Shifting the Reputation of Beans

March 17, 2018

In a balanced diet, a daily average of 5-6 servings of protein is recommended (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, see Beef industry marketing would prefer that you consume red meat daily – “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” However, in a healthy diet, red meat should make an appearance far less than the messaging would have you believe.

Those 5-6 daily servings of protein with only 2-3 servings of red meat per month leaves a lot of room to be creative.  And jumping in to fill this need is the bean — beans, peas and legumes offer an important source of protein in the choices for a nutrition-rich diet. The American Heart Association says eating beans as part of a heart-healthy diet can also improve blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease. Wall Street Journal writer, Anne Marie Chaker, notes that thanks to the food manufacturers, “bean-based snacks are fighting their way out of the health-food aisles and into the mainstream.”

Bean Appetite!


Turning Things Around for International Women’s Day

March 8, 2018

Banish the pink!

article by Kate Taylor in Business Insider

McDonald’s is flipping its iconic arches upside down in an unprecedented statement

People driving by a McDonald’s in Lynwood, California, might be baffled by an upside-down sign. The golden arches, typically standing as an M, have been flipped over to become a W.

But this isn’t a bizarre prank or a careless mistake. The upside-down arches are in “celebration of women everywhere,” a McDonald’s representative told Business Insider in an email.

Patricia Williams, the location’s franchisee, flipped her restaurant’s sign in honor of International Women’s Day on Thursday.

McDonald’s says it will turn its logo upside down on all its digital channels, such as Twitter and Instagram, on Thursday, while 100 restaurants will have special “packaging, crew shirts and hats, and bag stuffers” to celebrate.

“In celebration of women everywhere, and for the first time in our brand history, we flipped our iconic arches for International Women’s Day in honor of the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere and especially in our restaurants,” McDonald’s global chief diversity officer, Wendy Lewis, said in a statement.

Lewis continued: “From restaurant crew and management to our C-suite of senior leadership, women play invaluable roles at all levels, and together with our independent franchise owners, we’re committed to their success.”

Several brands, including Old Navy and Barbie, have debuted products to honor International Women’s Day. Meanwhile, some companies — such as BrewDog, which rolled out what it said was a satirical “beer for girls” called Pink IPA— have been criticized for using the day to advertise to women in what some consider a reductive manner.


“Merry Munchie” Marketing

December 28, 2017

The “Merry Munchie Meal,” will be available at three Jack in the Box locations for $4.20 features two tacos, french fries, onion rings, five mini churros, three chicken strips and a small drink, a meal aimed at cannabis enthusiasts.

5601 Pacific Coast Hwy, Long Beach, CA 90804

3032 Palo Verde Ave, Long Beach, CA 90808

652 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, CA 90802

The limited-time offer will only be available from January 18 to 25, 2018.

Why Long Beach? Rapper Snoop Dogg’s digital media company has partnered with the fast-food chain to launch this offer to capitalize on the January 1 start of legal recreational pot in California — Long Beach is his home town. “420” is buzzword for weed or cannabis.

“While marijuana’s connection to fast food is well-established, Jack in the Box will become the first national chain to explicitly embrace the drug.” (The stoner version is the only Munchie Meal not to incorporate cheese into its offerings, despite the dairy product’s status as catnip for the bud-afflicted.)

“We are about welcoming all of our guests, no matter what they’re craving or
why they’re craving it,” said Iwona Alter, the chain’s chief marketing officer.


If your kids don’t want broccoli, maybe they’ll want Disney broccoli

October 20, 2016

The magical quality of vegetables or fruit was never made clear to me as a child. They were something we ate as a matter of what we were told to do. Not having sugared cereals in the house as a rule made us less susceptible to the kid-targeted messaging of my youth. Now if Disney had been hawking broccoli to me as a child, I might have grown up vegetarian.

