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Jun 28, 2007 11:09 AM

A dish unique to LA?

I'm trying to find a dish that is extremely popular to only LA. Is there something that you can really only find in LA? If you had to choose, what dish would represent all of LA? Any thoughts would be extremely helpful.

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  1. "Extremely popular to only LA" is difficult given the copy cat nature of the rest of the world and given the sheer size of the LA population.

    Our major ethnic groups can obviously be found in other cities, most notably our Mexican and Chinese population. And while we're the epicenter of Thai-American life, Thai food is quite prevalent in other cities, too (although it would be a poor representation of authentic faire). The same is definitely true with sushi, where LA sees a lot of traditional Edo-style sushi shops while other parts of Southern California are quite content with wacky rolls.

    That leaves the Korean contingent. It's not a cuisine you'd readily find in other places, and while I wouldn't say it's extremely popular here in LA, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't like barbecued meat.

    With that in mind, one of two dishes that I would use to symbolize all of LA would be a bowl of soon du bu. Symbolically, it's a melding of a lot of flavors into one earthen pot simmering away, constantly bubbling over the edge combining strong meaty flavors with delicate tofu texture. The taste is uniform but the ingredients are distinct. Add in the poached egg to gild the lily and you've added the over-the-top element that LA also has.

    The other dish would be the a taco al pastor. It plays well into our deep Mexican heritage, and while the concept of it isn't unique (many Middle Eastern cultures do something similar), there's the beautiful conciseness of meat, a splash of salsa and a fresh corn tortilla. Its elegance is in its simplicity, in the same way that many tourists arrive in Hollywood and proclaim, "This is it?" and wonder what the big deal is. The big deal is that we were able to fashion a city out of the desert, out of orange groves, olives and oak trees and that city is doing quite well.

    8 Replies
    1. re: SauceSupreme

      "And while we're the epicenter of Thai-American life, Thai food is quite prevalent in other cities, too (although it would be a poor representation of authentic faire)."

      That's b.s.

      Yes, LA is the "epicenter" of ThaiAm life, but it is NOT the only place in the U.S. where "truly authentic faire [sic]" can be found. Chicago, for one, has *several* exceptional Thai restaurants, and they all serve fully authentic Thai cuisine. How do I know that? I live in Chicago, I speak/read Thai, I've translated every one of these restaurants' Thai language menus and I am very well-connected in Chicago's Thai restaurant community. And, as authentic Thai food goes, Chicago is hardly alone. New York now has several good Thai restaurants. And, you'll find great Thai food in Portland, OR. And, in San Francisco. And, in Plano, TX, and...

      Now, as for the rest of your post, well, I'll leave you to your opinion.


      1. re: Erik M

        I stand admonished and firmly corrected. You're absolutely right, and while I try to avoid being myopic, sometimes my LA-nearsightedness does kick in, and for that I'll tuck my tail between my legs.

        It seems I've taken a bit more philosophical approach than others, though I still think that a melding of Korean and Mexican would be appropriate.

        My fun answer, then: a kim-chee burrito.

        1. re: SauceSupreme

          You know that Jose Bernstein has one, right?

          1. re: will47

            Weird that you mentioned JB's yesterday and I mentioned them today -- and when I did it today, I had no idea you did it yesterday.

            Jose Bernstein's for kim-chee burritos and (see other thread) pastrami with guacamole

        2. re: Erik M

          erik, you're right that LA isn't the only city with authentic thai restaurants, but i'd be surprised if there's any city in north america that can match the sheer number of authentic and high quality (not necessarily high-end dining, mind you) thai eats that LA has. i'm from ny and we only have two thai restaurants that are even remotely in the same league as the restaurant row in LA's thai town, and to be honest both places would be below average if they were transported to LA. sripraphai (in queens), which gets tons of praise on the ny outer borough boards, zagat's, and every other ny-area food publication, is a far cry from what i could get in thai town or at wat thai. same with chao thai, also in queens, which isn't even all that consistent.

          and the rest of the thai food in ny? mediocre to horrendous, despite the fact that we have tons of thai restaurants. the overwhelming majority of thai food in nyc is overly sweet, not really fresh tasting, and americanized beyond belief (and usually not made by thai people, at that). i can only imagine how bad thai food is in most other cities in the country.

          having said that, i've never eaten thai food in chicago and am not disputing your assertion that there are several authentic, good thai restaurants in your area. or in portland or plano, since i've never even been to those cities. all i'm saying is that authentic AND good thai food is almost certainly most concentrated in LA, meaning that the overall quality is much higher than in other cities; that was probably what saucesupreme was trying to get at - that thai cuisine is generally better and more of a big deal in LA than elsewhere.

          to reference another one of saucesupreme's points, i disagree that korean food is hard to find outside of LA, but there's no disputing that the LA area has the best korean food in the country. we have tons of korean restaurants in the ny/nj area (the best being in flushing, queens and northeastern nj), but the overall quality is lower than the typical LA korean restaurant. over the years there have been individual korean joints in ny/nj that have exceeded their counterparts in LA, but those have been few and far between. still, i'd say that korean food isn't as big of a deal in LA as authentic thai or mexican food - at least not to me. mexican food in LA (and san diego) is so much better than what we have in ny (and anywhere else i've tried in the northeast or chicago) that i think it merits special attention. just the diversity of regions and subcuisines represented in greater LA is mindboggling compared with ny, where virtually all the mexicans are from puebla. and don't forget, the mexican population in most northeast cities has only been around for about 15 years, so we have a lot of catching up to do before we can even begin to compare southern california mexican vs. northeastern u.s. mexican.

