“What I create and what I crave aren’t always the same,” says chef Phillip Frankland Lee of the newly minted, veggie-centric restaurant The Gadarene Swine in Studio City. It’s one of the latest chef-driven concepts to make its way to the oft-maligned San Fernando Valley. And while The Gadarene Swine, Black Market Liquor, and Girasol are re-shaping its image from a desolate landscape of strip malls and CPKs into more of a dining destination, there are still many reasons to love and accept the Valley for its quirks. Frankland Lee grew up in Van Nuys and has a soft spot for the local eateries. “It’s nice to step out of the fancy world of food and go eat a delicious meal that has no pretense,” he says. “Here [in the Valley] they typically don’t have young cooks reading “Modernist Cuisine.” It just reminds you that food can be really good on an elemental level, and that you don’t necessarily need squeeze bottles and tweezers.” Here are a few Frankland Lee-endorsed spots to hit up next time you’re in the 818.
Pho So 1, 6450 Sepulveda Blvd.
“This place is next door to a 99 Ranch Market. They have this one dish I’ve been ordering for 15 years. It’s called bo tai chanh, or rare pan beef with lemon. I think it’s the best dish in Los Angeles. The texture and flavor are perfect. It seems like sirloin but it’s so much softer. You do have to squeeze, like, 17 limes, but they give you that many anyway so it’s okay. The dish is huge and it’s only $6.99.
Machu-Picchu, 6465 Van Nuys Blvd.
“This is a hole-in-the-wall Peruvian spot. I lived in Lima for four to five months and it’s exactly like the stuff in Peru except with better product. The anticuchos (grilled beef heart on a stick) are done really well. And their ceviche is the only one outside of Peru that’s tasted like actual Peruvian ceviche. It’s a very specific type, using lime juice, red onion, and aji rojo on top of fish. You’ll tend to see a grandma in the kitchen and her grandkids playing with coloring books.”
Brothers Sushi, 21418 Ventura Blvd.
“It’s as hard to reserve a spot here as it is at Katsuya, so you go there and pray there’s not a 45 minute wait. They have about 12 bar seats. And they always have a tank with live spot prawns, so their sweet shrimp is really tasty.”
Bill & Hiroko’s, 14742 Oxnard St.
“This is the type of place where if Bill (the owner) doesn’t want to cook, they simply don’t open. From what I recall, I believe he’s a war veteran who has been married a bunch of times, he’s 75 years old, and he talks shit. Every burger is flipped by Bill. It’s not a restaurant-style burger and it’s not a fast food one either. The only burger you could compare it to is the one from your dad’s BBQ pool party, except that Bill knows what he’s doing. It’s a solid beef patty with melted Kraft cheese, mayo, and pickles.”
Crazy Tokyo Sushi, 18406 Ventura Blvd.
“It may not be the very best piece of mackerel ever, but you’ll be satisfied. They have these baked green mussels; they’re the best I’ve had anywhere. I’ve ordered this dish at every sushi bar, including high-end places, and I’ve yet to find a better version. They put a masago mayo on top of the mussel, bake it, and top it with smelt egg and ponzu. I love it so much that I use green mussels at Scratch Bar too.”