One of the Greatest Food Cities on Earth – LA?

GQ August 2005
I don’t regularly read GQ, nor any other men’s magazine for that matter (though I do like to flip through Cargo every once in a while in line at the market for the geeky gadgetry). In fact, I very rarely read any magazines at all, especially now since I have decided not to renew my subscription to Bon Appetit, because…well, let’s just say it has something to do with memoirs of a geisha (house).

But it just so happens that in the last few months, GQ happens to find its way into my hands, though I shan’t reveal how this happens ;). So, it’s not like I purposefully seek out the magazine because I think GQ’s food articles are wonderfully well-written, incredibly insightful, or even accurate. I mean, come on, Houston’s having one of the Top 20 burgers? No, it’s just that the food-related headlines are interesting and then whatever opinions or choices that that are in the details almost always make me shriek, “whaaat?!” and that’s kind of fun. :)

GQ August 2005 - The 4 Greatest Food Cities on Earth

So even though GQ’s August 2005 issue has *ick* Johnny Knoxville on the cover, and it is already the end of September, still I had to open it to read their choices of The 4 Greatest Food Cities on Earth. That’s quite a statement – greatest on Earth. I can’t really make any sort of educated observations about their choices of Bangkok, Madrid, or Piedmont, but I will say that I was surprised by Los Angeles. Whaaaat?!

LA isn’t even the greatest food city in…California. Why the heck would LA be one of the greatest food cities on earth? I hate Los Angeles. I hate the rents, I hate the freeways, I hate the traffic, I hate the smog, I hate the fact that I feel like I have to “dress up” to go to Whole Foods Market, and worst of all, I hate that LA so embarassingly can’t hold a spatula to SF or NY or any of the majors when it comes to dining out. Sure, there are lots of restaurants here. In fact, there are also lots of nicer, highish-end restaurants. But there are only a few that are actually good. It’s embarassing that there are so many glamour-injected, celebrity-enhanced, nipped and tucked into fabulously flashy places, but the food is flatter than…Paris (Hilton, that is). And the sad thing is, anywhere else, bad food means it won’t last long. But here in LA, we tolerate the bad food as long as the place is “cool.” *ugh* And even with all that, writer Mark Bittman chooses LA.

It turns out that Bittman’s reasoning is exactly why, as much as I hate this city, I love Los Angeles. I love my city for having some of the best low-end authnic (that’s “authentic ethnic”) neighborhood eating anywhere. For Asian and Latin foods outside their native countries, nothing beats LA. Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, Little Saigon, Little Tokyo, Thai Town and even the lesser known “outposts” of these cuisines around the greater metropolitan area. And for Mexican food? Forget it. Some have even told me that the food is better here in LA than in Mexico. There’s Little India in Artesia, with a tiny little pocket of Indian places right here on the westside. Bittman says it perfectly: “It’s not so much that L.A. has a few outstanding restaurants; it’s that for whole culinary categories..it wins hands down.”

The five spotlighted culinary categories are Japanese, Korean, Breakfast, Mexican and Thai. Funny, Breakfast is its own category (Original Pantry Cafe, Marston’s, Griddle Cafe, Clementine). I guess that makes sense here in LA where there are as many movie deals made over an 8 am breakfast-before-yoga as there are power lunches. The other categories are interesting and I could devote an entire post to each one, but I won’t. Only to Korean. Aw…I’m so proud of my very own peeps.

Bittman names Soot Bull Jeep, Sa Rit Gol, Woo Lae Oak, Chosun Galbee and Yongsusan. Hm, not so sure about that Woo Lae Oak, but I’ll forgive him because I love that he says that “Korean food is Japanese food with balls.” LOL! So, some day, galbee will go the way of Japanese food and be as popular as sushi. And when it does, when naeng myun replaces ramen in popularity, when people crave kimchee over coleslaw, when the book becomes Sahm-Gyae-Tahng: Chicken Soup for the Seoul, I will be there with my ggori (oxtails) and dehn-jahng (fermented soybean paste).

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  • Xericx

    I think its the sheer variety of ethnic cuisines, not the presence of tons of world renowned restaurants. The little holes in the wall vs. the good restaurant or whatever.

  • Xericx

    I have a relative that lives in Queens…DAMN, they have some great varieties food there. She has a branch of Penang about a block away….next door to a vietnamese restaurant AND a great Pizza place…

  • Max

    Sarah,

    Your UC Berkeley provincialism is showing, if I’m “reading” you accurately. And I’m just as likely to go to GQ for food writing as I am going to Saveur for my fashion week updates. That being said, whether or not Los Angeles is a top 4 food city, please consider the source–Mark Bittman is a huge fan of Asian cuisines as any purveyor of his “Minimalist” columns well knows. (Go to last Wednesday’s NYT Food section for evidence) I also believe that some of the NYC food writers have a little bit of envy over the breadth of cuisines available here in LA.

    Slightly OT: Are yor familiar with Edward Behr’s journal “The Art Of Eating”? It’s a better read for food than GQ and given your excellent reviews, I think you’ll enjoy his musings.

  • Jessica

    No secret Bittman is fond of LA. He’s written about it for NYT and lived here, which explains his refreshing lack of “isn’t that so L.A.”-type ignorance compared to some other Times reporters (just look at any Sunday Styles section for evidence). But re: GQ itself, I’m more of an Esquire reader if I’m gonna read that mag genre.

    L.A.’s place on the list is pleasantly surprising, given it’s near categorical exclusion from best food city lists in most Condescending and Nasty food and travel publications.

  • Shauna

    Ack, I’m with you. I grew up in LA, and there’s no way it compares to New York or San Fransisco or even Seattle. But the little empanada stands are pretty great. Oh well. GQ gets it wrong again.

  • Anonymous

    I’m really surprised GQ listed Los Angeles as one of its cities. It’s a great departure from the eurocentric leanings of most food lists. Like Mark Bittman, I lean towards the Asian cuisines and my opinion is that LA has the most varied as well as the most exceptional “joints” in that category.

  • Anonymous

    Los Angeles doesn’t have a French Laundry but the “ethnic” eating scene is so much better than NYC or SF. There is a benefit to sprawl. The people cook for their own people, not for an international set. So you have San Gabriel Valley where you have the most authentic chinese food FOR chinese people. I’m glad GQ was smart enough not to take a Euro-centric bent to food scenes.

  • Anonymous

    I have spent considerable time in LA, San Francisco, and NYC and without doubt LA is king of the great $10 meal thanks to its unbelievably vast selection of ethnic food. The latin, asian, and middle-eastern fare in LA is without peer and they have a great selection of high-end restaurants as well. From the “real” chinese in Monterey Park to the kebob houses of Glendale to the best damn Jewish deli anywhere in the valley, LA is amazing.

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