Welcome to L.A. Week 2016. To celebrate the rich culinary life of Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week that explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its classic tacos, to its offbeat icons. Follow along on Twitter @firstwefeast.
There’s no single dish in L.A. you point to and say, “That! That’s our beautiful sprawling urban wasteland on a plate or in a bowl or whatever!” And it’s not because the city is short on iconic dishes—In-N-Out’s Double-Double, Jitlada’s Green Curry, Cole’s French Dip (or Philippe’s, depending on what side you’re on) all qualify. But none of those can cover the sheer culinary breadth that exists here. We have some of the best sushi in the U.S.; our Korean food is unrivaled; and the Mexican spots offer so many regional variants that the term Mexican food isn’t specific enough to mean anything. Bro, you going out for Oaxacan or Jaliscan tonight?
Dishes like Kogi’s short-rib taco, the emblem of Roy Choi’s Korean-Latin-street-grub fusion, come closer to putting L.A.’s collective food consciousness into one tortilla, but even then, it neglects every passing trend and historical institution that formed—and is continuing to form—L.A.’s identity. When New York lost its mind about “power bowls” three years after Angelenos started eating them for breakfast at Sqirl, natives understood that their city has an infinite amount of untapped cultural influence. We put avocado on hot bread and the world flipped its shit.
Rather than accepting that it’s only natural for a city as nuanced as L.A. to not have an ultimate edible mascot, we decided to cram seven dishes that represent the city’s core tenets into a series of tortillas—and then drown it in even more Angeleno accoutrements. You won’t find food trucks slinging this on Wilshire, nor is this going to spark any sort of culinary craze; consider it a depraved experiment in urban food anthropology.
So what have we here? A gargantuan burrito stuffed with mole Poblano, papaya salad, Sichuan cumin lamb, and kimchi fried rice, sliced like a maki roll, then topped with ahi poke, gochujang In-N-Out spread, avocado, chicharrones, masago, jalapeño, and scallions (for color). It is the most L.A. dish of all time, and here’s the breakdown of its multicultural parts.
Your cheese enchilada combo plate and unseasoned rice and beans won’t cut it here. L.A. does Mexican food so well and so comprehensively, that you have to start breaking it down by region. This Puebla-style mole is a combination of onion, tomato, chocolate, raisins, peanuts, and four kinds of chiles.
L.A. has the largest Thai population of any city outside of Southeast Asia, mostly congregating in Thai Town just east of Hollywood. Shredded green papaya, dressed with fish sauce and spiked with bird’s-eye chiles and dried shrimp, gives you the spicy punch that your burrito monstrosity wants and needs.
Sichuan Cumin Lamb
You have to look outside of Chinatown to get to the real heart of L.A.’s Chinese food scene. No restaurant embodies our collective bloodlust for mouth-numbing Sichuan food like Chengdu Taste in the San Gabriel Valley, about 10 miles northeast of downtown. The Toothpick Lamb—fragrant, funky, and dusted in freshly toasted and ground cumin and Sichuan peppercorns—is a worthy signature dish, and doubles as a damn good burrito filling.
Kimchi Fried Rice
No single chef has influenced the way L.A. puts things in their mouths like Roy Choi, a.k.a. Papi Chulo, a.k.a. the visionary who combined Korean and Mexican flavors to form the Kogi Empire. But at his decidedly non-fusion restaurant, POT, it’s Korean classics like kimchi fried rice (kimchi bokkeumbap) that take center stage, proving Korean food and $13 craft cocktails are a worthy combo. The same dish has since popped up at L.A. powerhouses République and Hanjp—and also in this tortilla-wrapped atrocity.
Throw a rock anywhere in L.A.—head to the Westside if you want to up your chances—and you’ll hit a poke restaurant that didn’t exist six months ago. The formula is simple: Put all the things people love about sushi in a bowl, drown it in sesame oil and seaweed salad, and top it with customizable garnishes, making customers feel like they’re part of the process. It’s the Chipotle-izaton of sushi and a total appropriation of native Hawaiian cuisine—but it’s pretty tasty.
You’ve heard of avocado toast, yeah? Take that same idea, except sub out the bread for a healthy base of burrito-sushi-roll-poke orgy. You won’t exactly find this on the menu at Sqirl, but we’re hoping chef Jessica Koslow sees the value in it as a weekly special.
Gochujang In-N-Out Spread
You can’t talk about L.A. without talking about In-N-Out; and you can’t talk about In-N-Out without talking about its pink-ish burger topper known simply as spread (but let’s be real—it’s just Thousand Island). This version gets punched up with gochujang, a fermented Korean chili paste that is the condiment of choice in K-town.