The best Los Angeles cookbooks of 2018
We’re spoiled with some of the best imbibing and dining in the country, but sometimes you just want a night in—and when you don’t feel like waiting an entire month for a dish from Bestia, well, now you don’t have to.
Thanks to a handful of new cookbooks, L.A.’s dining scene is getting easier to recreate at home. After all, it’s been an insane year for our city’s restaurant openings, but have you stopped by a local bookstore? There’ve been major cookbook releases from L.A. chefs or bartenders, with recipes for cakes, cocktails and entrées forged right here in local kitchens. Here’s our guide to the year’s biggest and best cookbooks, which make for perfect gifting around the holiday season (and may we suggest doing so at one of L.A.’s best indie booksellers). We can’t blame you if you’ll be keeping a copy for yourself.
All About Cake
Christina Tosi rose to fame with Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City, so including the two-time James Beard Award winner in a roundup of L.A. chefs feels a little like cheating, but it’s more of a “pinch me, I’m dreaming” scenario: It’s taken awhile for one of Tosi’s world-famous Milk Bar bakeries to hit this coast, but now that it has and she’s made the move, we’re claiming her as one of our own. (Not that you won’t find her splitting coasts on a regular basis.)
This fall, she’s followed up her previous two Milk Bar cookbooks with a new tome that’s devoted to cake, and she’s going far beyond the layer cakes that helped rocket her to celebrity-chef fame. Her latest includes recipes for mug (microwave) cakes, cupcakes, sheet cakes, bundt cakes, Crock Pot cakes and more. If you’ve always wanted to tackle her stacked-high cakes but have been too afraid to try, this is a great introduction to ease you into them.
Suggested retail: $35, Clarkson Potter
Bestia: Italian Recipes Created in the Heart of L.A.
Can’t get a table at Bestia? Now you can cook it at home. We’ve waited a long time for this book—much longer than we’ve had to wait for those months-ahead reservations—but then again, the flawless blistering on the wood-fired pizzas, the bone marrow’s near-iconic slide onto gnochetti, the decadent chocolate budino and that artful modernization of rustic Italian cuisine have always been worth the wait. Now, after nearly a decade in business, what is arguably the city’s best Italian restaurant can enter our kitchens.
Husband-and-wife team Ori Menache and Genevieve Gergis compiled 140 of their recipes with the help of Eater travel editor—and former LA Mag deputy editor—Lesley Bargar Suter, and together crafted a thoughtful guide to their pastas, roast meats, fish, salads and Italian desserts, plus kitchen basics such as stocks and sauces, pickled goods and even a lesson on curing meat. The Bestia staples are all there, including the cavatelli alla Norcina, the agnolotti alla Vaccinara with oxtail, the ’nduja, and the branzino with herb confetti, as are a few cocktails, for good measure. Much like the agnolotti, this cookbook is a must-have.
Suggested retail: $35, Ten Speed Press
Clean + Dirty Drinking: 100+ Recipes for Making Delicious Elixirs, With or Without Booze
Are healthy cocktails the most laughably L.A. thing ever? Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them in earnest. Longtime bartender and former Accomplice beverage director Gabriella Mlynarczyk’s first book isn’t so much a recipe compilation as a compendium, and you’d better believe there are enough recipes to dizzy you—even if you’re making the nonalcoholic “clean” versions. This incredibly thorough work is separated into three chapters: the tools and basic bar techniques you need to know; the “foraging” of where to source your ingredients, be it in the wild, in a spice shop or at the farmers’ market or supermarket, then how to turn these ingredients into syrups and other components; and finally, 24 cocktails, each with a boozy recipe and a non-alcoholic recipe.
The idea here isn’t to tell you not to drink at all, but to provide a loose guide to drinking “healthy” by way of fresh fruit, herbs, spices and other natural additives. Want to learn more about Mlynarczyk’s book? Find our Q&A with the author right over here.
Suggested retail: $19.95, Chronicle Books
Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions
When the Death & Co. cocktail book dropped in 2014, it was as if a holy text had been bestowed upon casual cocktail fans and mixology die-hards alike. The slick black clothbound encyclopedia-slash-cookbook became a resident of bookshelves around the world, and this year, the team behind it followed up with a drinks deep-dive that’s just as much worth collecting. In Cocktail Codex, Death & Co. founders David Kaplan and Alex Day, now joined by their Proprietors partner, Devon Tarby—all behind local spots the Normandie Club, the Walker Inn and Bibo Ergo Sum—returned to writer Nick Fauchald to break cocktails down into six categories: martinis, old-fashioneds, daiquiris, flips, sidecars and highballs.
