Culture Features

How L.A. Became A Top Food Destination Over The Last 10 Years

K-BBQ Burger from Plan Check DTLA/Peter Pham, Foodbeast

I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area all my life, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to truly appreciate how lucky I was to grow up in a city where I could walk down a few blocks to get the best tacos of my life, and the next day, enjoy really good Thai food just a couple miles down. And it’s like that, in every region and pocket of the city.

L.A. is a melting pot of delicious food, and while the city is known more for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the food scene is finally getting the respect it deserves.

In 2016, Anthony Bourdain named L.A. as one of the most underrated food cities in the U.S., saying, “I think Los Angeles is wildly underrated… man, some of the restaurants that have been opening in the last 10 years are really, really good.”

There have been world-renowned chefs, such as Nobu Matsuhisa, Jose Andres, and Wolfgang Puck, who have all made their way to L.A., opening up celebrated restaurants in the heart of the city. On the flip side, you can go to a taco truck in the sketchy-looking parking lot of a tire shop and still have an enjoyable meal.

A lot can change in ten years, and someone who can attest to that change in the food scene is Stacey Sun, who has served as director of the dineL.A. restaurant week since 2011.

If you’re not familiar with dineL.A., for the past decade they’ve put together a massive initiative where twice a year, you can experience pre-set menus from hundreds of Los Angeles restaurants. They’re often at a more affordable price point, allowing diners to enjoy many of the restaurants that are normally out of their budgets.

Sun and dineL.A. have had their finger on the pulse of the Los Angeles food scene over the last decade, so if there is anyone who can describe how it has changed and evolved over the years, it’s her.

We caught up with Sun to pinpoint the biggest differences the city has seen over the last decade, from the role social media has played, down to the array of cultures offering their own perspectives on food.

Stacey Sun at a dineL.A. media event/Peter Pham, Foodbeast

What have been the main keys to the L.A. food scene evolving over the years?

You have a new generation of young chefs from different cultural backgrounds (think: Filipino, Thai, Mexican) who have shaped and continue to shape L.A.’s food identity. We’re a melting pot of talent that has access to the best produce with an audience willing to try their food.

How has social media affected the awareness of L.A. restaurants?

Social media in general has been great to help promote restaurants and food in L.A. Out of all of them, Instagram has had the biggest impact because it is a such a visual platform which works well for the culinary world. Some dishes photograph well and have that “wow” factor. The same goes for restaurants. Some restaurants are Instagram-friendly where the lighting, décor, and food are on point. It’s all about getting the money shot with guaranteed “likes.” This will drive people (near or far) to that restaurant just so they can get a shot of that food item to post on their Instagram. Restaurants now create dishes with Instagram in mind which shows how powerful the platform is for a restaurant. It’s also a great marketing tool for restaurant partners in our dineL.A. program, and one which we use actively to promote our own dineL.A. program every year.

What is drawing outsiders to the city’s food scene the most?

L.A.’s casual sensibility, wide range of high quality food options, and international variety is a huge draw for visitors. You can have the best waffles at a coffee shop in DTLA for breakfast, followed by tacos out of a truck by a French-trained chef in Venice for lunch, ending with dinner at a California focused fine-dining restaurant in Hollywood. There truly is something for everyone whether you’re on a tight budget or not. And the one consistent theme is that the food quality is always high.

How Has dineL.A. impacted the food scene over the years?

dineL.A. happens twice a year and it’s like the Olympics of dining out. The number one reason why people go out during dineL.A. is to use this time to try restaurants that have been on the “must try” lists and will often go to 3-5 new restaurants during each event because of the value. dineL.A. has opened up dining out at all price points accessible to everyone, foodies and non-foodies. We’ve created a lot of ambassadors for L.A. restaurants. Over the span of 30 days during the Summer and Winter events, diners spend over $50 million at L.A. restaurants. A huge driver of revenue to our city, and we’re so proud of this, seeing as L.A. proudly wears the title of the #1 food city in America (Zagat). Food tourism is becoming an increasingly big draw to Los Angeles, and the dineL.A. program is one for both local foodies and visitors/tourists alike.

What do you think has drawn chefs and restaurateurs to open and experiment in L.A.?

There are several factors. The accessibility to fresh produce and 70-degree weather year-round is very attractive. Also, it is less expensive to open up a restaurant in L.A. compared to San Francisco and New York. You have the option of opening up a restaurant in a strip mall where rent will be less expensive. And the people of Los Angeles are another reason why chefs can be more experimental. Angelenos are adventurous eaters and we give the chefs the freedom to experiment.

Just how much bigger is the food scene in L.A. than it was when you first started dineL.A.?

Ten years ago, L.A. was not hitting the top food destination lists. Fast forward to today, we’re THE place to eat. We were just named the #1 most exciting food city in America. Chefs from all over the world are opening up restaurants in L.A. now because they see th at L.A. gives them a freedom of expression that can only be found here.

Featured Photo by Michel Phiphak