By Abha Bhattarai

The Washington Post October 19, 2016
(featured in Los Angeles Times October 20, 2016)

It’s come to this, America: Disney-branded fruits and vegetables.
Dole Food Co. said Friday it is partnering with Walt Disney Co. to market fresh produce to children nationwide. Characters from Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar films will now help hawk blueberries, bananas and broccoli.
“Disney and Dole have a shared mission of providing high quality produce to help families lead healthier lives,” Josh Silverman, executive vice president of global licensing at Disney, said in a statement.
The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal, nor did they say whether Disney-branded produce will be priced higher than nonbranded fruits and vegetables when they hit grocery shelves next month.

Last year, Burbank-based Disney partnered with Sage Fruit Co. for a similar campaign to promote the movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Darth Vader helped market bags of apples; Yoda hawked green grapes.
Using well-known characters to sell nutrition is nothing new. Popeye famously persuaded children to eat spinach, and generations have grown up chewing Flintstones vitamins. In the 1990s, hundreds of dairy-mustached celebrities helped revive milk’s popularity with the “Got Milk?” advertising campaign.

“It’s not difficult to slap a character on a food and get kids to love it,” said Rob Frankel, a Los Angeles-based branding expert. “But these days, anybody who tries to sell anything to kids also has to appeal to the parents. This is a way for Disney to prove to Mom and Dad: ‘See? We care about the health of your kids.’”

That’s different from the way items were marketed in the 1970s and ’80s, Frankel said. Back then, advertisers were focused squarely on appealing to children. General Mills, for example, marketed its popular line of sugar-laden cereals with characters such as Franken Berry and Count Chocula, while Pillsbury used cartoon figures Goofy Grape, Lefty Lemonade and Freckle-Faced Strawberry to promote its line of Funny Face powdered drinks.

“It was all about the nag factor,” Frankel said. “If companies sold the kids on it, eventually they’d whine and beg enough that Mom and Dad would buy it.”

But that began to change in the 1990s, he said, as baby boomers took a more hands-on approach to parenting. “All these helicopter parents needed to be told, ‘Mom and Dad, here’s the best thing for your kid,'” Frankel said.

As a result, companies shifted their marketing tactics to appeal to parents. They began adding phrases such as “all natural” and “no sugar” to their labels, and emphasized health-related benefits. Disney’s partnership with Dole — based in Westlake Village — is a step even further in that direction, Frankel said.

“Now they can get you from both sides,” Frankel said. “The kid is happy because it’s got a Disney princess on it, and Mom feels good because she’s buying a vegetable.”

Slap that Base

January 28, 2016

I’ve never had a practical vegetable soup base recipe in my arsenal of recipes. Not sure why. According to Marisa at Food in Jars, “Now before you start praising me and calling me a genius, I must tell you, the idea behind this soup base is not the work of my personal brilliance. I’ve seen it in many places over the years.”

Disclosure: this recipe is adapted from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks, who in turn adapted it from Pam Corbin in The River Cottage Preserves Handbook.

Having both parsley and cilantro appeals to me more than having to chose favorites.

Bon Appetit!


  • 3-4 large carrots (a pound or a little more)
  • 4 celery stalks (include leaves if they look good)
  • 8 ounces sea salt
  • 1 large leek (remove the tough green tops)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 large bundle cilantro or parsley (include the stems)
  • 4 ounces dried tomatoes (I use my homemade ones, but store bought sun-dried tomatoes work well too)
  • 5-6 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns


  1. Fit a food processor with an S-shaped chopping blade.
  2. Chop all the vegetables into relatively small chunks (if you have a smallish food processor, you might want to divide the veg into two batches so as not to overtax your processor).
  3. Start with the carrots (densest vegetables first!). Put them into food processor container and pulse until they’re broken down into small bits.
  4. Add the celery and process.
  5. Now add about one-quarter of the salt and process.
  6. Add leeks and onions and process.
  7. Add another quarter of the salt and process.
  8. Add cilantro or parsley and process.
  9. More salt, and process. You may also need to scrape the sides of the processor bowl down at this point.
  10. Finally, add the tomatoes, garlic cloves, and black peppercorns and process.
  11. Then add the rest of the salt and process until it is fully integrated.
  12. The finished base should be relatively uniform in consistency and color.
  13. Pack into jars and refrigerate for up to four months. For longer storage, freeze for up to a year.


To reconstitute the soup base, use approximately 1 teaspoon per cup of water.

