Need a little inspiration to get into the holiday spirit as we crawl en maske to the 2020 finish line? You’re not alone.
If you want to support Southern California’s restaurants, you can’t go wrong with a gift card from your favorite spot. There’s also LAist’s eclectic, food-focused, Southern California-centric gift guide, which is filled with creative suggestions for a variety of budgets, tastes and personalities.
While you can’t go wrong with any of the picks on last year’s list of essential cookbooks, here are a few new additions for Santa’s list:
Olive & Thyme: Everyday Meals Made Extraordinary
Melina Davies, chef and owner of Olive & Thyme in Toluca Lake, released her debut cookbook, which features her most popular recipes (a mix of French, Californian, Italian and Middle Eastern influences) along with practical entertaining tips. The recipes work for the pandemic, too, offering suggestions for elevating everyday meals, such as roast chicken with (wait for it…) thyme.
Holiday Jubilee: Classic & Kitschy Festivities and Fun Party Recipes
SoCal pop culture historian Charles Phoenix’s Holiday Jubilee is part cookbook and part “kitschistory” lesson. Phoenix has included 500 images and 21 recipes for holidays throughout the year, from Fried Confetti to Halloween Meatloaf of Rat. The coffee table book is also full of holiday trivia. Did you know that the 1959 Rose Parade featured a float called “Our First Quarrel?!”
La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Mexican Cooking with Authentic Flavor
Want to make vegan versions of classic Mexican dishes? La Vida Verde is the book for you. It features 60 recipes including tortilla soup, queso fresco, chile de arbol y tomatillo, handmade tortillas, jackfruit carnitas and mole verde with mushrooms. You’ll also get to follow along with Jocelyn Ramirez (of Todo Verde fame) as she figures out how to make plant-based versions of the traditional dishes she grew up making alongside her abuela.
The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook: From Delicious Dole Whip to Tasty Mickey Pretzels, 100 Magical Disney-Inspired Recipes
Divided into sections for various theme parks (Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and California Adventure), The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook features 100 recipes. They include classics like the beignets, churros, corn dogs, caramel popcorn and the Dole Whip as well as the mangonada smoothie, pongu lumpia, blueberry cream cheese mousse, Bengal beef skewers, baklava, ronto wraps, chicken waffle sandwiches and Jungle Juleps.
The New Homemade Kitchen
The Institute of Domestic Technology, a SoCal-based food-crafting organization, was founded in 2011 by artist, designer and master food preserver Joseph Shuldiner. Although he passed away in 2019, his cookbook, The New Homemade Kitchen: 250 Recipes and Ideas for Reinventing the Art of Preserving, Canning, Fermenting, Dehydrating, and More, was released posthumously this year. It features recipes as well as techniques for making preservative-free condiments and essentials such as whole grain mustard, fermented ketchup, harissa and miso paste from scratch. Much of the information is taken from IDT’s master curriculum.
Before heading online to buy these cookbooks, consider shopping local. Cookbook store Now Serving, in Chinatown, is a great option.
COFFEE, TEA, ETC.
The Boba Kit
Milk + T launched as a self-serve boba truck in L.A. in 2015. Fast-forward five years, and there are now shops from Little Tokyo to Las Vegas. For those who can’t get enough of the tapioca/cassava pearls, Milk + T’s Holiday Boba Kit ($30) lets you slurp at home. The package includes loose-leaf jasmine green tea leaves, black tea leaves or Thai tea leaves plus uncooked golden boba balls, brown sugar, a reusable tea pouch and instructions. Throw in extra boba for $10. Free shipping for orders over $100.
Café de Olla from La Monarca
Café de Olla — the traditional Mexican coffee drink made with cinnamon and sugar — is best made in an earthen clay pot in a family kitchen. But it’s the middle of a pandemic so La Monarcha offers a ready-to-brew version ($16 a bag) with organic Oaxacan coffee, Mexican cinnamon and brown cane sugar. If your recipient only has a Keurig or a single-serve coffee maker, La Monarcha offers a 10-count box of single-serve sachet bags ($16.95). And if you’re feeling extra generous, toss in some polvorones or orejitas because what goes better with coffee than cookies?
Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen
Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos of Hilltop Coffee recently expanded their South L.A. coffee chain from Inglewood and View Park/Windsor Hills to Eagle Rock. If you’re looking for a way to gift coffee and support for Black-owned businesses, Hilltop’s Slauson Signature, Ethiopia Brew and Colombian decaf are available to order online (12 oz., beans or ground, $18 – $21).
City Bean Roasters provides affordable, high-end coffee straight from the roaster. The company is serious about its coffee but not the least bit stuffy. Any profits are shared equally among the employees, given to nonprofit causes or reinvested into the company. Committed to purchasing coffee that’s grown sustainably and humanely, their 12-oz. bags are reasonably priced, from the single-origin, organic Colombia FTO Cauca AMUCC Women’s Cooperative ($12.95) to the Kenya Gicherori ab top RFA – Organic ($18.90). Order at least $30 and City Bean will waive the shipping costs (code: FREESHIP).
Rose Park Coffee Roasters
The Long Beach-based roaster opened in 2009, focused on supplying home brewers with the best beans. Although the operation has expanded over the past decade, they still deliver via bike messenger in Long Beach. Rose Park offers a coffee sampler ($28) of three 4-oz. packs that change seasonally. (It currently includes the Kenya Utezi Jimbo, Ethiopia Geta Bore and El Salvador La Benedicion.) Their three-month, six month and year-long coffee subscriptions also make a thoughtful gift, depending on your budget and how much you like the person you’re buying for.
Taco and Tamale Kits
Need tacos ASAP? Guerrilla Tacos in DTLA offers taco, tamale or sweet potato emergency kits. The mini taco kit ($88) includes two pounds of roasted chicken, two pounds of carne asada, pints of red and green salsa, onions, cilantro, rice and beans. Everything’s cooked and ready to eat. The BYO tamale kit is a shared cooking activity. With the help of friends and family, prepare and assemble about 30 tamales with your choice of meat and/or veggie fillings. The tamale kits, which start at $50, come with step-by-step cooking instructions. They must be ordered online with approximately 24 hours notice and can be picked up in downtown L.A. or at sister restaurant TIAGO in Hollywood.
This pop-up features West Indian street fare made by chef Rashida Holmes. Specializing in hand-rolled rotis ($14 – $16), which are typically filled with stews and curries then wrapped in unleavened wheat flatbreads. The food is only available for pickup and delivery on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Bridgetown Roti is selling gift cards beginning Dec. 10, so sign up for the newsletter to get the details.
Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks
The shop carries a small array of cheese (about 70 at a time) and frequently rotates its selection. In addition to focusing on small-batch and sustainably produced cheeses, Cheesemongers also offer a curated collection of meats, from prosciutto and jamon to speck and salami. While gift boxes and bags are fully customizable with any item in the store, the cheese club (available in three, six and 12-month durations) is a holiday gifting standout. The recipient comes to Sherman Oaks on the first Saturday of the month to choose three cheeses (over a pound) and receive a special newsletter that provides information on the cheeses. It costs $120- $450 and they’re only taking orders by phone since the shop isn’t open for in-person visits.
Porto’s Bake at Home
Many of us know friends, colleagues or co-workers who’ve left SoCal during the pandemic. Show them how much they’re missed with a gift from L.A.’s beloved Cuban bakery and restaurant. Porto’s now ships nationwide, so send bake-at-home, frozen potato balls, meat pies or chicken empanadas. A few of Porto’s famous desserts are also available for delivery across the country including the Refugiado (guava and cheese pastry) and cheese rolls. Most of their bake-at-home items cost $16.99 per dozen.
Hand Roll Kit
Sogo Roll Bar in East Hollywood offers a DIY Hand Roll Kit to make at home. Priced at $40, comes with all ingredients needed to make eight hand rolls, including the option of up to four types of fish. Choose from among Bluefin tuna, salmon, yellowtail, scallops and spicy tuna. The kit also comes with fresh nori, rice and garnishes.
