If, for some reason, you ditched Southern California’s palm tree-lined streets and sunny weather for some other part of the world, there’s one thing you inevitably miss: the food. This realization occurs the week before your one-way flight to wherever, where life becomes a Top Chef-esque countdown of eating all of your favorite meals. Whether you’re now in the East Coast and recovering from the blizzard or hanging out in—err—Texas, here are the foods that you’ll painfully leave behind and, in your new home, spend a lot of time thinking about.
Boiling/Kickin’/Whichever You Prefer Crab
Unless you’re a Boiling Crab veteran, no one understands the delight of getting a plastic bib tied around your neck and seeing a waiter bring bags of saucy shrimp to you. Unfortunately, because this type of Vietnamese-Cajun cuisine is mostly a West Coast and Houston thing, the only choice you have when moving away is to make it yourself (which I’ve witnessed people attempt).
All Kinds of Boba
In Southern California, boba’s the drink that brings together long lost friends and instigates late-night adventures. Lollicup is where you go for a quick drink after lunch or dinner and, on special days, you’ll treat yourself with a hefty cup of iced milk at Class 302 and Half & Half Teahouse in the San Gabriel Valley. Even if there’s boba in your area, it sucks not to be within ten minutes of it anymore.
Fusion Street Eats
There are days when you just want a short rib burrito from Kogi BBQ with a cold Pepsi, and then it hits you that—darn!—Kogi trucks are nowhere to be found. Then, the domino effect begins; images of fusion foods you love—bulgogi sliders from Urban Seoul, pork belly burritos at Seoulmate—begin appearing one after another. To conclude the episode, you realize that you truly were #blessed living in SoCal.
Porto’s and 85 C Bakeries
Living in these parts means being willing to fight someone (with a tong, usually) for the perfect brioche loaf. Lines don’t end at our favorite bakeries—Porto’s, 85 C Bakery, Cream Pan, JJ Bakery—but that just reflects our devotion to well-made pastries. For many, bringing home boxes of guava rolls, strawberry croissants, and marble taro breads is second nature. That said, waking up on some other coast with no bread agenda just results in an empty feeling.
Endless Vietnamese Food
Our home isn’t a place that just has one or two banh mi shops and calls it a day. On top of that, we don’t just have pho, but bun rieu, bun bo hue, and banh cuon (rice paper with Vietnamese pork rolls and fish sauce). Drive through Little Saigon and you have access to almost every kind of Vietnamese dish. And, yeah, Houston and San Jose has a bunch of Viets, too, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the capital.
Endless Korean Barbecue
Korean barbecue deserves its own category simply because it’s ingrained in Southern California’s culinary fabric. A visit to Gen or All That Barbecue is oftentimes monthly. You know well enough to go wearing clothes you don’t mind smelling like beef and always order your meats in the same order (for me, that’s brisket, bulgogi, Hawaiian steak, and more brisket—aw yeah!) Now that you’re not fifteen minutes from a Korean barbecue spot anymore, you wouldn’t mind waiting in a typically hour-long line to get your fill.
We’re not talking about hipster donut shops like Voodoo Donuts in Portland and its many ripoffs; we’re talking mom-and-pop shops where mom-and-pop are most likely Chinese Cambodians, and their second-gen and 1.5-generation kids convinced them to do tweaks that turned them into foodie hotspots. We’re talking shops like Mag’s Donuts & Bakery in Irvine that always served you well on Saturday mornings. Then there are the special strawberry donuts at Donut Man and blueberry donuts at M&M Donuts that you never minded waiting for (even if, at one point, you spent two hours to get those blueberry donuts).
While poke has captured the hearts of Southern Californians everywhere, people from other states (ahem, New York) are only catching on now. Trust me—when you live in a place where only one or two poke restaurants are around, you’ll wish you tried every restaurant that opened at home (which is kind of hard considering how many there are). Even if you’re trapped in Snowmageddon, you’ll still be thinking of that perfect bowl of raw fish, seaweed salad, and steamed rice.
Legit Mexican Food
Though SoCal has a reputation for being health conscious (just Google "Café Gratitude Los Angeles”), residents never regret late-night carne asada fries. This applies to all Mexican food in Southern California, eating of which is a rite of passage for every native (qualifications: understanding and loving Mexican candy, buying elote and tamales from street carts, and knowing where all the cheapest and best tacos are). You’ll have Mexican food elsewhere in the country, but nothing compares to the hole-in-the-wall spots you grew up eating at.
Everyone has their own opinion about In-N-Out, but there’s no denying that the fast-food chain (and its onion-filled scent—mmm) is indicative of home. A burger here is the perfect first meal when you visit and last meal when you leave. It’s a bummer whenever a friend posts a picture of animal fries on their Instagram, but you know you’ll have it again someday.