Yield: 7-8 cups

Homemade Vegetable Soup Base

Longtime Wolfgang Puck Chef Matt Bencivenga Has Died

January 28, 2016

“Catering is a lot like a military operation; it has little room for error,” says Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events President Carl Schuster. “A lot of chefs don’t understand that. But Matt Bencivenga is that rarity: he never misses a beat.”

Chef Bencivenga’s page on the Wolfgang Puck site: includes a playlist.



He’ll be missed.

It’s a sad day for the restaurant industry, as news spread late yesterday that longtime Wolfgang Puck chef Matt Bencivenga died from pancreatic cancer.

Bencivenga began his career on the East Coast in the 1990’s before moving to Los Angeles and eventually landing as sous chef at Patina. In 1998 he joined up with Wolfgang Puck, eventually helping to open Spago Beverly Hills as executive sous. Not long after, Bencivenga undertook the catering arm of the Puck empire as both executive chef and managing partner, where he would remain until the end of his life.

With a long history in Los Angeles kitchens and more than two decades in hospitality overall, Bencivenga touched many of the chefs and restaurateurs who still make this city run today. Reached for comment, the Wolfgang Puck team had the following to say:

It is with a heavy heart that we share that Matt Bencivenga, Partner and Executive Chef of Wolfgang Puck Catering, passed away this past Monday morning after a long courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.  In his twenty years with the company, Chef Matt touched the hearts of all that worked with and around him. His talent, compassion, and drive will continue to inspire.

In honor of Matt, the family asks you to please consider a memorial gift to advance the neuroendocrine tumor research program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center/UCLA under the direction of Dr. Tim Donahue. Donations may be directed to Melissa Brody, Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation ; 8-950 Factor Building, Box 951780, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1780.  (310) (noting “In honor of Matt Bencivenga.”)

Matt Bencivenga will be missed.

[rede]Sign of the Times

February 27, 2014

Accessing nutrition information has always been a bit of a challenge. Even Burkey Belser who designed the original nutrition label has spoken about the complexity of presenting data which is part scientific and part public policy: “As soon as you make an item on the nutrition label bold, you are venturing into public policy, which was the challenge of the design initially.” (

Today’s New York Times reports that the time is right for re-design and the public will certainly take notice. With daily media reports on how fat we are as a nation, the use of graphic design to change our behaviors sounds downright propaganda-like. The content of the nutrition label will remain the same, part science and part public policy. But through the magic of typography, the communication about a food’s “value” to the body (consuming the food) will change in very noticeable ways.


Nutrition-Label-RedesignNew F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings


WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.

It would be the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and ’80s, before portion sizes expanded significantly, and federal health officials argued that the changes were needed to bring labels into step with the reality of the modern American diet.

“It’s an amazing transformation,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the F.D.A. “Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically. It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today.”

The proposed changes include what experts say will be a particularly controversial item: a separate line for sugars that are manufactured and added to food, substances that many public health experts say have contributed substantially to the obesity problem in this country. The food industry has argued against similar suggestions in the past.

“The changes put added sugars clearly in the cross hairs,” said Dr. David A. Kessler, who was commissioner during the original push for labels in the 1990s. “America has the sweetest diet in the world. You can’t get to be as big as we’ve gotten without added sweeteners.” Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days, and it will take months before any change is made final. In a special concession to industry, the agency is allowing companies two years to put the changes into effect.

The Obama administration will promote the measure in an anniversary event at the White House on Thursday for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which aims to reduce obesity in the United States. Dr. Hamburg and Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, are expected to be among the participants.

It was not clear how the food industry would react to the proposed changes, which Michael R. Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods, estimated would cost about $2 billion to carry out. (He also said the health benefits could eventually be as much as $30 billion.) The Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, an industry group, said, “We look forward to working with the F.D.A. and other stakeholders.” It added, “It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science.”

Public health experts applauded the proposed changes, which they said were long overdue.

“I really like them. I’m kind of stunned actually,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. The proposal “emphasizes calories; it’s got added sugars; it fixed the portion-size problem.”

She added, “My prediction is that this will be wildly controversial.”

