Uncovering The Bespoken Places of Los Angeles
This feeling about L.A.—that the city is not overburdened with history, that there is much more yet to come—has famously exerted a pull on Ruscha, Baldessari, and David Hockney, and it continues to draw young artists, as do the more practical concerns of cheaper housing than in New York or San Francisco, larger studio spaces, and good weather. Similar virtues— reasonable rent, bar-none produce— are now cited by the young chefs who are growing a distinctive culinary movement with diverse ingredients and casual experimentation. Theirs are arguably some of the most exciting restaurants in the country, in no small part because they’re easier to reach in a sprawling city that’s more accessible than ever.
When a New Yorker thinks of L.A. restaurants, she is likely to think of Sqirl, in Silver Lake, whose chef, Jessica Koslow, has elevated toast and rice bowls to dishes worthy of René Redzepi’s praise, or of Gjelina and its offshoot, Gjusta, in Venice, where vegetables are roasted to perfection and, as a friend recently put it, “everyone looks like Lauren Hutton.” But there is a whole other world of cooking in L.A.—often Asian-influenced, and not always plant-based—to be explored, provided you can locate it.
Take Bestia, in a Downtown loft on East Seventh Place, half a block from the Los Angeles River. Chef Ori Menashe, who was born in L.A. but lived for 14 years in Israel, and pastry chef Genevieve Gergis, also from L.A., a married couple, opened this Mediterranean restaurant, where Menashe serves things like panroasted chicken gizzards, lamb heart, sea urchin with chiles, and house made speck that he prepares and ages himself. When I visited him one Friday morning, he invited me to the parking lot out back where a delivery truck had just arrived after traveling all night from northern California. Menashe hopped aboard and began cutting open boxes, inspecting and biting into heirloom tomatoes, figs, and a finger lime, which he cracked open to reveal tiny self-contained beads of juice that chefs call “lime caviar.” “The produce in L.A. is incredible,” he said.
Another reason the city’s food scene is flourishing now, Gergis adds, is that our collective palate has evolved to revere the spices, flavors, and pungent sauces of the Hispanic and Asian communities that have been a staple here for decades. “There are a lot of different cultures here that were for a long time underappreciated and weren’t noticed in mainstream cuisine,” she said.
Certainly this more open sensibility is a prerequisite for the success of Guerrilla Tacos, a truck that on Mondays is parked in front of the Blue Bottle Coffee on Mateo Street, not far from Bestia. There, for $5, you might try a taco filled with rib eye, mushroom escabeche, arbol-chile salsa, and parsley, prepared by Wes Avila, whom the Los Angeles Times food critic and local kingmaker Jonathan Gold describes as “one of the city’s most interesting culinary minds.” Translated into tacos, this means Avila may combine sujuk, a beef sausage you find in Armenian recipes, with poached egg, mint, Mexican oregano, and sumac onions. “There’s no old-guard way of doing things,” Avila says. “It really is the Wild West. Anything goes.”