Valley for Life
A local’s take on living, loving and never leaving.
- Written byBart Pachino
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Esquire magazine ran a regular feature called “Why I Live Where I Live,” with essays by famous writers explaining why they chose to live in rugged, adventurous places like Ketchum and Santa Fe. That’s a little trickier to write when you live in the Valley.
We can recite the standard defenses: warm summer nights, the abundance of parking and the old standby, “It’s not really that hot.” But upon reflection, I can pinpoint my own reasons.
My wife and I moved to the Valley in 1993, a few months after our first of two sons was born. We moved here from the Westside for more space and better prices. We’re still here 20 years later.
So what keeps us here besides inertia? Here are just a few of my reasons for staying solidly put on this side of the hill.
I love Gio Cucina Napoletana (15826 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-905-7446), a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Italian place located on the second floor of a junky mini-mall. Gio produces more daily specials and homemade soups than they have tables—all fresh, top-quality and fairly priced.
The emergence of independent burger joints with craft beers has definitely added an element of fun (if not haute cuisine) to dining here. Blue Dog Beer Tavern (4524 Saugus Ave., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2583) and Umami Burger (12159 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-286-9004) are my favorite spots. These eateries are terrific for people watching too—partly because they attract a wide demographic. There are seniors in Rockports on double dates sitting at tables alongside young couples immersed in texting.
The chicken enchiladas and margaritas at Sol y Luna (19601 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, 818-343-8488) are hardly exotic, but they never disappoint. No reservations can mean waiting, but the staff capably manages the chaos even on weekends. The salsas are exquisite classics, and the atmosphere is both kitschy and cozy.
ONLY IN THE VALLEY
At the top of my list of unique Valley experiences is listening to Rabbi Ed Feinstein at Valley Beth Shalom (15739 Ventura Blvd., 818-788-6000). In addition to leading services, he conducts VBS’ weekly College of Jewish Studies, in which he and a guest speaker hold court for a lecture and discussion, open to the public. Disclosure: I’m the executive director at Valley Beth Shalom, but I took the job, in large part, to become more exposed to Rabbi Feinstein’s unparalleled capacity for linking ancient writings and traditions to modern-day life.
Sherman Oaks’ Arclight Theatre (15301 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-501-7033) is another favorite. I book the seats behind the handicapped row—with the foot-resting rail (sorry to “in-the-know” friends for revealing this secret). While Arclight essentially applies a $3 surcharge compared to other theatres, it’s worth it for fewer ads, the quality picture and sound, and the occasional surprise Q&A sessions with film directors.
We may not live at the beach, but the experience of driving Kanan Road west to Zuma Beach in a classic car is worthy of any James Bond movie. Whizzing toward the coast, I instantly feel like I’ve been transported to the French Riviera. The wide, well-banked, windy road, the first glimpses of the Pacific from about four miles away, and the 30º temperature drop all remind me that I don’t miss the East Coast, where I grew up. The idea of using the canyons as major thoroughfares, to me, remains cool.
And finally, anything goes when it comes to “fashion.” It still cracks me up that my Mom calls before coming from Baltimore to visit us and asks if she or her husband need to bring a “nice outfit.” Our answer is always the same: “Mom, there is no place in the Valley where you need to wear a dress, and Dick doesn’t need a sports coat. Here, if you have a tank top on, you’re good to go.”
It’s paradise in a parking lot.