In all, the agency has proposed changing the serving size in about 17 percent of the approximately 150 categories of packaged food, Dr. Hamburg said. It would also add labels to some foods that were not mainstream in the early 1990s, such as pot stickers, won ton wrappers and sun-dried tomatoes.

Twenty-ounce bottles of soda would be counted as one serving, rather than the 2.5 servings often listed now. And the serving size listed on cartons of ice cream, currently a half-cup, would be increased to one cup.

Continue reading the main story

“Half a cup of ice cream is absurd,” Professor Nestle said. “Unless you go to a really fancy restaurant, you’re lucky to come out under two cups.”

The American Beverage Association said that its members already counted 20-ounce bottles of soda as one serving on the label, a commitment they made several years ago as part of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Tracey A. Halliday, a spokeswoman, said that members also show calorie counts on the front of bottles. An F.D.A. spokeswoman said that the one serving count was not a federal requirement and was practiced by some producers, but not all.

Getting nutrition labels on food packages was a major battle. Dr. Kessler, the F.D.A. commissioner at the time, said the fight went all the way to the Oval Office, where President George Bush sided with the agency in what was considered a major victory for public health. More recent efforts have stalled, he said, including a push to get restaurants and movie theaters to put calorie counts on menus and efforts to put codes on the front of food packages to signal how healthy or harmful a food is.

He called the proposed changes “one of the most important public health upgrades in this decade.”

Other public health officials were skeptical, arguing that too few Americans use nutrition labels for the changes to make much of a difference. Others argued that restaurants, which are a major source of calories for Americans and have increased portion sizes substantially, are the biggest offenders.

“This is a false victory,” said Barry M. Popkin, a health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose project to map what Americans eat has found that the average American consumes 300 calories of added sugars per day. “It will affect just a small segment of consumers who carefully study nutrition fact panels.”

Dr. Hamburg said that the changes were meant to improve “people’s awareness of how much and what they are eating” but could also have a helpful side effect. Detailing calories and portion sizes can be a strong market incentive for food companies to adjust what they put in food, she said. For example, when the agency last tinkered with labels, adding a category for trans fats in 2006, companies soon reduced the amount they added to food.

Real Food Through Raw Nutrition Data

November 17, 2013

Food: health, obesity, diet, choices, calories, sugar-free, fat-free, low-sodium, plant-based, high-fiber, mineral-enriched, organic, all natural, whole grain. There! – now with all these terms you should feel motivated and more informed to eat right and live healthy. No? Really? We are subjected to these words over and over and over, each and every single day from the messages we receive, all trying to influence our food choices and sway our food dollars. What kind of real information are these messages communicating? Look at the sources.

The tv celebrity or talented performer who smiles sincerely and places her hand on her newly-slimmed waist – see – she did it, you can do it! “Thank you <insert company here> for making it so easy.” Count your food points, buy the endorsed shakes-meals-supplements, and watch the pounds drop. No? Perhaps all you need is a little governance by an ultra-wealthy civic-minded decision maker who merely tries to guide by vilifying soft drinks and restricting the size of a beverage a city can buy. This will help you be healthy! No? Even in rethinking the design of the nutrition food label (2011), Michael Pollan, food writer, admits, “The focus on nutrients is probably inevitable but it distracts from the issue of whether you’re getting real food or not.”

Real food. What is real food? Where can I learn about real food?

I have tried being shamed into eating well by following diets – South Beach Diet, Weight Watchers Diet, Overeaters Anonymous Diet and I failed. I was learning portion control and what foods to restrict – not what food to eat. I have tried being gluten-free, casin-free, meat-free, animal-free, and the Paleo Diet and I failed because I get too hungry living off what is left when you take out foods I just don’t like. And the herbs, vitamins, pills, supplements – forget it. I’ve tried and the whole approach is highly unsatisfying for a person who loves the taste, the texture, the presentation of food.

