Childhood memories and the nostalgic flavors that persist over decades provide the backbone to some of the most talked-about and memorable dishes served across Los Angeles. The most influential figures behind these culinary memories are often mothers or mother figures. “No chef can compete or compare [to Mom’s cooking],” says chef Nakul Mahendro of the Indian restaurant Badmaash. “I think it’s because of the level of care that they put into their food.” From an island-style grilled chicken found in Silver Lake to Nigerian doughnuts served in Culver City and an ode to Korean porridge in West Hollywood, here are 11 dishes that pay homage to Mom.
Chicken curry at Bridgetown Roti in the Arts District
Chef Rashida Holmes has been serving a version of her mother’s signature curry at the Caribbean pop-up Bridgetown Roti since its start in 2019. The dish is the quintessential celebratory meal that Holmes’s Barbadian mother and business partner, Joy Clarke-Holmes, prepares for birthdays and holidays. “I don’t know if she even realized how much of an impact her cooking had on me growing up before we started Bridgetown together,” the chef says. In the original recipe, her mother uses Chief Brand Products’s curry powder, a pantry staple throughout the Caribbean. For the version at Bridgetown Roti, the chef prepares a fresh curry paste using turmeric, ginger, scallion, onion, lime, and Scotch bonnet. She also toasts and grinds curry leaves and fenugreek. Stewed with chicken thighs, the curry is rounded out with crispy potatoes, turmeric-spiced cabbage, cilantro, and scallions, then wrapped in a flaky roti.
Caramelized pork and eggs rice at Bé Ù in East Hollywood
Chef Uyên Lê remembers her mother, Nancy Lê, preparing thịt kho trứng, a Vietnamese dish of caramelized pork and eggs served with white rice and pickled mustard greens, for family gatherings. The labor-intensive braise takes nearly six hours to make from start to finish. Chunks of pork belly are poached, rinsed, and then slowly braised with hard-boiled eggs in a sweet and savory liquid that includes Coco Rico soda. The chef adheres to her mother’s recipe as closely as possible aside from making her own caramel sauce and annatto seed oil.
Pa, oli, i xocolata at Flor y Solera in Downtown
When chef Mònica Angelats thinks back to her childhood in Barcelona, she remembers her mother, Rosalia Coll, finishing lunch with a slice of olive oil-drizzled bread, a piece of chocolate, and a sprinkle of salt. The combination dates back to the tough times following the Spanish Civil War when chocolate was considered a special treat and paired with olive oil and bread. The chef’s contemporary interpretation of this ultimate comfort dish at Flor y Solera includes extra-virgin olive oil ice cream topped with a chocolate crémeux quenelle and thin and crunchy slices of bread.
Blonde foie bonbon at Hansei in Little Tokyo
Chef Chris Ono runs the pop-up Hansei celebrating Nikkei cuisine at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo. The tasting menu, which explores the chef’s fourth-generation Japanese American experience, features a version of his mother Janice Higashi’s fried chicken. Growing up, Ono’s mother made cornflake-crusted chicken wings coated in a teriyaki sauce and paired with a cabbage slaw. The recipe came from one of the many cookbooks Higashi collected from Japanese American churches and community centers in the ’60s and ’70s. Because Japanese American families had difficulty sourcing panko following the Japanese American incarceration in World War II, they improvised by using cornflakes, says Ono. The chef’s take on the dish is served as a snack in the museum’s garden at the start of Hansei. Instead of using chicken wings, Ono soaks chicken liver in milk, sears it, then spices it with shiso and myoga ginger before encrusting it in cornflakes; it’s finished with teriyaki seasoning.
Puff puff at Ilé Bistro in Culver City
For chef Tolu “Eros” Erogbogbo, who helms the kitchen at West African cafe Ilé Bistro in Culver City, his mother Violet Adeshina’s puff puff (doughnut) was a Sunday ritual that she prepared after church. While the version he grew up with was served by itself or with ice cream, the one at Ilé Bistro arrives topped with sprinkles. The Nigerian chef also serves cinnamon- and nutmeg-laced puff puff at his Ilé pop-up dinners in Hollywood accompanied by orange-rosemary chantilly cream, ice cream, and house-made Golden Morn crumbles; the crumbles are a nod to the cereal his mother fed him as a baby. Erogbogbo’s riffs on a childhood favorite are appreciated by his mother. “It gives her a sense of pride to know I’m reaching people and sharing our culture through food,” he says.
