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Strip Mall Hidden Gems in the San Fernando Valley and West Side?

cimero Jul 11, 2011 04:15 PM

Looking for really good Mom & Pop shop-type restaurants generally found tucked away in strip malls (although strip mall not absolutely required if you have a good place!).

I'll start off with a little Portuguese Bakery (or so I thought). It's called Natas Pastries at 13317 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks (right next door to Casa Vega) A couple of tables outside, but not being a bakery person, I never paid much attention. From the outside it looks like a casual cafe for breakfast and lunch, but then driving by there was a sign that said $10 dinner specials. Now I was curious so I checked it out.

As you approach, all you see is basically a tiny little shop with a bakery case (and the pastries all look terrific -- but as I said, I'm not a bakery person), but THEN low and behold, through an archway to the left, the cutest little dining room!! Done beautifully with Portuguese tile, I was SHOCKED at what a great little dining room this was. And fairly elegant for what appeared to be a little cafe.

I had the $10 special (also available at lunch) which was half a chicken, salad and baked fries. The fries were actually rosoemary red skin potatoes that were cubed; not fries at all and they were not very good....too much oil and not cooked in a hot enough oven to get crispy. But the chicken was good and the salad, typical side salad stuff. The toasted homemade bread in the basket was exceptional however; and a neighboring table was slurping down a Portuguese vegetable soup that certainly looked very good. Menu items are intersting and large entrees ranged between $12 - $16. So while I can't say it's a home run on exceptional food quality yet....the jury is still out, I'll definately go back and try other things on the menu. The ambiance was certainly wonderful. Beer and wine are available.

And on the other hand, went to a little pizza place that looked like it could be a gem, Santino's NY Pizza on Woodman (jusst in from the corner of Ventura) and it was AWFUL! Now we did NOT order pizza and after seeing reviews on other sites, maybe this is the only thing they can do (but a lot of complaints on the pizza front too). We had a ceasar salad that was basically a bowl of romaine lettuce with crutons that tasted like they came out of a box at Ralph's. Totally worthless. I ordered eggplant parmesian...there was no parmesian! A few slices of breaded eggplant (dry!!!) sitting on a pile of spagetti with red sauce. The red sauce was ok, but the eggplant is clearly held on the side so it can either go on a plate or on a bun. My husband's chicken parmesian was dry and partially burned as were the cookies in the case on the counter. Santino clearly has no sense of quality, I think he'll just shovel anyting out to unsuspecting custoemrs. So ignore all the celebrity photos on the wall and avoid this place!

Let's hear what the other hounds have to say!! Let's find some great places!!!

  1. t
    Thor123 Jun 25, 2012 01:46 PM

    May already be in here but how about Tlapazola Grill on Gateway in West LA for great Mexico City sea food and other fare?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Thor123
      westsidegal Jun 25, 2012 05:44 PM

      Tlapazola also used to offer a terrific selection of tequilas.
      i presume that they still do.

      1. re: Thor123
        Servorg Jun 25, 2012 05:50 PM

        I've always been under the impression that their food (at least at the Gateway location) was centered around the cuisine of Oaxaca (even the name of the restaurant is a town in Oaxaca which the founding chef hails from)?

        1. re: Servorg
          PaulF Jun 25, 2012 05:58 PM

          Does anyone know the relationship between the Tlapazola on Gateway (the one with the great tequila selection) and the Tlapazola in Venice on Venice? And do either of them have a relation to the Tlapazola that was once on Lincoln in Santa Monica?

          1. re: PaulF
            Servorg Jun 25, 2012 06:03 PM

            Lincoln became Gateway. The Venice one took over for Pam's Thai but we haven't been to that location of Tlapazola yet.

            1. re: Servorg
              PaulF Jun 25, 2012 06:44 PM

              The two Tlaps have different menus and different tequila selections, for what it's worth.

