Food-wise, 2013 was a big year of personal growth for me. I had always considered myself a picky eater, but, as it turns out, I had just never tasted good food before. And there is no shortage of good food in Los Angeles. From dousing everything in white truffle oil to an unlikely affection for congealed pig blood, I have really stretched my dining wings this year. Here are some highlights from my favorite restaurants of 2013:
Burgers used to be a food of backyard barbeques that could be bought for $1 at McDonalds. But ever since my first bite of an Umami Burger, I’ve known that they’re capable of so much more. Everything about these burgers is expertly-crafted and deserving of the hype that surrounds them: the crunchy onion strings and chewy bacon lardons on the Manly Burger, the creamy and gooey cheese on the Truffle Burger, the flavorful parmesan crisp and fresh vegetables on the namesake Umami Burger. I feel like I’ve spent half my year dreaming about, raving about and then eating Umami Burgers, and I’d do it again given half the chance. Additionally, Umami Burger’s rich and delicious truffle cheese-covered shoestring fries are solely responsible for launching my insatiable obsession with truffle oil. So, thanks for that.
For years, I asserted that I didn’t like pho. And that I wasn’t particularly into soup in general. Nong Lá was an unexpected game-changer this year. I was somehow compelled to order the bún bò Hue, a spicy beef soup made with lemongrass, vermicelli noodles, pork patty and beef shank, topped with white onions, green onions and cilantro. The restaurant is charming and modern, and the meal was initially delicious, but the most surprising element was that I ended up wanting to eat bún bò Hue again and again, all the time. I even went to other Vietnamese restaurants and consumed other pho! So out-of-character! Nong Lá’s influence had a ripple effect through my diet: I thought, if Vietnamese food is actually delicious, what about Thai food? And Indian food? And Mediterranean food? Could it be that there is more to cooking beyond deep-frying? Could it be?! Yes, I suppose it could.
Spitz & Sidewalk Grill
Speaking of Mediterranean food, two of the best-tasting and least expensive restaurants I discovered in Los Feliz, coincidentally, serve Mediterranean food. At Spitz, the star of the show (besides the cocktails, because the cocktails rule) are the street cart fries – well-seasoned fries topped with garlic aioli, feta, onion, green pepper, tomato, olives, pepperoncini and chili sauce. At the Sidewalk Grill, I like to be the master of my own destiny and create a meal combining a chicken kabob wrap (lettuce, cucumber, tomato, pickle, hummus and tasty garlic sauce) with a side dish like tabouleh or a Greek salad. No joke, I once ordered a Greek salad. A Greek salad is just cucumbers, tomato and feta, friends. See how far I’ve come? I’m not the man they think I am at home.
Plan Check Kitchen + Bar
There isn’t really a good life-affirming story about Plan Check. It didn’t really change my perspective on food in any capacity. It’s just really, really good. They serve a weird pastrami poutine featuring gravy and cheese on top of thick, chewy fries that is just rich and delicious. And, really, the burgers at Plan Check are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Something about the crunch-covered bun, the mini-skillet they’re served in to contain the juices, and the fresh (and unusual) toppings like pig candy and ketchup leather. It’s just really innovative and, most importantly, effective. The fresh-cooked cruller donuts covered in cinnamon sugar and served in cream and fresh fruit are pretty killer as well.
I hear gourmet cupcakes are a thing of the past. Talk turns to donuts as the next big dessert trend. I blame all those weirdos who pay $50 for boring cronuts (a donut-croissant hybrid). But nothing will ever replace cupcakes in my heart. I will love cupcakes forever, and Sprinkles Cupcakes have done right by me this year. This ritzy cupcakery is located in Beverly Hills and has become famous as the home of the 24-hour cupcake ATM. I enjoy making a game of the cupcake schedule, trying to coordinate a trip on days they’ll be serving up the best treats. The pumpkin cupcake is particularly great (but only seasonal!). The moist cake is more muffin-like than super sweet, and the cream cheese frosting is a perfect complement. My passion for fancy cupcakes will never die.
Has my palate matured with age? Did I just destroy all of my tastebuds with too many microwave dinners? Do they just not ship any good tomatoes to Reno? I don’t know what makes the difference, really. Probably a combination of the above-mentioned factors.
What’s on the agenda for 2014? So glad you asked, because I’ve got it all planned out:
– More vegetables you hated as a kid that turned out to be delicious later in life. Brussels sprouts! Asparagus! Avocado!
– More brunch. Day-drinking and dessert-disguised-as-breakfast in the early morning hours!
– More burgers. Literally every gourmet burger in the world! I’m coming for you!
– A wider variety of cultural cuisines. Korean barbeque! Thai noodles! Fancy ramen! Japanese food trucks! Spices!
– More fruit. Smoothies! Juice cleanses!
Wow, I’m excited. Basically, I have 235 places bookmarked on Yelp, and I’m not allowed to die until I’ve tried them all. Away we go.