Loaded potato dumplings and pineapple-glazed meatballs at Agnes in Pasadena
At chef Thomas Tilaka Kalb’s childhood home in Iowa City, Iowa, his mother Milissa Wright’s baked potato bar was more than just a meal — it was an event. The beloved dinnertime ritual inspired the loaded baked potato dumplings at the chef’s Midwestern restaurant Agnes in Pasadena. Kalb’s rendition starts with house-made potato gnocchi punched up with Milton Creamery’s Prairie Breeze cheddar, broccoli, sour cream, and shoestring potatoes, and garnished with a shower of chopped chives. The restaurant’s pineapple-glazed meatballs are also inspired by Wright. While Iowa ham balls, which are a staple at local potlucks, are traditionally made with a mixture of ground ham and beef and graham cracker crumbs slathered in tomato-brown sugar sauce, Kalb’s version reads more like Hawaiian pizza. The pineapple-glazed meatballs are served alongside grilled flatbread and a Southern-style pickled relish called chow chow.
Capon wing at Angler Los Angeles in West Hollywood
Chef Paul Chung’s fondest childhood memories with his mother, Gyeong-Hui Chung, involve farming, foraging, and fishing in Virginia. “Cooking together was our shared love language, and she has had such an incredible impact on my cooking style,” says Chung. His mother, who hails from Busan, South Korea, requests the same meal for every Mother’s Day and birthday: abalone rice porridge and Kentucky Fried Chicken. When Angler LA reopened in February, Chung, the culinary director of Saison Hospitality and the driving force behind the restaurant’s menu, created a dish that combines his mother’s longtime favorites. For the capon wing, abalone liver is incorporated into short grain rice and stuffed into a deboned wing, which crisps over fire and is served with a liver-fortified sauce.
Chori and chicken inasal at Spoon & Pork in Silver Lake and Sawtelle Japantown
Recipes for Filipino chori (short for chorizo pudpud) and chicken inasal from chef Ray Yaptinchay’s mother-in-law, Maria Alvarez Nierras, have inspired two of Spoon & Pork’s most memorable dishes. While Nierras’s chori is usually paired with rice, egg, and vinegar, the chef’s version is served on a bed of garlic rice with tomatoes, pickled onions, Fresno chile peppers, and a sunny-side-up egg. For the grilled chicken inasal, which is a specialty from Nierras’s hometown of Bacolod, the chef uses bone-in chicken marinated with cane vinegar and calamansi juice. He tweaks Nierras’s recipe slightly by swapping fresh garlic for granulated, and Filipino lemongrass (tanglad) for a local variety.
Bolognese classics at Rossoblu in Downtown
Chef Steve Samson says his Italian restaurant Rossoblu in Downtown would not exist if not for his mother, Anna Maria Samson, who passed away last year. Growing up, Samson traveled with her to Bologna, Italy, during summers where he’d experience his maternal grandparents’ legendary cooking. Upon their return to LA, his mother recreated many classic Bolognese dishes that are on the menu at Rossoblu, like tagliatelle with a beef-and-pork ragu and tortellini in broth. One of the more unique items inspired by his mother is the minestra nel sacco that Samson jokingly calls “Bolognese matzo ball soup.” The specialty is from Emilia-Romagna, a region of northern Italy that spans across the Apennine Mountains to the Po River. The dish begins with a mixture of grated Parmesan cheese, flour, eggs, and butter wrapped in cheesecloth and poached in a beef and chicken stock. To serve, the solidified mixture is carefully diced and presented in the poaching broth like a soup.
Waffles and French toast at Interstellar in Santa Monica
Chef Angie Kim looked forward to her mother Joyce Yeum’s weekends-only breakfast staples growing up. At her Korean American cafe Interstellar in Santa Monica, Kim recreates these memories with her own versions of waffles and honey butter toast. While Kim follows her mother’s tried-and-true waffle batter that includes almond flour and buttermilk, the restaurant’s version of honey butter toast uses Ginza Nishikawa milk bread topped with berries and house-made gelato.
Saag paneer and fish Konkani at Badmaash in Downtown and Fairfax District
Chef Nakul Mahendro has distinct memories of his mother Anu Mahendro’s saag paneer, the staple Indian dish that is as comforting as a warm blanket, says Mahendro. At Badmaash, the kitchen plays true to his mother’s original by keeping the spinach leaves intact, adding more texture to the curry. His mother’s fish Konkani is another staple at the restaurant — a sweet, spicy, and zesty curry with tomatoes and coconut milk. It’s served just the way Mom makes it.
Disclosure: Eater LA reporter Mona Holmes is related to Rashida Holmes, but was not involved in the reporting or writing of this story.