2011 Best of A to Z

To celebrate the finest our community has to offer, Ventura Blvd magazine asked readers to select their favorites from nearly 200 nominees in more than 40 categories.

A is for Adventure

I Fly Hollywood

I Fly Hollywood is for thrill-seekers who savor a big rush but have a small budget. With this airborne experience, you feel like you’re skydiving—but instead of falling toward the earth you’re in a vertical wind tunnel, while spectators on the Universal CityWalk cheer you on.

100 Universal City Plaza in Universal City  818-985-4539 | iflyhollywood.com

Finalists
•Field of Fire Paintball Adventures, Santa Clarita
•MB2 Raceway, Thousand Oaks & Sylmar
•Oxygen Paragliding Flight School, Camarillo


B is for Booze

Vendome Wine & Spirits

Wine lovers can lose themselves in the aisles of Vendome. The chain offers wines from all over the world with knowledgeable staff more than happy to help you find one in your price range. Regulars also love their weekly beer and wine tastings.

11555 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-766-5272 | vendomes.com  
10600 Riverside Dr. in Toluca Lake | 818-766-9593 |
vendometolucalake.com

Finalists
•Flask Fine wines
•Green Jug
•Tarzana Wine & Spirits
•Wine & Liquor Depot

Laurel Tavern

Handpicked domestic micro-brews are the hallmark of this prime Studio City hotspot. And the varieties, from Delaware’s Dog Fish Head to Pasadena’s 1903 to Maine’s Wild Blueberry, are fresh and frothy. FYI—this is one of the most popular venues on this side of the hill right now, and beer or any beverage for that matter is just part of the attraction. There’s no place better to watch beautiful people eating spectacularly juicy burgers. Get there weekends after 8 p.m. and plan on noisy crowds, not intimate conversation.

11938 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-506-0777 | laureltavern.com

Finalists
•Blue Dog
•Boneyard Bistro
•Local Peasant
•The Federal Bar & Grill

Springbok Bar & Grill

Talk about a place where everyone knows your name. Springbok has a great crowd of regulars, but newcomers feel welcome too. It has all the attributes of a great joint: it’s comfy, well priced, casual and you can see a big-screen TV from every angle. Locals love the pub food, including the spicy “Peri Peri” sauce, hanging on the outdoor patio, as well as the weekly karaoke show.

16153 Victory Blvd. in Van Nuys | 818-988-9786 | thespringbok.com

Finalists
•Fox & Hounds
•Pickwick Pub
•Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill
•The White Harte
•Weber’s Place Sports Bar and Grill


C is for Cuts

Onyx Salon

Onyx is not one of those fancy-schmancy salons with expensive wood floors, fresh orchids and waiters serving wine. Now, we’re not insinuating you’ll find customers with blue, Aqua Net-frozen hair. The stylists are among the best in the Valley. They really listen to what you want and are always eager to please. That, coupled with reasonable prices (cuts are $70 a pop), makes regulars wonder why they ever drove over the hill.

15053 Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks | 818-501-0299 | onyxsalon.com

Finalists
•Allen Edwards Salon & Spa
•Butterfly Loft Salon & Spa
•C The Salon
•Salon True
•Suburbia Salon

Floyd’s 99 Barber Shop

Going to Floyd’s for a cut is easy-breezy and just plain fun. Whether you walk in or make an appointment, you’re likely get into a chair quickly, and when you exit you’ll have a style that’s hip and cool. If you take your kid, you can relax—no salad bowl cuts here. Also a great spot for people watching—not just for the “who’s who” of the Valley, but for Floyds’ stylists, who often rock rad hairstyles and sport the most creative assemblage of tattoos and piercings this side of Venice Beach.

17622 Ventura Blvd. in Encino | 818-906-7200  
11700 Moorpark Ave. in Studio City | 818-980-9900 |
floydsbarbershop.com

Finalists
•Manny’s Barbershop
•Outlaw Barbershop & Salon


D is for Dance

Releve Dance Studio

This studio offers classes for dancers of all ages, from ballroom to hip hop to stomp to ballet to hula. Students get inspired by the fact that many of the teachers are bona fide professional dancers.

18356 Oxnard Street in Tarzana | 818-343-7353 | relevestudios.com

Finalists
•Anisa’s School of Dance
•Anna Cheselka Dance Studio
•Hama’s Dance Studio
•Nadia Eftedal’s Rhythm Room


E is for Eats

Katsu-Ya

Blink and you’ll miss the Valley’s number-one sushi restaurant, tucked in a nondescript Ventura Boulevard strip mall. But what Katsu-Ya lacks in location, it makes up for in consistently fresh and creative fare. The spicy tuna on crispy rice and the baked crab hand roll will make you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Devour with caution: it ain’t for penny pinchers.