      2. PaulF Jun 23, 2012 10:39 AM

        I have a question about a place that I haven't tried:

        At the corner of Hazeltine and Burbank there is a liquor/grocery store. It's on the same side of Burbank as Nat's but on the other side of Hazeltine. They have a yellow sign that explains the beer specials.

        But ... but ...

        Inside is a lunch counter serving Mexican food (or Mexican American food). I always eat at Nat's, then go across the street to buy beer and the place smells good and the guy who owns the liquor says the food is good.

        But I've never tried it.

        Anyone know the place and has anyone tried it? I have no idea if it's good or not, but they seem to do business, always people eating there.

        7 Replies
        1. re: PaulF
          Servorg Jun 23, 2012 10:47 AM

          I think it's called "Bronco Mexican Grill" and (if that's right) here is the Yelp on it: http://www.yelp.com/biz/bronco-restau...

          1. re: Servorg
            PaulF Jun 23, 2012 02:20 PM

            That's gotta be it.

            Thanks, S.

            1. re: Servorg
              Jwsel Jun 23, 2012 05:01 PM

              Interesting. The Yelp indicates that it is the same Bronco .that used to on Woodman and Magnolia, but recently closed and became a different Mexican place. I was never particularly impressed with Bronco when it was a stand-alone restaurant.

              San Marcos Grill on Hazeltine, just south of Oxnard, is quite good.

              1. re: Jwsel
                cdub Jun 25, 2012 01:23 PM

                bronco and manny's which replaced it are both mediocre with the lone exception of their machaca and egg burrito.

                1. re: Jwsel
                  SIMIHOUND Jun 25, 2012 05:00 PM

                  Woodman and Magnolia is all residence. Maybe you mean Moorpark or Burbank?

                  1. re: SIMIHOUND
                    Jwsel Jun 25, 2012 06:56 PM

                    Sorry. I meant Woodman and Moorpark.

              2. re: PaulF
                vegetablelasagna Aug 30, 2012 05:26 PM

                Also at Burbank & Hazeltine is the amazing Star Falafel.

              3. d
                Dogbite Williams Jun 21, 2012 09:05 PM

                I had the sausage and peppers at Santino's. It was one of the worst meals I'd had in years. I will never return.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Dogbite Williams
                  Servorg Jun 22, 2012 05:30 AM

                  So you and the OP are in total agreement in that case as he too ripped Santino's a new one in his opening post to this thread. In fact, other than your mention of it that's the only other mention of the place here. It's now officially off my bucket list! ;-D>

                2. Golem Jul 14, 2011 08:56 AM

                  I discovered Roladin Bakery and Cafe in Loehmann's Plaza Reseda. It is an Israeli gem, like the much larger and very busy Aroma Cafe in Encino, but a lot more accessible. Great sandwiches, soups, salads. The sabich sandwich is currently my favorite.

                  Roladin Bakery Cafe
                  19365 Victory Blvd, Tarzana, CA 91335

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Golem
                    udarbe88s Jun 23, 2012 09:28 AM

                    I had the opportunity to visit Roladin last time I was in the area. I had a breakfast dish that I don't remember the name of, but it was tasty. Also, the extras that came on the plate were pleasantly unique and delightful. The pastry display looked devine. Although, I do miss Kayla's Cookie Castle that was there before Roladin.

                  2. westsidegal Jul 13, 2011 10:46 PM

                    if part of your definition of "hidden gem" requires that the food be low-priced, then this doesn't meet your criteria, because, like most excellent sushi restaurants, their prices aren't low:
                    echigo sushi in west LA on santa monica blvd

                    their quality is superb.
                    they are the only other sushi bar that i've found that serves monkfish liver that is as good as the monkfish liver served at sushi zo

                    1. i
                      ilysla Jul 13, 2011 06:47 PM

                      The Valley:
                      Tampa Gardens
                      Mandarin Deli (which isn't *amazing* but definitely quite respectable)
                      Los Tres Hermanos
                      Amir's Falafel (the Encino one)

                      West Los Angeles:
                      Eduardo's Grill (kind of tex-mex but the people know how to grill meat...)
                      The place next to Blue Marlin (the name of I forgot and which appears to have 100 variations on tuna, eel, and rice bowls; the food's not fantastic but the bizarro ambiance alone deserves a visit....)

