L.A. Cookbooks Every Angeleno Will Love

Are you getting tired of the same old recipes you have been cooking since the pandemic began? Looking for some cool gift ideas? Here is a list of LA-based cookbooks that have become indispensable to me as a home cook, along with a few that I am just starting to dive into with great enthusiasm.

I have personally tested several recipes from each of these books, and every recommendation on this list has dependable, easy-to-follow directions, with just enough detail and not too much fuss. Most of the ingredients are in your local supermarket, with an occasional trip to a specialty market. In addition to the expected collections of recipes, they are also good reads, with captivating stories about the dishes and the people who cook them.

“Los Angeles Times California Cookbook” (1981)

Unlike the other cookbooks in the collection, this is a cookbook I have lived with for decades. It is tattered and stained and contains many of my standard dishes. When I first got this book, I was crowing about it to an older friend, and he challenged, “Oh yeah? Does it have the Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake?” It sure did. And because of that, I felt validated that this book is a thorough guide to L.A. cuisine. Some of the dishes in regular rotation on my table are the Dirty Rice, Baked Mostaccioli, Kung Pao Chicken, Gypsy Chicken and Chocolate Bundt Cake. If I were only allowed to keep one cookbook for the rest of my life, this would be it (Another edition came out in 1990). Purchase.

“The Hollywood Bowl Cookbook” (1984)

This is a self-published collection of recipes created over three years by a volunteer committee. It’s comprised of recipes donated by the orchestra, members of the press, local restaurants, and such esteemed regulars as Betty Ford, Sally Field, Leonard Bernstein, and Chef Jonathan Waxman. The first time I came across this cookbook, it was loaned to me by a dear neighbor, who wanted to show me his late wife’s signature dessert–the Carrot Pineapple Cake on page 270. Cookbooks are time capsules, though, so this one is somewhat bogged down by the likes of “Molded Avocado Green Goddess Spread,” but there are plenty of great recipes worth keeping. There is also a modern, sparser edition of this cookbook from 2002 called “The Hollywood Bowl Cookbook: Picnics Under the Stars.” It does include the most popular recipes from the older edition, but not much else that tops the original. Purchase

“Hollywood du Jour: Lost Recipes of Legendary Hollywood Haunts” by Betty Goodwin (1993)

Do you long for the glamour and kitsch of old Hollywood? The Cocoanut Grove’s grand staircase? The clamshell urinals of Luau? This cookbook focuses on the restaurants that sprung up around the film industry, known as much for being a place to see and be seen as they were for the food. There’s a lot of well-researched Hollywood history in this book. For many people, these restaurants are a thing of fantasy and legend, but born and bred Angelenos may have their own memories sparked. The book is filled with charming language like, “The swells dined at Perino’s…” Even though these restaurants are now defunct, the recipes live on. Here you can find the Brown Derby’s Cobb Salad, and yes–even the Grapefruit Cake! I don’t know why they included Trump’s restaurant, which didn’t open until 1980 and offered up such atrocities as “Caviar and Plantains.” Purchase

“Two Dudes One Pan: Maximum Flavor from a Minimalist Kitchen” by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (2008)

This paperback cookbook has been used so much in our house that the spine is broken, and it now lies flat. It’s great for home cooks who know the basics and are ready to take it up a notch. The directions are easy to follow and don’t get bogged down by excess verbiage. The collection doesn’t include the complex dishes Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have become known for at restaurants like Animal, Son of a Gun, and Trois Mec, but you will find some absolute gems like Jimmy Jon’s Sausage Gravy (which uses more than two cups of cream!), along with useful cooking techniques for roasting meats and making sauces. The chapters are divided by the type of pan you use. Besides the rich sausage gravy, other favorite recipes are Chicken Thighs in White Wine and Herbs, Amatriciana-style Chicken, Chile-Rubbed Pork Loin, and Balsamic Barbecued Baby Backs. Purchase

“LA’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook” by JoAnn Cianciulli (2009)

The Original Farmers Market has been an LA institution since it first opened in 1935. This cookbook is long overdue. It includes gems like Loteria Grill’s famous Chilaquiles Verdes and DuPar’s legendary Chicken Pot Pie. My favorite place, The Gumbo Pot, offers their recipe for Seafood Gumbo and Cornbread Muffins, but I’m disappointed they didn’t contribute their addictive Toasted Pecan Salad Dressing. Marcels’ Quiche and Steak Frites make regular appearances in our dinner table. This book has nice thick pages, and the ingredients are shown in a shaded box to clearly differentiate them from the cooking directions. Unfortunately, after about a year of use, the cover became unglued. But I did not. Purchase

New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel and Martha Rose Shulman (2009)

