But that's not the only thing driving our culinary explosion. It's also our immigrant population, our cultural diversity. We've long been known as a city where you can eat like you're on almost any continent. Now that richness is morphing into something else, something new: the beginning of a truly American cuisine, one rooted in the food of our immigrant populations but filtered through the lens of multicultural America. It's more honest than fusion, and more interesting.
Many of the best things I ate this year tell a distinct story: about the people who cooked them, their personal journey, the country of their heritage, as well as the city they now call home. At this moment in time, there's no other place in the world I'd rather be eating or writing. Here are the dishes I most savored in 2013.10. Camarones taco at Colonia Taco Lounge: Colonia, Ricardo Diaz's latest project, offers quite a few contenders for Taco of the Year. But the one I find myself craving, the one that calls all the way from La Puente, is the taco camarones. Served on an outstanding warm flour tortilla from Mexicali, the shrimp, sauted in aji, pop with freshness. What sets this taco apart is the base of creamy, coconut rice smeared between the tortilla and the shrimp. The rice is so comforting, so sweet, so full of flavor, it makes for a taco that engages you on more than one level, emotionally and physically. What more could you ask of a taco? 13030 Valley Blvd., La Puente; (626) 363-4691. 9. Gnocchetti with pesto at Bucato: It's hard to pick a favorite pasta from Evan Funke's Bucato in Culver City. In fact, it's hard to pick a favorite dish at all. The focaccia is revelatory, and the panzanella salad isn't just the best panzanella in our panzanella-saturated town -- it's one of the best salads, period. But in the end I had to choose the gnocchetti, bathed in vibrant green pesto. Bright, mellow and almost floral, Funke's pesto is a great reminder of why this basil-based concoction has become one of the world's most popular sauces. The gorgeous, tiny, rolled pasta support the sauce with just the right amount of bite, the perfect resistance. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City; (310) 876-0286. 8. Ricotta gnocchi with short ribs and strawberry soffrito at Rustic Canyon: Leave it to a chef like Jeremy Fox to take strawberries and, rather than going the usual route -- sorbet, perhaps? -- make a meaty pasta sauce. The soffrito, made from reducing strawberries with pine nuts and onions for hours, creates an utterly beguiling dish when combined with rich short ribs and served with pillowy gnocchi. The result is at once weighty and intense yet buoyed by the purity and zing of its ingredients. It's one of many reasons Fox's appearance this year in the Rustic Canyon kitchen has been such a welcome treat. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 393-7050.