Signature dishesare the meals that define a restaurant and its chef, and a sample of the best and most established dishes in town reveal Los Angeles’ world status and the city’s love affair with food. The best restaurants are always changing up, of course, with the seasons, but still, Nobu for example has its beautifully crafted signature black cod and miso: dishes that draw diners back with the very memory of the fragrance of them.
Here are some hot dishes lauded by the LA Times, Food & Wine and others and we add a few from the city’s glorious, glamorous past along the way.
Uni at Providence
At Michael Cimarusti’s Providence, Santa Barbara sea urchins or uni (the new foie gras, so they say) lurk beneath soft-scrambled eggs, brioche and champagne beurre blanc. The former chef de cuisine at Spago, Cimarustitops LA Times’ list of LA restaurants year after year.
Charlie at Musso & Frank
At Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, Musso & Frank, there was no doubt what the signature dish used to be: “Dan Ilich, the head waiter has served enough of the famous Musso-Frank flannel cakes to sink an Italian steamer,” wrote a reporter in 1935. The article went on to say, “Charlie Chaplin dines here more often than anywhere else. He is fond of broiled lamb kidney and lamb curry and rice. Also Irish stew and a salad of lettuce with Roquefort cheese dressing. In season he likes duck.”
A strip mall and a pizza sign. Actually they’re a front for some of the most sought after tables in town.
At Trois Mecs Chef Lefebvre serves an unlikely sounding favorite, Potato Pulp, but like the Pizza sign outside, its name is a misdirection, as the palate discovers potato puree layered with riced fingerling potatoes, drizzled with browned butter powder and finished with bonito flakes and grated cheese.
Dorothy Parker & the LA Bagel
The bagel might seem an iconic New York meal and Dorothy Parker an iconic New Yorker. But Parker enjoyed herself the most when she and her set were lured to Hollywood by screenwriting fees beyond her dreams. And it was in LA that LA’s signature wrote itself before her eyes:
“Once I was coming down a street in Beverly Hills and I saw a Cadillac about a block long, and out of the side window was a wonderfully slinky mink, and an arm, and at the end of the arm a hand in a white suede glove wrinkled around the wrist, and in the hand was a bagel with a bite out of it.” (Dorothy Parker, interviewed Paris Review, 1956).
Jessica’s Savory Bowl
At Sqirl, Jessica Koslow’s wonderful breakfast and lunch joint in Silverlake, it’s a delicious surprise every visit, but some savor her savory rice bowl the most. It’s a mix of chewy Kokuho Rose brown rice, sorrel pesto, fermented hot sauce, creamy feta and a poached egg…
Wolfgang’s Fancy Pizza
Legend has it that Wolfgang Puck came up with his smoked salmon and caviar pizza in the 80’s when his restaurant Spago ran out of bagels and he swapped out a pizza crust instead. The salmon is cured, seasoned with cloves, bay leaves, parsley, thyme and brown sugar and then smoked for eight hours. The pizzas cook for about five minutes with shaved dried onion and olive oil to make a cracker-like crust, then they’re covered in creme fraiche. Salmon tops that, followed by salmon or sturgeon caviar and chives.
The “consensus hit of L.A.’s meat world this year is probably Chad Colby’s tomahawk chop at Chi Spacca,” writes Jonathan Gold of the LA Times about this signature dish.