Culinary Planet – Los Angeles

By | Category: Travel destinations
A Taco plate from one of the food trucks

A taco plate from one of the food trucks

Excellent food and retro trends are emerging from quite unlikely places in Los Angeles. Food trucks and ‘ma and pa’ eateries are taking the place by storm.

As gastronomy becomes ever more eclectic in the multi-ethnic sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, you will find world class restaurants to be sure. Top flight food meccas such as the Riot House Restaurant at the Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood are known for excellent cuisine from around the world (their Iberico ham is divine). And celebrity haunts, Les Deux Café on Las Palmas Ave. in Hollywood and Spago in Beverly Hills, are perennially popular hang outs.

Many of the health food crazes originate in California with favourites such as quinoa, kale and California sushi rolls going global.

But tucked away, nearly out of sight, are hole-in-the-wall places just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed by those on a budget. From tiny taquerias in Ojai to Japanese restaurants in office buildings in Los Angeles and vegan eateries in Orange County, there is so much variety here it is staggering.

Grand Central Market tacos

Grand Central Market tacos

In Los Angeles, it is the take away food kiosks in Grand Central Market that are making a mark on LA’s cuisine. The Grand Central Market has been at the same location downtown for about 100 years and is one of area’s landmarks. Next to the front entrance, the Horse Thief BBQ offers Texas style smoky BBQ ribs with all the fixins’ included. The desserts are country home-style: fennel-apple slaw, vegan heirloom beans, and dropped biscuit cobbler. The popular China Café (stall C-14) has counter service just as you walk in the door and its won ton soup and Chow Mein are classics. Locals queue every morning for the enormous egg burritos and egg sandwiches at Eggslut (stall D-1), while Valerie’s at GCM (stall E-1) is known for flaky, fragrant baked goods and great coffee. There is a multitude of taco stands with authentic and fresh Mexican food at very reasonable prices though Anna Maria is my personal favourite (stall C-9). Come lunch time, the folks working in the nearby financial district flood into the market for lunch time sustenance.

Just around the corner is stylish, modern Bar Ama on 4th Street. Serving up traditional taquitos, burritos and tacos with a picadillo sauce as thick as chili con carne, this eatery is definitely a treat. Pestolini (363 S Broadway) is fantastic for breakfast. Order items from the grill such as pancakes or waffles or ham and cheese croissants and wash it down with French organic tea.

a food truck in the arts district

a food truck in the arts district

Downtown is also known for food trucks. These vans, formerly for catering to blue collar workers, are now frequently seen on the streets of Santa Monica as well as part of Food Truck Tuesdays. Perhaps the best known food trucks are those that originated with Roy Choi’s guerrilla food truck movement. His Kogi Van cooks up Calamari Tacos and Kogi Kimchi Quesadillas, a fusion of Korean and Mexican cooking, with melted cheese and carmelised kimchi. Check out the website for the Kogi Van’s daily schedule

Asian restaurants are everywhere in L.A. and are taking no prisoners. Shojin, in Japan town, is a favourite with many vegetarians and is famous for its sushi, miso soup and fresh fish. The service here is excellent even if the premises are in an unusual setting (a suite in an office building!). Korean BBQs are virtually everywhere in Southern California and too numerous to name. Guests grab their own selection of meat, sauce and vegetables including bean sprouts and this is all cooked by the chef on an enormous flat, hot rotating grill. Authentic and exciting and with unique hot sauces to add spice, you just can’t get fresher than Korean BBQ.

Outside the Angel City Brewery with Koream takeaway -

Outside the Angel City Brewery with Koream takeaway – belly!

There are three restaurants in Orange County that are part of the unique Rutabegorz chain; one in Fullerton, old town Tustin and in Orange. This is some of the best vegetarian and vegan food around (though organic, sustainable chicken is an option as well) and the coffee list has twenty different scrumptious options including shakes. The Dala Salads and flavoursome soups haven’t changed here for 45 years (the hippy crowd used to order them back in the early days). Not to be missed for anyone visiting Orange County.

Farolito’s has always been a favourite haunt for those anywhere near Placentia also in Orange County. Their incredibly fresh Mexican food includes fresh guacamole made from avocados as well as menudo soup which includes tripe and is a delicacy. Also, they have the best chips and salsa anywhere and mind-bogglingly good margaritas that cannot be beat. No matter where you are, always order a classic margarita on the rocks with lots of salt as the frozen types tend to get very watery as they melt.

and on the Miracle Mile

and on the Miracle Mile

On a drive along the 210 Freeway north of Los Angeles near Moorpark, I stumbled upon a wonderful Carniceria named Tacos del Gordo – which loosely translates as the fat one’s tacos. Home cooked food is the style at these types of establishments. The enchiladas were incomparable – covered with a fragrant red sauce enveloping soft flour tortillas filled with tender chicken. The chili con carne had large chunks of beef as opposed to a skimpy bit of mince. Exceptionally good. There was even a salsa bar with all manner of sauces and chopped onions to select from. Tiny ‘take away’ containers meant locals could fill up to use later.

The latest trend in Orange County is liquid nitrogen injected ice cream. Hop off the 5 Freeway in Irvine and visit Creamistry on a hot day to try a new take on this old favourite. You won’t be disappointed.

Many food trends originate in this part of the world but most spring from old traditions like catering trucks which have been around for decades. And many ‘new’ trends are actually a fusion of traditional cuisines such as Mexican and Korean. Established restaurants, cafes and taco stands that have been around for decades have remained popular for good reason. Wonderful cooking and fresh ingredients brings customers back again and again.

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