Is this list organic, artisanal, free-range, small-plate, modernist, hand-crafted, small-batch, and 100% sustainable? Not quite. But it should be!
1 Juicy crab and pork bun. If you've spent much time eating in the San Gabriel Valley , you have probably become adept in the various rituals of the Chinese table. This food is meant to be wrapped in a pancake, that one to be seethed in broth, the other one to be extracted with a dental implement. But nothing quite prepares you for the signature buns -- tender-skinned water balloons stuffed with pork and crab -- at the Wuxi-style dumpling house Wang Xing Ji. If you try to lift it with a spoon, it disintegrates under its own weight; if you attack it with chopsticks, you are liable to be squirted with boiling juice. Finally you remember the plastic implement served with the dumpling, and you intuit its proper use. You will feel silly sipping hot crab juice through a straw, but your shirt and your dignity will be saved. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 211, San Gabriel, (626) 307-1188.
2 Sea snail tostada. At Street Food Fest, the annual summer gathering of the food trucks at the Rose Bowl, observers tend to notice a couple of things. One is the extraordinary profusion of Los Angeles food trucks, which tend to become odder and more specialized by the year. And the other is the astonishingly high quality of the loncheros, traditional Mexican street vendors, whose products are honed through years of hard-fought competition. The last couple years have seen several stalls operated by the best chefs from the refined yet street-oriented food movement now sweeping through northern Baja. And this year, nothing was better than the simple tostadas from the La Guerrerense cart in Ensenada: a crisp tortilla; a handful of sliced, marinated sea snail, and fugal drips of super-spicy house-made chile sauce splashed onto the tostadas from jars -- earth and sea and pain and pleasure in a single crunchy bite. Cart at corner of 1st and Alvarado in Zona Centro, Ensenada.