With its huge population of Korean Americans, Los Angeles produces tons (literally and metaphorically) of amazing kimchi. If someone on your list craves salted, fermented Napa cabbage, mu radish, garlic chives and petite cucumbers, here are five of the best small-batch kimichi operations in L.A.
Littlejohn’s English Toffee House & Fine Candies
The holidays are meant for overindulging and L.A. Littlejohn’s English Toffee House & Fine Candies is an ideal place to do it. The confectioner has been operating out of the same space in the Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax since 1946, where it has perfected butter crunch toffee. Covered in milk chocolate, topped with roasted almonds, the stuff melts in your mouth and leaves behind a warm, buttery taste. The World Famous English Toffee costs $30 a pound and can be gift wrapped and shipped.
The family-owned shop has been operating in Little Tokyo since 1903, specializing in mochi, the Japanese sweet made from glutinous rice filled with a sweet bean paste. Some items are available for shipping online through japansuper.com including an assortment of sweets in the Wagashi-Mixed 8 or 12 pieces ($14.95 – $22.50). But purchasing directly from Fugetsu-Do (315 E. First St., DTLA) offers the best selection as well as exclusive flavors not available online or at Japanese grocers such as Marukai and Mitsuwa.
Homeboy Bakery is one of Father Greg Boyle’s largest businesses operating under the Homeboy Industries umbrella. The bakery team is managed and staffed by former gang members and others who needed a second chance at life. Holiday gifts include the best-selling, original cinnamon coffee cake ($29.95), the buttery Swiss-German ring cakea known as Kugelhopf ($29.95) and a Strength Gift Package ($39.95), which includes Homegirl Cafe Orange Peel and Cinnamon coffee, a Homeboy Industries mug and an assortment of cookies. Purchases of baked goods help fund Homeboy’s programs.
Milk + Brookies
Brownies or cookies? It’s a King Solomon-esqe dilemma. Jovon English solves the problem by creating combinations with both sweet treats (from $24). Choose from flavors like the OG (a chocolate brownie entangled with a chocolate chip cookie), oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, snickerdoodle, turtle and sugar. All brookies are made to order and shipped fresh. Because of COVID, the delivery can take from 10 to 20 business days.
We’re lucky to live in a city with a multitude of chocolate options. Although LAist prepared this hyperlocal guide to chocolates for Valentine’s Day, much of it works equally well during the Christmas season. The chocolatiers include the old school See’s, the wonderful Valerie’s Confections, Jonathan Graham’s highly stylized confections at Compartés (which is offering free shipping now for orders over $60) and lots of other options.
Myra Vasquez reimagines the gelatina (a gelatin cake) by combining traditional Mexican ingredients with modern techniques. Working out of her Boyle Heights home, she creates flavors such as café de olla, Gansito (the Mexican equivalent of chocolate Twinkies), mosaico de tres leches and guayaba with cheesecake. She often teams with her husband, Nico Avina, to top the desserts with graphic art images of Latinx icons such as Selena and Juan Gabriel. Most gelatinas cost $18 to $35. Send a DM through Instagram for more information.
Big Bar’s Cocktail Kits
Big Bar in Los Feliz offers an extensive selection of cocktail kits and gifts online, such as the St. Germain Spritz Kit for Four ($56) and the “Three Martini Lunch” Kit. Nothing says “holiday cheer” like the Manhattan and Old-Fashioned Holiday Cocktail Kits (both $72). They includes Old Forester bourbon, ingredients for the respective drink, glasses, coasters, an instructional video and a recipe card. You must be 21+ to purchase these. Pickup and local DoorDash delivery options are available on Wednesdays.
The East Hollywood wine shop, which focuses on female winemakers, offers to-go gift packages themed For These Times. The Quarantine Dream Box ($55) includes a Dreamland puzzle, a Lou Whistle chocolate caramel-pecan bar, a clay face mask and two cans (equivalent to one wine bottle) of Zafa’s CO Cellar Pretty in Pink rose cider cans. The For the Witch in Your Life box ($65) includes the book Witch by Lisa Lister, a boss witch pin, a matching iridescent mirage wine opener and a wine color of your choice (red, white, rose, sparking, orange). Local delivery and pickup options are available.
