Cuisine of California

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Shrimp tostadas made with locally grown ingredients as served at Tacos Sinaloa in Berkeley, California Flickr dongkwan 540812245--Shrimp Tostada.jpg
Shrimp tostadas made with locally grown ingredients as served at Tacos Sinaloa in Berkeley, California

The cuisine of California reflects the diverse culture of California and is influenced largely by Hispanic American roots (Mexican, Latin American, Spanish), alongside Eastern Asian and Oceanian influences (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Hawaiian), Western European influences (Italian, French, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Cypriot), Australia (Australia, New Zealand), Africa (Angolan, Cameroonian, Central African Republic, Chadian, Congolese cuisine, Equatorial Guinea,Gabonese, São Tomé and Príncipe) and the The Middle East (Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Egyptian, Georgian, Iranian, Iraqi, Israeli, Kurdish, Lebanese, Palestinian), as well as the food trends and traditions of larger American cuisine.


The main trends were influenced by a combination of Mediterranean climate, geography and geology of the region's proximity to the ocean, its movie roots in Hollywood, its technology roots in Silicon Valley and the Napa wine country, as well as its major produce production. Even California being part of Mexico influenced the state's food.

Local ingredients

A varied range of micro-climates, dominated by a mild Mediterranean climate, and health-conscious diets and lifestyles in California, promote the production, use and consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, many of them organic.

In Northern California, with wine country nearby, French, Italian, and Mediterranean inspired food is prominent, as well as Asian-inspired fare. Many of the restaurants, cafes, bistros, and grills use ingredients sourced from local growers and farmers' markets. [2] [3] A unique sourdough-style bread has its origins in San Francisco. [4]

The California coast, especially the North Coast and Central Coast regions, is a source of seafood, which is a staple in the California diet.

California produces almost all of the country's almonds, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.

This agricultural diversity of California's Central Valley provides fresh produce in the state. On less than 1 percent of the total farmland in the US, the Central Valley produces 8 percent of the nation's agricultural output by value. [5]

Sunset , a magazine of the West published in California, has featured recipes that have influenced the cuisine of California, including the promotion of outdoor eating.

Sandwiches, burgers, and fast food

An In-N-Out "Double-Double" cheeseburger with French fries in a cardboard box for consumption in a car In-N-Out Burger cheeseburger and fries.jpg
An In-N-Out "Double-Double" cheeseburger with French fries in a cardboard box for consumption in a car

Southern California's car culture and the population's reliance on automobiles for transportation throughout California's vast cities, has widely contributed to the popularity of the classic drive-in and modern drive-through restaurants. Restaurant chains such as McDonald's, [6] Jack in the Box, [7] In-N-Out Burger, [8] Carl's Jr., [9] Wienerschnitzel, [10] Del Taco, [11] Taco Bell, [12] Panda Express, [13] Original Tommy's, [14] Fatburger, [15] and Big Boy [16] were all established in Southern California.

Regional fast-food menus differ, generally depending on the ethnic composition of an area. In Southern California, smaller chains like The Hat feature hamburgers, Mexican food, chili fries, and pastrami.

While gastropubs are not unique to California, the concept of the gourmet burger is very popular.

Latino and Hispanic influences

Because of California's mostly colonial European Spanish roots, Mexican territorial history, and its original population consisting of Meso-Americans, Spanish colonizers and Mexican ranchers, Mexican and Spanish-origin cuisine is very influential and popular in California, particularly Southern California. [17]

Commercial taquería -style Mexican fast food, consisting of offerings such as burritos, refried beans, tortas, tacos, nachos, and quesadillas, is widely popular. Taquerías can be found throughout California.

Traditional Mexican food, while not as common as commercial food, is still widely prepared and abundant in the ethnic Mexican American border communities of San Diego, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and in Mexican-American enclaves throughout California. Examples of these foods include tamales, tortillas, tostadas, mole, menudo, pozole , sopes , chile relleno and enchiladas.

In addition to Mexican food, California restaurants serve up nearly every variation of Central American food there is. For example, pupuserías are common in areas with a large population of Salvadorans (pupusas are stuffed tortillas from El Salvador). [18]

More recently, "Fresh-Mex" or "Baja-style" Mexican food, which places an emphasis on fresh ingredients and sometimes seafood, inspired by Baja California fare, is highly popular. El Pollo Loco, a fast-food chain that originated in Northern Mexico, is a common sight. Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, Baja Fresh, Wahoo's Fish Taco, Chronic Tacos, Chipotle, Qdoba and La Salsa are examples of the Baja-style Mexican-American food trend.

