Katsu-Ya Group and Ricardo Zarate rewrite the script.
Yes, we feel the energy in downtown L.A.’s Arts District, where the dining scene is always ready for more. We’re enamored with the restaurant rows in Highland Park, Silver Lake, and Fairfax. We understand that West Hollywood is in the middle of a delicious makeover. Despite all this, we have the feeling that 2019 could be the year that Studio City establishes itself as a dining neighborhood that can compete with any other in Los Angeles.
In 2018, this San Fernando Valley area, over the hill from Hollywood and best known as the location of CBS Studio Center, welcomed prominent newcomers like LBK and serial restaurateur Michael Cardenas’ Mister O’s. And this is just the beginning,
LBK, a pizza place affiliated with Luzzo’s in Brooklyn, is a stellar slice joint that has aggressive ambitions for expansion around L.A. We hear that LBK, which recently installed a filtration system to simulate the mineral content of New York’s unparalleled tap water, is looking to open a full-service restaurant in Studio City. Meanwhile, Mister O’s is where executive chef Oscar Torres has recently taken over a kitchen that’s sending out crowd-pleasers like fried turmeric bread, handmade pastas (including garganelli with white Bolognese, featuring grass-fed beef, sungold tomato, and spigarello, which is as modern Angeleno as it is Italian), one of the city’s best little gem salads, and, for lunch, an excellent spicy fried chicken sandwich.
Plus, there are rumors swirling about some operators of high-profile modern Italian restaurants opening in Studio City. But whether that happens or not, the neighborhood is the middle of a major dining upgrade, which also includes two important restaurants that quietly debuted around the end of 2018.
The first is Washoku of L.A., from the prolific Katsu-Ya Group that already has Katsu-Ya and Kiwami in Studio City. Washoku, next door to Kiwami and down the street from Mister O’s, is where you’ll find the best omakase deal in L.A. at the moment: $28 gets you two appetizers plus soup and salad before beef, salmon, or chicken. And then the meal concludes with sushi and ice cream. This steal of a menu is limited to six orders a day, so you might want to show up early at this cozy restaurant with a small sushi counter and just a few tables.
Or do we what we did and “splurge” on the $48 omakase with dishes like perfectly fried tempura and rib eye shabu shabu with mushrooms. We left this meal completely sated. There was fugu sashimi expertly sliced by chef Ken Uechi, the son of legendary chef Katsuya Uechi. Don’t worry, Katsu-Ya Group uses farmed Japanese fugu, which means there’s no risk of poisoning. The fugu sashimi with meat and skin was subtle and clean-tasting. Every bite was a little chewy but pleasant, sort of like meatier, less crunchy jellyfish.
The sashimi we enjoyed also included Spanish bluefin tuna and Santa Barbara uni. The sushi that night was headlined by a ridiculously luxurious piece of seared toro—a spectacular value for $48. We can’t even imagine how insane the $98 “chef’s surprise” omakase is at Washoku, but we might have to come back soon to see for ourselves.
This restaurant, which Ken Uechi says will be rotating in premium seafood as seasons change, feels a little bit like a Katsu-Ya test kitchen. You can order à la carte shabu-shabu or special sushi like renkodai (yellow-back sea bream) and nizadai (sawtail). On the night we visited, another option was a $68 fugu omakase where the blowfish courses included raw preparations and shabu-shabu.
Joining Washoku as a potentially game-changing Studio City newcomer is Los Balcones, around the corner from Tujunga Village restaurants including hard-shell standby Henry’s Tacos and LBK. This Los Balcones is the offspring of Hollywood’s Los Balcones, which is known for traditional Peruvian food. But the Studio City outpost has a wider range: It’s all about modern renditions of Peruvian flavors. This restaurant is focused on mestizo cuisine, which is a hybrid of Peruvian, Spanish, and other assorted Latin American and European flavors. Mestizo translates to mixed-race, so the idea here is to purposefully blend cultures.
So partner/creative director Ricardo Zarate (L.A.’s foremost Peruvian chef, who re-ignited his career at Rosaliné) and chef Polit Castillo (who previously worked in the kitchen when this Studio City space was home to upscale farm-to-table restaurant Girasol) have put together a menu featuring stunning dishes like oysters with uni ponzu, popped quinoa, charred aji oil, and garlic chips. Zarate, my dining companion astutely pointed out, is like the Gucci of chefs. He layers flourish on top of flourish on top of flourish. Why just go for bold colors or eye-catching patterns or sequins or tassels when you can have them all at the same time?
Studio City’s Los Balcones fries ceviche that it serves alongside raw ceviche with rocoto leche de tigre, and the combination of textures and heat and acid and love feels like a warm hug even though half this dish is cold. Steamed mussels over rice are part of a resplendent stew with Peruvian chilies and tomatoes. A duck entrée includes two preparations, confit and roasted, and the cilantro salsa verde adds brightness alongside a spicy, creamy huancaína sauce with pancetta and feta. Your wine might be poured from a porron that a waiter lifts above his head. You will likely have a good time at this restaurant that already feels like a big part of a Studio City dining scene that’s ready for its close-up.