If you thought last year’s L.A. cookbooks spoiled us, just wait until you dive into 2019’s: Some of our city’s top restaurants and chefs took up the pen for the first time ever, while a few of our favorite seasoned authors gave us another round of recipes, stories and glimpses inside L.A.’s best kitchens.
Musso & Frank celebrated a full century of dining with a gorgeous coffee-table ode to Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, while we learned to make farmers’-market cocktails from the man behind the bar at Lucques. We tucked into Josef Centeno’s Tex-Mex roots while bringing Evan Funke’s handmade pasta home (take that, reservation stress over landing a table at Felix).
Whether you’re looking for holiday gift ideas or shopping for yourself, here’s our guide to the year’s best Los Angeles cookbooks and beyond, so you can bring a bit of our city’s world-class dining scene home.
Amá: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen
Josef Centeno sprinkles a little personality into every dish in his restaurant empire, but at Bar Amá and Amácita, it feels personal. That’s probably because Centeno doesn’t just love Tex-Mex; it’s in his blood. As a descendant of the multigenerational family behind San Antonio’s once-largest Latin-owned grocery chain, cooking and Texas heritage are intertwined. The Orsa & Winston chef already brought us a Bäco cookbook, but his latest—also co-written by former L.A. Times food editor Betty Hallock—is a glimpse into the heritage of both his own cooking and the vibrant and culturally-rich Tex-Mex cuisine.
In Amá: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen, the family love shines through, and you get the best of both worlds: recipes from Centeno’s family tree, and modernized takes that the chef serves in his restaurants. He divulges an aguacate reminiscent of gatherings on his great-grandfather’s farm south of San Antonio; the breakfast-staple migas, which he learned to make by watching his mom cook on weekend mornings; his tía Carmen’s generational recipe for flour tortillas; and his Amá’s famed fideo. There’s a recipe for his dad’s steak fajitas, but also one for his own turmeric-and-ginger chicken variety.
Interludes recount childhood memories, his great-grandparents’ escape from the Mexican Revolution, and even his grandparents’ meet-cute at the Olmos Pharmacy soda fountain. This is an approachable guide to Tex-Mex, a peek into how one of the city’s best chefs inspired his empire, and—yes—it absolutely includes Centeno’s legendary queso recipe (and the vegan version, too).
Suggested retail: $29.95, Chronicle Books
American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta
From the chef behind the locally-iconic jab “#fuckyourpastamachine” comes, unsurprisingly, a killer cookbook that’s all about handmade pasta. The Italian sfoglia translates to a sheet of fresh pasta dough, and Evan Funke is the best sfoglino Los Angeles has. The lauded chef’s Felix restaurant is just as packed and reservation-worthy as it was when it launched in early 2017, and though the pizza and small plates and sfincione bread are worth an order, the gem in the beloved Venice bungalow has always been the pasta.
In Funke’s first cookbook, co-authored with Italian-food writer Katie Parla, he details—and we do mean details—the minutiae of fresh dough and the finished product: how to knead it (energetically), how to roll it (ideally a wooden rolling pin on a wooden surface), how to cure it (ideally under plastic trash can liners) and how to pair shapes with their correct sauces (stick to his classics outlined in the book, at first). The recipes and techniques skew, like Felix does, toward the Emilia-Romagna region, but there are a few variances along the way.
Step-by-step photos take you through each and every pasta in the book, which makes this a perfect tome for visual learners. Or, you know, those who love to ogle pasta photos and will never attempt a recipe in their life. Either way, this is a gorgeous, informative master-class–cum–cookbook.
Suggested retail: $35, Chronicle Books
Baking at République
The lines for Margarita Manzke’s wondrous, precise, whimsical, seasonal pastries can span half a block down La Brea. That’s because the James Beard Award nominee’s baked goods are some of the best in the city, absolutely some of the best on this coast and the top tier in this country and—if the success of her Philippines-based bakery and café chain is any indication—some of the best in the world.
The 20-foot-long pastry case is the first thing you see when you enter République, an L.A. all-day–dining gem that she also runs with her husband, the wildly talented chef Walter Manzke. Even if you’re here for something savory, the piles of croissants and brioche and bread pudding and tarts will somehow sneak their way into your order. You can find around 50 varieties in the case daily, but once they’re sold, they’re done for the day—which is why you might want to make your own stash at home. Thanks to a new cookbook that’s also co-written by Betty Hallock (see Amá, above), you can do just that.
Baking can feel overwhelming to the novice, but the recipes in Baking at République are straightforward, and many of the more daunting or, uh, let’s say advanced pastries are built on basic foundations all laid out at the top of each chapter. There are fruit tarts and quiches and parmesan churros and matcha-swirl bundt cakes and jams and pavlovas and hand pies and fig-and-tahini cookies. There are orange-chocolate babka rolls and orange-blossom madeleines and German pancakes. This is Manzke magic at home, and without the line down the block.
