This story first appeared in the April 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
New Yorkers and Angelenos have plenty to squabble over, but if you really want to start a brawl, just ask a simple question: Where can you get a better meal? In search of a partisan debate, we pitted Eddie Huang, chef-owner of East Village Taiwanese-Chinese restaurant Baohaus, against Michael Voltaggio, chef-owner of West Hollywood’s modernist cuisine mecca ink.
There were no pulled punches when Huang (whose family life inspired ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and who is now host of the culinary exploration series Huang’s World, debuting April 28 on Viceland) met Voltaggio (a Top Chef winner and co-host of last year’s Travel Channel series Breaking Borders) at Voltaggio’s Sack Sandwiches, on Sunset Boulevard.
You’re dying tomorrow. Where are you dining tonight?
HUANG Di Fara Pizza in [Brooklyn neighborhood] Midwood.
VOLTAGGIO Sushi Park right here on Sunset.
What’s the best dining idea that’s come out of L.A.?
HUANG The drive-through.
VOLTAGGIO L.A. took the tablecloths off the table. But I’m telling New York: “Put your tablecloths back on the table!” It’s OK. We’re going there for that.
How about New York?
HUANG The idea of the authoritarian restaurant. It goes back to the “Soup Nazi.” You’re going into this guy’s place. He has incredible food. You’re going to eat it his way. You’re going to order it his way. I think a lot of chefs have taken that idea and run with it. It’s a good thing.
Which Manhattan chef would you get a kick out of seeing cooking in L.A.?
VOLTAGGIO I’d love to see Wylie Dufresne [of wd-50 and Alder] out here at Dan Tana’s.
HUANG Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
VOLTAGGIO Dan Tana’s is a roomful of people that do not belong together in the same place. You take a chef like Wylie and put him there, where everyone’s with their tableside Caesar salad and Chicken Tana? He’ll flip it on its head. And by the way, Dan Tana’s in New York would kill it.
What L.A. restaurant expanding to New York would change the game?
HUANG Coni’Seafood [in Inglewood] destroys anybody else’s attempt at Mexican food. That’s a wrap. Because Coni‘, you know — the aguachiles. There are chefs in New York that try to do a fancy fusion take on aguachiles. It stinks. Coni‘ is perfect and would come and show the way it is. It doesn’t have to be adulterated. It doesn’t need your spin on it.
Which New York institution would you love to see in L.A.?
HUANG That’s a great answer. I fully agree. But my No. 1 is Peter Luger’s. It’s a classic. It’s just done right. It comes out the same temp of the Montague broiler every single time.
VOLTAGGIO I haven’t been able to get a reservation yet …
HUANG I got you! I’ll take you to Luger’s. That’s family.
Which city does fast food better?
HUANG L.A. does fast food better.
VOLTAGGIO I don’t know. We can’t discount White Castle.
HUANG White Castle in Bushwick.
VOLTAGGIO O.G.! With the bulletproof glass on the window?
HUANG Yeah. My Wi-Fi password for a while was “Surf & Turf” because I would get f—ed up and then get Surf & Turf Sliders at White Castle.
How about fine dining?
HUANG New York does high-end, five-star fine dining better. Time Warner Center, up in the 70s, West Side.
VOLTAGGIO The East Coast was discovered first. They’ve had a little bit more time to practice than we’ve had out here.
HUANG Two-star, three-star dining is better in L.A., though — hands down.
OK, let’s talk sushi.
HUANG L.A. definitely is on top. If you want cheap sushi, you can get really cheap, high-quality sushi in L.A. In New York it’s like $200 and up. If you’re not paying $200, don’t eat it, you know? New York could use a collection of L.A. places like Hirozen, where you can still get a good omakase and walk out for $110.
VOLTAGGIO I went to Nakazawa in New York to experience a four-star New York Times sushi restaurant. It was amazing. But we have that level of sushi for half that price here.
How do L.A. customers compare to New Yorkers?
HUANG I like my New York customers. They yell at me.
VOLTAGGIO As an operator, diners in L.A. don’t respect their reservation time. In New York, you tell someone your reservation is at 7 p.m. and there’s a 15-minute grace period, people actually respect that. In L.A., it’s like, “OK, cool. I’ll take that reservation, but I’ll show up whenever I want.”
HUANG Everyone thinks they’re famous here. And they’re probably, like, two degrees removed.
Which city is innovating more right now?
HUANG L.A. has a lot more fresh ideas, new perspectives, restaurants and dishes that you don’t see in the rest of America. In L.A. you get to experiment a little bit more. Space is cheaper. New York is a meat grinder. People will shit on you. They’ll kick you, spit on you. In L.A. you have time for your ideas to breathe and develop.
VOLTAGGIO L.A.’s different from New York. We have the opportunity to break the rules a little bit more. New York is the most respected food city in the entire United States. But that doesn’t mean we’re not playing on the same level. We’re just playing on a different level.
What’s the most overrated restaurant in Manhattan?
HUANG Joe’s Shanghai upsets me. It’s a giant soup dumpling with salty soup. It looks like a large areola. It’s disgusting. I cannot stand Joe’s Shanghai, but everyone thinks it’s a good soup dumpling. Nothing upsets me more than Joe’s Shanghai.