If you've spent a lot of time in this town eating outstanding hamburgers in West Hollywood, obsessively buying a certain pastry chef's rose petits fours, or in line in Alhambra waiting patiently for a bowl of insanely spicy wontons, then you may have heard of some of these five Los Angeles chefs and restaurateurs profiled in this year's People issue. If so, you can learn a bit more about them; if not, you're in for a treat. And maybe a few more ideas for where to eat dinner.
If you're having a particularly bad day, you can do far worse than to go to Irv's Burgers in West Hollywood. There you'll meet Sonia Hong, possibly the most cheerful person you'll ever encounter outside of Disneyland. A petite woman who can be found most days wearing an apron and a colorful head scarf, she'll greet you heartily as you mull the idea of adding cheese to your burger. You'll decide to go for it. "Good choice!" she'll beam. You'll beam.
Your burger will arrive, as all orders arrive here, on a paper plate Hong decorated with a little illustration. A happy face, maybe. Your face, probably. Next to it, "Just for you!" will be neatly printed, the caption for an especially well-constructed burger made with a seasoned handmade patty, smashed to a perfect thickness, topped with a thick slice of melting cheese (good choice!), lettuce, tomatoes, pickles. It was made just for you, and it's pretty damn good. See? You can't leave here unhappy.
If you aren't familiar with Tony Xu, it's likely because you don't speak the man's language. But there's a decent chance you've had his food.
Xu, a 40-year-old Chinese emigre who moved to the San Gabriel Valley in 2005, is the oft-smiling face behind Chengdu Taste perhaps the most buzzed-about restaurant of the past year. And while other notable restaurants such as David LeFevre's Fishing With Dynamite or Evan Funke's Bucato (both of which opened around the same time last year) have successfully married the man to the meal, Xu remains a bit of an anomaly.
All his life, Jesse Gomez wanted to be a lawyer, until one semester in law school cured that. Now he's into restaurants, not courtrooms. By the end of this year, he'll own six, which is not bad for a dropout. They all serve Mexican food, because that's his heritage.
Tall, good-looking and single - he's too busy to change that - Gomez turns 40 at the end of May. The restaurant business is tough, maybe tougher than lawyering, but he thrives on it. "There are headaches, but I can't imagine doing anything else," he says.
Valerie Gordon has a work schedule that would confound even the most seasoned L.A. commuter.
"There are many days now where I'm going to three different kitchens in the same day," says Gordon, who runs Valerie Confections with her partner Stan Weightman Jr. "I'll go into one shop and work on a blood orange panna cotta," she says. "I'll go to HQ to mold chocolates, and go over jams and farmers markets menus. Then I might go downtown and deal with whatever it is - a club sandwich or how the eggs are being cooked. It's like this every day."
Last year, the couple added Valerie Echo Park and Valerie at Grand Central Market to a list of locations that includes a shop on the edge of Westlake and various farmers market stands across Los Angeles. Gordon also published her first cookbook, Sweet, which was nominated for a James Beard Award.
Koreatown is all about juxtapositions these days - with K-pop - attuned, 24-hour nightlife colliding with old-school barbecue joints and mom-and-pop storefronts. If you want to get a sense of how this can work in microcosm, take a seat (or try to) at Monica Lee's Beverly Soon Tofu.
Lee has been serving bubbling cauldrons of spicy soon (which means both soft and pure in Korean) tofu stew since 1986, when she opened on Beverly Boulevard. That first incarnation of Beverly Soon Tofu (she later moved to Olympic Boulevard) was Koreatown's first tofu restaurant.
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