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The Documentary that Made Us Fall in Love with L.A.'s Food (Again)

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I can’t tell you how much I love Los Angeles,” restaurant critic Jonathan Gold says before reading from a Los Angeles Times article he wrote twenty years prior.

Photo by Jerry Henry

Gold is known largely for his role in redefining food criticism by covering (and uncovering) small restaurants from a variety of cultures, first for L.A. Weekly then for The Los Angeles Times. It’s safe to say he is among the most qualified to declare his love for the city—he’s seen it all. The dated article, which he reads over a montage of a skateboarder in Koreatown, a rundown liquor market on Western, and a palm tree-lined block in Brentwood, is Gold’s love letter to Los Angeles, a sentiment that’s echoed in Laura Gabbert’s soon-to-be-released documentary, City of Gold.

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“The film uses Jonathan to characterize what is so special about Los Angeles,” Jamie Wolf, Executive Producer of the film, told me over the phone. “It’s a mosaic of a city with lots and lots of foods all set together, but each distinctly themselves.

Unlike most cities, which grow outward from one epicenter, as regional planning expert Michael Dear explains in the film, Los Angeles has grown in a post-modern arrangement, from the peripheries. And as the city grew, legislation in 1965 and 1985 abolished standard quotas that favored migration from Europe. This opened Los Angeles’ floodgates to immigrants from all over the world, making Los Angeles “a leading edge in diversity population growth,” according to Dear.

At first glance, the city looks like a sprawling, chaotic mass, but the film lets its viewers in on a secret Gold’s known for years: This haphazardness and diversity has resulted in a perfect storm, a glorious array of food and cultures. In each of these peripheral hubs, different cultures have collided with each other, and that is where you find “the most beautiful things," Gold says.

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Crab & Cantaloupe Tacos with Pickled Jicama “Tortillas”

Crab & Cantaloupe Tacos with Pickled Jicama “Tortillas” by Sippity Sup (Greg Henry)

Khao Soi (Northern Thai Coconut-Curry Chicken Soup)

Khao Soi (Northern Thai Coconut-Curry Chicken Soup) by casey_

Over the course of the film, Gold drives in his green Dodge from an Ethiopian restaurant on South Fairfax, to a French bistro on Melrose and Highland, and a Thai restaurant in Hollywood. “Los Angeles is a city linked by driving,” Jamie explained, “and there’s a beautiful sense of horizontality to that.”

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And unlike most cities, where restaurants in the center of the city cook for those who can afford to live in the center of a city, many of the international restaurants in Los Angeles cook for themselves. “You can have a Thai restaurant in Manhattan,” Jamie explained, “but because of the huge Thai community in central Los Angeles, the Thai restaurants are cooking for their neighbors, not an outsider audience. As a result, you get food that’s not adulterated in any way.

It’s like Jonathan says in the final line of his review of Guerilla Tacos, “Where else but L.A.?”

Who this film’s for: As Julia put it, “This is a movie for everyone, even if you’ve never been to Los Angeles.” In the same way: This is a movie for everyone, even if you aren’t into food or familiar with Jonathan’s work. (Though we’re willing to wager you’ll be Googling his name—and taco recipes—as soon as it’s over.)

Where to find it: City of Gold is in select theaters March 11th. For more information on screenings and where you can see it for yourself, follow the documentary's Twitter @CityOfGoldDoc and visit their website here.

Tags: city of gold, food criticism, food critic, restaurants, jonathan gold