The Story Behind KCET’s Quest for LA’s Iconic Dish

Strawberry Donut by Ron Dollete
Strawberry Donut by Ron Dollete

“So far, the sweets are winning over savory — and by a lot,” said KCET blog editor in chief Zach Behrens. (Photo by Ron Dollete)

Before there were Cronuts and the Ramen Burger, there were Donut Man’s Strawberry Donut and Philippe’s French Dip. The donut and the dip have long proven they weren’t mere food fads, however, with the strawberry donut gaining a loyal following for about 40 years and the Dip since 1918-ish. But there can only be one crowned “LA’s Iconic Dish” and the showdown ends this Friday at 12pm, the deadline for Angelenos to cast their votes on the KCET Food blog for their favorite.

The contest has been going on for several weeks on the KCET blog, pitting several L.A. favorites in a bracket-style contest. First the categories were widespread from Meat, The Dip, Eastside vs. Westside, Twists, ’80s Relics and more. Eventually they were culled down to these two remaining finalists.

I chatted with KCET Living Editor Katherine Spiers to find out the backstory of the contest. I mean, will there actually be a trophy? Can people “cheat” and vote a bunch of times?

CoC: So how were the initial 16 picked? 

Katherine: The initial 16 were picked using the criteria that they were more or less invented in LA, and still served at their restaurant of origin. Of course this sort of thing isn’t an exact science, but it did help me eliminate some dishes I would’ve otherwise chosen: Cobb salad and California rolls were out, for instance.

CoC: Ah. And do you have your own opinions what should have won in each standoff? Like, were you surprised by any?

Katherine: I had some opinions about who should win each bracket — and some that were too tough for me, like In-n-Out vs. Langer’s — but I chose not to get too personally invested in the voting. I have to say that I’m surprised that Donut Man’s strawberry donut has beaten out Langer.

CoC: Why is that?

Katherine: Oh, probably just my own personal understand of L.A. food. I thought for sure the final two would be Philippe’s and Langer’s, so I was only half-right. I didn’t think Donut Man was as well-known as those two. But what I am finding, through casual observation, is that Donut Man understands the power of Facebook more than most of its competitors in this contest. I mean, the donuts are great, but the Facebook thing is working in their favor too, I think.

CoC: Ah. So can people vote multiple times?

Katherine: Yeah, you can vote every 12 hours.

CoC: Ohh. So you can kinda cheat the system but not too much. Just be dedicated.

Katherine: Ha, yeah, you’d have to really, really care.

CoC: What do you think of the final two?

Katherine: I think they’re both excellent emblems of L.A. food. People think this is a pretty glamorous city, but it’s really not. We really love the comfort classics. We are pretty diverse, so it would’ve been cool, too, if a Mexican or Asian comfort classic had made it to the final two, but hey, the people voted!

CoC: What does the winner of the contest get? Besides bragging rights?

Katherine: Yeah, we want to give the winner a trophy!

CoC: Awesome! Thank you!! Oh, and congrats again on the LA Weekly thing! Has your life changed? Heh.

Katherine: Oh, thank you so much! Haha people congratulate me more, that’s for sure.

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