Los Angeles is full of people who care passionately about food, and there are plenty of restaurants happy to serve us. We don't all agree on what constitutes "good," but we do know we like our burgers, our froyo, our Korean BBQ, our pizza. (That's right, our pizza. We like it.)
The thing is, we don't have one iconic dish. Nothing that we can point to and say, "This. This is Los Angeles on a plate." So now we're going to find out. KCET Food came up with 16 contenders. You vote on your favorites. Here are the first two:
Bulgogi at Soot Bull Jeep: A restaurant we've all been to, and lived to smell the tale for three days hence.
The History: Korean barbeque as a whole is one of the delights of this city. Table top grilled meats with loads of tiny side dishes is certainly not all there is to Korean cuisine, but it does lend itself well to restaurants. Over the years Koreatown has become a culinary destination, and Soot Bull Jeep is arguably the most well known.
The Scene: Who knows? The place is completely filled with smoke, you can't see past your own table.
The Food: KBBQ is one of those genres, like xiao long bao (more on that later), that everyone's going to fight over. "The best" is a pretty personal choice here. But Soot Bull Jeep isn't ever bad -- there are plenty of people who consider it quite good. The grills on every table are charcoal, not gas, which is the source of the restaurant's infamy, and the reason you'll smell like a campfire for three days after eating here. Bulgogi, the marinated beef that everyone who's had KBBQ is familiar with, is a great entry point to the genre. It's pre-seasoned! It's a little sweet! It's not an organ meat! It is, in fact, iconic.
Carnitas Tacos at Taco Zone: The favorite taco truck of a whole generation of transplants, and the meat many folks get accustomed to street food on.
The History: We're not sure exactly when Taco Zone first appeared at Alvarado and Montana, but we do know it's had an extremely important part in the lives of recently-arrived-to-L.A. college grads since Echo Park first became a destination for such types ... so about 10 years, maybe a little longer. It's a beacon with horchata.
The Scene: Most nights after 7 p.m., but especially Fridays and Saturdays after midnight, this place approaches madhouse status. But a respectful madhouse: everyone's after the same thing, and they're patiently waiting their turn. There are usually a couple folding chairs on the sidewalk, but most choose to eat upright. I do hate to be cheesy, but the folks eating here at any given time represent a great cross-section of L.A. Nobody doesn't love tacos!
The Food: Suadero might be the meat insiders choose here (and that the perfect-for-dessert horchata is homemade is something more people need to know), but carnitas are the thing to get, at any taco truck across L.A. The little bits of pork are crispy and delicious, and Taco Zone makes a mean rendition. And it's best to avail yourself of the generous salsa bar.