LA Times Food Critic Jonathan Gold Dishes Out His Dirty Secret for Judging Restaurants

LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold holds up a newspaper featuring his top 101 restaurants in LA.

LOS ANGELES — The iconic food critic and LA Times regular Jonathan Gold rose to stardom in the mid-80’s as he honed his craft, reviewing the cuisine offered at hidden gems in the ethnic neighborhoods around Los Angeles. In 2007, Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Now, all these years and thousands of reviews later, Gold is dishing out his one incredibly brilliant, yet simple secret to judging a restaurant — a trick he says is so powerful he can tell how good the food will be before the plate even arrives on the table.

“It was 1990. Milli Vanilli working the whole fake it till you make it playbook that year. I was sitting at El Parian, a restaurant known for its steaming bowl of goat, looking at a painting of Pancho Villa when I noticed a little boy crawling beneath a table across the room. His parents began chastising the child. That was my Aha moment as Oprah would say. I realized that he was feeling beneath the table,” said Gold.

“I started to feel beneath the table I was sitting at. I touched three little bumps of chewed-up gum, dried out and stuck to the table. The food came and it was excellent. The goat was sweet and mild and crispy in parts. It was the best Mexican dish I’d had even in Los Angeles, which is known for its Chicano culture. So from then on out I began using the amount of dried gum underneath the tables as a litmus test. The more gum stuck to them, the worst the food was and vice-versa. This works invariably for any type of restaurant or cuisine. I’ve gotten to the point now where I review the restaurant before the food even arrives. If there’s so much gum Helen Keller could read the table, I give them a scathing review. However, if there’s 5 or less pieces, I tend to be pretty generous. I’ve actually got a whole scale based on dried gum — it practically determines what I say about the food.”

“All these years later, the true secret to my success as a food critic is not my refined palate or skill as a writer. No, the secret is that I literally look at food and restaurants from a childlike perspective.”


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