10 Unique Mom-And-Pop Restaurants In The Valley You Must Try

The San Fernando Valley has an undeserved reputation for being a food desert that forces hungry residents to make the long trek over the hills for any decent food. Truth is, there are a slew of unique mom-and-pops off the beaten path that are worth the trek, no matter which side of the hills you live on.

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Calabasas Custom Catering’s food truck is parked in Woodland Hills every weekend and serves authentic Santa Maria-style BBQ. (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)

CALABASAS CUSTOM CATERING

Follow your nose every Saturday and Sunday to the parking lot of Jim's Fallbrook Market in Woodland Hills. Friendly husband and wife duo Paul and Fran of Calabasas Custom Catering will show you what Santa Maria-style BBQ is all about. Paul and Fran use a cast iron grill to cook their BBQ over wood coals. Their massive BBQ pit is filled with tri-tip, chicken, baby back ribs, and pulled pork. Calabasas Custom Catering’s most popular item is their juicy and smoky tri-tip. The tri-tip can be ordered sliced as is or as a tri-tip sandwich or a “50/50” (pulled pork and tri-tip combined) toasted on a french roll. They also have a collection of tasty, homemade sides like Hawaiian cole slaw, baked beans, chili spaghetti, and macaroni salad, to name a few. Don’t forget to ask for their spicy BBQ sauce for dipping. The Calabasas Custom Catering food truck is parked at Jim’s Fallbrook Market every weekend from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Calabasas Custom Catering is located at 5947 Fallbrook Avenue in Woodland Hills, (818) 347-5525.

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Fresh Japanese tofu donuts made by a Japanese pastry chef from Ring Baked Tofu Donuts in Canoga Park. (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)

RING BAKED TOFU DONUTS

If you’ve ever wanted to be James Bond for a day, you definitely need to check out Ring Baked Tofu Donuts in Canoga Park. Getting there is a spy mission in itself. Park in the back of an industrial complex in the guest parking spots, walk through a office down a hall and up the stairs to a very out-of-place ‘healthy’ donut shop. Originally from Japan, Ring’s donuts are baked by a Japanese pastry chef and made with fresh ingredients from local Los Angeles companies. The baked tofu donuts last for days on end and are non-GMO certified. Put them in the fridge and microwave them when you’re ready and they’ll taste just as good as the first day. The texture of the tofu donuts is similar to that of a sponge cake. Unlike regular grease-drenched fried donuts, the tofu donuts are moist, subtle, and not overly sweet. The flavors are unique. Ring carries flavors like honey, earl grey, gluten-free and vegan double chocolate, maple bacon, banana bread, red velvet, matcha green tea. They also frequently carry limited edition flavors like apricot and rum raisin as well. No donut shop would be complete without tasty drinks. Ring does a delicious sea salt coffee and sea salt iced matcha.

Ring Baked Tofu Donuts is located at 6800 Owensmonth Avenue, Suite 130 in Canoga Park, (323) 963-3881.

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Cici’s Café is the Valley’s version of The Griddle with their plethora of delicious pancakes and other breakfast items. (Photo by Sam Logan)

CICI'S CAFE

Weekday or weekend, you’ll seldom see Cici’s Café without a 40+ minute line out the door. Indecisive eaters will be impressed with their extensive menu. Cici’s has 18 different variations of crepes alone. Cici’s has the typical breakfast flare as well as more unique pancake flavors like Tiramisu, Green Tea Tiramisu, and Red Velvet. They also do a very Instagram-worthy Strawberry Dutch, which is a huge German ‘pancake’ topped with fresh strawberries, made on the spot, and dusted with powdered sugar. The so-called ‘pancake’ looks more like a giant popover that takes 20 minutes to bake. For those that can’t decide what to order, Cici’s also offers a chopper sampler platter, which comes with your choice of eggs, 4 big strips of bacon, and your choice of pancakes, waffles, and French toast that can easily feed two people with one order.

Cici’s Café is located at 18912 Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, 818-881-6704.

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Oi Fusion’s Adobo Pork rice bowl topped with a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg. (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)

OI FUSION

If you love Filipino food with a modern twist, then head over to a small strip mall in Canoga Park where the menu is all about Filipino-Asian-fusion. Oi Fusion’s best sellers are their Chego-esque rice bowls like their adobo pork and karaage rice bowls. The popular adobo bowl has crispy braised pork belly, adobo sauce, scallions, and is topped with a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg. Other unique items on the menu include karaage fried chicken bun and kimchi mash potatoes, and pork belly jicama taco. And don’t forget about their dynamite sweet potato fries topped with garlic, cilantro, and their secret sauce that surely lives up to their name.

Oi Fusion is located at 7242 Canoga Avenue in Canoga Park, (818) 776-0282.

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"The Kevin Special" has pho noodles with faux duck and chicken meats, broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, and carrots from Vinh Loi. (Photo by Stephanie Dujour)

VINH LOI TOFU

Hole-in-the-wall Vinh Loi Tofu in Reseda offers a vegan take on traditional Vietnamese cuisine. With only about 8-10 small tables, the owner/head chef Kevin Tran makes Vietnamese dishes so authentic you wouldn’t know they were meatless if no one told you. The ‘chicken’ and ‘pork’ in the dishes are actually made of tofu, an impressive feat that Vinh Loi masters quite well. Vinh Loi makes all their own tofu, which can be ordered fried, hot, cold, or flavored with soy or other seasonings. Some must-orders include lemongrass ‘beef’ stir-fry, curry fried rice, ‘beef’ rolls, black pepper ‘fish’, and Vietnamese spicy ‘beef’ noodle soup. Don’t forget to grab some of their home-made chili sauce to go.

