Toluca Lake is one of those weird places in LA everyone has heard of, has probably spent a good deal of time in, and is still completely unclear as to what it actually is. It’s a neighborhood. One of LA’s oldest, in fact. But as this surprisingly quaint section of The Valley started to morph into the entertainment industry epicenter, it took on a whole different identity - Toluca Lake is where every single studio worker goes to eat lunch.
With Warner Brother Studios, Universal Studios, and Disney Studios all within walking distance, this Bermuda triangle of corporate stain has become a bonafide restaurant row, and most of it is terrible. But some true gems along the Riverside Blvd. corridor have emerged. So whether you’ve got an hour to kill before an audition, can’t find the entrance to Harry Potter World, or need to get as far away from your office as possible, here is where you should be eating lunch in Toluca Lake.
SweetSalt Food Shop
Is SweetSalt the most perfect lunch spot in existence? It’s hard to argue otherwise. The order-at-the-counter cafe is a Toluca Lake lunchtime machine, with a bright setting, quick service, and food that has no business being as good as it is. Seriously, why is there a duck confit sandwich on the menu? And why is it amazing? Your gain, Toluca Lake. The place admittedly gets bum-rushed during lunch hour, but power through and there always seems to be enough room somewhere for you and your defeated coworkers.
The Rustic Spoon
If you have absolutely nothing to do with Toluca Lake or lunch, we still recommend finding your way to Rustic Spoon. This little Thai spot on Lankershim is serving some truly outstanding, healthy Thai food at affordable prices in a space you can get in and out of quickly. And we mean REALLY delicious Thai food. The cinnamon chicken curry is tremendous and something we could drive over the hill for every week. The service is great, and its location is slightly removed from the heart of the lunchtime hellmouth on Riverside, meaning more quality time with you and your roti bread.
Sitting right on the border of Toluca Lake and NoHo, you’re going to have to get in your car and drive to HealthyCA, but this dime-sized spot is worth it. It’s nothing more than a counter and a few tables out front, but you don’t come to HealthyCA for the cute vibes. You come here to get what’s probably the best salad situation in the whole area and to sit in silent self-hatred back in your car.
Good sushi and the Valley have been long-time lovers, and Sushi Yuzu is the area’s lunchtime staple. The modern sushi spot runs smoothly, is reasonably priced, and has a great lunch deal that pretty much everyone at noon is eating. But sitting at the bar and going to town on their sashimi situation is not only an honorable choice but a recommended one as well.
Welcome to Toluca Lake’s new golden boy. This bizarre little neighborhood isn’t exactly known for its cutting-edge restaurant scene, but Forman’s is a nice feather in Toluca Lake’s hat. The well-built space feels more like a game lodge in the Poconos than a casual spot to grab a burger at lunch, but it works. The menu is wide-ranging, and the beer list is easily the best in the area. Head back after work for that three-hour Happy Hour and really let yourself unravel.
Aeirloom is essentially the less hectic answer to SweetSalt and also where you go when it’s 12:30pm and you’re still craving eggs. The homey bakery serves an all-day breakfast and makes you feel completely unashamed in taking advantage of it. There’s an excellent lunch side to the menu, though, if the salad/sandwich route feels more appropriate that day. Either way, the food is good and affordable, and the environment is a bit more zen than the other sidewalk cafes in the area. And that’s important while you ponder if your job is worth it.
Malbec Argentinian Cuisine - Toluca Lake
It’s 11pm, you still have 104 unanswered emails in your inbox, and your boss just mentioned something about no weekends off in June. Time for meat. And Malbec will give you just that. No, this isn’t the best cut of steak in town, but it’s still pretty decent and well-priced for the lunchtime cholesterol punch you’re obviously in the market for. The space is also a step up from the more casual eateries on the block, just in case your boss tags along at the last second so you guys can “talk about June.”
Chances are if you’ve ever been in a room with more than 20 people in The Valley, Tony’s was probably being catered. But the 25-year-old deli also has a tiny stand-alone spot on the western edge of Toluca, providing a great place to swing by on your lunch hour and pick up a sub. Expect to find your traditional cold cuts and meatball sandwiches and expect them to be great. And cheap. A large Tony’s sub will cost you a staggering $9.50.
If there’s such a thing as a Toluca Lake institution, Patys is certainly it. The 60- year-old diner is one of LA’s best and continues to be a haven for just about everyone in the area. Don’t come looking for your spinach and goat cheese crostini here, Patys is filled with your typical diner staples of burgers, reubens, omelettes, and 2,000 calorie salads. And it’s all exactly what you want. The interior is fairly standard, so the move is to head outside under the iconic green awnings and watch all the self-hatred roam past while you eat your chili cheese fries.
When the dreaded lunchtime business meeting gets put on the calendar, there’s no better spot in Toluca than Ca’Del Sole. Directly adjacent to the breathtaking LA River, Ca’Del Sole has a rustic back patio that’s perfect for long discussions where not much is being said. And the classic Italian menu is delicious. We’re partial to the olive tapenade and a whole bunch of Moscow Mules all at once, but read the room. Either way, this old-school Toluca spot rarely disappoints.
Izakaya Sushi Ran
This modern sushi/fushion strip mall spot probably doesn’t have the quality of cuts of Yuzu down the street, but it makes up for it with outrageous lunch specials. You could come in and get a decent bowl of bibimbap for $8 or go all-in on a sushi combo that gets you six pieces of sashimi and three pieces of sushi with soup and salad for under $14. Sushi Ran is a little further out than Yuzu too, decreasing your chances of seeing everyone you’re trying to avoid.
Timmy Nolan's Tavern & Grill
Timmy Nolan’s is one of the few actual bars on the Toluca Lake strip and if all you want is a cold beer and some fish and chips to wash down those six years of corporate slavery, this is your spot. But strictly speaking for the lunchtime scene, it’s actually really relaxed inside. No one will talk to you unless it appears you want to be talked to, and honestly, that’s a lost art. But if you decided to rally the co-workers for some pub food and an afternoon buzz, there’s plenty of room inside as well.
No matter how many times you attempted to sneak out by telling your floor you had a bathroom emergency, sometimes lunch with the boss is unavoidable. In which case, head to Prosecco. Earning the privileged distinction as the second restaurant on this list named directly after wine, Prosecco is one of the classiest lunchtime spots in the area, and one you should treat as such. No, you’re not going to have scallop linguini and tiramisu every day at noon, but when that time comes, go to Prosecco. Nail your lunch meeting here and finally start your rise in the world.
Another Thai spot makes the list not only because it’s delicious, but also because its lunch combo situation is absurd. Choose one of the 12 or so entrees, and essentially get every appetizer on the menu for free. In actuality, it’s a salad, egg roll, rice, and a chicken satay for free, but for $8.99, we’ll take that every day. The space is modern and clean, making the whole thing seem okay and that you’re not stealing food from sweet Thai people.