At lunch with Jonathan Gold

William Booth of the Washington Post phoned up the new Pulitzer Prize winner and offered to buy him a meal at the spot of his choosing. It's the fun read of the day.

"I'll be the chubby white guy with long red hair," [Gold] says. "You can't miss me."

GoldHe is, as promised, Falstaffian in proportion, but he carries his girth well. He looks like a man who has eaten professionally, and with tremendous gusto, for two decades. He is wearing a black leather jacket and a faded yellow T-shirt that reads "Evil Taco." He does have long henna hair streaked with gray and a perpetual squint. He'd make a good pirate.

The lunch place, which he is planning to review soon, is classic Jonathan Gold, meaning it is a mom-and-pop dive in the working-class neighborhood of Highland Park, a cafe called El Huarache Azteca, which boasts of its "el Chicano dog," and its sopas, tortas, tacos, pambasos, sincronizadas and platanos fritos. It is next door to an auto body shop. It is classic Gold in that the 46-year-old critic has made it his mission to discover and revel in the kaleidoscopic ethnic culinary delights of Los Angeles, to search out food that is a window into the city's crazy-quilt immigrant soul, and Gold keeps eating and eating and eating, on an anthropological quest to answer the questions: Who are we? And what is for dessert?

Almost immediately he is ordering. You would be wise to just let him go. When this correspondent first arrived in L.A., a source pressed into his hungry mitts a dog-eared copy of Gold's book, "Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles," a collection of his columns of the same name from LA Weekly, and for many a foodie it's a treasure map to the best sea urchin gonads, grilled chicken knees and cucumber mint gelato in town, and sometimes, in the world. The Pulitzer committee praised Gold "for his zestful, wide ranging restaurant reviews, expressing the delight of an erudite eater."

Today, Gold chooses huaraches (a masa turnover, like a fried bread, shaped like a shoe sole) with a succulent beef brain, a green mole that is zesty and creamy in the same bite, and chilaquilas; and the plates are surrounded with steaming rice, and beans with a little cheese that sigh, "comfort, my friend," all washed down with a gallon-size plastic foam cup of fresh watermelon juice.

Over a leisurely hour, we inhale the stuff, shoving the plates back and forth, shoveling the aromatic meats down with plastic forks as Gold offers, "you gotta try this," and at one moment, produces a wonderful burp.

Gold says in the piece that he would follow Gourmet editor and friend Ruth Reichl to any magazine she edits, even Cat Fancy, and pronounces New York the best city for restaurants: "But he praises Los Angeles as the best city to eat Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Armenian, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican."

Previously: Pulitzer for Jonathan Gold


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