San Fernando Valley | 99 Essential Restaurants 2015

San Fernando Valley

Asanebo

photo by Amy Scattergood

It looks like a million other sushi restaurants in any other strip mall anywhere in America, but Asanebo might be the place to remind you why you fell in love with sushi in the first place. It has the feel that most sushi joints had 24 years ago (which is when the restaurant opened): no sleek and sexy design, just the comfort of light wood, a small room and a sushi bar. Chef Tetsuya Nakao is the older brother of Shunji Nakao, who owns an eponymous restaurant in Culver City; both of them were part of the opening crew at Matsuhisa in the 1980s. Here, the best bet is to go for the full omakase, where you can expect dishes such as uni on corn custard, halibut topped with copious shaved black truffle, and “Japanese birthday cake”: conch served in its own shell with broth and a quail egg. The sushi and sashimi are pristine — if you’re lucky, you’ll get something truly special, such as a recent wild yellowtail called himi kan buri. And don’t be surprised if you run into a celebrity or two here — Asanebo inspires fierce loyalty in its customers, many of whom just happen to be movie stars.— Besha Rodell

Hayat's Kitchen

photo by Amy Scattergood

Some of the best Lebanese food in Los Angeles sits obscured in the corner of a North Hollywood strip mall, wedged into a wide stretch of boulevard heavy with auto repair shops and nail salons. If there’s a finer metaphor for the Valley’s hidden culinary potential, it’s hard to envision. For years Hayat’s Kitchen has been the less flashy cousin of Carnival and Carousel, a place where popping in for sumac-dusted kafta kabobs, labneh with olive oil and a pot of mint tea on the patio is as satisfying and simple as you’d imagine it to be in a Beirut cafe. In all likelihood, though, you will order a feast — intended or otherwise. Tables groan under plates of mezze: hummus draped with shawarma and toasted pine nuts, fattoush salad brightened with lemon, and the infamous batata harra, french fries topped with an obscene amount of chopped garlic. It’s probably better to bring a crowd.—Garrett Snyder

Lum-Ka-Naad

photo by Danny Liao

Few places in the United States, if any, showcase the breadth of Thai cooking as does Lum-Ka-Naad, an ordinary-looking suburban diner whose menu boasts no fewer than four types of herb-stuffed Thai sausage, five varieties of nam prik and more mouth-watering curries than can be easily counted. The best dishes are presented as Northern and Southern specialties, each section labeled with the message “too spicy for the average American.” Embracing that challenge is a wise choice, as it leads to vibrant Chiang Rai tomato curries cooked down with fermented soybeans and dried tropical flowers (smuggled in by traveling employees); mouth-puckering green mango salads tossed with ground shrimp, toasted coconut and a scattering of dried chilies; or, most daringly, kaeng tai pla, a sublime smoked and fermented fish soup, whose star ingredient is stinky enough to strip paint.— Garrett Snyder

Rocio's Mole de los Dioses

photo by Kevin Scanlon

If you have yet to experience the loving embrace that is Rocio Camacho’s soulful Mexican cooking, whether it be her supple huitlacoche empanadas tinted nopales green, spicy lamb mixiotes cooked in a corn husk pouch, or the cup of spicy shrimp broth that serves as an amuse-bouche, then the drive to Sun Valley is worth any amount of traffic. The chief pleasure at Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses is, of course, the moles, available in two dozen shades that span the spectrum in both color and spice, from the tar-black Oaxacan variety to the rather obscure mole de guales, made with wild pea pods and a brightening dose of tomatillos and jalapeño. It is perhaps a restaurant cliché to say you feel as if you’re dining in someone’s personal kitchen, but in an endearing, more formalized way, Rocio’s has perfected that exact sensation.— Garrett Snyder