          one last point on korean: i don't think any of the soondooboo (soft tofu stew) options in LA are all that good. i've tried several bcd branches, so kong dong, and beverly soon tofu, and none of them were particularly good. if i were to recommend something "special", if not unique to LA, and it had to be korean, i'd just pick a good bbq restaurant that also had good fish stews (jjigae, maeoontang, etc). or perhaps a good pocha (eating/drinking place) that serves korean comfort food dishes (many of which aren't available at "standard" korean restaurants) and plenty of soju.

          1. re: surly

            Hi, surly.

            I don't disagree with you at all. Please see my reply in the thread which RFGS recently started as a result of my, ahem, "refutation."


            I certainly meant no harm in my original response to SauceSupreme, and I certainly mean no ill-will towards LA or the LA Chowhound community. I have a seven year history at Chowhound and a simple keyword search should reveal the love that I have for your city, and especially for its Thai food scene. There is no better place to be for Thai food in America; from the restaurants to the raw materials, and to the Thai community and culture itself, LA is second only to the motherland.

            Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a big Ruen Pair post to finish, and it's going to take some time.




            1. re: Erik M

              no worries, and no offense taken, i see what you were trying to say and certainly respect your opinion on thai food. fwiw i went into more detail on the "is LA the center of the thai-am food universe?" post. oh and btw i'm a new yorker, but i do visit LA often and love the ethnic food scene there. hence my occasional presence on these boards.

          2. re: Erik M

            Although SauceSupreme has taken your admonishment, I read his (her?) comments with the intended ear... which is to say that I don't think anyone would call New York or Chicago a "destination city" for Thai food, anymore than LA would be a destination city for Vienna dogs or bagels. (sure, you can find 'em here, but that's really beside the point)

            Really since LA is the biggest port of entry for the pacific rim, it only makes sense that the biggest communities of Asian immigrants are found here. With big communities comes big demand for food. I really enjoy going to restaurants where I can count on being the only non-Asian customer. Seriously, every time I see a Thai restaurant in yuppie-LA serving $12 plates of pad thai, I think about the bustle at wat thai in north hollywood... the monks shuffling about in their saffron robes. The school kids running around in their cute uniforms. The street vendors selling the haw moek plaa, som tum, and kanom krok for dessert ($9). Somehow I just can't picture the same scene happening anywhere else in America but in LA.

            One thing I've noticed about ethnic restaurants in LA versus other US cities (Full disclosure: I'm mostly familiar with New York, Phoenix and St. Louis-- never been to Chicago) is that when you don't have as large an ethnic community, you tend to get the expensive yuppie trappings, high prices and inauthentic food, because a larger percentage of their customers will be Americans who have never been to Thailand, for example, and would demand a more decorated, serene, etc. dining environment with the buddha statues in the corner and the mood lighting and what-not. Puh-leez... I've been in many countries in SE Asia as well as China and Korea and most local people eat at dirty little feeding holes (Korea excluded), as did I, and I got sick not once and rarely had a bad meal... often costing me less than $2. Again... Korea excluded!)

            When these more "authentic looking" places with the best and most authentic food appear in ethnic enclaves in America, they often are exactly the kinds of places most Americans would avoid. In LA, that works, precisely because the Asian communities are large enough to support their own businesses. But in a place like Phoenix..... not so much. I mean, sure, they've got Korean barbecue there, but the meat is grilled over gas and pre-frozen and it kind of sucks, especially when compared to the luscious, succulent, char-grilled meat you can get at Soot Bull Jeep here in Koreatown, which is incidentally a dirty little hole of a place (which does seem to be attracting more and more non-Koreans these days).

            Mr Taster
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          1. re: Professor Salt

            If not Oki Dog, then perhaps Dino's chicken plate, or even Tito's Tacos.

            1. re: E Eto

              Or then again,

              The Original Tommy's Breakfast sandwich -- Sausage, Egg, Chili, Cheese, Tomato, onion, pickle and mayo on a big English Muffin. Add two hands and about Twenty napkins and that’s what morning in L.A., and only L.A., is about.


            2. California Roll.

              No longer "unique" to LA, but definitely representative of this city (although not necessarily in a Chowhound way).

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                yup, exactly what I was gonna say.

                1. re: Burger Boy

                  Outstanding, and a fitting reply from Burger Boy.

                2. Some food historians swear the fortune cookie was invented here, not San Fran.

                  Pink's, although I'm not sure why.

                  In N Out Double Double?

                  Victor Benes' Alligator? (sure you can get others, but VB is the kind people who moved away buy in bulk when they come back to visit.)

                  Wolfgang Puck's pizzas, but not anymore.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Diana

                    Even at his Express restaurants, the Wolfgang pizza is the best representation of California pizza. A lot of places try to do the BBQ chicken, but there's too much sauce or it's too sweet; many attempt the smoked salmon/cream cheese blend but it just isn't the same as Puck's.

                    I agree that In N Out represents California well. As does the big sushi rolls like the Rainbow Roll.

                    Clare K.