Adams Wine Shop
Earlier this year, Alta Adams in the West Adams neighborhood, flipped its adjacent Adams Coffee Shop into Adams Wine Shop (5359 West Adams Blvd.). Helmed by sommelier Ruben Morancy, its extensive selection emphasizes bottles from BIPOC and women winemakers from around the world. Morancy has curated a selection of affordable wines as well, many priced under $30. This month’s featured winery is Theopolis Vineyards, a small lot vineyard in Mendocino County opened in 2003 by San Francisco trial lawyer Theodora R. Lee. All orders are pickup only, Thursdays through Sundays.
Madre Oaxacan Restaurant & Mezcaleria
There are two mezcal tasting boxes available online for gifting from Madre Oaxacan Restaurant & Mezcaleria (pickup in Palms, Torrance or WeHo). The mezcals are curated by owner Ivan Vasquez and hand-crafted copitas (little cups for mezcal) by Oaxacan native Omar Hernandez. The “Pachita” Box ($130) includes two mezcal copitas, sal de gusano, chapulines and two Madre exclusive mezcales. 3 Mezcalitos ($85) includes three, 3 oz. mescalitos, one copita, sal de gusano and chapulines.
The first distillery to open in downtown L.A. since Prohibition puts a focus on food-inspired flavors and organic ingredients. Greenbar’s Litty Matthew and Melkon Khosrovian have developed a line of vodka, gin, rum, whisky and other spirits. Find their California-made liquors and spritzes at a variety of stores in SoCal.
Blinking Owl Distillery
Located in Santa Ana, Blinking Owl is the first craft distillery in Orange County. They make vodka, gin, several types of whiskey and aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit. As of 2018, all their grain is certified organic and from California farms. In addition to their spirits being available online, they’re offering a sample kit ($29.99) and a Grand Owl Spirits sample kit that includes six Wee Blinking Glencairn drinking glasses ($59.99). For stuffing stockers, their alcohol-based Dirty Bird hand santitizer is also available.
Founders Club 2020
Got a friend who loves beer? Like really, really loves it? MacLeod Ale in Van Nuys is offering beer for life for $2,499. The recipient gets beers on the tap anytime they’re at the brewery (they must be consumed onsite). The Beer for Life option also includes a 15% discount on beer to-go and merchandise, and 10% off pizza. If that’s too pricey, there’s also beer for a year for $999, which includes all the aforementioned perks but for only 365 days. Because of COVID, the start date for the program is TBD.
HOT (AND COOL) SAUCES
Trejo’s Hot Sauce
For friends and family who can’t get enough spice in their lives, give the hot sauce sold at Trejo’s Tacos and Trejo’s Cantina. The Fuerte y Sabrosa blend features chipotle, chili de arbol, guajillo, chili puya pepper, California entero, serrano and cayenne. Buy it by the bottle ($7 for 5 oz.) or by the case (12 bottles for $72). Although it’s not a sauce, we spied the equally hot Trejo’s Tacos Ugly Christmas Sweater ($64.99) in the store.
Huy Fong’s Sriracha Sampler
The Irwindale-based maker of the famed Sriracha sauce offers a $10 Hot Sauce Sample Box in its online store. It includes Sriracha (17 oz. and 9 oz.), Chili Garlic (8 oz.) and Sambal Oelek (8 oz.). You also get to choose two different box styles: the traditional rooster box or a modern design that depicts the factory. (We recommend the rooster box.)
Fuego Box Hot Sauce
Due to the pandemic, the Fuego Box store in Mid-Wilshire is closed but the online shop is still selling. Their extensive holiday gift guide features hot pepper ratings for heat levels. The Tame-to-Insane Challenge Box ($119.95) includes 11 sauces that run from tolerable to face-melting ange. It comes with a warning not to sample too much of #11 — Ignition Point by PuckerButter, created with Pepper X, Carolina Reaper and Bhutlah peppers and made just for Fuego Box — at once. The Crate of Death ($59.95) is a five-bottle variety set that’s perfect for your best frenemy.Fuego Box also offers subscriptions.
