There was a time when any mention of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City became a paean to the joys of what’s been referred to as “Sushi Row” – a street with seemingly more sushi bars than the dueling Little Tokyos of both Downtown Los Angeles and Sawtelle Boulevard.
Off the top of my noggin, the names that come to mind are Katsu-ya, Kazu, Iroha, Ohana, Daichan, Kiwami Jinya, Sushi Dan, The Sushi House, Yume and, more recently, Sugarfish. Long gone is Kazunori Nozawa’s mini-mall destination, where you’d be told to leave if you dared to ask for a California roll, or poured soy sauce on a creation that was supposed to be soyless – where a sign declared: “Today’s special: Trust me!”
Sushi still abounds. But over the years, the options have diversified to destinations like Joan’s on Third, Lala’s, Laurel Tavern, Firefly, Stout Burger, Sattdown Jamaican, The Bollywood Café – and a pair of sports bars specializing in casual Mexican chow with lotsa beer and overflowing margaritas.
During football season, they both became fine destinations with many games showing on many big screens, with a howling mob of partisans on hand to cheer on their faves. And with basketball still around – to be followed by a whole spring and summer and fall of baseball – sports fans will be eating a lot of guac…and drinking a lot of brew.
In the case of Jalapeño Pete’s (11618 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; 818-579-4264, www.jalapenopetesla.com), the team of choice last fall was the Kansas City Chiefs. The joint is a virtual outpost of KC, with a Patrick Mahomes jersey on just about every fan in the house. (I’d fear for my well-being if I showed up wearing gear from an opposing team!) You can probably hear the cheers at the Hollywood Bowl when KC scores one – for the true Chiefs believer, Pete’s is a well-quenched, well-fed bit of football heaven.
The crowds sprawl from outside in the street, from room to room, space to space, making this one of the rowdiest sports bars – but in a good, healthy way. And also, one of the most reasonably priced. From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, the drinks are buy one, get one free. (BOGO!) Come Taco Tuesday, all tacos are $2 all night. There are nine of them, mostly familiar asada, carnitas and al pastor, but with butternut squash and fried avocado (seriously!) tossed in for variety.
The menu is made for happy sharing with friends. In between screams of joy for touchdowns, and moans of pain after a fumble or interception, there’s guacamole fuego, jalapeño poppers, asada fries, Mexican wings and guac de la casa to be devoured. And there’s a churro waffle ice cream sandwich to eat in celebration. Which means a lot of them were inhaled, because it was a good season for the Chiefs.
Where Pete’s is as spicy as its name, a joint in which to get rowdy, Banditos Tacos & Tequila (11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; 818-452-9030, www.banditosla.com) is a great destination for those who want to enjoy their sports in a setting where you can actually hear at least some of the commentary.
Unlike Pete’s, in my experience at least, this doesn’t seem to be a destination for any particular team. Everyone is welcome here – for football, for basketball, for baseball. Heck, even for golf and pickleball. For all I know, there are bars where people show up to watch cornholing, which I’ve actually seen on ESPN.
In contrast to the taco selection at Pete’s, the creations at Banditos challenge the taste buds, while being familiar at the same time. The menu is shorter – except for the taco selection, which is longer. There’s a really terrific barbecue carnitas taco, made with wood-smoked pulled pork, a good coleslaw and a spicy chipotle mayo.
There’s a chicken taco where the pieces of poultry are crispy – a clever touch – with a spicy peanut sauce and a slaw made with mango, jicama and Fresno chiles. The smoked pork chorizo taco is dotted with crunchy cotija cheese.
There’s also a skirt steak carne asada taco with chimichurri sauce and pico de gallo. And a short rib taco that’s as much Asian as it is Mexican – with kimchi, hoisin sauce, sriracha sauce and crispy wontons. If you can’t make up your mind, there’s a sampler platter of five tacos.
And the beers – bless ’em! – are served (mostly) on tap. Enjoy Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout, New Belgium Voodoo IPA, Fat Tire Amber Ale and other craft brews.
In between making cocktails – called Smokey and the Gin, El Chapo and other quirky names – the bartenders are happy to talk about the game. At Pete’s, they’re too busy for idle chatter. You’ve got joyous chaos on one side of the street, and controlled fandom on the other. As they say, “You pays your money…and you takes your choice.”
Oh … and go Dodgers!
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email email@example.com.
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