Nine L.A. County Spots Anthony Bourdain Would Have Enjoyed, According to Food-Loving Angelenos
Anthony Bourdain, the food giant we loved, left us too soon. Three years later, his absence is still deeply felt, and we still cherish in the way he ate and appreciate food, as well as those who made it.
As Morgan Neville, who directed "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain," a new film examining Bourdain's life, put it, "at the end of the day, Bourdain is an ambassador for curiosity. He showed more of the world to more people than just about anybody. …[he] helped lead the revolution on how we think about food now."
"For somebody who understood fine cuisine, he became the ultimate champion of the underdog," Neville added.
Even though Bourdain was a New Yorker through and through and as such, felt a bit of an obligation to look down on Los Angeles, we know in our hearts that L.A. came to hold a special place in his heart.
"He connected to Los Angeles through its ethnic communities and, of course, their food," he said. "Tony saw the parts of the city that I as an Angeleno wanted people to see: K-Town to East L.A."
He showed us that "The best way to understand a place is from the food you find in the streets," Neville said. "It's also delicious."
And sometimes, when in the middle of devouring a fabulous piece of crispy pork — the recipe written by someone who came from far away — in a strip mall with terrible parking, or biting into a juicy burger in a historic part of L.A. (Bourdain's love of a famous SoCal burger chain was legendary, after all) it's impossible not to wonder "If only he could taste this" and "If only I could take him out to eat here."
He made an effort to visit so many places, but there are still numerous spots that he did not get to try, either because they opened after his death, or he simply never got to try them, which begs the question, "If I could take him anywhere to eat in L.A., where would it be?"
In the spirit of trying to answer to that question in a place as rich in culture and food as L.A., here's just a sampling of some spots we think he would have enjoyed, according to some local — and notable — fans: writer Patricia Escárcega, L.A. Taco Editor Javier Cabral, Compound Butter Editor in Chief Jessie Nicely and Neville himself.
Recommended by Patricia Escárcega, Los Angeles-based writer and the L.A. Times' first restaurant critic of color:
1. Avenue 26 Night Market, Lincoln Heights
"I think Anthony Bourdain would be absolutely beguiled by the Avenue 26 Night Market that popped up in Lincoln Heights this year. The market is throbbing with music and food stands selling excellent tacos, pupusas, Mexican sushi and other dishes that make you feel grateful to be standing on the hills of East Los Angeles, eating and enjoying the night air with other Angelenos."
2. Hawkins House of Burgers, Watts
"By all accounts, Anthony Bourdain loved a good burger. I would invite him to try the Leaning Tower of Watts burger at Hawkins House of Burgers, which is like three amazing pastrami burgers skewered together. I think he would appreciate the craftsmanship of the burger, and also the restaurant's history and deep roots in South Los Angeles."
3. Spoon & Pork, Silver Lake
Self-described as "Not your mama's Filipino Food," this food truck turned brick-and-mortar spot showcases a modern take on the food founders Raymond Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas grew up eating in the Philippines. Escárcega said she would "implore Mr. Bourdain to go try the patita," a saucy and fried pork delight that's served with rice.
Recommended by Javier Cabral, L.A. Taco editor:
4. Poncho's Tlayudas, Historic South Central
"Anthony Bourdain was the first mainstream T.V. personality — though I know he would scoff at that term — who shared the spotlight with the Back of House immigrant staff that he worked alongside with when he still cooked in New York. He shared an entire episode with them, went back to their town in Puebla, and gave respect to Mexican food before many did," Cabral said.
"If I only had one place to have dinner with him, it would definitely be Poncho's Tlayudas in South Central, the backyard operation ran by [Alfonso Martínez] and his partner, Odilia Romero. They are both defenders of Indigenous rights, and I think Tony would feel some kind of way inside knowing that they are making their mark in L.A.'s cutthroat food scene — all while supporting and spreading more awareness of Indigenous rights. Plus, I think their tlayudas are as good, if not better, than the stuff I've had in Oaxaca since they bring all of the ingredients from there. My favorite is the chorizo, but definitely don't leave without trying Poncho's pride and joy blood sausage, moronga, that he makes himself on a weekly basis."
Recommended by Jessie Nicely, Compound Butter Magazine co-founder and editor in chief:
5. Namaste Spiceland, Pasadena
"Half restaurant and half Indian grocery store, Namaste Spiceland features a wide variety of South Indian staples and vegetarian dishes. Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall right off the 210, it serves as an accessible anchor for the neighborhood and a despite its barebones appearance, [it's] a welcoming communal space in which to enjoy a huge and delicious variety of Indian food and goods."
6. Hui Tou Xiang, San Gabriel
"There are literally hundreds of dumplings to choose from in the San Gabriel Valley, and yet I constantly find myself craving the rectangular namesake dumplings from Hui Tou Xiang. The small, homey restaurant is the perfect environment for these simple yet undeniably delicious dumplings. There are plenty of other gems on the menu to enjoy along with the Hui Tou, but I'm always sure to leave plenty of room for those chewy, juicy beauties."
7. Pearl River Deli, Chinatown
"The brainchild of Chef Johnny Lee, Pearl River Deli is an exploration of the history and evolution of Cantonese food both here in the U.S. and in [the] Pearl River Delta region in China. Every dish feels extremely personal, with Lee having labored over each detail from inception to ingredient sourcing to execution. The level of care and knowledge brought to each menu item becomes more and more apparent with each bite."
8. Petite Peso, Downtown
"Petite Peso is a delicious and enlightening glimpse into the mind of Chef/Owner Ria Dolly Barbosa and the current path of Filipino food here in L.A.," Nicely said. "A mixture of the new and old, the menu offers classic chicken adobo right alongside Impossible lumpia and explores the interaction between classic Filipino dishes and California produce. With rotating seasonal dishes and a lovely little selection of baked goods, Petite Peso offers a well-rounded view of the depth and dynamic nature of Barbosa's vision and skills."
Recommended by Morgan Neville, director of "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain":
9. Mizlala, West Adams, Sherman Oaks and Sycamore
With multiple outposts, this Middle Eastern spot is Neville's "new favorite restaurant at the moment." It offers classics like falafel and hummus as well as the more adventurous halva date shake.