By year’s end, there will be quite a few terrific cookbooks celebrating Los Angeles food and restaurants on the shelves at your local bookstore. Here are seven of the best, arranged by publication date.
“On Vegetables” by Jeremy Fox (Phaidon, $49.95)
“I am not a vegetarian,” Jeremy Fox announces in his book’s opening pages. “This is not a book about vegetarians: It is a book about vegetables.” And what a book about vegetables it is. Fox is the executive chef at Rustic Canyon; “On Vegetables,” which was released in April, is his first book, co-written with Noah Galuten. There are 160 recipes here, a chef’s meditations, really, on the many ways you can prepare vegetables. Fox refrains from being overly precious as he quietly encourages you to use what you have, and to use all of it. A beet salad, for instance, includes a marmalade made from the beet’s stems and green leaves; the juice from roasted red peppers makes its way into a gravy. An extensive larder section ends the book, which includes those tomato preserves, plus dozens of other make-ahead items intended to be made in batches: pesto, whole-grain mustard, pickled vegetables. “You invest in flavor when you have the time so that you can reap the benefits when you do not,” he says. Good advice for everyone, vegetarian or otherwise.
“Adventures in Starry Kitchen: 88 Asian-Inspired Recipes From America’s Most Famous Underground Restaurant” by Nguyen Tran (HarperOne, $29.99)
If you were around the food blogosphere in the late 2000s, you know the Starry Kitchen story well: Thi Tran began cooking Vietnamese and Chinese dishes at home in North Hollywood. Her husband, Nguyen, invited neighbors and friends (Facebook and otherwise) to come over for lunch and, if they wanted, to donate to the cause. All was well until, well, the health department shut it down. The Starry Kitchen team went on to open a proper restaurant, close said restaurant, open a pop-up, close the pop-up, and, finally, settle down at Button Mash in Echo Park. Along the way, banana suits and bullhorns were involved. In the same exuberant tone his social media followers will be familiar with, Nguyen spins the whole tale in this cookbook, published in June, with recipes from all stages of the Starry Kitchen saga, from lemongrass chicken to crispy tofu balls to Singaporean chili crab. Recipes include two ingredient lists, one that serves two to four people, and another that serves 40 to 80. For those times you want to throw a party and invite everyone — on Facebook, of course.
“L.A. Mexicano: Recipes, People & Places” by Bill Esparza (Prospect Park Books, $29.95)
In his introduction, author Bill Esparza writes that both he and his publisher, Colleen Dunn Bates, were surprised that a book like this — one that explores a history of Mexican cooking in greater Los Angeles — had not been written before. It is indeed surprising, and “L.A. Mexicano,” which was published in June, does well to correct this oversight. Esparza profiles, and gathers recipes from, 40 chefs, vendors, producers, bartenders and other individuals who have made an indelible imprint on local Mexican cooking. The range of profiles is impressive; highlights include Cielito Lindo’s Susanna MacManus, whose grandmother opened the restaurant on Olvera Street in 1934 (and yes, you will find a recipe for Cielito Lindo’s famed taquitos as well). We also learn about Rocio Camacho’s rich cooking career, and she gifts us her recipe for mole negro Oaxaqueño. Carlos Salgado speaks about Alta Californian cuisine at his restaurant, Taco Maria. Ricky Piña tells his story of coming to L.A. from Ensenada, and his fish taco recipe will be one of the most dog-eared ones in the book. The book ends with a very handy neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to taco trucks, tortillerias, restaurants and bakeries around L.A.
