In a city that’s as eclectic and ever-changing as Los Angeles, it’s hard to say that any one dish screams LA. We’re in California near the “salad bowl” of America, and indeed salads and fresh produce are big. (Hell, the Cobb was created here at the Brown Derby in the 1930s, and farmer’s markets aren’t just places to shop but community gatherings.) If you only knew LA through a Woody Allen lens, you’d think we all subsist on wheat grass and mashed yeast to this day (although tofu, kale and juice bars aren’t far off). With huge Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, South American, Filipino and Armenian populations, among many more, traditional foods from various countries almost taste like home. Narrowing it down to only 21 dishes one must eat to call yourself an Angeleno isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a start. Whether you were born here or you’re a recent transplant, you need to try all of these at least once.
Soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung
When there were only two outposts of this xiao long bao juggernaut — the original and an annex located right next to each other in a tiny strip mall in Arcadia — fans of juicy soup dumplings had to wait forever for a table. Now that there are big, beautiful new restaurants, including the latest in the Westfield mall in Arcadia, you… still have to wait for a table. Bamboo steam baskets full of the beautiful little packets (the best are pork), all handmade and pleated and twisted by cooks seen through a window at the front of the restaurant, are the star attraction. ($8.50)
177 Caruso Ave.; 818-551-5561
By Lesley Balla