One of the lesser-known cookbooks to come out of the award-winning and game-changing Campanile, New Classic Family Dinners celebrates the dishes of the restaurant’s popular “Monday Night Dinners.” On Mondays, the late Chef Mark Peel would re-imagine American comfort food with an affordable prix-fixe menu. This cookbook is therefore incredibly accessible compared to most restaurant recipe collections. Forgotten classics get modern makeovers, like Waldorf Salad with a house-made Curried Mayonnaise, or a traditional Spanish Tortilla that is upgraded with serrano ham and clams. A number of these starters, including several savory tarts, would make excellent brunch dishes. Although the chapters are not divided by season, the recipes tend to make use of seasonal ingredients. Other winners here, from the standard to the exotic, include Smothered Pork Chops, Lamb Tagine, and Rabbit Cacciatore. The Bolognese made with brisket is the best pasta sauce we have ever made, and the recipe to cook the extra sauce with pasta shells was practical and delicious. They did not omit Peel’s famous egg yolk ravioli, and there are a number of selections from another passion of his–seafood. Purchase

“The Mozza Cookbook: Recipes from Los Angeles’s Favorite Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria” by Nancy Silverton, Matt Molina, Carolynn Carreno, Mario Batali (2011)

Los Angeles has never lacked for Italian restaurants, but chef Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza were game-changers. Silverton has always done everything with great mindfulness and care. Her food shows a certain level of patience, and you need to use this detailed cookbook when you have enough time to enjoy the earthy pleasure of pasta dough in your hands or the rewards of making fresh Ricotta. It is all about enjoying the process. Favorite recipes include Wild Boar Bolognese, and of course the famous (and much-copied)  Butterscotch Budino. Purchase

“L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food” by Roy Choi (2013)

Roy Choi has cut a wide swath through the L.A. food scene, almost singlehandedly inventing the concept of the now-ubiquitous food truck with his Korean-Mexican mashup Kogi Truck. Even if there were no recipes included in L.A. Son, this autobiographical New York Times bestseller is an excellent read. Choi’s stories are so engrossing, that whenever I pick this book up to find a recipe, I get caught up and dinner is always late. Each chapter traces various stages in Choi’s life and includes several recipes from that era. His young, partying period actually has recipes for souped-up instant ramen and ketchup spaghetti. There is even a recipe for that post-clubbing street delicacy, the LA Dirty Dog. Try the dumplings from his family’s restaurant, Silver Garden, the Chinese Almond Cookies, Korean-Style Braised Short Rib Stew and the Lebanese Bee’s Knees. But the one I love most of all is the Kalbi Plate, Choi’s claim to fame. Purchase

“The Lemonade Cookbook: Southern California Comfort Food from L.A.’s Favorite Modern Cafeteria” by Alan Jackson, JoAnn Cianciulli (2013)

High end gourmands may pooh pooh at a cookbook from this popular and seemingly basic chain, but this is the best present you could possibly buy for a busy working parent or anyone else who needs to get dinner on the table fast, plus they can do it with healthy ingredients and global flavors. The categories I revisit again and again are the Marketplace Salads, which will make you a master of vinaigrettes, and the slow-simmered braises, which are our go-to for comfort food when we are at a loss for what to cook. Favorites include Bay Shrimp with Cannellini Beans, Moroccan Chicken, and Basque Chicken. There are also a number of tempting sandwiches and desserts. Purchase

“L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants: Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank and Played.” October 11, 2016
by George Geary. (2016)

This tome is more of a history book, with select recipes from classic Los Angeles restaurants. This book will definitely get you in the feels if you grew up in the L.A. area. From Scandia, my very first fancy restaurant, through the coffeeshop hangouts of my teen years, to places I still frequent today, author Geary has not missed a one. Most of the recipes are outdated, with frequent appearances by mayonnaise salad dressings and a copious use of capers. A few of the chicken recipes we tried were downright bland. But there are still some choice classics, like Zucchini Monterey from Clifton’s Cafeteria and Dan Tana’s Chicken Piccata, as well as classic cocktails including Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie and The Formosa’s Mai Tai. The real meat of this well-researched book is in the stories, historic pictures, and the inclusion of collectibles like menus, postcards, and even matchbooks from the eateries. This gorgeous book would be an excellent gift for any Angeleno in your life. Purchase

“L.A. Mexicano: Recipes, People & Places” by Bill Esparza (2017)

L.A. Mexicano should be a required textbook in cooking classes across the country. Through profiles of the chefs and restaurateurs introducing several of their best recipes, James Beard Award-winning author Bill Esparza has created a comprehensive history of Mexican food in Los Angeles. For the home cook, it is an extremely accessible cookbook with clear, concise directions, information about ingredients, and even a guide to shops selling the more obscure items. This book demystifies the oft-overlooked art of Mexican cooking. In addition, the stories make you really connect with the food in a way that isn’t possible with most cookbooks. From classics like taquitos from Cielito Lindo to modern favorites like Esdras Ochoa’s cheesy, garlicky vampiros, there is a wealth of delicious recipes. I am disappointed that there is no recipe for the Beef Birria from Burritos la Palma, but their Chicken Tinga is now a house favorite. Purchase