Vinh Loi Tofu is located at 18625 Sherman Way in Reseda, (818) 996-9779.

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Big Burrito’s jam-packed Carne Asada burrito with your choice of mild green or spicy red sauce in Canoga Park. (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)

BIG BURRITO

Big Burrito is the ‘it’ place to go in the West Valley for burritos. Bring your cash and head over to this admittedly shady-looking strip mall. Big Burrito is so popular that they have an additional food truck literally down the street from their storefront. Don’t come here expecting any ambiance. This hole-in-the-wall is no-frills with only a few tables and a lackluster toppings stand. The food is made to order and comes out piping hot in minutes. The must-order item and eatery’s namesake is the delicious and hearty carne asada burrito with cheese, rice, beans, and green sauce. For those that enjoy spicy food, the red sauce is packed with flavor and will light your mouth on fire. The menudo (traditional Mexican soup) is available on weekends. Big Burrito also makes a great quesadilla, with your choice of meat and add-on ingredients. Of course for those patrons who aren’t in the mood for burritos, Big Burrito’s tacos also hit the spot.

Big Burrito is located at 7801 Canoga Avenue in Canoga Park, (818) 592-6719.

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A juicy Bandito Burger with spicy steak fries from Outlaw’s Café. (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)

OUTLAW'S CAFE

Next door to a bail bonds shop is probably the last place you’d expect to find a great burger. Appropriately named Outlaw’s Café, the burger joint has their outlaw theme down to a T. The menu is filled with ‘bullet holes’ and even their most popular burger is named the Bandito. The Bandito Burger has a juicy beef patty topped with jalapeño bacon, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, chipotle sauce, mushrooms, onions and garlic all on top of a pretzel bun. Burger eating is serious business at Outlaw’s. There’s even a list of burger eating commandments, some of which include: Thou shall not cut the burger and thou shall not substitute any ingredients. The owner, Erik, drives to local markets each day to pick all the ingredients himself. Burgers aren’t the only must-order dish at Outlaw’s. The wedge fries are thick steak fries that have been fried four times with your choice of spicy, garlic, salt, or pepper seasoning. Don’t forget top it all off with a red cayenne brownie.

Outlaw’s Café is located at 6201 Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys, (818) 855-1953.

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A banana, granola, strawberry, mango, figs acai bowl from Ubatuba Acai. (Photo by Facebook)

UBATUBA ACAI

Want to eat something healthy without feeling like you’re eating something healthy? Ubatuba makes tasty acai bowls that make for a refreshing summer snack or meal. For those unfamiliar, açai, is a Brazilian berry known as a superfruit that is loaded with vitamins. It tastes like a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry. Ubatuba lines their bowls with frozen acai and granola and then gives you the choice of three fruit toppings to pile on the top. Toppings include blueberries, banana, strawberries, passion fruit, pineapple, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, among others. There’s also the option to order the açai by itself in a cone. You can also order online for pick up.

Ubatuba Acai is located at 18641 Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, (818) 708-7078.

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An upside down ube pie with finely crumpled graham crackers from Crème Caramel LA (Photo by Facebook)

CRÈME CARAMEL LA

If there’s one bakery to try in the Valley, it’s Crème Caramel LA. Founder Kristine de la Cruz is currently on the Food Network competing on the show ‘Spring Baking Championship’. Crème Caramel LA is a former farmers’ market booth turned brick and mortar in Sherman Oaks that specializes in Filipino-inspired sweets. Their namesake dish, the crème caramel, is beyond creamy and melts in your mouth. It also comes in unique flavors like lavender, ube (purple yam), buko pandan (young coconut), Mexican hot chocolate, as well as seasonal specialty flavors that are top with drizzle of their delicious homemade caramel sauce. Their upside-down pie is made with finely-crumbled graham crackers topped on a plethora of creamy custard flavors like ube, pandan, as well as seasonal flavors like Ghirardelli chocolate or pumpkin white chocolate. Crème Caramel LA also puts unique twists on custard pies, bread puddings, brownies, and other baked goods. Try finding ube brownies, ube bread puddings, and calamansi blackberry upside-down pies anywhere else. Don’t forget to pick up some colorful oversized meringues known in the store as ‘unicorn poop.’

Crème Caramel LA is located at 14849 Burbank Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, (818) 949-8352.

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Red snapper with fries and coleslaw from Les Sisters. (Photo by Instagram)

LES SISTERS SOUTHERN KITCHEN & BBQ

Whether it’s jambalaya, hush puppies, collard greens, or po' boys, Les Sisters is the place to go for Soul Food in the Valley. The ambiance at the tiny mom-and-pop shop may be bare bones, but it’s the food that will impress you. Start your meal off with some of their bottomless sweet tea or lemonade that comes in a gigantic old-fashioned mason jar. Then, move on to some crawfish ettoufe or fried oysters. If you manage to have room for dessert, you’ll have a hard time choosing between some sweet potato pie or bourbon bread pudding.

Les Sisters Southern Kitchen & BBQ is located at 21818 Devonshire Street in Chatsworth, (818) 998-0755.