A New Film Goes Behind the Scenes With an Iconic L.A. Food Critic

Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning culinary writer, has the ability to make a struggling restaurant the toast of Los Angeles. And as Laura Gabbert, the director of a new documentary about his work, discovered—he doesn't take his impact lightly.

There's the caricature of a influential food critic—reservations sneakily made under false names; thunderous reviews that determine the fate of restaurants—and then somewhere slightly left of center, there is the picture of journalist Jonathan Gold. The Los Angeles-based writer does indeed use fake names now and then, and his endorsement can certainly pack a room, but there's an element of humanity in his work that makes it more an act of community service than a power move.

That's probably because Jonathan Gold goes out of his way not to confirm the talent of elite chefs, but to discover unknown talent hidden in plain sight, often making successes of businesses with little in the way of an advertising budget. For her documentary about Gold's work, City of Gold, out next Friday, director Laura Gabbert and her crew accompanied Gold to many of the strip malls, delis, and other unlikely locales where he finds his favorite places to eat—and very quickly discovered what makes them so special.


Here, Gabbert shares some of her favorite places she encountered while rolling around L.A. with Jonathan Gold.

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Meals by Genet

This place serves extraordinary Ethiopian food. Jonathan first wrote about it in 2003 or 2004. Most Ethiopian places in the city are casual, but this one is more of a white-tablecloth restaurant. Genet, the owner and chef, is this very gregarious, gracious host who's known for her Doro Wot [a spicy chicken stew]. She has a very interesting immigrant story: she moved to Los Angeles to get a better education for her son. She's a single mother, and eventually her son went to medical school. He basically helped her keep the restaurant afloat before she got the Jonathan Gold review.

1053 S. Fairfax Ave.

mealsbygenetla.com

El Parian Restaurant

This is Jonathan's favorite place for goat stew—he goes there a lot. The first time we visited, I was like "let me call ahead" and he was like "no, you don't need to." It was true: We just walked in with my camera and sound guys, and it was totally fine. It didn't end up in the final cut of the film, but we shot there. It's just this place that's been in the Pico Union District since the '80s, and is totally unchanged since then. Their menu has expanded a little, but people really go there for the stew.

1528 W. Pico Blvd.

yelp.com/biz/el-parian-restaurant-los-angeles

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Chengdu Taste

This place has quite a long scene in the movie. They serve Szechuan from the Chengdu region of China. I spent a lot of time with Jonathan while he researched that restaurant and tried to figure out how to write about it. That particular kitchen footage is some of my favorite footage we shot. The kitchen wasn't as small as some of the others, but they had a lot of cooks in there and really, really hot flames shooting up and things boiling—there was a lot going on.

828 W. Valley Blvd.

yelp.com/biz/chengdu-taste-alhambra

Guelaguetza

This is where I ate grasshopper for the first time: they're delicious, smoky, and salty. Guelaguetza is known for their mole, but they just have incredible Oaxacan food. It's a really fun place to eat. It seats 300 people and there's always a soccer game on, and on a Sunday for lunch, lots of Oaxacan people come in after church. It's almost like a community center. It's family-run, but the father retired, moved back to Mexico, and opened a hamburger stand in their town!

3014 W. Olympic Blvd.

ilovemole.com

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Bulgarini Gelato

It's funny, I had very little dessert with Jonathan. I think mostly because we were filming and then we'd need to wrap, so we'd either sit down and eat something quickly or take it to-go. But he wrote a review of this gelateria in Altadena that's just so beautiful. Really, a lot of my favorite experiences had less to do with the food and more to do with driving there, meeting people, and getting a better sense of the culture of L.A.

749 E. Altadena Dr.

bulgarinigelato.com

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