LA Times 'The Taste' Showcases the Best Food Our City Has to Offer

The Taste gives regular folks (like me) the chance to try foods from LA’s most exclusive chefs and restaurants.

September 6, 2018

It’s been a minute but I’m back again.  Needless to say, I have been eating and eating well may I add, I just haven’t been writing and that was bumming me out.  What better way to get me out of my funk than to attend one of the best food festivals this city has to offer.  LA Times The Taste is that festival.  ​

Jonathan Gold Mural after the first day

Taking over the Paramount Studios backlot, the Taste boasts some of LA’s most prestigious chefs from the best restaurants in the city.  From fine dining to mini mall eateries, the LA Times food team chooses the best of the best.  Although it was a celebration of the city’s best food, there was a somber tone as this was the first Taste without the presence of the people’s champ, Jonathan Gold “The God”.  Although he was not with us physically, his presence was felt through the food, while his famous “5 Rules for Dining in L.A” was proudly displayed near the entrance and a mural was painted with his likeness over the three-day festival.

Jonathan Gold Mural after the first day.

I’m a creature of habit, not to the point where it’s detrimental to my growth but I like what I like.  I will always love tacos; my favorite taco is the next one so I’m always looking to get my fix.  That goes for fried chicken as well.  I love that hot chicken has found a new west coast headquarters here in my city.  With that being said, I ventured out to the Taste to find the best tacos and fried chicken our city has to offer.  Before you think, did he really just go to the Taste just for tacos and chicken?  Absolutely not!  I tried just about everything there and loved everything I ate, but this article needs some kind of structure.

The Paramount Studios Backlot.

The fried chicken scene has definitely blown up here in the last few years.  If you’re living here and you’re still depending on KFC to get your fix, you need a new dealer like yesterday.  Los Angeles has been blessed with some southern fried chicken staples fulfilling their very own Manifest Destiny.  Nashville Hot Chicken royalty, Kim Prince, brought us Hotville Chicken while Gus’s Famous Hot & Fried Chicken exposed us to a Memphis tradition all while locals Poppy + Rose have been serving up Southern inspired cooking that holds their own against the OGs.

Gus’s Famous Chicken

Gus’s Famous Hot & Fried chicken popped up on the corner of Crenshaw and Pico back in the Fall of 2016.  Gus’s is a huge fried chicken chain with deep roots in Tennessee and this past Friday they weren’t messing around when it came to serving up their perfect fried chicken at this year’s The Taste.  I got really excited, as I usually do when I’m about to eat fried chicken, and I hopped in line at their tent.  As I got to the very front of the line my heart dropped as the guy in front of me got the last piece of that batch. But I quickly realized there was no need to be sad as I was going to get a piece right out of the fryer.  Within minutes I was served the most picturesque chicken wing I’ve ever seen.  I immediately found a table with wing and beer in hand and I tore the flat off of the drum without hesitation.  As soon as I did I realized I had made a mistake for two reasons: 1) I didn’t take a picture and without a picture how will my readers believe this even happened and 2) this chicken just came out of the fryer and burned the hell out of my fingertips, I think a grease burn is the closest I’ll ever get to napalm.  Still feeling like a dummy, I proceeded to put flat in my mouth and pulled all the meat of in one pull, you know, like a professional wing eater.  That exists, right?  The skin was so crispy that the white meat had no business being as succulent as it was.  Even in a tent on a fake New York street Gus’s live up to its “famous” moniker.  But damn, no picture!  What was I to do?  So, I hopped right back in line and a sense of déjà vu took over, for the second time the person in front of me got the last piece.  It was divine intervention.  In a few minutes I was going to get a freshly fried chicken wing.  Only it wasn’t a wing.  The server took the basket out of the fryer and dumped about five whole chicken breasts onto a rack.  My eyes got huge as I thought there was no way I was going to get a whole breast.  Next thing I see is a whole chicken breast sitting on the tiniest plate by comparison.  I quickly found a table took a few pictures of this succulent breast and let the breast cool off before I picked the bones clean. 

