Sure, some of the L.A. stereotypes are true: Starlets really do nibble on salads, and sushi remains as popular as ever. But there are some wildly interesting things bubbling up in the City of Angels, as socially-conscious consumers connect with purveyors offering up food that fits this city's ideals: fresh, local and (of course) beautiful.
Auntie Em's Kitchen
This little Eagle Rock cafe and bakery has a favorite saying about its approach to feeding people: When you eat at Auntie Em’s you don’t need to look outside or in the garden to find out what season you’re in—all you need to do is to read the menu or glance at the baked offerings in their glass cases since their fare always springs from produce that’s ripe at that very moment. This summer “seasonal” at Auntie Em’s meant peaches-and-cream cupcakes, concocted with fruit from the Eagle Rock farmers market and crowned with a thick cloud of peach-infused icing. Moving into autumn, Auntie Em’s’ bakery cases are filled with apple cinnamon and pear pecan muffins, cranberry pistachio scones, and pumpkin cupcakes with spiced cream cheese icing. Founder and head chef Theresa Wahl has cooked for a long list of music industry stars, including JLo and Christina Aguilera. But be warned: Bakery items are seasonal and made in small batches, so the lines for the cupcakes sometimes snake out the door. Best to get there early and grab a breakfast torta with homemade mole sauce while you’re at it.
E. Waldo Ward
Long before it was the urban strip-mall sprawl that it is now, the greater Los Angeles area had many orange groves—and at least one still exists. Founded in 1917, E. Waldo Ward & Son—farm, retail shop and fruit canners—continues to grow acres of delicious citrus on a 30-acre grove only 20 minutes from downtown L.A. The family-run business makes artisanal jam, jellies, marmalades, fruit syrups and spreads, barbecue marinades, and Spanish olives. All orange products are made with fruit from the backyard grove, and the company uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible — and, no, you won’t see corn syrup or preservatives listed anywhere on their labels. If you are an avid home jam-maker with a load of front-yard satsumas, E. Waldo Ward offers canning services out of its red-and-cream-colored farmhouse. And tours of the orchard, barn, kitchen, and creaky tin-roofed assembly-line room—complete with two WWII-era kettles—are available on Saturdays (except during the outrageously busy holiday season).
Follow Your Heart
This San Fernando Valley landmark was founded in 1970 by four vegetarian partners who couldn’t envision owning a business that sold meat. Consequently, you won’t find any meat, poultry, or fish on their product list. Then in 1988 two of the partners founded the Earth Island product line and began making eggless mayonnaise and salad dressing and “Vegan Gourmet” soy-based cheeses, including mozzarella and nacho. “It actually melts like real cheese!” rhapsodized one reviewer. The cheese is not only for sale in the store but also appears in the vegetarian fare served in the adjoining café, where diners rave about the eggless omelettes. While the store hasn’t updated its groovy looks much since the 1970s, only adding to its charm. both the store and the Earth Island kitchen are solar-powered, which is Follow Your Heart’s way of demonstrating its leadership in the ethical, social, and environmental responsibilities of operating a business.
Golden Road Brewing
You’ve got to love two young brew masters who are committed to bringing small-batch beer to the market in the most sustainable way possible. Tony Yanow, formerly of the local beer-focused restaurants Tony’s Darts Away and Mohawk Bend, and Meg Gill, a Yale graduate and competitive swimmer who learned the craft at Oskar Blues Brewer, founded Golden Road Brewing in Atwater Village in 2011. Their mission: create new brews made from seasonal ingredients and blend to reflect the identity of distinct L.A. enclaves and the people who live there. Their Golden Road Hefeweizen gives a classic wheat beer a California twist, with flavorful notes of dried, locally grown organic citrus, along with hints of banana and clove. Their Either Side of the Hill brew blends a double India Pale Ale and a malty barley wine, resulting in a libation they hope appeals to patrons in both Northeast L.A. (where the brewery sits next to train tracks and factories) and the San Fernando Valley, on the other side of the hill.
Lindy & Grundy Local, Pastured and Organic Meats
If you think most Los Angelenos are still trending toward an exclusively vegan diet, you haven’t seen the crowds at Lindy & Grundy Local, Pastured and Organic Meats. One of the coolest new additions to the city’s boutique butcheries, this Fairfax shop offers sustainably raised beef, lamb, pork, sausage, poultry and cheese, as well as meats cured in an on-premises smoker. The shop was created by Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura, partners in business and in life. Posada, a former vegetarian, is an activist who, having developed a taste for bacon, grew committed to sustainable farming practice. Japan-born Nakamura learned to cook at a friend’s Indian restaurant in Tokyo, developing a comprehensive understanding of spices.
When the pair met in New York, they decided to apprentice at Fleishman’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in Kingston, New York. There, Nakamura discovered she was an intuitive butcher and Posada realized she had the knowledge and passion to teach America a better way to eat meat. At Lindy & Grundy, Nakamura crafts a variety of inventive sausages, including kimchi pork and her signature hybrid sausage—part tofu, part chicken. The butchers also have a spice and rub station where clients can collaborate with the duo on personalized spice mixtures. Added bonus: The pair’s constant tweeting about the most delectable baked goods and promising organic and locally sourced food shops in town takes you into the heart of L.A.’s sustainable food scene.