11680 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-985-6976 | katsu-yagroup.com

Finalists
•Brothers Sushi
•Katsu-Ya, Encino
•Kiwami
•Kushiyu
•4 on 6 Sushi

Casa Vega

A staple of the Valley since the seventies, this family-owned business doesn’t take reservations. They don’t have to. Satisfied customers pack the house day after day, night after night. Casa Vega burritos boast fresh ingredients and super soft tortillas—with fresh-made salsa and guacamole, which comes in “chunky” or traditional (smooth). Nosh on your burrito with a “skinny” margarita, which eschews mixes in favor of all-natural, fresh juices.

13301 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-788-4868 | casavega.com

Finalists
•Hugo’s Tacos
•La Fogata
•Mexicali
•Salsa & Beer
•Senor Fred
•Sol y Luna

Big Sugar Bakeshop

Big Sugar offers an irresistible array of beautiful, handcrafted desserts. Plus fans say there’s almost nothing that the friendly owners, Lisa and Mary, won’t whip up to perfection.

12182 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-508-5855 | bigsugarbakeshop.com

Finalists
•Diana Sproveri Designer Bake Shop
•Hansen’s Cakes
•Immaculate Confections
•Nothing Bundt Cakes
•Lollicakes

Olive & Thyme

You can gaze into your lover’s eyes over delicious, seasonal fare and full-bodied wine at this Toluca Lake newcomer. Revered for gourmet sandwiches like the Short Rib, tasty salads (beautifully displayed on glass enclosed shelves) and their signature burger with Gorgonzola, caramelized onions and arugula. If the food doesn’t put you “in the mood,” the charming atmosphere will. Sit outside at cute sidewalk tables or in the cozy, well-decorated indoor space. Limited hours (no dinner Saturdays and closed Sundays) and higher-than-average prices have not dissuaded crowds.

4013 Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake | 818-557-1560 | oliveandthyme.com

Finalists
•Firefly
•La Pergola
•La Petit Restaurant
•Pinot Bistro
•8½ Taverna

In-N-Out Burger

In a day when everyone is talking about Umami Burger and the constant line out the door, this winner was something of a surprise! But sentiment for the longtime fast food restaurant, with its uber-convenient drive-thru, runs high. Make no bones about it, the Double Double with special sauce, at less than half the price of an Umami Burger, reins king in the Valley.

Multiple locations | in-n-out.com

Finalists
•Laurel Tavern
•The Counter
•The Stand
•Umami Burger

Mulberry Street Pizzeria

Owned by actress Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull), this popular eatery just opened its second location in the Valley. Whether you’re ordering thin crust or the Sicilian deep dish, patrons swear by the white spinach and eggplant pizzas. A plain cheese pizza (only one size) costs $16.95, so, add a bunch of toppings, and you’re definitely spending more than you would at many pizza shops around town.  But converts say it’s worth every penny.

17040 Ventura Blvd., Encino | 818-906-8881 
4954 Van Nuys Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-986-7272 | mulberrypizzeria.com

Finalists
•Joe Peeps
•Oak Fire Pizza
•Pagliacci’s
•Papa John’s

The Baker Café and Bakery

There’s a reason why so many venture to the western corner of the Valley to dine at this small eatery and full-service bakery. The most popular entrees are the Challah French Toast and the Moroccan dish “Shakshuka” (literal translation: Eggs in Purgatory)—eggs poached over a spicy “stew” of tomatoes, red peppers, onions and garlic. Owner Sari Afriat can often be seen table-hopping to check on customers. Patrons also love the warm breadbasket served with breakfast. Cap off your meal with a homemade, preservative-free Pop Tart, “OMG! Ding Dong” or a white chocolate chip raspberry cookie—which often sell out by noon.

21600 Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills | 818-340-1987 | thebakerbread.com

Finalists
•Cici’s Cafe
•Dupar’s
•Jinky’s
•More Than Waffles
•Sweet Butter Kitchen, Café & Marketplace

 

F is for Fur

Kriser’s

Often referred to as the “Whole Foods for pets,” owner Brad Kriser recently opened shop in Studio City after running his successful chain in Chicago. Pet lovers quickly became converts of the all-natural store. Like WF, specially trained salespeople are on hand to help create custom menus to boost your pooch’s health or offer alternative holistic medicine. Fans love the Merrick line with it’s Texas Hold ‘Ems lamb lung treats and canned food with names like Smothered Comfort and Senior Medley. Tired of having your dog tear up toys? Try one of Kriser’s dried bison esophagi.

