In the past ten years, the world has sat up and taken notice of Los Angeles' culinary prowess. Even though LA's been quietly changing the country's food scene since the 1980s, its recent culinary renaissance has made people start paying attention. Here are five chefs that have steered the culinary culture in this town of incredible eats.
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo were catering at functions around LA for years and even had a short-lived Food Network show (2 Dudes Catering) before they opened Animal. But pretty quickly, it became apparent they'd been wasting their time on TV. The dining room was their stage. At Animal, they elevated meat-forward, bombastic, gut-busting food (a recent menu item is called the Boner Burger), used off-cuts and organ meats to their greatest potential, played rap and rock music, had no sign, no decor, and no alterations. But people were happy to follow their rules, and a restaurant empire began.
Boyle Heights is not an area well-known for its cuisine. But Guisados, a family-owned operation next door to a tortilleria run by the same family, changed that and changed how Angelenos thought about taquerias in the process. Serving stewed tacos as opposed to the more typical varieties seen in trucks around the city, they were able to keep prices down and quality high, so much so that people flocked to them from all over town. Mexican food has always been beloved in LA, but Guisados made affordable, consistent, and delicious tacos that were also new, exciting, and often vegetarian-friendly. Most people in LA had never had tacos with chicken tinga or chiles torreados. Now, they all have.
Jessica Koslow started her business selling the best jam in LA at farmers markets. Those led to pop ups, and she eventually opened a restaurant that has inadvertently become a symbol of all that makes LA great. But they don't just make jam. Sqirl's menu relies on a steady supply of good bread, eggs, and seasonal vegetables. This spot represents Los Angeles not because everything they serve is shockingly excellent, but because they have seasonal vegetable hash with poached eggs, turmeric tonic, and brioche ricotta toast with jam on the same menu. If you're feeling healthy, that option is there for you. But Sqirl is all about letting you choose. You eat at a table on the sidewalk, you have to decide what you want way in advance, but once you sit down, it's time to bask in the tasty glory.
When Roy Choi graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, the recession had just hit. He had nowhere near enough money to open the brick-and-mortar restaurant he wanted, so in 2008 Roy did what Los Angeles entrepreneurs had been doing for generations: he opened a taco truck. But with one big difference. Kogi BBQ served tacos with Korean barbecue fillings. He put kimchi in quesadillas and bulgogi, or Korean short ribs, in burritos. He parked his truck in front of bars, kept his staff and food safety standards in tip-top shape, and accidentally created an international trend. He eventually got those all the restaurants he wanted and more, but gourmet food trucks are all around the world now, and every single one can trace their roots back to Kogi.
Ten time James Beard Award winner Nancy Silverton has been quietly and confidently steering the direction of LA cuisine since 1982. She was the opening pastry chef at Spago and helped catapult Wolfgang Puck to stardom. In the '90s, she introduced artisan bread to LA with La Brea Bakery. But in 2007, she partnered with Mario Batali to open the incredible group of restaurants locally referred to as "Mozzaplex," and cemented her place in LA's culinary hall of fame. From the famous house-made mozzarella bar and pasta to her famous desserts, Nancy's seasonal take on Italian food is deft, high-class, and beautifully simple.
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