Five weeks ago, we packed our belongings into an orange-and-white truck and moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We'd spent eight years in the Bay Area, a period of time marked by bowls of lime-sluiced birria at Mexican diners in the Mission, curly fried sausages at cozy Lao dives in East Oakland, and dim sum in the far misty reaches of the Richmond District as much as any work we did or friends we made.
San Francisco takes a little heat for, as our Virginia-born friend might say, “reckoning” itself too readily, but we cherish much about that city's scene all the same–the wonderful ingredients, the ways in which the food and art worlds often overlap in the reflection of vital communities, the inventive young chefs and entrepreneurs. We're glad to be here though, in Los Angeles, trying to find good things to eat in a bigger place with more relatively unstudied terrain to explore. All the driving is a drag on our drinking, but we're making do.
Drawing on LA Weekly's archives of restaurant reviews, we've done our research. At the same time, we haven't “gotten” Los Angeles yet, not in a visceral sense. It might be the sort of city one never quite gets, but we're fine taking the slow road wherever it leads. While we're not even close to determining what's “best” here, we have, however, done enough eating to draw some immediate contrasts between Los Angeles and the city we left behind. Our conclusion: Five weeks in, Los Angeles has at least five things San Francisco can't touch. Turn the page for our list…
5. A transcendent veggie burger. The late San Francisco pop-up Mission Burger made the best veggie burger we ever had: “The crust shatters with the first bite,” we once wrote, “revealing beads of edamame, shreds of roasted kale, and sliced shiitake and maitake mushrooms, the earthy, mineral-y bits suspended in a fava-chickpea cloud, tumbling out to mingle with miso mayonnaise, bright, clean fennel slaw, and avocado.” Sadly, some vegans made such a stink over a minor case of fishy cross-contamination that Mission Burger took the veggie burger off the menu and replaced it with a fried chicken sandwich. The best veggie burger we knew died a year ago, but Umami Burger's Earth Burger, similarly fried, rosy as a beet, rife with edamame and mushroom essence, beautifully rekindles its memory.
4. Upscale Ethiopian. Living a few blocks from the stretch of Fairfax known as Little Ethiopia makes this one easy. Meals By Genet introduced us to an elegant, authentic interpretation of the cuisine we'd never before experienced at Bay Area Ethiopian restaurants trafficking, with a few exceptions, in rubbery injera and pallid pools of pureed vegetables.
3. Korean Food. A year ago, we ate an ounce of meat at a Korean barbecue restaurant in Kyoto, Japan, that made us want to catch a bus back to 1994 and smack the stuffing out of a certain self-righteous high school freshman who couldn't stop telling his friends that meat was gross. San Francisco has a few decent grill-it-yourself kalbi-fests that leave your skin feeling like the inside of a cigarette, but Los Angeles takes Korean food to a new level. We're thinking bossam at Kobawoo and barbecued squid at Soot Bull Jeep, for starters.
2. Ceviche without baggage. The best ceviche we ate in San Francisco required reservations. At La Cevicheria, a goblet of fantastically fresh mint-laced fish and seafood riddled with avocado chunks, tomatoes, and white onion bits came with 95 degree heat both inside and out, a broken ceiling fan, and a mariachi dude practically resting his guitar on our tostada basket.
1. Thai Food. We had a favorite Thai place in San Francisco–a sleepy joint serving good larb ped and lemongrass-grilled chicken–but after jungle curry at Jitlada and khao soi at Spicy B.B.Q., recollections of meals there have turned a tad gray around the edges.
So, what should we spend the next five weeks eating?