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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.

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson
  • 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

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

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson.

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

Bob's Big Boy is another foodie landmark nearby.

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

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

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

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

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

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

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

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

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

Image courtesy of Clay Hickson

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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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

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  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
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Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

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