We’re never at a loss for good eats in Ventura County, and the flavor profiles available to us span the globe. From Mexican street tacos to sublime ramen to good ol’ burgers and fries, our In Good Taste food reviewers have eaten well from the mountains to the sea. Here are some highlights from our 2014 culinary adventures.
Sheila’s Wine Bar and Restaurant
Boasting one of the largest wine lists (400+) in the county and an impeccably sourced selection of fine cheeses and cured meats, Sheila’s could exhibit the haughty attitude one would expect from a fine dining establishment. That it combines refined fare with a casual, friendly atmosphere is to its credit. Salads and panini are inventive and made with the best seasonal ingredients, and the roaring fireplace invites a cozy intimacy. 330 N. Lantana, suite 32, Camarillo, 987-9800, $10-35.
Ain’t nothing wrong with a decent burger, a side of fries and a frosty soda. Burger Express excels at these and more, including patty melts and a mean breakfast burrito. The Kalivas family that owns the joint is of Greek heritage, so they can char-broil up a wonderful gyro, too. Need another reason to skip In-N-Out and come here instead? The value is unparalleled. 6593 Collins Drive, suite D-2, Moorpark, 552-9178, $3.45-8.99.
If you think of ramen as merely a cheap noodle for starving college students, allow Tokiwa to disabuse you of this notion. For owner Tokiwa Pollakriss Samuerphak, tonkaotsu stock is an obsession, and the result is a broth so subtle and sublime it raises the traditional Japanese noodle soup to an art form. It may be the closest you’ll get to Kyoto in Ventura County. 476 W. Los Angeles Blvd., Suite B10, Moorpark, 517-1999, $11-30
Taqueria El Charro
A true taco shop: small, cramped, not much to look at, but bursting with steak, tri-tip, thick-cut pork chops, marinated chicken fajitas, house-made chorizo, artisan sausages and carne asada — all hormone-and steroid-free. Whether you get your tacos here or take seasoned meat home to cook up yourself, you’re guaranteed a flavorful bite of classic Mexican street fare. The Oink & Moo mega torta should not be missed. 445 Ventura Ave., Oak View, 649-8894 $3-12.
Hakane Japanese Cuisine
A new owner, a new look and a wisely edited menu make this traditional Japanese restaurant worth a second look in 2015. The tempura, barbecued eel and wakame salad are standouts, and the selection of sashimi changes daily and is always fresh and thoughtfully prepared. Protip: Ask for the bento box, which is not on the menu but makes a very satisfying lunch. 967 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 640-3070, $4.50-19.50.
Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar
Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar raised the bar in Oxnard
(Braised beef tacos pictured). Photo by: Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Fine dining with a view? Yes, please! Former Tierra Sur chef Eric Cancino brings his talent and exquisite palate to the harbor, offering a Mediterranean-inspired menu made from the best local ingredients. Because Cancino sticks with what’s seasonal and available, his dishes are always at the peak of flavor — but they switch out frequently, so don’t get too attached. The wine list is uneven, but there are some gems. Brunch available on Sundays. 3500 S. Harbor Blvd., #1, Oxnard, 985-4677, $7-32.
Dominick’s Italian Restaurant
This old-school Italian cafe has been pleasing the pasta crowd for 65 years. The location near a car dealership is odd and the parking lot’s a bitch to find, but don’t let that deter you: tender meatballs, hearty marinara, spicy sausage, perfect pizza and addictively delicious lasagna await. Everything is made on the premises, and portions are huge, but that’s OK: you’ll be grateful for the leftovers in the days to come. 477 N. Oxnard Blvd., Oxnard, 483-7933, $2.75-24.95.
Authentic Thai near the beach, with some surprises thrown in. The wide variety of savory curries are everything you’d expect, and the chicken sate is fantastic. But what really sets Thai Village apart is the amazing Thai-style barbecue pork, a recipe that comes straight from the owner’s hometown in Thailand. The seafood may not be quite up to snuff, but everything else exceeds the mark. 419 E. Port Hueneme Road, Port Hueneme, 488-7364, $3.99-17.99.
Chili Hut Cafe
This longtime favorite of chili lovers has been serving up home-style cooking in a retro-diner cafe for over 20 years. And while the mouth waters at the thought of Chili Hut’s savory pulled pork and Philly cheese steak sandwich, its breakfasts have made a name for themselves, too — particularly the sausage and gravy and chili verde. The dessert case always has something to tempt you, so save room. 817 E. Main St., Santa Paula, 229-7497, $2-8.95.
Rabalais’ Bistro and Bakery
Cajun meets Southern comfort in modern fashion. The standards — red beans and rice, étouffée, shrimp and grits — do their heritage proud. Tuesday night means fried chicken, and Rabalais’ version is the perfect blend of crunchy outside, tender and juicy inside — although the biscuits that come with it are in a class all by themselves. The beignets and key lime pie are good enough to make a Southern belle cry. 861 E. Main St., Santa Paula, 525-2109, $5.95-23.95.
Food Truck Fridays
The third Friday of every month, in the midtown Ventura Trader Joe’s parking lot is the spot to be for gourmet eats in a family-friendly atmosphere. From Tim Kilcoyne’s Scratch to Slammin’ Sliders to Desserts to Die For, lobster rolls to Korean barbecue and everything in between, your wallet will be lighter (these aren’t fast-food prices, people) but your tummy will be happily heavier. There’s usually live music, too — a great way to work off some of that fancy grilled cheese. 3301-1 E. Main St., 642-5530, Prices vary.