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How to Experience California’s Delicious Culinary Diversity

How to Experience California’s Delicious Culinary Diversity

Check out these 11 outposts that showcase the state’s amazing ethnic variety

Posted 3 years agoby Theresa Gonzalez

You already know about the amazing tacos available in Southern California and throughout the Central Valley. And the Asian food scene in San Francisco and Los Angeles is the stuff of legend. But did you know that there’s a storied Czech restaurant along Tomales Bay? Or an acclaimed Caribbean restaurant in Balboa Park that caters to vegans? Or a Black-owned winery in Paso Robles that produces award-winning blends?

The Golden State boasts some of the most diverse culinary offerings on the planet. The outlets below, listed from south to north, celebrate this rich, flavor-filled melting pot of communities and cultures.

White Rice (Filipino), San Diego

A lightbulb went off when Chef Phillip Esteban and his hospitality group, Open Gym, started delivering Filipino rice bowls to local food banks and hospitals at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now he’s designed a Filipino sari-sari, or corner bodega, where you can order traditional Filipino rice bowls like lechon kawali (crispy pork belly) on the fly. Looking for a memorable breakfast? Try his eggplant omelet, called tortang talong, or tosilog, a popular dish of rice, egg, and cured meat.

WorldBeat Center Cafe (Caribbean), San Diego

This vegan-friendly eatery in Balboa Park is bursting with ingenuity. Try the Juneteeth Soul Plate (a spicy mix of black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread with a glass of watermelon juice—all vegan) or the Jamaican red curry with plantains made with ingredients from the onsite ethnobotany garden. WorldBeat Center hosts African diaspora and Indigenous world culture exhibits and events. Look for its toddler drumming course, samba workout, and Ki energy healing workshop next time you’re in town.

Georgia's Restaurant (Southern), Anaheim

Owner Gretchen Shoemaker is the heart and soul of this cozy spot in Anaheim’s trendy Packing District. She opened Georgia’s, named after her late husband George and their daughters, in 2014 and cooks up old-school Southern favorites like gravy-soaked pork chops and fried catfish, plus comforting sides like corn on the cob and mac and cheese. You can just feel the love here.

Bhanu's Indian Grocery & Cuisine (Indian), San Gabriel

Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel Valley is becoming a hot spot for ethnic food thanks to its diverse immigrant population. Brother-and-sister team Mr. Bedi and Bhanu hail from Bombay and turned their catering business into a grocery store and restaurant that has garnered lots of attention. You’ll find Indian standbys like chicken tikka masala and curry dishes, or try something unexpected like the chef-recommended lamb tikka boti (boneless chunks of lamb marinated in Indian spices).

Porto’s Bakery & Café (Cuban), Glendale

SoCal locals know that when you’re craving something sweet with a Latin twist, you head to Porto’s. Founder Rosa Porto, who passed away last year at the age of 89, emigrated from Cuba in the 1960s with barely a dime to her name but a pocket full of her Spanish mother’s baking recipes. The result: Five Porto’s locations, where you can order anything from tres leches cakes to Cuban sandwiches on freshly baked bolillo rolls.

Indigene Cellars (BIPOC-Owned Winery), Paso Robles

Owner Raymond Smith, one of California’s rising Black winemakers, has been crafting wines for more than 30 years—and it shows. Indigene’s Ambient Tuscan Blend earned 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in 2020, and he’s been recognized for his Philanthropist Blend, the proceeds of which go exclusively to charitable efforts, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Babaloo Cuban Café (Cuban), Seaside

This coastal town near Monterey is having a moment thanks to hip eateries like Babaloo popping up. Owner Gladys Parada, often decked out in Carmen Miranda–style headdress, successfully moved her Cuban-inspired food truck into a brick-and-mortar setting last spring. Enjoy Cuban music and food, like the citrus-braised pork Cubano or the Old Havana with slow-braised flank steak, tomato sofrito, capers, olives and maduros, in a place that’s all about the joy of eating.

Victoria’s Mexican Restaurant (Mexican), Gilroy

Victoria’s has been a Gilroy staple since the 1980s. Order up family favorites like the Donald Elvis (two soft chicken tacos with rice and beans), named after local Elvis impersonator Donald Prieto, or his daughter Presley’s go-to (tilapia and shrimp over rice) against the backdrop of Elvis decor and music. Victoria’s is one of 30 family-owned Mexican eateries, including casual taquerias Gaeta’s and Los Pericos, situated along the Gilroy Taco Trail.

Jong Ga House (Korean BBQ), Oakland

There’s always a crowd at Jong Ga, and for good reason. The interior of this celebrated eatery is designed to bring to mind a traditional Korean-style home, or hanok, setting. Just one block from beautiful Lake Merritt, you can make a day of it and pop by for popular lunch specials like Hot Stone Bi Bim Bap (seasoned veggies, fried egg, and rice in a hot stone pot) or Beef Shabu Shabu (thinly sliced beef with rice lettuce wraps). Or grab an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ dinner with 16 types of banchan (side dishes) to enjoy with your meal.

Y&Y (Vietnamese), San Francisco

Clement Street in the Richmond District is a quieter version of San Francisco’s Chinatown, with plenty of wonderful Asian cuisine options on offer. The unassuming Y&Y does a bang-up job on old-school classics like five-spice chicken with vermicelli and spring rolls, but everything on the menu is consistently good. Grab a bite on your way to explore San Francisco’s Lands End or Baker Beach, or just stroll Clement to experience a genuine neighborhood vibe.

Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant (Czech), Inverness

Driving along the pristine shoreline of Tomales Bay, you can’t miss this seemingly out-of-place Czech restaurant that features a kitschy sign and bright red decor. It’s been serving up Eastern European fare like dumplings, goulash, and borscht here for 60 years. The original owner and namesake, Vladimir Nevi, a boisterous character, died in 2016, but his daughter and grandson have stepped into his signature equestrian boots. Settle in for a home-cooked meal served with rye bread that’s still fresh from the oven.

Before you try any of these spots, read our helpful guide on What You Need to Know About Visiting California Restaurants.

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