10 Foods Los Angeles Does Better Than Anywhere Else
If you follow @RidingshotgunLA on Twitter, you may have noticed Roy Choi being a little more ornery than usual recently. For a few days, the Kogi king was prodding back at a New York Times piece that lauds the Big Apple's taco scene. The opening line -- "New York has great tacos, tacos that can go mano a mano with the best of Los Angeles" -- was more than enough to get Choi fired up.
Anne Fishbein A taco with huitlacoche, roasted corn, hominy, cotija cheese at Cacao Mexicatessen
Now it's our turn.
Those tried-and-true bicoastal food topics (Pizza in L.A.? Pshaw!) never cease to draw a crowd of angry commenters looking to defend their turf. But what if we took the conversation up a notch, and pulled in every corner of the Union? What foods does Los Angeles do better than the entire rest of the United States? Tacos, obviously -- better luck next time, borough dwellers -- but also certain street foods, American classics and lots of delicious pitstops in between.
Here are ten culinary delights that Los Angeles does better than anywhere else in America, with a few local examples to help drive the point home.
10. Thai Food
Anne Fishbein Green Curry Mussels at Jitlada
Sure, Portland can lay claim to Andy Ricker's Pok Pok, a hip neu-Thai shack that serves those incredible Fish Sauce Wings, and Las Vegas likes to fawn over its own Lotus of Siam, but is anyone really doing it better than Jazz and Tui at Jitlada? Doubtful. Their Southern Thai menu is perhaps the most expansive and impressive of any you'll find in America, with layered flavor profiles and tons of ingenuity to back up all the talk. If it's pure Thai heat you're after, the explosively fiery Dynamite Challenge has become the standard bearer for how to use unstoppable intensity in a dish that still manages to taste fantastic.
Even if you take Jitlada out of the conversation, Los Angeles still serves as a home base for some of the nation's best Thai food. You could drop a glass of Thai iced tea in Thai Town and splash up against half a dozen fantastic eateries, most of them -- Sapp Coffee Shop, Ruen Pair, Sanamluang and Bhan Kanom for dessert -- clustered on Hollywood Boulevard. And if you want to catch up with the cool crowd over some simple, spicy, satisfying Thai dishes and a boatload of beers, get to chef Kris Yenbamroong's Night + Market in West Hollywood. Or, if you're patient, wait for the late fall arrival of its Silver Lake location.
Nowhere else in America will you find the concentration and magnitude of ramen dishes as in Los Angeles. West L.A.'s Little Osaka neighborhood on Sawtelle is practically a living shrine to the stuff, with new ramen bars opening almost weekly. Tsujita L.A. and the nearby Tsujita Annex are largely to thank for the quick transformation (although it's certainly not the first to offer hearty bowls of noodle and broth on Sawtelle). Its thick-noodled, pork-overloaded tsukemen bowls have become the new Platonic ideal of what a great bowl of perfect ramen should be.
Of course, L.A. still has Daikokuya in Little Tokyo, the yellow awning shielding hungry diners from their hour-long wait on the sidewalk. Then there's the Torrance run of ramen shops like Jidaiya and Umenoya, where garlic and pork and noodle all play perfectly together. L.A. is not only doing better ramen than anywhere else in America, we're doing more of it.
Paul Bartunek The Downlow Burger at Mar'sel
If the idea of beef, fat, salt and processed cheese seem out of place in your construction of what an Angeleno's lunch looks like, you need to recalibrate. We are a city in love with the hamburger, with our own cult-status regional burger chain and lots of local options to satisfy any type of eater. Beef and bun play so well in Southern California that we managed to define a whole style of burgers -- twice.
First, there's Pasadena's claim as the originator of the cheeseburger. As legend goes, The Rite Spot diner first slapped a piece of American cheese onto a burger patty, forever changing the way we think of burgers. If that weren't accomplishment enough, we have our own Southern California style, with thin slips of griddled beef, American cheese, a smear of Thousand Islands dressing and plenty of lettuce. You'll find the heights of such burger minimalism at places like Apple Pan, Pie N' Burger and Capitol Burger on Pico.
L.A. hasn't lost touch with the top of the burger market, either. Depending on your tastebuds, there's a Comme Ca, Rustic Canyon or Mar'sel Downlow Burger to shove into your face, all at a price point well below New York's vaunted $26 Minetta Tavern Black Label burger.
5233-1/2 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA