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The New Yorker's Guide to Los Angeles
Rin-rin Yu

Photo: Rin-rin Yu

You can move his Woody Allen collection from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach, but you can never take the New York out of the New Yorker. But give him a palm-tree lined street, a pair of shorts he can wear all day even at the office, and soon you’ll hardly recognize him. Your once cynical, over-stressed, straphanger has traded his deli coffee and bagel in for an iced soy-wheatgrass chai and an orange from the flowering tree outside his bedroom window.

Only some New Yorkers will admit the truth - we love L.A. Living here is like being on perpetual vacation. The wool overcoats have gone into permanent storage, we actually have yards (with avocado trees!), and we’ve stopped walking but will drive to a beach or mountain to enjoy a nice hike. However, despite the totally rad new lifestyle, we’ll always be New Yorkers. We have gone from squeezing onto the 6 train to squeezing onto the I-10 every morning, but we still attempt to read the New York Times (folded in fourths) during the commute. We’ll mock people who wear Ugg boots with a miniskirt in 75-degree weather and fly 3,000 miles for a Yanks game in the Bronx but never set foot in Dodger Stadium. Even at night with the sound of waves lapping against the shore, we miss hearing the blaring horns of the city that never sleeps. But even wandering around L.A., you can still have an ironically comforting Big Apple moment if you squint hard enough through the bright sunshine.

Nosh on a bagel  

Sure, they credit the water. Yet to this day, nobody has figured out the chemistry that makes New York bagels so doughy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and a perfect golden brown. Enough New Yorkers have traveled west to attempt this challenge, but none have succeeded. However, three places come close:

Brooklyn Bagel. Maybe it’s in the name, but these bagels could probably fool any New Yorker if sold back East. And just like in the big city, there’s no room to sit down so you’ll have to eat it stuck in traffic. Lox, orange juice, hot coffee, and a variety of cream cheeses complement the bagels. Bagel Nosh was originally a franchise started in New York. This last remaining shop is more Westchester County village than midtown Manhattan with its Formica tables and friendly service. You might even catch a hint of a New York-Jewish accent to warm you right up before the coffee. For “haute” bagels and deli food, bring your credit card to Barney Greengrass. At this Beverly Hills’ extension of Barney’s New York, you can buy a three-piece suit and a lox sandwich. Though no one in New York goes to Barneys for the bagels, people do here: Barneys imports them daily from New York. 

Grab a slice… or a pie

The thing with pizza is that no New Yorker can agree on what constitutes good pizza. Some like a saltier sauce while others like the cornmeal crust. Some die by DiFara’s while others swear by Grimaldi’s. But we do agree on a few things: the slice must be large enough to fold in half, require many napkins to soak off the grease, and have all those flavors melded so perfectly together. Once in L.A., these debates seem silly since it is hard to find even a decent slice of cheese. But there are a few places in L.A. that actually know the NYC pizza lingo. 

Mulberry Street doesn’t end in lower Manhattan. It spreads across Los Angeles, with two locations in Beverly Hills and one in the Valley. Step out of Los Angeles into Little Italy, and order up a slice from a Yankee cap-wearing server at the counter. Copies of the New York Post are available for those itching to catch up on any bridge-and-tunnel scandals. Paisanos Pizza & Pasta is a hit among the surfer crowd of Hermosa Beach. As the night action on the pier closes down, there’s actually a line out the door of platinum blonds in tiny skirts and surfer guys with shells around their necks who all seem to want to get their hands and faces greasy. Pay tribute to the South Beach dieters by ordering the pasta-topped pizza. Finally, Damiano’s serves up thin-crust slices all night, and its waitresses are definitely not doe-eyed Hollywood starlets waiting to be discovered. Driving everywhere has curbed the drinking for the most part – hence the late night pizza runs; but every so often we still wake up with a craving. Thankfully, this joint is open extremely late for L.A., a town that needs its sleep to stay beautiful.