                      Mandarin Deli Restaurant
                      9305 Reseda Blvd, Northridge, CA 91324

                      Blue Marlin
                      2121 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                      Los Tres Hermanos Restaurant
                      1049 San Fernando Rd, San Fernando, CA 91340

                      Tampa Garden
                      8241 Tampa Ave, Reseda, CA 91335

                      1. f
                        foodiemahoodie Jul 12, 2011 07:39 PM

                        I have a suggestion. This was a request for strip mall gems in BOTH the Valley AND the west side. I think it would be broken up.

                        And there's isn't one contribution to the west side here anyway.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: foodiemahoodie
                          sushigirlie Jul 12, 2011 07:51 PM

                          Sooner or later someone will mention Monte Alban...

                          Monte Alban
                          11927 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

                          1. re: foodiemahoodie
                            bulavinaka Jul 12, 2011 08:33 PM

                            Or Nook...

                            1. re: foodiemahoodie
                              bulavinaka Jul 12, 2011 08:56 PM

                              Some catching up to do on the Westside:

                              Hole in the Wall


                              Blue Marlin

                              Hurry Curry

                              Curry House


                              Hop Woo

                              Mandarin Kitchen

                              Kabab Grill


                              Thai Boom

                              Sushi Zo




                              Scoops Westside

                              Sweet Rose (nice strip mall :))

                              Simpang Asia was already mentioned - they are gradually becoming a strip mall...

                              Sushi Zo
                              9824 National Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                              Thai Boom
                              10863 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                              Simpang Asia
                              10433 National Blvd 2, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                              11921 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                              Hop Woo
                              11110 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                              9240 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                              Mandarin Kitchen
                              1822 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                              3300 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                              Scoops Westside
                              10640 Woodbine St, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                            2. wienermobile Jul 12, 2011 04:27 PM

                              If I may include the South Bay;

                              Mottainai Ramen in Gardena. Flavor bomb.

                              Havana Mania in Redondo Beach for good Cuban and their great Tuesday (After 5pm) special
                              Lechon Asado, Cuban Style Roast Pork. 11.99

                              Teresa's Mosaic Cafe in El Segundo. Great homemade tortillas.

                              and Saigon Dish in Lawndale for local Pho where everyone knows your name.

                              Saigon Dish
                              15725 Hawthorne Blvd Ste 108, Lawndale, CA 90260

                              Havana Mania
                              3615 Inglewood Ave, Redondo Beach, CA 90278

                              Teresa's Mosaic Cafe
                              150 S Sepulveda Blvd Ste G, El Segundo, CA 90245

                              Ramen Mottainai
                              1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Suite #9, Gardena, CA 90247

                              1. j
                                Jwsel Jul 12, 2011 04:22 PM

                                Here are a few just to start:

                                Bamboo Forest (I guess it's not in a strip mall, but it's pretty close), Sherman Oaks, for Chinese.

                                Thai 'n' I in Encino for BBQ ribs and chicken.

                                El Taco Llama -- two of the ones in NoHo are my favorites, though I go to the one at Vanowen and Haskell when I'm craving their smokey salsa roja.

                                Alberto's -- for the California burrito (carne asads and french fries wrapped in a tortilla) in Van Nuys (on Vanowen, just west of Van Nuys).

                                San Marcos Grill in Van Nuys for tacos and chile rellenos on Thursdays.

                                El Carrusel, as mentioned above, is good for pupusas.