If this sounds simple, think again. Each archetype receives its own charts and graphs of extended cocktail families and recipe variations, not to mention a number of ways to experiment with methods like technique, surprising flavors, glassware and infusion. It’s all at once a simple overview, a history lesson and an in-depth course on cocktails—think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure book, where you get to pick how deep you want to go.
Suggested retail: $40, Ten Speed Press
The L.A. Cookbook: Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bakeries, and Bars in Los Angeles
If you want a snapshot of the way Los Angeles eats right now, Alison Clare Steingold’s 100-recipe cookbook is the way to find it. From longtime menu stalwarts to modern classics, The L.A. Cookbook snakes its way through Boyle Heights, Silver Lake, Downtown, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Koreatown and Manhattan Beach, among other neighborhoods, to provide an across-the-city how-to on our favorite dishes.
Bottega Louie’s butterscotch budino is there. Son of a Gun’s fried chicken sandwich is in there. Valerie Gordon’s Fallen Fruit Cake is in there. You want to know how to make E.R.B.’s beloved burger? Or Otium’s yellowtail tostada? Now’s your chance. Bring Park’s BBQ, Spago and n/naka into your own kitchen, we dare you. Some of these recipes are a bit advanced for the home cook, but there’s enough variety that there’s something everyone can whip up.
Suggested retail: $40, Rizzoli
Trap Kitchen: Bangin’ Recipes from Compton
This expletive-laden cookbook is anything but conventional—but then again, the culinary come-up of Malachi Jenkins and Roberto Smith was anything but conventional. Part recipe collection and part autobiography, the Trap Kitchen book details the duo’s rise from gang life to cooking for the likes of Snoop and Kendrick Lamar. They’ve penned easy-to-follow recipes for dishes they’ve served at their pop-ups and catering parties, including their stuffed pineapples, chicken and waffles, and cajun-spiced Mac Attack mac and cheese.
Without getting too corny, Jenkins and Smith also discuss how food can be transformative, providing a new way of life and an objective for young kids or those in trouble. They also make food fun. Hands-down, it's the most enjoyable read on this list.
Suggested retail: $24.95, Vodka & Milk
These aren’t necessarily cookbooks, but they’re still worth picking up.
Movers and Shakers: Women Making Waves in Spirits, Beer & Wine
Where is a woman’s place in the industry? Right at the front of it. Rappahannock DTLA’s Hope Ewing spent roughly a year interviewing women in the beverage industry, and the result is a thorough profile of some of the ladies innovating the beer, wine and cocktail trades. A number of L.A. voices are present, including Vinovore’s Coly Den Haan, La Guelaguetza owner and I Love Micheladas founder Bricia Lopez, and Big Bar bar manager Cari Hah.
But Movers & Shakers isn’t just a focus on the individuals behind some of your favorite bars, restaurants and products—it’s a collection of industry advice and tips, it’s a beverage history lesson, and it’s a proudly feminist look at the professional challenges women face. It also includes useful, inspiring personal anecdotes on how these women built their careers, overcame obstacles and continue to fight them—with ideas on how to grow a more inclusive industry, to boot. This isn’t just a cocktail book, it’s a call to action.
Suggested retail: $23.99, Unnamed Press
MR CHOW: 50 YEARS
When Michael Chow—that’s MR CHOW, to all of us—opened his Chinese restaurant in London in 1968, nothing like it existed in the Western world. Theatrical flair, high art, white tablecloths and A-lister clientele made his Beijing and other Chinese-province cuisine famous the world over; just ask longtime fans Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono and Jack Nicholson, to name a few. This was some of the first Chinese fine dining with tableside service, and it helped revolutionized the way Europeans, Americans, Mexicans and the Japanese view and eat Chinese food.
Throughout the years, some of the world’s most beloved and acclaimed artists not only dined at MR CHOW, but contributed to it. This new book isn’t a cookbook, but an art book that contains works showcased in the Chow spaces, plus original pieces made for the restaurant, as well as musings from some of the artists themselves. It’s a beautiful, glossy celebration of MR CHOW around the world, and a work of art in and of itself.
Suggested retail: $49.95, Prestel Publishing
You can find all of these tomes online, but don’t forget to support local bookshops such as Now Serving, the Last Bookstore and the Iliad.
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