With an ongoing pandemic, a racial and social justice reckoning, and cataclysmic political climate, 2020 has proven to be one of the most difficult years to navigate in recent history. But through it all, there’s still room to spread holiday cheer by giving meaningful gifts. Each year, Eater LA compiles a guide to help gift buyers find quality items and thoughtful tokens with a local angle, ideally with a connection to Los Angeles, its diverse communities, and restaurant culture.
Here now, 30 gifts that break down into these categories: Kitchen and Pantry, Luxury and Lifestyle, Sauces and Dips, Tea and Coffee, Wines and Spirits, and Books. Browse through and help a loved one find an extra bit of joy — from colorful chocolate truffles and fish sauce caramels to bottles from Black-owned wine producers.
Vegan Cookies and Pastries from Cake Monkey
Cookies, ding dongs, and brownies from iconic Los Angeles bakery Cake Monkey are a full-on flex gift to sweets lovers, and the vegan gift box is an added bonus for the diet-conscious. In fact, these delectable desserts are so good that your loved one likely won’t even know they’re completely plant-based.
Buy: Cake Monkey ($56)
Girl & Dug Ssam Kit
This Escondido-based farm was founded by a Korean family who was previously in the flower business and purchased a farm to grow flowers. It turned out the land was terrific for growing specialty produce that appeal to numerous LA chefs, such as Jeremy Fox (of Rustic Canyon) and Nyesha Arrington (previously of Native). The Lucky Ssam box should spruce up a classic Korean barbecue meal at home, with crisp lettuces, sesame leaf, and seasonal peppers, though the farm offers plenty of other produce boxes depending on the occasion.
Buy: Girl & Dug ($58.50)
Our Place Always Pan
This LA-based cookware brand from Shiza Shahid (an activist, entrepreneur, and co-founder of the Malala Fund) has made this year’s hot Instagram-worthy pan thanks to a bevy of smart colors, including this pinkish “spice” color, that works as a non-stick saute pan and steamer. While it likely won’t replace someone’s expensive wedding gift set, the pan is pretty enough to leave on the stove or present at the table, which is really all home cooks want in the first place. The company also works with Good Food LA to help provide fresh, healthy food to South LA through a partnership with Hank’s Market.
Buy: Our Place ($145)
Tinned Fish from Heroic Italian
It may seem a little funky, but food lovers always welcome quality tinned fish, especially of the variety and types they can’t normally find at a grocery store. Santa Monica restaurant Heroic Italian has one of the city’s largest selections of tinned fish, including Spanish cockles, Italian branzino, white tuna belly, and baby sardines. This set comes with a handy basket and some crackers to enjoy all the seafood.
Buy: Heroic Italian ($65)
Apron and Face Mask from BlueCut
LA-based Blue Cut aprons has been making chef-inspired kitchenwear for years, but this year decided to create a new collection called Planting Change, co-designed by bi-racial artist Alexandra Bowman (whose illustrations have been on Eater). The great thing is that each apron purchase means Blue Cut will donate five aprons to Black-owned restaurants through BCA Global and 100 percent of proceeds from each mask purchase go toward Soul Fire Farm, an organization focused on uprooting racism in the food industry.
Brightland’s Artist Capsule Flavored Olive OIls
LA-based olive oil and vinegar company Brightland, which comes from Aishwarya Iyer, has a colorful artist’s collection of flavored oils, including basil, chile, and lemon, with illustrations by Peter Som, Marleigh Culver, and BD Graft. Presented in opaque UV-coated 375 ml bottles that help keep them fresher, these specialty oils are terrific for dipping breads into or drizzling over pizzas, salads, and even fruit. (Note: the small dipping cup in the photo is not included.)
Red Boat Fish Sauce Gift Box
Cult fish sauce brand Red Boat doesn’t just make the umami-loaded essential kitchen ingredient. Home cooks would be pretty happy to get a gift box loaded with soft fish sauce caramels (made by Le Bon Garcon), crunchy bric-a-brac, spiced garum salt, and cassia salt to go along with a handy travel-sized bottle of Red Boat’s 40°N barrel-aged sauce.
Waffle Cone Candle and Perfume from Salt & Straw
Portland-based ice cream shop Salt & Straw has taken LA’s frozen dessert scene by storm, opening in prime locations across the city. The brand is strong enough now that lifestyle items like a waffle cone-scented candle or perfume to remind you of waiting in line for a few scoops in Venice or Arts District. Because nothing in the world smells better than the aromas of a fresh baked waffle cone.
Compartes Rainbow Peace Truffle Box and Chocolate Bars
Compartes is probably the most well-known high-end chocolate shop in LA thanks to its colorful, modernist designs and LA-based flavors. The Rainbow Peace truffle box comes with 10 patterned truffle pieces shaped into a peace sign while the bars, like the marshmallow crisp or strawberry shortcake, are a nice thing to share with loved ones after a holiday meal.
