Hugo’s Gives World Cuisine a Healthy Take and an Expansion to the West Valley

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I’ve known Tom Kaplan for almost 30 years and in that time I have almost never seen him without a smile. It is that smile, that sweetness and serene happiness, that he brings to his Hugo’s restaurants and taco stands. How else does one account for the continual long lines and the glowing reviews. It is not just the menu, one of the most diverse in the Valley (and the City!).  I mean where else can you find Ginseng Chicken Soup and Pasta Carbonara on the same menu – but the homey atmosphere and easy nature of the place gives you confidence in the meal you are about to be served.


Create-a-plate has more than two dozen options and four different price points. Photos: Courtesy of Hugo's.

Hugo’s defies description — it is not an ethnic restaurant or even one with one major specialty, although its Pasta Mama  is almost a world famous dish. Its menu is designed without the use of any white flour or salt, the tables feature organic ketchup and mustard and there are scads of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Simply,  there is something for everyone here.

A single glance at the Hugo’s menu will not suffice — a vegan, a vegetarian, a meat-lover will all be pleased by the selection. With an eye for simplicity and a heart for freshness, the Hugo’s menu has been able to capture the breadth of world cuisine and bring it to its tables.

“The idea behind Hugo’s,” says Kaplan, who is a true Sherman Oaks resident living on the street behind the restaurant, “is to introduce a lot more people to health food without them even knowing or thinking about it.”

Pasta Mama.

Pasta Mama is almost a world famous dish.

One can order a chicken or steak dish, for instance, topped with a customized and delightful vegan sauce. With a desire to provide pure and healthy foods, Hugo’s chef, Nabor Diaz, makes a vegan cheesecake with boiled sweet potatoes that is out of this world, and should you order a dish such as Chicken Kalamata, the plate includes vegan potato pancakes that are as tasty as any “regular” ones.

To service the growing number of people with special dietary needs, the menu features a complete list of allergens, and, a bunch of gluten-free items (even a fryer devoted to vegan gluten free dieters) and a never-ending devotion to fresh, authentic food. One of its best ideas is the Create-a-Plate with more than two dozen options and four different price points. There are very Hugoesque dishes – Chimichurri Steak, Shepherd Pie, Tika Masala Vegetable Patties, Bulgarian Omelet – but this is not some fancy or exotic super-pricey four-star restaurant – just a great place to eat with equally appealing food, ambience and service.



Hugo’s is a hand-me-down made better. You may have heard of or even eaten at the Hugo’s in West Hollywood where the Power Breakfast (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and John Landis at one table!) was made famous. Kaplan’s father, Terry, a butcher-artist (those are Max’s drawings on the walls of Hugo’s Sherman Oaks) with a knack for selecting and cutting the finest meats and a desire to infuse “well-being” into his restaurant, founded the original Hugo’s in 1980. Perfectly situated to attract the Hollywood elite, Hugo’s was unpretentious enough with just the right touch of home cooking and gourmet treats to become the standard for meet and greets where breakfast was the staple.


Burger and new hand cut fries.

So, in 2000 Tom, working with his wife Emily, pals Richard and Leslie Brenner, and Bill Kohne, converted the old Smokey Joe’s, a traditional meat palace on Riverside and Coldwater to a Hugo’s. An immediate success, it filled the gap for not only innovative, healthy food but for a place for locals to gather in a comfortable, homey atmosphere.

Breakfast, as in West Hollywood, is the mainstay of Hugo’s. My son loves the Chilaquiles ($11.15), an authentic Mexican dish made with scrambled eggs, corn tortillas, chicken sausage, chipotle sauce and onions. But, my favorite is the Pasta Mama ($11.15), a signature dish that is so wondrous it has appeared on the Food Network. Made with pasta, scrambled eggs, garlic, parsley, parmesan cheese and Hugo’s special seasoning, Pasta Mama might be considered one of those trendy California cuisine plates if it wasn’t so scrumptious and completely unique to Hugo’s. Of course, you can order eggs any style and bacon or steak, cereal (organic steel cut oats) and pancakes (buttermilk or pumpkin) but there is also a Hugo’s Breakfast Salad and where else would you find salad for breakfast!


Taco's Steak Burrito.

There is rarely a morning that Hugo’s isn’t packed with a diverse crowd of Hollywood suburbanites, families, students, fitness buffs, basically the entire neighborhood. It is a neighborhood place and Tom literally walks to work most days where in fact he is preparing meals for his “friends.”

Recently, four of us visited Hugo’s each with our special interests. I had the Carbonara ($13.85), a classic Italian dish rich with cream sauce and bacon and I opened with a cup of house-made Vegan Corn Chowder ($4.75); my wife ordered the Cheeseburger ($12.85), a hefty organic Angus Beef patty topped with onions, lettuce, tomato and a veganaise sauce; one of our friends made a Create-a-Plate ($12.65) with Roasted Veggies, Organic Tumeric Basmati Rice and Roasted Yams and Potatoes that was too good to be good for you; while another had the Asian Stir Fry ($13.65) with chicken breast, tofu, snow peas, fresh tomatoes, broccolini, mushrooms, jicama, green onions, cilantro and a mild chili sesame oil, a remarkably filling repast that was highly authentic in its style and taste.

Hugo's is good and good for you.

Hugo's plans on opening another outpost in Agoura this summer.

There is a kid’s menu, a wide selection of teas (Kaplan used to be the wholesaler for Yogi Teas and once roasted all of his own coffee as the proprietor of Caffe Latte in the City), wine, beer and desserts. But the most notable part of the menu remains this list which allows the customer to tailor his/her meal to their needs: Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-Free,, Can-be Vegan, Can-be Vegetarian, Can-be Gluten-Free.

The Hugo’s “franchise” has expanded to include Hugo’s Tacos, featuring a healthy slant on Mexican food including authentic, fresh and Hugoesque burritos, tacos and other fare, and there are plans to open another Hugo’s Restaurant in Agoura this summer.

Hugos, 12851 Riverside Dr. Sherman Oaks, CA 91607 818–761-8985 Mon – Fri – 7:30 am – 10 pmSat – Sun – 8 am – 10 pm

Rich Leivenberg, a long-time resident of Sherman Oaks, loves the neighborhood so much he is now writing about it.  Rich has written for a wide variety of sports, lifestyle and business publications.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.