Los Angeles is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and that diversity is reflected in our vibrant food scene. From Boyle Heights to Santa Monica, L.A. neighborhoods add their own distinct flavors to Southern California's dynamic culinary map.
While sampling the city's various cuisines is part of the fun of being an Angeleno, you don't always have to travel far — or brave cross-town traffic — to get a taste of its tastiest traditions. Recreating regional flavors is actually a lot easier than you might think, and with local grocers like newcomer ALDI offering affordable fresh produce and a wide range of ingredients, anyone can give it a try in their own kitchen.
Here are four favorite recipes from Brigitte Nguyen, celebrity chef and contestant on the Food Network's "Ultimate Recipe Showdown," inspired by some of L.A.'s most exciting food 'hoods.
The city's Eastside neighborhoods, including East L.A. and Boyle Heights, have a strong Latino heritage. The area's blend of recent immigrants and second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans means you'll find authentic examples of Mexican food as well as American-infused specialties.
Sopas (a.k.a. soups) are a popular everyday dish in many Mexican restaurants and homes, and this Verde Chicken Tortilla Soup will become a favorite in yours, too. "I like that this recipe uses fresh meat, veggies and interesting ingredients like salsa verde and queso fresco," Nguyen said.
In recent years, Koreatown has become recognized as one of the city's best eating neighborhoods. People from all over flock to K-Town's bustling restaurants, which serve a seemingly endless array of Korean specialties. Of course, the most popular draws are the Korean BBQ joints, where customers cook the meat they order on charcoal grills installed at every table. A delicious assortment of side dishes called banchan — including kimchi, marinated mung bean sprouts, and candied lotus root — are also served.
To pay homage to Koreatown's flavors, try a play on beef bulgogi with Marinated Steak with Snap Pea Apple Slaw. "The homemade marinade in this recipe is similar to that of bulgogi, a common Korean dish — it's just missing the sesame oil," Nguyen said. "The combination of fresh meat and salad of sliced snap peas, apple and cucumber is so refreshing."
The Westside community of Santa Monica is known for its laidback vibe and health-conscious residents. At almost any hour of the day, you'll find bikers, runners, and skaters working up a sweat in the ocean breeze. Many nearby restaurants cater to these nutrition-minded locals with California-centric dishes that showcase fresh fruits and vegetables.
Inventive salads are a popular staple at Santa Monica eateries, and the Beet and Asparagus Salad with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette recipe from ALDI is an ideal way to bring a bit of the beach energy to your own table. "I like that the asparagus is roasted in this recipe, and that it pairs fresh veggies with canned veggies," Nguyen said. "It's a smart pairing, as asparagus truly is best fresh but canned beets work well if you don't want to peel and roast fresh ones."
West L.A.'s Sawtelle Japantown is a go-to spot for Japanese cuisines from shabu shabu to katsu. Long lines are also a common sight on the area's main drag, and they're usually right outside of ramen shops — it seems that people don't mind waiting to slurp the delicious and comforting noodle soup.
When you don't have that kind of time, a make-at-home Spicy Ramen recipe will help you cure your craving without too much fuss. "This ramen recipe is instant ramen dressed up with veggies, chicken, and eggs and the 'spicy' is from crushed red pepper. It's an easy weeknight meal," Nguyen said.