Mozzarella Cheese Stick labelThe messages about nutrition are really codified. Real food doesn’t exist on the nutrition label as it is designed or in the ways we measure vitamins. Look at the nutrition label – the font choices in bold are decoys. Those calories, carbohydrates, and fat ratios will not answer my doctor who always tells me to get more Vitamin D. Where do you get Vitamin D except from gooey-looking pills which are measured in UI or international units. Why are international units not yet a part of any international systems of measurement and why do they measure potency so there can never be a standardized conversion ratio? Can’t trust the label and can’t trust the measurement so I was determined to get behind the messaging with some real knowledge. I know enough about what I shouldn’t eat but not enough about what I should. The time had come to stop self-medicating with chocolate or convenience foods when I was stressed because I didn’t know enough.

I asked my doctor for some help. My health insurance plan offers two options. For learning about nutrition, the referral nurse looked up weight-management options: “There’s two,” she explained. Between the one that had to do with buying some kind of shake and one that offered 8 weeks of lectures, I jumped on the latter. Looking a bit startled at my quick and loud “no shakes” response, she referred me to a local program with a “nutritionist.” The patience and willingness of my doctor and her staff to help me with any health concerns are very significant reasons why I trust her and have seen her for so many years. My questions are heard.

When the nutritionist at the program called me, she had a clear understanding of what she needed to tell me. My question about wanting to learn more about nutrition was absorbed and subdued into a half-an-hour response which covered where the building was, how to get to the building, where to park, and clear instructions that under no circumstances should I knock on the door because on the weekend there were nurses inside working and the nutritionist did not want them disturbed. I should bring my co-payment in a check, please. There will be about 15 others in the class and although I’ve missed week one, I should be able to catch up. Each week has a weigh-in and a lecture. We skip Thanksgiving weekend. After each week’s lecture there will be time for 1-on-1 sessions with her for questions. Did I have any questions?

Would this class help me? Who knows? I took this example of a “Certified Nutrition Specialist” or Consultant as my inspiration. Although professionals, they were just professionals because of knowing where to look for objective information as issued by USDA standards. They weren’t experts deciphering holy texts from ancient languages and they weren’t artists creating great, unique solutions to my problems. Enough! Let’s get beyond the self-promoting presentation of healthy food talk we have all been subjected to for so long and get to the underlying nutritional information and learn. No more pre-digested bits of information about food, thank you!

Real food and raw nutrition data can be found: (Top 10 lists for foods offering essential nutrients and vitamins)

Online, the choices that frequently come up in searches seem to be designed predominantly on intake measured in calories, fat, carbohydrates, sodium and fiber.  These include apps and online programs. Know before you sign-up. Eating sugar-free, fat-free packaged food isn’t going to help the way that vitamin-loaded foods will! Look at that government regulated food label again. The more significant information about vitamin and mineral values is at the bottom. Inform yourself about how much you need of essential vitamins and nutrients for your gender and age. As we get older, the need for nutrients and vitamins changes in amounts. Remember your essential vitamins and look at the top 10 lists. And thank your doctor for listening. It is a rare qualification in a professional. Real health comes from knowledge, not mass-marketed programs.

I’m feeling much better and eating much better.

Smile! Cupcake Photo-Op on Friday August 1 at The Grove

July 26, 2013

Meet me at 3rd and Fairfax! The Grove (in the shadow of the Original Farmer’s Market) is introducing the world’s first cupcake photo booth at The Park on Friday, August 2 from 12 – 2pm. “Moments later, you will walk away with a cupcake adorned with your face on it!”
A word about parking: Grove parking IS NOT Farmer’s Market parking. Be sure you know which you need to be validated for. After my cupcake paparazzi moment, I’m looking forward to spending a moment reconnecting with all the great stalls/shops in the Farmer’s Market. Lunch might be waiting for me there!

LA Weekly Picks at its Indian food in W. SFV @tasteofindiala @Anarbagh1

July 22, 2013

ImageOnline this week, the L.A. Weekly blog, Squid Ink, included a suggestion of Indian restaurants in Los Angeles,  “where there are dozens of wonderful and popular Indian restaurants.” Sadly they gave up the role of culinary sleuth only to pander exclusively to one region, West San Fernando Valley. Investigating and posting about Indian restaurants throughout Los Angeles would have been more worthy of the truly great hidden gems that deserve attention. Journalist, Emily Dwass, has no voice in the online quirkiness that online editors have chosen to post her article. For those trying to read or navigate this list online, be prepared for an excess of visual noise pollution – ads, photos, bad programing.

