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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Northridge, North Hills, and Mission Hills

 

Before the mid-1700s, the area that is now known as Northridge was once a meeting place for the Gabrielino-Tongva Native American tribe. They were drawn to the spot by an ancient watering hole, which is fed by a multitude of underground streams that still exist today. When Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola discovered the land in 1769, he named it after the biblical place of meeting, Zelzah.

In the late 1840s, Zelzah was sold – rather than granted, which was more often the case throughout Los Angeles – to America by Mexico. Ten years later, the land was split up and sold again to two U.S. Senators, Porter and Maclay. The two men divided the land into farms and orange groves. It wasn’t until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in the San Fernando Valley in 1874 that the city of Zelzah truly began to develop.

After WWII, young families began moving to the Valley in droves, seeking the white picket fence American Dream. What had once been orange groves was quickly replaced with uniform single-family dwellings. Between 1950 and 1951, the population of Northridge – the name was changed in 1938 – grew by 1,000 residents. By 1960 it had doubled. In nearby Mission Hills – named for the San Fernando Mission – and North Hills, suburban neighborhoods were quickly growing as well.

Most of the iconic and historic restaurants that still exist today in Northridge, Mission Hills and North Hills come from this period of major growth and expansion, built by those very same American dreamers.

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My Hero Submarine Sandwich Shoppe

When My Hero opened in 1964, it was the only submarine sandwich shop for miles. Today, there is plenty of stiff competition, especially from chains like Subway, Which Wich and the like. However, My Hero’s mixture of fresh ingredients, competitive prices and good old-fashioned nostalgia keep people coming back for more.

Before Denise Mitchell bought My Hero in 2005, the restaurant was run by Howie and Elise Kuebler. It is widely believed that the Kueblers were the first owners of My Hero, but in fact they bought the restaurant from friends who had just opened the shop a few months before and couldn’t keep up with the business. Howie and Elise took over and built My Hero to be a local phenomenon.

A favorite of locals and CSUN students alike, My Hero is known for their loaded sub sandwiches. The top choice is the #1, also known as the My Hero Special with Mustard. This local delicacy is piled high with mustard, genoa salami, salami cotto, bologna, mortadella and provolone.

My Hero Submarine Sandwich Shoppe: 9514 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 349-4255

My Hero
Photo: Courtesy of Jacob Jones

Safari Room

Not much is known about the history of the iconic Safari Room restaurant in Mission Hills. What is clear, however, is that this seemingly traditional steakhouse is anything but ordinary. Located inside a fairly unassuming white brick building, the only thing that indicates the eccentricities of the Safari Room from the street is a dancing African Warrior on the restaurant’s retro sign. Inside, on the other hand, classic black leather booths are separated by leopard-print banquettes. Paintings of tigers and lions and other wild cats adorn old brick walls along with spears and African masks. On one wall there are two prominently featured elephant guns, one that is rumored to have once been used by the restaurant’s original owner. Even the menus are decorated with regal African animals like lions and giraffes.

Favorite dishes at the Safari Room include traditional classics like the Stuffed Potato and the Prime Rib. To add to the absurdity, you can pair them with a cocktail from the tiki-themed bar menu, such as a Kahlua Colada or a Tequila Sunrise.

Safari Room: 15426 Devonshire St., Mission Hills, (818) 893-9768

Safari Room
Photo: Courtesy of @valley_haunts via Instagram

Cupid’s Hot Dogs

When Richard and Bernice Walsh opened their first hot dog stand in 1946, they named it after themselves – Walsh’s Hot Dogs. Something about the name didn’t sit right with them, though, and just a few months later they decided to change the name to Cupid’s after Bernice’s nickname. The new name stuck and has continued to stick for the last 70 years.

By the 1960s, there were Cupid’s Hot Dogs all over the San Fernando Valley. The Northridge location was opened in 1965 and is today one of only three remaining shops still run by the Walsh Family. Bernice and Richard’s son Rick took over the business in 1982 and today all three locations are run by his daughters, Kelly and Morgan Walsh.

The Northridge Cupid’s is a walk-up stand where customers order at a small window and enjoy their hot dogs outside under the iconic heart-shaped sign. The menu is exceedingly simple and features only three hot dog options. The original Cupid comes with mustard, onions and chili. In the ‘80s, Rick added ketchup, relish and various other toppings to the menu, despite his father’s protests, and thus the Triangle (mustard, onions and relish) and the Reuben (mustard, cheese and sauerkraut) were born. Also available on the menu today is a Pastrami Sandwich, but why order that when you could just throw some pastrami on your hot dog instead?

Cupid’s Hot Dogs: 9039 Lindley Ave., Northridge, (818) 855-8160

Cupid's Hot Dogs
Photo: Courtesy of Paul de Leon

The Bear Pit Bar-B-Q

Ben Baier (pronounced BAY-ER) moved to Newhall, CA from Missouri in the late 1940s. Sensing a lack of good old-fashioned barbeque out West, he decided to open up a small BBQ shack in his new hometown. A few years in and his humble little shack had gotten too big for its britches. Baier decided to move the business down to the up and coming town of Dennis Park – now Mission Hills. Baier partnered with Don Carrow and opened The Bear Pit Bar-B-Q soon after. As the legend goes, Tennessee Ernie Ford was an early celebrity endorser of the restaurant. Despite his name, he was a big fan of Missouri BBQ.

Inside, the restaurant feels a bit like a National Forest theme park. Sawdust covers the floors and the walls are decorated with murals of cartoon bears BBQing over a fire pit. Even the chandeliers are made from wagon wheels. Rounding out the theme is a brown and white sign out front warning, “we dare comparison.”

In the early 1960s, Baier sold the restaurant to Ruben and Bea Gordon who then sold it again to Burton and Shirley Schatz in 1976. Both families added their signature touches to the menu, but all in all the Bear Pit has stayed true to its Missouri roots. In fact, the barbecue is still made in the brick oven – referred to as the pit – that Ben Baier built in the early 1950s. The signature dinner special includes your choice of meat with a side of soup or salad, deep fried tater tots and garlic toast.

The Bear Pit Bar-B-Q: 10825 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, (818) 365-2500

The Bear Pit Bar-b-q
Photo: Courtesy of @takemetopizza via Instagram

Horseless Carriage Restaurant 

At Galpin Ford they believe that by making a car dealership into more than just a place to sell cars, you can, in fact, sell more cars. It was this idea that led Bert Boeckmann to open Horseless Carriage Restaurant in 1966, right next to – and indeed part of – what is now the largest Ford dealership in America. Boeckmann bought Galpin Ford from Frank Galpin, who had opened the dealership in 1946.

Executive chef Geovanni Euceda, formerly a chef at the Beverly Hills Hotel, is cooking up surprisingly fresh and delicious food within sight of the dealership’s showroom. Unique and upscale dishes include the Lobster and Egg Scramble as well as the Angus Top Sirloin Steak and Eggs. Almost everything on the menu, including the All-Day Breakfast, is made from scratch. Just remember that you don’t have to be in the market for a new car to stop by the Horseless Carriage.

Horseless Carriage Restaurant: 15505 Roscoe Blvd., North Hills, (818) 778-2014

The Horseless Carriage
Photo: Courtesy of @eli_eats via Instagram

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