dineLA writing

Original LA Cuisine

By Drea Knufken for DineLA.com

You’ve been to the beach, seen the Getty Center, strolled down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even spotted a celebrity. But have you had a chance to enjoy LA’s original cuisine?

Maybe you’re not quite sure what LA cuisine is all about. Chances are, you’re familiar with the food but not so much the fact that it was born in LA. Ever had a Pink’s chili dog, French dip sandwich or a Shirley Temple? A slice of barbecue chicken pizza or an In-N-Out burger? How about Baskin-Robbins ice cream, a Winchell’s donut or a Cheesecake Factory dessert? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you’ve had a taste of original LA cuisine.

Los Angeles really is the birthplace of the French dip sandwich, the Shirley Temple, and California wood-fired pizza — at three historical diners, to be precise.

The first one happened at Philippe the Original restaurant when owner Philippe Mathieu chanced upon the French dip after accidentally dropping a French roll into a sizzling pan of au jus. He apologized to the police officer who had ordered the sandwich, but the officer said he wanted the sandwich anyway. It turns out the juice-dipped sandwich was so good the officer returned with a group of his friends the next day and asked for more. That was in 1918. Philippe the Original’s French dip sandwiches are still going strong.

Not so long ago, Chasen’s was the restaurant in Beverly Hills. The upper crust of society, including Marilyn Monroe and the Pope, congregated in the restaurant’s elaborate rooms. When child star Shirley Temple joined the Hollywood A-list, she, too, frequented the restaurant’s star-laden booths. But she was too young to drink alcohol. A bartender at Chasen’s came up with a solution: invent a virgin cocktail just for Shirley Temple so that she could schmooze alcohol-free with the adults. Its name? You guessed it.

Years later, the son of an Austrian butcher and pastry chef left the Midwest to practice his culinary craft in Los Angeles. Until Wolfgang Puck came to California, the state was known for its burritos, not its pizza. Puck, an adventurous and visionary chef, knew the value of California’s fresh, farm-picked fruits and veggies. He threw together such gourmet and alternative ingredients as barbeque chicken, artichokes and potatoes, placed it all on pizza dough and then threw the pie on a stone slab in a wood-fired oven. Voila, the now-famous California wood-fired pizza was born. He realized that such a luscious pie couldn’t be sold streetside, so he created Spago. Just like that, the latest generation of LA cuisine was born.

These are just a few items from a long list of foods perfected in LA. Indeed, many of the fast food restaurants you’ll find in anytown USA, from Taco Bell to In-N-Out, Denny’s to Orange Julius, were born right here. And what about LA’s latest food addiction? It’s Pinkberry, a nonfat frozen yogurt sensation filling flat tummies all over the city. Don’t be afraid to try new cuisine while you’re here; it just might be the next big thing.