Discover why L.A.’s dining scene is blazing hot. Come out west with us for L.A. Week at Tasting Table.
The flight from JFK to LAX shouldn’t feel terribly long—objectively I know it’s only five hours—but, perhaps because the flight attendants only half act like they can tolerate your presence or because the movie selection on this flight is a dud, it feels long. By the time I get to L.A., I have bad plane hair and a slightly cranky attitude to match—but I know relief isn’t far away, and such begins my City of Angels dining adventure.
Monday: Despite the 80-degree weather, all I want is soup. With a list of Koreatown recommendations in hand from the chefs and owners of Baroo (which was closed that night), I head to Sun Nong Dan in the corner of a strip mall, where some of the best food in the city can be found.
I add my name to a long list for a table and pass the time by chatting with other diners. The restaurant is known for its milky-white bone broths and kalbijjim, or braised short ribs, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Instead, I dive chopsticks-first into a hot of bowl of brisket soup with cellophane noodles, adding kimchi from my banchan selection to spice the broth. A side of fiery mustard sauce appears for dipping the giant slices of brisket into. Perhaps it’s the mustard, or the steaming beef broth, or the friendly service, but by the time I leave, my attitude is kicked to the curb, and I’m more excited about dining around a city than I have been in ages.
Tuesday: I head to Baroo, a quirky restaurant that defies categorization. It’s essentially a fermentation laboratory that doubles as a sometimes-open restaurant. When it is, it serves extraordinary dishes with ingredients you never thought would go together. Pesto in pineapple kimchi fried rice? Raspberries with seaweed and farro? This shouldn’t work, but it really does.
Later in the day, I make a quick stop at Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach for a chat with the team and a bowl of panzanella with pesto and stracciatella that tastes like California and Italy all tossed together. The night gives way to drinks and a classic burger at Everson Royce Bar.
Wednesday: I’m at Lodge Bread, a bakery and café in Culver City. I order dill-topped shakshuka and dip into it with the house’s bread, with its chewy and crisp crust and a center that’s sour and springy. It is—without question—some of the best bread I have ever eaten.
I want something sweet, so I head to the pastry mecca of Gjusta in Venice Beach. The baklava croissant’s layers are light and flaky, and its core a chewy mix of dates and pistachios. It makes me say a silent prayer that the team will bring this pastry with them when they open in New York City.
As the sun starts to set, I arrive at a slightly edgy part of Sunset Boulevard for friends and family at Curtis Stone’s new restaurant and butcher shop, Gwen. Once inside, the old Hollywood glam takes over, and I forget where I am for a minute, nibbling on smoked and pulled lamb, orecchiette in a zippy tomato sauce and a refreshing melon sorbet that I wish I could stock in my freezer.
When the meal is over, a photographer friend tells me it would be a culinary crime to be in the area and not stop by Luv2Eat, a small Thai restaurant that from the outside looks like absolutely nothing special, which is perhaps why I’m enamored with it instantly. Inside, I’m not the only solo diner at 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. I order rice that’s been cooked with fermented shrimp paste and surrounded by rich braised pork, apple slices, chopped omelet and raw onion. I finish it with chile pastes that are left on the table as they would be in Thailand.
Thursday: Bright and early, I head to Jessica Koslow’s iconic Sqirl in Silver Lake. A visit here feels mandatory for any self-respecting food writer, and yet, I’m embarrassed to tell her that it’s my first time. So I stick with the classics, ordering the sorrel rice bowl, which knocks me into gear with its preserved Meyer lemon and hot sauce. It’s bracing but in a good way. Koslow insists that I try the malva pudding, a bread pudding style from South Africa. A sunny glass of turmeric tonic balances out the meal.
Later, I walk over to Pine & Crane, a buzzy Taiwanese restaurant for lunch with the chef of the Persian-inspired whole-animal pop-up Logmeh. We order wonton soup with springy white noodles, spicy cucumbers, sautéed bamboo, shredded bean curd salad, three-cup chicken, and sweet sticky rice with sausage, calamari, dried shrimp and tomato soy sauce. We wish there were a side table for all of the plates, but everything manages to fit, just barely.
After an afternoon of drinking my way around the Arts District’s crop of new breweries, the tacos at an outpost of legendary Guisados beckon. I watch as the tortillas are made and grilled, and order a single taco of pork, cooked down in spicy and piquant tomatillo sauce. I take it on the road, heading to drag queen bingo at the Grand Central Market. As we photograph, we munch on classic Cantonese American food at China Cafe and a bowl of hummus at Madcapra. I can not fathom eating another thing.
Early the next morning, I board a plane back to JFK. I land hours later—craving soup.