(Flickr pic of birria taco at El Parian by larryleenyc.)
Before we all embark on the Great Los Angeles Walk this Saturday, here's some required reading: Jonathan Gold's recap of he year he ate down Pico Boulevard
Sunset may have more famous restaurants, La Brea better restaurants and Melrose more restaurants whose chairs have nestled Mira Sorvino’s gently rounded flanks. No glossy magazine has ever suggested Pico as an emerging hot street; no real estate ad has ever described a house as Pico-adjacent. The street plays host to the unglamorous bits of Los Angeles, the row of one-stops that supply records to local jukeboxes, the kosher-pizza district, the auto-body shops that speckle its length the way giant churches speckle Wilshire. And while Pico may divide neighborhoods more than it creates them — Koreatown from Harvard Heights, Wilshire Center from Midtown, Beverly Hills–adjacent from not-all-that-Beverly-Hills-adjacent, neighborhoods your cousin Martha lives in from neighborhoods she wouldn’t step into after dark — there isn’t even a Pico-identified gang.
But precisely because Pico is so unremarked, because it is left alone like old lawn furniture moldering away in the side yard of a suburban house, it is at the center of entry-level capitalism in central Los Angeles, and one of the most vital food streets in the world.
Indeed. It was partly Gold's gradual eating trek down Pico in his 20s that inspired me to pick Pico for this year's walk.
So, of course, I had to contact the Pulitzer Prize-winning scrbe. To my pleasant surprise, he emailed back quickly, and even said he read Franklin Avenue
! I managed to pick his brain on a few spots we should all consider trying once everyone's bellies start growling. A selection: El Salvador Cafe. 575 E. Pico El Parian. 1528 W. Pico ("I went on record in 1990 claiming that El Parian’s birria was the single best Mexican dish in Los Angeles, and nothing in the thousand L.A. Mexican meals I have eaten since then has done anything to sway me from that belief," Gold wrote in 2006) La 27th Restaurante Familar. 1830 W. Pico (Nicaraguan food -- Gold suggests "nacatamals and fritanga"). El Colmao. 2328 W. Pico (Cuban food -- Gold suggests "fried pork leg with onions). Las 7 Regiones de Oaxaca. 2648 W. Pico. ("It is Las 7 Regiones’ coloradito, its version of one of the famous seven moles of Oaxaca, that is a really remarkable concoction — thick and dense and sweet-hot and unctuous, the product of hours of labor and probably 20-odd toasted seeds and chiles and spices," Gold writes.) Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. 5006 W. Pico. ("Roscoe’s is the Carnegie Deli of L.A.’s R&B scene," Gold wrote in an old review.)Oki-Dog. 5056 W. Pico. (Go for the pastrami burritos, Gold says.) Magic Carpet. 8566 W. Pico. (Gold once wrote that he used to live close by: " if I had tasted Magic Carpet's melawach back then, I might never have moved - a bronzed, pizza-size fried Yemenite pancake that seems to have a hundred levels of wheatiness, a thousand layers of crunch and the taste of clean oil, melawach is one of the greatest dishes in Los Angeles.")Twin Dragon. 8597 W. Pico. (Gold admits that he likes some of the Shanghaiese dishes here, writing a few years back: "Although the kitchen is perfectly capable of turning out dishes stunning only in their mediocrity, some of the truly Shanghainese dishes -- smoked fish, round steamed dumplings, shredded pork sautéed with salted vegetables -- are fine.") Pico Kosher Deli. 8826 W. Pico. (Gold recommends the pastrami sandwiches, and wrote in 2004 about its "PLT" -- like a BLT, but with pastrami.) John O'Groats. 10516 W. Pico. ("Smoked pork chops," Gold recommends.) Pico Teriyaki House. 10610 W. Pico. (Gold notes it's nearly impossible to get in, so it's not a spot to visit during our hike. But for future reference, he says try the robatayaki.) Torafuku. 10914 W. Pico. (Their izakaya dishes are a little too pricy for he hike, but Gold named it one of L.A.'s 99 essential restaurants in 2005.)
That's it for now-- "Man, it's a long street. I'll try and think of some others," he writes. Thanks to Jonathan Gold for sharing his insight on eating down Pico!
Besides this referenced article, Jonathan Gold's story was also told by Ira Glass on "This American Life" and, coincidentally enough, it was broadcast on the iTunes podcast just a couple weeks ago.
The topic was segment #5 in a show entitled "#110 Mapping". iTunes only hosts the most recent episode, but this one can be found archived on their official website.
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