What Is L.A.'s Iconic Food?

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News outlets love controversy, and it's easy to understand why. If you stir up a reader's/viewer's emotions to the point where they feel as if they have to leave a comment, or they just have to forward this terrible item along to their friends and family, or they have to spread the word about this nonsense via their Facebook page or Twitter account, well, suddenly said news organization have themselves a page-view viral beast. Anger brings ratings.

In the food writing world, though, there's not too many ways to spread articles virally through rage. Pieces about Monsanto or Big Food get people occasionally steamed, and any investigation into how factory farms treat animals are sure to get the blood boiling. But when it comes to food news, there's no more tried and true way to get wide swaths of readership foaming at the mouth than with contests about how one region's food is better than the other.

Take this recent attempt by USA Today Travel to find "America's most iconic food." To get people across the nation to vote early and often, the USA Today folks went to their pool of experts to find the top 20 "iconic foods" across the country. The selections include Philadelphia's cheesesteak, New Orleans' boiled crawfish, Chicago's Italian beef (which somehow surpassed the city's seemingly more iconic deep dish pizza), and New York's pastrami sandwich. All fine offerings, but what may have been most shocking was what they decided L.A.'s most iconic offering was:

Nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

Los Angeles didn't make the list with anything. As far as USA Today's experts are concerned, L.A. has no iconic foods.

The conventional wisdom says that since L.A. is a town composed generally of transients from other parts of the country, it doesn't have a culinary culture all its own. It's a combination of various foods from around the world, all simmering in the city's grand melting pot, fused and mixed together to the point where there's no food that it's known for, but instead is simply a rich and diverse tableau. Except, well, that's an opinion I could not disagree with more.

See, there's a trio of foods out there that L.A. should be "known" for throughout the rest of the country. They are:

Tacos

From the James Beard award-winning Yuca's on Hillhurst to the late night joys at Taco Zone, from the Tacos Baja Ensenada (which is not anywhere near Ensenada) to the new, controversial Silver Lake "taco fabricator" Diablo, tacos are beyond ubiquitous in the L.A. food scene. They're like palm trees lining the streets, so omnipresent you kind of forget they're there. Maybe the diversity of options available is what's keeping them from being recognized, but that mentality needs to change.

Bacon-wrapped hot dogs

A few years ago Farmer John, the official hot dog wrangler for the Dodgers, made an attempt to get the bacon-wrapped hot dog deemed the "official hot dog of Los Angeles." And while that goal was more P.R.-based than an actual attempt to change the city's thinking, the point is a good one. Walking home from the bar at 2 a.m., there's no sweeter smell than a bacon-wrapped hot dog sizzling on that metal cooking tray. That said, the food of choice by drunken bar patrons may not be a good representative for the city as a whole.

The Good Ol' Burger

While the hamburger may be the most iconic food of the country, L.A. has a legitimate claim that it belongs to the City of Angels alone. While L.A. is home to burger chains like In-N-Out and Tommy's, and headquarters of the rapidly-expanding Umami Burger empire, what may put the basic all-American staple on the top of the city's "iconic food" podium are the various one-offs that litter the landscape: The Apple Pan on Pico, Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena, Irv's in West Hollywood, the dual Father's Office locations, to name just a few. Even the most L.A. film of all time, "Pulp Fiction," has several scenes in which burgers play prominent roles. And if you can't trust Quentin Tarantino to pick the food that resonates most with the city, well, then who can you trust?

So, then: What do you think?


Read more about L.A.'s most famous foods:
Celebrate National Taco Day in Los Angeles
Extreme Hot Dogging at Dodger Stadium
Jason Travi and Mario Del Pero Pick L.A.'s 5 Best Burgers
An Animated History of the French Dip in Los Angeles

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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Man, I love Taco Zone. They have the best suadero.