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Quintessential "LA" Food?

So I've been on a food adventure with my pregnant wife, where I'm trying to get every possible type of food into her belly (the hope being that the kid will have a wider palette).

I've compiled a list of countries and food, as well as more localized stuff for the US.

So I've got Pizza, Hotdog, Soul Food and others for the US, but I simply can't think of anything for 'LA'.

I'm totally willing to subscribe to the idea that what we do is the mashup, it actually seems to fit nicely with my ideas on what LA is about, but maybe someone has a different idea?

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    1. re: wienermobile

      Yeah, I was looking at that, but again most of those places are 'italian' 'mexican' etc. What I'm having trouble with is thinking of a stereotypical food, not restaurant.

      I mean, New York can be snooty about Pizza, Chicago their hotdogs. What do we get to be snooty about?

      1. re: lokier01

        "I mean, New York can be snooty about Pizza, Chicago their hotdogs. What do we get to be snooty about?"

        Sushi and Hamburgers...without a doubt. For example, this thread started in 2006 and extends into 2012: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/312209

        1. re: Servorg

          Yeah actually. I think we can pretty much own burgers... thanks!

          1. re: Servorg

            Servorg speaks truth. However, the cheeseburger is a genuine LA invention - Pasadena, actually - and to many of us is THE typical Los Angeles food item. Few other regions have so many ongoing arguments about which burger is the best and how is defined; it is probably the most frequently debated subject on this Board. One major upside to this is that if you want a truly lousy burger you're pretty much stuck with McDonald's!

            If you check out any of the burger threads you'll see how many categories and subcategories are considered: chain, restaurant, bar, bistro, under $10, over $10, gourmet, etcetera. If that's not a sign of its special place in our local food culture, I'll eat my … buns.

          2. re: lokier01

            mexican and mexican-inspired food.
            my favorite being mexican seafood in the style of nayarit and sinaloa.

            1. re: westsidegal

              Agree, and especially the Chicano Mexican is uniquely LA.

        2. Okie Dog, Dodger Dog or Yuca.

            1. re: ozhead

              I think bacon-wrapped hot dogs are a ripoff from the northern NJ style hot dogs, so I don't think of them as quintessentially LA.

              1. re: E Eto

                The bacon dogs here seem to be a Mexican phenomenon. Those I've seen in markets are in a package that says, "Como en la calle!" - "Like in the street!" - which is ironic since regular street hot-dog vendors aren't allowed to sell them. They require special inspection and a permit.

                I'm going to reiterate something here: all the items proposed as especially significant to LA's food culture have been brought here from someplace else, EXCEPT for the Almighty Cheeseburger. The burger itself may have been hatched at Louis Lunch, out in New England, and it's possible that a few souls may have slipped a slice of cheese in there for the hell of it, but it was a long-gone drive-up at the edge of Pasadena on West Colorado that began to make, advertise and sell CHEESEBURGERS. And this one sandwich has become the default choice for walk-in, drive-in and drive-through diners throughout the length and breadth of LA County.

                  1. re: JeMange

                    Dang! You're right! Although I don't see cars lined up at all the French Dip drive-throughs ;-)

                    Seriously, although that is perhaps an item more closely identified with LA than any burger, the cheeseburger's very universality and availability are what makes it so very LA in nature: that's us. That's the Everyman's food. That's Julia Child keeping a list of In-N-Out locations in her purse; that's a local fancyburger joint posting a sign about how some idiot on Chowhound said theirs was "The Best in LA!!"; that's … how many threads on that one item here? Whereas the only real argument about French Dips is who did it first.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      No need to go agro, dude! :)

                      I agree about the passion thing and - as someone who has lived in LA for over a decade - I must sadly admit that I tend to prefer the way burgers are prepared in NYC than in LA. Up until relatively recently, burgers in LA were a fast food (meaning not cooked to order/to an internal temp) thing whereas burgers in NYC are more of a pub/bar food. A big, fist sized, fatty chunk of ground steak cooked the way you like it. Can't say as I'm much of a fan of In-N-Out or the lettuce sandwich that passes for a burger at Apple Pan or Pie and Burger.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Putting it differently. Say I were making a cartoon show where every character was their respective food. Broad strokes here. Italian Guy is a Ravioli, German's wurst. Of course there could be a general American Apple pie guy, but I feel like there are pop sub characters within the US. Would the LA 'surfer dude' be a cheeseburger? I mean, it sort of fits with car culture and drive thru's n' what not.

