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May 2, 2007 01:39 PM

Dinner Recs between Thousand Oaks & Pasadena, easy-ish freeway access

So, my sister is in town on business this Thursday. She is consulting in Thousand Oaks, but staying the night in Santa Monica (I don't understand this, either - it has something to do with her work). I'm looking for a decent restaurant, hopefully something a little different, i.e., not a chain, midway between Thousand Oaks and Pasadena, where I live. I want to make it easy for her to get to SM afterward, hence the easy freeway access caveat.

I"m thinking of something like La Cabanita in Montrose, only closer to Thousand Oaks. Mid-priced, interesting food. She likes to have Mexican when she's out here, since she's from Boston and it's hard to get decent Mexican out there. Other cuisines would be fine as well, too.

Any recs?

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  1. Would somewhere between downtown LA and West LA be good, considering she has to go to Santa Monica afterwards? Or would you prefer something in the eastern part of LA (off the 5 freeway, for example)?

    9 Replies
    1. re: katkoupai

      Good question. I guess I was thinking somewhere in San Fernando Valley, off the 101 and near the 405, then she could hop back on the 405 down to SM. Does that make sense to do it that way, or is it too much driving for her? I don't really know what the best way to go is.

      1. re: onebite

        I just mapped it out, and it looks like the Winnetka, Encino or Sherman Oaks areas would be the best. You could take the 134 to the 101 from Pasadena, and she could take the 101 from Thousand Oaks to get to any of those areas. Then she could hop on the 101, to the 405, to the 10 to get to Santa Monica.

        I do not dine frequently in any of those areas, however El Torito Grill and Versailles Cuban restaurant would be places that I would consider.

        There's a place called The Spot in Encino that I like, not for the food though. They have hookahs, Persian tea and desserts. It's a nice place to meet people if you just want to drink and chat. I cannot recommend the food though, since I haven't tried too much of it. The Spot is located upstairs in the same plaza as the Laemmle Theatre in Encino. It has a nice patio.

        (818) 783-2233
        17200 Ventura Blvd
        Encino, CA 91316

        1. re: katkoupai

          Not Versailles, that one is worse than the others, gross and greasy.

          Jwsel's recommendation of Gochi for the Japanese take on Korean BBQ might be a good idea. I've heard it's really good, have trusted friends who've been, and the Encino location would work. Encino is generally pretty desolate, good-food-wise. Sherman Oaks is much better, lots of choices.

          1. re: Debbie W

            I haven't been to Versailles in a while, but I used to enjoy going there. Is it bad now?

            1. re: katkoupai

              It's been awhile, it was bad the times I went there but they weren't recent. Nothing I've read or heard makes me think it's better now, although dissenting opinions are definitely welcome.

          2. re: katkoupai

            Is Spot still there? I noticed a sign at that shopping center that there was a restaurant space available, but none of the restaurants visible from Ventura Blvd appeared to be closed.

            1. re: Jwsel

              I just called the Spot, and they are open until 2AM tonight (Wednesday). Their hours vary, so it would be a good idea to call before going.

            2. re: katkoupai

              That's the route I was thinking of. I work in Encino, so that area is pretty familiar to me, and I don't think it would be too difficult for her to find her way around on the 101 and the 405.

        2. Sagebrush Cantina in Old Town Calabasas is a fun place. For really good Mexican food, there's Sol y Luna on Ventura Blvd. in the Woodland Hills/Tarzana area. I think it's somewhere between Winnetka and Tampa.

          6 Replies
          1. re: brandygirl

            Thanks. I'll check these out. :-)

            1. re: brandygirl

              Sol y Luna is far better than Sagrebush, which isn't far above El Torito, imho, in terms of food.

              Carrillo's Mexican Deli (Winnetka -- at Sherman Way and Corbin) and Las Fuentes (Reseda -- at Reseda and Vanowen) might also be options. I haven't been to Carrillo's in years, but you can find comments on this board. Las Fuentes' food is good, but I don't know if they have drinks. If you want drinks, but not necessarily great food, there is Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks. Senor Fred in Sherman Oaks also has some supporters on this board, but I'm not one of them.

