The wait is finally over as the highly anticipated month-long food event known as Food Bowl officially kicks off to the public today!
While the food festival hosted by the Los Angeles Times had a few pre-events the last couple of days, nothing can be more exciting for the food lover in Los Angeles than to see the event go live. Reviewing the announcement of the event in February instilled in me a high degree of excitement paired with an unenthusiastic need to be patient. Keeping my eye close to the Food Bowl list of events didn’t help with my patience, but it was a good way for me to plan the events I wanted to attend. Another great way for me to get ready for Food Bowl was to sit down for an interview with Los Angeles Times Deputy Food Editor, Jenn Harris. The reporter who has her name attached to food articles in a number of credible and creative publications spoke to me about how she discovers delicious hidden gems in Los Angeles, her love for fried chicken, and of course Food Bowl.
Follow My Gut (FMG): What location was the first hidden gem you discovered?
Jenn Harris (JH): Now it’s already out there, but I think the first one was the Varnish, in the back of Cole’s French Dip. Varnish is a fantastic cocktail bar and I was having drinks and sandwiches with friends at the regular bar in front a long time ago. The bartender there asked if had been to the back and I had no clue what was there. My friends and I walked to the back, there was a sign, we knocked on the door, and we found this amazing cocktail bar.
FMG: What are some of your favorite hidden gems?
JH: I have so many now. One is Cento Pasta Bar and I stumbled across this place where two guys were behind a bar making fantastic fresh pasta! Now the restaurant has become so popular that they opened a second pop-up. Another one is Banh Oui which is a banh mi sandwich shop that is at Smorgasboard on Sundays, but during the week they’re inside the corner of an auto repair shop in Silver Lake. They have unbelievable sandwiches from two chefs, Armen and Casey, who have worked in LA extensively. My favorite speakeasy in LA is The Walker Inn at the back of the Normandie Hotel in Koreatown. You can make a reservation online to sit at the counter which is about six seats. The bar is in the style of a cocktail omakase where you get a front row show of the bartenders crafting a cocktail for you based on your preferences.
FMG: Do any of these hidden bars or restaurants require a password?
JH: Certain ones do. At Lock and Key in Koreatown you have to pick the right lock and Next Door Lounge on Highland has a doorman with a top hat who you have to tell the password to.
FMG: If someone is visiting Los Angeles and wants to take in the city without the tourist experience, where would you send them?
JH: I would take them to The Walker Inn. It’s a fantastic and proper cocktail bar with amazing food and it’s in an area of Koreatown where there’s so much going on. Also, next door is Cassell’s which offers a real taste of Los Angeles.
FMG: How do you find hidden gems?
JH: I talk to people working in restaurant – waiters, bartenders, hostesses. I ask them where they like to go and where they like to eat. I like to walk throughout cities a lot and I’m always looking at what’s happening. I pay attention to construction, to see if anything is opening, or if there are liquor licenses that are affixed to doors.
FMG: Where did your fascination with fried chicken come from?
JH: I can’t remember how I fell in love with fried chicken. I know as a child we got Popeye’s, which is good fried chicken, but I think it was because of my grandmother. My grandmother is Chinese and she would take us to a lot of Chinese café’s and bistros. There would be specific things on the menu like chow fun and chow mein and then there would also be chicken wings. I would always order those [wings] and love those. As I got older and got more into food I started researching fried chicken and trying all different kinds. Now, it’s a full blown addiction. If I don’t eat fried chicken twice a day, I eat it at least four times a week. I have a serious problem.
FMG: What are some of your favorite fried chicken spots?
JH: In Downtown I love Howlin Ray’s. I wrote about them when they were still a food truck and if I write about anything I have to eat the food. So [with Howlin Ray’s] I ate each level and I died. Before you eat it, you can smell what it will do to you. Then you eat it and the spice hits you fast and you’re in utter pain for a good eight minutes. Then somehow the pain dies down and you want another bite. That was one big bite. I love Howlin Ray’s, but now I get the spice level at medium. I also love Joseph Cento’s fried chicken at Ledlow and Barco Mercat. Outside of Downtown Los Angeles, I love Tokyo Fried Chicken in Alhambra because they basically have giant pieces of karaage that is marinated the same way with soy, ginger, and garlic, and they serve it with a spicy ponzu sauce. Jitlada in Hollywood makes an awesome lemon grass fried chicken. They’re like little nuggets of chicken and they fry little shavings of the lemongrass on top of the chicken to give you a flavor bomb chicken.
FMG: What’s your favorite drink with fried chicken?
JH: My favorite drink with fried chicken is a dry crisp and properly chilled rose. I can drink water and hydrate later.
FMG: What are your thoughts on Food Bowl?
JH: I’m super excited about it because I think it’s the first festival of its kind in LA and the country. It’s an entire month celebrating this city’s diverse cuisine and culture. We’re also using the event as a platform to discuss serious issues such as hunger, food waste, and sustainability.
FMG: Is there an event you’re most excited about?
JH: Night Market! We’re taking over all areas of Grand Park in Downtown LA from May 10th to 14th. As soon as the sun goes down it will be a giant party. There will be 50 food vendors, food trucks, beer and wine, and music. It will be a huge party with really good food.
FMG: What do you hope people will take away after they leave any of the events they attend during Food Bowl?
JH: I really hope people will have a new found appreciation for the city, food, and people here. I hope someone will meet a chef they didn’t know about before and then try their restaurant. Maybe a person will try a different type of food they haven’t had before and will leave with a new experience on restaurants and people here.
While this interview only captures some of Jenn’s favorite hidden gems in Los Angeles, briefly touches on her love for fried chicken, and mentions some of her excitement over Food Bowl, it certainly serves as a doorway to some of her interests. I highly encourage you to check out some of the places she cites as a favorite and hope they become preferred destinations for you as well