10 Foods Los Angeles Does Better Than Anywhere Else
A taco with huitlacoche, roasted corn, hominy, cotija cheese at Cacao Mexicatessen
If you follow @RidingshotgunLA on Twitter, you may have noticed Roy Choi being a little more ornery than usual recently. For a few days, the Kogi king was prodding back at a New York Times piece that lauds the Big Apple's taco scene. The opening line — "New York has great tacos, tacos that can go mano a mano with the best of Los Angeles" — was more than enough to get Choi fired up.
Now it's our turn.
Those tried-and-true bicoastal food topics (Pizza in L.A.? Pshaw!) never cease to draw a crowd of angry commenters looking to defend their turf. But what if we took the conversation up a notch, and pulled in every corner of the Union? What foods does Los Angeles do better than the entire rest of the United States? Tacos, obviously — better luck next time, borough dwellers — but also certain street foods, American classics and lots of delicious pitstops in between.
Here are ten culinary delights that Los Angeles does better than anywhere else in America, with a few local examples to help drive the point home.
Green Curry Mussels at Jitlada
10. Thai Food
Sure, Portland can lay claim to Andy Ricker's Pok Pok, a hip neu-Thai shack that serves those incredible Fish Sauce Wings, and Las Vegas likes to fawn over its own Lotus of Siam, but is anyone really doing it better than Jazz and Tui at Jitlada? Doubtful. Their Southern Thai menu is perhaps the most expansive and impressive of any you'll find in America, with layered flavor profiles and tons of ingenuity to back up all the talk. If it's pure Thai heat you're after, the explosively fiery Dynamite Challenge has become the standard bearer for how to use unstoppable intensity in a dish that still manages to taste fantastic.
Even if you take Jitlada out of the conversation, Los Angeles still serves as a home base for some of the nation's best Thai food. You could drop a glass of Thai iced tea in Thai Town and splash up against half a dozen fantastic eateries, most of them — Sapp Coffee Shop, Ruen Pair, Sanamluang and Bhan Kanom for dessert — clustered on Hollywood Boulevard. And if you want to catch up with the cool crowd over some simple, spicy, satisfying Thai dishes and a boatload of beers, get to chef Kris Yenbamroong's Night + Market in West Hollywood. Or, if you're patient, wait for the late fall arrival of its Silver Lake location.
Nowhere else in America will you find the concentration and magnitude of ramen dishes as in Los Angeles. West L.A.'s Little Osaka neighborhood on Sawtelle is practically a living shrine to the stuff, with new ramen bars opening almost weekly. Tsujita L.A. and the nearby Tsujita Annex are largely to thank for the quick transformation (although it's certainly not the first to offer hearty bowls of noodle and broth on Sawtelle). Its thick-noodled, pork-overloaded tsukemen bowls have become the new Platonic ideal of what a great bowl of perfect ramen should be.
Of course, L.A. still has Daikokuya in Little Tokyo, the yellow awning shielding hungry diners from their hour-long wait on the sidewalk. Then there's the Torrance run of ramen shops like Jidaiya and Umenoya, where garlic and pork and noodle all play perfectly together. L.A. is not only doing better ramen than anywhere else in America, we're doing more of it.
The Downlow Burger at Mar'sel
If the idea of beef, fat, salt and processed cheese seem out of place in your construction of what an Angeleno's lunch looks like, you need to recalibrate. We are a city in love with the hamburger, with our own cult-status regional burger chain and lots of local options to satisfy any type of eater. Beef and bun play so well in Southern California that we managed to define a whole style of burgers — twice.
First, there's Pasadena's claim as the originator of the cheeseburger. As legend goes, The Rite Spot diner first slapped a piece of American cheese onto a burger patty, forever changing the way we think of burgers. If that weren't accomplishment enough, we have our own Southern California style, with thin slips of griddled beef, American cheese, a smear of Thousand Islands dressing and plenty of lettuce. You'll find the heights of such burger minimalism at places like Apple Pan, Pie N' Burger and Capitol Burger on Pico.
L.A. hasn't lost touch with the top of the burger market, either. Depending on your tastebuds, there's a Comme Ca, Rustic Canyon or Mar'sel Downlow Burger to shove into your face, all at a price point well below New York's vaunted $26 Minetta Tavern Black Label burger.
The Donut Man
Los Angeles may not be able to lay claim to having more doughnut shops per capita than any other city in America, but that's due more to our sheer size than our doughnut obsession. There's a Yum Yum Donut or some other mom and pop doughnut operation in practically every strip mall in the city, and no other city does the joint doughnut / Chinese food restaurant quite like L.A.
If you want something more than a pre-office pickup of a dozen glazed, the City of Angels has Nickel Diner downtown, F?nuts on 3rd Street, the iconic Randy's Donuts in Inglewood and the Donut Man in Glendora. Better yet? Just put Donut Man himself Jim Nakano's seasonal fresh strawberry delights up against any other single doughnut in America. One bite in, and suddenly the lines for Dominique Ansel's cronuts seem downright laughable.
