Allow me to begin by saying that I love food. Anyone who knows me at all knows at least that much. This is important to state because I think it necessary to establish my street cred right of the gate.
So broad and far-reaching is my food obsession that I am the kind of person, who thinks about the next meal while enjoying the one in front of me. I go to bed pondering my next meal or treat and I have been known to drive hours to try a new restaurant or menu item that is all the rage.
For the record, I like to eat cute, I like to eat dirty and I pretty much like to eat everything in between. In this regard, I am most certainly not a food snob. Whether a restaurant is a favorite of Michelin or a favorite of the people, if it leaves me wanting more, I’m all in. As far as I’m concerned, an eatery doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be delicious. Which brings me to my next point.
Traditionally it has been my custom to write about luxury lifestyle and entertainment in these pages. And, while I don’t feel as though I’m straying too far afield of that subject matter with this post, I do feel the need to explain my thinking about the recommendations I am about to make.
As per my tagline, luxury need not be expensive but it must always be indulgent, price tags do little to impress me, but indulging in something decadent that takes me on journey outside the normal realm of life most certainly does.
The five foodie treasures I’ve identified below are particularly special to me because they serve up flavors defined by regions of the country other than the West and they not only do so with remarkable deftness and soul but also with real authenticity. Each of these five places transport me back to some place where I’ve had a memorable experience and that is, at least in part, why I love each one of them so much.
These are not merely places that I have visited once or twice but instead places that I visit regularly. They are temples of food worship to which I often make pilgrimages alone and in which I luxuriate in the seductive charms of my favorite menu items. That said, I also want to be clear that I receive no perks for my loyalty beyond the traditional customer service particular to each establishment. So when I say these recommendations come from my heart and from my stomach, there isn’t even an inkling of dissembling in that statement.
And with that, here are five places in LA that will convey you to another place in America through the simple powers of their homespun goodness.
Boo’s Philly Cheesesteaks
My passion for cheesesteaks goes way back to the night I went to a Patti Labelle concert in Philly when I was college. The hour was late when the midnight show ended, but, as I was still amped up by Miss Patti’s electrifying 2+ hour set, I did what you do in the small hours in Philly and trekked over to a 24-hour cheesesteak joint.
I ordered and my life was forever changed.
I was not a fan of the cheesesteak before that moment because I hadn’t had one prepared in the authentically Philly way. But after this introduction, I became a devotee.
At Boo’s, which has two full-time locations in Silverlake and Koreatown along with a third which is only open for events and concerts at The Forum in Inglewood, they serve cheesesteaks that do Philly proud. The bread is from Philly as is the steak which is appropriately thinly sliced, grilled with onions, salt and pepper and topped with your choice of Cheese Wiz, American or Provolone cheese.
When the sandwich arrives steaming hot in a basket, the cheesesteak even looks and smells like Philly’s finest (because, in truth, it is right up there with them). The cheese is perfectly melted into the steak which is nestled into a pillowy hot Amoroso roll, the scent of which should be bottled and marketed. Seriously, I’m not even kidding here.
To ensure that I wasn’t overstating the case about this sandwich whose praises I had been singing to anyone who would listen, I headed to Boo’s with a girlfriend who is a native Philadelphian. I needed her to verify the authenticity of these yummy cheesesteaks and join in my obsession. Well, not only did she co-sign my praise after that initial visit, she too became a big fan (much to her chagrin I might add).
So for a genuine taste of Philly in Los Angeles, head to the East Side of Los Angeles and stop in at Boo’s. As an added bonus, they even sell Tasty Kakes which are rarely seen this far away from the East Coast. Trust me. You’ll be transported halfway across the country. Promise.
What I Order: Mushroom Steak with onions, salt and pepper; Provolone Cheese; Extra half-steak; Inside Out (a term that indicates you want the bread scooped out so the sandwich is less bready and more deliciously meaty).
[Note: I will admit that my obsession with Boo’s Philly Cheesesteaks is a little abnormal. Not only are my pilgrimages regular (as in weekly…sometimes more), they are also accompanied by rules. For instance, I always like to eat my cheesesteak hot, in the restaurant at the same table, and never wrapped for takeaway because I feel it loses a little something with every step taken away from the grill.]
Being from the South myself, I just love Southern BBQ.
I mean, I love Kansas BBQ, Memphis BBQ, Texas BBQ and pretty much any ‘cue you can think of, but there is nonetheless a special place in my heart for Southern BBQ. So, when I get a hankering for the smoky flavors popular below the Mason-Dixon Line, I go to Phillips BBQ.
