Do this: Get in your car and drive to the origination point of Wilshire Boulevard in downtown L.A. From there, drive west until you reach the street's termination point in Santa Monica. While your odometer will register the drive only taking a tad over 15 miles, by the end of your winding journey through the wide range of ethnically-dominated communities you'll be shocked your passport doesn't have an extra dozen stamps on it. Such is life in Los Angeles.
One of the great perks of living here is its incredible diversity. Drive anywhere during this Olympics season and you'll see flags of all shapes and sizes, not just the standard red-white-and-blues. And, luckily for us all, that diversity extends into the gastronomical portion of existence in L.A. So, in honor of the Olympics, let's go on a brief culinary tour of where the best food from gold medal-winning countries -- because I reward athletic superiority, of course -- can be found here in our own backyard. (2012 medals as of July 31!)
1st Place: China, 51 golds in 2008; 13 so far in 2012
Sea Harbour: If you've never been to a dim sum restaurant, you're in for a treat. Instead of waiting for a waiter, flag down one of the folks pushing around the carts, point to something that looks appetizing on their menu -- or trust your Cantonese-speaking compatriots -- and they'll plop the dish on your table in five seconds. Technically this isn't Los Angeles proper, but everyone knows the San Gabriel Valley's the place to be for Chinese food.
Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
3939 Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead
2nd Place: America, 36 golds in 2008; 8 in 2012 so far:
Nickel Diner: Can't get much more "American" than a classic diner, and one of the best around is located in the heart of downtown. While there's a bit of false advertisement going on -- a nickel isn't going to get you much -- the burgers and sandwiches are all reasonably priced and worthwhile. My only gripe is that breakfast is only served until 3:30 p.m. Everyone knows a diner serves breakfast 24/7!
524 S. Main St.
3rd Place: Russia, 23 golds in 2008; 2 in 2012 so far
Robert's: Russian food doesn't get much attention in L.A., but it is possible to find if you look in the right spots -- like the West Hollywood area. Try out the different caviars, or for something more filling, pelmeni, a type of dumpling that's said to have originated in Siberia.
Robert's Russian Cuisine
1603 1/2 N. La Brea Ave.
4th Place: Great Britain, 19 golds in 2008; 0 in 2012
Fox & Hounds: If you're talking Britain, then you're talking pubs and beer-battered bar food. And this little gem in Studio City has it all, from bar trivia nights on Monday and Wednesday, to fish and chips and pork pies, to football on the telly.
The Fox and Hounds
11100 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
5th Place: Germany, 16 golds in 2008; 2 in 2012
Berlin Currywurst: While its Silver Lake location would have you thinking otherwise, this place is as no-nonsense as the German people. It's affordable ($5.89 per wurst) and to the point (a modest, focused menu with a step-by-step process on how to order). Oh, and you're going to want to get a batch of fries. Those alone could have put an end to either World War.
3827 W. Sunset Blvd.
6th Place: Australia, 14 golds in 2008; 1 in 2012
The Village Idiot: Apparently, Australian restaurants don't do well here. A cursory search on the Googles led to finding out that the two Australian-themed places (Wallaby's down in Orange and Bondi BBQ in Venice) have both been shuttered. So for this entry we have to settle for a pair of Australian-ish "dinner pies" from The Village Idiot. Luckily, both the classic steak-and-potato and the vegetable offering are delicious.
The Village Idiot
7383 Melrose Ave.
7th Place: South Korea, 13 in 2008; 2 in 2012
Wando Fish: Here's the thing to know about Wando Fish in Koreatown: Sometimes after you pay the check, they give you a box of free food. Sometimes bananas, sometimes carrots, sometimes peaches, sometimes melons. Occasionally, you get nothing at all. Really, it all depends. On what? No one knows. The method to their madness is unexplainable. But that mystery is reason enough to give them a try.
Wando Fish BBQ
357 S. Western Ave., Suite 101
8th Place: France, 8 in 2008; 4 in 2012
Canele: This gem of a place in Atwater is ideal for a hearty brunch, served on the weekends from 10 a.m. until 3 in the afternoon. You can't go wrong with "simple" options like the french toast or baked pancake -- which are both exquisite -- but there are most "exotic" dishes (say, their "deep dish quiche lorraine") if you're so inclined.
3219 Glendale Blvd.
9th Place: Japan, 9 in 2008; 1 in 2012
Shojin: Who'd expect the greatest place (I think) for Japanese food would be a vegan place on the top floor of mall? But there, sitting in the expansive Little Tokyo Shopping Center, are the doors to Shojin. Walk through and you're magically whisked from the mecca of commerce and into a fabulous dining experience. This place is perfect for one of those awkward half-vegan/half-carnivore dates: the food's so good, both are completely satisfied.
333 S. Alameda St., Suite 310
10th Place: Italy, 8 in 2008; 2 in 2012
Mario's: Instead of fancy-pants sit-down places with a full wait staff, complimentary bread, and a hefty bill, the entry for the Italians is simple and basic: A deli in Glendale. There, you can stock up on your various grocery needs if you're running out of cured meats or freshly-baked bread. But the true perfection of the place is in their homemade sandwiches from the deli counter. Order one up, grab a soda, sit down at one of the small tables, and watch the world go by.
Mario's Italian Deli & Market
740 E. Broadway, Glendale