Poppy + Rose Mini Chicken Dinner

Known for their breakfast, specifically their chicken & waffles and for their use of the freshest ingredients, Downtown’s Poppy + Rose showcased a mini chicken dinner.  The bite sized fare came complete with a fried boneless piece of thigh meat sitting atop a tiny mound of the smoothest mashed potatoes and gravy. The plate was definitely manicured to be the prefect bite, but of course the fat guy had to pick up the plate with the biggest serving.  I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the mini dinner on my fork and devour the whole while in comforts of my own home, but being amongst the beautiful people at The Taste I was a bit more hesitant.  No way was I going to ruin the perfect bite, so I retreated to a dark corner and devoured the mini dinner in one bite like it was meant to be eaten, with no shame. 

Poppy + Rose Mini Chicken Dinner

Hotville Chicken recently closed their doors at their Chinatown location before I had the pleasure of visiting.  So to my excitement, seeing the Hotville Chicken sign over their tent brought a tear to my eye, little did I know in a few minutes more would be running down my cheek.  Kim Prince’s crew was serving up a spicy little nugget of hot chicken sitting on a piece of white bread and crowned with a pickle chip just like it’s done back in Nashville.  As I brought the one biter to my mouth the spices from the chicken made my mouth salivate in anticipation of the spicy bite. As I bit down on the chicken I felt the heat sensation in my nostrils.  I love Nashville hot chicken and I don’t care how hot it is and that’s where the controversy starts.  It’s not fair that their chicken is so hot yet so damn tasty.  Despite the burn I ended up back at Hotville’s tent about five times throughout the night. 

Fried chicken may be the cool new kid in the city but legends never die.  It’s hard to have a food fest, especially of this caliber in LA without the almighty taco.  The ones that stood out to me were Guisados, which already happens to be one of my favorite places, Puesto and Chichen Itza.

Guisados is definitely a Los Angeles staple and if you haven’t visited one of their five locations spread out through the city, do yourself a favor, stop reading this and head to one and order the taco sampler.  All of their meats are braised for hours, served very saucy on a very thick handmade tortilla.  A thin wimpy tortilla wouldn’t be able to handle the braised meat.  At the Taste, Guisados was serving an off-menu taco that literally burned my lips off.  The Taco de Chile Colorado came with a warning from the server which I pompously ignored.  As soon as I brought the taco to my face I could smell the spice.  The taco itself was delicious.  The thick tortilla absorbed the sauce from the meat without disintegrating in my hand.  It was another case of, a food that hot shouldn’t be that delicious.

Puesto Chicken Al Pastor Taco

As I walked down one of the streets on the backlot I was greeted by a smile and an interesting looking taco at the Puesto tent.  With locations in San Diego and Irvine, I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting one of their restaurants.  If the rest of the menu is as delicious and beautiful as their Chicken Al Pastor taco then I’ll be making that trek down the 405 pretty soon.  The Chicken Al Pastor is cooked with a hibiscus and chipotle tinga, wrapped in crispy melted cheese and topped with avocado and a pineapple-habanero Pico de Gallo.  Puesto uses a blue corn tortilla which really makes this taco as pretty as it is delicious. 

Chichen Itza Panucho

Technically not a taco, Chichen Itza’s Panucho shared all of the characteristics of my favorite food and in one way made it better.  Who even knew that was possible?  Their Panucho is a crispy fried corn tortilla topped with a black bean puree, beef, pickled red onions and slice of avocado.  I had never heard of a Panucho and based on looks I assumed it was a tostada.  After picking it up I realized the tortilla although very crispy was pliable enough to fold in half like a taco.  That just goes to show if you try hard enough you can make anything a taco.  That tortilla has become my new favorite thing.  The taco covered all kinds of textures and flavors for its small size.  Don’t imagine a crunchy taco bell taco or even a burnt tortilla you would warm up at home, this was more like a very thin sope that you can fold in half.  I also have to mention that their choices for salsa were labeled “very hot” and “even hotter” so I absolutely loved that.

Jonathan Gold’s 5 Rules for Dining in LA

Like any festival I attend whether it be food or music, if I leave with a better understanding of the things I already liked and a new found love for something I never tried/heard before than my trip was a success.  That was definitely the case for the Taste.  Again, some of the most exclusive chefs and restaurants were in attendance.  There were tastings from restaurants that have hours long waits and menus with no prices (that’s when you know it’s expensive), but there they were all in one place.  If you were lucky enough you were probably served by the famous chefs themselves.  I had the honor to meet some of the biggest names in the LA food world and none of that would have been possible without a festival like the Taste.  So, thank you LA Times, thank you chefs and most importantly thank you LA.

RIP Jonathan Gold “The God”