It's easy to start nodding off when people drag out the old “New York vs. Los Angeles” debate; it's a tired one, and largely a comparison of Big Apples to orange groves, anyway. But after Bon Appetit listed its 20 most important restaurants in America and New York outshone L.A. by a factor of six, it got us wondering: Where do East Coast transplants like to eat when they're missing New York?
Die-hard New Yorkers may grumble forever at the idea of re-creating that perfect slice of pizza or ordering up a true Brooklyn bagel on the West Coast, but Los Angeles is doing a lot of great things with the foods that Gothamites have traditionally considered to be sacred territory. Here are 10 dishes that New Yorkers love to lament the loss of after moving to the City of Angels, from pizza to bagels to cheesecake, that Los Angeles is making fantastically well — and often without regard to the way it's “supposed” to be made back east.
10. Black-and-white cookies at Bea's Bakery:
Bea's Bakery in Tarzana is the unquestioned L.A. queen of the Brooklyn favorite black & white cookie. Chewier than most, with a none-too-dry vanilla sponge cake base and rich chocolate half, this is the deli-style dessert that New Yorkers had largely given up on finding inside our city limits. Sure, the subway doesn't exactly offer stops in Tarzana, but any intrepid New Yorker can find his way down the 101 for this classic city delight if he's so inclined. Apparently Henry Winkler (aka the Fonz) is a big Bea's fan, and he's a born-and-bred Manhattanite! 18450 Clark St., Tarzana; 818-344-0100.
9. Clam chowder at Gladstone's:
While there is an abundance of fresh seafood to be found on both coasts, NY-ophiles tend to wax nostalgic about the rustic clam chowders of their youth. From thick, creamy Cape Cod versions to the thin, tomato-centric Manhattan iteration, there seems to be no solving an East Coaster's appetite for chowdah. Transplants may initially bristle at the deconstructed Providence version, porkified with lardo and Nueske's smoked bacon, but there's no denying the truth: It's a masterpiece. The SBE-backed Gladstone's in Malibu may not conjure images of the clam shacks around Rhode Island, but it offers a fine, tomato-based Manhattan chowder that teems with cod and salmon chunks. At least New Yorkers can find solace in the simple Friday chowder specials at Philippe's, while simultaneously enjoying one of L.A.'s most iconic sandwiches. Gladstone's, 17300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Los Angeles; 310-454-3474.
8. Eggs Benedict M Café de Chaya:
New Yorkers sure are partial to their Eggs Benedict, the Hollandaise-laced brunch dish that's so specific you have to capitalize the name. While presumed to have begun at the turn of the 20th century at the Waldorf Hotel, the Benedict has gone global as a symbol of New York hangover ingenuity. But make no mistake, Los Angeles is a bruncher's paradise. At any of the M Café de Chaya locations, you can order up a vegan version with steamed kale, tempeh bacon and a soy Hollandaise sauce that will make you forget all of those brunches gone by in Greenwich Village. The Mexican-inspired Mole Benedict at Larchmont Bungalow may be even better, topped with roasted pepper, pico de gallo, chipotle aioli and some mole-chicken sausage. 7119 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 323-525-0588.
7. Italian food at Superba Snack Bar:
There are endless versions of the Italian restaurant, from the red-tablecloth joints that dot Manhattan, through Chicago's deep-dish pizza infatuation and into Beverly Hills, where Spago helped to create a new wave of Italian dining. But this is not a quintessentially Italian town the way New York is. We don't even have a Little Italy, and plenty of places struggle to do a serviceable veal parmigiana. Thankfully, we do have Superba Snack Bar, the light and airy antidote to the saucy, red-tablecloth joints back east. Nostalgic New Yorkers can fill up here with porchetta di testa (a decadent, pig-face sandwich), or fight for the final bite of macaroni with chorizo and mussels, in a bright space that proudly serves the weekend surf crowd. On a perfectly breezy Venice Beach day, it's easy to forget the basement Italian spots that are always around the corner in New York. 533 Rose Ave., Los Angeles; 310-399-6400.
6. Sliders at BreadBar
Let's be clear: A slider does not mean the same thing in Los Angeles as it does in New York City. Or New Jersey, for that matter, where White Manna in Hackensack has been the model of steamed, onion-laden, mini-burger perfection. The West Coast never succumbed to the White Castle outbreak, and Kenny Shopsin of Shopsin's in Manhatten isn't moving to the beach with his recipe book anytime soon. What Los Angeles does have, however, are mini hamburgers. More robust than the thin slips of beef that typically denote a slider, these are fully formed burger patties, cooked and topped with tinier versions of the same lettuce, tomato, onions and cheese, all on a baked bun.