For those with a taste for Indian and can afford the gas tank to head for West SFV, please enjoy!

Dilli Express:
When we wandered into Dilli Express, we actually were looking for another restaurant. It turned out that the prior place had closed, and there’s now a new name, owners and menu, described as fusion and Indian. While the décor is a work-in-progress, the food is ready for its close-up. You order at the counter, either from a large list on the wall (including unexpected dishes like chicken curry taco and spinach chole burrito) or from that day’s buffet, which is the best bargain. For $8 you get an all-you-can eat combo of mostly North Indian specialties. There are even cheaper vegetarian combos, as well. We’re not always fans of self-service buffets, but props to this buffet, where there’s a shield of glass separating hungry folks from the food. The wait staff fills your plate, but don’t let that discourage you from going back as many times as you want. 8406 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park; (818)347-6900.

Taste of India:
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering this cozy restaurant located between Ralphs and Sprouts, is how dark the interior is, with such low lighting that at some tables it’s hard to read the menu. Never mind. You can close your eyes and point to any page and find something to enjoy, especially if you’re an adventurous eater who is not intimidated by dishes like pudhina mutton (goat meat cooked on a slow fire, with a ginger, garlic and mint gravy) or nargisi kofta (lamb meatballs.) There are many signature North Indian specialties, such as onion kulcha, a naan stuffed with onions and seasoned with a mild mint sauce. Desserts include mango ice cream and gulab jamun (savory, deep fried cheese balls with rose syrup.) The best bargains are the combination dinners for around $15, with two entrees, rice, naan and salad or raita. On weekends there’s an all-you-can-eat Champagne buffet for $12.95. 21833 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; (818) 999-0600.

Streets of India Cafe:
This family run café in the heart of the Encino business district features homemade specialties from South India such as dosa (savory pancakes) and also from the north (tandoori dishes.) There are Indo-Chinese options, like chili chicken and other daily hybrid specials. Save room for the made-from-scratch desserts, including chikki, a candy with almonds and pistachios, and grajjar halwa, a lovely carrot pudding. You can order a variety of curries a la carte, but the best deal is the very popular weekday lunch buffet for $8.75 (on weekends and holidays it’s $10.75.) There’s also a dinner combo for $11.95. 16260 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 325-2500.

Before anyone gets upset, we’re aware that half of the west SFV residents are on Team Anarbagh and the rest are on Team Shalimar, which is down the street. We’re not going to take sides — we think both restaurants are nice places to go for an evening out or a special lunch. Bring a friend with you to Anarbagh, because there are a lot of deals for duos, starting with a mixed vegetarian appetizer, with onion bhaje, vegetables, samosas and pakora, for $6.95. Midday, there’s the Executive Lunch for two, for $18.95 (not to be confused with the Business People Lunch for two, $16.95.) There’s a big selection of chicken, lamb, seafood, as well our favorites: more than two dozen great vegetarian entrees. We especially like the sag paneer, spinach and cheese cooked with onions, tomatoes and herbs, the best version of this classic we’ve had anywhere. Dishes can be ordered from very mild to very hot. We found medium pretty intense (in a good way) — so be warned. 22721 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; (818) 224-3929.

This family-owned restaurant has been on the boulevard since 1983, with chef Salik Miah running the kitchen. The menu represents multiple regions of India, with traditional tandoori dishes, Punjab-style lamb and beef and a big selection of Bengali fish and seafood. We tend to go overboard on the appetizers, especially the vegetable samosas (with an order of mango chutney on the side) and savory papadam (lentil wafers), which are highly addictive. There are distinctive breads, including one that is grilled and stuffed with spiced potatoes and cauliflower (aloo gobi paratha). Monday through Friday there’s a lunch buffet for $7.99, which is a good way to sample the eclectic cuisine. 23011 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; (818) 225-7794.

