Chicago is to New York what Miami is to...
This standard SAT analogy might baffle your brain if you haven't made the requisite pilgrimage to the West Coast. But if you're a Southern California expat in this humid swamp-paradise we call a city, you'll know the correct answer is Los Angeles.
The suburban metropolis that is L.A. bears a striking resemblance to the sprawling neighborhoods and gated communities of South Florida, what with the palm trees, highways, and waterside living. Also like Miami, L.A.'s rich ethnic patchwork makes for some of the most interesting eats in America. From Korean barbecue and home-cooked Persian delights to poke and Mexican fruit stands, L.A. has a lot to offer the gluttonous travelers among us.
If you're planning a visit, or are dying to, here's an (In-N-Out-free) culinary pastiche of my recent jaunt to the smog-filled desert oasis of Los Angeles.
L.A. has a bustling Persian community scattered along the west side. Though many debate the best locale to sample their aromatic cuisine, the best Persian meals are always home-cooked. Friday night I made my way to a good friend's house for a traditional Persian Shabbat dinner.
Every meal starts with a sample of lavash, a standard flatbread served with beans, cucumbers, and a smattering of herbs. Persian newbies, note that all meals are heavy on the herbs (basil, mint, fenugreek, parsley, tarragon, etc.), so get excited for some digestive wellness.
For dessert, families usually sit in the living room, where a veritable smorgasbord of fruits (jícama, blueberries, watermelon, etc.), nuts, sweets, and black tea are served.
Weed-Infused Sour Belts
Cannabis and Southern California go together like bath salts and South Florida. Practically every strip mall and shopping center boasts an independently owned and operated medical marijuana dispensary. They're not open to the general public, but all you need to sample some of their goods is a local friend with an up-to-date referral from a doctor.
Weed soda, lip balm, and jawbreakers are just a few of the tasty edible treats most pot dispensaries offer. These sour belts were a personal favorite. Though they taste very herby, they're the perfect treat for a day of running around the Venice boardwalk.
Vegan Ethiopian Food
Along with Persian, Armenian, and Korean, L.A. also has a thriving Ethiopian community. Located on Fairfax between Olympic and Whitworth is a block of coffee shops, thrift stores, and a handful of restaurants known as Little Ethiopia.
A favorite spot is Rahel, a vegan restaurant specializing in traditional stews. Order one of the mixed plates with a glass of honey wine. Sit back as your waiter first brings out a kettle of warm water to wash your hands.
Twenty minutes later, your food arrives in a large serving dish. A mix of stews is plopped onto a large piece of doughy bread called injera. The spongy, glutenous, and dough-like bread provides the perfect vehicle to sop up the bits of stew with your bare hands. Don't even dare ask for utensils.
Venice Beach Poke Stand
Poke is the Hawaiian version of sashimi. Sushi-grade tuna is chopped along with shoyu, sesame seeds, onions, and herbs and served on a bed of rice or greens. Poke-Poke is a small stand conveniently located on the Venice boardwalk.
It's the perfect protein-packed lunch for days at the beach. No wonder it came to be known as the standard fare for surfers along the Southern California coast.
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Mexican Fruit Stands
One of the most convenient things about L.A. is that practically every corner of the city boasts a small cart peddling chopped fruits and vegetables. These Mexican produce carts serve freshly cut mangoes, cucumbers, and coconut topped with chili, lime juice, and hot sauce. The mix of sweet fruit and spicy sauce is a tasty, healthful snack on the go. Served in a plastic bag, it's not only delicious but also portable.