However, when you sit down at a restaurant and order some lox, you don't always know where it's coming from. Most of the time it's not even sliced correctly. Supermarkets carry pre-packaged smoked fish containing preservatives and high levels of salt. If you really want to know what you're getting in terms of smoked fish, you need to head to a specialty market or appetizing store, the term made famous by Russ & Daughters, New York's Lower East Side smoked fish institution.
With the recent phasing out of the famous Barney Greengrass name at Barney's in Beverly Hills and the new festival circuit documentary, The Sturgeon Queens
, about Russ & Daughters, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to find great places in L.A. for smoked fish.10. Santa Monica Seafood
In 1939, Santa Monica Seafood started selling fish wholesale on the pier. Eventually, the family-owned company became one of the largest seafood distributors in Southern California. In 1969, they opened their headquarters at 12th and Colorado, which would also become their first retail store. That store moved to its current location at 10th and Wilshire in 2009 simply because they outgrew their old spot. The new location, with its beautiful indoor seafood market, added a sit-down café, which, according to manager Sean Jacoby, is a huge hit.
Santa Monica Seafood doesn't have a big selection of smoked fish, since they really specialize in seafood as a whole. You're not going to find the same variety as in a Jewish deli or Russian market, but what you will find is unique and delicious. You can get Scottish smoked salmon, Nova and whitefish here, but if you want to try something different, go for the smoked albacore or the Indian candy - small pieces of King Salmon made with sugar, water, salt, spices and an applewood smoke. Absolutely delicious. 1000 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica; (310) 393-5244.
9. Rasputin Market
Rasputin Market has been in business since 2004, and it's earned a reputation of being one of the best specialty Russian stores in town. They prepare all sorts of great-looking food that you can grab if you're in a hurry. Although it doesn't have quite the selection of smoked fish as Odessa, there are some products at Rasputin you don't see everywhere - like the smoked eel.
Just ask the staff behind the counter to take out any smoked items you're interested in seeing up close. Rasputin has a different approach to slicing their "lakx": Instead of slicing diagonally to produce very thin portions, as is most common, they divide it into ¼-inch slices, almost like a loaf of bread. Rasputin has plenty of smoked fish variety packs, like smoked salmon with sturgeon or Capitan. What appetizer store would be complete without caviar? Rasputin has you covered there too. 17159 Ventura Blvd. Encino; (818) 905-9267.
8. Roll N Rye
Roll N Rye in Culver City almost never gets mentioned in the same sentence as other Jewish delis in town like Canter's, Nate 'n Al's, or Langer's. We're not sure why. It's been operating since 1963 and the proprietor, Rita Zide, comes from a family of deli owners with a long history in L.A. Zide attributes it to the fact that she doesn't really go out and publicize or network as much as she used to. Roll N Rye might not have the same exposure as the other places, but that doesn't faze Zide. She's very pleased with the customer base she has.
While Zide gets many young families eating at her shop, she said you really have to be over 40 to know Roll N Rye. When it comes to smoked fish, this might be one of the few places in town to get your hand-sliced, salty belly lox, which is shipped from Acme in Brooklyn. Roll N Rye also has you covered with whitefish and smoked cod. If you prefer less salty Nova, you'll find it here too. There's a great retro coffee shop vibe at Roll N Rye. Sit at the counter to eat, then take some lox to go. 10990 Jefferson Blvd. Culver City; (310) 390-3497.
Check out Jared Cowan's slideshow of L.A.'s Incredible Smoked Fish Scene
Varieties of lox, smoked sturgeon, whitefish and sable, among others, are all important cultural delicacies which date back generations to European countries, specifically Russia. Immigrants brought with them their methods of smoking food and made a huge culinary impact that can still be tasted today in many trendy brunch spots around town or posh hotels in Beverly Hills. "There's a ton of history with smoked fish, especially with the czars and the royal factor of it," says Micah Wexler of Wexler's Deli.