6. French Dip
No other city comes close to L.A. in the French dip department. It doesn't matter if you're a Philippe's obsessive or Cole's truther, we're doing it better out here. It's a simple concoction that every Angeleno seems to know by heart: thinly sliced roast beef, a slightly crusty French roll that's been dipped in the jus reserved from the cooking process. Of course, you can get the thin, rich sauce on the side, but getting your fingertips a little messy is practically the point.
It's almost unfair how well Los Angeles handles the French dip. We may not own the Italian cold cut sandwich or the Philly cheesesteak, but when it comes to bread, beef and jus there's no better city.
5. Korean Food
Koreatown is expansive and, to many, thoroughly overwhelming. You could eat a different meal on that side of town every night and still not become an expert. Much more than plates of fermented kimchi or smoky Korean BBQ shops, there is an entire culinary undercurrent to Koreatown. And it will sweep you away if you're not careful.
It's easy to get caught up in the decadent pork belly at Kang Hodong Baekjeong, or overdo your arteries with the kalbi at Soot Bull Jeep, but that would leave out the galbijjim at Seongbukdong and countless bulgogi shops. And we haven't even started talking about the late-night drinking scene, a sometimes underground bacchanal of 2 a.m.-or-later beer spots that stay fueled with tall bottles of Hite or Cass beers. Then there are the strip-mall finds, where soondae gum and hwe dup bap seem to appear out of nowhere to alter everything you thought you knew about Korean food. Then again, that's just another day in Koreatown.
The idea of fresh seafood presented with pads of sticky rice does not belong to California, but we've done one hell of a job in popularizing the Japanese delicacy. Sushi rolls, while eschewed by many purists, actually first gained stateside popularity in Los Angeles in the mid-1960's, thanks to a burgeoning Little Tokyo downtown that was home to a restaurant known as Kawafuku. Since then, sushi of all kinds has spread relentlessly, moving at first like the tides wherever the freshest fish can be found, and then eventually pushing inland to arid deserts like Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Nowadays, there are endless sushi options throughout Los Angeles. The Valley has their own fantastic corridor of fish along Ventura Boulevard, where Asanebo and Sushi Iki reside. Over the hill you'll find heavy hitters that go well beyond the overly discussed Urasawa. There's Mori Sushi on the Westside, Sushi Zo on National, Kiyokawa in Beverly Hills; the problem isn't finding great sushi in L.A., it's paying for it.
3. Food Trucks
This is a no-brainer. Portland can keep their food-pod villages, New Yorkers can squeal all they want about the Red Hook ball-field vendors — no one does mobile street food like Los Angeles. Not only did our own Papi Chulo personally hand the rest of America the gourmet food truck movement, we were supporting thousands of loncheros long before that.
See also: 10 Best Taco Trucks in Los Angeles
So let's see: There's Kogi BBQ, of course, the food truck empire that spawned a revolution. There's Coolhaus, Frysmith and Grill 'Em All, all of which pushed their popularity into actual restaurant spaces. If you want tacos, try Mariscos Jalisco, Tacos Leo, El Chato or Tacos El Korita. Or, you know, just push your car east of the 5 freeway after dark. You won't need Twitter to guide you to your next meal, just roll down your window and let the endless scents provide directions.
As if taco trucks weren't enough, Los Angeles has managed to corner the market on all the best tacos, mobile or otherwise. The afore mentioned New York Times article seems to go out of its way to pit one of L.A.'s most celebrated culinary traditions against their own versions, but — as noted taco lover Bill Esparza points out — it's not a very favorable comparison for the Big Apple. Or anywhere else in America for that matter.
Guisados does stewed tacos better. Tacos Tamix does al pastor better. Tacos Los Guichos does carnitas better. Mexicali Taco does carne asada better. One man — Ricky Piña, of the eponymous Ricky's Fish Tacos — does Baja-style fish tacos better than possibly anyone else in America. This is a taco town, so don't go tossing around phrases like "mano a mano" unless you're really itching for a fight, New York Times.
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood
1. Chinese Food
You know your city's got it good when New York sweats just trying to compare itself to the second best cuisine you have to offer. Yes, this is a city founded on Mexican food, where salsa runs in our fiery veins, but 2 million folks in the San Gabriel Valley can't be wrong about what they choose to eat on a daily basis. Oh, your city has a Chinatown? So do we. And if you keep driving past that, we have a whole damn valley, too.
Depending on your count, there are upwards of two dozen distinctly regional Chinese food styles represented in Los Angeles county. You can get dim sum at Sea Harbour, labor over the tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns at Chengdu Taste. We have Din Tai Fung, Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village, Shaanxi Gourmet and a Mr. Chow, if you're looking to escape the SGV and power lunch in Beverly Hills. In size, scope and depth of Chinese cuisine, no other city in America comes anywhere near Los Angeles.
Hey New York Times, try to compare your Chinatown to our San Gabriel Valley. It still won't be a fair fight, but at least it'll expand your horizons beyond the rusty tacos-and-pizza debate.