Shellfish and seafood

Dungeness crab ready to eat at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco Sanfran 2 bg 032605.jpg
Dungeness crab ready to eat at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco

In Northern California and the Central Coastal region, Dungeness crab is abundant. Sardines and salmon were formerly major industries, before declines in fish stocks. [19] [20] Cioppino (a fish stew) is a classic example of Northern Californian cuisine.

Asian and Oceanian influences

As one of the U.S. states nearest Asia and Oceania, and with long-standing Asian American and Oceanian American populations, the state tends to adopt foods from those national styles. [21] The American style of sushi possibly began in California; the term "California roll" is used to describe sushi with avocado as a primary ingredient. Recently, East Asian confectionery such as mochi ice cream and boba have gained popularity throughout California and the United States, with many establishments that produce them beginning in California.

Fusion cuisine

Fusion cuisine is quite popular in California. [22] The emphasis of California cuisine is on the use of fresh, local ingredients which are often acquired daily at farmers markets. Menus are changed to accommodate the availability of ingredients in season. Some restaurants create a new menu daily.

California chef Wolfgang Puck is known as one of the pioneers of fusion cuisine, popularizing such dishes as Chinese chicken salad at the restaurant Ma Maison in Los Angeles. His restaurant Chinois [23] in Santa Monica was named after the term attributed to Richard Wing, who in the 1960s combined French and Chinese cooking at the former Imperial Dynasty restaurant in Hanford, California. [24]

California-style pizza

Pizza topped with egg from the Chez Panisse cafe Chez Panisse pizza.jpg
Pizza topped with egg from the Chez Panisse cafe

California-style pizza focuses on non-traditional pizza ingredients, such as fresh produce and barbecued meats. First popularized by Wolfgang Puck's Spago restaurants, it was later brought to the masses by restaurants such as California Pizza Kitchen. [25]


Barbecue has been a part of California cuisine since Mexicans cooked beef in pit barbecues on ranches since the 1840s. Santa Maria, California, is famous for the tri-tip, a special kind of beef cut that can be grilled, baked, braised, or roasted. [26]

California's barbecue style is also influenced by the styles of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma, brought by Dust Bowl migrants. Chicken, beef ribs, sausages, and steaks are also grilled or smoked in a barbecue pit.

The barbecue sauce used in this state is tomato-based, [27] as with all other western states. Santa Maria barbecue, however, uses no sauce, relying instead on the flavor of the tri-tip and the slow live-oak fire over which it is cooked.

Pork baby back ribs are popular for barbecue in the Western region in comparison to the popular use of spare ribs in the United States.

Gourmet food products

Many gourmet food products and companies had their start in California, including Peet's Coffee & Tea. [28]

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fusion cuisine</span> Cuisine consisting of a combination of several culinary traditions

Fusion cuisine is cuisine that combines elements of different culinary traditions that originate from different countries, regions, or cultures. They can occur naturally and become aspects of culturally relevant cuisines, or they can be part of the post-1970s movement for contemporary restaurant innovations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cuisine of the Midwestern United States</span> Regional cuisine of the United States

Midwestern cuisine is a regional cuisine of the American Midwest. It draws its culinary roots most significantly from the cuisines of Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, and Native North America, and is influenced by regionally and locally grown foodstuffs and cultural diversity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taco</span> Mexican filled tortilla food

A taco is a traditional Mexican food consisting of a small hand-sized corn- or wheat-based tortilla topped with a filling. The tortilla is then folded around the filling and eaten by hand. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, beans, vegetables, and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. They are often garnished with various condiments, such as salsa, guacamole, or sour cream, and vegetables, such as lettuce, onion, tomatoes, and chiles. Tacos are a common form of antojitos, or Mexican street food, which have spread around the world.

<i>Teppanyaki</i> Style of Japanese cuisine

Teppanyaki, often confused with hibachi, is a post-World War II style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The word teppanyaki is derived from teppan, the metal plate on which it is cooked, and yaki, which means grilled, broiled, or pan-fried. In Japan, teppanyaki refers to dishes cooked using a teppan, including steak, shrimp, okonomiyaki, yakisoba and monjayaki.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">California cuisine</span> Food movement originating in California

California cuisine is a food movement that originated in California. The cuisine focuses on dishes that are driven by local and sustainable ingredients with an attention to seasonality and an emphasis on the bounty of the region.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cuisine of the Southwestern United States</span> Food eaten in the southwestern United States

The cuisine of the Southwestern United States is food styled after the rustic cooking of the Southwestern United States. It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era; there is, however, a great diversity in this kind of cuisine throughout the Southwestern states.