                      2. re: JeMange

                        I agree with the French Dip. When I moved out to LA as a kid in the 60s it was the only thing in LA that we didn't have in Chicago (home of the Italian beef sandwich). The only Mexican food I remember from back then was taco stand food not much different from today's Taco Bell.

                1. Taco trucks. Maybe the entire taco truck experience was born here in L.A.

                  Sure, we've got great dogs and burgers, Italian, hot exciting restaurants with celebrites dining, but other cities do too.

                  But pull over to a taco truck on a busy street after a Saturday night on the town and get a perfect tortilla stuffed with carnitas or lengua, walk over to the formica table lit by a bare bulb running off of a car battery, where you can add some onions, cilantro and home made salsa, take a bite and say, "I'm in LA."

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: EarlyBird

                    Would you say the experience is more LA than Mexican?

                    Plus its hard to convey to an unborn child the awesomeness that is this great night time experience. It's gotta be the taste.

                    1. re: lokier01

                      Yes. Tacos are quintessential LA.

                      1. re: lokier01

                        Surely the taco and taco stand is more Mexican than LA, but I would say the mobile taco truck is pure Los Angeles. Whenever I have friends visiting from out of town, I make sure we stop at a taco truck at night to experience a real LA thing.

                      2. re: EarlyBird

                        This is exactly what I was going to suggest as well. Some places aren't even a truck, just a table and grill set up on a sidewalk.

                      3. No place outside of Japan takes sushi as seriously as Los Angeles.

                        26 Replies
                        1. re: JeMange

                          yeah but if I were putting Sushi on an 'international food list' it would definitely go under Japan. The trouble I'm having, is what goes under the LA column.

                          1. re: lokier01

                            While sushi started in Japan, the fact that we find a "California Roll" everywhere these days speaks volumes about the effect that Los Angeles has had on sushi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Californ... (whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing, the impact can't be denied).

                            Of course there is also "California Pizza" and it got its start here too (with a similar version up in SF about the same time) courtesy of Ed LaDou: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Californ...

                            1. re: Servorg

                              So this means the California roll is a 'Quintessential "LA" Food'?

                              1. re: J.L.

                                More the whole crazy sushi roll genre...

                          2. re: JeMange

                            "No place outside of Japan takes sushi as seriously as Los Angeles."

                            Except maybe most definitely NYC. Especially on the high end and after we correct for the hot rice ponzu sauced stuff a la Nozawa/Sasabune.

                            1. re: Porthos

                              "correct for the hot rice ponzu sauced stuff a la Nozawa/Sasabune"

                              Not going to happen, already regarded as quintessential L.A. Sushi. Must've been a conspiracy by the ponzu makers to boost sales.....

                              1. re: AyrtonS

                                Shocking to think that sushi chefs and those that enjoy raw fish would think that a citrus taste works well with it. ;-D>

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  Citrus yes. Ocean of ponzu soaking into the hot rice. Not really. Might as well omit the fish at that point since you can't even taste it.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    "Might as well omit the fish at that point since you can't even taste it."

                                    Don't give them any ideas! But isn't that the intention, to cover up tasteless inferior fish or fish that are past their prime?

                                    1. re: AyrtonS


                                      Guess we see eye to eye on sushi :)

                                      1. re: Porthos

                                        Cheers.... With an uni shooter (uni swimming in ponzu of course)!

                                        1. re: AyrtonS

                                          Nao obrigado!

                                          Just some junmai daiginjo from Niigata for me ;)

                                          1. re: Porthos

                                            "Just some junmai daiginjo from Niigata for me ;)"

                                            Hey, make sure to have them warm it up for ya! Who drinks their premium sake cold?!

                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                "I do!"

                                                You savage! First you don't like hot rice with your fish, now you don't want your sake steaming hot?! What's next, asking for powdered wasabi when the chef offers you the fresh one?

                                              2. re: AyrtonS

                                                Just about all the connoisseurs of nihonshu (aka sake) say premium sake should be served cold. That is the best way to judge its complexity.

                                                1. re: E Eto

                                                  It's really nothing short of ironic and kind of amusing. I now like my sake cold and my sushi rice warm... ;-D>

                                                  1. re: E Eto

                                                    I didn't realize it until AyrtonS' last post, but I'm pretty sure AyrtonS was kidding around regarding hot sake...keeping in line with the hot rice and overly ponzu-ed sushi theme of how UN-traditional some places in LA have become while claiming to be "serious" about sushi.

