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Ride or Dine

‘City of Gold' gives viewers an inside look at what life is like for restaurant critic Jonathan Gold
City of Gold
Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Selects

For almost any food writer (myself included), Jonathan Gold's presence looms large. The eccentric L.A.-based restaurant critic—who is also the only food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize—has spent the last two decades documenting everything edible from fiery Thai dishes to dumpling varieties that are hard to find outside of a specific region of China to the extraordinary taco landscape of the City of Angels. But his writing is about much more than what's on the plate—it's a way into understanding one of America's largest and most complex cities and the people who make their homes there.

That idea is hammered out in a new documentary, City of Gold, which comes out this weekend. The film takes viewers inside Gold's world, much of which is lived in his truck. As he drives down the wide streets of L.A., viewers watch him point out nearly every restaurant, commenting on what's served there and what he thinks of it. (Translated into a drinking game, where one drinks anytime Gold can identify a restaurant on sight, anyone would be drunk quickly.) Filmmaker Laura Gabbert shows Gold struggling to meet deadlines (much to the chagrin of his editors) and consulting his book collection that's so massive it has literally taken over half of the staircase of his home.

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All of which is fascinating. But where the guts of the movie live is in seeing how Gold champions the city and its cooks. His writing has identified and codified what chefs like Roy Choi are doing before even they realize it: The co-owner of Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, Bricia Lopez, explains in the film how Gold's review and support of her restaurant helped her embrace her own culture. The owner of an Ethiopian restaurant shares the story of how a write-up from Gold helped save her restaurant after diners deserted it following September 11.

While driving, Gold says, "You want these guys to succeed." It's a sentiment that is perhaps too rare in restaurant writing. This film is a good reminder to us all.

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