Here’s a chance to give friends and family a “taste” of L.A. for the holidays. We’ve collected items from individual entrepreneurs and restaurants working to stay afloat during the pandemic, small businesses that give back to the community, shops with unique or hard-to-find items, and philanthropic organizations.
Onggi — Korean earthenware crocks
Traditional Korean clay jars are used to help the fermentation process of many sauces — and kimchi. (The glossy, dark brown glaze may tempt you to see this crock as an art object as well.) This one comes in several sizes, ranging from 3 to 16 liters.
$39.99 to $78.99 | 👉 Purchase here
Gjusta pantry gift box
Gjusta, sister restaurant to Gjelina, is a deli-bakery-café mashup that has always attracted a crowd eager to sample its salads, breads, pastries and sandwiches. As of this writing, patio dining is open — as is its online gift store, Gjusta Goods. This gift box includes marinated olive oil, herbed salt, California sage honey and chili vinegar.
$44 | 👉 Purchase here
L.A. Times Back to Basics zine
Cooking can be overwhelming — during a quarantine or not — so we went back to basics. In this limited-run, 32-page zine, you’ll find fundamental cooking techniques and easy ways to use them through a story and an accompanying recipe. Many recipes are inspired by readers’ real-life cooking dilemmas and questions while others are skills we think any home cook should master. We hope you are inspired by the lessons and recipes here so you can cook smarter, making cooking more enjoyable for yourself and your family. If you’re a big fan of zines, check out our three-pack which includes a zine for houseplant lovers and a beginner’s guide to Griffith Park.
$10 | 👉 Purchase here
TOIRO organic brown rice miso
This savory miso features the flavor of whole grain brown rice and is slightly lighter and sweeter than miso that’s made with barley. It’s unpasteurized with no preservatives and comes from TOIRO Kitchen & Supply, whose first bricks and mortar store opened in West Hollywood in 2017.
$16 | 👉 Purchase here
TOIRO Tenugui cotton cloth
These hand-dyed cloths, a centuries-old Japanese tradition, come in a variety of colors and patterns at TOIRO Kitchen & Supply and can be used to lift a hot lid from a pot or wiping a table — or for display on a wall. You could also choose to use one as a small towel or for wrapping a gift. It’s all up to you.
$14 | 👉 Purchase here
Ivan’s pecan caramel
Here’s the thing — what most of us want in stressful times is sugar, and these are soft caramels loaded with toasted pecans, sugar, butter and cream. The creator is Ivan Abbott Houston, a native Angeleno and “engineer, baker and candy maker.” (He sells cookies, breads and brownies and toffee as well.) The caramels come in one-quarter, one-half and 1-pound bags.
$5 and up | 👉 Purchase here
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Shimi Aaron babkas
Chef Shimi Aaron moved to Los Angeles from London this year and quietly, through Instagram, began selling his specialty: beautiful, ornate babkas — made with fillings like chocolate ganache and hazelnuts or halva and pecans — twisted into curvy braids. As his babkas became a sensation, he set up a website though which he sells several sweet and savory variations. They are large, usually enough for 12 or more portions, and they also freeze magnificently. For the baker on your gift list, Aaron teaches babka making as well as dishes he grew up eating in Israel, via Zoom classes.
$70 and up for babkas, $55 per session for classes | 👉 Purchase here
June Taylor jams
Berkeley-based June Taylor has been crafting singular jams for 30 years, made with mostly organic fruits that serve as a record of California’s microregional growing seasons. She uses sugar and acid the way a silversmith uses a polisher: They only enhance what is already there. Taylor announced that she’s closing her business this year after the holidays. This is the final opportunity to savor her legendary blood orange marmalade or her apricot and peach conserves, which are as near to eating fresh fruit as a commercial product can achieve.
$12 and up | 👉 Purchase here
World Central Kitchen donation
The world is topsy turvy in so many ways right now; the number of organizations doing vital work, worthy of donations, can feel overwhelming. Here’s one suggestion: World Central Kitchen is a nonprofit founded by chef-humanitarian José Andrés 10 years ago with his wife, Patricia. Much of the world learned about World Central Kitchen when it gained recognition during its on-the-ground efforts to feed Puerto Ricans after the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The organization provides more than 300,000 meals daily across the U.S to people in need. The aid extends to Southern California — their efforts feed hospital workers, firefighters and seniors. The aim is always to serve fresh meals, often made with meats and vegetables from local growers, so the cooking nourishes but also provides a moment of delight even in difficult times.