12507 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-760-9550 | krisers.com

Finalists
•K-9 Loft
•Maxwell Dog
•Pet’s Naturally
•Red Barn Feed & Saddlery
•Sam’s Green Paw

Kriser’s

For the customer who can’t bear to leave their pet’s side, Kriser’s offers head-to-toe pampering with friendly, gentle groomers in a glass-enclosed room. If watching isn’t your thing, you can shop at their store or go to Peet’s Coffee next door while you wait. They also do on-site teeth cleaning. A dog dentist takes appointments once a month.

12507 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-760-9550 | krisers.com

Finalists
•The Barking Lot
•Biju Pet Spa
•K-9 Loft
•Pride N’ Joy

Laurel Canyon Dog Park (a.k.a Mulholland Dog Park)

Despite complaints about a lack of grass and an abundance of owners who don’t clean up after pets, this scenic, expansive dog park won hands down. Great spot, we hear, to hob-knob with TV industry folks and flirt with singles. Separate areas for small and large dogs.

8260 Mulholland Drive in  Studio City | 818-769-4415

Finalists
•Balboa & Victory (Sepulveda Basin Dog Park)
•Wells Drive (just before Victory)


G is for Guests

BEST ACCOMMODATIONS FOR OUT-OF-TOWNERS

Sportsmen’s Lodge

With icons like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall as past guests, the Sportsmen’s Lodge, open since 1880, has some pretty deep history. It’s fresh off the heels of a renovation and you can now dine by the pool.

12825 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-769-4700 | slhotel.com

Finalists
•Marriott Courtyard
•The Sheraton, Universal City
•The Blvd Hotel & Spa


H is for Hardware

Home Depot

For selection, service and price, it’s hard to beat Home Depot. This warehouse style mecca has just about everything a homeowner could possibly need and competitive prices to boot.

Multiple locations | homedepot.com

Finalists
•Ace Hardware
•North Hollywood Hardware
•Osh Home & Garden


I is for ink

Portrait of a Bookstore

With so many bookstores closing, there’s a reason why this small but mighty shop has survived some 25 years. The owner hand-selects books of all genres for the charming boutique—housed inside a shared space with another of our “Best Of” winners, Aroma Coffee & Tea Company.

4360 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City | 818-769-3853 | portraitofabookstore.com

Finalists
•Bookstar
•Coconut Rose Books
•Storyopolis


J is for Java

Aroma Coffee & Tea Company

This full-service restaurant, bakery and cafe is perhaps most famous for its dark Italian roast coffee and tranquil, intimate setting, indoors and out. It’s been a favorite of the studio crowd for some 20 years. Best thing to have with your cup of Joe? Hands down the brioche bread pudding.  

4360 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City | 818-508-0677 | aromacoffeeandtea.com

Finalists
•Coffee Fix
•Crave Cafe
•Jumpin’ Java
•King’s Road Cafe
•Lulu’s Beehive

 

K is for Kids

Tough Cookies

The rule of thumb in retail is to know your customer. And owner Shannon Komsky does. She heavily stocks hot brands like Knuckleheads for boys and T2 Love for girls and goes after unique labels, too. The store just celebrated its 4th birthday, and Shannon explains her success: “We pride ourselves on giving excellent customer service–going above and beyond and really getting to know our customers. The shop also sells tween-wear.

13638 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-990-0972 | shoptoughcookies.com

Finalists
•M Fredric – Kids
•Meant 2 Be
•Un Deux Trois

Mission: Renaissance Fine  Art School

This art school chain prides itself on the philosophy that, with their step-by-step approach, anyone can learn to paint and draw. Classes available for adults as well.

6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills | 818-710-7991  
12930 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-243-9696 | fineartclasses.com

Finalists
•Dawn Barnes Karate Kids
•Debbie Reynolds Dance Academy
•Katie’s Cooking School
•Penny Lane Dance Academy


L is for Laquer

Hands to Hold

Right off the bat, there’s one thing this nail salon has over most others. It’s a large space that’s open and airy. Customers don’t choke on all the acrylic nail fumes that waft through most salons. Although services are a bit more expensive here, regulars say the long-lasting manis and pedis are worth it.

