After seven years of living in California and visiting gorgeous places like Napa, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Diego, Yosemite, Paso Robles, and of course, Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey, I have just one thing to say:
All your food sucks.
Yes, California likes to brag about its locally-grown ingredients, its organic, sustainable, gluten-free options, its vegetarianism, its veganism, its healthy, fresh approach to food. That all sounds delicious to me. But then I sit down at a restaurant—whether a fancy establishment or a hole-in-the-wall local favorite—and each and every time I walk away thinking…meh. That was a little above average, at best.
Bland. Homogenized. Inauthentic. I’ve tried Korean, Thai, Japanese (sushi and yakitori), Italian (don’t get me STARTED on how bad the Italian food is out here…and now I’m weeping), seafood, Greek, all-American, German, Indian. They all blend together in rather unmemorable experiences, disappointment in the options, and long sighs at having spent precious, precious date night time and money on restaurants that I wouldn’t frequent again if I had better options.
Now, I am spoiled when it comes to food. First, my Nonna and my mother were/are two of the very best cooks in the world. Nothing, NOTHING beat my Nonna’s manicotti, and my mom can make a Thanksgiving stuffing that you would take home and make out with a little, if you could. I also spent nine glorious years in New York City, a restaurant mecca with literally thousands of incredible options at my doorstep. I still get upset when I think about certain places that I wish with all my heart I could just pop over to on a Saturday night. I mourn them, truly. Taisho, I’m looking at you.
But even far less prestigious locations on the East Coast have far better food options than some of the fancier areas here in California. I’m from Worcester, Massachusetts. Look it up. It ain’t pretty. But there are about two dozen restaurants there that can kick all of the restaurants’ in Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove butts. Their dishes are flavorful, they offer interesting combinations, and avocado is not an ingredient on a pizza anywhere, anywhere on any menu anywhere.
Every time I go home to visit, I have two things and two things only on my agenda: see as many family members as I can, and eat as many delicious foods as I can. I even make a point of ordering take-out from our local Chinese food place because EVEN THE CHINESE TAKE-OUT IS BETTER ON THE EAST COAST. Someone please find me a good Chinese food place in California, for the love of God. They are all terrible.
There are two things that California gets right, and it has every right to lord them over the East Coast. They are wine and Mexican food. That Tex-Mex-sour-cream-and-grated-cheddar-cheese excuse for Mexican food they serve on the East Coast is abominable. Come to California and have a real taco. Better yet, come to dinner at my mother-in-law’s house. You will never eat at Cantina East Coast Wannabe Mexicana again.
Also, my $6 bottle of grocery store Pinot Noir is way better than some of the $30 bottles you get at fancy East Coast restaurants. So there’s that.
But I miss the East Coast food in a way that makes my insides ache. Yes, your winters are terrible. Yes, you have so many damn trees that you feel a little claustrophobic. Yes, your rotaries and street lights are confusing. But your food. Your food is a damn masterpiece. Every time I sit down to a disappointing meal here in California, just know I’m thinking of you, East Coast food. I’m thinking of you.