The simple sliders at BreadBar's BistroBar in Century City are the No. 1 example of expertly handled beef and bun done on a small scale. As expected, the unsteamed bread is still quite delicate and delicious, to say nothing of the quality beef and white cheddar slices. At Silo downtown, they take things a step further, with tender fried chicken, BBQ bison and pulled pork iterations. Sad New Yorkers looking for their slider fix don't have to unbox a package of frozen White Castle pucks, when there are so many great, small hamburgers around the city to enjoy. BistroBar, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City; 310-277-3770.
5. Cheesecake at Sweet Lady Jane:
There are plenty of New York-style cheesecake slices to be had in this town, particularly at old-school joints like Musso & Frank in Hollywood. But why satisfy yourself with a regular slice when Sweet Lady Jane exists. The sweets store offers very un-classic iterations daily, from the Brownie Sundae to the White Chocolate. Perhaps it's time for New Yorkers to turn a corner on truly tasty cheesecake. 8360 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; 323-653-7145.
4. Corned beef sandwich at Storefront:
It's no secret that Los Angeles may well already have a leg up on New York's kosher deli scene. We have Canter's, Langer's, Brent's, Jerry's, Factor's and many other tried-and-true kosher specialists that deliver a fine corned beef sandwich. But curious New Yorkers interested in an updated version of the classic Jewish deli sandwich should head immediately to Storefront in Los Feliz. Not only does Storefront pay homage to the great old delis with photographs that line the walls, the age-it-ourselves guys behind Salt's Cure have created a thick-cut corned beef-and-coleslaw sandwich that is decadent, perfectly salted and wrapped in seedless rye bread. The corned beef sandwich shares the same menu as all manner of cured pork products and a very un-kosher cheeseburger that's no slouch, either. The food at Storefront is flavorful and well executed, and there's no soggy pickle spear on the side. There are no vinyl booths to fall into and you won't find a knish in the place, but this is the sort of corned beef sandwich that a city can stand behind. 4624 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-665-5670.
3. Bagels at Western Bagel:
Ah, yes; the divisive bagel. Brooklynites would contend that if you don't have anything nice to say about their boiled city water bagels, you shouldn't say anything at all. And while there are plenty of bagel places that have traded on the Empire City's name to great success, Western Bagel in Van Nuys is a homegrown legend that might surprise some transplants. Instead of the traditional bagel baking process, where the proofed rounds of dough are baked right on the oven floor, Western Bagel pan-bakes its bagels on large cookie sheets. The result is a softer, less dense bagel that's good enough for Brent's Deli in Northridge, which means Western Bagel must be doing something right. 7814 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys; 818-786-5847.
2. Hot dogs at Let's Be Frank:
Let's take off the rose-colored glasses for a moment: New York might have popularized the everyday hot dog, but it hasn't been running the frankfurter game for quite a while (hats off to you, Chicago). Nostalgic eaters might think it's fine to float a Vienna Beef dog in some streetcar slurry for a few hours and call it a meal, but out here we treat our dogs with a bit more respect. At Dog Haus in Pasadena, they come lovingly wrapped in Hawaiian sweet rolls that compress into a thin sheet of sweet bun perfection after the first bite. At the Let's Be Frank cart, you can get freshly cased dogs filled with grass-fed beef and absolutely no nitrates or hormones. Both are better options to the slippery boiled dogs that populate the streets of Manhattan, and are enough to make any New Yorker stop reminiscing about their old chow days. And then, of course, there is the bacon-wrapped dog… Let's Be Frank, Helms Ave., between Venice and Washington boulevards.
1. Pizza at Mr. Pizza:
Ah, yes. The quintessential pizza dilemma. Where can a weepy New Yorker find the sort of wide-bodied, coal-fired, cheese slice he grew up on, fermented with Brooklyn water and perfectly foldable? Nowhere, really. At least not to the absolute perfection of someone whose mind has created a perfect pizza product that may not even exist. Instead, join the crowd at Pizzeria Mozza for a taste of its fantastic veal tongue and mushroom pizza. Or, for a truly great non-NY pie, scoot over to Mr. Pizza in Koreatown. The Potato Gold pizza is legendary, with ground beef, corn, potato wedges, bacon, sour cream and nacho chip flakes covering every available surface, and all on a sweet potato crust. More toned-down versions come topped with bulgogi, carne asada or chicken alfredo. This will never be the pizza you grew up on, but it's a near-perfect slice of what Los Angeles can offer you, if you let it. 3881 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; 213-738-0077.
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