To keep ahead of what's trending, consider these ideas from innovative concepts in Los Angeles—a mecca for authentic Asian and Mexican operations, many of which are small mom-and-pops. The city is also home to a number of fast casuals beginning to grow beyond their Southern California roots. Both concept types offer up food and drink ideas that merit a second look from operators across the country.
1. The Arnold Palmer gets a Latin twist
The classic Arnold Palmer—a 50-50 mix of iced tea and lemonade—gets a Latin twist at Guisados, a five-location taqueria in greater Los Angeles. The concept’s Armando Palmero is two-thirds lemonade and one-third Jamaican juice (agua de Jamaica), the latter an agua fresca infused with hibiscus flowers. It's a smart way to adapt an American thirst quencher to an ethnic concept; the drink has become a Guisados signature and a Yelp favorite.
2. A juicier jerky
Jerky must be dried to preserve it, but some producers overdo it. Not so with Fragrant Jerky, a small storefront making bak kwa—Singapore-style pork jerky. Chef-owner Mr. Yap marinates, dehydrates, smokes and grills pork leg and belly in sweet, savory and spicy versions. The texture is pliable and slightly moist, but the jerky has a long shelf life. It makes a high-protein snack or can be scissored into pieces on top of salads, into eggs or over fried rice—anywhere bacon would be used.
3. Baja-Med: The next mashup?
A different kind of crossover cuisine is taking hold at the new Chicas Tacos. The tiny restaurant, located in a downtown LA parking lot, is promoting its menu as Baja-Med—a combo of culinary styles from Baja, Mexico and the Mediterranean with an emphasis on freshness and health. The chicken taco, for example, is folded around chicken and a Greek-style salad; the fish taco is topped with Caesar salad; and the veggie taco features cauliflower chorizo seasoned to taste like the meat version.
4. Like mama makes
Also at Chicas Tacos is a section of the menu called “Mama’s Style,” alerting customers that all of the tacos can be prepared as a lasagna-like casserole, made by layering homemade tortillas with cheese, meat (pork, steak or chicken) and toppings. Each Mama’s Style casserole is designed for sharing and feeds two to three people.
5. Next-level nose-to-tail
While many on-trend American chefs are embracing in-house butchery and whole-animal cookery, it’s nothing new for Malaysian, Filipino and Thai cooks who don’t hesitate to explore both the usual cuts and the funkier parts of the pig. Zero-waste proponents may want to take a page from Kapistahan Grill in LA’s Filipinotown, where marinated pork intestines are skewered and grilled, then served with a chili-vinegar dip, and pieces of the connective tissue between the intestines are deep-fried and eaten as a crispy accompaniment.
6. Soba noodles come to sushi
Japanese soba noodles are appearing more frequently in mainstream chains, Technomic menu data reveals, showing up in salads, soups and entrees. Operators looking for an inventive way to incorporate these nutritious buckwheat noodles into a grab-and-go item may want to consider sushi. Gentaro Soba, a Los Angeles-based fast casual, is introducing sushi made with soba in place of rice; tofu, shrimp tempura and spicy tuna are the protein options.
7. Two is better than one
In LA’s bustling Grand Central Market food hall, G&B Coffee is the place Egg Slut customers go after scoring a sandwich to sit down with a strong cup of coffee. In addition to a selection of specialty coffee drinks, there’s a menu section called “The Magical World of One and Ones.” Here, indecisive customers can choose to get a One and One (half a shot of single espresso, the other a small cappuccino) or a Business and Pleasure—half a single espresso (the business) and a single iced almond macadamia cappuccino (the pleasure). Also on offer in the category is a DIY espresso dark and stormy (espresso to be mixed with ginger beer sweetened with caramelized sugar syrup). All the One and Ones are priced $4 to $6, in line with the other coffee drinks, and the menu encourages customers to share with a buddy.