Trendiness has long gotten in the way of Los Angeles's food scene, with shtick taking center stage while the actual food played only a walk-on role. (Think Tiki lounges, or diners where all the servers would sing and dance on the bar, and three-story submarines.) But all that's changed over the past decade or so, led by a handful of restaurants who managed to rise above the act and deliver on one thing first and foremost: food.
Now, Los Angeles is home to things like food trucks serving 4-star meals right on the streets. Chefs and farmers are finding new followers on Twitter as they tweet about the restaurant business. Savvy diners are taking advantage of recession-busting deals and enjoying upscale food at downscale prices.
That's not to say Los Angeles's restaurants don't follow trends anymore, it's just that great food, it seems, is finally the main goal.
Nothing epitomizes the focus on food more than the food truck phenomenon in Los Angeles. Eschewing fancy stand-alone restaurants for not-so-ritzy catering trucks, it's hard to walk out the door these days without hearing about a food truck. From the near-legendary El Chato taco truck parked on La Brea near Olympic to the La Isla Bonita taco truck on Rose and 4th in Venice, Mexican food--carne asada, carnitas, mariscos, horchata--has long dominated the scene. But then came Let's Be Frank, whose grass-fed all-beef hot dogs won the hearts and taste buds of conscientious foodies.
And then there was Kogi, a Korean barbecue take on the taco. People flocked to the Kogi truck via Twitter, waiting for it to arrive at the tweeted destination, standing in line for hours just to munch on their unique fusion tacos like tortillas stuffed with kimchi and short ribs or spicy pork. From Kogi came the Dosa truck, serving up Southeast Indian crepes with rice, lentils and homemade chutney, and the Nom Nom truck, slinging Banh Mi. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's Border Grill have gotten into the action, and there's even a dessert truck--Coolhaus--serving up ice cream sandwiches named after architects that put Carvel Flying Saucers to shame.
Tweeting Chefs and Farmers
Finding all of these food trucks can be hard, especially since the City of Los Angeles periodically decides to crack down on them. Enter Twitter.
The short-form social networking site has fed the explosion of mobile food vendors. But Kogi and Coolhaus aren't the only ones on the scene tweeting. In L.A. it seems like everyone tweets, from your favorite farmer, chef, reviewer or restaurant. Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms (@WeiserFarms) tweets about events, what he's harvesting, and who's digging on his potatoes, padron peppers and melons. Chefs like Quinn and Karen Hatfield of Hatfield's (@twohatfields) and Ludo Lefebvre, formerly of L'Orangerie and Bastide and now king of the pop-up restaurant Ludo Bites (@chefludo) tweet about cooking, working the line, and the trials and tribulations of running a restaurant. (Check out ChefsWhoTweet for the chefs twittering in your area.) Fans of the inimitable Pulitzer-prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold (@thejgold) can follow his literary messages, which might help you find somewhere to eat, but would also make for great Dada-style poetry.
And restaurants like fresh-fare Tender Greens (@tendergreens) and the new gastropub Henry's Hat (@henryhatla) use twitter to alert customers of new menu items and specials, sometimes even offering up a deal for Twitter users.
Establishments like Lucques (Sunday Supper, three courses, $55) and Campanile (Monday Night Dinner, three courses family-style, $45) have been at the forefront of offering affordable "prix fixe" menus for years. And while those restaurants don't need social networking to get the word out, these days you may not hear about a restaurant's special menu on their website, but rather via their Twitter feed or Facebook page.
In this era of cinched wallets, Los Angeles's restaurants are really stepping it up and offering great values--especially if you're not dead-set on eating at, say, 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night. At Pizzeria Mozza, diners at the bar between 2 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday can enjoy an antipasto and a pizza for $19, and Monday through Wednesday from 9:30 p.m. to midnight they can enjoy a three-course prix fixe plus a glass of wine for $30. At the Osteria's Amaro Bar, Sunday through Thursday, guests can indulge in a 3-course prix fixe with a glass of wine for just $35. STK offers Wine Down Sundays, when a selection of wines by the bottle and the wines by the glass are all half off. Octavio Beccera's Palate Food and Wine in Glendale offers a 3-course Sunday Supper for only $35.