                                Sweet 1 Bakery and Kebab Factory in Sherman Oaks (On Oxnard, by Woodman) -- This is a combo market/restaurant that I recently discovered. They do a variety of middle eastern/Armenian items, including very good lamajeune and some excellent grilled meats at ridiculously low prices. I usually get the meats ala carte. Succulent little quail are $1.99 each and four small lamb chops are $7.99.

                                Anarbagh in Encino has a great set of lunch specials.

                                Spumoni in Sherman Oaks and Gio Cucina in Encino for Italian.

                                Krua Thai in North Hollywood for some of the best Thai in the city.

                                Fab Hot Dogs in Woodland Hills.

                                La Baguette on Reseda is my favorite valley spot for Banh Mi.

                                I'm sure I'll come up with some others.

                                Krua Thai Restaurant
                                13130 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, CA 91605

                                Fab Hot Dogs (location as of May 2010)
                                19417 Victory Blvd, Reseda, CA 91335

                                Spumoni Restaurant
                                14533 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                                Gio Cucina Napoletana
                                15826 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91436

                                Thai 'N I
                                17544 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA

                                La Baguette
                                7245 1/2 Reseda Blvd, Reseda, CA 91335

                                Bamboo Forest Chinese Restaurant
                                14834 Burbank Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91411

                                El Taco Llama
                                10501 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601

                                El Taco Llama
                                11511 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, CA 91605

                                San Marcos Mexican Grill
                                5937 Hazeltine Ave, Los Angeles, CA 91401

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Jwsel
                                  ns1 Jul 12, 2011 04:32 PM

                                  +2 Fabs, El Taco Llama (Cahuenga/Magnolia)

                                  1. re: Jwsel
                                    valleygrrl Aug 30, 2012 05:10 PM

                                    Fab's is the bomb- and now they have the roasted corn covered in cotija cheese as a side- holy cow! that plus bacon-wrapped dog plus tots. mmmm. :)

                                    1. re: valleygrrl
                                      ns1 Aug 30, 2012 05:29 PM

                                      wow, that's awesome.

                                      I started making those corn on the cobs at home.

                                  2. mucho gordo Jul 12, 2011 11:48 AM

                                    1) Mom's BBQ House on Vanowen and Hazeltine
                                    2) Zano's (Italian) on Ventura just east of Topanga
                                    3) Gio Cucina on Ventura just west of Sepulveda (2nd floor)
                                    4) Kung Pao Bistro (moved from stand alone bldg to small strip mall near Tujunga)

                                    Kung Pao Bistro
                                    11402 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: mucho gordo
                                      SIMIHOUND Jul 12, 2011 02:35 PM

                                      Emles Restaurant. Good homemade meals all day long at good prices. It is near A&W Seafood.

                                      Emles Restaurant
                                      9250 Reseda Blvd Ste 1, Northridge, CA 91324

                                      1. re: mucho gordo
                                        chuck Jul 12, 2011 06:54 PM

                                        I second Gio Cucina. It is actually about a mile west of Sepulveda next to theLand Rover dealership. I also like empanadas at Johnny Pacific at Winnetka and Saticoy.

                                      2. e
                                        ebethsdad Jul 12, 2011 09:06 AM

                                        Fish in the Village, a kosher fish market/cafe in the strip mall on the southeast corner of Whitsett and Burbank. Excellent quality, nice people closed on Saturday and you would expect.

                                        The original Skaf's Grill, northeast corner of Oxnard and Laurel Canyon.

                                        Nat's Early Bite, breakfast heaven on the northwest corner of Hazeltine and Burbank.

                                        Skaf's Grill
                                        6008 Laurel Canyon Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91606

                                        Nat's Early Bite
                                        14115 Burbank Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91401

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: ebethsdad
                                          hhewitt Jul 12, 2011 09:49 AM

                                          Nat's Early Bite is great... particularly their love muffins (with coconut & chocolate) if they have them... they're not always listed, so it's worth asking.

