Angry Rant From a New Yorker: Los Angeles

by Ben Adler

Yummy Iranian Food

Yummy Iranian Food

I hate to admit it — I mean I am really loathe to — but the food in Los Angeles is pretty good. On my first night there my friends and I went to a place named Barrio Fiesta that I assumed would be Mexican, but turned out to be Filipino. Apparently LA is so Latino that even the Asian places have stereotypically Spanish names. But the food was not typical of anything you can get on the East Coast. I love Filipino food (if you’ve never tried it imagine a heartier, more land-oriented cousin to Thai) and I never find it anywhere back home because D.C. is a parochial culinary backwater where you cannot find most ethnic cuisines. The restaurant was cheap, the service was friendly and the food was scrumptious. Thick, sweet but not cloying, pork skewers, a rich beef stew and an everything but the kitchen sink noodle dish were enough for the three of us.

On my second night in LA we went to a Mexican restaurant in Pasadena that is part of a small, ancient local chain — I’m blanking on the name. The guacamole made fresh at our table was tangy and spiced perfectly. My carnitas were simultaneously crisp and chewy, and, as you might expect, the portions were gargantuan and the prices modest.

My third dinner in LA was at an Iranian restaurant. Iranian food is, much like Filipino, a touch too far off the beaten path for the District of Columbia. But in LA Iranian food is everywhere and this place served the usual good Iranian fare: a perfectly balanced sharp and sweet eggplant and vegetable dish and a rice with cherries and boiled chicken. But the real star of my meal was the chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce. It’s called Fessenjoon and you must go try some.

My last dinner in LA was at a trendy American bistro, which was exactly what you would expect: bitter mixed greens, an extensive beer list, decent food, very good dessert. I also had a good lunch at an Argentinian restaurant. LA, unlike DC, is the kind of place where you just might eat Argentinian food on a Sunday afternoon.

One innovation in LA that I really wish they would import back East is the Donut shop. There are practically zero independent donut shops in DC, and very few left in NY. But in LA they are everywhere. And many are open all night! And they make the donuts right there! And they are good. The one I had was still warm. The powdered sugar melted right off of it. It was thick — none of that Crispy Creme airy sugarball quality. It was a real snack. I’d kill for one right now.

The one big culinary disappointment of my trip was my visit to In and Out Burger. LA people talk constantly about their great burgers and in In and Out is one of the examples. I am not impressed. If there is one thing D.C. actually does well, it’s cheap burgers, and I’d take ours over this crap any day.

Does this look special to you?

Does this look special to you?

As you can see from the picture, it’s a pretty run of the mill burger. The meat is not especially thick or juicy. The sauce tastes like McDonald’s special sauce. Ollie’s trolley, in DC, has a far superior sauce, with seasoned fries to match. The fries were too small (I mean themselves, not the portion size), not salty enough, and neither tasty in their scrawniness, a la McDonalds, or chewy like Nathan’s. In and Out has hardly any diversity of options.

Compare that to the juicy burgers and plethora of toppings at Five Guys, and it’s no contest. Granted, In and Out is very cheap, and if you are comparing to McDonald’s or Burger King, you could note that In and Out has higher quality meat and toppings. But I don’t eat at McDonald’s or Burger King and I won’t eat at In and Out again as long as I live.


15 responses to “Angry Rant From a New Yorker: Los Angeles

  1. The proper comp for In and Out is McDonalds. There, it compares favorably, and they’re both fast food. The proper comp for Five Guys is The Apple Pan or any of the other normal ordinary indy burger joints in LA (there are hundreds). Me? I’d rather eat at Apple Pan.

    Now, I am not in Los Angeles, and the choices are Five Guys, Dottie’s and McDonalds… I’ll take Dottie’s every time. I’m pretty much never in the mood for a burger that’s just this side of In and Out when I can have a truly *good* one instead.

  2. Washington does have Filipino restaurants: There’s one on route 50 in Arlington. I know you’re clinging to this idea that nothing outside the District counts when talking about D.C., but the reality is since the District is so physically constrained, in comparison with other cities, the parts of Arlington and Montgomery County where the good ethnic restaurants are located are more analogous to the parts of other cities where good ethnic restaurants are than they are to suburbs. And much of Arlington is denser than much of the District….