Buy: Compartes ($39.95 for the truffle box; $11.95 for each bar)
Caviar always makes for a luxe gift during the holidays. Sterling caviar is the brand of choice for chefs and restaurants around LA, from Josef Centeno, who uses the quality fish eggs on his nachos to Sang Yoon. New West Hollywood wine bar Fellow Traveler even has a standalone caviar service using Sterling that comes with burnt chive creme and egg yolk jam. Sterling is produced in Sacramento from sustainable sturgeon farms.
Most liquid soap is made of water, which makes it heavy and more expensive to ship. LA-based Keeper has a more sustainable way to distribute its soap, with a concentrate that you just mix into tap water at home. The hemp seed oil soap is a handy way to keep hands clean during the pandemic and beyond, and you’ll feel better about not using any disposable plastics, as the refillable dispenser and concentrate bottles are made of glass and metal, respectively.
Buy: Keeper ($24)
Dorasti Uni Pasta and Caviar
With many people choosing to stay home, there’s something special about a restaurant-level meal you can make in your own kitchen with many of the same ingredients chefs use. LA company Dorasti ships both fresh Santa Barbara uni and Osetra caviar with fresh bucatini for easy professional-level pasta at home. (Note: Wooden board is not included)
Buy: Dorasti ($215)
Yumi’s Future Foodie Kit
Every food lover wants their child to have the same passion for eating that they do. LA-based Yumi has a “future foodie” starter kit that comes with a bib, journal, and gift card to the company’s organic baby food with fun flavors like pumpkin pie, spiced pear, and strawberry basil pie. The variety should help babies develop a wide palate for tastier things to come. And there’s no added sugar, gluten, or dairy.
Buy: Yumi (Gift cards)
Bona Furtuna Olive Oil and Pasta Sauce
LA chefs know they have to use the best ingredients to impress diners. Alimento’s Zach Pollack uses this Sicilian-based company’s wild fennel pollen for the Silver Lake restaurant’s radiatori, as well as the sea salts for the orata. This luxe set has pasta sauce, dried basil, organic flowers, and a herb sea salt with a bottle of organic olive oil that should bring a solid smile to anyone who likes cooking Italian food.
Buy: Bona Furtuna ($125)
Misha’s Kind Foods Non-Dairy Cheese
LA-based company Misha’s Kind Foods makes some of the top non-dairy cheese on the market, especially with its ambitious flavor combinations. The smoked cheddar, lox, and black truffle varieties are especially fun while the French Connection gives more of a classic onion dip feel. The colorful boxes make them more giftable while their long fridge life makes them go-tos during the holidays. The spreadable cheeses work like cream cheese, great with crackers and even smeared into sandwiches.
Hotville Chicken Sweet Heat Seasoning and Cayenne Hot Sauce
Local Nashville hot chicken spot has a handy way to bring the spicy flavors home, with a sweet heat seasoning blend you can sprinkle over basically anything, plus a Southern-style Cayenne hot sauce for a vinegary kick.
Drip Calabrian Chili Sauce
Crustacean chef Tony Nguyen makes an Asian-inspired chile sauce marry Italian and Asian flavors by using Calabrian chiles and Southeast Asian chiles that work as a flavor boost to any dish. Drizzle over some pizza or some noodles for the perfect spicy finish.
Buy: Drip ($20 a jar)
Wilder Mustard Jars
Mustard seems like an oddball gift, but Wilder’s bright yellow jars are a nice stocking stuffer that will aid the mustard aficionado in their quest for the best piquant sauce. Frogtown and Chinatown’s Wax Paper uses the sauce on their sandwiches, which should be enough of an endorsement.
Buy: Wilder Mustard ($21)
Bottle Rocket Hot Sauces
Austin-based Bottle Rocket is trying to make a spicy splash into Los Angeles (especially since this city loves its heat so much) with a line of hot sauces. A milder green jalapeno sauce should work great on burritos and tacos, while the habanero and ghost pepper sauce will get anyone looking like Sean Evans on Hot Ones in a searing minute.
National Parks Enamel Mug
Sometimes a simple but great mug does everything to change a morning coffee routine. This National Parks iconic enamel mug has all the looks of a campsite that should last for years. The green color and detailed illustrations of national parks around the country adds a nice touch, even when you’re drinking at home.
Buy: Parks Project ($18)
Coffee and T-Shirt from Hot and Cool Cafe
Leimert Park’s Hot and Cool Cafe feels like the best little neighborhood cafe in Los Angeles (it was even a polling place in November). The funky, local art and ample space makes it as much a community center as a solid place to fuel up on caffeine. The shop’s Tigoor Siguar blend uses Ethiopian coffee for a terrific morning brew either as a drip or even as an espresso. And a bonus: the bright shirts from Hot and Cool Cafe will make all your coffee-drinking friends jealous.