Amount is up to you | 👉 Purchase here
Jocelyn Ramirez virtual cooking class
The pandemic has sparked a modern home-cooking renaissance, and many prominent L.A. chefs have turned to teaching virtual cooking classes. Treat the burgeoning home chefs in your life to a fun, interactive class with Todo Verde’s Jocelyn Ramirez, author of the recent cookbook “La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Mexican with Authentic Flavor” (which happens to be on critic Bill Addison’s list of favorite quarantine cookbooks) Students learn to make popular Todo Verde dishes such as heart of palm ceviche, jackfruit carnitas, pipian verde and coconut flan. Classes, taught via Zoom on most weekends.
$10 and up, a sliding scale fee | 👉 Purchase here
Meals Clothing food-inspired face masks
Meals Clothing makes colorful, comfortable, non-gendered apparel and accessories inspired by a motley array of delicious foods, including bacon, doughnuts, pita bread, watermelon and blueberry-flavored Slurpee drinks. The shop’s face masks, made in Los Angeles using hand-dyed cotton, are lightweight and breathable — the Funfetti cake mix mask is particularly fetching. All proceeds of the funky lettuce-themed mask go to Summaeverythang, which brings organic produce to South L.A. neighborhoods.
$6 and up | 👉 Purchase here
Three Gems Tea porcelain gong fu tea set
Know someone who could use a tea break? Inspired by traditional gong fu tea ware from China’s Chaozhou region, Three Gems Tea owners Diana Zheng and Ayumi Takahashi collaborated with a family-run studio in Jingdezhen — known as the porcelain capital of China — to craft this beautiful hand-painted tea set with a modern twist. The L.A.-based company also offers a range of direct trade and single origin oolongs teas that are ideal for the budding tea lover looking to sip the good stuff in style.
$96 | 👉 Purchase here
La Monarca Bakery café de olla
No trip to La Monarca Bakery is complete without fresh pan dulce and a mug of café de olla, a fragrant Mexican spiced coffee that is magically restorative on a chilly morning. For the caffeine enthusiast in your life, pick up a bag of the local panadería’s bestselling beverage to prepare at home: a ready-to-brew blend of organic Oaxacan coffee beans, Mexican cinnamon and brown cane sugar. Goes great with churros too.
$16.95 | 👉 Purchase here
Masienda masa starter kit
Sure, you can pick up a basic tortilla press at the supermarket, but if you know someone who’s obsessive about tortillas consider the one recently released by Masienda, the L.A.-based heirloom masa company that supplies Taco Maria. Masienda founder Jorge Gaviria partnered with Doña Rosa, a longtime vendor at Oaxaca’s Central de Abastos, to import professional grade tortilladoras (tortilla makers) that are beautiful and built to last. For those taking “the first step toward falling down the masa rabbit hole,” the company offers a kit that pairs the press with two bags of single-origin heirloom masa flour.
$89 | 👉 Purchase here
Vin de California ‘Arrakis’
They say the best bottle of wine to give as a gift is one with a good story. If that’s the case, Vin de California “Arrakis” — an unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made by local natural winemakers and wine shop owners Adam and Kate Vourvoulis — hits the right notes. Using organically farmed grapes from San Luis Obispo, the couple ferments and ages two wines separately and blends them just before bottling, producing a juicy-tart chillable red that tastes like sipping Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry while cruising on a longboard and lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac. As for the name? It’s a reference to the spice-producing desert planet at the center of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune.
$26 | 👉 Purchase here
Yang’s Kitchen chili crisp
Eggs, noodles, pizza, fries, steak, rice, wings, a spoon, your shoe.... It’s hard to find something a dollop of Yang’s Kitchen chili crisp won’t improve exponentially. The Alhambra restaurant sells 16-ounce jars of the stuff, made with three kinds of chili, ginger, garlic and shallots. It’s salty, onion-forward and spicy in an addictive, I-need-it-on-everything sort of way.
