What were elite Angelenos eating at Spago when it opened in 1982? What was served at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce banquet in 1895? How were the tiki drinks made at the Tonga Lei in the '70s? 

Starting this weekend you can explore the many ways that L.A. ate and drank throughout the decades when To Live and Dine in L.A. launches as a book, exhibition and series of county-wide, food-centric events presented by the Los Angeles Public Library Foundation and the Los Angeles Public Library.

The much-anticipated coffee table book is the culmination of nearly two years of research, during which USC professor Josh Kun and a team of students (Roy Choi helped too — and wrote the foreword) poured over 9,000 vintage L.A. menus from LAPL's archives. The book includes full-color scans of the found menus, not only from local landmarks but also from long-gone fine-dining restaurants, forgotten mom-and-pop diners and everything in between. The book also includes essays by chefs, journalists and a museum curator that discuss how the food we eat — from tacos to chow mein to pastrami — and the designs of the menus that sold it reflect the city in which we live. 

“Our hope is that people read this book and think about their own memories about where they ate and the way that restaurants were important for how they conceived their own identities and thoughts about issues of community and culture and class,” Kun told the LA Weekly before a sneak-peek event during the L.A. Times Festival of Books

On Sunday, chefs Joachim Splichal, Cynthia Hawkins and Ricardo Diaz will sit with Kun for a discussion called “Menus and the Making of the Modern City.” Next month, the topic is food justice, and urban gardener Ron Finley, Healthy School Food Coalition’s Elizabeth Medrano and Community Services Unlimited Inc.’s Neelam Sharma will talk about inequities in food access in L.A. 

The release of To Live and Dine in L.A Saturday also coincides with the opening of an exhibition of the same name at the Central Library's Getty Gallery, which will display selections from the menu collection through November.

To Live and Dine in L.A. is available starting June 13 from Angel City Press. For more information about the exhibition, essays and coinciding events, visit live-and-dine.lfla.org.

Want more L.A. food and drink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

LA Weekly