Suggested retail: $30, Lorena Jones Books
Bar Chef: Handcrafted Cocktails
Los Angeles is full of iconic bars, but when it comes to iconic bartenders, we’ve got a much shorter list—and right at the top is Christiaan Röllich. It’s hard to imagine a more beloved, accomplished and trustworthy stickman than the Luqcues Group’s Röllich, who oversees the cocktail programs at Lucques, AOC and Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s robust catering operation. With more than 20 years of experience and an unbridled love for L.A.’s farmers markets, Röllich was one of the first to craft hyper-seasonal drinks that care just as much for the freshest ingredients as the dishes they’re served alongside.
Now, in his first cookbook, he details 100 drink recipes and exactly how to bring farm-fresh drinks into your own home with how-to on syrups, garnishes and infusions that go above and beyond, but in a way that’s doable for the home bar: harissa syrup, pepita syrup, poached-apple juice, grapefruit marmalade—on and on. Each chapter focuses on a spirit and dives into its histories, with helpful tips on which products to stock in your own bar. (And, just in time for the holidays, this cocktail cookbook even includes the recipe for the barman’s famous annual eggnog.)
There can only be one Christiaan Röllich, but with Bar Chef, you can finally replicate his stirred and shaken know-how at home.
Suggested retail: $35, W.W. Norton & Company
Charcoal: New Ways to Cook with Fire
Grillmasters, this one’s for you. Josiah Citrin may have made his name with Mélisse, his artful and articulate temple to the fine dining tasting menu, but at Charcoal, the Michelin-starred chef lets loose over the coals with tender calamari, smoked-and-grilled short rib, and some of the best chicken wings in town. The more casual, comforting menu is an ideal fit for cold, wintry nights, and a guaranteed showstopper at your next summer BBQ.
New to grilling? A seasoned chef? This tome walks you through the equipment that’s out there and how to find the right type of grill for you, plus safety tips and tricks and how to get your coals going (when to add wood, when to add more coals, etc.)—don’t get overwhelmed!—for every level of learner. With Citrin’s Charcoal, you can learn the ins and outs of live-fire cooking, not only gleaning how to make the most of your steak sears atop the grill, but also how to cook in the embers. (See: his famous embers-baked cabbage with yogurt and sumac.)
Citrin’s methods coax out unusual flavors in more than a few ingredients not usually cooked via charcoal—strawberries, kabocha squash, even hollandaise—and can help you get the most of both your grill and the farmers market. He even lays out a grilled-tomato bloody Mary, and now we’re convinced there’s a grill use for every day of the week.
Suggested retail: $30, Avery
Dappled: Baking Recipes for Fruit Lovers
Nicole Rucker, the award-winning pie queen of Los Angeles, penned a cookbook and it’s one that sweet-toothed fruit fanatics, experienced cooks and novice bakers alike can love and dog-ear page after page.
You will learn so much about fruit, like, for instance, that rhubarb’s glorious red sheen deepens in color when it is grown in the dark or, say, that a pear once caused King Louis XIV to ejaculate. Dappled contains more than 100 recipes, some simple and focused on yielding the purest taste of your perfectly ripe produce, and others more complex or serving as a vehicle for bruised or overripe fruits. There are straightforward classics, just as there are Rucker spins on the essentials: there’s a flourless chocolate cake, but with pears; the strawberry pie is glazed with wildflower honey. There are baked goods, but also frozen yogurts and granitas.
Childhood memories help us peer into the mind of one of our favorite bakers—watching her dad peel an orange, breaking the skin with his teeth; wandering the garden and plucking everything her little arms could reach—and she writes about peaches with such a reverence that their passage almost brought us to tears. That was probably due to the mention of her annual practice, bringing one perfect peach to her therapist and another to her friend “because it’s important to share things that are beautiful.” If that doesn’t inspire you to savor fruit in a new light, we’re not sure what will.
Reading Dappled will make you long for the convenience of Rucker’s pies at her gone-too-soon bakery and restaurant with Shawn Pham, Fiona, and the sweets’ midday indulgence in soft light at a table over the darling black-and-white–tiled floor, but at least now we can enjoy her recipes forever and we are grateful and better for them.
Suggested retail: $32, Avery
Eat Cook L.A.: Recipes from the City of Angels
Writer Aleksandra Crapanzano’s love affair with Los Angeles has grown over the last decade, and as she watched our city’s culinary scene expand and change, she saw a new vibrancy unfolding. While we don’t agree with some of her observations laid out in Eat Cook L.A. (no, we don’t all avoid gluten, and L.A. wasn’t ever prone to “culinary insecurity,” especially as compared to her native New York), it’s hard to argue with her on this one: We have entered a truly exciting time in L.A. restaurants with a staggering amount of choice and creativity.