    There are also independent donut shops in D.C.: For example, the fractured prune.

    I totally agree with you about In N Out Burger, though.

  3. Rescinding above comment on Fractured Prune–Apparently they’ve closed the DuPont Circle location and moved to Rockville.

    They do have a number of locations in the D.C. suburbs, but all of them are sufficiently far out in the really suburban parts of the suburbs (Rockville, Dulles, Fairfax) that I would not count them as being in D.C.

  4. Girl With Curious Hair

    I’m glad you enjoyed fesenjoon. While you can find recipes every where, I’m sending you a link anyway:

    I always add some mashed (steamed or baked) butternut squash which gives it a nice texture and flavor. If you want to make it the ‘real’ way, use duck instead of chicken.

    And if you ever go back to LA, try Shahrzad’s in Westwood, which makes their own fresh flatbread.

  5. If you’re ever back in LA you’ve got to try Oinkster in Eagle Rock for burgers. They wipe the floor with In-N-Out. I never got the appeal of In-N-Out either…

  6. The real comparison for Five Guys is Fat Burger (a little pricier but still widespread), and Fat Burger just wins. The meat wins, the sauce wins, the toppings win, and sweet lord the milkshake wins. Also, the name wins. Sorry D.C.: I love you, but you lose to L.A. on food.

  7. I’m sorry you didn’t like In-N-Out. Unfortunately, that means that there must be something fundamentally wrong with you. That’s got to be rough.

  8. Too bad you passed up the best thing to happen to L.A. food in the last decade:

  9. Second the post above that points out there are plenty of good ethnic restaurants in the DC area. Sure, not as many as LA or NY, but those two are tops in the world. DC compares favorably to pretty much every other American city, its just that most of them are in maryland or virginia.

    There’s tons of good Korean and Chinese in places like Annandale, Rockville, and Wheaton. There are a few really good thai restaurants like Nava in wheaton. And of course DC is probably tops for Salvadorean and Ethiopian, with Northern Virginia only 2nd to California cities for Vietnamese.

    I’d say what DC is really missing is cheaper European stuff. Its seriously weak on Italian, and i don’t think i’ve even heard of a German, Austrian, or eastern European place

  10. As a Filipino-American, I’m a bit shocked that a Westerner actually likes Filipino food. I’d probably describe Filipino cuisine as sort of like non-spicy mix of Mexican and Asian dishes. Filipinos prefer sweet or sour flavors instead of spicy.

    As the Philippines was once a Spanish colony, some usage of Spanish words has crept into the native language.

  11. Fat Burger is a much better burger. Plus, you should have had Korean food while in LA…who was your tour guide anyway!!

  12. In n Out is just fast food, a weird kind of minimalist fast food at that. Burgers is burgers.

    Sure, there are places like Fatburger and Kirks that do a better burger, but it’s still just a burger.

    The righteous american hamburger may very well be the single best food to make at home every now and then. You can do all the little things that make it actually good to eat, and while you can take a walk on the wild side, it’ll still be at least a LITTLE healthier than the sodium infused ground dead animal patty in bread-designed-to-taste-like-nothing. The amazement comes from the truly galactic distance between what you make and what you think of when you think burger.

    Complaining about a burger, especially a fast food burger, is to lose track of what it is and what it’s there for. Hamburgers can be sublime. Unfortunately, not when you let somebody else make them…


  13. “In and Out has hardly any diversity of options. ”

    Actually, In and Out has a huge amount of options–you just have to know the secret code.

  14. “D.C. is a parochial culinary backwater where you cannot find most ethnic cuisines.”

    Oh badler, how i miss thee. p.s. l.a. sucks, visit sf

  15. Ben,

    I don’t know how long you’ve lived in DC, but perhaps you should do a little research before you complain about it anymore. The first google hit for “DC ethnic restaurants”:

    A pretty well-known site (even outside DC) with over 650 reviews. Hopefully it will help you enjoy your city better.

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