5 Reasons To Visit Los Angeles

A Mexican-American Chef Shares Where He Spends His Days Off
Chef Ray Garcia has taken the L.A. dining scene by storm. Photo credit: Dylan + Jeni.
Ray Garcia
Chef & Restaurateur

Growing up in Cypress Park, a largely Latino neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles, Ray Garcia didn’t realize how diverse his native city was. “My whole experience was just being surrounded by people who spoke Spanish,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until college that I met Asian, Indian, Caucasian, and all kinds of people. It was an eye-opening experience.” When he landed a job at a highly acclaimed restaurant in Beverly Hills, he relished the opportunity to learn about Mediterranean food and European fine dining. Later, at the helm of another restaurant in Santa Monica, he delved into seasonal California cuisine. Armed with a wide-ranging culinary knowledge, Garcia eventually returned to his roots, opening B.S. Taqueria (now closed) and Broken Spanish, a restaurant that took the L.A. dining scene by storm with its progressive Mexican menu.

The bright dining room at Broken Spanish in Downtown Los Angeles.
From Text Books To Recipe Books

As a student at UCLA, Ray Garcia had a distinct plan for his future: he would go on to law school and then apply for a position at the FBI. The life of an agent seemed exciting and full of mystery. But something made him veer off track. A roommate whose family owned a restaurant introduced him to the world of food, and Gracía soon found himself buying cookbooks, getting caught up with recipes, tools, techniques, and how to perfectly boil an egg. Instead of studying law, he enrolled in cooking classes and cajoled his way into an internship at one of L.A.’s most elegant restaurants. “In the beginning people tried to discourage me, and that just motivated me more,” he says. “My personality is to push myself.”

In his first restaurant gig, Garcia started refilling water and worked his way up to executive sous chef.
Working His Way Up
Up the Food Chain

In his first restaurant gig, Garcia started out at the bottom, refilling glasses of water. Six years later he was executive sous chef and ready for his next challenge. In 2007, Ray was tapped to oversee the opening of a new restaurant in Santa Monica, heading up its farm-to-table kitchen as executive chef. While the menu there epitomized fresh California cuisine, Garcia would sometimes sneak in a few Mexican flavors during special events. In 2013, he entered the prestigious porcine competition Cochon 555, where he cooked pork ceviche and pork-butt tamales and won the “Prince of Pork” title in Los Angeles. He participated again the following year and took home the national prize. “People got excited about the food I was doing, they said I was taking it to another level,” he says. “That got my wheels turning.”

The chef's first two restaurants were extremely well received, winning him the title of Chef of the Year by Esquire magazine.
Making Waves In The Industry

Garcia was comfortable there, but the sense of ease didn’t necessarily sit well with him. “I don’t like that feeling of comfort, so I had to move on,” he says. “I decided to start cooking food that related a lot more to me and my upbringing as a Mexican-American.” In partnership with a local restaurant group, Garcia found not one but two available spaces in 2015 and proceeded with the herculean task of opening a duo of restaurants, B.S. Taqueria and Broken Spanish. Both were extremely well received, but it was the latter that won him widespread acclaim, including the title of Chef of the Year by Esquire magazine. “People weren’t really associating Mexican food with complex dishes,” he says, referring to the combination of admiration and surprise generated by dishes like clam and lardo tacos or fava bean and pea tamales. “Now it’s a thing.”

Local Recommendations

Experience LA with native Angeleno, chef Ray Garcia.

Although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, Ray Garcia didn’t fully explore his surroundings until he left his parents’ house in Cypress Park to go to college in Westwood. Now married and with a young son, the acclaimed chef takes his family all over town. We share his favorite spots in the sprawling, cosmopolitan city he calls home.

Cafes In LA

“I love coffee,” says Garcia. “When I worked in hotels, where there was alway a pot brewing, I’d get myself in trouble having up to seven cups a day.” Lately, he’s become more moderate but no less enthusiastic. Garcia is a fan of the “mad scientist” philosophy behind Endorffeine (727 N Broadway #127; www.endorffeine.coffee)) a coffee bar helmed by former biochemist Jack Benchakul, who personally prepares every drink poured behind the sleek counter. Garcia goes to G&B Coffee (317 S Broadway; +1-213-261-0622) a stand within LA’s Grand Central Market, the excellent brews made by a team of champion baristas and for the lively scene of the space. “You really get to tap into the downtown energy,” he says. “There are bakeries and barbecues, and all sorts of things going on around you.”

G&B Coffee at the Grand Central Market. Photo courtesy of G&B Coffee.

LA Museums To Check Out

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd.; +1-323 857-6010) is by far the biggest structure on Museum Row—it spans the equivalent of three city blocks—and one of the most important cultural institutions on the West Coast. Its encyclopedic collection includes Asian art, Latin American art, Islamic art, European art, and more than 100,000 objects representing 6,000 years of history. “The space is beautiful, both indoors and outdoors,” says Garcia. “You can spend the entire day there.” He also likes to take his son to the Natural History Museum (900 W Exposition Blvd.; +1-213-763-3466), housed in a 1913 Spanish Renaissance building that has been renovated and expanded over the years. There are multiple halls dedicated to gemstones, birds, mammals, and insects, yet none can compete with the Dinosaur Hall, a mammoth-sized exhibit featuring a unique T. rex growth series (baby, juvenile and adult) that fascinates kids and adults alike.

The Dinosaur Hall at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Garcia's Favorite Places To Eat In Los Angeles

Downtown’s Bavel (500 Mateo St.; +1-213-232-4966), helmed by Ori Menashe, has a modern look and creative Middle Eastern menu consisting of mostly local and organic ingredients. “They make the best shrimp I’ve ever had in my life,” says Garcia of a dish of grilled prawns served with a harissa marinade, cured zucchini tzatziki, herbs, and lime. For a truly authentic taste of Mexico, he heads straight to Los Cinco Puntos (3300 East Cesar E Chavez Ave.; +-1-323-261-4084) in East LA This plain corner grocer and lunch counter is known for its corn tortillas, made by hand right before your eyes by a team of dexterous ladies. “The tacos are delicious,” says Garcia.

Independent Bookstores In Los Angeles

Tucked into a buzzy food mall in Chinatown, Now Serving (727 N. Broadway, Unit 133; +1-213-395-0627) is a stylish little shop stocked with cookbooks, food magazines, and a curated selection of kitchen products like hand-carved knives. They also host readings, book signings, and screenings of food documentaries. The Last Bookstore (453 S Spring St.; +1-213-488-0599) is one of the biggest and most charming bookstores in California—and surely the most ironically named. Housed in the pillared atrium of an old bank, the 22,000-square-foot space is filled to the brims with new and used books from every imaginable genre and era.

Inside the Last Bookstore. Photo credit: James Martinez.

Griffith Park Hiking

When it comes to outdoor pursuits, people associate Los Angeles with beaches and palm trees instead of woodlands and hiking trails. But Griffith Park (4730 Crystal Springs Dr.; +-1-323- 644-2050), a 4,000-acre verdant sprawl just 20 minutes away from downtown, has more than 50 miles of trails along its rugged hills. The area’s flora and fauna includes oak, walnut and mahogany trees, deer, foxes, coyotes, and more than 200 species of birds. “Griffith Park is huge but people don’t really think about it as a place to have fun,” says Garcia. “There’s a zoo, an observatory, a merry-go-round, and much more.”

Griffith Park hiking trails. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism.