Unlike the other food holidays — the epic feast of Thanksgiving, the flame-fueled picnic of July Fourth — a Super Bowl party is kind of a manic free-for-all, dictated by personal appetites and team allegiances. There were a lot of Philly cheesesteaks hitting last year’s tables. When the Packers made it in 2011, for some of us it justified setting out a cheese board the size of a pingpong table. And who among us doesn’t secretly pull for the Saints (although maybe not this year), if only to sanction étouffée for a crowd a month before Mardi Gras?
When the Los Angeles Rams meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, it’ll be a bicoastal match-up of both teams and cuisines, a battle between improbable upstarts — many Angelenos are still getting used to even having an NFL team again — and the hegemony of of the Patriots, a team that’s been to the Super Bowl four of the last five years and now 11 years total. It’s the ninth Super Bowl appearance for Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who have won the big game five times. That’s an awful lot of chowder.
Meanwhile, the Rams are led by the youngest head coach in the league, 33-year-old Sean McVay, and quarterback Jared Goff, a 24-year-old guy who went to Berkeley and who is only in his third year in the NFL. Underdogs? Yeah. It’s been 35 years since Los Angeles fielded a Super Bowl team (as the Raiders) and put Angeleno football food on the table.
Curating a feast for a game is a totemic exercise, a demonstration of loyalty that for many of us draws on early memories of family and place. It can be a nostalgia game played on the buffet board as much as on the turf itself. Maybe this is why the best game-day food is inherently comfort food — nachos and wings, chips and dips, communal stews and sandwiches.
Game-day food needs to factor for stress eating: It’s a very long game, especially factoring in the surfeit of commercials and singing (Maroon 5 is this year’s halftime show, with Big Boi and Travis Scott). If your team is winning, dishes bound by regionality and allegiance are celebratory fuel. If things aren’t going as planned, well, that’s why they call it comfort food.
So to celebrate L.A., what better to serve for the big game than some of the dishes that feed the city near the ’20s-era Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, temporary home of the Rams — the tacos and bacon-wrapped hot dogs that have long been the provenance of the local food trucks, carts and now-legal street vendors.
You can go all out and make your own bacon-wrapped hot dog cart, as we did a few years ago, by retrofitting an old grocery cart with a griddle and a mini keg. If that borders a little too much on street art installation, you can just wind some bacon around hot dogs, cook them in a hot oven — or throw them on the fire — and call it a day.
Making tacos for a crowd can be as simple as sourcing good tortillas and carnitas, making a few batches of salsa and guacamole, and loading the table. If you’re more ambitious, make all the components yourself, including the tortillas — maybe the yam or sweet potato version that Guerrilla Tacos chef Wes Avila made for the holidays, which includes a great guajillo-pepita salsa.
For the vegetarians among us, the roasted cauliflower tacos from Trejo’s Tacos would be not only seasonal and healthful but fitting, as actor and taqueria owner Danny Trejo has long been a hugely supportive Rams fan.
If you’re cooking for a big house, make a batch of cochinita pibil. We have the recipe for Chichen Itza’s addictive version of the Yucatecan dish. This is a particularly fitting dish to cook for the game, as Chichen Itza, in the Mercado La Paloma complex near USC, is walking distance from the Coliseum. Another excellent party food is pozole, the Mexican hominy stew. And nachos, so often a low-maintenance bar food, get a phenomenal reboot from the folks at DTLA’s B.S. Taqueria.
Have we planned a notably Southern Californian spread? So it seems. Of course, we have lots of recipes for more New England-y fare — clam chowder, lobster chowder, chowder made by L.A’s seafood master Michael Cimarusti, lobster rolls, even Boston baked beans — and it must be said that a pot of chowder pairs spectacularly well with fish tacos. Creating a bicoastal spread is also a wonderfully bipartisan take on the event, which, really, might be the most sporting way to go.