L.A. is suddenly on food critic’s “best food cities” list, but locals will tell you that it’s always been a great place for culinary adventures. Everyone has their weird snack of choice: Kombucha, bacon-wrapped matzoh balls, Korean-Mexican hybrid BBQ tacos, or homemade kale chips.
Special dietary requirements are expected—the more stringent, the better—and yet, greasy Mexican street food is everyone’s 3 a.m. go-to. And raw food gets its own three-day expo. From new to classic, here are 10 food experiences that are, like, totally L.A…and we love them.
Vegan Soup Delivery
Specialty food startup Soupelina’s premise is, “Gourmet vegan soups, and only gourmet vegan soups, delivered to your door.” Chef/founder Elina Fuhrman makes “soups with a purpose” from the finest farmers-market produce; no soy, no dairy, no gluten. Is it any wonder Hollywood starlets and CAA agents are clamoring for their daily delivery? If you’re not quite ready for that yet, look for soups like The Fennel Hurrah! (for weight loss) and Sweet Coconut Thai Oh My! (for anti-aging) at L.A.-area Whole Foods.
Organic, Biodynamic Cocktails
Of course the craft cocktail movement would go to this extreme in the City of Angels. Not only do consumers love a healthy/diet-conscious trend, but the weather allows for great produce year-round. Mixologist Marcus Tello got big buzz for creating a cocktail menu that incorporates organic or sustainable ingredients into almost every drink, at newcomer FEED Body & Soul. Meanwhile, Natalie Bovis, author of Edible Cocktails: From Garden to Glass, has teamed up with vegan cooking school Spark Foods to teach “Vegan Cocktail Party” workshops to those who would do it at home.
Not all L.A. cocktails have gone fancy, though. Because so many people are underemployed actors and/or students, they don’t have the money for craft cocktails, but they have the time for day drinking. Hence the popularity of bottomless brunches as well as various other all-you-can-drink specials. The Waffle in Hollywood is the early bird that gets the morning drinkers, offering Bottomless Mimosas or Bloody Marys for $12, from 7 a.m. till closing Saturday and Sunday.
Local, Sustainable Affirmations
There are two ways to order your food at Café Gratitude: The way you’ve always done it, by its standard name, and the way they want you to do it, with affirmations. If you can tell your server, “I Am Connected” and “I Am Generous without chopped cilantro,” and not feel self-conscious, then this place was made for you. It’s vegan, organic, relentlessly cheerful, and (possibly because of how many Westside women frequent it), it actually has a nice little wine list.
Drink on the Cheap, Because it’s Raining
People of Seattle, stop reading now before you get angry. In the beachy South Bay area of L.A., not only is rain a rarity for 10 months of the year, but Rock & Brews in El Segundo offers two for one beers when it rains. This seems more of a goodwill gesture toward regulars than a marketing gambit, because on rainy days, people aren’t likely to hit the beach, they’d rather hole up at their local hotspot and have a few beers. This place has 52 on draft, one for every week of the year.
Sweet Rose + Caffe Luxxe
How much do Westsiders love their single-origin, artisanal hand-crafted espresso drinks? As much as they love their small-batch, seasonally-driven ice cream hand-spun from organic cream. Which is to say, they’ll pay just about any price and visit several times a week. The new partnership between Sweet Rose Creamery and Caffe Luxxe is the best/worst thing regulars have ever heard of because, YUM, but all those calories.
Raw Food School
Raw food chef Matthew Kenny takes the whole raw lifestyle to the next level at M.A.K.E. in Santa Monica. Not only is this a restaurant, it’s an academy that educates people in the “plant-based cuisine” that is Kenney’s current specialty, as well as classic raw food techniques. With communal seating at the bar, an omakase-style menu option and a “commercial living foods kitchen” where classes are held most days of the week, this place aims to become a West Coast hub for raw food. Or as Kenney now refers to it, “living food.”
In a bid to out-Portlandia the actual city of Portland, Silverlake favorite Forage invites local gardeners to bring their own produce to the restaurant, where chefs will incorporate it into specialty dishes. Actually, you don’t even have to be a local gardener, just pull something out of the backyard and see whether it’s fit to cook. This thankfully, is not the main way that Forage gets its ingredients. It sources from local farmers and markets, thereby achieving consistent quality while still pulling off a hippie-potluck vibe.
Tacos, Any Time, Every Time
Authentic Mexican tacos are a Los Angeles staple, a Holy Grail for visiting foodies, and most people’s favorite way to end a night of imbibing. If you’re not intimidated by a less-than-ideal neighborhood, King Taco in East L.A. gets the local vote as “hands-down best” and an “L.A. legend.” They have the cabeza, lengua, and not-scary-sounding meats like chicken. If you’re drinking in Hollywood, grab a cab to Cactus Taqueria on Vine, its convenient and open till at least 3 a.m.
The year 2013 was a rollercoaster for Sriracha, the chili sauce produced by Huy Fong Foods in Irwindale (San Gabriel Valley, CA). Fans threw the first-ever L.A. Sriracha Festival, signaling just how popular the fiery condiment has become. And then a month later, the factory was partially shut down because Irwindale residents were complaining of fumes as bad as tear gas. The drama still rages on, and in the meantime, more and more Southland restaurants are putting Sriracha-laden specialties on menus, urging “Indulge before it disappears.”
Lena Katz is the author of the Travel Temptations series (SIP, SUN, SNOW), published by Globe Pequot Press in 2009. Lena is also a travel expert for Celebrations/1800FLOWERS and WEtv (online and on-air). She contributes to the South China Morning Post and ABC News online. Lena is a former Orbitz Travel blogger and former columnist for the LA Times. She's been published in Brides Magazine, Robb Rep...(Read More)