At three no frills outposts on Crenshaw Blvd (my preferred location), Leimert Blvd and on Centinela Blvd in Inglewood, Phillips serves up BBQ to rival the best in the south in an equally no frills way. Expect richly smoked ribs, chicken, beef and hot links paired with white bread and Phillips’ signature mildly sweet, tomato-based BBQ sauce served hot, mild or mixed.
[Note: Also expect to wait in line (up to two hours or more on a holiday weekend) and to stand while you wait as there is little to no seating available]
What I Order: 3-meat Combo with Rib Tips, Beef Ribs and Pork Ribs; Double Beans; Mild Sauce on the side.
Orleans & York Deli
Po’ Boys are the street food of New Orleans and LA newcomer Orleans and York Deli is serving up the big flavors of the Big Easy with authentic flair at five locations across the City of Angels. Though the menu is quite extensive at this deli where the zesty Cajun delicacies of New Orleans meet the traditional sensibilities of a New York deli, it really is the po’ boys that stand out because they are, quite simply put, done right. (And it’s not just me saying that – Los Angeles Magazine also named the restaurant’s po’ boys the best in the city).
Particular favorites are the classics – the Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy, the Fried Oyster Po’ Boy and the Catfish Po’ Boy. These massive sandwiches served on crusty bread, stuffed to overflowing with succulent, perfectly fried, mouthwateringly seasoned seafood and then dressed simply with lettuce, tomato and mayo will leave you singing anything but the blues.
Throw in a bag of Lousiana’s own Zapp’s potato chips and one of the wickedly delicious homemade desserts casually on offer at the counter and you might even dance a jig.
What I Order: Shrimp Po-Boy; Spicy Cajun Zapp’s potato chips; a slice of coconut cake.
For my first job out of college, I moved to New York to work in the fashion business. And while I loved my job, in my wide-eyed youth I also discovered a love of delis – not just any delis, but those really good Jewish delis that seem to be everywhere in NYC. When I moved to Los Angeles, the love affair continued as I sought out the best pastrami, the best whitefish salad, the most outstanding smoked salmon and the best reuben the city had to offer. And I was pretty settled in my choices until Wexler’s Deli opened and upended the game, immediately becoming my new favorite.
Describing its menu as “Jewish Soul Food” this life-altering deli features a tight menu of deli favorites, many of the ingredients for which are produced right on the premises.
Take for instance the pastrami, the highlight of the menu, which is cured and smoked in-house, cut thick and always delicious. Or the smoked salmon which is also cured and smoked to perfection at locations in Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Or even the pickles, which are barrel-fermented in salt brine in the store. So many roads to the ultimate destination of Yum.
And, if all of the above, they even have their own private label caviar. Be still my heart (and my tastebuds).
Bottom line: For a taste of New York on the Left Coast, Wexler’s has most certainly got dibs.
What I Order: The O.G. (Pastrami, Mustard, Rye) or The Newman (Pastrami and Corned Beef, Mustard, Rye) on lightly toasted Rye with extra pickles.
Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken
What’s not to love about fried chicken? Better yet, what’s not to love about spicy fried chicken?
Born in Mason, Tennessee, this 60-year old brand has rapidly been winning fans across America and only just recently opened its doors in Los Angeles. Being something of a fried chicken aficionado, I have to admit I was skeptical of Gus’s at first.
And with good reason.
I won’t mention names, but I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to people go on about the fried chicken at this or that place and how it was supposed to be so revelatory, only to find out that it was just average at best.
After calling my cousin, who had gone to college in Tennessee, and getting the thumbs up from her, I immediately headed over to Gus’s new Los Angeles location and was pleased on many levels, not the least of which involved the chicken itself.
Crispy, salty, with a hint of heat that grows with each bite, the bird served up at Gus’ is unlike anything else being served in Los Angeles. It is not hot chicken (though to tame the palate, it is served with much needed white bread like hot chicken) nor is it traditionally spicy fried chicken. It is instead, its own original, memorably delectable creation served with an array of outrageously tasty sides, notable among which are the beans, greens, potato salad and macaroni and cheese.
From the décor to the food, Gus’s will deliver you to Tennessee and back over the course of a meal and leave you craving a porch and rocker in which to savor the experience afterwards.
What I Order: Three Piece White with baked beans and macaroni and cheese; Fried Pickles with Ranch; Sweet Tea.
[Note: Gus’s only sells spicy fried chicken so if it heat is not your thing, you probably better give this place a pass.]
Now who’s hungry?