Growing up in suburban New Jersey, there wasn’t much variety in my dining options. Every week, my family ate a steady diet of red sauce Italian food, pizza, Americanized Chinese food, burgers and fried chicken. Thankfully, we were only a half-hour from Manhattan, which is where I first got a taste of my food-driven future.
Whether we went to a museum, movie or baseball game, my family always paired the activity with food that was unimaginable in the ‘burbs. We’d hit John’s Pizza on Bleecker, then stop at Ferrara for a cannoli, or tired of General Tso’s chicken and Happy Family, we’d invade Chinatown for salt-crusted fish fillets with bean curd at 456. By junior high, we migrated to Peking Duck, and by high school, we’d graduated to Phoenix Garden, eating salt-and-pepper shrimp in an alley next to the Rickshaw Garage. No matter where we ate, we’d visit the egg cake lady at her corner booth and swing by the video arcade to watch the chicken dance. After attending grad school at the University of Texas, my father became infatuated with barbecue. New York isn’t exactly a barbecue town, and it was even less so then, but we often found ourselves at Smokey’s in Chelsea for spare ribs, or in Midtown at Rusty Staub’s and Mickey Mantle’s, for baby backs. Since then, I’ve eaten much better ribs, but I still have great memories of those meals.
My passion for food really exploded during my college summers, when I drove west to work in Los Angeles. Before my first road trip, my father handed me a copy of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood, which served as my guide as I criss-crossed the country seven times. I gorged on Cajun food in Louisiana, brisket, ribs and hot links in central Texas, and gullet-scorching Southwestern dishes in New Mexico, among other highlights. After college, I found another mentor in the late, great R.W. Apple, Jr., who led me to great meals up the Eastern Seaboard and through Southeast Asia. This noted political journalist also put those meals into historical and cultural context while remaining entertaining.
Since 1999, I’ve been based in Los Angeles, an international eating Mecca that boasts the largest Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Iranian immigrant communities, among other ethnicities, in the nation. In the greater Los Angeles area, if you’re willing to drive – and I am, just ask my mechanic- the range of eating options is extraordinary. There are very few cuisines I haven’t encountered in L.A. County, a strength that’s providing me with a varied gastronomic education.
While L.A. offers unlimited flavor, I realize that other cities have their own unique edible treasures. In order to expand my food universe, I travel over 50 days a year. My primary purpose was initially to eat as much good food as possible, and I’ve accumulated hundreds of memorable eating experiences that I’m happy to share. Perhaps more importantly, I now understand that people and cultures fuel these foods, and it’s important to tell these personal stories so we can better understand and celebrate culinary diversity.
With Food GPS, I’ve fused my twin passions for food and writing. I eat as many as a dozen restaurant meals a week. Most of these breakfasts, lunches and dinners aren’t worth repeating, or worth recommending, but every now and then, I find a meal that’s so good that I can’t wait to share it with people. Food GPS is a practical guide to these experiences, and also tells stories of inspiring people behind the flavor.
A key component of Food GPS is my use of photos. No matter how strong a command I have of the English language (decide for yourself), I’m convinced photos accentuate my colorful descriptions. My photography skills (and cameras) have improved significantly over the years, so you should expect fewer surprises when visiting my recommended establishments.
I hope you enjoy the product of my gluttony.