Royal Delhi Palace:
The first time we visited here it was barely noon on a Sunday and the car thermometer read 99 degrees — no one in their right mind should have been in the mood for hot, spicy food. Yet the place was packed, which tells you something about how popular it is. When we arrived, a party was just beginning in the adjacent banquet room. As we watched the steaming trays being brought in, we were seriously tempted to crash the festivities and made a mental note to someday have a party there, or at least wrangle an invitation to one. Until then, we’ll be happy to keep sampling the many North Indian dishes offered in this family-run restaurant. We especially like the entrees from the clay oven, such as tandoori vegetables. While these look deceptively simple, each bite brings a burst of mystery spices. There are more than a dozen breads on the menu, including Peshawari naan, stuffed with cashews, raisins, cherries and coconut. Big crowd magnets are the daily lunch buffet for $7.49 and a Saturday and Sunday Champagne brunch for $10.95. 22323 Sherman Way, #11, Canoga Park; (818) 992-0913.

India Sweets and Spices:
Selfishly, we’re kind of reluctant to spread the word about this incredible place, because it will just get more crowded. Once you eat here, you’ll be back for more. This is a no frills, vegetarian, cafeteria-style eatery connected to a grocery store. The line is typically chaotic — and that’s part of the fun. Try to scope out what you plan to order before it’s your turn, because you won’t make any friends if you engage in a long discussion with the servers about what’s what. Trust us, it’s all great, even if you don’t know what you’re eating. For about five bucks you can get one of the specials, which will give you an overflowing plate. The masala dosa (stuffed pancake) and chai are considered some of the best in town. For the sweets part of the equation, pick something from the bakery case or get yourself a popsicle in the grocery store. 22011 Sherman Way, Canoga Park; (818) 887-0868.

Mother India Restaurant:
Drive here from outside the SFV, and you’re going to feel like you’re traveling to the end of the earth. Look on the bright side — if you start on Topanga Canyon by the ocean and take it all the way to Devonshire Street, you will experience a multitude of microclimates. Make it a road trip. You can sharpen your shopping skills at the Westfield Topanga Mall or get a different kind of workout hiking or rock climbing at Stoney Point Park in Chatsworth. Either way, bring a hearty appetite for lunch or an early dinner (they close at 8 p.m.) to this small, family-run eatery. We’re big fans of the Mumbai street food, especially pani puri, little puffs filled with potatoes, garbanzo beans and chutney. Another favorite is the uttapum, soft crepes topped with vegetables. Owner and chef Bharati Gholkar often stops by the tables to help you figure out what you want to order, and she’ll tweak the menu if you have any dietary concerns. 21032 Devonshire St., Chatsworth; (818) 534-8267.

Agra Tandoori:
Say what you will about the Kardashians, they (or someone on their team) have good taste in restaurants. On one of their infernal shows, the clan came here for dinner, helping put this Tarzana restaurant on the map. Even without reality television, Agra Tandoori already had a loyal following, with good reason. Not only is the food great but, of all the restaurants on our list, this is the nicest room in which to linger over your meal, especially when seated in one of the large, circular booths. We try to order something new whenever we’re here; so far, our favorites are chicken mango masala, mushroom biryani and eggplant bharta. There’s a good selection of Indian beer and a decent $4 glass of wine (how often can you say that?). The manager, Frank, is always charming and remembers you if you’re a repeat customer. (And he’ll graciously give you the discount, even when you forget your coupon.) 19560 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 342-2290.

Taj Mahal:
Located on the upper level of an awkwardly designed Encino plazo, Taj Mahal is definitely worth the trek up the stairs or the elevator ride from the free parking structure. Family owned and operated since 1993, there’s a pleasant dining room and also an outside patio. Start off a winning meal with a chilled lassi yogurt drink (sweet, salted or mango) or share one of the four Indian beers. All of the reasonably priced entrees come with basmati rice and raita. Our favorite dish is malai kofta, round vegetable fritters in a tomato and onion sauce. Also popular is fish vindaloo, Chilean sea bass cooked with potatoes and hot spices. Monday through Saturday there’s an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet with some 15 choices, for $8.95. On Sunday the buffet has more than 20 items and unlimited Champagne for $10.95. 17815 Ventura Blvd., suite 201, Encino; (818) 345-2215.