Depending on what kind of person you are, potlucks are a source of either great excitement or enormous dread. Excitement if you have your famous potato salad recipe to show off; dread if you don't have a famous anything at your ready. And yet you must bring something; after all, potlucks are like book swaps: They're only successful if everyone participates (no one likes a freeloader), and whatever you bring ideally should be appropriate for the party (i.e., you don't want to be the person who brings the culinary equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey to The Pale King-kind of celebration). To save you the stress of finding the perfect dish, here are six ideas on the level of The Phantom Tollbooth that should broadly appeal to most people at any party. And if someone doesn't like it? Well, you probably didn't have much in common with them anyway.
If your potluck is at the park to watch someone's hipster kickball game, empanadas might be the easiest food to bring: They're unfussy, easy to transport and easy to eat. Nonna's Empanadas is your best bet based on sheer variety; you'll find empanadas stuffed with everything from the traditional beef filling to the more unconventional hot dog and cheese. On the other side of town, try the empanadas at Titos Market. Nonna's Empanadas, 8570 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (310) 385-0445; Titos Market, 9814 Garvey Ave., El Monte, (626) 579-1893.
5. Spring rolls:
So long as you keep them covered, the nice thing about spring rolls (as opposed to fried egg rolls) is that they'll easily last most of the day at room temperature without losing their freshness or flavor. Almost any Vietnamese restaurant that has spring rolls on its menu, like Pho 87, will put together a custom order with just a little advance notice. And when you swing by to pick up your order, you'll probably walk out with a large aluminum tray filled with the rolls stacked in neat rows, along with a few Solo cups full of dipping sauce. When it's time, just uncover it all and serve. 1019 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, (323) 227-0758.
4. Cochinita pibil at La Flor de Yucatan:
For some, the only thing worse than having to scramble for a potluck is having to scramble to find a main dish to bring to said potluck. That said, a roast chicken at Pollo a la Brasa or Zankou Chicken almost always will do, or maybe boxes of wings from Kyochon that will stay crispy from the time you pick it up to the last of quarter of the U.S. men's Olympics basketball team versus, somewhat unfairly, the world. For something a little different but equally satisfying, call La Flor de Yucatan, a full-service catering shop near U.S.C. with everything from tamales to relleno negros. What might be best, though, is its fantastic cochinita pibil, pounds of which go out the door every weekend. And parties all around the city are all the better for it. 1800 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles, (213) 748-6090.
The best tamales might be the ones you make at home, but since you're not cooking, there are several great places, including Juanito's and Mama's Hot Tamales, where you can pick up a dozen or two. And while you always can bring a pie for dessert, the sweet tamales at Guisados are pretty darn good too. Juanito's, 4214 E. Floral Dr., Los Angeles, (213) 268-2365; Mama's Hot Tamales, 2124 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, (213) 487-7474; Guisados, 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 264-7201.
Baklava is a simple side dish to bring to the potluck, and they're easy enough to find across the city. That said, Papa Cristo's might be your best bet, if only because the Greek restaurant has so many great potluck-ready foods: In addition to the baklava, there's spanakopita, tiropita with feta and sundried tomatoes and mini-kababs with your pick of meat. Papa Cristo's also doubles as a market, making it a convenient spot to pick up any last minute party favors — maybe some fine olive oil for the host, if you like the host. If not, it'd be a nice reward for surviving yet another office party. 2771 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 737-2970.
1. Potato balls, dulce de leche kisses, etc. Porto's:
Porto's is the answer to all the problems you think you might have during the potluck. You can, for example, bring the bakery's potato balls if you're attending the party alone and need a conversation starter (mashed potatoes stuffed with seasoned beef and fried? There's a lot to discuss there). Plantain chips will come in handy if you're attending the potluck out of sheer obligation (work, family) and need something mindless to munch on while you stay only as long as etiquette requires. And dulce de leche “kisses” will stave off boredom as the bride-to-be meticulously opens her presents during the bridal shower. Indeed, Porto's is the cure for the potluck woes that will ail you. 315 N. Brand Blvd. Glendale, (818) 956-5996; 3614 W Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-9100; 8233 Firestone Blvd., Downey, (562) 862-8888.