What: Various foods: American food with flavors of Morocco, Cuba, Italy and Mexico Where: Hugo's Restaurant in Studio City/Sherman Oaks and West Hollywood
Must Order: Hugo Burger (beef); Portabello Stew; Very Green Casserole; Kelp Noodle Salad; Lemonade
The Verdict: Hugo's Restaurant is one of those little gems that you may not appreciate on your first visit. You might gripe, "I just spent $18 on a lunch that wasn't even that great!" But the next day you'll find yourself itching to go back. What is it about this restaurant that keeps you coming back for more?
For starters, they're accommodating. Yes, it's as simple as that. Hugo's Restaurant is the perfect place for picky eater or those with food allergies. All the ingredients are fresh and there are an abundance of options for vegetarians, vegans and even gluten-free patrons. Certainly, this isn't a cheap eatery -- generally, entrees will set you back about $11 and beverages cost about $4-5. However, the quality of food and the adroitness in their preparation is worth the price as well as the occasional 30-minute wait for a table. Plus, how often do you leave a nice restaurant feeling full but not overwhelmed, satisfied but not lethargic? (And, as an added bonus, celebrities often frequent this joint. You'll probably recognize them as they sit quietly at their tables, clad in sunglasses and a baseball cap.)
My favorite items are the Hugo Burger (beef), Portabello Stew, Very Green Casserole and Kelp Noodle Salad. Want a hormone and antibiotic-free Angus beef served with fresh veggies and crispy lettuce? Go for the Hugo Burger (pictured). Need a healthy but substantial lunch? Order the Kelp Noodle Salad and enjoy the oh-so crunchy kelp noodles tosses with sprouts, snow peas, cilantro and scallions and dressed with a tart mango-sesame dressing. The noodles are fat-free, gluten-free, and very low in carbohydrates and calories but don't worry -- they certainly don't taste like a bland diet ingredient.
The Portabello Stew (pictured) -- my favorite dish -- is a hearty bowl of slow-cooked French green lentils, carmelized onions, garlic, organic carrots, potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, fresh herbs in a rich tomato-red-wine sauce. It's chunky, earthy and the perfect meal on a dreary day. Order it with a side of fries; they're crispy, seasoned to perfection, and still have little strips of potato skin that tell you these taters are the real deal.
Another fun, veggie-filled dish is the Very Green Casserole. It's packed with sautéed broccolini, spinach, asparagus, zucchini, with garlic and fresh herbs in a tomato basil pesto sauce. But there's more! The casserole is topped with a veggie patty and melted goat and mozzarella cheeses. You can even substitute the cheese for a vegan kind.