Harvard Westlake or Campbell Hall is the more prestigious prep school.
But everyone knows that Ventura Boulevard is the Valley's lifeblood. It's a seemingly endless road with an improbably large number of car repair shops, shopping-center sushi restaurants and nail salons. And in the last two years, roughly three miles of the boulevard in Studio City has become the new hub for some serious dining and drinking: new places focusing on farm-to-table menus, not just the build-your-own burger, burrito and pizza chains.
If you were to spend an entire day meandering among the newest restaurants and bars on a specific 2.8-mile stretch of the street — roughly between Vineland and Coldwater Canyon avenues — you'd find butter-laden hoe cakes, a 16-course vegan tasting menu, filet mignon tacos, cocktails that include green apple snow, and super-crispy pig ears. Imagine trying six restaurants on that almost-three-mile stretch in a single day, a kind of foodie version of Netflix bingeing. Here's what it would look like:
It's Saturday morning, which for many means brunch. Cue a crowded, sunshine-swathed dining room, trays of bubbly cocktails and a laughable amount of bacon. The first stop on your SFV food crawl is the Bellwether. Opened by two
Wipe the hot pepper rub from your mouth and head 1.7 miles east to your next stop, Joan's on Third. Like the 3rd Street location of Joan McNamara's wildly successful café and bakery, the Studio City patio offers prime real estate for celebrity sightings. It's also where you'll want to be seated when you dig into a slice of chocolate coffee cake, a house-made granola parfait or chewy chocolate chip cookie. Grab a bag of house potato chips on your way out.
Head .4 miles farther east, past Du-par's, Trader Joe's, a tattoo shop, a comic book store and Antonia Lofaso's Black Market Liquor Bar (which could be credited as the catalyst for the recent restaurant boom in the Valley), to Barrel & Ashes. It's time for a hoe cake (a round of corn bread bathed in maple butter, delivered to your table in a hot, individual skillet) and a Frito pie served in an actual chip bag, smothered in chili and cheese. Note that this is a BBQ restaurant, so you might as well order some spare ribs and pulled pork too. Because your next stop is going to be vegan.
More than a dozen car repair shops, one violin store, a couple of massage parlors and .9 miles later you're at Gadarene Swine, Phillip Frankland Lee's vegan restaurant housed in a quaint cottage. The feeling that you've somehow stepped inside Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" movie is only exaggerated by the thick rounds of wood on each table, which are meant to serve as your plates. If you opt for the $100 menu, expect a vegan feast of about 16 to 18 courses. You can make requests or give Lee the freedom to cook on a whim, and you'll be served anything from a board of mushrooms cooked four ways to peanut butter and jelly, a slice of sourdough from a 52-year-old starter topped with house-made peanut butter and cranberry red wine jelly.
As it is now time for tacos, take a left turn out the door and go one mile, past a drone store, a discount pet store and Dr. Ike's Pharmacy, and find yourself at Maradentro, Jesse Gomez's seafood-centric restaurant. (Gomez is also the owner of Yxta, Mercado and another Maradentro opening soon in Brentwood.) Order everything under the "taco" portion of the menu. And do not be dissuaded by the flour tortillas, the cheese on the chile-morita-marinated shrimp tacos or the lobster tacos, or the fact that the surf-and-turf includes a taco full of filet mignon. These are gringo tacos at their finest.
Your day of culinary debauchery is winding down, but the evening is just getting started. Thus head .2 miles east, back toward Barrel & Ashes and to the Fiscal Agent. This new cocktail bar is above the barbecue restaurant, but to get to it you have to go down a narrow alley and up a flight of stairs. Fiscal Agent is where Julian Cox, the bartender extraordinaire behind the cocktail programs at many L.A. restaurants, and his team of bartenders are mixing drinks topped with lemon grass air and served in the kind of vintage glassware that would make the set director of "Mad Men" want to cry. Michael Kahikina, one of the chefs downstairs, is making the bar food: think beef tartare instead of sliders. The armchairs are cozy; the lounge is lighted mostly by candlelight.
And now, a few miles and many meals later, it's time to find your car.
Six new and notable restaurants and bars in Studio City:
The Bellwether, 13251 Ventura Blvd., (818) 285-8184, www.thebellwetherla.com
Joan's on Third, 12059 Ventura Place, (818) 201-3900, www.joansonthird.com
Barrel & Ashes, 11801 Ventura Blvd., (818) 623-8883, www.barrelandashes.com
Gadarene Swine, 11266 Ventura Blvd., (818) 508-5500, www.thegadareneswine.com
Maradentro, 11929 Ventura Blvd., (818) 358-3423, www.maradentrorestaurant.com
Fiscal Agent, 11801 Ventura Blvd., (818) 623-8088, www.thefiscalagent.com
For the record Jan. 15, 3:36 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said to head west to get to Joan's on Third. The correct direction is east. The article also said Gomez is the chef-owner at his restaurants. He is the owner. Jose Acevedo is the chef and a partner.