              And, if all else fails, there is El Torito Grill in the Sherman Oaks Galleria for a combination of food and drinks. For someone in Boston who is desperately craving Mexican food, it has some tasty items. (It's better than a regular El Torito.)

              If you forego Mexican, a few options. I might instead recommend Gorikee (Woodland Hills), Chili My Soul (Encino, though it's not exactly upscale), La Frite (Woodland Hills/Sherman Oaks), Roy's (Woodland Hills), Gochi (Encino), Cafe Bizou (Sherman Oaks), Stanleys (Sherman Oaks), Max (Sherman Oaks), and Simon's Cafe (Sherman Oaks). Those are a mix of types of foods and have a range of costs.

              You also have some of the best sushi options in the city -- Sushi Iki, Katsu-Ya, Tama, 4 on 6, and Nozawa, to name a few. (You can see the debates about the merits and weaknesses of each on this board.) If your sister likes non-traditional rolls, there also is Hirosuke in Encino, which is dependable for rolls and not as expensive as those other sushi bars.

              1. re: Jwsel

                I would agree with many of your choices, especially Gorikee although it's pretty far west from Pasadena. I recommended Gorikee to some friends from Newport Beach who had to be in Woodland Hills for a bar mitzvah, and they took a group of 10 and absolutely loved it.

                If the OP and sister like sushi, and have some bucks to spend, then Sushi Iki all the way!

                I would seriously disagree with your recommendations of Carrillo's and Las Fuentes. These are both "order at the counter" places with really no atmosphere. I like the food a lot at Las Fuentes, so that's not the issue. And while Carrillo's has a lot of supporters on this board, folks I respect like Carter and TomSwift, the one time we tried it we were given some of the worst Mexican food I've ever had the displeasure of being served, along with a giant mess while ordering due to the order taker getting the order completely wrong (and I speak Spanish decently enough). A bad enough experience to never return notwithstanding the highly regarded carnitas. And talk about less than zero atmosphere, it makes Las Fuentes look elegant!

                1. re: Debbie W

                  Debbie W, I so agree with you on Carrillo's. After reading so many great things about from Chowhounds, I tried it and was very disappointed. Melodies, Las Fuentes, and Los Tres Hermanos are the best casual order-at-the-counter Mexican places in the valley.

                  1. re: brandygirl

                    Las Fuentes and its sister restaurant Melodies are my mostest favoritest in the Valley, but they are pretty far off the freeway. Hence, the suggestion of their other sister restaurant Sol Y Luna which is on Ventura. LF & M are definitely order at the counter and pick it up when they call your number type places. They have wine margaritas at LFand beer, not sure about Melodies, tho.

              2. We usually go to the Adobe Cantina in Agoura Hills for Mexican.It is closer to TO than Pasadena, but still in between the two. Located on Agoura Road just east of Kanan. It is less than a quater mile off the 101 freeway. Great outdoor patio if the weather is nice. Killer margarita menu - lots of high end tequilas. The prices on food are very reasonable: generally $10 to $15 for entrees. The lobster quesadilla appetizer is a hit with all of our guests. The burittos (around $8.95) are great, huge and filling. Lots of good fish items on the menu if you like fish. Lots of salads if you are so inclined. They do have a few non-Mexican items - the BBQ ribs are the best of these. Your sister could also get to SM afterwards by taking Kanan Rd (or Malibu Canyon/ Las Virgenes, which is even more scenic) to PCH and drive along the beach to SM. It is about 10 miles longer this way, but much prettier than the freeway, and after the dinner hour, traffic should not be an issue.

                4 Replies
                1. re: scrappydog

                  Thank you for your recommendations! I've only had time to check out the first two recs. Was turned off by Sagebrush's website, which sported a Hooters-type logo (actually, it looked like the logo was taken from one of those trucker's mud flaps, you know what I mean?) and was full of advertising. Sol y Luna looked good.

                  I'm intrigued by the recommendation for Chili My Soul, which I have seen coming out of the Smart & Finall in the same strip mall (I work near there). It's not the place to take my sister, but just for my own info, what's the story on this place? I've never seen a restaurant devoted entirely to chili before.