$20 | 👉 Purchase here
Zac’s Sweet Shop custom cookie pizza
For the sweet tooth on your list this year, you can customize an 8-inch cookie “pizza” from Zac’s Sweet’s Shop, an online dessert store started by 23-year-old USC graduate Zac Coughlin. Choose your cookie base (chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate, red velvet and cookies and cream) and toppings (Oreo’s, chocolate chips, mini M&Ms and more). You can even add a personal note.
$32 and up | 👉 Purchase here
Lauded Los Angeles bartender Josh Goldman partnered with former PhD biochemist David Brandt to create Silvergrin vodka. It’s made from northland red winter wheat, corn and Alturas potatoes from Montana and bottled in California. The vodka features light floral notes and is smooth enough to sip at room temperature.
$43.99 | 👉 Purchase here
Dear John’s bottled sauces
If you’re a steak sauce fan, Dear John’s in Culver City has started selling bottles of all four of its sauces. You can now buy chef Josiah Citrin’s classic steak sauce, peppercorn sauce, hot sauce and green acres chile sauce from the restaurant or Rockenwagner Bakery. They’re excellent on steak, breakfast burritos, or anything else in need of an umami boost.
All-Time pique sauce
When restaurants pivoted to become one-stop pantries for produce and ingredients at the start of the pandemic, many started making their own bottled condiments, particularly hot sauce. Of all the ones we’ve tried since then, All-Time’s pique sauce is the best. Made with chiles and garlic, this Puerto Rican, vinegar-based hot sauce has a floral aroma — without any of the panted breath-induced sting. It’s obviously great on roast pork or virtually any Puerto Rican-style food, but we’ve also found ourselves pouring it judiciously over scrambled eggs, stirring it into mayo for a spread on turkey sandwiches and using it as the heat for a hangover-killing bloody Mary.
$9 | 👉 Purchase here
Now Serving cookbook store gift card
Now more than ever, it’s imperative to support our local business to keep the shops and restaurants we love open. During the quarantine, whenever we wanted a new cookbook, we made sure to purchase it from Now Serving, the beloved independent cookbook store in Chinatown. But instead of wondering which book will be the right one for your loved one, get them a gift card to Now Serving instead.
$10 and up | 👉 Purchase here
OXO food scale
Each holiday season, we implore everyone we know who’s interested in cooking or baking to buy a scale, and this year is no different. Food scales ensure accurate measurement of ingredients, particularly flour in baking, which is often the chief culprit in poorly baked cakes. Our favorite is this model from OXO, which can hold up to 22 pounds. Buy one for your friend and one for yourself and relax knowing your cooking and baking just got 10 times easier.
$69.99 | 👉 Purchase here
Kewpie mayonnaise art print
Why merely enjoy the silky-smooth taste of Kewpie mayonnaise and its adorable baby mascot on your food when you can have it on your wall? (No, we’renot suggesting you use mayo as paint.) This art print from Holly Dickenson of This Close to Midnight, who has a number of other condiment prints for sale, commemorates the Japanese mayo loved by chefs and diners worldwide. It’s nearly as cute as the baby itself.
$13 | 👉 Purchase here
‘Perfect Sense’ on DVD
We may be aging ourselves by recommending a DVD, but emailing someone a link to a streaming site doesn’t feel very personal, does it? “Perfect Sense” was a largely overlooked movie from 2012 starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green that deals with a pandemic that sweeps the globe, causing its victims to lose their senses one by one. Smell and taste go first, which causes significant issues for Michael (McGregor), a Glasgow chef. Understand why we are recommending this now? (This one doesn’t relate to local businesses, but was too fun and bizarre not to include.)
$12.99 | 👉 Purchase here
Mariscos Jalisco caps
Mariscos Jalisco is one of the city’s best and most beloved taco trucks. Its much-acclaimed deep-fried shrimp tacos covered in tangy red salsa and slivers of avocado are as quintessential L.A. as any dish you could name. Why not rep the brand wherever you go? Grab a snapback cap ($20) or a softer “dad hat” ($15) and let everyone know your taco knowledge is unparalleled. Get it in Lakers purple-and-gold for some true Southland flair. Available in-person at their Olympic Blvd truck or DM their Instagram account for shipping rates.
$15 and up | 👉 Purchase here
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