Here’s how to eat your way through LA

This culinary map of Los Angeles proves the city is more than just the world's movie capital.

  • Fast food and car culture found each other in Los Angeles.
  • Add a unique blend of cultures and cuisines, and LA is a culinary hotspot second to none.
  • This map details some of the city's most famous eateries.


WALTER: He lives in North Hollywood on Radford, near the In-N-Out Burger--

THE DUDE: The In-N-Out Burger is on Camrose.

WALTER: Near the In-N-Out Burger--

DONNY: Those are good burgers, Walter.

WALTER: Shut the f*** up, Donny.

"The Big Lebowski" (1998)

Fast cars and fast food

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson.

Drive-by food is a perfect fit for LA's car-based culture

There are many ways to navigate a city. Take its architectural wonders as guideposts, its museums or houses of worship. Or its bars or bookshops. But the hungry visitor to Los Angeles could do worse than to pick the string of famous eateries festooning this map of the City of Angels.

Drive-by food is a perfect fit for LA's car-based culture, and both – the fast cars and the fast food – conquered the city before they took over the world. So even if they're relatively recent, a lot of places on this map deserve a mention in fast food history.

But 'fast' is just one item on LA's menu. So are various Latin and Asian cuisines, sophisticated restaurants, farmer's markets, and the moveable feast that is the food truck.

Anyone looking for a foodography of Los Angeles can stop right here, at this map produced by illustrator Clay Hickson. And take a bite.

"To celebrate the return of the LA Times Food Section (at the start of April, Ed.), I was asked to illustrate a map of some of the best/most beloved/iconic restaurants in Los Angeles," Mr Hickson says. "I didn't choose the restaurants myself, but I was able to slip a few suggestions in there."

Here are some eye-catching (and appetite-whetting) examples:

Pastrami on rye and lobster Thermidor

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

Bob's Big Boy is another foodie landmark nearby.

Brent's Deli

Officially Brent's Delicatessen & Restaurant, this Jewish deli opened in Northridge in 1967. It was taken over by Roy Peskin two years later (for the princely sum of $1,700) and has since opened a second location in Westlake Village. Brent's is most famous for its Black Pastrami Reuben (pastrami, Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread).

Bill's Burgers

This burger stand on Oxnard Street in Van Nuys produces, according to Forbes Magazine, "the kind of burger you marry." The burgers may be legendary, but Bill Elwell, who has been flipping them since the mid-1960s, doesn't do fries. Mr Elwell is in his early nineties now, so it may be wise to put this shack high up the to-do list – fries or no.

Casa Vega

This Mexican restaurant in Sherman Oaks, still owned by the same family that opened it in 1956, is an LA institution – and not just for its food. Their Mexican Coffee, made with 1800 Tequila Reposado, Kahlua, whipped cream (and coffee), is as famous for its name as for its kick: 'Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animal'.

Musso & Frank Grill

Opened in 1919 on Hollywood Boulevard, Musso & Frank advertises as the 'oldest (bar and restaurant) in Hollywood', but has a few other claims to fame. It is the Hollywood restaurant, making appearances in countless movies ("Oceans Eleven" and "Ed Wood", to name but two). It was the beloved haunt of writers such as Fante, Faulkner and Fitzgerald; and movie royalty including Chaplin, Garbo and Bogart. Popular items on the classic menu include Welsh Rarebit, lobster Thermidor and chicken pot pie (the latter only on Thursdays).

Old French and new Asian

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

The most mouthwatering map ever of the San Gabriel Valley and environs.

Pie 'n Burger

Old-fashioned joint serving classic burgers, milkshakes and fruit pies in Pasadena since 1963 – and 'home of America's Top 5 cheeseburger as ranked by the Food Network', the website proclaims.

Golden Deli

This Vietnamese restaurant has been a San Gabriel institution since 1981. Whether you show up for the breakfast pho or a banh mi lunch, expect the food to be delicious and the helpings generous – but only after you've braved the inevitable queue.

Sichuan Impression

To the original restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley, Sichuan Impression has added two more locations in LA, the latest one last year on Santa Monica Boulevard. The expansion reflects the growing popularity of the spicy fare typical of China's Sichuan province.

Taix

Founded in 1927 by Marius Taix Jr., this family restaurant in Echo Park is known for its generous portions at modest prices. It is also the oldest French restaurant in Los Angeles.

Gigantism and deconstructivism

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

Vespertine is an avant-garde restaurant in an avant-garde building.

Randy's Donuts

Randy's isn't just a 24-hour drive-in bakery, but also a landmark making frequent appearances in movies and on tv. A giant donut on your roof will do that – although in all fairness, a few other examples of donut gigantism survive throughout the city from its heyday up to the 1950s. But this one, located on the corner of La Cienega and W Manchester Blvd. in Inglewood since 1953, is the most famous one.

Beverly Soon Tofu Restaurant

Soon tofu is a red, bubbling, almost pudding-like soft tofu stew, and few places do it better than this one on the corner of Vermont and Olympic in Koreatown.

El Cholo

In 1925, a customer waiting for his food at the Sonora Café doodles the figure of a man on the menu. When asked who it is, the man answers: El Cholo – the term for farm labourer given by the old Spanish rancheros in California. The name stuck, and so did the restaurant, which has been called 'the mother of Mexican food in Los Angeles'.

Vespertine

Expect to fork out a few hundred dollars for your food at Vespertine – an avant-garde restaurant in an eye-catching tower of twisted orange steel – but in return you get an experience in culinary deconstructivism unrivalled in LA, lasting several hours and (typically) over a dozen courses. Critics – and customers – are divided, between those who laud the restaurant as refreshingly experimental, and others who find it all more than a bit pretentious.

From Aleppo to Anaheim

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

All you can eat? Probably a bit more than that...

Aleppo's Kitchen

This Mediterranean/Middle Eastern restaurant in Anaheim serves Syrian, Turkish and Armenian fare, and is famous for its nine types of kibbeh and the secret spice blend for its kebabs. The name is not accidental: the Syrian city of Aleppo – alas, largely destroyed during the Syrian Civil War – was once known as the culinary capital of the Middle East.

Guerrilla Tacos

Between jobs back in 2012, chef Wes Avila started selling tacos from a cart in Downtown LA's Arts District. That blossomed into Guerrilla Tacos, first a food truck, since July 2018 a brick-and-mortar restaurant a few blocks from where Wes sold the first taco from his cart.

Grand Central Market

This place brings together a wide variety of food retailers under one roof, as it has done since 1917. You can sample Japanese and Chinese cuisine, but also gobble down a real Berliner currywurst. You can buy bread, cheese and other staples, or just get a burger or grab a pizza.


Following their North Hollywood misadventure, The Dude, Walter and Donny return home.

We are looking into the car through the broken windshield as it rattles down the freeway. Wind whistles through the caved-in windows. The Dude drives, his jaw clenched, staring grimly out at the road. Walter, beside him, and Donny in the back seat, munch on In-N-Out Burgers. Creedence music plays above the bluster of wind.

Neither Camrose Drive nor Radford Avenue, about 6 miles from each other in North Hollywood, has an In-N-Out Burger. The Big Lebowski was filmed in Los Angeles, but the city's cinematic landscape doesn't necessarily mirror its culinary one.

Map reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Hickson. Found here, at the relaunch of the LA Times's food section on 11 April.

Strange Maps #972

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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