The year’s best writing from The Times’ Food team

Kiano Moju's beef short ribs braised in a tomato and red pepper stew
Kiano Moju’s Christmas menu (including beef short ribs braised in a tomato and red pepper stew), featured this week in an article by Ben Mims.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

How do we even begin to make any larger, lasting sense of 2020 — the loss of lives and livelihoods, the government failures and the tapped reserves of fortitude and ingenuity and kindness? Flipping a calendar page to a new year doesn’t make everything suddenly better, but I’m going to trust the world won’t look quite as dire by next December.

For the final 2020 installment of the Tasting Notes newsletter (thank you for subscribing and reading!), it felt appropriate to round up the year’s most meaningful work written and produced by the Food team.

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How it started versus how it’s going? Consider “A critic and a restaurant face the pandemic over pastries (6 feet apart),” which I wrote the week of the March shutdowns, and “The lack of help for our restaurants is a national disgrace,” an analysis of the fiasco from Lucas Kwan Peterson earlier this month.

In between there was some extraordinary journalism. My fellow critic Patricia Escárcega documented the struggles of undocumented restaurant workers during the pandemic, profiled artist Lauren Halsey’s project to bring local produce into underserved neighborhoods and chronicled the rise of Mexi-Vegan cooking in Southern California. Looking for ways to help restaurant workers? Check out the list of organizations she compiled.

Jenn Harris has responded to the moment tirelessly. She jumped right in with a minute-by-minute look at how one restaurant, Ronan on Melrose Avenue, responded the day after the dine-in shutdowns were announced. She reported answers to some of the year’s hardest questions: What happens when a restaurant can’t pay the rent? What does it mean to be a neighborhood restaurant in a pandemic?

And when we needed a break from the grim news? Jenn told us about Rosario Mazzeo, the 81-year-old behind the best Italian sandwich in Pasadena, and delivered the story behind the woman who fought for and designed the boba emoji.

Lucas delivered release-valve humor with his story of regressing to childhood foods, “Dark times, dark recipes.” And also this one from February on how drinking alcohol affects him: “How I learned to stop worrying and love my Asian Glow.” One standout from his ongoing Off Menu video series illuminated, the Afro-Mexican cooking at one of the year’s finest new restaurants, Tamales Elena y Antojitos in Bell Gardens.

Turning to our home kitchens: Ben Mims and former cooking editor Genevieve Ko (We miss you, Genevieve!) saved us all with their series How to Boil Water. One story from Ben I particularly loved this year: his timely defense of garlic powder.

He’s still bringing it hard at the holidays: After a tailored-to-the-times Thanksgiving spread and a holiday cookie package culling recipes from some of the city’s best pastry chefs, this week he has an incredible Christmas menu from video producer Kiano Moju. It’s “a blend of East African dishes customized with California ingredients and touched with flavors from West Africa,” Ben writes.

Garrett Snyder had the daunting job of covering the year’s restaurant closings and openings along with trends that emerged: Read him on the chirashi boom, drinking during the pandemic and the anger that erupted about the November outdoor dining ban.

Photo of kimchi jar with illustrations of kimchi and Korean phrases
In the best of times, there was kimchi. In the worst of times, there must be kimchi.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; illustrations by Mikki Paek)

Digital editor Brian Park helmed one of the Food squad’s marquee sections this year: a culinary and cultural guide to kimchi.

Shoutout to our brilliant designer Martina Ibáñez-Baldor, who led the design of the 2020 101 restaurants guide and also conceived of a three-pack of print zines centered on different L.A. themes (including a collection of back-to-basics recipes).

I did my best to process the restaurant industry crises, follow the evolution and meaning of takeout pop-ups, and pinpoint emerging talent like the new babka king of Los Angeles.

If I had to name my favorite story of the year? It was a feature, built around the release of Sami Tamimi’s new opus “Falastin,” about the preservation of Palestinian identity through cookbooks.

Please stay safe and healthy this holiday season. The newsletter returns on Jan. 9.

Grand Central Market takeout menus

Grand Central Market is part of the 101 lineup, and Patricia and I were asked to come up with menus featuring some of our favorite GCM vendors; they’re available for takeout through the weekend (Dec. 20) via ChowNow. If you’ve ever glanced at my Instagram account, you already know that pie from Nicole Rucker’s Fat + Flour is on my list. But there’s plenty more goodness. Check them both out.

The neon-lit stalls of Grand Central Market.
The neon-lit stalls of Grand Central Market.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)