The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about our city's culinary scene titled “Finding a Food Mecca in the West,” pointing its readers to Sprinkles Ice Cream, Fonuts, Umamicatessen, 800 Degrees and ink.sack. And though we have little quibble with the amazing efficiency of 800 Degrees or a cup of Sprinkles Ice Cream on a terribly hot fall day, those suggestions are sort like introducing someone to John Steinbeck by having them first read The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication. That is, it's a great story, but characteristic of his work and style? Not quite.
For this Venn Food Diagram, then, we decided compare where major publications generally suggest their readers eat when visiting Los Angeles to the recommendations from people who actually live here. The diagram above pretty much says it all. Turn the page for a more specific analysis.
Moral of the Story:
“I don't want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light” is how Alvy Singer explains his disdain for Los Angeles in Annie Hall. That was back in 1977. Three and a half decades, Jonathan Gold's Pulitzer Prize-winning articles and the advent of the Internet later, quite a few major newspapers and magazines still can't see beyond that right turn on red. Unsurprisingly, then, local folks have a better idea of how to take in this city's culinary scene.
We read major newspapers and magazines and made note of their Los Angeles-specific dining picks, if any. Because we wanted to keep everything current, we focused on articles published within roughly the last 18 months.
For the other side of the Venn Diagram, we took a far less scientific approach and simply asked on- and offline friends where they thought a hypothetical visitor should eat in order to really taste what this city has to offer.
No doubt, Los Angeles can be a difficult city. And, as with most things that are difficult to understand, the city sometimes is roughed up a bit before its substance is discussed. Take, for example, the lede on The Wall Street Journal article above: “The Los Angeles food scene is usually not as fun as the one in New York, but right now on the West Coast, there are some particularly forward-thinking stops on the Foodie Express.” Similarly, The New York Times often tries to convince its readers that a visit to Los Angeles is more exciting than a trip to the dentist: “The sprawl, the scale, all that freeway time — for many, Los Angeles is an acquired taste.” (Surely, though, a New Yorker can appreciate why people eventually acquire that taste: We need the eggs.)
And Esquire ran a post less than one year ago — “Where You Should Eat in L.A. Right Now” — in which it declared, “The doldrums of dining out in L.A. have finally ended.” The doldrum-ending restaurants, according to the post, included Mr. C in Beverly Hills and Public Kitchen & Bar. Right.
Of course, we, like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, thought our way out of the Doldrums years ago. In fact, some of the most significant food trends — including the proliferation of the food truck, the pop-up and the “Los Angelization of dining” — unfolded in L.A. well before 2011. And excellent loncheros, Koreatown restaurants and Asian joints throughout the San Gabriel Valley have been fantastic dining destinations for decades.
And so, while most everyone agrees that visitors to L.A. generally would enjoy the spectacle at the Bazaar and the scene at other nice restaurants, far more Angelenos than press also considered regions like the San Gabriel Valley and Thaitown as destination-worthy parts of the city rather than anomalies outside of it. Thus for every recommendation for a Gjelina, there also was a recommendation for tacos and other Mexican fare. Residents also suggested a trip through the San Gabriel Valley for Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, and that visitors try to make at least one stop in Thaitown, Koreatown and a ramen joint. And though one should certainly take into account a visitor's individual preferences and tastes, several residents stated that the city's breadth and depth of culinary diversity generally just should not be overlooked.
All that said, the gap between the two circles of the diagram may be slowly but steadily narrowing as publications catch up to what we already know. The Times, for example, lately has focused less on backhanded compliments and more on nice features of specific neighborhoods and topics (Atwater Village, the San Fernando Valley, “ethnic” supermarkets). And earlier this week, a New York Post piece was downright enthusiastic.
The best guide we found to L.A. cuisine, though, goes back to 2010, when Saveur dedicated an entire issue to Los Angeles that was — surprise! — relatively thorough and thoughtful. Likely because most of the pieces were written by people who actually live and eat here.
Chef Roy Choi's various eateries were named by both Angelenos and various publications (including Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and New York Post) as places where visitors should dine. In the interest of full disclosure, this writer is co-writing Choi's cookbook-slash-memoir.
Addendum to this post: It's worth mentioning that even Woody Allen now quite enjoys dining in L.A.
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