4419 Van Nuys Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-995-1867

Finalists
•Chinois Beaute Bar
•Cozy Toes
•Dashing Diva
•New You
•Soak


M is for Muscle

Personal Training Institute

At this workout studio, which just opened this year, programs are designed by exercise physiologists and nutrition ion experts. Clients, who typically come in two or three times a week, get one-on-one strength training and customized nutritional counseling.

16350 Ventura Blvd. in Encino | 818-783-4792 | personaltraininginstitute.com

Finalists
•Arena Fitness
•Cardio Barre
•Pilates Plus
•Pilates Sports Center
•Pulse Fitness

Rising Lotus Yoga

This two-story yoga enclave with friendly instructors–known for taking the time to “correct and adjust”–can go toe-to-toe with any of the chi-chi studios in town.  Classes are rarely overcrowded, and floors are kept clean. Regardless of your level, Jennifer Black’s 12:15 Lunch Flow class is said to be “pure ohm.”

13557 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-990-0282 | risinglotusyoga.com

Finalists
•Black Dog
•Lotus Kitty & Spin
•Yoga Shelter
•Yogaworks

Barre Class

If you think Pilates gives your core a workout, try a barre class. Your quads will be challenged to the max, too! This fitness trend involves standing beside a ballet-style bar and doing full-body exercises. It takes serious muscle control and concentration, but hard-core devotees say the muscle toning and lengthening results are worth it.

Finalists
•Boot Camp
•Crossfit
•Mini-Trampoline
•Yoga & Spin
•Zumba Dance


 N is for Nest

BEST HOME DECOR

Filigree

When Ferret closed in Studio City a few years ago, it left a void in the market for colorful, well-made furnishings and accessories. Then along came Filigree. With a buyer who has a keen eye for unique items and a small but sophisticated inventory, this shop is a must for shoppers interested in high-end traditional home decor. Great selection of John Robshaw pillows and throws.

12262 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-508-0560 | filigreestore.blogspot.com

Finalists
•Architexture
•Bedfellows
•Inventori
•Henry Road
•Mitchell Litt Home


O is for Organic

Farmers Market, Studio City

In short, from Rainier cherries to cage-free eggs, no other farmers market comes close. All the Valley’s top chefs shop here on Sundays, picking up still-warm baguettes at Homeboy Bakery and gourmet vinegars at Uncle Berch’s. This picturesque market has everything to inspire you in the kitchen—whether you’re a gourmet cook or a bachelor who noshes on frozen dinners. Tip: avoid the hassle and park on nearby Moorpark.

Along Laurel Place from Ventura Blvd. to Laurel Canyon in Studio City | 818-655-7744  studiocityfarmersmarket.com

Finalists
•Encino Farmer’s Market on Victory
•Henry’s Market
•Trader Joe’s
•Whole Foods

 

P is for Petals

Mark’s Garden

This wildly popular florist is well known for its celebrity clientele and for making colorful pastel flower arrangements, often adorned with fresh fruit, in baskets. Customer service is top-notch.

13838 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks | 818-906-1718 | marksgarden.com

Finalists
•Gelson’s in Encino
•Jasmine Blue
•Whole Foods


Q is for Quiet

Japanese Gardens, Van Nuys

Hard to believe, but many people live here all their lives and never discover this captivating jewel, tucked, of all places, behind a sewage treatment plant. Pity. We all spend hours sculpting our bodies and getting our heart rate pumped. Spend a few hours at this 6½-acre retreat, with its dry Zen meditation garden and “wet-strolling” garden surrounded by lakes, streams and waterfalls. It’ll strengthen your soul.

6100 Woodley Ave. in Van Nuys | 818-756-8166 | thejapanesegarden.com

Finalists
•LA County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, Arcadia
•Wilacre Park, Fryman Canyon
•Wildwood Canyon, in the Burbank hills


R is for Retail

M. Fredric – Men

Chances are the sharp dressed, but decidedly casual guy in the banquette next to you at The Local Peasant put his outfit together at M. Fredric. The store has become a shopping destination for trendy–but not over-the-top in style or price–menswear. Selection skews toward pleasing the 20- and 30-something age group, but a great selection of jeans and comfy weekend wear makes it a place to check out for all generations.

12124 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-985-4404 | mfredric.com

Finalists
•Anto Distinctive Shirtmaker
•Apple Store
•J. Crew

Marshall’s

There’s a reason why the checkout line is perpetually a dozen deep at both Valley locations of this popular discount chain. If you make a find, whether it’s a Volcom hoodie, a Ralph Lauren polo shirt or Prada sandals, chances are it’ll be for less than half of what you’d typically pay. Great deals on gourmet packaged food and bottled goods here, too. Yep, get lucky, and you’ll find some of the same brands as William Sonoma.

