The Best Foods Everyone Should Be Ordering from California

When I moved to Los Angeles a year-and-a-half ago, it wasn’t my first California rodeo. I’d lived in San Francisco several years before, but all it really took was a trip to the sprawling Santa Monica Farmers Market to remind me how lucky I am to have the bounty of this vast state at my fingertips.

California has no shortage of incredible things to eat, from year-round farmers market tomatoes that, yes, actually taste good, to the inventive dishes coming out of buzzy restaurant kitchens, to handcrafted artisanal products made with sunshine and love. And good news: Even if you can’t get your hands on California’s super-fresh produce, you can still share in the state’s incredible bounty by ordering some of its best ingredients for your own home-cooking adventures.

Here are some of our favorite products (like an unprocessed olive oil and salt straight from the Pacific!) for you to try right now — no matter where you live.

1. Rancho Gordo Beans

The first time I spotted Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans over a decade ago at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, I thought, Huh? Fancy beans? But once you try them, you realize why they’re so special — and that you may never be willing to buy canned beans ever again. The Napa company’s colorful, uniquely textured dried beans come equipped with great cooking instructions and recipes online, so even if you’re trying something you’ve never heard of (um, Eye of the Goat?), you’re guaranteed a better bean-eating experience. (Chefs love these beans too, by the way.)

2. Brightland Olive Oil

Think of this pure olive oil as sunshine in a bottle. Brightland set out to craft an olive oil that’s as pure as it is delicious, and they succeeded. Made with hand-sourced olives from a single-estate California farm (and no fillers or preservatives), the oils come in three varieties for all your cooking and drizzling needs: Alive (nutty), Awake (green and herbaceous), and Ardor (a limited-edition spicy olive oil). And those gorgeously modern white bottles? They’re so pretty you’ll want to keep them on the counter at all times — which isn’t a problem, because they’re UV powder-coated to keep out damaging light.

3. Semolina Pasta

Los Angeles-based Semolina’s dried pastas are certified organic and cook like a dream with a nice al dente chew. Plus, the noodles are slow-dried at low temperatures so that you can actually taste the wheat. You’ll find some shapes you recognize (fusilli, rigatoni) and some that you might not (tiny tubes called ditalini). My personal favorite is the strozzapreti, because meaty sauces hang onto its winding corkscrews.

4. Big Sur Salt

Most of us (myself included) aren’t lucky enough to experience the Big Sur region’s sweeping views of the rocky, rollicking Pacific every day, but we can get a taste of the sea with Big Sur Salt’s hand-harvested bounty. There are a handful of flavored blends like the Elote (ground Pico Blanco sea salt, chipotle peppers, cilantro, garlic, lemon, and lime) or Santa Lucia (Pico Blanco finishing salt, Boekenoogen Bell Ranch Vineyard Petite Sirah wild salt, cherries, blackberries, pink peppercorns, white peppercorns, and organic Peru coffee chaff), but start with the purely saline Pico Bianco. Named for a beloved mountain in the Santa Maria Range, its chunky crystals can be used for cooking or as a finishing salt to add punch and crunch to your finished dish.

5. Bianco DiNapoli Tomatoes

Your trusty author has been known to eat these whole plum tomatoes right out of the can — they’re that sweet and juicy. A collaboration between renowned pizza chef Chris Bianco and Rob DiNapoli of DiNapoli Tomatoes, these tomatoes are organically grown and hand-selected, so you’ll get none of those sad, bruised or battered tomatoes you’d find in other brands. Pro tip: Bianco DiNapoli’s crushed tomatoes are so thick, you don’t even need to cook them down to make a great tomato sauce. Simply whir in some garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper with a hand mixer and you’re golden.

6. Grist & Toll Flour

For an entirely different baking (and cooking) experience, try Pasadena-based Grist & Toll’s thoughtful flours. The company sources its grains carefully (they’re local and organic whenever possible) and mills them with the whole kernel intact so as to retain as much flavor and nutrients as possible. On their site, you’ll find soft white Sonora flour for baking and pastry, rye flour for pancakes and pastas, and freshly milled polenta that will surprise you with its corn-y flavor.

7. HiLi Hot Sauce

One of many reasons people flock to Highly Likely in L.A.’s West Adams is the hot sauce, fermented in-house. (A few other reasons: the cafe’s beautiful light-filled space and chef Kat Turner’s healthy-ish sandwiches, bowls, and salads.) Just be forewarned that a mere drop packs a wallop of heat, so just a dab’ll do ya. I use it on, well, just about everything, from scrambled eggs to tacos to even the most California of dishes, avocado toast.

8. Oaktown Spice Shop

The husband-and-wife team behind this Oakland spice shop (which also has a location in Albany) source from hundreds of importers so that they only carry the best versions of spices available, which they then hand-grind. Peruse their single-origin spices, which each come from a single place. Or spice up your cooking routine (sorry, couldn’t resist) with one of their original hand-mixed blends like Grand Lake Shake (sea salt, toasted onion, black pepper, sugar, onion, mustard powder, white pepper, garlic, celery seed, caraway, nutmeg, and dill seed) or Better Than Everything Bagel Spice (sea salt, black pepper, garlic, onion, rosemary, smoked sea salt, brown mustard seed, dill seed, and fennel seed), which I’m dying to try on whole-roasted cauliflower.

9. Coffee Manufactory

Okay, technically this isn’t something you’d likely cook with — unless you’re making an affogato or granita, or adding it to a rub — but everyone needs good coffee to start the day or to serve guests after a meal. Not only is Coffee Manufactory committed to sustainability by building relationships with what they deem “smallholder” coffee producers around the globe, but they also roast damn good coffee that’s served in some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and L.A. Ease in with the Latin light roast, sourced from northern Ecuador, or go all-out with the Dark roast made from a blend of beans from El Salvador and Kenya.  

10. Guelaguetza Mole

One of L.A.’s most beloved taquerias, Guelaguetza is a mecca of Oaxacan cuisine in the heart of Koreatown. The restaurant sells condensed versions of their three moles (Negro, Rojo, and Coloradito) that are easy to thin out with a little stock, tomatoes, brown sugar, and salt. Use them on your favorite meat or poultry, or get creative on the vegetable side of things by brushing and broiling heartier veg in these complex, richly flavored sauces.

Got anything to add to this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

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