“The Grand Central Market Cookbook: Cuisine and Culture from Downtown Los Angeles” by Adele Yellin and Kevin West (2017)

The Grand Central Market downtown dates all the way back to 1917, when it was known as the “Wonder Market.” Originally a place Angelenos went to buy fruit and nuts in bulk for Christmas, it saw a second life as a food hall around 2012, and a few lunch counters grew into a wealth of fantastic restaurants. From the simple Chicken Chop Suey from OG food stall, China Cafe, to the perfect meatballs from Knead & Co., this cookbook is pure Los Angeles. I first opened the cover thinking, “No way is Chef Bruce Kalman giving up the meatballs…” and I was so excited to find his meatball recipe! It was the first thing I made out of this cookbook. Each recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photograph by Kevin West. Purchase

“The LA Cookbook: Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bakeries, and Bars in Los Angeles” by Alison Clare Steingold with Photographs by Noah Fecks.(2018)

This modern cookbook primarily focuses on newer restaurants. The chapters bear L.A. insider titles like “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” and “Marine Layer.” The cocktail section is exceptional, with the Negroni from Varnish, and Viviane’s Pineapple Punch. The author has even created inventive graphs to show the toppings on avocado toast and pizza from various restaurants. I do like having the recipe all on one page so I don’t have to turn pages with sticky hands, but the font is so small it can be difficult to read. This isn’t really a cookbook you grab to make dinner the same night, because most of the recipes require specialty ingredients, and/or some advance preparation. But if you are willing to commit the time, you can turn out dishes like Ricebar’s Bisteg Tagalog and Union’s Tagliatelle with Pork Ragu. Pages featuring classic recipes like Salazar’s Esquites, Silver Dollar Pancakes from The Fountain Room, and the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Spicy Bread and Butter Pickle Slaw from Jon and Vinny’s Son of a Gun will soon become dog-eared. Seriously, that chicken sandwich is one of the best things to ever come out of my kitchen. Purchase

“EAT. COOK. L.A.: Recipes from the City of Angels” by Aleksandra Crapanzano (2019)

The intro for this book has put off some Angelinos by opening with New York’s stereotype about L.A. once being a culinary wasteland, but if you read further, that is not really how the author feels. It is actually a well-researched essay on the L.A. dining scene. This lovely collection of 100 recipes comes from the heart of Los Angeles and includes gems that you won’t find anywhere else. The list of contributing chefs is a veritable who’s who of 21st century culinary stars–Joseph Centeno, Alvin Cailan, Ludo Lefebvre, Neal Fraser, Curtis Stone, Bryant Ng, Josiah Citrin, David Lefevre, and Wesley Avila. It also includes cocktails like Gracias Madre’s Purista, Otium’s Saffron Lemonade, Cassia’s Thai Basil Margarita, and the Yes, Siam, from Redbird. The absolutely best recipe in this collection has to be Chef Walter Manzke’s adobo friend rice. Purchase

“Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico” by Bricia Lopez, Javier Cabral (2019)

Not since my set of 1968 “Time Life Foods of the World” have I seen such a deep dive into a regional cuisine. Gueleguetza, considered to be the outpost for Oaxacan food in L.A., has won numerous awards and was beloved by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold. In a match made in food heaven, second-generation chef and restauranteur Bricia Lopez teamed up with writer Javiar Cabral, who had a popular food blog when he was still in high school–and not coincidentally was a protege of Gold’s. Like a bestselling novel, the book is unputdownable. The recipes themselves are a deep dive into moles, and no family secrets are held back. Purchase

Amboy: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream by Alvin Cailan and Alexandra Cuerdo (2020)

Filipino chef Alvin Cailan may have lived in a lot of cities, but this book is pure L.A. The story of his journey through kitchens like Bouchon and his own successful restaurants, Eggslut and Amboy, is interesting and personal. While some of the recipes are chef-ish and complex, including sub recipes like sauces and roasted meats before you can start the actual recipe (and OK, some of the ingredients have to be ordered online), this is nonetheless a great starter cookbook for people who are interested in Filipino and fusion cooking. His take is often more inventive than traditional, like subbing out some of the vinegar in his Adobo with citrus juice. We have tried and recommend the Spanish-influenced stews Mechado and Putahe, as well as the Bacon-Leek Tart, which is ethereally fluffy. Purchase.

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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1 Response to L.A. Cookbooks Every Angeleno Will Love

  1. Paul Gaita says:

    What a great list!

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