                                          Nat's Early Bite
                                          14115 Burbank Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91401

                                          1. re: ebethsdad
                                            ns1 Jul 12, 2011 03:12 PM

                                            +1 Skaf's

                                            1. re: ebethsdad
                                              Miri1 Jul 12, 2011 07:51 PM

                                              OMG, I just ate at Fish in the Village for the first time on a friend's recommendation. It was wonderful. One of the best pieces of grilled salmon I've ever eaten! The grilled veggies were also delicious, as was the side of hummus and pita my friend and i shared before our fish arrived.

                                            2. Servorg Jul 12, 2011 06:07 AM

                                              Great Cemitas Poblanas Milanese at Don Adrian on Victory. Also, if it's available don't miss the house-made cecina, either in the quesadillas or in chalupas. As the LA Times put it in a prior review on Don Adrian get the cecina "...where it’s simply grilled, mounded on a tortilla and garnished with a sparse scattering of string cheese and dabs of mild green salsa…”

                                              Taqueria Don Adrian
                                              14902 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Servorg
                                                Peripatetic Jul 12, 2011 08:32 AM

                                                +1 for Don Adrian. Outstanding cemitas.

                                                1. re: Servorg
                                                  hhewitt Jul 12, 2011 09:48 AM

                                                  I moved near Don Adrian recently, and tried it once. I found their bread to be dry and stale compared to Angelica's truck on Venice near Culver City. Was I there on an off day?

                                                  The meat/cheese/salsa chipotle were great, but the bread just wasn't as moist and soft as I'm used to.

                                                  1. re: hhewitt
                                                    Peripatetic Jul 12, 2011 11:29 AM

                                                    Hmm . . . I haven't been back to Don Adrian since I moved to Pasadena two years ago, so my appraisal may be dated.

                                                    1. re: hhewitt
                                                      mucho gordo Jul 12, 2011 11:38 AM

                                                      I agree with you about the bread at Don Adrian's. I had a problem with it , too.

                                                      1. re: mucho gordo
                                                        linus Jul 12, 2011 05:26 PM

                                                        i was just at don adrian. except for being bitterly disappointed with them leaving the papalo off my cemita, it was excellent. especially the bread.

                                                  2. s
                                                    sushigirlie Jul 12, 2011 04:53 AM

                                                    Curry Bowl (now apparently called Cafe Ceylon). http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-ceylon-t... The only Sri Lankan food I've ever had (except for stuff I've cooked myself, from recipes), which counts for a lot. The quality strikes me as pretty good -- not great by any means.

                                                    Curry Bowl
                                                    19662 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA 91356

                                                    Sri Lankan Cafe
                                                    18845 Sherman Way #D, Reseda, CA 91335

                                                    1. hhewitt Jul 11, 2011 09:58 PM

                                                      1 Westside, 1 Valley

                                                      In Palms, Simpang Asia is the best strip-mall Indonesian I've had. It's been slowly expanding, and taking over its strip mall (which is pretty small anyway). Mie Tek Tek noodles, Sayur Bungkus mixed veg in banana leaf, and Croquette for appetizer... yum!

                                                      In the Valley, El Carrusel makes great pupusas, and good horchata too. Make sure to get curtido, too (not the best curtido I've had, but good stuff). Prices for pupusas are very reasonable too. There's 1 at Victory and Kester, and another at 6800 Reseda Blvd.

                                                      Simpang Asia
                                                      10433 National Blvd 2, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: hhewitt
                                                        valleygrrl Aug 30, 2012 05:07 PM

                                                        we eat at that El Carrusel all the time. It's VERY good for being a hole in the wall, and so very affordable. I find it's best to ask which pupusas they just made and go with it (otherwise they sit for a bit and aren't as melty good).

                                                      2. boogiebaby Jul 11, 2011 09:39 PM

                                                        I second Go's Mart but it'll cost you.