“Bäco: Vivid Recipes From the Heart of Los Angeles” by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock (Chronicle, $35)
Josef Centeno’s first cookbook, written with former Los Angeles Times Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock, will be released in September and is named after Centeno’s first restaurant in the Historic Core (his other restaurants in the neighborhood are Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston, P.Y.T. and Ledlow). Though the cookbook includes many signature dishes served at Bäco, like the Bäco flatbread and “Caesar” Brussels sprouts, it goes beyond those restaurant walls too to include dishes inspired by his other restaurants, by downtown, by the seasons. There are 130 recipes in the book, or “themes on flavors,” as Centeno describes them, most of which use a variety of vibrant herbs and spices. As you would expect from Centeno, vegetables are a constant presence throughout. As you might not expect from a chef’s cookbook, the recipes are straightforward and accessible to the home cook, with frequent suggestions on how to substitute one ingredient you may not have on hand for another that you probably do. With beautiful snapshots of Centeno’s food and the neighborhood (courtesy of photographers Dylan James Ho and Jeni Afuso), this is a book that will shuttle between the coffee table and the kitchen.
“Guerrilla Tacos: Recipes From the Streets of L.A.” by Wesley Avila and Richard Parks III (Ten Speed Press, $30)
While it’s most always a good time to have a book about tacos, this book about these tacos is especially welcome. We’re talking about Guerrilla Tacos, specifically, Wesley Avila’s excellent taco truck that you’ll often find parked outside specialty coffee shops around the city. This is Avila’s first book; co-written with writer Richard Parks III, his is a cookbook that also functions as life story. Narrated in Avila’s relaxed, conversational style, that story pulls you in, as do the 50 recipes. He starts with sweet potato tacos; we’re in Pico Rivera, where he was raised. Then he takes us to Santa Fe Springs, where he worked for a time as a forklift operator and began cooking as a hobby (representative recipes: brisket taco, fried potato taquitos). The hobby turns into a career over the following chapters that involve stints in various fine-dining restaurants; by the time we get to the chapter on the launch of Guerrilla Tacos, the tacos with pork belly and caviar suddenly make a lot of sense. Avila also includes more than two dozen of his fantastic salsas, plus illustrations, comics and helpful advice (on tortillas, on tostadas). Look for it in October.
“Night+Market: Delicious Thai Food to Facilitate Drinking and Fun-Having Amongst Friends” by Kris Yenbamroong (Clarkson Potter, $35)
October also brings us Night+Market chef and owner Kris Yenbamroong’s first cookbook, written with Los Angeles Magazine food editor Garrett Snyder. Restaurant cookbooks don’t always capture the energy of the restaurant itself, but “Night+Market” accomplishes this well: From the hot pink colors to photos of Yenbamroong at a strip club in Thailand, this book feels like Night+Market. Over the course of 100 recipes or so, Yenbamroong narrates his journey from growing up in his parents’ West Hollywood Thai restaurant to his initial desire to cook “authentic” Thai food to finding his cooking voice and developing his version of Thai and Thai American dishes at Night+Market. Included are Night+Market favorites — moo sadoong (a grilled pork salad), nam khao tod (crispy rice salad), that fried chicken sandwich — and potentially new favorites (Night+Market tacos!). Between dishes, Yenbamroong writes about the virtues of curry, the fallacy of authenticity in cooking, and, in an explanation that probably would not pass muster with Strunk and White but nonetheless satisfies a curiosity, why the plus sign in Night+Market is silent. At least it’s something fun to discuss at dinner. Pass the noodles.
“The Grand Central Market Cookbook: Cuisine and Culture from Downtown Los Angeles” by Adele Yellin and Kevin West (Clarkson Potter, $30)
October marks Grand Central Market’s 100th birthday, and there probably are few better ways to mark the occasion than with a cookbook. Written by Adele Yellin, the president of Yellin Co. (which owns Grand Central Market) and writer Kevin West, the cookbook begins with a brief history of the market before diving into 85 recipes. All vendors who were open as of earlier this year contribute: China Café, for instance, offers a recipe for chicken chop suey. Villa Moreliana has a recipe for its carnitas. Valerie’s Confections gives us mini chocolate chip cookies. Sticky Rice, its sticky rice. Rounding out the book are original recipes inspired by ingredients available at the market and vendors past, like one for coconut cream doughnuts, which the authors imagine Famous Cream Doughnuts sold at stall C-1 back in 1922. The market has always been in flux, the authors write in their introductory pages. What has stayed relatively constant, though, is the overall spirit of the space, and the book reflects it well — and with it, the spirit of L.A.