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"Eat: Los Angeles," the proletariat food lover's guidebook

January 14, 2009 |  6:19 pm

Eatlosangeles_3 Every once in while a guidebook comes along that is so hyper-local it instantly claims a place in die-hard Angelenos' hearts. "L.A. Bizarro," the 1997 guidebook to all things obscure, absurd and perverse in Los Angeles, is one such book, as is "Counter Intelligence," Jonathan Gold's indispensable guide to "Where to eat in the real Los Angeles." Now a new book on the scene appears poised to grab the coveted local-lore mantle: "Eat: Los Angeles."

The Daily Dish wrote about the book in October just before it was released, now we're back post-publication to take a closer look and to add an interview with its editor, Colleen Dunn Bates, whose Prospect Park Books also published it.

Bates is a sixth-generation Angeleno.  As her team of scribes she chose six ace L.A. food writers, including Jenn Garbee and Linda Burum (both regular contributors to The Times Food section); Pat Saperstein of Eating L.A.; and Andy O'Neill, whose "Great Taco Hunt" blogspot drew interest from all corners of the city and beyond. 

What distinguishes "Eat: Los Angeles" from a host of other L.A. restaurant guides, including Zagat and Gayot, is its emphasis on mom-and-pop restaurants, specialty stores, hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, caterers, street food and juice bars. There's also its wealth of write-ups on L.A.'s most ubiquitous dining option, the taco truck.

"It's a food book, not just a restaurant book," says Bates. "What people really want to know about is not the chi-chi hot new restaurant, but the bakery and cheese shop and taco truck. No one had really done that before."

Her instinct paid off. The book hit the shelves on Dec. 1, and by the end of that month it was the No. 2 bestseller at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. "We beat Barack Obama, so I was pretty happy about that," says Bates.

Adding to the book's local flavor is a series of 10 profiles of "Good Food Neighborhoods." The profiles act as mini-tours through areas possessing unique or remarkable food and dining scenes, including Silver Lake, Culver City, Boyle Heights and Artesia. There is also a feature that designates certain spots as "Essentially L.A.," meaning that a place represents Los Angeles boiled down to its essence. Think the Pacific Dining Car, Soot Bull Jeep, Providence and El Taurino.

"Eat: Los Angeles" is divided into nine chapters, marked by easy-to-use recessed page tabs. The chapters are restaurants, breakfast + lunch, coffee, tea + juices, food that's fast, gourmet to go, bakeries + sweets, wine + spirits, shops, services + events. You'll find an incredible variety in those pages but you won't find any chains.

"That's been my complaint about Zagat in recent years," says Bates. "It's been full of Cheesecake Factories and Olive Gardens, nobody needs to know about that. They already know about that."

The book's listings are divided into subsections, including Central City, Eastside and San Gabriel Valley, and each paragraph-long write-up includes the nuts-and-bolts information (address, phone, price range) as well as three blithe and breezy subsections: Why, What and Who.

A good example is Zephyr Coffee House & Art Gallery. Listed under coffee, tea + juices, the "why" says, "A place to join regulars and settle in for hours with newspaper or laptop. Often worthwhile music on weekend nights." The "what" says, "This hidden gem is a Craftsman cottage suffused with Zen-like beauty and calm. Comfy sofas, tree-shaded patio tables and a menu that includes tasty crepes." And the "Who" says, "Art students and the sort of Pasadenan who sends her child to a co-op nursery school and has her own vegetable garden."

The book has an interactive companion in its website, eat-la.com. There you'll soon find a food and dining blog as well as the contents of the entire book with a user-friendly search function. It's not all up there yet, but Bates says it will be in a week or so.

If you'd like to buy a copy of "Eat: Los Angeles," Bates and Saperstein will be appearing at Stories bookstore in Echo Park for a talk and book signing and to join in a sampling of food from the neighborhood provided by such restaurants as Andiamo, Allston Yacht Club and Stories' own cafe. The fun begins at 7 p.m., at  1716 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (213) 413-3733.

-- Jessica Gelt

"Eat: Los Angeles" logo courtesy of Colleen Dunn Bates.