OK, let's all make fun of the Valley now and get it out of our systems. Because here's the thing: there's a lot of fun history here, and some interesting restaurants. In fact, there are enough culturally important locations that I feel obligated to name three that didn't make the final cut: Daichan, The Baked Potato, and Amir's Falafel are all culturally relevant too -- but the following five really set the tone, from outdoor lunches to sushi.
Patys: Yes, the weird grammar is correct here! The restaurant has existed for about 55 years, and hosted many, many celebrities for breakfast over the years. When Laugh-In was on the air, this was a regular haunt for the cast and crew; it still pulls famous faces from the nearby studios. Part of Patys' charm is the almost aggressively unhip menu: the Fitness section reads like a time capsule of diet trends through the years.
10001 Riverside Dr., 818-761-0041
Ca Del Sole: Talk about Hollywood power players. The restaurant has the perfect location, right at the bottom of the Universal City hill, for bringing in studio types for power lunches. It's got some pretty okay culinary chops, but the main thing is the setting (outdoor tables are basically cabanas, in a pretty garden) ... and the many millions of dollars being discussed at most tables.
4100 Cahuenga Blvd., 818-985-4669
Katsuya: Before chef Katsuya Uechi had the power of SBE Entertainment behind him, there was this tiny strip mall location. Founded in 1999, it wasn't the first of the Valley's famous and groundbreaking sushi restaurants, but it did become the headquarters of the biggest-deal sushi restaurant in California. And that spicy tuna on crispy rice may not be "authentic," but it sure has introduced millions of people to the beauty of raw fish.
11680 Ventura Blvd., 818-985-6976
Asanebo: When it first opened in the '90s, Asanebo couldn't serve sushi, due to a clause in their lease. So for 15 years it was all manner of Japanese-style seafood, as long as there wasn't any rice touching it. Though they're allowed to hand out nigiri now, the restaurant is still held in high esteem as a place to try raw fish, beyond the basics. It's one of the restaurants that allows us to feel superior to all other U.S. cities.
11941 Ventura Blvd., 818-760-3348
Laurel Tavern: As discussed here, the Valley is having a culinary revolution, and it's all about the gastropubs. This chef favorite opened in 2008, which is twelve lifetimes ago in restaurant years, and it inspired about a dozen other restaurants up and down Ventura Boulevard that are absolutely packed on weekends.
11938 Ventura Blvd., 818-506-0777