15945 Ventura Blvd. in Encino | 818-501-7135
11239 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | marshallsonline.com

Finalists
•Anat B.
•Drybar
•Paul Mitchell The School
•Rose Bowl Flea Market


S is for Skate & Surf

Safari Surf & Sport

You can find just about anything you need for surf, skate and beach at this small shop—and if you can’t find it, they’ll get it for you pronto. The biz has been owned and operated by the same San Fernando Valley native for more than 23 years. Longtime customers say better customer service simply doesn’t exist.

20936 Devonshire St. in Chatsworth | 818-349-9283

Finalists
•Kennedy Surfboards
•Primitive


T is for Tunes

Valley Performing Arts Center

If you’re not familiar with this venue, you will be soon. The new, $125 million VPAC, fresh off its first season, is state-of-the-art and gorgeous, and as a venue, it’s leaps and bounds above anything else in the Valley. Nestled on the campus of CSUN, it offers a 1,700-seat theatre where acts like Arturo Sandoval and The Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet will hit the stage this fall. There’s a variable, remote-controlled acoustical system hidden behind 34,000 square feet of stainless steel mesh screens, and, well, it’s just hard to beat.

Cal State University, 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge | 818-677-8800  valleyperformingartscenter.org

Finalists
•Baked Potato
•Charlie O’s
•Paladino’s
•Vibrato’s
•Vitello’s

 
 
 

 

 

U is for Unattached

Laurel Tavern

Hit Laurel Tavern just about any night of the week and survey the scene. It’s hard to miss the fact that this crowd is about as good-looking as it gets. Couple that with the open-air feel, juicy, perfectly cooked burgers atop super-soft, flaky buns, and you’ve got a hot singles spot that hitched folk often enjoy too.

11938 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City | 818-506-0777 | laureltavern.net

Finalists
•Firefly
•Local Peasant
•Mad Bull’s Tavern
•8½ Taverna


V is for View

Griffith Observatory

If you’ve never been to the Griffith Observatory, put it on your to-do list. Whether you want to learn about astronomy or have a picnic lunch on the lawn while enjoying epic views of downtown, this is well worth the hike up the hill. (Park as high as you possibly can, by the way.) A visit is free, and you can get a ticket to the planetarium show for $7–half the price of a movie ticket and, chances are, double the drama. Hit it on a post-rain, smog-free day, and you’ll feel like you’ve gone to heaven.

2800 East Observatory Road in Los Angeles | 213-473-0800 | griffithobs.org

Finalists
•Bel Air Presbyterian Church parking lot
•Fire Road at Mulholland and Encino Hills Drive
•Fryman Canyon
•Mulholland Drive at Beverly Glen


W is for Wash

Fashion Square Car Wash

People from the Westside often come over the hill for the Valley’s plethora of cheap carwashes, and many of them opt for Fashion Square. At this spot, you can send your car through the tunnel and get a quick “vac” for less than $10. Heck, you can even get an oil change while you’re at it (for an additional fee, of course).

4625 Woodman Ave. | Sherman Oaks. 818-981-2333 | fashionsquarecarwash.com

Finalists
•Encino Center Car Wash
•Handy J
•Premier Car Wash
•Rob’s Car Wash


Y is for Yogurt

Menchies

The Valley has always been known for its massive selection of fro-yo (even before it was “in”), and newbies seem to be popping up every day. So competition for this honor was stiff. Menchies, with its self-serve counter and dazzling array of fresh toppings, has been crowned by our voters as the victor. Fans, who can cue up out the door on a hot summer night, love paying by weight, the ever changing “fro-yo du jour” and varieties that include “no sugar added” and “dairy-free.”

Various locations | menchies.com

Finalists
•Blizz
•Pinkberry
•Spoon Itt
•Yogen Fruz
•Yogurtland


Z is for Zen

dtox Day Spa

This relatively new day spa is known for its sparkly clean facilities, modern yet tranquil decor and excellent masseuses. Whether you’re getting the 80-minute Swedish ($130) or the 25-minute head and neck massage ($60), you’re all but guaranteed to emerge from dtox feeling relaxed and stress-free.

17401 Ventura Blvd. in Encino | 818-574-3700 | dtoxdayspa.com

Finalists
Belle Visage
Burke Williams
Happy Feet Salon
Massage Envy Spa
Massage Place

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