Photo: Rin-rin Yu

Hit the delis

The New York deli concept has never quite made it outside the tri-state area, but its food did. Lacking are the people behind the counter barking for your order as soon as you step through the door, the customers who grumble because you’re ordering too slowly, and the piled-high sandwiches made in lightning speed. Since L.A. moves at a much slower, almost glacial pace, you might as well allot some time to sit down and enjoy the good food. 

Greenblatts Delicatessen & Fine Wines is a New York deli with a Californian twist – it carries Californian wines in its shop. Opened in 1926 solely as a restaurant, the kosher establishment offers the usual suspects of matzo ball soup, potato knishes, and deli sandwiches. The shop also sells gift baskets and picnic items. Greenblatts is often a native Californian’s first experience with deli food – and a good example of what a New York deli is all about. A close competitor is Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. In 1931 the Canter brothers moved their deli from New Jersey to the Sunshine State. Since then, they’ve moved a few more times, but no more than 20 miles within L.A. The 24-hour diner seats 465, and has its share of celebrities fill those tables: Marilyn Monroe, Dick Van Dyke, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sydney Poitier are (or were) among their dedicated customers. Each week the deli sells an astounding 4,900 pounds of pastrami, 1,500 gallons of chicken soup, and 4,000 knishes baked in their own kitchen. Next door is the Kibitz room, a cocktail lounge and music venue for local bands.

Photo: Rin-rin Yu

Treat yourself

In New York, you didn’t count your calories because you could rely on bulky sweaters and coats to hide the excess winter pounds. In L.A., the attitude is a little different. You’re extremely conscious of the fact that rich, sugary, buttery desserts are hard to come by in image-conscious L.A. Thankfully, carbohydrates are becoming fashionable again, and the paparazzi has photographed waif-ish Hollywood stars eating them up. Some of their favorites: Sprinkles Cupcakes in Beverly Hills, L.A.’s answer to the cupcake craze. You saw Andy Samberg mack on Magnolia cupcakes on Saturday Night Live, then many times over on the Internet, and suddenly the long lines outside in the cold West Village didn’t seem so bleak anymore. Sprinkles serves up those buttery rich cupcakes smothered in cream cheese frosting, just like Magnolia’s. You can even skip the line by ordering ahead, and they’ll be ready within 48 hours. Colorful cupcake trays are available for $35 to host your own cupcake display at home. Try every flavor – from banana to red velvet to pumpkin – as well as L.A.’s own chai latte version. 

And remember drowning a bad work day in a cup of cold hot chocolate and a giant chocolate chip cookie at City Bakery? Well, the escape is right around the corner: its West Coast branch just opened recently at the Brentwood Country Mart. This New York institution with its pretzel croissants and fancy salad bar has made its way from Union Square to the Westside. Westside of Los Angeles, that is. The Brentwood version has more stay-at-home moms and children flocking to its counters than the typical New York mover-and-shakers in business suits. The food, however, is the same – a much needed sweet reminder of home.

Take a walk 

If food isn’t satisfying the New York crave, park the car and head towards Beverly Hills, where wealthier New Yorkers recast themselves as Californians. Though the palm trees might not indicate Westchester or Long Island, the New York accent lingers through a couple generations. Sidewalk cafes and inexpensive deli and pizza joints intermingle between the boutique shops and salons. A little more east is the Miracle Mile/Fairfax area. Here, young New Yorkers flock to the neighborhood for its trendy pace, affordable rents, and central location within Los Angeles. Orthodox Jews stroll the streets towards services, and parking is limited. The streets are walkable, slightly dirtier, with tons of little shops lining the sidewalks on Beverly Boulevard and Melrose. The L.A. subway actually works and is well worth it if you live nearby. The most western stop is at Wilshire and Western.

If none of these satisfy the New York urge, American Airlines flies nonstop to JFK from LAX, and Jetblue flies from Burbank and Long Beach to JFK. Hop a redeye and wake up in the big city, just in time for your New York Times, perfect bagel and coffee.

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