                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                      "I didn't realize it until AyrtonS' last post, but I'm pretty sure AyrtonS was kidding around regarding hot sake...keeping in line with the hot rice and overly ponzu-ed sushi theme of how UN-traditional some places in LA have become while claiming to be "serious" about sushi."

                                                      Wow, we agree on our fish planks and you get my humor too!

                                                      Once a customer sitting next to me at the sushi bar wanted the chef/owner to recommend the best sake he had to offer and the chef proudly presented him with a bottle only available in Japan (near his hometown no less... seems like they always say that?) and was just brought back from Japan by his sister, but it would be $250. The customer said sure and asked the waitress to warm it up for him as he always drinks his sake warm! You know what kind of sushi he got for the rest of the night!

                                          2. re: Porthos

                                            Is that what you call "high per bo lee?" (the "oceans" of ponzu remark). Because I find that to be nearly totally untrue. And I like warm rice. I haven't found any "hot" rice yet.

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              Haven't found any hot rice sushi in LA?! Servorg, surely you jest. Always so punny.

                                              If you're serious, then get thee to Sasabune. They'll kindly add "puddles" of ponzu to your sushi.

                                              Bon appetite!

                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                I'll admit I haven't been to Sasabune since they moved from their old Sawtelle adjacent location on Nebraska.

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  Neither have I.

                                                  Don't go. I wouldn't wish that on my enemy :)

                                          3. re: Servorg

                                            Especially ponzu on tuna! Don't get me started on the mango combo.......

                                      2. re: JeMange

                                        I disagree.

                                        I am more consistently inclined to eat sushi in places like Seattle where fresh fish is bountiful and quality of that fish is not questionable.
                                        Several times in LA I've wondered about the quality.

                                      3. There is no quintessential L.A. food. L.A. is where everybody comes from somewhere else. What is quintessential about L.A. is the amazing variety of food from all corners of the globe, and the endless innovation in creating new variations on the original substrate.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: MarkC

                                          Right. This is sort of my thought. That's always been the difficulty in defining LA, in that it's major characteristic is it has no major characteristic.
                                          Still, It bugs me that we don't have an icon like Hawaii, Chicago or Louisiana.

                                          1. re: lokier01

                                            LA food icons: (can an inanimate object be an "icon?")

                                            -California roll or any other wacky sushi roll
                                            -Chili Cheeseburger like those served at Tommy's
                                            -The Apple Pan Style burger, which my dad (who grew up in New Jersey) still refers to as a "California Cheese Burger" even though he's lived in LA for over five years
                                            -The French Dip - invented in LA.
                                            -The serving of Pastrami as a fast food item (The Hat et. al.) and the act of slapping it on burgers and dogs.

                                            I'm sure we could come up with at least a few more.

                                            1. re: JeMange

                                              You know what the midwest calls a California Burger? A burger with tomatoes and lettuce (sometimes pickles)! Their "Hamburger" - just a patty and bun. The first time I saw it on the menu, I could not stop laughing!

                                              1. re: WildSwede

                                                I don't know if it's still the case but even back when I was a kid (I'm 40) in New Jersey, diners would have a "California Burger" or "California Cheeseburger" on the menu, which meant it was served with iceberg lettuce and tomato with a little plastic tub of mayo on the side.

                                                Our favorite hotdog joint, "Hiram's" in Fort Lee, which was featured on one of the early No Reservations episodes, was known for their hotdogs but had a minimalist burger that was just meat (and cheese if you opted for it), slapped on a toasted bun. Somehow, the damn thing managed to be delicious - they sourced good meat and had a flat top that had been perfectly seasoned since the Truman administration.

                                                1. re: JeMange

                                                  Diner and coffee shop menus in Southern California, at least, have for years included a "California Burger," where the distinguishing ingredient is avocado, making it an apt moniker.

                                              2. re: JeMange

                                                Bob's Big Boy invented the "double burger".

                                                Abalone used to be a quintessential LA food until it was over fished.

                                                The pizza reinvented as it was by Ed LaDou and then popularized by Spago and commercialized by CPK.

                                                1. re: scottca075

                                                  Abalone did suffer from overfishing but what pushed them over the edge was a disease that decimated the populations in the late 80s. They also can't breed unless they're in dense groups, making the effects of the disease even more pronounced since it thinned out the population to the point that they couldn't breed effectively anymore.

                                                  Anyway, to the OP, the quintessential LA food IMO is a styrofoam take out box with some kind of mind-blowing ethnic food you never heard of before you moved here....