Sky’s Hot Sauce
Barbara “Sky” Burrell of Sky’s Gourmet Tacos is now selling a full line of sauces including the restaurant’s signature Sassy Sauce. Only on Sky’s website, you’ll find the Sauces & Spice bundle, which includes all four sauces and a bottle of the All-Purose Seasoning, delivered in a gift box ($34.95).
Lao Gan Ma
China’s best-selling hot sauce Lao Gan Ma has finally reached mainstream success in the United States, thanks to the growing Chinese diaspora. While it’s not a product that originates here, the fiery chili oil has long been a staple in the aisles of SoCal’s Asian grocery stores and is poised to become as ubiquitous as Tapatio, Cholula, Sriracha and Tabasco with the help of Walmart.
Mole from Guelaguetza
For more than 20 years the Lopez family, owners of Guelaguetza, have brought Oaxacan food and culture to L.A. — and their moles have been an essential component of their success. The thick, complex sauce made from dried chilis, nuts, fruits and dozens of spices are made from scratch, often with ingredients from Oaxaca. Don’t have time to pound your own pepitas? Guelaguetza‘s online store sells several kinds of mole paste ($12 for a 16-oz. jar), which you can turn into a sauce at home with stock, tomatoes, brown sugar and a dash of salt. Since the holiday season is all about giving, their Festival de Mole bundle includes the Black, Red and Coloradito moles for $32. To wash down those mole covered dishes, the store also sells a 32-oz. I Love Michelada mix for $8.50 that can upgrade any beer. Choose from the OG Brown, the less spicy Red Blend and a vegan option.
E. Waldo Ward & Son
The gourmet specialty store opened in Sierra Madre in 1891 and still makes small-batch jams, jellies and marmalades from fruit grown by local farmers. (They’re the creators behind the tasty marmalade available at Pasadena’s Arlington Gardens.) The gift baskets are also reasonably priced. The most expesnive, California Treasures, costs $53.95 and includes Santa Rosa Plum Jam, Blackberry Preserves, Old Fashioned Chili Sauce (a ketchup replacement), Triple Citrus Marmalade, Pomegranate Jelly and Three Fruit Preserves (a blend of peaches, plums and apricots). The price includes shipping within the continental U.S.
OIL AND VINEGAR
UCR’s Citrus Store
The University of California, Riverside has an online store with gifts made from produce from the university’s Citrus Variety Collection and bee hives managed by UCR Entomology’s Center for Integrated Bee Research (CIBER). The Citrus Blend ($22.99) is an agrumato-style olive oil available in an 8.45 fl oz. bottle. What better way to complement the olive oil than a Honey Balsamic Vinegar crafted with a blend of California Zinfandel, Cabernet and Red Barbera grapes. Both are produced in association with Lot22 in Redlands. Also available online is a selection of honey as well as jams and marmalades, made in partnership with E. Waldo Ward.
The olive oils from Brightland are sourced from a family-run, California farm then turned into custom-blended oils without any fillers or artificial preservatives. Gifts include a Mini Essentials box ($70) that features a bestseller (Awake and Alive) and two of their fruit forward oils (Parasol and Rapture) in petite sizes. The Golden State Capsule presents all seven of Brightland’s full-size bottles for $270. (Want to learn more about olive oil and how to choose it? Here you go.)
The olive oil specialty retailer has several locations in Southern California including Pasadena, Costa Mesa, La Jolla and Ventura. They sell a Traditional Two Pack, which includes We Olive’s aged balsamic vinegar and a 12.75-oz. bottle of California certified EVOO or two 25.36-oz. bottles ($49.95 – $79.95). Additional gift options include olive oils tinged with Meyer lemon, garlic or fresh basil.
The King’s Roost
The Silver Lake store specializes selling and distributing a variety of grains, seeds, baking ingredients and flours (5 to 50 pound bags). It’s a perfect place to find a gift for a serious pandemic baker as it also sells at home mills and flakers (starting at $279).