The food world is experiencing a pop-culture renaissance like never before. Chef and author Anthony Bourdain is as famous as any rock star, Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking is once again a New York Times bestseller 48 years after its first printing, and even college students who order Domino’s three times a week for a midnight dinner watch “Top Chef” as if it starred Halle Berry or Brad Pitt, not Tom Colicchio. The fact is, food is cool. In fact, it is even hip now to go to a farmer’s market or to discuss your favorite local bistro with a red cup in hand at TNC. I have always been picked on for being a food “snob” ever since my elementary school years when I would bide the time in Mrs. Williams’s third grade class writing menus on my binder paper instead of multiplication tables. As a “foodie,” I love eating both the braised short ribs at the wonderful and very refined Lucques near Hollywood just as much as I enjoy the short rib taco at the very popular Kogi BBQ Taco Truck that roams Los Angeles most nights. There are moments when a double-double with a Neopolitan shake at In-N-Out is the perfect meal, and others best suited to a tapas dinner at my favorite restaurant in the village, Viva Madrid. Of course, I would say that just about any moment of the day is an appropriate time for a chocolate ginger cookie at Some Crust Bakery. The restaurant business is all about copycats. Have you ever noticed that every frozen yogurt place looks the same and that every small bistro would be fined by the cuisine police if their menu did not have pork belly and tuna tartare on it? In the dining landscape it can seem daunting to find a restaurant that is slightly more unique or of slightly better quality or a slightly better deal than its brethren. The Los Angeles area is Disneyland for food lovers, with some of the best bakeries, markets and restaurants in the world intertwined with thousands of tiny hole-in-the-wall places serving every ethnic cuisine known to man. There is no better reason than dining to explore this wonderfully diverse region and at least begin to comprehend what freeway goes where. I’m sure no student has the city of Bell on their must visit list. Yet, the chiles en nogada at the wonderful La Casita Mexicana are more than enough reason to visit beautiful Bell.
Restaurants Mentioned in this Article
Lucques 8474 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
Kogi BBQ Truck Various locations; see website for details
In-N-Out Burger 1837 Foothill Boulevard, Upland, CA
Viva Madrid 225 Yale Avenue, Claremont, CA
Some Crust Bakery 119 Yale Avenue, Claremont, CA
La Casita Mexicana 4030 Gage Avenue, Bell, CA
Spago 176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA
El Huarache Azteca 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park, CA
Now, some quick housekeeping: I use two rating systems so that it is easy to compare Café A to Café B. For restaurants with full service, I break down a restaurant’s merits into three categories—food, service and atmosphere (in order of importance)—and then rate the restaurant on a scale of zero to four stars in each category, and give an overall rating averaging the three components. I also make a note if a particular restaurant is a terrific bargain or a personal favorite of mine.
For restaurants that do not have table service, I simply rate them on the same scale of zero to four stars with just one overall rating. It would be unfair to directly compare Highland Park’s El Huarache Azteca to Spago in Beverly Hills. Both are spectacular but in entirely different ways and for entirely different occasions.
There will be a quiz on this Tuesday—don’t forget.Finally, a quick word to restaurants. First and foremost, do not have one specialty item with the rest of the menu a mere afterthought. Waiters, please smile! Nobody wants a snotty server, even at a French gastronomic temple. Please, please do not tell me my 8 p.m. reservation won’t be ready for another 10 minutes. And please don’t put beets in any dish. I’ll eat anything, but I’d really prefer to not have to eat beets. Other than that, put care and love into ingredients and your cooking, and the effort will yield a fruitful business. The best mom and pop restaurants may not always make it because of the big, bad chains of the food world, but the current food revolution is starting to slay the corporate giants who don’t care about your dining experience as long as you pay up. With that, it’s time to eat. I think we’ll start with the foie gras, then the salmon with cauliflower gastrique, and the mousse au chocolat for dessert.