Chipotle's Crappy Year, Providence Tops Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants List and More: This Week in Food

Burrito bowl at Chipotle
Burrito bowl at Chipotle
Flickr/Mr.TinDC

This year has not been kind to Chipotle, the custom burrito and bowl chain that started in Denver 23 years ago and slowly took over the hearts of a million Americans with a "Food With Integrity" slogan that set it apart from competitors. With the latest news that more than 40 people were infected with E. coli after dining at Pacific Northwest Chipotles, diners might be more wary of the company, despite the popularity of its non-GMO, antibiotic-free, vaguely Mexican food. The E. coli outbreak comes 10 months after Chipotle pulled pork from all of its stores due to animal-welfare concerns with one of its suppliers. To meet demand for carnitas, it began to use a British supplier and restored pork in some stores, but as NPR points out, that supplier sometimes does use antibiotics on sick animals, requiring the stores selling this meat to have a sign explaining this. In August, a lawsuit accused Chipotle of making false claims about its non-GMO policy, calling it an empty marketing campaign. Add all that to the ongoing and hostile smear campaign by the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is attempting to poke more holes in its Food With Integrity positioning, and you have a helluva hole to dig out of. 

At least this drama is happening just as the Year of Our Lady Rice Bowls hits Los Angeles hard. With places like Rice Bar, Kaya, Chego and the poke shop on every block offering all sorts of Asian-inspired bowls (plus Komodo's noodle-filled burritos), there are abundant alternatives.

Jonathan Gold's 101 Best Restaurants was released Wednesday, and it keeps Michael Cimarusti's Providence in the No. 1 spot for the third year in a row, while awarding No. 2 to Orange County's Taco Maria, a restaurant making gourmet tacos in the same vein as L.A. chefs Ray Garcia and Wes Avila (both of whom also made the list). Some of the top 20 spots match up with our own critic's rankings, but there are some notable absences from Gold's top winners, including Maude (our No. 1), Guisados (not even in his top 101) and A.O.C. (Lucques, however, was Gold's No. 8). With his coverage area including all of Orange County, there are some Vietnamese places in Garden Grove that get a nod, plus gastropub Playground in downtown Santa Ana. 

Bad news for lovers of holiday crab traditions: Dungeness crab fishing season has been postponed indefinitely after testing revealed the creatures contain high levels of domoic acid. According to the San Jose Mercury News, domoic acid is "a compound produced by harmful algae blooms," which can affect the brain if consumed. The algae blooms have been a major problem this year thanks to warmer ocean temps; recreational and commercial fishing of the crab, which was supposed to open this and next weekend, respectively, will only be allowed if the risk subsides. With El Niño keeping on a-comin', we fear Dungeness crabs are off the table this season. 

Clifton's is open and serving cafeteria-style food on Broadway just like the good old days, but its chef left abruptly last week and the beverage director is on his way out. Never fear, the silver lining is that there are still those five bars waiting to open inside the historic eatery, each with its own identity, name, lead bartender and educational vision — all of which are dissected by L.A. Magazine's drinks maven Caroline on Crack. Most of the bars are still a ways off — as are the rest of the dining concepts to be located inside Clifton's — but nothing has gone smoothly yet for one of the most intense remodels and anticipated restaurant reopenings the city's ever seen. 

In this week's review, our critic Besha Rodell hits up Wally's Beverly Hills, the wine bar that serves casual food for the 1 percent. A $26 burger can be topped with truffles, a personal pizza can also be topped with truffles, and the venison, lamb shank and yellowtail all point to a moneyed clientele. Read Rodell's full Wally's review here, and keep an eye out for her take on L.A. restaurants when her reviews drop every Tuesday. 

First We Feast released a comprehensive guide to regional Chinese food in L.A. this week, written by L.A. Weekly contributor Jim Thurman, an expert on the local expressions of the Asian cuisine. 

Tweets o' the Week:

Events:

Friday, Nov. 6: James Beard Presents Taste Los Angeles
Eat food from some of the best L.A. chefs at this dinner at the Ebell Club of Los Angeles, benefiting the James Beard Foundation. Chefs including Ray Garcia, Timothy Hollingsworth, Michael Hung, Jessica Koslow and Zach Pollack will be on hand for starters; dinner will be the creation of James Beard Award winner Hugh Acheson along with Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo and host chef Louis Pechan of Animal. 

Friday, Nov. 6: Rhone Rangers Winemaker Dinner
The Rhone Rangers are in town for the weekend, showing off wines from the Rhone region through dinners, tastings and events. This one at Redbird is the coolest, though, because it lets chef Neal Fraser prepare a three-course dinner alongside sommelier Ben Teig, who will be featuring the wines of Eberle, Kita and Tablas Creek.

Sunday, Nov. 8: Jewish Brunch 2.0
Bagels and lox may be the most iconic Jewish brunch pairing, but they only tell a fraction of the story. Join Leah Koenig, a Brooklyn-based food writer and author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchen, for a fresh look at starting the day with Jewish flavor.


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