Summer is arguably the best season to eat out. Balmy days and crisp evenings provide the perfect backdrops to laid-back dining experiences where you can kick up your feet, sip an ice-cold cocktail and nosh on seasonal bites of fresh seafood, crunchy vegetables, colorful fruit and more. Whether you want to dine al fresco or hide out from the heat, there’s no better time to explore the culinary scene in and around our neighborhood. From longstanding local favorites to up-and-coming classics, here are the places to eat and drink this summer.
You don’t have to venture far for vacation-worthy dining experiences. Take a trip to the Mediterranean without setting foot outside the neighborhood with a visit to Santuari Restaurant. The restaurant’s Moroccan-inspired décor of ornate chandeliers, ocean blue mosaic tiles and sheer, flowy curtains is enough to make guests feel like they’ve entered a “European resort within driving distance,” says operator Spencer Ramsey. Adding to the atmosphere is chef Brendan Mica’s scratch-made California cuisine inspired by French, Italian and Mediterranean flavors. Relish a seasonal, ingredient-driven menu with favorites like the savory sweet pea ravioli and the roasted three-beet salad. If you’re dropping in for happy hour or brunch, Ramsey says the “covered patio is the perfect spot for a crisp glass of wine or a refreshing ‘Santimosa’ (a concoction of fresh fruit and sparkling wine) in the summer heat.”
Another getaway in our backyard is The Front Yard. Located in North Hollywood’s Garland Hotel, the restaurant features a unique flow of indoor and outdoor spaces, with a lounge and patio perfect for eluding the heat or basking in the warmth of the sunset. The setup creates what brand manager Mitchell Johnston calls an “urban oasis in the middle of Los Angeles that’s a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of the city” without being too far removed. The casual setting invites diners to dig into an approachable, yet elevated menu of reimagined California-style comfort food, such as the succulent short rib pot pie, the most requested dish of the moment, according to food and beverage director Oliver Goldsmith. On the lighter side, there’s the new sweet and zesty Harry’s Berries strawberry salad and the pan-seared diver scallop appetizer. The latter is perfect for sharing during one of the restaurant’s two happy hours, where you can grab summer-inspired drinks like the “Beeeee Yourself,” a lavender honey lemonade.
A Hidden Gem
One of the thrills of being a local is exploring those under-the-radar eateries tucked away in unexpected places that turn out to be brilliant finds. MA’S Italian Kitchen is a prime example of this; the trattoria is located in the back corner of a strip mall. But as many on Yelp have attested, don’t let the unassuming exterior turn you away, because delicious surprises are just inside. Once you enter the restaurant, its cozy atmosphere and the inviting smells of robust spices wafting from the kitchen signal that this is far from your typical shopping-center fast-food joint. Owners Michel and Sue Lechasseur have created a no-frills, family-friendly Italian restaurant with authentic dishes and an ambiance that makes you feel at home. Summer is the perfect time for the unacquainted to get to know this neighborhood treasure. Grab some friends and some seats in the covered patio, order a bottle of wine and feast on a variety of shareable classics, such as the Margherita pizza, meatball ricotta toast and spaghetti Bolognese. For dessert, fans agree you shouldn’t miss the epic salted butterscotch budino.
Our neighborhood is home to many of Los Angeles’ oldest surviving restaurants, and one of the most iconic is located nearby in the heart of Tujunga Village. For the past 50 years, Vitello’s has been a gathering place for celebrities and locals alike. The restaurant’s recipe for success throughout the decades has been not only its hearty menu of California-inspired contemporary Italian cuisine, but also its commitment to paying homage to history. The supper club and sequestered speakeasy offer a taste of the past with a modern-day spin on golden age Hollywood dining and entertainment. The intimate upstairs supper club gives patrons dinner and a show, with nightly performances ranging from jazz to comedy, rhythm and blues, and cabaret acts. Located just behind the restaurant is the Rendition Room, a private, reservation-only speakeasy that takes you back to the post-Prohibition era. Sip expertly prepared classic and craft cocktails from authentic 1930s glassware and take in the period décor of leather wingback chairs, red curtains, a 1929 Wurlitzer jukebox and more.
Playing on a similar connection to the past is The New Deal, a 1930s-themed restaurant that feels right at home among the myriad of vintage shops on Magnolia Boulevard. Kerry Krull, owner of Romancing the Bean, along with her two children, Kendra Krull-Simon and Ramsey Krull, run an eatery that artfully balances old and new, serving up twists on classic American fare in a space peppered with historical design accents. From newsprint placemats and old-fashioned advertisements to antique dishware and other bygone baubles, nostalgia runs rampant throughout the restaurant’s interior. Even the menu evokes the theme, with items such as the top-rated (Teddy) Roosevelt burger and Mama’s Meatloaf, a meal born in the ’30s. Along with the classic fare, Kerry says summer highlights include refreshing drink offerings, such as sangria, sauvignon blanc with stone fruit and berries, and a pineapple beer “that will knock your socks off.” Pair your drinks with flavorful appetizers; Mexican street corn and fried pickles with a Sriracha mayo dipping sauce are customer favorites.
The dining options on Riverside Drive are plentiful. With a perfect mixture of both stalwart and trendy restaurants and bars, it’s no wonder that Toluca Lake’s main street has become a haven for foodies. Many start at Prosecco, a 24-year veteran in the neighborhood’s food scene and one of the most frequently cited local favorites. The trattoria is a classic spot for fine Italian dining that’s perfect for casual lunches and special-occasion dinners. Owner Amy Fishburn says popular summer dishes revolve around refreshing salads and seasonal fish, like the watermelon caprese with fresh bufala mozzarella, pear Gorgonzola salad with grilled shrimp and the wild Canadian whitefish piccata. On top of being known for its high-quality, authentic cuisine and sparkling wines, the restaurant is beloved for its attentive, personal service. “Our customers know they will always be greeted by a caring staff who will likely know their name and their order,” Fishburn says. “Our home is your home.”
For happy hour or post-dinner drinks, head to Forman’s Whiskey Tavern across the street, another reliable go-to for locals and out-of-towners. The drinking hall features an unrivaled beer and small-batch whiskey selection that has something for everyone. General manager Mark Sandstrom says the standout drink of the summer is the “Ye Olde Rustic,” a cocktail made with single-barrel bourbon from Elijah Craig (bottled exclusively for Forman’s) mixed with lemon juice, honey, ginger syrup, rhubarb bitters and muddled strawberries and served shaken with soda water in a Mason jar. Pair your drink with menu favorites such as Alaskan cod tacos or crispy chicken sandwiches. Like Prosecco and other neighborhood haunts, Forman’s is all about cultivating community. “We see regulars here every day, many of whom have become family,” Sandstrom says. “Toluca Lake is one of the last true neighborhoods in Los Angeles.” Cheers to that!