Off Menu with Lucas Kwan Peterson
Ep. 1: An education in Thai food with Jitlada’s Jazz Singsanong

In the first episode of “Off Menu,” host Lucas Kwan Peterson and Jazz Singsanong, longtime proprietor of the Thai Town restaurant Jitlada, head to LAX-C, a vast, warehouse-like grocery store that’s sometimes known by its informal nickname, Thai Costco.

The two of them go shopping, Jazz educating Lucas on selecting produce and how to pick a high-quality fish to bring home. They then return to the Jitlada kitchen where Jazz shows Lucas how to make a few dishes that aren’t on the regular menu.


More from this episode:

In the first episode of “Off Menu,” Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson and Jazz Singsanong, longtime proprietor of the Thai Town restaurant Jitlada, head to LAX-C, a vast, warehouse-like grocery store that’s sometimes known by its informal nickname, Thai Costco.
More Coverage
Jazz Singsanong of Jitlada restaurant gives us her recipe for nam prik goong, a funky, salty dipping sauce for raw vegetables made with shrimp and shrimp paste.
The restaurant packs ‘em in with its southern Thai home cooking. Don’t know what to order? Just ask owner Sarintip ‘Jazz’ Singsanong.
Jonathan Gold dishes on the Jazz burger, an off-menu item at Jitlada in Thai town, a site of pilgrimage for spicy food lovers.
Spicy food is glorious stuff, particularly in times of duress, or when the weather is unreasonably chilly, or when you’ve misplaced that bottle of Double Chicken Brand Sriracha you still keep in your bag.
Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong is standing over a pot of tea, watching the water take on a burnt ocher color as the mixture gently simmers.
Regional cuisine is reinventing the Thai food scene. Pssst -- be sure to ask for the ‘other’ menu.

Ep. 2: A Tijuana road trip with the guys from Tacos 1986

Just a few months after opening, Tacos 1986 quickly ascended to become one of L.A.’s most popular taco spots. Run by Victor Delgado and charismatic taquero Jorge Alvarez-Tostado, Tacos 1986 became known for its Tijuana-style tacos de adobada — juicy marinated pork sliced from a rotating trompo and served with a dollop of smooth guacamole.

Lucas follows Victor and Joy to their hometown, Tijuana, to go on a tour of the childhood friends’ favorite taco spots and learn about the different styles of tacos and tortas just south of the border.

More from this episode:

Tacos 1986 makes the best vegan mushroom tacos. Chef and founder Jorge Alvarez-Tostado shares the easy recipe for the seared mushroom filling and salsa macha.
Salsa macha combines dried chiles and garlic with olive oil, and this Tacos 1986 recipe includes sesame seeds for a nutty richness and orange juice for brightness.
At street stands that sell Tijuana-style tacos de adobada, the eye-catching centerpiece is usually a trompo — a vertical rotisserie stacked with marinated pork.
Tacos 1986, the pop-up taqueria known best for its guacamole-smeared mushroom tacos and charismatic taquero, is opening in downtown L.A. near the corner of Spring and 6th streets.

Ep. 3: Exploring Little Saigon in Orange County


Lucas visits Orange County chef Shawn Pham, formerly of the restaurants Simbal and Fiona, for some of the best Vietnamese food in the country. Shawn, who grew up in Orange County, takes Lucas to Bien Hen in Westminster for some classic Vietnamese drinking food — razor clams, spotted escargot and an enormous grilled catfish. They also go to Banh Cuon Luu Luyen in Garden Grove, where Delena Ta runs a small family-owned operation that specializes in banh cuon, or Vietnamese rice sheets.

The guys chat about eating and drinking culture in Vietnam, growing up Asian American and appropriation in food, and eventually end up in Seal Beach with Shawn’s family.

More from this episode:

If you’ve been to Tokyo, you know that finding a restaurant can be even harder than wrangling a reservation to one, even if you have an exact street address, even if you’re with a friend who knows the neighborhood fairly well.

Ep. 4: This L.A. sushi master creates a one-of-a-kind experience in his Hollywood hideaway
Lucas and master sushi chef Mori Onodera spend the day together shopping for tuna, making plates and discussing the qualities of sushi rice. Mori shows Lucas different sashimi grades and how to break down a fish.

Sushi chef Mori Onodera takes Lucas on an early morning trip to Luxe Seafood in downtown L.A. to show him the ins and outs of selecting a tuna. After that, they head to a pottery studio where Mori shows a different side of his artistic temperament — by making the plates that are used in his restaurant, Inn Ann. Finally, they head to Mori’s restaurant, in the heart of Hollywood, where Mori shows Lucas how to break down a tuna in the way only a master sushi chef can.

More from this episode:

Framed against the sky, tranquil and removed, Inn Ann is a 35-seat Japanese restaurant in a remote corner of the Hollywood & Highland shopping center.
Morihiro “Mori” Onodera sold his beloved namesake sushi bar, Mori, in West L.A. nearly three years ago and has since devoted more time to one of his passion projects: rice.

Ep. 5: Eating chicken tikka pizza and masala dosas with the boys from L.A.’s Badmaash

Arjun and Nakul Mahendro and their father, Pawan, tell Lucas the story of Badmaash, their modern Indian restaurant with two locations in L.A. They head to Artesia, a small city on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties, which has some of the best Indian restaurants in Southern California. They chow down on beloved Indian foods like dosai and idli, as well as slightly more unconventional fare, like chicken tikka pizza.