                                                        Cheaper "everyday" type options:
                                                        San Carlo Deli, Chatsworth
                                                        Angelo's Ristorante, Chatsworth
                                                        Kinnara Thai, Van Nuys
                                                        The Pho place next door to 99 Ranch Market, Van Nuys
                                                        Mercado Buenos Aires, Van Nuys
                                                        Cafe Graikos, Porter Ranch
                                                        Pita Kitchen, Sherman Oaks
                                                        Aromi Cafe, Sherman Oaks

                                                        Go's Mart
                                                        22330 Sherman Way, Los Angeles, CA 91303

                                                        Mercado Buenos Aires
                                                        7540 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys, CA

                                                        99 Ranch
                                                        17713 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, CA

                                                        Pita Kitchen
                                                        14500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                                                        Aromi Cafe
                                                        14531 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                                                        Cafe Graikos
                                                        19346 Rinaldi St, Northridge, CA 91326

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: boogiebaby
                                                          ns1 Jul 12, 2011 03:13 PM

                                                          Ate @ Pho So 1 and Pho 999 in th same week, for this vietnamese guy Pho 999 > Pho So 1. May have been an off day but the noodles were terrible.

                                                          1. re: ns1
                                                            cimero Jul 12, 2011 06:21 PM

                                                            I couldn't agree more that Pho 999 (across the street from Ranch Market) is MUCh better than the Pho place next to Ranch Market. (Love the Sam Woo duck place though; we're talking about the other side). Food quality at Pho 999 is excellent. I had a beef Pho at the Ranch market place and we had to feed it to the dog it was so fatty! And while I can appreciate the family dining style, Pho 999 is so much more ogranized and you can get a nice big booth instead of being squished in to tables at the other. Once I dined at Pho 999 I'll never go back to the other again (and I shop at Ranch Market all the time).

                                                            Sam Woo Cafe
                                                            727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                                                            1. re: cimero
                                                              ns1 Jul 12, 2011 06:42 PM

                                                              yep. Also @ Pho 999, the che ba mau (sp?) 3 color bean dessert is AWESOME.

                                                          2. re: boogiebaby
                                                            sablouwho Jul 14, 2011 10:42 AM

                                                            I third Go's Mart. I really love it.

                                                            Go's Mart
                                                            22330 Sherman Way, Los Angeles, CA 91303

                                                          3. s
                                                            sushigirlie Jul 11, 2011 09:12 PM

                                                            Go's Mart. http://tangmeister.com/gos_mart/

                                                            1. g
                                                              granadafan Jul 11, 2011 08:56 PM

                                                              The best carnitas are at a small place called Metro Balderas. The original is in a teeny strip mall across the street from Vallarta Supermarket on Reseda between Roscoe and Parthenia. They only make carnitas on the weekends and make 12 different kinds of carnitas (who knew!). There are also two other locations in Panorama City and Van Nuys.

                                                              These guys had a great review of Metro Balderas (not my blog).

                                                              1. h
                                                                happybaker Jul 11, 2011 08:01 PM

                                                                I LOVE Vinh Loi Tofu. The corner it's in is not even big enough to be considered a strip mall - but the quality is high and the pricing low - I can't say no to that!


                                                                Vinh Loi Tofu
                                                                18625 Sherman Way Ste 101, Reseda, CA 91335

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: happybaker
                                                                  westsidegal Jul 11, 2011 09:50 PM

                                                                  +1 for vinh loi tofu.
                                                                  love the place

                                                                  1. re: happybaker
                                                                    valleygrrl Aug 30, 2012 05:05 PM

                                                                    another *yes* to Vinh Loi in 2012. ;) It's such an odd little place and sooo good. Open at random hours though so check in advance.

                                                                    1. re: valleygrrl
                                                                      Servorg Aug 30, 2012 05:18 PM

                                                                      They used to be really consistent as far as their hours were concerned. 9 AM to 9 PM, every day. Has that changed? Or was this during August when folks from French influenced SE Asia tend to take a few weeks off perhaps?

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