Yo. Welcome to Super Bowl! I mean, Los Angeles!
I’ll be your guide. A lifelong L.A. resident who cried the day the Raiders left Los Angeles to go back to Oakland. And now they’re in Las Vegas?
To be honest, I didn’t even know the Super Bowl was happening in L.A. until a few weeks ago. And almost forgot what it meant until the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams played in the NFC title game and turned my parents’ living room into a vibrant, passionate but divided Galindo can’t-miss watch party.
And yet, I didn’t watch.
There’s just too much going on in the world right now for me to pay attention to the NFL.
I think about all the people in my city who don’t have the opportunity to stay home … And I say instead: Come, spend your money.
Which is wild to me because I used to try and watch every single football game. No shade to people who still do. I get it. I played high school ball, not well or anything but I played.
It’s just that damn it, I’m tired.
We’re going into the third year of this thing and I can’t think about the fact that thousands of people are going to flock to L.A. to watch a game without thinking about Barbara Ferrer standing at a podium pointing at charts and telling people to stay home.
I’m not going to tell you to stay home. I want to. So bad. But then I think about all the people in my city who don’t have the opportunity to stay home. Namely the people who harvest our produce, the people who make and serve our food, people who work in industries that benefit from tourism. So I let that urge go. And I say instead: Come, spend your money.
Because the other sad truth is that too many of my favorite places — places where I would have loved to have taken you — have shut down because of the pandemic.
Alex Hilhorst, left, with Julia Batavia and Alison Govelitz sit down for dinner at Greenblatt’s in Hollywood.
(Benjamin Brayfield/ KPCC)
The Cinerama Dome in April 2021.
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Damn. Like I wish we could stand on the top floor of the ArcLight Hollywood and look at the giant marquee that reminded me that I live in the city that makes stories come to life. Or that we could sit in the Cinerama Dome and stare up at the beehive-like ceiling. Would that I could take you to get my favorite matzo ball soup at Greenblatt’s, or a late night steak at the Pacific Dining Car, or roast gui from Dong Il Jang, or catch a live ’80s show at the Hully Gully … the list is long. Too long.
Now, if you want to just chill near SoFi, I recommend you check out this stellar list by Gab Chabran who is one of my favorite food and culture writers in Los Angeles right now.
Thankfully for you, just visiting, and us, just trying to live here, there are still a lot of beautiful places to visit in Los Angeles.
Here are just 18 of my favorites from all over this sprawling metropolis:
This is perhaps the greatest corner store in the history of corner stores. And a lot has been said about Sara and Steven, the power couple who run this tiendita. And it’s all well deserved. They are kind, warm, funny and easy to talk to. They are also low key geniuses who have made their liquor store that borders the East L.A. /City Terrace line into an epicenter of L.A. street food pop-ups. But for real, I go there because Sara’s is my tortilla plug. And if you come to LA and don’t immediately go find some tortillas, you’re doing wrong. We even have a tournament to decide what the best ones are. But at Sara’s Market, you don’t really have to choose. They have Kernel of Truth’s blue corn tortillas, Burrito La Palma’s big beautiful flour discs and they just started carrying Caramello, the legendary flour tortillas imported from Kansas.
Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet
Maybe you don’t have swap meets where you’re from. But L.A. swap meets (or swamees if you’re saying it like my moms) are legendary. They are mostly large open-air flea markets and the birthplaces of musical icons like NWA and Chalino Sanchez. Because these flea markets also double as county fairs. Yes there are bargains but there are also delicious food and drinks and vibes. Even as COVID has taken some of my favorites down a peg, the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet continues to thrive. About a month ago they had the popular Beatles cover band Hard Day’s Night play in full Fab Four costumes.
The Paramount Swap Meet is also dope, has deals and features live music (mostly banda), but my favorite thing about it is that at night it turns into a good-old fashioned drive-in movie theater. Sometimes they show the hits. Sometimes they have old movies. But they always have the classic L.A. car culture experience of watching a movie while eating In-N-Out or your favorite tacos.