McCall's Meat & Fish Company
The husband-and-wife team of Nathan McCall and Karen Yoo both earned their culinary chops by working at the Michelin-starred New York restaurant Daniel and the lauded L.A. eatery Sona—all venues where they learned to value great cuts of meat. Today they own and run McCall’s Meat & Fish Company, a gourmet butcher and fish shop in Los Feliz. Home-cooking enthusiasts can pick up such beautiful meat products as a whole pasture-raised Berkshire pig from ReRide Ranch or pristine diver scallops—plump ocean medallions that are pulled from the rocks by a scuba diver instead of harvested by boat. McCall’s cases feature beautifully marbled cuts of beef and house-made sausages, crafted with meat sourced from traditional farms where animals are naturally and humanely raised. The fish is wild-caught or farmed responsibly in natural environments, and the local whole chickens come from Kendor Farms, right in nearby San Fernando Valley. And if you get stumped by how to prepare your Kendor fowl, all you need to do is call McCall’s for help. “We aren’t just meat cutters,” says former chef McCall. “Everyone here has a restaurant background and extensive cooking knowledge. If you’re working with a cut you’re not familiar with, just call us. We’ll walk you through it while you’re standing at your stove.”
When Toni’s Bakery closed its doors in 2010, Atwater Village mourned. That is, until they saw what was coming in its place. Out went the old-fashioned storefront and the traditional tiered chocolate cakes and butter cookies, and in came a sleek, dark-gray storefront, mid-century globe lighting fixtures, and absolutely no sign (at first). As it turns out, Proof didn’t need to announce itself. Its baked goods—made with organic butter, organic flour, and often all-vegan ingredients—are what brings in the crowds. Cornell-educated founder and head baker Na Young concocts homemade persimmon scones, salted chocolate chip cookies, fig and oat cake, and frangipani tarts in the 50-year-old gas-powered Dalton oven that she inherited from the former bakery. At noon, platters of freshly made mini-baguette sandwiches appear; try the salami, manchego, chive butter and arugula, the sopressata and spicy bell pepper sandwich, or the red-beet baguettes. Lines start forming at 8 a.m., and sandwiches and pastries sell out by the insanely early 4 p.m. closing time. The baker makes her croissants distinct by adding a touch of sourdough starter to the batter—and ends up with what many have called the best croissants in town. But Na Young and her team only make enough for the day. If you want to pick up a dozen for an office treat, call 48 hours in advance, and Na Young will set you up with the best homemade pastries this side of the Seine.
Bronwen Tawse was standing in her kitchen, trying to replicate an Armenian recipe her husband, Peter Bahlawanian, had adored as a child, when she realized she had a big problem. She had tried to find such exotic spices as Aleppo pepper and urfa biber but to no avail, even in a city as diverse as Los Angeles. That’s when Tawse and her concert promoter husband had a revelation: There was no one place in Los Angeles that reliably offered high-quality spices from all over the world. In 2009, the couple opened the Spice Station, just down an alley off Sunset Boulevard. Today Spice Station is the go-to source for such richly hued substances as Sichuan peppercorns, spicy ghost pepper, Alaca red salt from Hawaii and royal mahogany cocoa from the Dominican Republic—about 200 aromatic offerings in all.
And the couple has since expanded their inventory to include salts, sugars, house-made spice blends, and over 40 types of chiles. Running a jewel-like shop that can only stock small quantities of fresh spices at one time means that Tawse and Bahlawanian now find themselves hopping on planes to scour farflung countries to pick up the best ingredients available. What’s most surprising? The pricing. While supermarkets might sell tarragon for about $17 an ounce, Spice Station offers it for $3. Why ever reach for factory-processed spices again?
Suck It Sweets and Treats
Ready for a new food trend? Suck It Sweets and Treats in Studio City is a gourmet popsicle boutique that specializes in vegan, vegetarian, all-natural (no preservatives, no additives) gluten-free, environmentally friendly “sucksicles” and bakery items. Founder Kaileigh Brielle came to making all-natural iced treats in a roundabout way. After film school, a run as an optician, and a stint studying with Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she was diagnosed with allergies to both gluten and milk proteins. Deprived of dessert, Brielle had a sudden revelation: popsicles! She began experimenting in her home kitchen and came up with an all-natural recipe that she tweaked in intriguing ways that were based on whatever was available at the local farms in the Valley.
Today, in its candy-colored, graphically designed space, Suck It offers such flavors as Lavender Lemonade, Watermelon Lime Cilantro, and Vietnamese Iced Coffee. Her Mexican Hot Chocolate surprises with its pop of spicy heat and its dash of cinnamon. The Jalapeno Grapefruit even has chunks of green pepper. Brielle grinds her own spices, uses cane sugar, and sources local, organic produce as much as she can. She even makes iced treats for four-legged customers, with proceeds going to local rescue efforts. Die-hard Sucketeers who want to know the flavors of the day can subscribe to Suck It Sweets’ Facebook status updates or daily tweets.
Whenever Valerie Gordon of the eponymously named Koreatown chocolatier Valerie Confections needs inspiration for her latest chocolate-covered creations, she simply cruises the stalls at the nearby Silver Lake farmers market and checks out the plumpest, ripest, most fragrant produce on offer. The result? Delightful seasonal treats like pumpkin-seed toffee with paprika, locally sourced figs dipped in bittersweet chocolate, or bittersweet chocolate bark with roasted almonds. Her passion for the seasonal and locally sourced has also inspired a new line of jams. Strawberry-rhubarb and strawberry vanilla bean are top sellers—and with each spoonful offering small pieces of fruit, who can resist? If you want to learn a few of Gordon’s secrets, sign up for one of the boutique’s classes on preserving fruit, taught by home-canning expert Kevin West.