                                            2. re: MarkC

                                              That is the joy of Los Angeles eating. We are the true melting pot of the world. All other cities should be jealous of the diversity of our food. Dim Sum or Cuban pastries for breakfast, Langer's pastrami or a double double for lunch, Korean BBQ or Ramen for dinner and street tacos or gourmet sausages for a late night snack. Now aren't you glad you live here and pass the kimchi.

                                              1. re: wienermobile

                                                My dad was a born and bred New Yorker. He ended up, mid twenties, having to leave New York and then settling down in the Midwest for the rest of his life. He was incredible at finding amazing food anywhere. A fabulous cook as well.

                                                But I moved out here, got married, got a house - and he and my mom came to visit. I took them to Portos. Chinatown. Alhambra. Pasadena. Pico Robertson. And he looked at me and said "You're never coming back are you?"

                                                He knew how much fun LA was and is, foodwise, And he knew how lucky we were and are.

                                            3. Roy Choi's MexiKorean fare at Kogi Truck?

                                              1. Any assertion that LA doesn't have iconic, homegrown food is, IMHO, absurd. If anything, it has a surfeit of them, as listed here. There's nothing wrong with it being Mexican; California was Mexico before it was America. Taquitos were invented on Olvera Street. Tortilla chips first produced here, too. But yeah; I'd go with the burger. Tommy's, Bob's, In 'n' Out, Apple Pan, even McDonald's... Ours.

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: jesstifer

                                                  Too bad Mago's on Centinela is gone. Between their zillions of menu items that melded together everything from burgers to chicken katsu to wieners to saimin to charsiu to chili to tortillas, I think they were a major factor in upping the avocado factor in SoCal. Avocado was an option in just about everything in their menu. Mago's created an irresistable gravity that pulled disparate ingredients from various cultures into one kitchen. And that was the beginning of truly eclectic food that is so emblematic of food in LA.

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                    "...to chili to tortillas..."

                                                    Well, now you're talking the quintessential, gut busting Oki Dog: http://www.oki-dog.com/ (which inherited the mantle from Mago's)

                                                    1. re: Servorg

                                                      That's what I said, a million sushi comments ago.

                                                      1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                                        Sorry, totally missed it and I only had it jump up and bite me after Bula wrote about the chili and tortillas and it flashed into my mind...

                                                        1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                                          "a million sushi comments ago"

                                                          Blame JeMange, he started it....

                                                            1. re: JeMange

                                                              "This is my fault, now?"

                                                              Sorry, JeMange, just a little humor giving you credit for being the first to bring sushi in this discussion.

                                                  2. My neighborhood where any given hour you can pick from one of 10 taco trucks feeding the gardeners/workers/contractors.
                                                    I can't think of one other city where this happens.

                                                    9 Replies
                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                      Believe it or not, it happens in New Orleans, now. ALL the time. The city tried to pass an ordinance to stop it but it didn't do any good. Apparently, New Orleanians like tacos too.

                                                      1. re: latindancer

                                                        So, are tacos quintessential LA food or is the method of delivery more quintessential?

                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                          This is an interesting turn. Though I'd never call the taco "quintessential LA", the taco truck emphatically is; yes, its popularity has spread, but it's enough of an LA symbol that the artist John Baeder (see his book, "Diners") did a series of taco truck paintings and had a show of them at a gallery on Wilshire ten or so years ago. When he'd exhibited a food-truck painting in Nashville, he'd hired the vendor to serve his fried chicken and fried potatoes from his truck in front of the gallery. We were hoping he'd have the same deal here, but he told us - very grumpily - that the cheapest truck he could find wanted $1500 for three hours. What he didn't understand was that not only would the truck guy be losing about that much in sales, but he'd be losing the goodwill of regulars who'd be expecting him to be in his usual spot.

                                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                                            This IS interesting. I think the original poster was interested in food unique to LA rather than the delivery system. I mean a taco off a truck is no different than a taco off a cart or through a window, is it? I was looking at the recipe for the Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake and that IS quintessential LA. Good luck finding it but still . . . anyone think of stuff like that which is still around? (Chasen's chili also springs to mind with the same issues, though.) What about a Cobb Salad? (Like you can't get one everywhere, still it originated here.)

                                                            Of course, if you're talking "original" pizza originated in Italy, hotdogs in Europe and Soul Food in Africa and the Caribbean. It's ALL derivative so then what?

                                                            Really, most everything we have, started somewhere else and was carried here. So, with all else failing, I fall back upon the Oki Dog. Sad, huh?

                                                            1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                                              "Really, most everything we have, started somewhere else and was carried here."

