Since its founding in 1927, Sherman Oaks has been a highly-prized neighborhood with homeowners in nearby areas petitioning that boundaries be re-drawn to be included in the coveted area. Today, Sherman Oaks is known for its shopping malls, boutiques and eclectic specialty shops along Ventura Boulevard. This main drag is also where Ludo Lefebvre's Petit Trois, the newly-opened second outpost of Melrose staple Osteria la Buca, brunch hit Blu Jam Café and many other stalwarts have made a home. In contrast, a few main streets away, stretches a more subdued version of the neighborhood, on Burbank Boulevard, the definitive boundary line of the northernmost border of Sherman Oaks. At the corner of Burbank Boulevard and Kester Avenue sits a little, yellow bakery that stands out like a glorious California sunrise against a clear blue sky. Inside the cozy shop, you will find dessert maven Kristine de la Cruz at the helm of Crème Caramel LA, a Filipino American-inspired bakery.
A self-taught pastry chef, de la Cruz began her professional culinary career with 20 years of marketing and promotion experience as a road manager for a music production company. Using an original family recipe from her aunt for leche flan (an indulgent Filipino dessert using egg yolks, condensed milk and evaporated milk) as inspiration, de la Cruz and her partner and co-founder Sean, started their business in 2010 and quickly found success. "We were in four farmers markets and at the end of 2011, we were in six markets. And by the end of 2011 we were at 15 farmers markets supported with production out of a rent-by-hour commercial kitchen," said de la Cruz.
With success came the need for a permanent retail location, which took them to Burbank Boulevard in 2013, at an Armenian bakery owned by a husband-and-wife duo on the brink of retirement. "Living in Silver Lake, being in the Valley was new to us. Even though it was farther than we wanted, we came over here and immediately, I said that I can see us here," said de la Cruz. Driving around, they saw kids playing in the streets and the community feel instantly drew the couple in.
Since then, Crème Caramel LA has been slinging Filipino-inspired desserts like the taste of the mellow, creamy, coconut-like flavors of this "ubiquitous Filipino purple potato" called ube or their version of the traditional breakfast pastry, where a bagel and pandesal are re-imagined into a chewy adaptation. From delivering their comforting pandesals to frontline workers in the neighborhood to hiring and training local youths, Crème Caramel LA has truly become part of the Sherman Oaks community. We asked de la Cruz to share some of her favorite, no-fuss, down to earth places to check out in the area:
"Bill's Hamburgers on Oxnard: It's a shack, a literal shack and he's been there for probably more than thirty years?" (Currently in his 90s, owner Bill Elwell actually opened it in 1965, so you can do the math). De la Cruz says to check them out while you still can. "He's still running the grill over there and at one point during the pandemic, they were saying that he was going to close but he's still up and running the business over there. It's just street burgers, nothing fancy about him. He's simple and curmudgeonly." As a purist when it comes to burgers, it's just the way de la Cruz likes it. She doesn't hesitate to recommend "straight up, the cheeseburger." The waft of seared beef patties, minimalist ingredients paired with the ooey gooey melt of the American cheese will satisfy any burger purist. It's cash only and expect to wait a while for Bill to serve up your burger.
MacLeod Ale Brewing
Established in 2014, this craft brewery has forged itself into the heart of industrial Van Nuys and has built their own cult following along the way. "They've been super supportive; we've even done a few pop-ups there," says de la Cruz. The environment is chill with an extensive selection of small batch, British-inspired beer on tap including in-house favorites, cask ale, unique staff batches like fruity ambrosia and tasty fired-up pizza with flavor-packed toppings such as jalapeño poppers. Don't drink beer? There's also Nitro Cold Brew from Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters on tap. Pair that with CVT's quality soft serve ice cream, which they also serve, for a ridiculously delicious affogato alternative.
De la Cruz recommends simply ordering whatever the staff suggests. "It's all amazing," she says. You'd be hard-pressed in finding another brewery in Los Angeles with beer and wine on tap, hard kombucha, nitro cold brew coffee, pizza and soft serve ice cream under one roof. It just might be too perfect. This valley favorite has tons of bar games, is dog-friendly and family-friendly. Be prepared to jockey for some parking if you end up coming on a busy night.
Studio City Farmer’s Market
Just outside Sherman Oaks' official borders, this farmer's market gets a special nod for helping this powerhouse get her foot in the door in the business and for doing the same for many other burgeoning operations. "The Studio Farmer's Market is fantastic!" She highly recommends her friend, Rondo's award-winning jam from Coldwater Canyon Provisions. It's a perfectly sized farmer's market, not too big, not too small, not too overwhelming. It has everything you would want, from fresh, organic produce; micro greens; seasonal stone fruits; hand-pressed Salvadoran pupusas paired perfectly with the oregano-infused spicy cabbage slaw (curtido); specialty nut butters; refreshing agua frescas that taste like summer-ripened fruit; wild flowers; homemade toddler food; farm fresh eggs with bright yellow yolks and everything in between. If you're keen on running into some Hollywood celebrities, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for the occasional star sighting!
The sisters who opened their first location in Toluca Lake must be doing something right. They have expanded to three Rustic Spoon locations since the original location opened 10 years ago. An array of different Southeast Asian flavor profiles are offered here, from the clear broth steeped in fragrant spices of the chicken pho or the filet mignon pho, down to the perfectly chewy, sweet and tangy pad Thai noodles topped with crunchy bean sprouts and peanuts. "Yellow curry is my go-to dish at Rustic Spoon. I love the super fresh ingredients," said de la Cruz. The curry is mild and aromatic with chunky vegetables. Customers can choose between meat or vegan options. Rustic Spoon sits next door to Crème Caramel in Sherman Oaks and features a collection of Crème Caramel desserts on the menu. "The Rustic Spoon employees came by and noticed that we sold honey thai tea crème caramel and mango crème caramel so they started carrying them at all their locations," said de la Cruz. Talk about a winning combination!
Just when you think it can't get better, Crème Caramel LA is working on expanding their footprint just around the corner from their original location. With a growing menu of decadent desserts like crème caramel — the rich and creamy Philippine custard — cheesecakes and puddings in flavors that range from calamansi citrus fruit (a tart Philippine hybrid of lemon/lime and orange flavors) and pandan (hint of vanilla, coconut and almond) to banana nutella bread pudding and strawberry upside down pie, you're barely scratching the surface of their dessert options. Stay tuned on exciting developments as the bakery continues to grow their offerings and create more space for the community to enjoy their desserts!
Lake Balboa and the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Center
Adjacent to Sherman Oaks, Lake Balboa and the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Center provide a myriad of family-friendly recreational opportunities from fishing, kayaking, walking/jogging, golfing, tennis, picnic tables and more. Families often enjoy picnics by the 27-acre lake, which is home to many ducks and local wildlife as well cherry blossoms. De la Cruz says that for her, "it's a chance to breathe fresh air and take a break from the hustle and bustle."
Napoli’s Pizza Kitchen
Back in the day, Edgar Martirosyan was called upon by Ellen DeGeneres to deliver pizza to the Oscar awards from the pizzeria that he owned with his brother Erik at the time. His pizza was publicly consumed by the likes of Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. Since then, Martirosyan opened Napoli's Pizza Kitchen in Sherman Oaks. De la Cruz mentions that his brother coincidentally runs Wood Handcrafted Pizza in Silver Lake where she happens to reside. While her partner's favorite is the pizza, de la Cruz's go-to is actually the grilled chicken sandwich served on an Amoroso roll. "They use fresh ingredients and season and prepare that chicken really well!"
Get your passport ready to be swept away by artisanal ice cream flavors inspired by destinations all over the globe. Each hand-crafted scoop in this Filipino-owned and inspired Tarzana shop instantly transports you around the world. Seasonal flavors debut each month, but staples like sticky rice mango (made with housemade rice milk, coconut cream and alphonso mango), Vietnamese rocky road (with condensed milk, marshmallow and cacao nibs) and ube malted crunch (using malted milk, sweet purple yams and malted milk pieces) are surefire hits. They ship internationally as well. You’re welcome!
How to get to Crème Caramel LA
By Bus: Take the Metro B Line (Red) to the North Hollywood Station. Transfer to Metro G Line (Orange) 901 to the Van Nuys Station and catch any available buses to Van Nuys and Burbank. Walk .5 mi to Crème Caramel LA.
By Car: Take I-5 N/Golden State Fwy to CA-134 W/Ventura Fwy and US-101 N. Exit 19A to merge onto I-405N. Take exit 64 and turn right onto Burbank Blvd. Destination will be on the left.