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What they're eating in Los Angeles

Fill up on meaty tacos and caviar-topped lobster rolls on the Californian coast. Here's what the locals are ordering in the City of Angels.

By Stephanie Breijo
Published 1 Jun 2021, 08:05 BST, Updated 15 Jun 2021, 14:35 BST
Pit-smoked pastrami sandwich, Ugly Drum.

Pit-smoked pastrami sandwich at Ugly Drum, a takeout deli in North Hollywood.

Photograph by Jakob N. Layman

Los Angeles has one of the most dynamic dining scenes in the US, drawing on influences from Maine to Mexico, Japan and beyond. The past year has, of course, been tough for restaurants, but many chefs are now offering their dishes to go. So, whether you’re ordering takeaway or are lucky enough to visit when dining in is an option, here’s what to eat.

1. Topped lobster roll at Broad Street Oyster Co

While they may be synonymous with Maine, there’s also a lobster roll revolution happening in Malibu, thanks to Broad Street Oyster Co. The modern seafood shack’s brioche buns are packed with claw and knuckle meat tossed in warm butter or seasoned mayo, with the option of caviar or Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin) on top. It’s all served with natural wine and enjoyed right by the ocean. broadstreetoyster.com

2. Flour-tortilla tacos at El Ruso

In a city big on tacos, Walter Soto and Julia Silva’s informal stand in Boyle Heights rises above the rest with hyper-fresh ingredients spooned into perfectly blistered, handmade tortillas. There are corn tortillas on offer, but Julia’s signature flour version — pliant and chewy — is the perfect base for the phenomenal grilled and sauced meats, which attract queues through the car park. Fillings include steak, chicken, chorizo and more. 

3. Pit-smoked pastrami at Ugly Drum

LA’s love for pastrami dates back decades, and brined beef can be found everywhere, from Jewish delis to burger joints. At takeout deli Ugly Drum, Erik Black has mastered the traditional pastrami-making technique, and added a twist. He uses a classic brine, before pit-smoking the meat for hours to create thick, flavoursome slices. You’ll find it in sandwiches with caraway-studded slaw and spicy Russian dressing, but it’s just as enticing on its own. 

4. Fine-dining bento at Hayato

For an affordable taste of Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Hayato, try chef Brandon Go’s takeaway bento boxes. Days of preparation make for a stunning presentation; tender agedashi aubergine (fried then simmered in dashi) rests next to delicate blocks of snow crab tofu. Beautiful black cod, duck, egg and winter melon are all carefully considered and painstakingly prepared. No surprise, therefore, that the bento sells out fast at the start of each month. 

5. Honey walnut shrimp sandwich at Katsu Sando

As the name of this Chinatown sandwich shop implies, the focus is on the katsu sando — breaded-and-fried protein squeezed between slabs of milk bread — but the team loves to come up with new dishes too. One of them is a riff on Chinese honey walnut shrimp; in this version, meaty prawns are held together with a light batter, fried and topped with caramelised walnuts and a corn-studded slaw.  

6. Creative barbecue at Moo’s Craft Barbecue

Having started the business in their backyard, husband and wife team Andrew and Michelle Muñoz have grown Moo’s into a truly creative barbecue pop-up, appearing at breweries and markets. They combine smoky, Texas-style barbecue with Tex-Mex flavours and their LA heritage to create heaped platters of verde pork sausages studded with roasted peppers; huge beef ribs; overflowing cups of golden corn esquites; knots of neon-pink pickled onions; and piles of refried beans topped with tallow-fried brisket trimmings. You might also catch specials such as smoked lamb barbacoa tacos or a Mexican take on Cajun boudin sausage.

Love food and travel? Taste the world at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival, our immersive culinary event taking place on 16-17 July 2022 at London’s Business Design Centre. Find out more and book your tickets.

Published in Issue 11 (spring 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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