(This article first ran at The Unemployed Eater)
Like a zombie feeding frenzy, the weeks after college graduation almost all of my friends made a frenzied pilgrimage to New York City. At the time, I was a little sour about the fact that they were all now cross-country, but as the years passed, and my food snootiness heightened, it actually became a blessing. Every time I visit is a new food adventure.
With this though has come one of life's greatest burdens: WHERE THE HECK DO I TAKE MY NEW YORK FRIENDS WHEN THEY VISIT LOS ANGELES? LA is a wonderful food city. It's not New York though. I don't care how many articles say the contrary. It simply isn't true. We're no slouch, we may even be inching more toward level, yet, we're not superior. So when New Yorkers visit -- usually for one meal or one day max as part of a business trip -- there's a ton of pressure to impress. Especially when you write a food blog thingie like I do. I'll sometimes spend the days leading up to a New Yorker's visit brainstorming, sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, trying to bounce my dog's fetch ball, sweating profusely, like Jesse Pinkman on a bender.
Luckily, at this point I've dealt with enough Manhattanites to know where to and not to take them when they visit the Southland. I thought I'd share because, well, I write this food blog thingy...
Let's start with WHERE NOT TO TAKE VISITING NEW YORKERS:
BAGELS: "But, Mike! C'mon, Bagel Broker is kick ass!" It might be, but no. "Yo, bro, Milo + Olive makes their bagels in house in their wood-burning oven every morning! I'd trade my first born for one of those!" They are good, but STILL NO. Taking a New Yorker out for LA bagels is a losing proposition. Here's a story: last year my girlfriend and I were staying in Brooklyn and wanted to get a New York bagel before heading to the airport. Not really knowing the area, we just headed to the main drag and walked into the first bagel shop we saw. It ended up being the best bagel I've had in at least a couple years. Perfectly crusty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Magic and happiness in circular form. On our way out, I caught the shop's name and looked it up on Yelp. It barely had three stars. That's the lofty NYC bagel standard you face.
PIZZA: This should be a given. I feel silly typing this -- and it's not just the Nyquil I just downed at 1:30 in the afternoon. Don't take a New Yorker for pizza in LA. MAYBE Mozza. Maybe. But they're getting their own Mozza at the airport shortly, so soon even that won't be an LA delicacy. I'm not an LA pizza hater. Yet, you want to impress your guest when they visit and LA pizza simply will not wow them.
FANCY BURGERS: Although it's debatable which city started the gourmet burger craze of the aughts, it really doesn't matter. Just like in LA, you can get a $15-$25 burger on almost every decent restaurant menu in NYC. Sure, we have standouts like Father's Office and Rustic Canyon -- but how much do they stand out to the likes of the Original db Burger, amongst many, many others? Local favorite Umami just expanded to New York as well. You take your New York friend for a fancy burger in LA, I can guarantee this response: "This is really good. Reminds me of Minetta Tavern."
BAY CITIES: WHAT?! I'm sure this inclusion will make some locals punch their computer screens. Or possibly even scour westside coffeeshops to find me and punch me in the face. Anyone who has ever read this blog before knows I adore Bay Cities. I consider it my second home - and would totally set up a cot in the kitchen (if they allowed me to), so I could make up to the transcendent aroma of their fresh bread baking in the oven. While the Bay Cities bread may impress your out of towner, I suggest you refrain from ordering sandwiches. You'll only be disappointed in their reaction. The Godmother and most of their signature sandwiches, delicious sure, but mostly consist of Boar's Head meat. The same deli meat available at Ralph's and other supermarkets across the country. In fact, IMHO, Bay Cities' best sandwiches are their hot sandwiches -- chicken parm, meatball, etc. The same sort of Italian subs available on every block in Queens.
Other foods to avoid: cupcakes/brownies/cookies, steakhouses, Langer's, weekday breakfast
Enough with where not to take them... WHERE TO TAKE VISITING NEW YORKERS:
SEAFOOD:Although you could take your visitor to a high end seafood spot like Providence or Water Grill, I would advise against it. After all, NYC has Le Bernardin and Marea. Rather, I would suggest being like a busty blonde... and accentuate your assets. Most namely, the view. Wait until 45 minutes before sunset, then promptly place your Mahattanite in the passenger side of your Prius, hop on the PCH, throw on Phantom Planet's "California" for ambiance and hit up Reel Inn. Or go even farther to Neptune's Net. Fresh seafood at that price with that view with a cold brewski in their hand? That's certainly something they cannot get at Coney Island.
MEXICAN: Purists and assholes will bemoan what I'm about to say: do not take your companion to the "authentic" taco trucks on a shady block in a shady part of town. That might be where Anthony Bourdain wants to go, but your average New Yorker wants tasty, clean Mexican food. So I recommend the following: Tacomiendo (pictured above), Paco's Tacos or Mexicali. Or, even better, combine both seafood AND Mexican with fish tacos by stopping by Ricky's or Tacos Punta Cabras.
MANHATTAN BEACH POST: M.B. Post has pretty much become my go-to for out-of-towners. Brunch or dinner, there are very few menus in L.A. that scream CALIFORNIA more. There's also something for everyone -- both the prudent and the adventurous. It's also sorta fine dining, sorta casual, sorta perfect for any occasion. It also doesn't hurt that it's a walking block away from the Manhattan Beach Pier. Furthermore, it's in a city with 'Manhattan' in the name, so your guest will immediately feel a sense of home -- minus the trash smell.
CHEGO/KOGI: A friend arrived at the airport around lunch time and wanted something "interesting." I knew exactly where to take him. We headed straight to Chego. His reaction was exactly what I expected. After a couple bites of his rice bowl in silence, he turned to me and simply said, "This is good." He then returned to devouring his Beefy T. Packed with flavor, there's nothing like Roy Choi's cuisine and while I highly recommend his sit-down A-Frame, I think the Kogi truck and Chego offer a better glimpse into the city's creativity.
ICE CREAM: Once again, I think ice cream, like seafood, enables LA to really stick out our chest. New York has some great ice cream shops. Hell, when NYC soft serve purveyor, Big Gay Ice Cream, comes to LA the utter chaos is Spice Girls-like. But what New York doesn't have: great weather year round. When your guest comes to visit in November or December or January, you can take them post-dinner for a splendiferous Peanut Butter Brownie scoop at Sweet Rose Creamery or sublime Salty Chocolate at Mother Moo and then SIT OUTSIDE and enjoy your cone. Even better, Sweet Rose's newest location will allow you to do all of the above as you walk on the beach - which you can also experience already at Mahattan Beach Creamery (right by M.B. Post).
(For more L.A. food musings, check out The Unemployed Eater)