The history of food and culinary culture in Los Angeles is a diverse and multifaceted one that has been shaped by the city's unique history and cultural influences. From the indigenous peoples who first inhabited the region to the waves of immigrants who have come to Los Angeles from around the world since, the city's culinary landscape reflects a rich tapestry of flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques.
One of the earliest inhabitants of the Los Angeles region were the Tongva people, who were skilled in hunting and gathering and practiced a rich culinary culture based on local plants and animals. Spanish explorers arrived in the region in the late 18th century and brought with them their own culinary traditions, such as the use of wheat and the cultivation of grapes for wine.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Los Angeles experienced a significant influx of immigrants from Asia, Europe, and Latin America, all of whom brought their own unique culinary traditions to the city. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants introduced dishes such as chop suey, sushi, and bulgogi, while Italian and Jewish immigrants established thriving culinary communities in the city.
In the post-World War II era, Los Angeles became a hub of the entertainment industry and a center of American consumer culture, which in turn led to the development of a unique culinary landscape. The city became known for its fast food chains, such as In-N-Out Burger and Taco Bell, as well as for its celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants.
Since its inception, Los Angeles has been a vibrant and diverse culinary destination, with a wide range of cuisines and dining experiences available to residents and visitors alike. From street tacos and Korean barbecue to sushi and vegan fare, the city's culinary scene reflects the melting pot of cultures and influences that have shaped the region's history.
In the coming weeks and months, L.A. Explained and Bristol Farms will be inviting hungry, history-loving Angelenos to explore and celebrate the past, present & future of Los Angeles's legendary culinary culture.
While we are keeping a cloche on the exact details for another few weeks, we can say that we'll be inviting our community to further explore Los Angeles's vibrant culinary culture through a dynamic new series of gourmet events & experiences. Through thoughtful collaboration with our partners at Bristol Farms and an elevated assemblage of the finest gourmet brands, founders, and forward-thinking foodies; each of these curated gourmet experiences offer partners and patrons alike an opportunity to add their own ingredients to L.A.'s ever-expanding culinary timeline and explore a new way to cook, eat, shop & connect.
This multimodal new series will invite hungry, history-loving Angelenos to fully immerse themselves in an illustrious blend of the City's art, architecture, culture, and cuisine to discover L.A.'s signature flavors and get a taste of its most delicious contributions to culinary history inside some of the City's most iconic and beloved cultural landmarks. Menu Maps, our culinary field guides, will help readers to further explore L.A.'s flavorful history, navigate our spring program schedule, and chart a course through the curated collection of gourmet products, events, and experiences to come. (Click the link to view the first edition we released back in December of 2022!)
Starting in March 2023, Angelenos are invited to find our customized vintage mail truck and write a love letter to Los Angeles in exchange for early invites & exclusive after-hours access to the delicious range of gourmet classes, labs, pop-ups, dinners & experiences that we have planned for the spring & summer of 2023. Visit the homepage or our IG for the most updated schedule & locations!
To hold you over until then, here are seven of our favorite world-famous menu items that originated right here in LA!
1.) The French Dip Sandwich: The precise origin of this iconic sandwich has been lost to the sands of time, but fortunately for Angelenos, Philippe and Cole's, the two iconic restaurants who claim to have invented it, are both in Downtown LA, and are both absolutely delicious.
Philippe the Original: According to Philippe's "official" version of the story, the French Dip came into being after it's founder unintentionally slipped a French roll into a roasting pan full with drippings. The police officer who had ordered the sandwich decided to eat it nevertheless. He then came back the following day with a few companions, asking for the "dipped sandwich." Originally opened in 1908, the restaurant has been in its same location on the outskirts of Chinatown since 1951.
Cole's French Dip: Cole's was also founded in 1908, and continues to operate out of the same space in the Pacific Electric Building today. According to Cole's, Henry Cole, the company's founder, dipped a French roll in au jus because a customer with sore gums thought it to be too hard. When another customer saw them do this, they made the same order, and the sandwich was born.
2.) Cobb Salad: The Cobb salad was created in 1937 by Robert Howard Cobb, who owned the iconic Hollywood eatery The Brown Derby. According to legend, Cobb assembled the salad one late night using leftovers from the restaurant's kitchen. The original recipe included Roquefort cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, chicken, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and a red-wine vinaigrette.
3.) The California Roll: A right of passage for all sushi connoisseurs, the California roll originated in LA in the 60's & 70's. It was created by a sushi chef named Ichiro Mashita, who worked at the now-shuttered Tokyo Kaikan restaurant. The roll features imitation crab meat, avocado, and cucumber, and is typically wrapped in nori seaweed and rice. *FUN FACT: In 1984, Bristol Farms made history by becoming the FIRST grocery store EVER to introduce a sushi bar in its store located in Rolling Hills, California. More recently, the company introduced a sushi robot in the same location. The move proved to be a success and helped popularize sushi as a convenient and accessible meal option in the US.
4.) The Moscow Mule: The Moscow Mule is a popular cocktail made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, typically served in a copper mug. The cocktail was created in the 1940s by John Martin, a spirits and ginger beer distributor, and Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock 'n' Bull pub in Hollywood. The drink's popularity skyrocketed after Martin and Morgan marketed it with a clever advertising campaign and by serving it in the distinctive copper mug. *FUN FACT: Check out the delicious range of canned cocktails by The Mixed-Up Cocktail Co., available at Bristol Farms locations across Southern California now! The Classic Mule is a personal favorite!
5.) The Cheeseburger: The invention of a true American classic, the cheeseburger, is credited to a 16-year-old named Lionel Sternberger, who added a slice of cheese to a hamburger in 1926 while working at his father's restaurant, The Rite Spot, in Pasadena, California. The cheeseburger quickly gained popularity (the reason is quite obvious) and is now a staple of American fast food cuisine.
6.) The Chinese Chicken Salad: The Chinese Chicken Salad was invented in the 1960s by chef Cecilia Chiang at her San Francisco restaurant, The Mandarin. However, the dish didn't gain popularity until the 1980's, when it was added to the menu of Wolfgang Puck's Spago restaurant in Los Angeles. It quickly became a celebrity sensation and is now a staple of many restaurant menus around the country.
7.) The Ice Blended Coffee: The original Ice Blended coffee drink was invented by Herbert Hyman, the founder of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. The drink was created as a response to the hot weather in L.A. and the increasing popularity of blended drinks (like smoothies from Orange Julius!) at the time. The Ice Blended quickly became a hit and became synonymous with coffee culture worldwide. Please just don't use the F word to describe it. (That word being "Fr@ppuccino." Why? Because REAL coffee enthusiasts will always tell you St@rB#@k$ is a cheap and tawdry imposter. I will die on this hill.)