California-style pizza is a style of single-serving pizza that combines New York and Italian thin crust with toppings from the California cuisine cooking style. Its invention is generally attributed to chef Ed LaDou, and Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California. Wolfgang Puck, after meeting LaDou, popularized the style of pizza in the rest of the country. It is served in many California Cuisine restaurants. Such restaurant chains as California Pizza Kitchen, Round Table Pizza, Extreme Pizza, and Sammy's Woodfired Pizza are four major pizza franchises associated with California-style pizza.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rubio's Coastal Grill</span> Mexican-American fast casual restaurant chain

Rubio's Coastal Grill, formerly known as Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill and Rubio’s Baja Grill is an American fast casual "Fresh Mex" or "New Mex" restaurant chain specializing in Mexican food, with an emphasis on fish tacos. As of 2013, Rubio's operates, licenses, or franchises more than 200 restaurants in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. It is headquartered in Carlsbad, California.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">California Tortilla</span> Fast casual Mexican-style restaurant chain

California Tortilla, also known as Cal Tort, is an American chain of franchised fast casual Mexican-style restaurants, the first of which was opened in August 1995 in Bethesda, Maryland by business partners Pam Felix and Alan Cohen. The chain's menu is comparable to that of its competitors, such as Baja Fresh and Chipotle Mexican Grill. A typical restaurant has 2,500 square feet (230 m2) with seating for 75 people. California Tortilla was voted by readers of Washingtonian magazine as having the best burritos in both 2009 and 2010, and "best Mexican" in 2014 and 2015. In 2019, it was awarded Best Fast Casual by Washington City Paper readers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burrito</span> Tex-Mex dish consisting of a wheat flour tortilla wrapped to enclose the filling

A burrito is a dish in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine that took form in Ciudad Juárez, consisting of a flour tortilla wrapped into a sealed cylindrical shape around various ingredients. The tortilla is sometimes lightly grilled or steamed to soften it, make it more pliable, and allow it to adhere to itself. Burritos are often eaten by hand, as their tight wrapping keeps the ingredients together. Burritos can also be served "wet", i.e., covered in a savory and spicy sauce, when they would be eaten with a fork and knife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Texan cuisine</span> Food and drinks from Texas

Texan cuisine is the food associated with the Southern U.S. state of Texas, including its native Southwestern cuisine influenced Tex-Mex foods. Texas is a large state, and its cuisine has been influenced by a wide range of cultures, including Southern, German, Czech, British, African American, Creole/Cajun, Mexican, New Mexican, Native American, Asian, and Italian.

Javier Plascencia is a chef from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, considered the most famous chef of the city and of all chefs, the one whose cuisine most helped define a new cuisine, Baja Med.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taco stand</span> Urban food stall, food cart that specializes in tacos and other Mexican dishes

A taco stand or taquería is a food stall, food cart or restaurant that specializes in tacos and other Mexican dishes. The food is typically prepared quickly and tends to be inexpensive. Many various ingredients may be used, and various taco styles may be served. Taco stands are an integral part of Mexican street food. Tacos became a part of traditional Mexican cuisine in the early 20th century, beginning in Mexico City, as what had been a miner's snack began to be sold on street corners in the city. Shops selling tacos have since proliferated throughout Mexico and other areas with a heavy Mexican culinary and cultural influence, including much of the Western United States and most other larger American cities. More typical taquerías specialize in tacos, as expected, but in some localities it can be used to refer to restaurants specializing in burritos, where tacos themselves are less of a point of emphasis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">La Salsa</span> Chain of American fast-casual Tex-Mex restaurants

La Salsa is a chain of fast-casual Tex Mex restaurants founded in Los Angeles in 1979 and headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona and is owned by Canadian franchisor MTY Food Group. The chain emphasizes fresh ingredients, and each restaurant features a self-serve salsa bar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">French tacos</span> French fast food dish

A French tacos or matelas is a fast food dish which usually consists of a flour tortilla grilled and folded around a filling of French fries, cheese, and meat, among other deli ingredients. More similar to a burrito than to a taco, and claiming inspiration from Mexican cuisine, it originated from the region of Rhône-Alpes in France in the early 2000s, before becoming popular among teenagers and young adults in all of France and abroad.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mexican-American cuisine</span>

Mexican-American cuisine is the cuisine of Mexican Americans and their descendants, who have modified Mexican cuisine under the influence of American culture and immigration patterns of Mexicans to the United States.


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