Wine-loving folk in Baja, Mexico, speak with pride about the Valle de Guadalupe, a surprisingly lush, wide cut of land just off the coast from Ensenada. One of the more popular tales comes from the age of the Spanish occupation of Mexico itself, when it’s believed that conquering Spaniards took such a shine to the intense grapes being grown in the Valle that they stopped importing bottles from Europe nearly altogether. To save face and keep a sense of national pride about their own wines, the Spanish government had the vineyards destroyed, throwing the Valle out of the wine game altogether for a few hundred years.
Today the grapes are back. Many vines are still young, and growers in the Valle continue to experiment with varieties as they work to develop a local signature, but there’s no denying the sense of exploration and innovation happening a mere 90 minutes south of San Diego. Along with the dozens and dozens of above-board wineries, garagiste-style winemakers proliferate the Valle, turning a small crop of grapes into individual hand-labeled bottles that have intrigued many a wine-lover. And the region has become something of a travel destination in its own right; not just for wine, but food as well.
Korean cuisine is only getting bigger in America, and LA is one of its headquarters. The city’s sprawling Koreatown has everything from braised short rib stews and crackling rice cooked in stone bowls to 4 a.m. platters of fatty barbecue after all-night karaoke, and it all rarely disappoints.
But all those options can get a little dizzying, especially when dozens of restaurants often compete to make the same dish. But there’s always a winner in battles like this, and the difference tends to come down to quality. The trick to navigating Koreatown? Know that no one restaurant does everything well.
Even to locals, the transformation of Downtown Los Angeles is hard to believe. Less than a decade ago, there were really two Downtowns: the high rises and upscale lunch spots of the Financial District and… everything else. Cheap eats ruled the day, taco carts crawled the late night streets, and the occasional ramen joint or yakitori spot could be found among the warehouses and shuttered storefronts. But for the most part Downtown was dead.
These days, revitalization is so rampant that it’s hard to recognize the same boulevards that used to be near-empty ten years ago. Young, urban crowds flock to bars, restaurants, art galleries and entertainment venues nightly, and it’s no longer a surprise to see someone on the streets at all hours of the night. Of course, with the influx of people and money comes competition, and Downtown is quickly becoming one of the most contested core neighborhoods for food and drink in this otherwise decentralized city.
With its funkily-spelled name and occasional high-minded concoction, Sqirl can sometimes feel like the sort of place that gets Los Angeles put on the map for all the wrong reasons. Sure, the busy storefront space tucked away on the edge of Silver Lake is a bit whimsical, but what cramped boulevard eatery in the less tony parts of New York City couldn’t claim the same attributes?
What Sqirl really is, then, is a bit of a laboratory where fresh, local produce and quality ingredients act as the basis for daily experiments from Jessica Koslow and her team.
For nearly a century, downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market has been a place for locals to buy everything from fresh produce and quality meats to takeaway snacks and big bottles of liquor. Untold numbers of stalls have come and gone since then, felled by sinking economies or turned into newer, shinier fronts during prosperous times. Now, after years of slow decline at the once-vaunted downtown open market, things are turning over and looking up once again.
As a longtime northern New Yorker, I’ve often come into contact with the beef on weck. It wasn’t very popular in my neck of the woods up near the Adirondacks, but any field trip or family vacation spent near Buffalo meant lots of roast beef. Thinly shaved meat, often served on kaiser rolls, beef on weck and its related sandwich counterparts were cheap and widely available. And, more importantly, it was way better than the Arby’s on the thruway heading back.
You won’t find the same proliferation of roast beef sandwiches out in Los Angeles, let alone the regionally specific beef on weck. But the recently-opened Top Round Roast Beef on La Brea now proudly serves the beefy specialty ($5.95), along with custard shakes, curly fries drowning in brown gravy, and some seriously kickin’ horseradish sauce.
Is there officially a ‘first family’ in the Los Angeles taco world? There may be, thanks to Chef Ricardo Diaz and his clan.
Diaz’s family is responsible for the Southern California seafood mini-chain El Siete Mares, whose Silver Lake walk-up stand we profiled last year. (If you’re in the mood for fish tacos and want to give them a shot, opt for the fried shrimp tacos dorados.) And if that wasn’t enough, chef Diaz himself helped open Guisados, one of the most celebrated taco spots in the entire city, before splitting with partner Armando de la Torre and leavving the stewed taco empire to him (for now at least). Then, just last month, we talked lovingly about the mole fries and cochinita pibil at Bizarra Capital, Diaz’s slightly upscaled beer bar and Mexican food outpost in Whittier.
Angelenos have barely had time to push away from the table and wipe our mouths before word of another Ricardo Diaz operation spreads like salsa down our shirt. This time, Diaz is back to take on the world of stewed meat tacos with a spacious, open eatery all the way out in La Puente. Known as Colonia Taco Lounge, the dark and roomy restaurant is part Bizarra—lots of puffy booths and a solid beer list—and part Guisados, thanks to hand-patted tortillas, simmered meat taco options, and long, deep flavors.
It can be tough for taquerias to make a go of it in East LA, where the standard for tacos is higher than perhaps anywhere else in America. It’s even harder for late night taco trucks, considering their proliferation in the area, particularly on that stretch of Olympic Boulevard that shoots east of downtown.
So what can a single truck like Tacos El Korita do to stand out in the crowd? Paint their truck bright purple, for one. The brightly lit lonchero is decked out in a very regal looking hue, with even more flash and color on the ordering side of the truck, where glossy pictures of your potential meals are highlighted in saturated colors. But the real eye candy is inside the truck. That’s where you’ll find a pile of raw masa, ready to be hand-slapped into a thick, warm, satisfying corn tortilla—right before your eyes.