The Guide to Los Angeles Restaurants in "City of Gold"
Take a culinary tour with the legendary "Belly of Los Angeles" as your guide
Los Angeles is widely regarded as one of the top dining destinations in the country, a mecca for world-class chefs, globally-inspired cuisines, and gourmands from near and far. From Michelin-starred restaurants to humble street carts, Jonathan Gold wrote about it all for more than 30 years. The first food writer to win the Pulitzer Prize in criticism, the beloved "Belly of Los Angeles" passed away on July 21, 2018.
Tributes to Gold poured in from chefs and food writers across the country. Here in L.A., Gold was memorialized with a street mural by Jonas Never; his silhouette was "seated" at a booth inside Guerrilla Tacos; and an official plaque was placed on the Broadway side of Grand Central Market, now known as Jonathan Gold Plaza. In October 2018, the James Beard Foundation announced the Local Impact Award was renamed the Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award to honor "new writers who are telling stories of their cities and regions, just as Jonathan continually shone a light on his beloved Los Angeles."
Gold is the subject of a 2015 documentary, City of Gold. Directed by Laura Gabbert and featuring some of L.A.’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurants, City of Gold takes the audience on a journey to discover Los Angeles through the eyes of one of its foremost cultural writers and a true ambassador of the city. Read on for a guide to L.A. restaurants featured in City of Gold.
Ayla Sadaghiani, husband Mike, and his mother Parvin Sadaghiani built on the success of their Persian sandwich shop by opening the adjacent Attari Grill, which adds delectable kebabs, seafood dishes, and a seriously compelling, weekend only soup. Kale Pache involves a vivid yellow broth bobbing with lamb parts like tongue, cheek, brain and leg, which are all impeccably cooked and dusted with cinnamon. Squeeze on lime and spoon in torshi, potent house-made pickles, to deliver enough acidity to combat all that rich meat.
Kevin Bludso closed his beloved Bludso’s BBQ in Compton in 2016. The smoky spirit lives on at Bludso's Bar & Que, a collaboration with The Golden State's Jason Bernstein and James Starr. Located on La Brea, the restaurant features communal picnic tables, a planter-lined patio, numerous flatscreens, and a cocktail menu that includes Tiki drinks, Boilermakers and a trio of Old Fashioneds. Pitmaster Noah Galuten serves meats unadorned, with sauce on the side. Brisket is a house specialty, and even though you won’t find a pronounced smoke ring, the beef sports a juicy, peppery crust. Pulled pork is another winner, as are the cartilage-rich rib tips. Erik Black, who co-founded Ugly Drum, produces sausage. Sides include burnt orange baked beans folded with brisket chunks, onion-laced bread-and-butter pickles, and mac & cheese crafted with molten mozzarella, cheddar and Béchamel sauce.
One of L.A.’s spiciest restaurants, Chengdu Taste is L.A.’s Sichuan sweetheart, with lines going out the door at nearly all times of the day. A standout dish is the water boiled fish – a flaky tilapia is bathed in a batch of chili oil with crushed garlic and chili peppers. The twice-cooked pork is also recommended - think of it as the Sichuan version of bacon, but the cut is softer and coated with a layer of hot chili oil. As Gold wrote in his review, “The pepper sauce with the wonton obliterates everything in its path like a mysteriously pleasurable punch in the mouth.”
Earle’s on Crenshaw
Duane Earle and brother Cary started Earlez Grille as a Venice Beach hot dog cart in 1983 and sold enough franks to fund a Leimert Park restaurant in 1992. Crenshaw/LAX Line construction forced the family to move in 2013, but they re-emerged as Earle’s on Crenshaw in 2017. The brothers are still going strong, and their mother Hildred is even on the scene at their Crenshaw Square location. Don’t call this fast food - they prefer “good food fast.” Their Kosher beef dog is the star, featuring grilled, scored links served on toasted buns with an array of toppings. Pile on ingredients like chipotle sauce, pico de gallo, kraut, or basic ketchup and mustard. Try teaming stomach-warming beef chili with cooling shredded cheese, crunchy raw onion, and spicy jalapeño.
Located across from Paseo Colorado, Euro Pane is the second location of Campanile alum Sumi Chang’s popular European bakery and cafe. Euro Pane 2.0 features a large patio, giant slice of tree that doubles as a communal table, and a bread "aquarium" filled with rounds, loaves and slabs. Chang’s bread is the key to deluxe sandwiches like meatloaf with caramelized onions, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, tomato and greens; or the vaunted egg salad sandwich, featuring poached eggs, sun-dried tomato paste, mixed greens, chives and a choice of bread, perhaps none better than buttery brioche.
Grand Central Market
Renowned as one of America’s great food halls, the landmark Grand Central Market opened in 1917 and has experienced a major renaissance in the past few years with a new generation of vendors opening alongside institutions like China Cafe, Roast To Go and Tacos Tumbras A Tomas. One of the market’s most popular modern spots is Alvin Cailan’s Eggslut, featuring indulgent breakfast sandwiches that come on either buttery brioche buns or flaky biscuits. G&B Coffee is one of the nation’s most progressive coffee peddlers, with a multi-roaster coffee lineup and creative signature beverages. Globally inspired options include Madcapra, farm-to-table falafel from Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson; and Sari Sari Store, Filipino rice bowls by Margarita and Walter Manzke.
Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio opened the acclaimed Oaxacan restaurant, Guelaguetza in 1994. Located in Koreatown near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, Guelaguetza is much more than a restaurant - it’s a Oaxacan cultural center with a performance stage, Mezcaleria and boutique market. Mr. and Mrs. Lopez are now retired - Guelaguetza is now owned and operated by the next generation, Bricia, Paulina and Fernando Jr. Guelaguetza’s sublime moles, banana leaf-wrapped tamales and unstuffed enchiladas have earned local and national praise, including the prestigious James Beard Classics Award in 2015.
Guerrilla Tacos Downtown
Chef Wes Avila was a few years from opening his brick and mortar Guerrilla Tacos in the Arts District when his food truck (now retired) was featured in City of Gold. The menu changes regularly, depending on what’s fresh at the markets and what new ideas Avila is experimenting with that day. That said, there is one taco that is a constant on the menu regardless of the variables of the season: the sweet potato taco, with roasted sweet potatoes nestled on a corn tortilla and topped with a burnt orange chile salsa, crumbs of feta cheese, fried kernels of corn and scallions. It’s the perfect introduction to the world of Guerrilla Tacos.
Discreetly located in a strip mall off Sunset Boulevard, Jitlada is beloved by locals, foodies and celebrities alike. The Southern Thai restaurant was founded by the late chef Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee, who died in October 2017, and Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong, the gregarious general manager who stops by every table to check on guests. The huge menu spans 300 regional specialties, from coconut mango salad to Crying Tiger Beef and the fiery “wild” curry with eggplant, green beans, bone-in cuts of catfish and an avalanche of spicy chilies. Everyone has their favorite dishes, but the constant is the steamed New Zealand green mussels. The plump and succulent bivalves are cooked in an exceptionally flavorful lemongrass and basil broth, presented in a metal bowl and served with the house green chili sauce. After you’ve finished the mussels, ladle the remaining broth into bowls and slurp to your heart’s content.
Ken Namba opened Kiriko on Sawtelle Avenue in 1999, after traveling to South America and Southeast Asia in the ’90s. Namba wanted to do something original, traditional and also modern - similar to sushi they prepare in Downtown Tokyo, which inspired him to open Kiriko. Lunch is a great time to visit - the Deluxe Jou Sushi Moriwase (meaning “assortment”) for $24 is highly recommended. Expect seven pieces of sushi, one cut roll (spicy or regular tuna), miso soup and salad. Lunch can include the usual suspects like tuna and yellowtail, but there’s also the house-smoked salmon, which Namba smokes in a wok over low heat for five hours.
Beloved as one of L.A.’s best tacos, the pocket-sized tacos de camarón at Mariscos Jalisco attracts fans from near and far, who make the pilgrimage to Raul Ortega’s Boyle Heights food truck, easily identified by its large logos and coastal landscape painting. Tortillas are stuffed with a secret mix of chopped shrimp, vegetables and spices, then fried until they’re crisp. Perfection is served on a Styrofoam plate, topped with slices of buttery avocado and drenched in a bright tomato salsa.
Mexicali Taco & Co.
At their restaurant on Figueroa, Mexicali natives Esdras Ochoa and Javier Fregoso drew inspiration from their childhoods in crafting comforting menu items like the vampiro, a garlic-blasted quesadilla filled with a choice of grilled meat; or the cachetada, a crunchy tostada topped with meat, molten cheese and a drizzle of spicy chipotle aioli. Nachos are also a hit thanks to the waterfall of yellow cheese and punchy salsa de rajas featuring roasted chile poblano, roasted Roma tomatoes, fresh onion and a “killer vinegar mixture.” Aguas frescas like the barley drink, cebada, or tart tamarind lime, help to tame the heat.
Meals by Genet
Situated along a block-long stretch of Fairfax Avenue between Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive, Little Ethiopia is a collection of restaurants and businesses that caters to the high concentration of nearby residents of Ethiopian and Eritrean ancestry. Ethiopian cuisine is characterized by spicy vegetable and meat dishes that are eaten by hand using torn pieces of injera (flatbread) to grab the food.
One of Little Ethiopia’s standard bearers is Meals by Genet, which is renowned for Genet Agonafer's doro wot - the traditional braised chicken stew described by Jonathan Gold as the “Ethiopian answer to Oaxacan chicken mole” and “worth every minute of the three days it reportedly takes to prepare." In City of Gold, Agonafer describes the impact that Gold’s review had on her struggling business as she worked to put her son through medical school: "All of a sudden the review came... I could not cook fast enough."
The corner of Melrose and Highland is a mecca for foodies. Home to Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and chi SPACCA, this culinary paradise is the brainchild of the superstar trio of chefs Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and restaurateur Joe Bastianich. It all started with Pizzeria Mozza, which became an instant hit when it opened in November 2006. Widely recognized as one of the best pizzerias in the country, Pizzeria Mozza is known for its seasonal California ingredients and Silverton’s famed crust. Everyone has their favorite dishes, from the fennel sausage pizza to Nancy’s Chopped Salad and the transcendent Butterscotch Budino, a modern classic that was on the opening menu and never left.