Tacos Estilo Guadalajara
These are my favorite tacos in Los Angeles. I could say a lot about them but instead I’m going to cede the floor to Lynwood’s own taco bard (and new San Francisco Chronicle food critic) Cesar Hernandez who once wrote: “Underneath the [Tacos Estilo Guadalajara] sign is two church steeples, a nod to the neo-gothic churches found in Guadalajara, perhaps a warning of sorts to the religious experience of eating their tacos.”
- Huntington Park | 2850 Slauson Ave. (but everywhere really) | tamsburgers.net
You could argue there are a lot of better burgers than my favorite, the double bacon cheeseburger from Tam’s Burgers, but no one can ever convince me that Tam’s doesn’t have the best chili cheese fries. I especially like the ones at the HP Tam’s because that’s the one I grew up eating at the most. And while you’re in HP, you can take a drive down Pacific Boulevard, a once epic Mexican and Central American epicenter that has seen some tough times because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the gentrification one. Catch it while you still can with greasy-ass chili fries to soothe your soul.
Huntington Botanical Gardens
Go for the lush scenic nature IG selfies, stay for the incredible Chinese food in the spectacular Chinese Garden. This sprawling estate is beautiful in so many ways. I don’t know how many times you’d have to visit it to get it all. I recently saw Kehinde Wiley’s masterful modern take on Thomas Gainsborough Blue Boy in the mansion that’s now a museum there and I can’t stop thinking about the eats and tea and the damn Jade Court Cafe. So many masterpieces.
Ichijiku Sushi Bar
Ichijiku is a hole in the wall in Highland Park’s famed Figueroa food throughway nestled in among a Michelin Star winner, a pupuseria, an iconic bowling alley and a lauded TexMex taco shop. And Ichijiku still stands out among these beauties for its fresh and elegant but affordable sushi. I love the eel nigiri, baked crab hand roll and sashimi bento box. And they have a lovely outdoor patio in the back.
La Chancla Mexican Grill
La Chancla is another hole in the wall in a strip mall deep in the heart of Long Beach. Which seems appropriate for a Super Bowl guide for a football game with one of the main attractions being LA’s favorite tio, Snoop Dogg. La Chancla does not serve gin and juice (that I am aware) but it does have some incredible guisos to fill their tacos, platos, burritos, etc. But what really sells it for me is that they have great beans. Oftentimes, when you get frijoles at a restaurant even in the most Mexican L.A. hoods, they use beans from a can. Or beans that feel like they came out of a can. But La Chancla’s taste like they were made from scratch and it makes a difference.
Teddy’s Red Tacos
I met Teddy Vasquez on the train tracks in South Central in 2017 where he had a little taco truck that served some of the best TJ-style birria I ever had outside of my mom’s kitchen or a family quince. Five years later, Teddy’s Red Tacos are in Venice, Downey, Inglewood, Whittier, East L.A., Echo Park. That birria that he literally used to sell out of the trunk of his car like a Dr. Dre rap album in the ’90s is now bumping all over LA … like a Dr. Dre rap album in the ’90s. That he is able to maintain the quality of his birria recipe at scale is a feat of its own. But Teddy is also the only taquero I know who had his own Super Bowl commercial.
Los Pollos 3
The Mexican Beverly Hills aka Downey is a place of abundance and it’s just as well off in delicious foodways from the Latin American diaspora. They’ve got Argentine steakhouses, legendary Cuban bakeries, perfect Peruvian ceviche and so many incredible Mexican eats! But Los Pollos, a rotisserie chicken joint on Florence Avenue, is el rey. The red salsa alone is worth the trip but the chicken is really superb.
There are a lot of good options for tacos in the Valley, but Pablito’s has great tacos and great Peruvian ceviche. His fusion of Peru and Mexico is really one of the most L.A. things there is. And the kicker, at least for me, is his incredible green salsa chimichurri hybrid that works on the tacos, on the lomo saltado, on the raw fish, on its own as a shot of salsa. It just works!
