Monday, July 23, 2018

In Memory of Jonathan Gold, King of Los Angeles

It was a coincidence that just two days after the death of Jonathan Gold, the New York Times published the latest in its ongoing series of Stories That Get Los Angeles So, So Wrong. For such an important metropolis, LA is constantly misunderstood — sometimes by its own residents. But Jonathan Gold was the antidote to that — the ambassador, or as Roy Choi called him, the "King of LA" — someone who not only understood our city, but helped thousands of others understand it too.

I've enjoyed reading so many tributes in the last few days that all credited J. Gold for opening their eyes to the neighborhoods, the people, the culture, and of course, the food of Los Angeles. The rest of the world still sees L.A. as mostly Hollywood and the Westside. But in J. Gold's LA, that is just a fraction of it. Boyle Heights, Koreatown, South LA, the San Gabriel Valley, and on and on. These are the people of Los Angeles, and we are damn lucky to live in the most diverse and vibrant metropolis in the world.

J. Gold inspired us to get out of the house and explore that world. His annual list of the 101 best restaurants was a cultural check list, a chance to travel around the world within the L.A. county limits. And he used his power wisely, helping support small businesses by highlighting the best.

Of course, like many, I was inspired by J. Gold's famous Pico Boulevard Project, in which he ate his way down the street — from downtown to the ocean — chronicling every birria taco and every gastrobomb along the way. For our second Great Los Angeles Walk in 2007, I reached out to Gold and asked him to give us a roster of places to eat as we made our way down Pico. (I dusted off the list when we did the Pico walk again in 2016.) So, of course, back then I had to contact the Pulitzer Prize-winning scrbe. To my pleasant surprise, he emailed back quickly, and even said he read Franklin Avenue! I managed to pick his brain on a few spots and he gave a selection. From 2007:

  • El Salvador Cafe. 575 E. Pico

  • El Parian. 1528 W. Pico ("I went on record in 1990 claiming that El Parian’s birria was the single best Mexican dish in Los Angeles, and nothing in the thousand L.A. Mexican meals I have eaten since then has done anything to sway me from that belief," Gold wrote in 2006)

  • La 27th Restaurante Familar. 1830 W. Pico (Nicaraguan food -- Gold suggests "nacatamals and fritanga").

  • El Colmao. 2328 W. Pico (Cuban food -- Gold suggests "fried pork leg with onions).

  • Las 7 Regiones de Oaxaca. 2648 W. Pico. ("It is Las 7 Regiones’ coloradito, its version of one of the famous seven moles of Oaxaca, that is a really remarkable concoction — thick and dense and sweet-hot and unctuous, the product of hours of labor and probably 20-odd toasted seeds and chiles and spices," Gold writes.)

  • Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. 5006 W. Pico. ("Roscoe’s is the Carnegie Deli of L.A.’s R&B scene," Gold wrote in an old review.)

  • Oki-Dog. 5056 W. Pico. (Go for the pastrami burritos, Gold says.)

  • Magic Carpet. 8566 W. Pico. (Gold once wrote that he used to live close by: " if I had tasted Magic Carpet's melawach back then, I might never have moved - a bronzed, pizza-size fried Yemenite pancake that seems to have a hundred levels of wheatiness, a thousand layers of crunch and the taste of clean oil, melawach is one of the greatest dishes in Los Angeles.")

  • Twin Dragon. 8597 W. Pico. (Gold admits that he likes some of the Shanghaiese dishes here, writing a few years back: "Although the kitchen is perfectly capable of turning out dishes stunning only in their mediocrity, some of the truly Shanghainese dishes -- smoked fish, round steamed dumplings, shredded pork sautéed with salted vegetables -- are fine.")

  • Pico Kosher Deli. 8826 W. Pico. (Gold recommends the pastrami sandwiches, and wrote in 2004 about its "PLT" -- like a BLT, but with pastrami.)

  • John O'Groats. 10516 W. Pico. ("Smoked pork chops," Gold recommends.)

  • Pico Teriyaki House. 10610 W. Pico. (Gold notes it's nearly impossible to get in, so it's not a spot to visit during our hike. But for future reference, he says try the robatayaki.)

  • Torafuku. 10914 W. Pico. (Their izakaya dishes are a little too pricy for he hike, but Gold named it one of L.A.'s 99 essential restaurants in 2005.)

  • "Man, it's a long street. I'll try and think of some others," he wrote.

    Last night I watched "City of Gold," the documentary about J. Gold — now streaming on Hulu. It will make you hungry, which is the point — in honor of the legend, take a moment this week and explore a neighborhood you've never visited, and eat at a restaurant you've never tried. Now, more than ever, J. Gold's message of community is so important to combat those who'd like to tear us apart.

    1 comment:

    Chris Robinson said...

    He will surely be missed in Los Angeles.

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