Last December, former LA Weekly food editor Katherine Spiers and longtime contributor Tien Nguyen came up with a plan to publish a restaurant guide for LA. The idea was to recapture the spirit of one of the oldest LA food guides around, created by Jonathan Gold at the LA Weekly in 2005, and re-shape the model for today.
They reached out to us at LA Taco about hosting this guide. Spiers and Nguyen were going to figure out a way to publish it anyhow, they coolly warned us. Noted, so we said hells yeah. In the ensuing months, Katherine and Tien, along with the LA Taco team, began building the page that is now the very first, and your very own, Rogue 99.
LA Taco had zero editorial veto or control on the content. We wanted Nguyen and Spiers to be totally free in their pursuit of the perfect list on the universe of Los Angeles dining, and serve as a platform for them. Rogue 99 features reviews by writers Sarah Bennett and Bill Esparza, as well as photographs by Gabriel Carbajal.
“If you wanted to understand LA, this list would be a great place to start,” Tien told me.
So true; food has always been a chief conduit to culture, space, geography, and politics. At LA Taco we fundamentally believe that the true language of this city is its food. It is the one language that everyone speaks.
So to celebrate the arrival of the Rogue 99, our homepage will be highlighting some of the reviews from the list over the coming days, just as a starter … Here’s hoping for the dawn of a new tradition for the city of Los Angeles. Below, the major G’s: Tien on Grand Central Market, Katherine on Guelaguetza, and Bill on Guerrilla Tacos. Enjoy! Read more, of course, here.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE ROGUE 99, VOL. 1
Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market opened in Downtown in 1917. By 1926, some 40,000 people visited the market a day, “a seething mass of elbowing, pushing humanity laden down with shopping bags,” as one Los Angeles Times reporter put it back then. Times have changed since then, and so, necessarily, has the market, especially over the last few years as vendors closed and others moved in. But while we all probably have our favorite stalls, the significance of Grand Central Market has never depended entirely on just one vendor; rather, it’s the totality of the experience, the ability for anyone, laden down with shopping bags, to walk comfortably through and pick up a few ounces of dried chiles at Chiles Seco, lunch on wonton soup at China Café or a bowl of adobo fried rice at Sari Sari, and end with a slice of the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake at Valerie’s for dessert. The recent changes were overseen by Adele Yellin, who owned Grand Central Market up until late last year, when she sold the property to a Beverly Hills real estate firm. The spirit of the market, the firm promises, will be preserved. We hope it will be. — Tien Nguyen
READ THE ROGUE 99 HERE.
Angelenos have learned so much since Guelaguetza opened in 1994. No one is surprised any longer when a non-Korean restaurant opens in Koreatown. No one with sophistication recoils at the idea of eating bugs. And now everyone knows that mole isn’t chocolate sauce. All of these things are at least partly thanks to Guelaguetza, one of L.A.’s earliest still-running sit-down restaurants to get specific about which particular state in Mexico was represented on the menu. One could visit this restaurant many times before trying all the mole/protein/starch combinations; even more visits are required if you need to learn about how many different forms a tortilla can take. Grasshoppers are listed two ways under the appetizer section, and they’re certainly worth trying to become a more well-rounded person … but the rest of the menu is where the real magic lies. —Katherine Spiers
READ THE ROGUE 99 HERE.
If L.A. is a taco city, then Wes Avila is the mayor, a fine-dining chef turned taquero who has liberated this street food tradition beyond the city limits with Mexican-American guisados (stews) inspired by our local farmers’ markets and food purveyors. At his ambulant Alta California (modern Mexican-American) institution, Guerrilla Tacos, Santa Barbara spot prawns, sweet potatoes and wild boar are among the hundreds of fillings available, topped with brilliant salsas, toasted nuts, micro greens and even fried eggs. There’s always a Baja-inspired tostada or ceviche on the menu and quesadillas come filled with shaved black truffles and Oaxacan cheese. Here, fine dining comes not a white tablecloth, but on a corn tortilla. —Bill Esparza