How to Do Salad for Dinner Like They Do in Los Angeles

published Apr 12, 2018
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(Image credit: Jacintha Verdegaal)

Los Angeles isn’t all vibrant grain bowls, fancy toasts, and glowing glasses of cold-pressed juice — the city has a storied salad pedigree, too, dating back to the inception of the Cobb Salad at Hollywood’s Brown Derby more than three-quarters of a century ago.

Nowadays, the stalwarts of LA’s health-conscious dining scene are staying true to the city’s legacy, leveraging the plethora of Southern California produce with the city’s boundless culinary diversity. Drawn from some of LA’s most beloved modern spots, here are a few tips for giving your dinner salad some West coast appeal.

Get funky with fermentation.

From a kimchi garnish on your Korean taco to a swig of kefir or kombucha, we know that fermentation adds a different layer of depth to foods while packing a (gut) punch of benefits to your microbiome. At Sqirl, fermentation makes a cameo in grilled carrots (marinated in fermented honey), fermented mushrooms, and fermented shishitos.

The process may sound intimidating, but lacto-fermented veggies (like these carrots from Hugh Acheson) are actually pretty “set it and forget it.” If you have an Asian grocery in your neighborhood, you could also give fermented sausage a spin with Night + Market’s nam khao tod.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Embrace pickling.

Pickles: Not just for your In-N-Out burger! (Although, now that you mention it, that’s another gift LA has bequeathed the world. Thank you, Los Angeles.) The zap of tangy acidity afforded by pickled vegetables can perk up a salad and take it to new heights. Sqirl plays with pickled onions, Fresno chili peppers, tomatillos, and cardoons (or artichoke thistles), while blogger-beloved macrobiotic stronghold M Cafe de Chaya adds umeboshi pickled radishes on their signature chopped salad.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Taste the rainbow.

The ubiquitous overhead ‘gram of a gorgeous grain bowl or dinner salad all seem to have one thing in common: color. P.Y.T., a vegetable-focused restaurant in Los Angeles, sprinkles sunny-hued edible flowers, like marigold petals and nasturtiums, atop their salads for a dazzling pop of color. In cooler months, a salad studded with ruby-red pomegranate seeds is a welcome dose of color — especially when paired with bright-orange persimmons, like at Cafe Gratitude.

Citrus, of course, adds instant cheer — try juicy wedges of blood orange or, if you happen to have a dehydrator, pinwheels of dried oranges or yuzu a la Sqirl. And you can never go wrong with those stunning fuchsia and chartreuse watermelon radishes, which not only make your salad instantly photogenic (sorry, it’s true), but also add a subtle peppery kick and satisfying crunch.

(Image credit: Elizabeth Stark)

Add crunch in unexpected ways.

Call me crazy, but when it comes to dinner salads, a little crunch can add a lot of satisfaction and feel a lot less … side-salady. But raw baby carrots can feel monotonous after a while, and store-bought croutons can taste artificial. Lots of LA spots are looking to heirloom and ancient grains to add that bite and texture, from a sprinkling of toasted red quinoa at Lemonade to puffed black rice at Sqirl.

(Image credit: Jenny Huang)

Get unconventional with your greens.

The base of your salad is arguably the most important part, so why go to all the trouble of assembling ingredients atop a watery bed of iceberg? We love the way LA restaurants experiment with greens that you probably won’t find in the salad kit section of a chain grocery.

Just take a gander at this spread from P.Y.T., which includes crunchy pea tendrils, tatsoi, and tangy sorrel. As for which is best for you? It totally depends on what’s available in your area, so hit up your farmers market, grab some tender greens that look fresh, and go to town.