                  1. re: onebite

                    There are plenty of posts about Chili My Soul on this board. The short story is that they have a lot of different types of chili, with tremendous variations in style (from basic bean and meat chili to exotic types like curry chicken and habanero/mango chicken), type of meat of vegetarian, and spiciness. They have a selection of about ten chilis each day. You order at a counter and can try as many of the available chilis as you want. Then you order what you want (plain chili in a bowl, nachos, chili over potato, etc.) and choose from a selection of toppings. They also have a very good salad and good fries (though I prefer them well-done).

                    Check out the website:

                    1. re: Jwsel

                      Wow... I'll have to stop in there after work one day and try out some of their food. It looks really good!

                      1. re: onebite

                        If you like spicy, I highly recommend the Durango, Gunslinger and Demon.

                        Santa Fe and Chicken Royale are very good, less-spicy and more traditional-style chilis. Poblano Turkey is very popular.

                        For non-traditional chilis, the Curry Chicken is outstanding.

                        Oh, and I love their nachos. The chips are seasoned. (I forgot to mention that you get your choice of garlic bread, cornbread, or chips with each bowl of chili. The chips are kick-ass.)

                2. Do you like Persian food? If so, I thought of another rec:

                  Shirin Restaurant
                  (818) 887-6353
                  21826 Ventura Blvd
                  Woodland Hills, CA 91364

                  This is near the intersection of Topanga Canyon Blvd. and Ventura Blvd. Exit the 101 at Topanga Cyn.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: katkoupai

                    I LOVE Persian food. Sadly, Pasadena is lacking in that area, although there is a place across from Pasadena Community College that isn't bad. I'll check out Shirin. I also heard of a place called Shar Fsal (I think that's the correct spelling) out that direction.

                    1. re: onebite

                      Yes, Chahr Fasl (meaning: Four Seasons, in Persian). I believe that is in Agoura Hills or near there. My dad has been there, yesterday actually, and he said it was good.

                      Shirin is very good Persian food, and they have a mixed clientele. They advertise in Persian and English, and many people like the place.

                      I live in Pasadena, and I never eat Persian food here. I regularly eat Persian food in the San Fernando Valley, though. :)

                      1. re: katkoupai

                        I just looked on a listing of Persian restaurants in SoCal, and there really is only the one place across from PCC. Pretty sad.

                        1. re: onebite

                          Yeah, Heider Baba is the only one I know of in Pas. I have never been there.

                          There's also a place called Caravan Serai in the Playhouse District, but it seems to be a fusion place, and I have never seen it open.

                          1. re: katkoupai

                            Heider Baba used to be more of a takeout place, but they recently remodeled and upgraded, and it's nicer now. It's worth a visit, although it's probably not as good as the places in San Fernando.

                            The menu at Caravan Serai looks kind of interesting, but like you, I've never seen it open, so who knows what's going on there.

                      2. re: onebite

                        I like both Char Fasl (especially after the renovation) and Shirin, so you can't go wrong either way. If you find yourself in TO and want to wait the traffic out (especially since it starts clumping up around Las Virgenes *before* you get to Woodland Hills and Shirin), then you can kill some time by exiting off of Kanan and going to Char Fasl.

                    2. As someone who used to live in Pasadena and work in Calabasas, I can tell you that that one of my favorites are Pho So 1 in Van Nuys (though I prefer Reseda) and also Chili My Soul in Encino.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: SauceSupreme

                        Thanks. :-) That's an even longer commute than mine from Pasadena to Encino!

                        1. re: onebite

                          If you want to try Japanese BBQ - try Gyu Kaku in Sherman Oaks, Ventura/Van Nuys, behind El Torito. I actually like it better at Gyu Kaku than Gochi in Encino, quality of the food is better also.

                          1. re: dshm

                            I totally disagree about Gyu Kako versus Gochi. I think the food is better at Gochi, the portions are bigger (they are miniscule at Gyu Kaku), and the dinner specials at Gochi are a great value.

                            1. re: Jwsel

                              Maybe it was an off night at Gochi, the meats were not as fresh and had a slightly off smell and the kalbi soup was not good, I do agree that the portion at Gochi are bigger, but then I had the worst stomach ache the next day. I was just at Gyu Kaku the other night and their misujo (30 day aged) steak was really good and tender and their Kalbi soup was good. I'll give Gochi another try. Thanks.