By EATER – Los Angeles has always been a study in contrasts. It’s a patchwork of cultures, connections, and cuisines — a glorious mosaic that produces unmatchable food, magnified by the richness of the city. The new documentary City of Gold is a culinary and cultural love letter to Los Angeles, focused on the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and his infectious enthusiasm for the gastronomy of his hometown.
Here are five reasons why LA’s food scene is the greatest in the country.
LOS ANGELES IS THE ANTI-MELTING POT
“What people have trouble understanding is the magnitude of what’s here — that huge number of multiple cultures come together in this beautiful and haphazard fashion, and the fault lines between them are sometimes where you find the most beautiful things.”
— Jonathan Gold
LA’s tremendous diversity is unparalleled. With a population of more than nine million, Los Angeles is one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse counties in the United States. “LA’s great that way,” says arts writer Carolyn Miranda, “because you don’t have to travel far to taste like you traveled far.” From a hole-in-the-wall taco joint to an authentic Thai restaurant nestled in a strip mall, surprising and obscure flavors are just waiting to be discovered, enjoyed, and celebrated.
STREET FOOD BEATS HAUTE CUISINE EVERY TIME
“In a city where a former Alain Ducasse disciple serves his farm-driven cuisine with a taco truck and every young chef in town seems driven to master pho, there is no longer a meaningful distinction between high cuisine and low.”
— Jonathan Gold
There are Michelin-starred chefs and high-end cuisine options in LA, but some of the tastiest morsels can be found in the humblest surroundings. There’s Wes Avila’s Guerilla Tacos in downtown LA, serving fresh diver scallops, charred octopus, and weird but tasty veggie tacos. There’s the fleet of Kogi BBQ trucks that blanket the city with kimchi-layered short rib tacos and pickled onions by the handful. LA’s ever-expanding street food scene is cheap, delicious, and unmistakably from Los Angeles.
IN TACOS WE TRUST
“In tacos as in love, timing is everything, and if you’ve ever inhaled a taco of pork al pastor moments after the slivers of dripping meat have been hacked from the spit, you know: At that moment, desire and fulfillment are one.”
— Jonathan Gold
In Los Angeles, the taco is probably the most sought-after food. “There is a time-honored progression of cooks moving from street cart to taco truck to full-fledged restaurant,” Gold says. Take King Taco, for example. “One of the great things is they have a truck parked outside the restaurant,” he says. “If you come on a weekend night, there will an hour wait for the truck, and you can walk right up to the counter of the restaurant. You actually do want the ones from the truck.”
FARM TO TABLE? MORE LIKE FIELD TO TABLE
In Los Angeles, culinary masters like Chef Ludo Lefebvre and mixologists like Matt Biancaniello rely on professional foragers, otherwise referred to as “weed dealers,” who wake at the crack of dawn to hunt and gather wild local and seasonal ingredients from the land surrounding LA — cactus buds and black mustard flowers, mugwort and wild chervil, even grasshoppers, cicada skin sheds, and harvester ants. “The majority of chefs use 30 wild ingredients maximum; we deal with 456,” says Pascal Baudar, a well-known forager.
LOS ANGELES HAS JONATHAN GOLD, THE ONLY PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING FOOD CRITIC
“The fact that someone could write about food in such a way to get the attention of people not in the food world but in the journalism world and cultural criticism world to me was hugely significant.”
— Mitchell Davis, The James Beard Foundation
Only Los Angeles has the great Jonathan Gold to shine a light on the vast and incredible food scene of the city. In Gold’s words:
“I love tamale carts. I love itinerant fruit vendors. I love old Guatemalan women with hampers full of corn on the cob and squirt-bottle mayonnaise. I love the pickups that roam the Eastside, with loads of mangoes or bushels of fresh green chickpeas. I love the guys who lop off the tops of coconuts with rusted machetes. I love entry-level capitalism at its most chaotic, where the barriers to doing business are on the wispy side of minimal, where a family with a dream and a catering license can support itself selling delicious barbecued cabeza from a truck window, where two dozen oddball eating places can be launched for less money than it would take to open a single outlet of Burger King. There are plenty of cities in America where freedom is best expressed as the right to choose between Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr., but Los Angeles is not one of those places. I think that’s why I live here.”