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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Van Nuys

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Perhaps the most like, totally "valley" of the Valley, Van Nuys has meant a lot of things to people over the years. If you were alive and watching television in the 1990's, you'll perhaps recall that it was Andrea's great shame that she was actually poor and lived in Van Nuys unlike her Beverly Hills, 90210 classmates. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was shot at Van Nuys High School. Blonde bombshells Marilyn Monroe and Gwen Stefani lived here. Nikki Sixx wrote a song about his near-death experiences with heroin addiction while living in a house in Van Nuys.

Founded in 1911, Van Nuys was named after pioneer resident Issac Newton Van Nuys, husband of Susanna Lankershim and founder of Hollywood Cemetery. Van Nuys considers itself "The Heart of the Valley," though given how it's regarded by surrounding Valley neighbors constantly scrambling to be zoned outside of Van Nuys, it's treated more like an armpit. So, the likelihood of someone recommending it as a restaurant destination is slim to none. But the locals are fine with that, because the prices are low and even the best spots are rarely crowded.

94th Aero Squadron: A beautiful and unexpected up-scale surf-n-turf restaurant tucked into the Van Nuys Airport, 94th Aero Squadron is an odd assortment of historical war planes, weaponry, and cobblestone. On the patio, diners can hear the sounds of the approximate 700 flights taking off each day. The airport itself, established in 1917 as a military airbase during World War I, has played an important role in the commerce of the area, both in job creation and its contribution to the community. In fact, Norma Jeane Dougherty was working on an assembly line at the airport during World War II when she was photographed for Yank magazine. It was that photo shoot that would launch her career as Marilyn Monroe. The restaurant is part slapped together aviation museum, part floral wall paper and knickknacks. Iconic for its place in local history, the 94th Aero Squadron is also rather distinct in that it manages not to resemble anything else about Van Nuys.
16320 Raymer St, Van Nuys; (818) 994-7437

Barone's : The expression, "I don't like to toot my own horn" does not apply to the Barone family, who will proudly tell you that they were the first restaurant to serve pizza in Los Angeles. Opened in 1945 by a group of people with the most Italian-sounding names you could imagine, what started as a pizza pie joint 70 years ago branched out to include this dimly-lit, spacious spot on Oxnard. Its address is now considered within Valley Glen borders, but this was the location for a restaurant scene in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" as well as the remake of "Bad News Bears," so it's still a Van Nuys hangout. Another local favorite, the Swiss Chef Restaurant, occupied this space before it became Barone's under the name Matterhorn Chef. On the weekends, Barone's features live swing and jazz standards, and the menu is as Italian American as it gets, with an entire section dedicated to their veal dishes. And don't worry Angelinos, while the decor may not have changed since it opened, that doesn't mean they aren't hip to the times. They offer gluten-free spaghetti. 13726 Oxnard St, (818) 782-6004

Ireland's 32: From its dark corner on Burbank Blvd across from a bra fitting shop, this pub is named for the 32 counties of Ireland. Its dark-in-the-daytime interior is filled with regulars who look like they were born on a bar stool and might live out their days on one, too. For over 50 years, the family-run pub has been feeding the locals corned beef, bangers and mash, and full Irish breakfasts on the weekends. Most nights there's live music, from county to rock, with a singer-songwriter night that has a more toned-down vibe. It's a place to watch the game and a place to drink with friends. The bartenders pour a fastidious Guinness and serve it with a side of banter. Weekly a saucy, loud-mouthed sweetheart who goes by the stage name Jen Sing runs a karaoke night. While L.A. karaoke tends to be filled with trained, aspiring musicians, this one is true to karaoke's joyful core -- plain, drunken, lousy warbling from most, with the occasional stand-out star of the evening. It's the sort of Valley bar and restaurant that'll never go away, an iconic local evening night spot from which many stumble home, well-fed and well on their way to a hangover.
13721 Burbank Blvd.; (818) 785-4031

Beeps: As "A Valley Favorite Since 1956," Beeps was one of L.A.'s original drive-in burger joints. To visit today is to be confronted with wall-to-wall kitsch staring at you from all angles. The garish 1950's pink and turquoise decor certainly stands out from the street, and the prices are still exceptionally low. Beeps is where you go to get a three-egg breakfast with hash browns and bacon for $5.99. While the nostalgia of Beeps' style is iconic to L.A., the "Mexican Delights" area of the menu is perfectly suited to the Valley. And if you want to be sure to really complete an America-meets-Mexico experience, for under $6 you can have a pastrami, chili, and onion burrito. There's bound to be a 7-11 nearby where you can get some antacids.
16063 Sherman Way; (818) 781-0830

Photo: Kenny Y.
Photo: Kenny Y.

Dr. Hogly Wogly's Tyler Texas BBQ: While the name itself might bring about a bit of skepticism, the barbecue itself is just plain serious. The portions are what you'd expect from a restaurant owned by a former Piggly Wiggly delivery boy from Texas, who, according to their site, is "such a big guy that his wife said he's not a Piggly Wiggly, he's a Hogly Wogly". Open since 1969, the prices are jaw-dropping, but when you're finished eating and still have a week's worth of food on your platter, it all gets tied up in a plastic baggie for you to take home. And if you're worried that you're getting your barbecue from some unaccredited hack who's merely calling himself a doctor to sell more brisket, worry not. The "Dr." in the name stems from the founder's degree in pharmacology. And it seems that the doctor has ordered 500,000 mg of pulled pork.
8136 Sepulveda Blvd., (818) 782-2480

Van Nuys simply wouldn't be the same without the following honorable mentions: Sam Woo BBQ, LuLu's Restaurant, Yagumo Sushi, Springbok , and Pho 999.

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