The Essential Guide to Eating California: The Golden State is hands down the best place to eat in America
by Eater Staff
In the American imagination, California has always been viewed through a haze of fantasy. Early on, it was dreams of fist-sized gold nuggets lying in wait. Then a generation of Okies schlepped West, to eventually populate the pages of Steinbeck and the photos of Dorothea Lange, looking for a utopian land of plenty. More recently, it’s reveries of glamour and fame. Of in-ground pools. Of cheap avocados and convertible road trips to Coachella. Of picnics beside granite waterfalls. Of another gold rush, but made out of code. Of palm trees and beaches and children riding surf boards to school.
This is all mostly the stuff of California’s well-marketed mythology: There are swaying palm trees, but no public guacamole fountains. There are uncannily good-looking people and overnight millionaires, but few top-down joyrides (hello traffic). And then there’s the food. The beautiful idea that pretty much anything you can put in your mouth is better in California? That part, it turns out, isn’t a fantasy.
Obscenely wonderful produce is abundant year-round, but there are also peerless sushi bars and Sichuan restaurants and kebab shops and beach burger shacks and prix fixe palaces and pho specialists and bread bakeries and chaat shops and French bistros and tacos — lo, the tacos! This is where even toast sparked a national obsession.
In the course of putting together Eater’s first-ever guide to the entire state of California, we shipped our national critic out West for two months, recruited more than a dozen local experts, ate hundreds of meals, and drove just about every imaginable strip of highway to help you live our favorite version of the California dream. From the definitive list of the state’s 38 essential restaurants to a Central Valley taco crawl to an artist’s statewide search for a Beijing specialty, here’s Eater’s entirely true guide to the totally fantastical state of California — palm trees optional.