I live in Seattle, and here, many food trends hit about a six-months to a year before they do in most other cities. This means I know what foodies are talking about here will be the national zeitgeist within the next year. But over the last few years I’ve noticed a pattern with nearly every major food trend in this country: it hits Los Angeles six months or a year (or more) before it lands here. Nearly every trend that isn’t purely hype (remember the cronut?) starts it’s journey into the US mainstream from Los Angeles. How and when did Los Angeles become America’s best food city?
Up until about ten years ago, the West Coast had a near-monopoly on good Asian food. Sure, New York, Chicago and Washington had some good places, but nowhere could really compete on variety. There was a good Anhui place in Boston? In Los Angeles, there were fifty great Xinjiang-style restaurants. In Chicago there were some soondubu places, sure, but have you had Korean Fried Chicken? In terms of Asian cuisine, Los Angeles was king, and San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle and San Diego its court.
A similar effect was felt on Latin food, though it wasn’t so much a West-Coast thing as it was a Los Angeles-thing. Everyone had tacos, many places were getting pupusas, but what about hilachas or solterito de quinua? Peruvian food is blowing up now, but it was near unheard of 10 years ago outside of a few specific neighborhoods.
This all changed with the rise of foodie culture, particular amongst the members of the obscure-food-seeking hipster foodie movement. Everyone wanted korean tacos and lumpia and, next thing you know, some were trying to DIY slaughter their goat own meat. But this stuff existed in Los Angeles all along. And because Los Angeles is so far from the familiar foods of Europe, and really at the intersection between Latin American and Asian cuisine, if you wanted obscure food, Los Angeles was where you looked.
Don’t believe me? In addition to the aforementioned Korean Taco, Los Angeles is where the “gourmet” food truck originated. Los Angeles was one of the only cities in America to have decent ramen before the food movement. Sriracha, the foodie movies poster child before it became mainstream, was invented in LA. Pop-up restaurants, too. Poké may be from Hawaii, but it wasn’t something talked about in the New York Times until it made its way through LA.
I could give a dozen more examples of this effect, but don’t let me convince you. Next time you see a food trend coming from seemingly no where to becoming the popular thing everywhere, look back to see when the first restaurant or food truck of its kind opened in LA. This movement will change, and a new focal point will arise as Asian and Latin food continue to be become more and more ubiquitous in this country. But that’s a long way away. And until that date, Los Angeles will continue to be the source of trends.