Crapanzano captures the era in a cookbook featuring 100 recipes from some of our city’s best, with a true appreciation and curiosity for what some of L.A.’s top chefs are doing. With chapters organized by the type of all-day snacking and noshing Los Angeles is prone to do, you can find killer recipes from Hatchet Hall, Son of a Gun, Cassia, Bäco, Proof Bakery, Pizzeria Mozza, Botanica, Sqirl, the Rose, Jon & Vinny’s, Petit Trois and on and on and on. Sure, there are what feel like hundreds of L.A. compilation cookbooks at this point, but few manage to capture the excitement of this moment in L.A. dining.
Suggested retail: $30, Ten Speed Press
Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico
What’s in a name? Guelaguetza is one of the country’s shining beacons of Oaxacan cuisine, but in the Zapotec language, the word translates to “reciprocity”—a perfect term for the amount of joy and flavor the Lopez family has poured into the city’s dining scene, and of how much love and support the restaurant and its family have felt from diners in return.
Co-authored with gifted writer and L.A. Taco editor Javier Cabral, Guelaguetza co-owner Bricia Lopez walks you through sazón—that special something and seasoning every Oaxacan cook understands—as well as the essentials and the meals that helped make the restaurant not only an anchor for culture, but a James Beard Award winner: types of chiles and the flavors they impart; how to work with masa; diving into the earthy, rich and spice-happy world of moles; the deep appreciation for antojitos, or snacks and late-night fare such as tamales; making not one but five types of chilaquiles; starting your day with dry-toasted eggs cooked to perfection in hoja santa leaves; feeling the warmth of a family-style meal, surrounded by bowls of frijoles and mountains of picadillos.
Use this gorgeous book to dive deeper into Oaxacan flavor, to feel closer to the Lopez family and to find your own sazón.
Suggested retail: $40, Abrams Books
These aren’t necessarily cookbooks, but they’re worth picking up.
The Musso & Frank Grill
Part historical tome, part art book, part cookbook, part time machine to Hollywood’s Golden Age, The Musso & Frank Grill is, yes, a coffee-table book, but that barely does it justice. It’s really an ode to L.A.’s oldest restaurant sitting in the heart of Hollywood, now 100 years young.
The book is a look at a century of dining in the house that Joseph Musso and Firmin “Frank” Toulet built, full of archival photos that retrace L.A.’s love affair with the wood- and red-leather–boothed, Old World-inspired steakhouse famous for its wide-ranging menu, its clientele and, of course, its martini. The publication includes little-known history (the restaurant almost closed around 2009) as well as sound-offs from some of the biggest voices in the food-media industry, the music industry, the film industry and beyond: Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, Keith Richards, Anjelica Huston, Elliott Gould, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Trejo and Johnny Depp, to name a few.
Meander through the ’20s and ’30s and into the era of owners Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso—the latter’s family still runs it today—and into modern-day lore: Is the restaurant actually haunted by its first chef, Jean Rue? What’s the magic behind chefs Indolfo Rodriguez and Domingo Pule’s grillwork? How do you even begin to tackle that enormous menu? (Or, should you feel up to it, how do you recreate that meat gelé at home?) There’s even an entire chapter devoted to the restaurant and bar’s iconically red-jacket–clad servers, giving them the dues they deserve.
It’s a perfect tribute to what Jonathan Gold called “the most L.A. of all L.A. restaurants.”
Suggested retail: $40, Story Farm
Stars in His Eyes
A historical novel and above all an inspiring immigrant story, Stars in His Eyes—originally published in Spain as La Força d’un Destí—is the tale behind Beverly Hills’ La Scala and its hungry hospitality visionary, Jean Leon. The book is a novel and not a work of nonfiction due almost entirely to the liberties taken with dialogue between Leon and the likes of Frank Sinatra, James “Jimmy” Dean, Marilyn Monroe and JFK, but make no mistake: These famous figures really did dine with Leon during the restaurateur’s remarkable life.
But before La Scala fed some of the world’s most famous actors, politicians and mobsters through the 1960s to today, and before Leon launched an international wine footprint, Leon was named Ángel Ceferino Carrión Madrazo, a scared teenager fleeing Spain’s Franco regime. He escaped to France and it’s here he learned to appreciate wine, harvesting grapes in Bordeaux, before seven failed attempts and one successful one stowing away on a ship to New York, settling in Brooklyn before making his way to Hollywood and eventually changing his name to Jean Leon.
As the scenery shifts to L.A.’s palm trees, we get a glimpse of bygone Los Angeles. Long-gone culinary landmarks make appearances and act as sets for the drama of Leon’s life—Villa Capri, where he waited tables; the nearby Brown Derby, where he met his first wife—and we hear the stories behind La Scala’s most famous moments. It glimpses the ultimate intersection of Hollywood and dining, such as Liz Taylor demanding La Scala be flown to her in Europe while she shot Cleopatra, for instance, and Leon’s claim that he hand-delivered Monroe’s final meal (fettuccine and rosé, allegedly her usual), and serves as a peek into one of our city’s most stylish eras.
Suggested retail: $24.95, Amazon Crossing
You can find all of these tomes online, but don’t forget to support local bookshops such as Now Serving, the Last Bookstore and the Iliad.