The Restaurants of Los Angeles Are the Embodiment of the American Dream
Niki Nakayama at n/naka
In the restaurant world, Los Angeles is universally praised for its food culture. It's the best place in the nation for fresh vegetables and bread and noodles made from heritage grains. The county is also home to the best Thai food on the continent, it's the U.S. home of sushi, and it's the rare American city where people know the difference between Sichuan and Shanghai style, or Oaxacan and Jaliscan.
The list of L.A.'s culinary bona fides could go on for paragraphs (oh, one more! Many Korean immigrants say that the Korean food is better here than in South Korea). What makes this town's culture so great is its embrace of all people, and that's reflected especially in our restaurants. New York–based celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson recently said, "One of the things I love about L.A. is that the food scene, through the lens of the immigrants in L.A., is just incredible. I don't know any food town like L.A. It's magical."
Many people are nervous about what the future holds for this country. But in L.A. we can take a stand against talk of mass deportations, against racism, against ignorance. It may sound silly, but one way to do that is to look to our restaurants. Because, man alive, L.A. restaurants are a gleaming symbol of the American dream.
We talked to local restaurateurs about what makes this the best food city in the country.
Tony Xu, Chengdu Taste
As a first-generation immigrant, I am here in Los Angeles to forge a better future for my children. I don't believe the elections have an impact on that. The best thing to do is to wake up every day, go to work and improve the future for our next generation.
Michael Fiorelli, Love & Salt
I think politics needs to follow food. In recent years chefs from all over the country have been looking to Los Angeles for inspiration. Chefs from New York City, Chicago, Miami have been coming out to spend time with us in our kitchens, to see what we're doing. Everyone thinks it's "new" or "cutting-edge" when the reality is that we are doing what we've always been doing in L.A.: cooking from the heart. With food that was grown here. Cooking for ourselves and the people in our communities. Not for Michelin stars.
There's a camaraderie among us that's reflected in our style of dining: a more accessible approach stripped of white tablecloths. It's communal, it's about sharing. While other cities have traditionally looked to Europe as the benchmark for dining, serving classic appetizers, entrees and desserts on white tablecloths, because of our diverse population in L.A. we've been influenced by Asian and South American cultures, etc., where the meal is grounded by a spirit of community. It's about gathering together to share, pass plates and have a conversation. Food is a universal language that crosses all cultures. We're fortunate in L.A. to have not just diversity but an openness to coming together over that shared table. Barriers are broken down by finding commonalities, and it's encouraging to see the openness in our community to experiencing cuisine that is different from that which one might have grown up with.
Isa Fabro, Unit 120
We are connected to our cultures through food. It runs deeper than language, religion, geography, and it is in our willingness, pride and excitement that we share the food we create, simply because it is delicious and good. If we take this uncomplicated approach of openness to understand, to try and break bread and share a meal with each other, then it is a start. This has been the cultural patchwork of Los Angeles. If only the rest of the nation would eat tlayuda, kinilaw, kimchi, sujuk and injera with us, the world would be on its way to becoming a better place.
Nyesha Arrington, Leona
In Los Angeles we have such an eclectic, diverse cultural mashup, mixed with the best produce in the country. ... That right there is a recipe for soul-fulfilling dining. Every culture has a food genre that tells their history and story.
Kristian Vallas, Leona
Los Angeles is a melting part of cultures. L.A. is filled with innovators, change makers and creatives from all walks of life.
Andrea Borgen, Barcito
Few cities have woven the sort of complex cultural patchwork as seamlessly as Los Angeles, a feat best exemplified by our city's ever-evolving restaurant landscape. Our differences could just as easily divide us, but instead we embrace the foreign (and delicious!) and rally together to continue to push the boundaries of what we might have once previously known. In a week like this, that sentiment has never rung more true — this country is perhaps more different from what anyone had ever anticipated. And a philosophical choice begs to be made, even more important than yesterday's: Will this election define or destroy us? Taking a page out of L.A.'s book, it's increasingly clear, we stand stronger, together.
Heather Bogue, Saddle Peak Lodge
My brain is still in a state of shock, so what comes to mind is a lyric from Hamilton: "Immigrants: we get the job done." That has been true since the founding of our country, and it will continue to be true because the way to survive and thrive is to get up, show up and get the job done.
Cecilia Rios Murrieta, La Niña del Mezcal
I feel incredibly fortunate that California, and L.A., in particular, embraces mezcal. Hearing people in our bars and restaurants talk with so much interest about mezcal shows how sincerely Mexican culture is being embraced, as are the people behind these products."
Niki Nakayama, n/naka
Los Angeles' restaurant scene is a wonderful example of how multi cultures can thrive together in a community. By sharing our diverse cultures through food, we can weave a common thread of understanding and respect for one another. We may live in a world that isn't always kind to one another because of race or sex, but having lived in Los Angeles all my life I'm proud to be a part of a city that celebrates diversity and opens doors for women and minorities to succeed. As Angelenos we have the opportunity to define what America truly stands for: diversity, equality, opportunity and hope. I'm so proud that some of the country's most celebrated female chefs reside here. So, thank you Nancy Silverton, Susanne Goin, Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger and the countless number of kickass women who have thrived and succeeded in a field where women have always had to prove themselves. I know that n/naka survives because we are here in L.A.
Ker Zhu, Luscious Dumpling
Los Angeles brings out the best of the best. I recently traveled to New York, and yes they have lots of choices in a very compacted area, but in L.A. ... we have way more.
Kelly Xiao, Szechuan Impression
I am an immigrant and a citizen now, and I think Los Angeles has more inclusivity because we are a port of immigrants. We would not be the amazing city we are today without immigrants and because of that I really like this city.
Additional reporting and translation by Clarissa Wei.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.