More from this episode:

The Goan pork curry recipe from Badmaash develops deep, meaty richness from a homemade curry powder, a long marinade, and a slow simmer in a tomato-onion sauce.
The first thing you notice when you enter Badmaash, a new Indian gastropub in downtown L.A., is a giant wall covered in striped colors.

Ep. 6: The best Armenian restaurant in L.A. is this tiny family-run kebab joint in Glendale


For a small restaurant, Mini Kabob packs a powerful punch. The meat specialist has been serving grilled beef and chicken skewers for 33 years from a tiny three-table space just off Central Avenue in Glendale, home to one of the largest Armenian communities in the United States.

Lucas visits the Martirosyan family — Ovakim, Alvard and son Armen — and gets to know one of the most beloved restaurants in the city.

The more I eat khachapuri, the more I’m convinced that I want to be one of the older Armenian men who congregate at the patio tables outside of Old Sasoon Bakery on Allen Avenue in north Pasadena.

Ep. 7: Building community through food in skid row, the epicenter of L.A.’s homelessness crisis

Skid row in the center of downtown has long been emblematic of the serious homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. Lucas explores the foodways of skid row, including two organizations that are attempting to provide healthy food choices, vocational training and a sense of community in one of L.A.'s most neglected communities.

The Los Angeles Community Action Network, operates a rooftop garden and hosts a Thursday marketplace, where local residents can buy produce, get free haircuts and participate in an open mike. Skid Row Coffee, which operates out of the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, provides nutritious, affordable food, vocational training and a dignified work environment for those who have struggled with poverty.

Ep. 8: Exploring L.A.'s vibrant Koreatown with comedian Margaret Cho and Eater’s Matthew Kang

Koreatown is more than just another neighborhood — it’s one of the most uniquely urban parts of the city. And for many visitors and Ktown’s 120,000-plus residents, most of whom are Latino or of Korean ancestry, it’s an exciting, frenetically busy slice of Seoul dropped into the middle of L.A., packed with shops, hotels, bars and restaurants serving almost any kind of Korean food you could think to ask for.

In this episode, Lucas welcomes two special guests: Margaret Cho and Matthew Kang. Cho is a celebrated actor and comedian who starred in “All-American Girl,” the first prime-time sitcom featuring an Asian American family. Kang was the host of “K-Town,” an online series focused on Korean food in L.A.; it ran on Eater Los Angeles, where he has been editor since 2014.

Ep. 9: Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley, this hemisphere’s biggest and best Chinatown

Lucas heads east of Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley, a 20-mile-wide swath that is the biggest and best Chinatown on the continent. Whether it’s hot pot or Taiwanese breakfast or northern Chinese dumplings, it’s possible to find almost every kind of regional Chinese cooking in the SGV.

Lucas heads to the restaurant Hui Tou Xiang to chat with David Chan, an amateur historian and Chinese food enthusiast who has eaten at more than 7,500 different Chinese restaurants in his life. Afterward he meets up with some friends and colleagues at Huge Tree Pastry, a Monterey Park staple known for its excellent Taiwanese breakfast. Genevieve Ko, The Times’ cooking editor, Frank Shyong, a columnist for The Times, and Danny Chau, formerly of the Ringer, sit down and talk about growing up Asian American and how it has shaped their relationship to food.

Finally, Lucas heads to West L.A. to visit Jon Yao at Kato, a modern Taiwanese fine dining restaurant that was recently named the top restaurant on The Times’ 101 Best Restaurants list. Yao reflects on his childhood growing in Walnut, a small city in the SGV, and how it affected the development of Kato, as well as what lies in store for the future of Chinese cuisine.

David Chan, an L.A. attorney, will try any Chinese restaurant once and has the spreadsheet to prove it. He has become a go-to expert for critics.
The San Gabriel Valley can seem like a vast foreign land, not often explored because of its east of the 110 Freeway status.
How Chinese food in America came to be synonymous with fried noodles and sticky-sweet meat nuggets is complicated.

Ep. 10: Heading to South L.A. for chicken sausage, a staple of Los Angeles’ black community

Some things immediately come to mind when you think about food in Los Angeles: tacos, sushi and grain bowls, to name a few. But chicken sausage, long a staple in L.A.'s black community, doesn’t always receive proper recognition. This piece from Garrett Snyder explores how chicken sausage found its way onto so many L.A. menus, and why it flourished.

During this week’s episode of “Off Menu,” Food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson goes to South L.A. to visit two black-owned businesses that focus on chicken sausage, Mama’s Chicken on Slauson Avenue and Best Buy Meat on Crenshaw Boulevard. At Mama’s, Lucas talks with Karen Whitman, longtime proprietor who has worked at Mama’s for 50 years. At Best Buy Meat, owned by father-and-son duo Walter Hart Sr. and Walter Hart Jr., Lucas learns more about the history of their business and how chicken sausage became such a beloved food in the community.

Bonus: Exploring Mexico City for tacos, carnitas, pan dulce and more

In this special bonus episode of “Off Menu,” Lucas heads to Mexico City to sample some of the city’s best food. He’s guided by three food writers and editors: Alonso Ruvalcaba, Claudio Castro and Renata Lira. They lead Lucas on a tour through different neighborhoods in the vibrant capital city, highlighting different dishes along the way.

Get our food critics’ free weekly dining newsletter
Lucas Kwan Peterson is a columnist and video producer for the Los Angeles Times Food section.