Anthony Bourdain -- Kitchen Confidential author, Parts Unknown host, and your favorite Obama dinner companion -- was recently in LA for a couple of weeks, shooting an episode of his CNN show, promoting the second season of The Balvenie's Raw Craft with Anthony Bourdain, and essentially holding court in many of the city's best restaurants. You want to know where he ate, right?? Right. Well, we talked to him about that, as well as how he's seen LA's dining scene change in the last decade, and why rumors of a Restaurant Apocalypse are highly overrated.
From Instagram, it's clear you've been in LA for a while: what's been your LA eating protocol?
Anthony Bourdain: Well, I just finished doing an episode of Parts Unknown that was all shot within Mexican and Chicano culture, so I've been eating a lot of Mexican food for the last week. Before that, I was hitting some old favorites and a couple places I was curious about.
Were there any big discoveries?
Bourdain: I hadn't been to chi SPACCA before. That was amazing. I really, really, really appreciated it and enjoyed it. I went to a place out in Burbank. Josh Homme [from Queens of the Stone Age] turned me on to it: Chili John's, in Burbank. It was awesome. Oh man. It's been there since the '20s, since like Prohibition. It's really cheap thrills. Delicious, about as not-fancy as you get. It's not hipster chili. It's ground meat, you know, just really good. Slopped on top of some beans and rice. It was delicious. I went there. And I always go to Park's Barbeque. I think their banchan are some of the best I've ever had.
Have you done a crawl through K-town? Or that's your spot there that you stick to?
Bourdain: I've been to a bunch of places when a Korean friend is looking after me. This time I was mostly on my own for the time before this series started. So I just went to Park's. [Other places I hit:] I've been to Night + Market before, but I love that place. I think it just gets better and better. I went to Mozza, it's dependably awesome, I [always go there to] meet friends.
Do you have a top-10 places in LA that you'd go to every time if you could?
Bourdain: I'm not so full of myself to think that I know enough about LA to do a top-10 list. The places that I like here are because people have taken me there. I have a really good experience eating here every time I come out, but I don't know the town well enough to presume to, you know, pick my favorites. I just know that I love Park's Barbeque: that's a place I make sure to hit every single time.
What's your order there?
Bourdain: Everything. Tongue, make sure to get the tongue. Some galbi, some short rib -- whatever they send me. They tend to murder me with food when I go in there. I'm kind of a regular at this point.
Do you have a favorite eating neighborhood in LA?
Bourdain: K-town. I don't even have to think about that. Largely because it's so packed with unknowable awesome stuff, so I'm always intrigued. The fact that I know so little about it is what makes it interesting. I've never had a bad meal in K-town, though I got to love Boyle Heights in a big way in East LA this last week. I've been having a lot of fun. I've been eating [at] some very cool places. I had goat at a Oaxacan place, but I can't remember the name of it. We went to Yeya's, and I ate a lot of street food.
When you do that is there a producer on the show who finds the places, or do you have friends you reach out to?
Bourdain: Both. [Tattoo artist] Mister Cartoon and [director] Estevan Oriol took me to nice lady standing outside of a divey-looking luncheonette during the day. At night the luncheonette is empty, but you can go sit in there, but they move everything out into the street. That was pretty great. I went to Trejo's Tacos last night.
I've got to tell you, I'm a huge Danny Trejo fan. I thought [skeptically], "He's put his name on a taco place? And it's got a healthy dimension to it?" It's sort of at odds with your expectations for Mexican food. [I went to the second location], on Cahuenga and off Sunset. I was fucking shocked, it was really good. They did this uni taco in there, it was like insane. It's just really good.
Uni taco, like a Mexican-style street taco with uni as the meat?
Bourdain: It was uni and pork cracklins. I'm dubious of any hipsterization of a taco, but it was delicious. You know, good is good.
Obviously you're here promoting Balvenie. Where do you go drinking in LA?
Bourdain: I don't do a lot of drinking here. [I go to] El Dorado and Monty's because I have friends at those places. Jumbo's Clown Room I love.
That's probably my favorite bar in LA.
Bourdain: I stay on campus at the Chateau a lot, you know, that way I don't have to stumble far. You drive everywhere here [so you can't drink as much]. I spend a lot of time just driving around LA listening to the radio. Which I really, really enjoy. People complain about the traffic here. I love driving here. The fact is, if I get over-served, now I've got a car problem. If I'm getting seriously in the alcohol, chances are I'm staying on campus.
I know you're a big music guy, too. You just mentioned listening to the radio in LA. What's your LA radio station of choice?
Bourdain: I listen to satellite radio: "Little Steven's Underground Garage." It's perfect for me. They've been playing the Yardbirds in heavy rotation lately for some reason. Old Yardbirds tunes -- that makes me happy. That's going to change the direction of the whole day for me. If I'm just driving along and suddenly an old Yardbirds song comes on I'm like, "Oh, yeah, OK. God likes me."