Adjacent to Studio City’s rustic drag along Tujunga Ave sits Los Balcones, bringing exotic flare and a flash of gourmet to the neighborhood’s otherwise quaint and classic dining scene. Setting up shop in the relatively intimate space formerly occupied by high-end hotspot Girasol, Los Balcones is an expansion from the restaurant’s first location in Hollywood, which has been around for 14 years and counting. But even if you’ve tried the former, this new haute spot is full of surprises.
Guests find themselves in a high-energy room with a modernistic backdrop, where locals go to let their hair down and in-the-know Angelinos venture to try the next great thing. The L-shaped dining room holds maybe 20 tables, with a few more on the narrow heated patio right outside, and every one of them is packed with guests yearning for that elusive Mestizo cuisine, a meld of Peruvian and Spanish flavor rarely done north of the border.
If lomo saltado, a marinated beef dish with vegetables, fries and rice, is your litmus test for Peruvian food [it has the ubiquity that cheeseburgers do in the US], this place has made it about as tender as you’ll find. From there, Los Balcones branches far beyond just Spanish influence, instead covering much of Europe. Take their signature quinotto, which transforms quinoa into Italian risotto, finished with a mix of mushrooms and a mountain of shaved truffle. Savor over the locro parpadelle, rich with pumpkin ragout, as well as the pan de la chola, a Latin take on charcuterie.
The costilla de short ribs, another Los Balcones classic, showcases melt-in-your-mouth 6-hour slow cooked short rib with a play on classic tacu tacu, a harmonious compilation of rice and beans fried into a pancake, topped with a fried egg. The seco de pato, or duck two ways, yields succulent duck confit with its roasted counterpart alongside.
The bar works an equal level of magic, with creations like the sangre de la pacha, which will turn almost any bourbon hater with a mix of honey, ginger lemon and—what—beet. They make a mean margarita as well, and of course you’re not going to a Peruvian restaurant without getting a pisco sour [drinking it straight is another story]. For dessert, try the lucama budino. A meal like this might set you back more than some Peruvian real estate, but for those looking for a culinary adventure, Los Balcones is doing its high-end predecessor justice.
Los Balcones is located at 11334 Moorpark St, North Hollywood, CA 91602. Open 5 – 11p Tue – Sat. Closed Sun/Mon. Avg. out-the-door price for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$95/person. For more information call (818) 924-2323 or visit LosBalconesPeru.com.
TRADE Food Hall epitomizes today’s fast-casual landscape, bringing together an array of comfort-centric eateries in a chic communal dining environment. And while you’ll find everything from pho to fried chicken, there’s an artistic element that ties every restaurant together within the TRADE confines. Beautiful food, with flavor pairings that push the boundaries of conventional dining ever outward, make virtually every TRADE Food Hall establishment something to strike intrigue with eye and palate alike.
If there’s ever a foodie concoction to blow up Instagram, it’s the magical burger at Ground House. This quadruple burger comes on a rainbow bagel bun, decorated with rainbow sprinkles and then covered with a heap of Lucky Charms marshmallows. And while there’s no doubt that most will order this outlandish burger for the pictures alone, it’s safe to say that most will be surprisingly pleased with the contrast of sweet and savory.
Magical burger aside, ‘conventional’ still wouldn’t be the best way to describe Ground House, which takes pride in its cheat day-worthy creations that put bacon and pork-centric items front and center. Those burgers, though, are top notch.
Neighboring restaurant Portside focuses on seafood, showcased in grand Cali fashion. Monster burritos stuffed to the point of explosion and tacos actually filled to capacity are a breath of fresh air from the faux ‘street style’ concepts that try to pass off paltry portions as more authentic. That surf ‘n’ turf burrito is absolutely worth a repeat visit.
Some of Irvine’s most inventive cocktails can be found at Center Hub, where mastermind Cameron Lang and team have come up with simply beautiful creations. Take the la chancla, a Mexican candy margarita made with blanco tequila, watermelon puree, tajin and a chili lollipop garnish, held on with the world’s smallest clothespin. Or the rock pops, basically a liquid alcoholic version of rock candy. And what better to pair with a quadruple burger than a gigantic mojito?
Wrap things up with a cookie monster milkshake at sweet comforts, made with blue cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream [think about it!]. And after all this, you’ve only scratched the surface at TRADE Food Hall. Perhaps best to pace yourself across a few visits to take it all in.
TRADE Food Hall is located at 2222 Michelson Dr. Irvine, CA 92612. Hours vary, but generally open 11a – 9p Mon – Fri, 11a – 8p Sat/Sun. Prices vary by restaurant. For more information, visit TradeFoodHall.com
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria has served up New York slices since 1990, where it opened its first location under the Brooklyn Bridge. Their technique goes much further back, however, utilizing coal-fired brick ovens that encompass more than a century of pizza-making. Now, with nearly 50 properties across the US and several international projects in the making, Grimaldi’s has proven its ability to scale classic production while retaining a heartwarming vibe.
The menu is somewhat of a rarity to the typical west-coaster: a full-service restaurant that’s almost entirely focused on pizza and salad. Read: no pasta, no chicken wings, no oversize meatballs or other usual suspects you’d typically find at a family-style Italian joint. What this means is an In-n-Out kind of focus—limited menu, but each item is done very well. What this also means is that the kitchen doesn’t even have a stove. Those old-fashioned brick ovens are the lifeblood of the fishbowl-style kitchen, going through more than 200lbs of coal a day.
The finished product is a classic New York-style crust, thin and crispy on the outside with an earthy element delivered from those coal ovens. And with a strong lineup of specialty pizzas and toppings for build-your-own creations, the choices are hardly limited. Corporate Executive Chef Cory Lattuca, a 15-year Grimaldi’s veteran, consistently churns out seasonal items to make the menu pop even further. Buffalo chicken pizza, anyone?
Lattuca takes Grimaldi’s a step further with sweets and drinks. Somehow those ovens are rigged to make some mean cannoli and New York cheesecake [Oreo and sugar cookie crust?!?]. Add a strong lineup of beers, housemade cocktails and—of course—wines. Fun fact: Grimaldi’s makes its own house wine in Italy.
Grimaldi’s has multiple locations nationwide. Hours can vary but hover around 11a – 10p Sun – Thu and 11a – 11pm Fri/Sat. Avg. Out-the-door price for split salad, split pizza and 1 – 2 drinks is ~ $30/person. For more information, visit GrimaldisPizzeria.com
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.