Top U.S. Chefs Name Favorite California Eating Cities

Chef Portland

Jenn Louis loads up on dates when she’s in the Southern California desert.

At the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade and at events in L.A., I asked 16 of the top chefs from around the U.S., “What is your favorite California eating city other than your own, and why?” Their responses might surprise you.

Michelle Bernstein (Michy’s)

Los Angeles. Hands down. I had this conversation with Vinny [Dotolo], and I hope this isn’t offending anybody. San Francisco has some of the best ingredients I’ve ever seen in my life. The chefs there don’t manipulate the food very much because they don’t have to, and they feel like the ingredients speak for themselves. And that’s okay, but maybe because the way my palate is, this city, with its Asian influences, its Mexican influences, you have influences from all these places, plus you have all these great American ingredients and California ingredients, I crave L.A. I crave the food here. My husband and I literally want to move here so we can eat here more often. And it’s food we don’t get a lot in Miami either, because we don’t have a lot of Asian food. It’s my favorite food in the world. I trained in Malaysia. I trained in South Korea. I trained in Hong Kong and Thailand. I don’t get those flavors much in Miami. I’m a Jewish girl. I love Chinese food, but there’s such a huge void of it in South Florida.

Chris Bianco (Pane Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco + Trattoria Bianco)

You know what? My favorite eating city in California is usually the one I’m in. I usually find good friends there, and I love to eat with friends. If I’m in Los Angeles…I’m also a creature of habit. A bad thing about me is I’m not as adventurous as I’d like to be, so if I come to Los Angeles, any one of Suzanne [Goin]’s restaurants is a must. I usually jam that in, one a trip, or the boys from Animal. There are so many great options now.

San Francisco, same thing. I’m running over to Camino to Oakland, which I love. All the usual suspects, and the new exciting ones. There are good things happening in San Diego now. There are good things happening in Sacramento, actually, which I love. We grow organic tomatoes in Woodland County, so I spend a little bit of time up there.

All across the country, there are really good things happening. People are drawn to good spaces, and they’re close to coastal areas, like here in California, Central California and Northern California, celebrating what that area of The Golden State gives them. It’s an exciting time to eat in the state, so I’d hate to draw lines in the sand and pick a city. I look at it as a man-made speed bump. When I go up the coast, stop and visit friends, and find inspiration, all the way up to Point Reyes, and all the way down to San Diego. Exciting things always happen in California. I’m honored to be here and I love it.

Chris Kajioka (Vintage Cave)

It would have to be San Francisco. I would even consider San Francisco my home, just based on ingredients. I feel at home, I love the food and love the freshness.

Ed Kenney (Town)

This summer, my son went to camp right outside of Big Bear. He’s 12. I flew over there to drop him off. I drove back to [L.A.] and spent 24 hours in the city. I went to Rustic Canyon, had to check out what Jeremy Fox is doing. I went to Baco Mercat, Bar Ama, Farmshop. Vinny Dotolo was just out here and he gave me a list of all these places to go to. There was also this little pasta joint down in Venice. Superba. Incredible, but I’d have to say San Francisco. My wife’s mom lived there up until three years ago. That was inspiration for what we do at Town. I would go over there two or three times a year. She lived just over the bridge in Strawberry. It was actually Delfina in the Mission that opened my eyes. I was cooking in all the Pacific rim restaurants, ginger, shoyu, wasabi. I was eating in all these places and suddenly the light bulb went on: why don’t we do something like this in Hawaii? Keep in Hawaiian, but do that kind of thing. That’s my attachment to that place. Because of that, and will always be that, but I was pretty impressed with L.A. Roy Choi recommended this place that serves goat. I forget what it’s called, but Mexican. I put in the GPS, found it. It was so good. I was the only English speaker in there.

Jacqueline Lau (Roy’s Restaurants)

I go to Los Angeles probably more than anywhere. I’ve been eating a lot in downtown. We have a lot of events down there, so I’ve been hanging out a lot down there. Right now, downtown L.A. has been pretty good. It’s casual. There are lots of little places. The food has been really good. You have a lot of creative chefs down there who are starting off and are making food from the soul, delicious.

Donald Link (Cochon, Herbsaint + Pêche)

Probably San Francisco. I used to live in San Francisco and used to love all the Chinese places, dim sum, Mexican and other Latino foods there. Of course you also have all the other greats, Italian restaurants. It’s a real fun city. So is L.A., I just have to spend more time there.

Anita Lo (Annisa)

Without a doubt, San Francisco. There’s good food everywhere. It’s easier to find in San Francisco, everywhere. People are very passionate about ingredients there. It’s also an international city. There are a lot of interesting influences there.

Jenn Louis (Lincoln + Sunshine Tavern)

That’s easy. My favor eating city is Indio. There’s Shields Date Gardens, and I always buy about 80 bucks worth of dates when I’m down there. I’m going down in a couple months, and I’m pretty excited to refill my stock of dates. I also love to get a date shake there, and I love their cafe in the back of the garden. All their food has dates in it, but there are always a couple Mexican selections on the menu, and it’s just delicious.

Jon Mitsubara (Japengo)

San Diego, because of all the Mexican food. I was out there for a year. I lived in New York, and that’s the only city, when I left, I was craving the food.



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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