Buy: Hot and Cool Cafe ($15 for coffee bag; $30 for shirts)
Ceramic V60 Brew Cone and Mug; Cup of Excellence Coffees from Goodboybob
Santa Monica coffee shop Goodboybob has one of the rare Cup of Excellence programs that will impress any coffee drinker. Cup of Excellence rated coffees are often difficult to find in Los Angeles, but Goodboybob has a subscription that sends between two and four different COEs a month. Match Stoneware’s ceramic V60 brewing cone and mug is made in Culver City, and should provide a sturdy companion to those high-end coffees.
Buy: Goodboybob ($130 a month for the rare coffee subscription; $190 for a ceramic V60 brewing cone and mug)
Art of Tea Earl Grey Gift Box and Holiday Tea Set
Local company Art of Tea has a handy Earl Grey tea set with a scented candle and, of course, its namesake loose tea leaves with filter bags as a holiday set, while a four-set of holiday teas like pumpkin spice chai, apple pie, and dark chocolate peppermint work as nice warm beverages to combat LA’s chillier-than-expected winters. If unavailable online, both sets should be available throughout the holidays at Art of Tea’s Westfield Century City kiosk.
Queens Passage Rum and Spiced Rum from Portuguese Bend Distilling
Long Beach-based Portuguese Bend is close to launching their cask program, giving local spirits fans a chance to get more developed bourbons in their own barrels. But until then, the distillery has their spiced and white Queens Passage rums that work really well in cocktails or with mixers that should help ease the doldrums of staying at home during the holidays.
Blinking Owl Distillery Bourbon, Aquavit, and Orange Vodka
Santa Ana distillery Blinking Owl has established itself as one of Southern California’s most cherished spirits producers, transitioning during the pandemic into a hand sanitizer producer as well. For gifts, choose between the distillery’s bourbon, aquavit (apparently their most popular bottle), and orange vodka, plus two types of sanitizers and even an adorable wrist sanitizer bottle for easy carrying. Blinking Owl’s straight California bourbon has 100 percent local grains, including white corn, rye, wheat, and barley, which is pretty impressive.
Buy: Blinking Owl Distillery ($59 for Bourbon; $40 for Aquavit; $36 for Orange Vodka; check website for sanitizer; for bottle shipping outside of California)
Vervet Bubbly Cocktails
Quarantine is a tough time for everyone, but pre-made bubbly cocktails are a fun, easy way to make things more bearing for those staying at home. LA-produced Vervet bubbly cocktails are designed by bartender and cocktail writer Hope Ewing, with colorful drinks like a clarified bloody mary, Negroni spritz, and Tiki tea. The cocktails deliver flavor and creative takes on LA flavors, with the Tiki one melding prickly pear vodka, lime, oolong tea, and all spice that takes inspiration from Los Feliz’s iconic Tiki Ti bar.
Buy: Vervet ($19.99 for a four-pack, available via local or nationwide delivery)
Black-Owned Wines from Adams Wine Shop
Ruben Morancy helped shift gears at Adams Coffee Shop into a wonderful West Adams wine boutique (it still serves food and coffee), with a focus on reasonably priced bottles from non-traditional producers. Morancy has made a fantastic four-bottle gift pack with Black winemakers from California, Oregon, and South Africa, including a stunning pinot noir by Theopolis with notes of raspberry and rose.
Argonaut and Germain-Robin Brandy
Bourbon is so 2019. Brandy, especially one produced locally in California, is a fantastic alternative pick for brown spirits fans. Made in one of the state’s oldest distilleries up in Sanger, California, the Argonaut line draws inspiration from pre-Prohibition with a blend of over 100 brandy stocks with age from two to twenty years. It works great sipped neat or made into an Old Fashioned. The XO Alembic is definitely the showstopper, a Cognac-inspired bottle from California grapes that will impress any aficionado of fine spirits with its smooth, long finish, and layered complexity.
The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma
Food columnist Nik Sharma, recently relocated to Los Angeles, has this year’s most innovative cookbook, incorporating scientific and incredibly insightful cooking techniques that help take the home cook’s game to the next level. While the rounded approach can seem a little intimidating at first, the fun, useful infographics and charts help the reader gain a powerful understanding of what makes food delicious. Sharma’s own stunning photography dons the pages, with recipes that lean toward his Indian food roots.
Unvarnished by Eric Alperin and Deborah Stoll
Arguably the most iconic cocktail bar in Los Angeles, the Varnish has endured in Downtown Los Angeles for over 10 years thanks to the work of Eric Alperin, a former New York City bartender who came to LA and revolutionized the way Angelenos enjoyed mixed drinks. The story is captured with a fascinating look at how LA’s immense bar culture developed in the late aughts. The book includes recipes too, such as the Hot Buttered Rum, a drink that will keep you warm and toasty while reading this wonderful LA memoir.