There are many dan dan noodles in L.A., but Joy, as the name implies, brings me the most pleasure. And that could be you too. Joy’s dan dan are thick gooey noodles made in a peanut sauce which you can (and should) get with beef or chicken. Everything at Joy is good and inspired by Taiwanese street food. Since you’re there anyway, I’d also get an order of pork belly, some minced pork on brown rice, some mixed greens, a pork belly bun, and a sweet and sour soup. I mean, since you are there!
Full House Seafood
For nearly 15 years, this old school Cantonese-style sit-down eatery in the heart of Chinatown was my go-to late night spot. And it can be yours too! There is a lot to recommend here since I went there almost every weekend for a good chunk of my adult life. But if I had to pick one thing, I would go with the honey walnut prawns. Or maybe the mixed seafood soup. Or maybe the white fish in black sauce. Or the egg drop soup. Or … honestly just get what you like. It’s all good!
La Casita Mexicana
Jaime and Ramiro, the chefs and owners of Casita Mexicana, are friends of mine. So I’m a little bit biased. But I’ll be damned if this beautiful James Beard-nominated Mexican restaurant doesn’t have the best breakfast in all of L.A. Chilaquiles to die for. Cafe de olla to live for. Frijoles rojos. Tortillas hechas a mano. And smokey, savory Cochinita Pibil. And if you love wine, Casita Mexicana has some of the best imported from El Valle De Guadalupe. Chefs Jaime and Ramiro also serve the best chile en nogada I have ever had.
This open-air food market is one of the best places to be on a Sunday in L.A. Sadly, you’ll be at the Super Bowl instead. But if you want to get up early, or stay an extra week, I’ll give you three reasons why either choice is worth it: Macheen, Evil Cooks, Burritos La Palma. Truly, a holy trinity of tacos, these are just some of the street food vendors that make Smorgasburg one of the places I always recommend for newcomers to L.A. Deep fried tacos from Los Dorados and Tacos 1986 are also a can’t-miss at Smorg. The food market has stellar vegan options, too, like Cena Vegan and Say It Ain’t So.
Oaxacalifornia isn’t a place exactly. It’s the name people have given L.A.’s fine collection of restaurants and pop-ups offering food born from Oaxaca, a deeply indigenous state in Southwestern Mexico. Oaxacan food is, in my opinion, one of the best cuisines in the Mexican gastronomy. And there are a lot of great options here in Southern California. But my favorites are a street food pop-up named Poncho’s Tlayudas in South Central and a family-owned, five-star restaurant in Koreatown named Guelaguetza. Both are known for their tlayudas, often referred to as Oaxacan pizza. Really though, tlayudas are in a league of their own. They are flat, crispy, covered in lard, beans, and shredded cabbage and topped with the meat of your choice. Each of these establishments, like all the Oaxcalifornia joints, offer distinct takes on tlayudas. Which makes sense, because I think tlayudas are like snowflakes: every one of them is different and beautiful.
99 Ranch Market
Like many great things in Southern California (the world really) this vibrant, massive market was started by an immigrant. It was founded by Roger Chen, a Taiwanese immigrant, in Orange County in the early ’80s, and today 99 Ranch is the largest Asian supermarket chain in the US. So maybe they have these where you’re from. If they do or if they don’t, there is always a good reason to go to 99 Ranch. Especially if you’ve decided to get an AirBnB while you’re in town and are going to cook at home. 99 Ranch is a dream for home cooks. They have live seafood, every kind of dumpling, the freshest baby bok choy, Asian pears, bitter lemon, egg tarts, mochi, and so many other things that can make your home cooked meal feel like a trip through L.A.’s famed San Gabriel Valley eateries.
Northgate Gonzalez Markets
Like 99 Ranch, Northgate is so much more than a grocery store. It’s the Latino counterpart to 99 Ranch. But most Northgates also function as a food hall with some of the best cooked-to-order Mexican food in the region. They have tamales year round, good cafe de olla, crispy chicharon, delicious tacos, pan dulce, and of course all the things you would expect at a supermarket but instead of them having a “Hispanic food” aisle, the whole store is that aisle. But basically that’s all of L.A., too.
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