For the last month, Patricia Escárcega and I have done little else beyond write, fret over, debate, cross-check, analyze, tweak and keep writing The Times’ annual list of the 101 Best Restaurants. We’ve been researching and thinking about the project since we started in December, right after the release of the 2018 list written by our Food section colleagues Andrea Chang, Jenn Harris and Amy Scattergood — with contributions collected from the late Jonathan Gold‘s last year of reviews.
This was, of course, one of Gold’s defining endeavors; he wrote the first “99 Essential L.A. Restaurants” guide for LA Weekly in 2005 and reconceived the list when he returned to the Times in 2012, tipping the number to the other side of 100 and ranking them. In a meeting this April, when Escárcega and I were questioning the inclusion of some longtime standard-bearers, Food Editor Peter Meehan said, “This wasn’t just a list of the top places to eat. This was Jonathan’s worldview of Los Angeles.”
That comment stayed with me. I’m no stranger to deeply considered lists, but it was a vital reminder to balance honoring a lineage with starting from scratch for the sake of making one’s own mark.
There’s a trope that national and international food writers (and their editors) love to use in introductions to these types of packages: “I spent xx weeks on the road eating xx meals, traveling xx miles to xx cities.” The publication wants to acknowledge their findings were an investment, not armchair research. In Los Angeles, we could easily rattle off those kinds of numbers and you would all get it; for many of us, the rough-cut movies of our lives could play endless B-roll of idling in traffic.
But even in its otherworldly sprawl, I’ve felt a more profound intimacy with the city while compiling my first 101 than I even expected. If you have the privilege of dining out often, you probably know how good we have it here. The city’s culinary jigsaw is so complex and big-picture astounding that it’s an unending challenge to grasp, but we feel so excited about our conclusions. And yes, we will be ranking the list.
Ask the critics
Cookie or brownie?
— @amloperena, via Instagram
I’m a pastry guy — I made desserts in restaurants in the 1990s back when Doc Martens roamed the earth, and I bake more than anything in my own kitchen these days — so I’ll take this question seriously. Cookie is my answer. Brownies have to be super specific to entice me: I want them so fudgy you almost have to eat them with a fork, with bitter, quality chocolate to cut the sweetness and crisp-crackly edges. If you know of a commercially sold brownie in the metro area that fits this description, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. A cakey brownie? I’ll barely dab at the crumbs.
Two recent cookie obsessions: Ben Mims brought in an apricot jam-filled pistachio linzer from Sqirl to the office the other day. We were all trying to be polite, cutting off little slivers and chewing and making thoughtful comments, but I was seized by its excellence — the vividness of the fruit and nut flavors, the fineness of the cookie’s texture, the crunch of the big sugar crystals on top — and snatched the rest like a fiend. All mine.
Also, and this is no polite collegial plug, Genevieve Ko cracked the code on chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies. Holy wow. They are not difficult to master; they will bring happiness. I will pass along the advice that Ko shared when we were scarfing down her most recent batch: Eat them warm, even if that means gently reheating them in a toaster oven or microwave.
- Lucas Peterson’s new video series, “Off Menu,” is launching Oct. 15! He documents so many stories and people that illuminate L.A.’s greatness. Subscribe now!
- This week I review Birdie G’s in Santa Monica, a Midwestern memoir of a restaurant from Rustic Canyon’s Jeremy Fox.
- Ms. Escárcega returns to reviewing this week after parental leave — welcome back, Patricia, missed you! — and she has some beautiful words on the burnt cheese tacos in Lakewood we all want to devour.
- Jenn Harris breaks it down with literal lists of can- and cannot-dos at the new cannabis cafe opening in West Hollywood. (Hmm … to review or not to review?)
- And Hadley Tomicki has the beat on a pop-up with a fresh mash-up: Texas-Armenian barbecue.