This past week has been quite a lot for the food community because, as the year wraps up, everyone is trying to get their two cents in on what they think was the best of food in the city for the year. LA Weekly released Jonathan Gold’s “99 Essential LA Restaurants” and Eater LA’s 2011 Eater Award Winners came out this week, dispelling any rumors of where we should be eating right now.
There really isn’t anything wrong with these lists: they’re basically right on the money. We can’t think of anything to add or subtract (maybe subtract, maybe), but we did notice a few things. First things first: the lists are devoid of trends. As Gold says himself in his piece, “I like trucks, taco tables and pop-ups as much as the next guy, but I was really hoping to find evidence pointing to a resurgence in fine dining.” Although he did not (really??), he did find people getting into craft and creating things with care. The only real “trend” that does come through in the lists is modernism, which is as Los Angeles as it gets. Both lists include places like Picca and Red Medicine and Son Of A Gun, three places that are cool, casual, amazing food establishments. If any trends are to be gathered from these lists its that advanced gourmet street and comfort foods (duh) with a modern, simple twist (duh duh) are what is defining Los Angeles’ food scene at the moment–not tacos, trucks, deviled eggs, fried chicken, hot dogs, or hamburgers.
Similarly, the lists don’t really tackle any “mainstream” trendy places, which is only right because you don’t make best of the best lists and include things like Umami. Like anything cool, the selections all wander a fine line between accessibility and exclusivity, which Los Angeles as a city has and always will perfect. All of Eater’s selections and a good portion Gold’s list are fairly attractive to everyone in the sense that they aren’t ludicrous price ranges–most are “a nice dinner out on a Friday” prices, which is where they should be. Moreover, they all stay in the LA “Foodborhoods” if you examine LA Weekly’s map of the 99 restaurants. Echo Park, Century City, Brentwood, Malibu, Silver Lake–all places you would assume “the nicest of the nice” or “coolest of the cool” restaurants are. Instead, if you have been on the trends, the real food spots are Downtown, Culver City, Mid-City, and the Far West. There are exceptions, of course, but looking at the map is no surprise: cool restaurants flock together to where the cool people with money are. The map only clarifies where people who want complex, progressive tastes are going. This is not to say other neighborhoods don’t have good food–they’re just common, no-brainer comfortable places that don’t need attention called to.
And, if the map and selections mean anything, it is that things really haven’t changed. Besides maybe Son Of A Gun and Picca, there haven’t been any “game changers” (and those aren’t really even “game changers”). Molecular gastronomy isn’t ruling the list nor is some “strange” delicacy pushing everyone to want to mimic it. Things are, basically, the same as they have been–we just have new options. With places like Son Of A Gun, Picca, and Churchill, of course they are great! We knew that because the people who made them are great. Are they revolutionary? Not necessarily. They’re just filling in culinary holes in LA. Similarly, Gold’s list doesn’t have that many “new” places. Looking at the list, many have been culinary standbys for years: Little Dom’s, Tasting Kitchen, Oinkster, Mozza, Hungry Cat, Gorbals, Father’s Office, Church & State, Campanile, Bottega Louie, Animal–all on our lists for quite some time now. It’s the usual suspects and their children and children’s friends, folks.
The biggest thing this list does is place the Los Angeles food scene in relationship to the national food scene, namely against New York, San Francisco, Chicago, DC, and Seattle (added the last one in because, well, I think it is), so called “culinary powerhouses” in America at the moment. We at Los Angeles, I’m Yours completely feel that Los Angeles is just as good if not better than these cities. Sure, we’re lagging on seafood for whatever reason and have slim pickings on Soul Food, Indian, Cajun, Greek, Mediterranean, Spanish/Portuguese, classic French, specialty food items (Sandwiches, ahem), among a few others, sure. But, we’re damned good at American/New American, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Pacific Rim, Mexican, and parts of South American, which the other city’s in question have nothing on.
What does LA get recognized for in the national scale? Red Medicine outing food critic Irene Virbila. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s the only national win we get? Lame. Really lame. We get known for being vapid, selfish assholes, claiming the title of slightly embarrassing Spectacle Of The Year by foodies. Awesome.
You know what the Los Angeles food scene needs? A culinary Pacific Standard Time. We need something that isn’t some food fair or food event but rather a multi-month event or guide or something to celebrate the food we have here to call attention to our food scene and that fact that we started trends like Food Trucks, Tacos, and Hamburgers in recent days. Perhaps these lists are the PST of food? Who knows. But, I do know that I’m tired of hearing friends from other city’s shitting on the Los Angeles food scene and am even more tired of dilettante people who just eat food (and consider themselves “foodies”) in Los Angeles saying, “Waaaah: there are no good places to eat here. WaAaAAaAaH :(”
To all of them I say look around you and eat something good. Get out of your neighborhood and stay away from “comfortable” and “cool” restaurants you love. Stop being lazy and get on Yelp and only eat at places with 4, 4.5, or 5 star ratings that you haven’t been to. Explore new places you’ve never been to. Stop in a new restaurant the week it opens. It’s easy to be a food person in Los Angeles. And chances are a lot of them and their related restaurants are on Gold’s list or Eater’s list. Do your research and join the Los Angeles food culture–don’t just eat anything.