                                                              Orange Julius is an LA original.

                                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                                From a 2005 Chowhound post:
                                                                The hamburger (as served in a modern bun)
                                                                The cheese burger
                                                                The chili burger
                                                                The corn dog
                                                                The chili dog
                                                                The fortune cookie
                                                                The sundae
                                                                The "california" pizza
                                                                The "california" bagel (chocolate or fruit flavored)
                                                                The "california" pancake (chocolate or fruit flavored)
                                                                The California Roll
                                                                The donut hole
                                                                The Shirley Temple
                                                                The Roy Rogers
                                                                The Crispy Taco
                                                                The Taquito
                                                                The french dip sandwich
                                                                The drive through, and modern fast food in general
                                                                The Smoothie
                                                                The milk shake
                                                                The Monte Cristo Sandwich
                                                                The Cobb Salad
                                                                Baskin Robins
                                                                Carl's Jr
                                                                Taco Bell
                                                                International House of Pancakes
                                                                All "Googie-style" diners
                                                                The mega-buffet (eventually spawned Hometown Buffet)
                                                                The super-market

                                                                1. re: wienermobile

                                                                  Great list! Totally forgot about the Monte Cristo and Cobb Salad.

                                                                  Sizzler, Denny's and Hometown Buffet aren't exactly things to crow about, however.

                                                                  1. re: wienermobile

                                                                    Wrong about the supermarket, if you're following the description of that as a self-service grocery store. Piggly Wiggly (1916) was the first of those, and the first PW was in Memphis. A&P I believe was the next chain to follow that model. The first true modern supermarket, with separate organized departments, was King Cullen in Queens, NY (1930).

                                                            2. re: bulavinaka

                                                              I'm thinking the method of delivery. The taco truck has become a tremendous success from its inception. Even though it may expand to other cities it has managed to become a Los Angeles icon....it reflects everything LA.

                                                          2. I thought the California Burger was putting avocado on the cheeseburger.

                                                            Also, the whole food truck craze (non taco truck) started in LA, I think with fusion food being the iconic feature.

                                                            1. If we're going street food (like Chicago dogs or NY Pizza (or Chicago Pizza and NY hot dogs)) then I think we're definitely talking cheeseburgers. LA is a burger town. However, I've long said that the quintessential LA meal is a Chinese Chicken Salad and an Arnold Palmer. Analogous to Cioppino and Chardonnay in San Francisco.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Savour

                                                                That said, I craved Spicy spicy Indian and Thai food when I was pregnant with my daughter, and now she's five and thinks raisins are too spicy to eat. Go figure.

                                                              2. As much as I love bugers, tacos, and chili dogs, I think of the quintessal LA food as our SALADS. Our main-dish salads.

                                                                10 Replies
                                                                1. re: laliz

                                                                  yeah, everybody wants to come to LA and eat our salad.


                                                                    1. re: ns1

                                                                      you mean toss our salad, don't you?

                                                                      1. re: linus

                                                                        No, I meant what I typed. ;)

                                                                      2. re: ns1

                                                                        Mrs. Wu invented the Chinese Chicken Salad.

                                                                        But maybe that was Santa Monica.

                                                                        1. re: mar52

                                                                          So it's going to be "Come to California! Try our Chinese Chicken Salad?" We need something a little more thrilling. Maybe something flammable?

                                                                          1. re: mar52

                                                                            According to the wacky wiki Madam Wu, while popularizing the CCS, didn't invent it (again, according to wikiped's): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_...

                                                                        2. re: laliz

                                                                          I think actually it's a symptom of a lot of Angelenos (and Calfornians) where after being away from one's home town for a while, having a fresh salad is something that is missed. Depending on where one is away at, salads can be absent or dismal for a lot of reasons.

                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                            Late to the party as usual. Sometimes the brain doesn't respond all that quickly. The one thing (I think) that started or was "invented" in California are the caesar salad. I later thought of the donutman's strawberry or peach donut. Before I get smacked down by the mods, I've had donuts by a place in Quebec City (just outside the wall) that were of even much better quality with fresh whipped cream inside. Maybe donutman does this; don't know.

                                                                            1. re: Feed_me

                                                                              Caesar Salad was invented in Tijuana - a claim backed up by Julia Child. The act of tossing grilled chicken on it, I would bet, is a SoCal thing.

                                                                        3. Blue crab hand roll.


                                                                            1. re: J.L.

                                                                              I was so surpised when I read that obit yesterday. I assumed that mochi was an age old Japanese dish from the homeland...not the Southland!